Meet your Councillors meeting recap (Monday, January 14th meeting)

Vancouver City Councillors and Neighbourhood Councils 
GWAC Public Meeting Monday, 14 January 2019

Activity Room, Britannia Ice Rink

Special Guest Speakers: Councillors Adriane Carr, Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick, Jean Swanson, Michael Wiebe
The meeting began at 7:00pm
D. Cromie chaired the meeting and began the meeting by introducing our guests.

Community Announcements
 Thursday, January 17, Grandview Heritage Club, Britannia Board Room, 7 – 9 pm.
Thursday, January 17, Grandview Garden Club, Learning Resource Centre, 7 – 9 pm
Saturday, March 17, GWAC AGM, 11:00 – 1:45 pm (Note: Time Change)

D. Cromie opens the discussion with a question about the validity and value of Grandview Woodland Community Plan (GWCP), saying that people worked diligently, in good faith for a long time to create this plan, only to be told by city planners that the plan is a “guide” only. A guide for whom, and what does that mean? Is there a city-wide plan?
Each of the councillors present addressed the issue:

Colleen Hardwick—Ms. Hardwick began by saying she was elected to represent the people of Vancouver, all of them and had to think of our children and children’s children when making decisions. She calls for creation of a new city-wide planning process (the last was in the early 1990’s and she would re-visit those plans).  Ms. Hardwick claims that councillors recognize there has been a lot of top down directives and that they want to put forward an antidote to that style of governance. She wants to start on a positive note—make a plan that takes into account the nuances of each community.

Adriane Carr–Thanks GWAC for the invitation to speak, noting that Grandview Woodland always has packed meetings. Ms. Carr went on to explain that her 1st motion this year was to call for a new city-wide plan (the first city-wide plan was created in 1928/29). She says that City Councillors worked together to make this motion a true collaboration.  She would like to use neighbourhood plans to inform the city-wide plan and to set some goals by asking what kind of city do citizens want? Ms. Carr believes council must ask citizens the big questions: How do we make a city-wide plan. How do we organize it? What should the process of consultation look like?

Michael Wiebe–He said he understands the community plans creation process because he worked on the Mount Pleasant Community Plan and was a member of its Implementation Committee. Mr. Wiebe related how his neighbours were frustrated as they saw proposal after proposal failing to follow the neighbourhood plan, despite the thousands of hours spent on developing it. Recognizing that the process was so broken, Mr. Wiebe ran for council. He felt no one at City Hall acknowledged or implemented the good ideas that came from the community. As a consequence, valuable ideas and time were lost.

Lisa Dominato She started by citing her background in the Hastings Sunrise area and in public planning. Ms. Dominato insists that public planning needs local input to succeed but that the “big picture” also must be acknowledged (transit, other infrastructure, diversity, etc.). She said that neighbourhood nuances need to be considered.

Jean Swanson Ms. Swanson related her experiences as a member of the Downtown East Side (DTES) Planning Committee, five-years ago. She does not think there is much to celebrate in this plan, noting that all involved must acknowledge problems with implementation and insist that the neighbourhood plan has value and is recorded. Ms. Swanson urged the audience to be sure what they really want is translated back to council. Her key concerns, however, are for tenants and housing affordability. She is the “go-to person” for this issue. Ms. Swanson wants needs to be met and cited the Kettle Friendship’s dire need for affordable housing. She wants to see that the Kettle gets the housing it so needs and without the towers. 

Questions from the Floor

A fully engaged audience asked wide-ranging questions a wide variety of topics, including:

