As we predicted yesterday afternoon, Vision Vancouver decided to ram through another late distribution report under the pretence of "urgency" when everyone in the room knew it was all about political expediency. At 12:55am this morning, the Mayor's office pushed Send the press release prepared hours earlier. What was decided was an example of some of the most audacious politics in Vancouver's history. I have to give Robertson & co credit for their gall even if I disagree with their decision.
Last night the Vision/COPE council gave a repeat performance of a scene that played out last April. They approved a $45 million agreement to bring on a sole-sourced operator for the market and non-market housing at the Olympic Athlete's Village. The Cooperative Housing Federation of BC was brought on to take over, after earlier being rejected by the Province of BC and BC Housing, with no tendering process.
The City of Vancouver posted the late distribution report, marked as 'URGENT 1' on the City's website after 4pm the day of the council meeting. Council's Planning and Environment Committee ran until 10:50pm where it decided to approve the long-stalled Norquay Neighbourhood Centres plan. After objections by lone NPA councillor Suzanne Anton, the Vision/COPE majority overrode the rule about ending meetings at 11pm and proceeded to discuss staff's recommendations.
Then council took speakers – a total of six, all from the VAN-ACT housing activist group – and proceeded to burn the midnight oil. Several staff patiently let another late night Vision Vancouver council meeting play out. The line-up of speakers, all surprisingly lucid despite the time of day, proceeded to blast Gregor Robertson and the Vision council. The video is now posted and you (Windows users only) can watch it here.
This was a repeat of the meeting that took place back in April 2010. For those who don't remember the story, the City Manager had finalized the decision on what to do with the social housing at the Olympic Athlete's Village back in November 2009. Fearing an embarrassment during the Olympic Games, Vision covered up that report for nearly six months. Then the City Manager posted that report in the spring – ALSO as a late distribution report.
Starting to see a pattern here, folks? Repeat after me: Vision. Vancouver. Does. Not. Consult. Citizens.
Vision's perpetual late night meeting habit is apparently as a result of someone's insomnia, but we're not sure if it's Gregor Robertson's, Penny Ballem's, or both. We do know that the end result is that the public is conveniently left out of the dialogue involving millions of their tax dollars. Robertson and Vision ran on a platform of making the City more accountable and transparent, which this behaviour clearly contradicts.
Each of the speakers chided council for making them stay up past midnight for this meeting. Raymond Louie strained credulity with his insistence that "people were dying on the street" and their decision to find a housing operator would help save lives. Of course, it was his council's decision to delay this process six months in the first place, and also his council's decision to complicate the social housing requirements. It was Louie who seconded Coun. Meggs' amendment to give first dibs to unionized police, firefighters and teachers.
The VAN-ACT reps all asked how "urgent" was a decision to find an operator for the 63 market rental units? After all of the effort put into this showpiece social housing project, only 21 units (only one quarter of the promised non-market units originally discussed) were to be left on the table for at least another six months.
Because of the "green" requirements of the other buildings, the City will not have a permanent operator for the remaining 168 units until someone figures out how to manage these features. Ironic considering the City's insistence on being green.
After Coun. Suzanne Anton tweeted out on Thursday afternoon that the report had been posted as a late distribution, I decided to have a look. I was appalled that this kind of costly decision was being rammed through so quickly, and decided to watch what happened. It took me by surprise that things would run so late, and that I would follow along with it. Staying up until 1am watching council meetings is not something I would recommend to anyone.
I did something I've never done before but found quite useful. I tweeted an entire portion of a city council meeting, specifically the discussion around the Olympic Village social housing. Vision Vancouver hoped that no one would offer to speak at the council meeting, but VAN-ACT stuck it out.
I realize it's a lot of information, but I find the sequence of events that took place over nearly two hours to be fascinating. Here are my tweets @CityCaucus from that meeting:
Another late night with Vision Vancouver. Meeting scheduled to end at 11pm, but could go later. No respect for staff or the public.
Clr Louie says that we must "serve the people" which is why they want to ram thru meeting after 11pm. Anton is rejecting it.
Louie arguing that they will "get people off the street" by voting 2nite. Really?
Anton rejects vote to override council rules. SLAMS Robertson that he would run on openness and hold a meeting after late dist. report.
"It's a matter of significant financial significance for the city" says Robertson. Overrides Anton's objections to late night meeting.
Woodsworth also repeating the myth that there are "people on the street" who will be housed in Oly Village. #latedistribution
Robertson now trying to justify his council's decision to ram through without consultation. Blames BC Housing for delays
Anton's motion to defer vote until next meeting defeated by all others on council #latedistribution
Ballem confirms City's commitment to put cops and teachers in Oly Village before others. She confirms that "homeless" not going here.
Coun. Jang says he might be getting confused because it's 11:30 at night. Really? #latedistribution
Young speaker says that Vision has "completely failed" on their promise for social housing, and this is "widely held" view
Speaker says that Vision is not trying to house homeless, but fill units with "market renters". Says it's "immoral" to rush this through
Next speaker also wonders "why is this an urgent decision?" This is being rushed "not for people" but for Vision's plan. OMG it's 11:45
Gregor once again blames BC Housing. Says after a year it can't wait 2 more weeks. Revisits why the housing is not for deep core need.
