Alternate future: An Aquarium without live cetaceans? New Park Board report now online, public meeting Saturday, July 26

Park Board HQThe Vancouver Park Board has posted a staff report dated July 23, 2014 on the current Practice of Keeping Captive Cetaceans in Stanley Park at the Vancouver Aquarium. A Special Meeting has been scheduled to start at 9 am on Saturday, July 26, 2014. This is scheduled as the last meeting of Park Board before the summer break, and it will take place at 2099 Beach Avenue (the Park Board HQ is the last building before entering Stanley Park on Beach Avenue, a short walk from Davie and Denman Streets). Speakers should sign up online by noon on Friday, July 25th; the full agenda for the meeting is available here.

The main thrust of the staff report is a comparative analysis of the Vancouver Aquarium and similar facilities around the globe. The report has confirmed that dolphins and whales are banned from aquariums in 7 countries: Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, India, Slovenia, and Switzerland.Comparison Chart As well, it finds that the majority of aquariums worldwide are without cetaceans (illustration page 9, inset). The only other aquarium with live cetaceans in Canada is Marineland in Ontario.

The Vancouver Aquarium is currently looking to expand its facilities in a second phase of construction. Is there an alternate future for the Vancouver Aquarium, a future that does not include live cetaceans?

aquarium entranceNow is a critical time for decisions – an opportunity to change course and allocate resources and capital plans in other ways than to keep or to expand the display of captive dolphins and whales. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is frequently used as an example of a highly successful facility that doesn’t keep cetaceans in captivity. The Sydney Aquarium is a high profile facility, and again it operates without cetaceans.

The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco has a novel way of engaging visitors with an interactive digital tank. Could something similar be installed in Vancouver?

Decisions made over the fate of live cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium could be used to chart the future course of this facility. Could an alternate and vibrant future be contemplated for the Aquarium without live whales and dolphins? What can be learned from the many aquariums worldwide that do not keep cetaceans in captivity? These questions touch upon ethics and values, public consultation and democracy, tourism and taxes, creativity and practicality, economics and marketing, management and leadership, politics and courage. Perhaps a major force of inertia resisting change in policy at Vancouver Aquarium is the fact that a significant amount of capital and resources has been committed to one vision of an aquarium — based on a business model that includes captive cetaceans for tourism and revenue. In business school and in the real business world, it is the courageous and creative leaders who are able to see issues to their core, recognize where change is needed, and then lead their organizations where they can and should go. What will we see unfolding before our eyes, so close up, right here in Vancouver?

Monaco Digital Tank

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Jericho Lands sale: Plans, vision, value, community input, constraints (video of Council – Councillors Carr, Reimer, City Manager) July 22

jericho lands sunset
The upcoming sale of the federal Jericho Lands was discussed during the Vancouver City Council meeting on July 22, 2014. Councillor Adriane Carr noted that there was a forum in West Point Grey on July 15th where it was revealed that the federal government is ready to transfer the ownership of the Jericho Lands to the Canada Land Company at full market value. Carr asked the City Manager about the role the City has played to date with the federal government and she asked if the City is actively talking to the federal government. Councillor Carr also noted the clear and strong language about development contained in the West Point Grey CityPlan Community Vision that was passed in 2010. She also asked about how the City has engaged the citizens.

City Manager Penny Ballem acknowledged that the City of Vancouver has been in communications with the federal government on the planning framework. Ballem noted that the federal government’s goal is to “achieve highest and best use” and the “best possible market value” for the Jericho Lands. The City would provide further clarity as to which zoning bylaws apply in the future (if and when the Canada Lands Company were to partition and sell off parts of the site to private developers under a tender). The full comments can be seen in the following video:

Councillor Andrea Reimer also spoke about the Jericho Lands afterward (her comments are also in the above video). Reimer said that there was no clear direction in the West Point Grey plan for this piece of land and she said that it is “for future planning”. She referred the Jericho lands as a “future planning area”.

