Gregor Robertson authorized a noise exemption prior to Hornby bike lane vote
The debate is over and the fat lady is singing. Despite a rushed process that many referred to as a "sham", the permanent $3.2M Hornby Street separated bike lane is now under construction. The public have been told by City officials to avoid the area while work crews show up on Sundays and statutory holidays to complete yet another one of the Mayor's pet projects.
When the public learned about the Hornby project in the dead of summer while council was on a 2-month break, they were understandably concerned that the process would be rushed to completion without any stakeholder input. Vision and COPE councillors said, don't worry, we're listening to you. Yeah right. Everyone knows that the minds of these politicians were made up weeks ago.
Some believe that the fact construction crews started work only hours after the late night council approval was clear evidence the whole process was a waste of time. In fact, there is something even more incriminating. It's the noise permit exemption letter that Mayor Gregor Robertson signed a couple of weeks before the vote.
The authorization letter provides work crews with the ability to continue construction outside of hours set down by the City's noise by-law. The Vancouver Charter stipulates that only the Mayor can authorize bending the rules. I’ve had it confirmed by several City staff that an exemption was signed by Robertson “in the latter part of September.” In fact, a memo circulated to neighbours first thing Wednesday morning by the City on the morning after the vote even references the exemption. It states:
In order to ensure that we can expedite the construction process, Street crews have been granted a noise variance to allow street work to start earlier on Sundays and holidays (from 0700h) than would be the norm.
Therefore, while Robertson was telling local businesses and residents he was trying to keep an open mind and would listen to their concerns regarding the Hornby bike lane, he was also working feverishly behind the scenes with staff to facilitate its immediate construction.
It should be noted that up until now signed exemption letters were routinely made available to the public upon request. I know this because when I worked for former Mayor Sam Sullivan we received numerous complaints regarding the early morning construction at the new convention centre. Several members of the public told me they saw Sullivan’s signature at the bottom of the letter they had obtained from City Staff.
That’s why I naively asked to see a copy of the letter Robertson signed authorizing work to begin on the bike lane even before a vote had taken place. I first called the permits department and they advised me that I couldn’t get access to it. I was told to “call the Mayor’s office and see if they can give you a copy”.
I then called Engineering, and they too responded by voicemail telling me they weren’t allowed to release that document and that I would “have to obtain it by placing a freedom of information request”. What gives? They want me to place a freedom of information request to obtain a copy of an exemption permit signed by the Mayor? They’ve got to be kidding right?
Next I phoned the Mayor’s office and was politely told by the administrative staff that they could not release the document to me. They took my email address and said they would get back to me pronto. Several days have now passed and no response. I’m not anticipating one.
I have now had to register a complaint with the City Clerk’s office and file a freedom of information request asking to obtain the exemption permit. I’m fully expecting to receive it shortly after the ribbon cutting ceremony for the bike lane has taken place.
As you can imagine, Robertson is not too keen to have a letter floating out there showing that he authorized early morning work on Sundays. The optics of signing this letter before the vote took place looks awful and is a major slip up by his political staff who should have been more careful. Perhaps spending a little less time twittering about the NPA, and a bit more time reading correspondence would be a more productive use of their time.
When you juxtapose the timing of this letter with the fact local residents could have been woken up at 7am every Sunday for the next ten weeks... well you get the picture. I’m advised that due to numerous complaints from local residents, the Mayor has backed off his initial plan and will now only permit construction crews to start no earlier than 9am.
It should be a basic right for any citizen to get access to documents signed by the Mayor authorizing a variance to the noise by-law. Unfortunately, it has become common practice for this civic administration to hold back documents and keep them far from public view for as long as humanly possible.
I can’t imagine how they’ll be able to run again in 2011 with a campaign promise of wanting to make this the most “open and transparent” civic government in Canada. If they do, they’ll be laughed out of the room.
- Post by Daniel