Robertson is clearly nervous that the first 2 social housing guys think he's full of crap. Spkr says that co-ops do not equal market rental
Speaker slams council for laughing at Anton's suggestion [to defer vote]. Midnight decisions "not the way politics is supposed to happen"
Vision being shamed by speakers for burning the midnight oil again and again and again. What's so URGENT about market rental? speaker asks
Why is council meeting "way past when I usually go to sleep"? asks speaker. "This sounds fishy" he says.
Geoff Meggs jumps in to dress down the young person who just spoke. "Didn't you know we already gave $31 million to this project?"
Note, the speaker could be forgiven for NOT knowing, as the meeting they decided this was also based upon a late distribution report.
Andrea Reimer now trying to play good cop to Meggs' bad cop. She goes into NPA blame game.
Speaker is furious that Reimer is suggesting the VAN-ACT people are colluding with Anton.
"I agree with Coun. Anton on the process issue, I'm not an NPA member" says speaker in defense against Vision attacks
Louie says hey, what's wrong with us moving quickly? Trust me, he says. I know what I'm talking about... Speaker not buying it.
Louie's palpable arrogance lights a fuse of anger among the housing activists. You can hear them off camera heckling him. Then Anton defends the VAN-ACT speakers:
3/4 of this housing is straight up market says Anton. Only 21 units of social hsing. "Not sure why you're being brow beaten by councillors"
Speaker says it's midnight and "you're cutting us out of this decision". It's "rhetoric" from council. "It's been empty for months".
Robertson is clearly getting nervous. These folks are the same type of people who campaigned for him in 2008. He looks to deflect blame from himself:
Robertson asks strange question. Have you spoken to Province or Feds? Whaa? Speaker says I'm here because you're here.
Robertson is pedaling fast but not getting anywhere. OMG he is blaming the Province and the Feds for the housing problem. Un-Buh-Leivable
Robertson says he's used to all-nighters, so it's okay. He continues to blame other levels of government.
Another speaker, a young woman who is clearly very frustrated at speaking after midnight let's Vision/COPE have it:
"You guys are shooting yourselves in the foot" next speaker says to council and staff. There is no democratic process after midnight.
"I can see why you're passing this after midnight, most people would see thru this" says speaker.
The mood in the room begins to turn. Robertson is looking like a chided schoolboy. Reimer and Louie began to ask questions and hint that they might delay.
Louie to Ballem: "Why do we need to proceed today?" Ballem tap dances as Vision getting nervous
Geoff Meggs goes into the Blame the NPA message box. Says they've tried to bring "transparency" to the Oly Village. Hmm, okay Geoff.
Now Geoff is blaming Rich Coleman for council's problems.
Now Raymond Louie pushes the rhetoric way too far. He starts talking about how Vision will be "saving lives" with their decision.
Louie is once again suggesting that tonight's decision will help homelessness. He's already been mocked by speakers on this.
Louie: "Do we delay until February? I say not" "There are people dying on our streets!" "This is the best we can do for now"
At this point things snap. It's 12:45am and the VAN-ACT folks have had enough of Louie's BS. They leap out of the seats and walk right into the middle of council chambers.
VAN-ACT ARE TAKING OVER THE MEETING
VAN-ACT have moved into the middle of council chamber to stage a reading
Heather Deal, who is chairing the meeting because Andrea Reimer got too tired, wants to force a vote without debate.
Anton is asking if the Chair to allow debate
Security has been called. And Deal is ramming through a vote despite Anton's objections to no debate.
Deal calls a 5-minute recess. Turns off mics in the council.
Anton and Deal were yelling back and forth at each other. Deal: "Are you challenging the chair?!" Anton: "Madame Chair, use your good sense. You cannot have a vote without debate."
The cameras and mics go off for a five-minute break. Presumably Vision gathers themselves behind closed doors to decide their move. Eventually the mic and camera goes back on. The VAN-ACT reps are still sitting in the middle of council chambers. Anton speaks first and blasts Vision:
VAN-ACT speakers are encamped in the middle of the council chamber. Anton says lack of notice and transparency is 'shocking'
Vision's decision to ram thru this report "goes against everything you campaigned on" says Anton. Why are we spending SO MUCH $$?
Anton: "It's a disgrace that you're ramming this through like this"
Coun. Ellen Woodsworth speaks next and attacks Anton and the NPA. She finishes with the most revealing comment of the night.
Woodsworth attacks Michael Geller saying he doesn't like poor people mixing with the rich.
Woodsworth says let's vote for this as we don't want to hear from those who don't like it.
Isn't that special, eh? I paraphrased Woodsworth, but she essentially said 'let's vote on this now otherwise we'll just have to hear from nimbys who will be against social housing'.
Coun. Jang goes into the Blame the NPA message box next, perhaps not realizing that his colleagues Chow, Stevenson, Louie and Deal all voted for the things he and Coun. Meggs were attacking. Finally the vote, and the meeting was over.
Vote happens. Anton opposed. Passes. Boom done. VAN-ACT leaves the room.
It was an exhausting evening, and I didn't even leave my house. For Vision, it quite possibly was their most revealing behaviour in council yet. I predict this is not going to end well for them.
- post by Mike
- We also recommend Michael Geller's latest post about what he thinks is happening at the Olympic Village.
- Frances Bula's latest report in the Globe and Mail describes more curious turns in the Olympic Village.
- Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee writes on his blog comments from Robertson about the Village made today (Friday). Lee's Thursday story on the late distribution report is here.