  • Community Consultation. Many commented that planning consultation process is broken and that in its current form does not allow adequate for consideration of neighbourhood opinion or ideas. Community consultation must be improved and taken seriously by Council and the Planning Department. “VanSplash” was cited as an example of how not to carry out a public consultation;
  • Divisiveness. Improving urban living space by building for the future often means dealing with divisive situations and branding (NIMBY, for example)—how can we address divisiveness and move forward?
  • Rental Accommodation. Urgent need to create affordable, safe rental accommodations (protecting rental stock and building more; dealing with off-shore presales that inflate housing prices. Currently, 30,000 secondary suites in Vancouver, of which only 5,000 are legal. Report on how to simplify the process and to legalize all of the suites coming soon. The City and planners must remember single parents and the poor when planning affordable rentals; the high cost of housing often means these groups are unable to access dignified, humane accommodation (“Mansion Tax” and changing the definition of “affordable” were mentioned as possible solutions);
  • City-Wide Plan.  Council wants to see the creation of a city-wide plan. Discussion with planners about its Terms of Reference begins in March—divisiveness, rate and pace of change, and value of genuine local consultation are topics that will be brought forward for discussion and inclusion;
  • Public Voice. Many audience members felt neither city planners nor council listen to public concerns. People want genuine public consultation that acknowledges their concerns and addresses them. Some feel that planners deliberately mislead, misrepresenting plans or misinforming the public. Even Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are inadequately answered and difficult to file. Citizens want the City and the Planning Department to be honest and to listen to local concerns and suggestions. They want to stop the sham open house consultations and assurances that residents will have time to participate fully in the planning process in their neighbourhoods and city. Many feel it is City Council’s responsibility to ensure that the consultation process is honest and accessible to all members of the community who wish to participate (and even those who do not wish to participate). Council should try to motive the public to become engaged in planning their city (the City Plan consultation process of the 1990s was cited several times as good model). The new councillors agreed that they need to look into the processes, but they also noted that public servants are doing their best with open houses and process. Mistakes may be made, however. And they encouraged the audience to bring “incongruities” or deviations from neighbourhood plans to council’s attention;
  • Current Development Proposals. Audience members mentioned several concerns about the consultation process with regard to several development proposals, including the 2300-Block of Charles Street (an exclusive “workshop” event held before an open house presentation), the 1st & Clark Detox and Housing proposal (No consensus on this project except that it is trying to meet a real need for integrated addiction services but on a scale deemed by some to be too large for the neighbourhood), the Kettle (why doesn’t the City meet housing needs by building affordable housing—not a tower—on the city-owned land behind the Kettle), and “Rental Only” development proposals (esp. 1550-block Grant Street, a “block-buster” proposal which may set a community precedent). One participant noted that the Cohere Housing Development at 1st and Victoria was protested originally, but it has since integrated into the neighbour, thereby demonstrating that social housing projects can work (several audience noted the much smaller scope and scale of the Cohere project made all the difference). A key point made is that the poor, the addicted, the elderly, and many other groups are community members too and deserve to be treated with dignity, recognized, and included;
  • Motion to Change Consultation Policy. Can Council do something? Can councillors draft an amended policy, one that addresses concerns raised at tonight’s meeting?

Closing Remarks
Lisa Dominato noted the passion, candor, and diverse voices in the room tonight. She thanked GWAC and audience members for inviting her and for talking about the issues.
Adriane Carr said that such public meetings were important for gathering information, saying “We can’t get this [kind of information] at Council. Let’s work together.” She’s excited about working with neighbourhood councils to make changes.
Michael Wiebe likes the open dialogue we experienced tonight. Mt. Pleasant was a good example of dialogue and moving to consensus. He reminded everyone that we must give and take if we are going to create livable communities in a livable city.
Colleen Hardwick cautioned the audience not to oversimplify or get stuck in binary constructs when it came to planning. She said that in 2016, the City built twice the number of units than in past years. To be sure, capacity was built, but affordable rents disappeared along with rental stock. She warned people to exercise care and not to paint with broad brushstrokes. We need to pay attention to the details and know what we want. She reminded the audience that in the end, it is all about the money. Ms. Hardwick urged audience members to work together to come up with solutions and compromises.
Jean Swanson. Thanks everyone for coming out and adding to her “to do” list. She maintains that supportive housing can fit into neighbourhoods, with guidance from residents’ committees and management. She also agreed that people need time to create plans, telling the audience not to move forward with proposals that do not conform to local plans. Ms. Swanson wondered at the time anomalies in the planning approval processes (Britannia Community Centre received permission seven years ago, yet some other proposals have not received detailed analysis that others have and should not be rushed through (three months—no public hearing). She wants to meet with communities, find out what the concerns are, and look at the broader picture. (For example, Broadway & Commercial developments must have affordable housing when rental units disappear.)
Invited guests, audience members, and GWAC Board members agreed that the meeting was a respectful, positive, and energizing success. People felt that residents’ concerns about the broken planning process were heard, and they felt they were going to be part of a more collaborative planning process at a changing City Hall.

D. Cromie adjourned the meeting at 9:10 pm.