Mirror, Magnifier, Microphone

Many players influence City Council’s decisions and Vancouver’s future. CityHallWatch balances the game by giving citizens tools to engage City Hall effectively.  More here.

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“Is anyone else concerned?” message circulating from Ray Spaxman, esteemed former Director of Planning, Vancouver

Telus Garden RenderingVancouver’s urban planning and development community is abuzz with an e-mail message written by Ray Spaxman, circulating since early this morning, asking if others are concerned about things going on in urban planning here today. We copy it below.

Spaxman is highly respected as the City of Vancouver’s Director of Planning from 1973 to 1989, and today runs Spaxman Consulting Group Limited. He is renowned for his balanced approach to development, for listening to all sides, and he has left his mark on the Vancouver we know and love today. Telus GardenMost recently, he was a key advisor supporting the Downtown Eastside in the Local Area Plan recently adopted by Vancouver City Council.  Also, we highly recommend this enlightening audio file of an interview with him in the SFU Continuing Education “Paradise Makers” series back in 2007 — click here. For images of the “projecting box” at Westbank’s Telus Garden project downtown, which he refers to, see this discussion on the Skyscraper Page Forum.

Text of his e-mail follows.

Yesterday I visited a professional office on Seymour Street and one of the  partners took me to an office on the east side of his building and said something like,
“You used to be the Director of Planning and Chair of the Development Permit 
Board so you can probably answer this questions. How is it that the new 
Telus building is projecting out over the street so that it seems that an 
enormous lump of it is now just a few feet from  our windows? “

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Open House for John Oliver Secondary School renewal on April 24th, online survey

John Oliver Secondary SchoolThe Vancouver School Board has scheduled an Open House to receive comments on plans to renew and add seismic upgrades to John Oliver Secondary School located at Fraser and 41st Avenue. The Open House will be held on Thursday, April 24, from 3 to 7:30pm on the school premises. As well, an online survey will be live between April 25th and 30th.

The Vancouver School Board is presently contemplating a number of budget cuts, including deep cuts to music programs and to sports. The VSB may also discontinue hot lunches at an inner city school. It remains to be seen what impact the VSB cuts will have on plans to renew existing schools. Continue reading

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Time to crack down on no-holds-barred civic election financing (Peter Ladner in Business in Vancouver, 22-Apr-2014)

BC LegislatureThis important article was published today, written by Peter Ladner — co-founder of Business in Vancouver, former Vancouver City councillor, and fellow at the SFU Centre for Dialogue.

Below is a short summary, but we encourage people to read the whole article, spread the word, and contact your MLA to tell them what you think. Write letters to the editor of your favourite newspaper. Call in to the radio. Bills 20 and 21 are in committee now and back for final reading within days or weeks.

Time to crack down on no-holds-barred civic election financing
by Peter Ladner, in Business in Vancouver, 22-April-2014
Full article here.

Provincial legislation has to cover all municipalities, but this financing fire is burning brightest by far in Vancouver. That’s where it really needs to be doused. 

You would think, after one donor (developer Robert Macdonald) contributed $960,000 to the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) campaign in the 2011 Vancouver municipal election, that alarm bells would be clanging in Vancouver and Victoria and everywhere in between: don’t ever let this happen again!

Not that Macdonald’s egregious spending bundle was completely out of context. Vancouver voters had been warming up to his lollapalooza since Vision Vancouver tucked away a $169,000 donation in 2005 from John Lefebvre, who didn’t even live in Vancouver. The Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing most of the city’s staff, reported $127,000 in third-party expenses in Vancouver in 2011, with another $429,000 donated directly to civic parties, according to the Vancouver Sun civic spending database.

Other points, summarized by CityHallWatch: Continue reading

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Urban Design Panel April 23: Rize, 8199 Cambie, 699 W 41st, 357 W King Edward, 7645 Cambie

Rize tower partThe Urban Design Panel will be reviewing 5 different design proposals on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, starting at 3pm.

The controversial Rize tower design has been changed so that it is 21-storeys (rather than 19-storeys), the number of parking spaces has been increased to 399 (from 320) and the condo unit count has been increased to 258 units (from 241). This item is scheduled to be reviewed at 6:15pm.

The remaining 4 items are all Cambie Corridor proposals: 7645 Cambie Street, 357 W King Edward, 8199 Cambie, 699 West 41st Avenue. The development at 8199 Cambie at SW Marine Drive includes a 31-storey and 12-storey tower and has 330 residential units. This proposal is kitty corner from the giant Marine Gateway project.

Agenda (reproduced for reference, start times are approximate): Continue reading

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Trout Lake Master Plan revealed. Raises ire of dog owners. Too timid? Online survey open until April 30th

Dog offleash areaThe long awaited draft Master Plan for Trout Lake (John Hendry Park) was unveiled at an Open House on April 15th, 2014. Public comments are available via an online survey that is open until April 30th; all of the boards are online here.