She may not have been aware that, in fact, the CityPlan Community Vision for West Point Grey does make clear mention of these matters, and it is critical to respect the following approved direction in the context of current discussions:

26.2 Jericho Lands Planning Process [Approved - Agree 90/89 %]

If the redevelopment of the Jericho Lands is proposed, the City should ensure that a major study of future uses of the site takes place with significant public consultation. Consistent with the approach taken to create the WPG Community Vision, workshops and other consultations – including a survey of WPG residents – should be held to help determine the neighbourhood’s view on issues related to the development of the Jericho Lands not covered in the WPG Community Vision. There should be early feedback to City Council on the interests and concerns of the WPG community before any key decisions are made. The outcome of a Jericho Lands planning process should be a plan for the site development in consultation with the WPG community; the plan should be considered when implementing Vision Directions and pursuing other City initiatives in WPG.

The types of new housing that are supported and not supported by the community are listed in section 15 of the document (more infill housing and duplexes were supported while fourplexes, rowhouses and low-rise apartments were not supported).

What precedents might the City use for planning the Jericho Lands? The Pearson Dogwood policy report was approved by City Council on February 5, 2014. The following model was used to illustrate the scale of this future development in a predominantly single family residential area of Marpole:

Pearson Dogwood model at UDP Oct 2013 Pearson Dogwood model at UDP Oct 2013

City planners may also look to the Little Mountain Housing Policy document, CityGate and Olympic Village as examples of large projects. The Jericho Lands also fall within an identified future rapid transit corridor in the Transportation 2040 Plan. The recently-pproved Oakridge rezoning relied on a policy statement that referenced the Transportation 2040 plan. The Arbutus Walk project is yet another precedent that could be studied by the City. Regardless of the precedents studied, the real question is whether significant public consultation will take place early on in the process. The public should demand it. Politicians should guarantee it.

Once the Jericho Lands are transferred to the Canada Lands Company at “fair market value”, this crown corporation will be under pressure to make sure that revenue from the future Jericho Lands development will at least cover the sale price (BC Assessment values the land at $234 million, zoned as RS-1 single family residential). A very high valuation for the land could potentially limit the form of future development for the site to only a very high-density option. These are public lands. A high level of public scrutiny and involvement is essential.
Jericho Lands housing
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Where should the love locks go?

love locksCommissioner John Coupar’s motion to find a permanent home for love locks passed unanimously at the Park Board meeting on July 20th, 2014. Park Board staff have been instructed to find possible locations for a structurally safe location to put the love locks, and to consult with the public.

The love locks motion was originally introduced at the July 8th City Council meeting by Councillor George Affleck. The motion was passed in Council, with Councillor Geoff Meggs opposed. Love locks first appears in Vancouver in 2013 on the Burrard Bridge, and were subsequently removed by the City. The locks reappeared in 2014 on a fence beside False Creek and these were also removed, this time by Concord Pacific (see our earlier post for more details). A location for a permanent display of the love locks can be suggested using twitter with the hashtag #vanlovelocks (this tag was suggested by @george_affleck). The video of Coupar’s motion and explanation is included below:

Where should Park Board put the love locks? Should it be a little bit off the beaten path? In a very popular place? Or somewhere in between very popular and remote? Should the location be close to transit?

We have a few suggestions:

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Park Board may wish to consider having two locations, with one in the east and west. While the love locks display should be ‘permanent’, there could also be consideration to make it moveable, at a future date, and also to make the display expandable.

Here’s a list of a several (and by no means exhaustive) possible locations (pictured in the slideshow above): English Bay, Queen Elizabeth Park lookout, Art Gallery, Kitsilano Beach Park, Olympic pier on False Creek, Science World, Trout Lake, Jack Poole Plaza, Waterfront Square, CRAB Park, Main St / 18th Avenue, the East Van Cross, New Brighton Park, Fraser River pier, Jericho Beach Park, VPL Central Branch and Grandview Park.

System-wide Skytrain failure on Expo and Millennium lines. Second time in a week

Entrance closed
There’s been a system-wide failure on the Expo and Millennium Skytrain lines. All four entrances to the busiest Skytrain station in the system at Commercial-Broadway were closed in middle of the day, just past 1pm on Monday, July 21, 2014. A train was stranded on the tracks on the north side of Broadway. This is second failure in a week; sections of the Expo and Millennium lines were out of service on July 17, 2014. Continue reading

Political harassment? City of Vancouver targets Cedar Party for spot inspection, selective enforcement, resulting in office closure/move.

