A few weeks ago I paid a visit to one of Vancouver's iconic structures the Burrard Street bridge. Although it remains a grand piece of art deco era engineering, the old girl is showing serious signs of wear and tear as you might expect from an 80-something. In fact, it was recently reported the bridge was in such bad condition that pieces of concrete were falling off and onto the sidewalk below. Therefore, you'd be right to expect that this infrastructure project should be considered on the City's "urgent" list.
Unfortunately, unlike the $3.2m permanent Hornby St. separated bike lane, the Burrard Bridge upgrade is not among the Mayor's pet projects. As a result, it's not receiving the attention it probably deserves. City crews have not quickly mobilized to pry away brittle concrete on the Bridge within hours of a pre-determined vote at council. Ditto for several other "urgent" infrastructure projects throughout the city that are getting a fraction of the attention (and financing) Robertson is throwing at separated bike lanes.
In that vain, I recently reported on the difficulty we were facing in obtaining a copy of a noise permit variance letter Mayor Robertson signed in relation to his bike lane project. Despite three separate attempts to obtain it, we were told that access to it was off limits. If we wanted a copy, we were told to request it through Freedom of Information legislation. We even received a voicemail (which we've kept for historical purposes) from a non-partisan City worker who kindly confirmed it was off limits to CityCaucus.com.
Why was the Mayor concerned about giving CityCaucus.com the letter you ask? It's probably because Robertson's work authorization letter was signed Mayor on September 27th, almost two weeks BEFORE the vote on the Hornby Bike lane took place.
Well miracle of miracles, the permit has now surfaced and our Freedom of Information request is null and void. Why you ask? How did we get a hold of this letter? Who leaked it to us? Did it come in a brown envelope? Well, there is a pretty simple answer to all of those questions. The Mayor's office was so freaked that we broke the story of Robertson's premature construction letter, they came up with a lame scheme to cover their tracks. Here's how it rolled out...
After we broke our story, the Mayor's office apparently asked City Manager Penny Ballem to locate any kind of correspondence that would support the narrative that this wasn't a "done deal". Once they had located them, they scanned those emails and created a PDF document on October 8th. Suffice to say those emails stated construction couldn't take place until council gave final approval. Unfortunately for the Mayor, the emails also clearly reveal the extent to which hundreds of city workers and contractors were scrambling to prepare for this project prior to it receiving council approval – oops.
With the PDF document almost ready for it online debut, staff then snuck Robertson's variance letter into the mix. The next step was to gingerly place this document onto an obscure part of the City of Vancouver website. Here is the link: http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/documents/hornbybikelane-construction20101008.pdf
Presto! Robertson can now argue he has a legitimate defense against claims he couldn't care less about public input. What? You're not buying it? Neither am I.
Not only is it tad bizarre for a series of select emails and signed correspondence to be quietly posted online in this manner, but it doesn't give us the whole picture. If the Mayor wanted to use staff emails as proof this project wasn't a done deal, then why only a few hand-picked emails? Surely there are hundreds, if not thousands of emails flying around city hall regarding the prep work for this project. Why not release all of them and let us read for ourselves how little regard the Mayor and some senior staff have for due process when it comes to pet political projects? Perhaps he could dredge up some of those deleted emails from the City Manager's office and post those online too?
In yet another feeble attempt to right the good ship Vision Vancouver, the Mayor dispatched his paid attack blogger to the resue. He laughingly argues CityCaucus.com doesn't have a story because the permit was posted online a few days ago on the City's website. He wants the media and by extension the public to believe this is "old news".
He even goes back in time and tries to redesign history by incorrectly alleging that EcoDensity was handled by staff in the same manner as the separated bike lanes. That will be fodder for a future post, but for now, let's me just say good try. Vision's hired blogger has never worked a day at City Hall and he'd be wise to avoid further embarrassing himself by simply regurgitating Mayor's office talking points. Doing so will result in him getting a very bad case of foot-in-mouth disease - stay tuned.
Trying to pretend something is "old news" is one of the oldest political tricks in the books, but it's not going to work this time. That's because this story is only partly about the lack of access to Robertson's letter. Moreover, it's about why Robertson didn't tell the public he had already signed the work authorization letter a full eight days before the vote. After a summer from hell and now a fall from grace, you have to give them a little credit for trying to change the channel.
Why didn't Robertson tell the public in advance of the vote that not only did he support the project politically, he had also signed a noise variance permit to facilitate construction? The answer is simple. He wanted the public to believe that he was truly interested in their concerns. Now he is scrambling to ensure this doesn't get any play in the media by trying to say (through his blogger) that this permit was always available to the public. Does he really think we are really all that stupid? It would appear so.
It's been another dismal week for Vision, and to think they have 12 more months of this left to go before the election campaign begins in earnest. You have to start to wonder when members of the Vision caucus or backroom will step in and start taking action into their own hands. To date, they've stood idly by as their political party continues to get bashed on a continuous basis.
- post by Daniel