Our initial analysis of this plan is that it is too timid and it won’t go very far in the goals for the re-naturalization of the park (one of the sentiments that came out of the December 2013 workshop)

The proposal to scale back the off-leash dog area immediately raised the ire of dog owners, as reported in the following articles:

The draft Master Plan may be trying to ‘over-programme’ the park for too many uses:

john-hendry-2014-apr_p3 Golder AssociatesThere’s a proposal to reconstruct a building on the south beach; this is a considerable expense given that there’s already an existing building there that could be repurposed. There’s a lack of tree planting planned in parts of the park that are not dedicated fields. A few ‘entry features’ and a boardwalk zigzagging through a ‘natural wetland’ on the east side of the lake appear to be a little out of place.

A farmer’s market has been operating on Saturdays for years in the parking lot at the north end of the Trout Lake (and previously in the lot beside Victoria Drive). The draft plan suggests moving the farmer’s market to the southern parking lot. The presence of the farmer’s market is rather divisive. While there are supporters of the market, it was also interesting to hear some of the local residents say at the Open House say that it has not benefited the park, and that this was a ‘farmers market for the rich’ because of unusually high rental fees that are charged (reflected in the price of produce).

The draft master plan is still a conceptual plan, and a number of details are still subject to change during the ongoing design process.

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A modest proposal: A lobbyist registry for all B.C. municipalities (or Metro Vancouver, or each city). Federal, provincial examples.

Lobbyist registry for local governments Does Vancouver need a lobbyist registry? Do all big cities need one? Or how about a centralized regional registry coordinated by Metro Vancouver for all local municipalities? Or extend the provincial system to handle all local governments in British Columbia? (In many cases it is the same special interest groups donating to political parties and lobbying governments.)

Elected officials are supposed to put the public interest first. Voters get the chance to elect them only once every three years (though the BC Liberals are set to ram through Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (Bill 20) within weeks, immediately switching to four-year terms — making politicians LESS accountable).

But the rest of the time, lobbyists have special access to parties, politicians, and government personnel.

CityHallWatch has proposed Six actions to clean up Vancouver politics, and these could apply to other cities and regions. One action is creation of a lobbyist registry.

Take the case of Vancouver. With a population just over 600,000, and annual operating and capital budgets combined of over $1.2 billion, there is a LOT of money changing hands. Millions of dollars of procurement contracts. Taxpayers’ money. So who is meeting our Mayor, Councillors, and public servants? The public has a right to know.

Some municipalities in Canada already have a lobbyist registry system. The BC Province has one. And so does the federal government. British Columbia is the wild, wild West. This must change. The public should demand it.

Below are some links to information about the federal and BC provincial lobbyist registries, for further study and comparison.

Can this idea be turned into an issue for the November 15, 2014 civic elections? Can this idea be injected into debate on Bills 20 and 21 this month in B.C. Legislature?

Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada Continue reading

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Surrey First councillor Barinder Rasode goes independent. But why do civic political parties even exist? Analysis.

Surrey First thank you photo surreyfirst-caThe airwaves were buzzing today with news that Barinder Rasode, an elected councillor on Surrey City Council, has left the ruling civic party “Surrey First. Her e-mail, published in The Now Newspaper, says “there is a systematic failure of process at City Hall, and in order to adequately address this issue, I have decided to sit as an Independent on Council.” Rasode give three issues she finds troubling, “both personally and professionally: 1. The approach taken toward public safety and fighting crime. 2. Spending at City Hall. 3. Community consultation.”

Media coverage so far has focused on the internal friction and speculation on possible political power games and strategies at play.

But we should really be asking this: Why does Surrey First exist at all? For that matter, why do Vision Vancouver, the Non-Partisan Association, COPE, and the Burnaby Citizens Association exist? Why do some municipalities even have political parties? Political parties at the municipal level are the exception. What benefits does society get from their existence? Or rather, who benefits the most from their existence? Would society be better without them? Should civic parties be banned, discouraged, or even punished by voters? Can’t these mayors and councillors conduct their public business in public instead of in closed caucus meetings? Problems existence civic parties, CityHallWatch-ca

Municipal parties are convenient targets for lobbyists and money from special interests (developers, industry groups, unions, foreign money, corporations, and the wealthy).

Is the friction experienced by Rasode a symptom of the conflict between the public interest expected of Surrey City Council and the private interests driving Surrey First?

Below are some more observations from coverage about Councillor Rasode’s departure from Surrey First, with media links, and related information.

This is all highly relevant, as the BC Liberals are poised to ram through Bills 20 and 21 within weeks, which, unless major amendments are made, will give immediately give incumbents and/or new winners an extra year in power and cause other problems. See CityHallWatch’s Top Ten List of what’s wrong with Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (Bill 20) and the Local Elections Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 (Bill 21).

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