Cedar Party
The Cedar Party of Vancouver has informed CityHallWatch that they are moving out of their election campaign headquarters at 3444 Dunbar Street, under pressure. A lawsuit initiated by the Cedar Party could result in Vision Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson being ejected from public office for conflict of interest. Looking at the chronology and circumstances of the situation, is this a case of politically-motivated harassment of the Cedar Party and leader Glen Chernen by the City of Vancouver? UPDATE: By coincidence, today B.C. Supreme Court, Christopher Hinkson dismissed the conflict-of-interest case. We will cover the story later, but for now, here is a Georgia Straight article, the Court decision (PDF), and a statement by Chernen (PDF), all dated today.Cedar HQ

Chronology:

  • 14-Feb-2014: Mayoral candidate and Cedar Party leader Glen Chernen file a case in BC Supreme court alleging incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson was in a conflict of interest in a deal with social media company HootSuite. If the courts find that he was in conflict of interest, Robertson could be ejected immediately from public office. See our story here: Lawsuit alleges Vancouver mayor in conflict of interest over HootSuite lease. See further below for more details of the legal case.
  • 18-Feb-2014: Mayor Gregor Robertson is served notice of the case.
  • 21-Feb-2014: A City of Vancouver building inspector makes a surprise visit to the Cedar Party, in response to an “anonymous complaint,” and spends a considerable time taking detailed photographs.
  • A short time later, the Cedar Party receives a notice that the premises are not in compliance with several permit requirements – relating to alterations, bathroom, storage room, lighting fixtures, extension cords, etc. (The office was being subleased, and the building has operated for many years as an office and in recent years as a furniture store.) Cedar Party spent nearly four months working to resolve the issues.
  • 12-Jun-2014: The City’s Building Inspections Branch issues a letter listing more work to be done, mostly relating to wiring, and that “until all required permits and approvals have been obtained, 3444 Dunbar Street may not be occupied.”
  • 20-Jul-2014: Weighing their options, aware of the risk that the slow City processes in issuing permits and approvals could take months, and aware that only four months remain until the November 2014 election, the Cedar Party finds no option but to move out of their current campaign office, effective immediately, and seek other premises.

Looking at the facts, this question arises: Are political motives driving the sudden special attention the City staff have placed on Chernen and the Cedar Party? Is this selective enforcement of bylaws and action by the City politically motivated? Is it retribution for the lawsuit during this high-stakes civic election? Whistleblowers, write us at citizenYVR@gmail.com.

Cedar PartyGlen Chernen photo, colour, IMG_5130 - Version 3
Photos: Cedar Party HQ (left) Cedar Party Leader, Glen Chernen (right)

Legal Case Against Gregor Robertson (summary by Cedar Party)

The Mayor was accused of voting on a business venture in (June 2012) for the City to sell a three and a half (3.5) year “option to purchase” on a former police station for one ($1) dollar. The deal allows the purchaser the freedom to delay full payment and completion of the deal until March 2016 for the remaining discounted $9.3 million dollars. The purchase option is assignable to any investor without penalty, and so far the purchaser has made a one million dollar profit at the City of Vancouver’s expense for his one dollar investment. The purchaser can walk from the deal at any time up until 2016 without completing the purchase for any reason. The City never offered this deal to anyone else and never advertised it. The option was sold in a quickly-arranged, secret vote, to a supporter of the Mayor, without disclosing the relationship. The option to delay payment 3.5 years is worth as much as $1 million dollars or more, which the City has not acknowledged, and has been brought up in Court.

The City has vigorously fought Mr. Chernen in their attempt to hide these facts, blocking Chernen’s bona fide request for the information under the FOI Act until the Provincial Privacy Commissioner’s Office forced the City of Vancouver to finally provide the information to all those who had requested it.

Surprise inspections

We wonder where this is headed. Citizens should watch this case. Is it possible that our local government is actually engaged in political harassment? It may be difficult to prove yes, but conversely, it is difficult to prove no. Spokespersons for the Vision Vancouver political party, and for the municipal government, are likely to have their narrative, denials, and justifications for the inspections targeting the Cedar Party. The public and the media may not have all the facts. But seeing the nature of the lawsuit and the chronology of events, it is difficult to deny the potential that this is indeed a case of strategic harassment by the regime that wields absolute power. And if our civic government is being used as a tool for political ends and targeting political opponents, this precedent would not bode well for democracy in Canada.

Note that this is not the first time surprise inspections have resulted in hardship. In December 2013, the historic Ming Sun at 439 Powell Street was subject of a sudden inspection and demolition notice. Many of the circumstances and claims made by the City were challenged. The building was targeted for demolition and redevelopment, but rapid mobilization by the community stopped the demolition, and efforts are still under way to protect and preserve the building.

Cedar HQ

New 53-unit social housing building on Little Mountain edges toward completion. A few questions.

Little Mountain Housing

A new building under construction at 155 East 37th Avenue appears to be nearing completion, well ahead of schedule. This is good news. There’s a housing agreement for 155 East 37th Avenue on City Council’s meeting agenda for July 22nd. Residents who now live in the last original building on the Little Mountain Housing site will probably move into this new building by September 2014. Holborn’s contractor, Urban One Builders, has put the finishing touches on the building, cleaned up the site, and finished the landscaping (see site photos below). This building with 53 social housing units almost appears to be ready for occupancy.

That was the good news. The bad news is that no additional non-market housing units are being built on the site. There have been no further building proposals made to the City and nothing is in the approval pipeline. In June of 2013, BC Housing sold the 15-acre site to Holborn for $87 million, with the agreement that 234 non-market housing units would be built on the property (see our earlier post here). The new housing would replace the 220 units that were demolished in 2009 (synopsis here). Holborn still needs to construct 181 units of social housing on the site. The non-market units will be deeded back to BC Housing after completion. Vancouver City Council approved a rezoning policy for Little Mountain back on June 27, 2012. Apart from the new 53-unit building, there has been no movement forward to construct replacement housing on the Little Mountain site (the city’s website lists Oct 22, 2013 as the last public engagement meeting).

The City’s rezoning policy for Little Mountain states that between 1,250 and 1,400 units of market housing would be constructed on the site, in addition to the 234 non-market housing units. Amenities such as a new Little Mountain Neighbourhood House, a 69-space childcare facility, and transportation and park improvements are outlined in the City’s policy. An open question is whether Holborn and the IBI Group (the architects) will wait until after the November 2014 municipal election before revealing their rezoning plans for the site.

Local filmaker David Vaisbord is currently working on a documentary on the Little Mountain Housing project. A trailer on The Little Mountain Film gives more details about this crowd sourced project (donations are still being accepted to fund this film). The littlemountainproject.com website also includes a detailed history of the housing site.

Last original building, still inhabited

Included below are several photos of the Little Mountain Housing site: Continue reading

Indefensible secrecy in City’s bid decisions? Compare Vancouver vs Toronto. Case in point: $8.51 million bid (3-year contract, supply of traffic control services)

Dollar signs, CHW(Updated) A July 23, 2014 meeting of Vancouver City Council will be reviewing a staff recommendation to enter a three-year contract (extendable to five) with Ansan Industries Limited for the supply of traffic control services. The price? $8.51 million. 

The average citizen reading the staff recommendation to Council (download PDF) might conclude that the process was all fair and proper. And maybe it was. The staff write a good narrative leading to the winning bid, but no evidence is provided. The public is expected to trust City Hall, but the flip side of trust is the ability to verify. And verification of propriety is impossible, based on what the City of Vancouver provides.

It does not have to be this bad. Compare Vancouver’s approach with Toronto’s Bid Committee. Here, available online, are the minutes of a Bid Committee meeting of the City of Toronto on July 9, 2014.  http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewPublishedReport.do?function=getMinutesReport&meetingId=8685

In contrast, it appears the City of Vancouver Bid Committee does not even have a web page, and minutes of its meetings are not published. Compare…

VANCOUVER

TORONTO

Bid Committee has a web page?

No

Yes

Minutes made public online?

No

Yes

Shortlist of received bids published?

No

Yes

Comparison of bids, in dollars?

No

Yes

Names/contact info for responsible staff clearly indicated?

No

Yes

Links provide for extensive background on the bid?

No

Yes

Indefensible secrecy, complete lack of transparency?

YES!

No

Note that Toronto’s Bid Committee meetings appear on the city’s monthly calendar. Six meetings are indicated for July 2014, with live hyperlinks.

http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/meetingCalendarView.do?function=meetingCalendarView#current

Toronto’s Bid Committee has its own web page, which provides extensive detail. Continue reading