The wires were buzzing this morning with the news that a closed meeting of Vancouver City Council was expected to decide not to renew the contract of Vancouver’s current Director of Planning, Brent Toderian.
Many months ago, CityHallWatch posted this question, and the City’s response (plus job descriptions of City planners , including the Director of Planning, obtained through freedom of information inquiries): “What measures, means, processes, or rights are in place in the City of Vancouver for a citizen, group of citizens, or organization to request the City to conduct an official performance review of a public servant employed by the City, or a performance review of an entire department?”
In the end, it media reports today were true (official news release, 12 noon). The Director of Planning will not have his contract renewed. But will the public ever know for sure the real reasons for his firing?
Based on this Council’s track record, especially since 2008, the real reason is probably not that he was supporting policies and decisions that communities opposed, but rather that he did not go far ENOUGH to favor the development industry. Key issues now are WHO will replace him, and WHO will have the most influence over the new Director of Planning.
The public must have a say in the job description of the new planning director, and have a say in the new selection process. It needs to be someone who knows Vancouver well, and who can put the public interest first.
This topic (firing and next hiring of Director of Planning) is one for neighbourhoods and citizens to be vigilant over the coming days and weeks. Vision Vancouver again this term has absolute power in City Council, with eight of eleven votes. The Vancouver Charter requires campaign finance reporting within 120 days of the Nov. 19 election, but estimates are that they received between $3 million and $5 million, much of it from developers, to get re-elected in 2011. That money was not given simply out of charity. How will those donors influence Council this term?
Land speculation and real estate development are the biggest games in town. The main message of mainstream media so far is that the development industry was not happy with his performance and wanted him to go. Community groups feel he too often sided with developers, but was developer frustration that he didn’t give developers enough? If so watch out for who comes next.
Yes, citizens have reasons for unhappiness with the Planning Department. In fact, CityHallWatch on July 26, 2011 with other groups organized a rally attended by 150 people on the steps of City Hall with the message that the entire planning system in Vancouver is broken. (We note that the event failed to garner coverage by any media outlet except for the Georgia Straight.) Also, CityHallWatch has covered what appear to be unsatisfactory work by the Planning Department (see links below), which appeared to be bending over backwards seeking ways to justify rezoning and development proposals and major policies affecting land use.
When he was hired almost six years ago, Mr Toderian entered into a complex web of powerful forces and interests, many of them reaching far beyond the edges of Vancouver and even Canada. Perhaps he tried his best to balance them all. We will never know all the things that go on behind the screen. But we believe that this story of his firing is probably much larger than just the individual involved and his position.
CityHallWatch takes the view that as this position does have a huge influence on our city, the people of Vancouver deserve a major say in defining the job description for Mr. Toderian’s replacement, and deserves to be informed about the hiring and selection process.
As for timing of this firing, we are hearing citizen voices saying that this is an odd time to fire the Director of Planning: two months away from an interim report on affordable housing, and just beginning a citywide plan and four neighbourhood plans. Vision Vancouver has made affordable housing a pillar of its policy. An elite hand-picked task force has been created (no members have yet been announced). Land and housing will be at the forefront of issues in Vancouver for the foreseeable future. The plans of this party will become evident in time.
Bottom line: Decisions about real estate and land use are among the core foundations and most essential functions of any city hall — as they affect every aspect of life and finances in a city. The role of the Director of Planning is important in this whole picture. Citizens need to remain vigiliant about the firing and hiring of any person in this position. Stay tuned.
- The Globe and Mail which broke the story [It appears that an insider leaked the info selectively to reporter Frances Bula, whose story was posted online before 2 am. What does this say about the reporter's relationship with certain insiders?]
- Blogger and reporter Frances Bula also covered the story in her blog
- Vancouver Sun‘s Jeff Lee’s article
- Georgia Straight‘s Charlie Smith covered it too.
- And at 8 am CKNW news in “audio vault,” this was lead news item.
- Vancouver Sun’s Jeff Lee’s blog
- City Caucus: Brent Toderian sacked by Vision. What does it mean?
Articles so far mainly say:
- Mr. Toderian provoked a steady stream of complaints from developers and architects, who say he failed to give clear messages about the Planning Department’s direction, resulting in stalled projects.
- Some blamed his leadership for the rise of neighbourhood anti-development groups.
- Some say he lacked an overall vision for the city.
- He was author and steersman for the EcoDensity policy, and guided policy on laneway housing, and a plan to transform single-family housing along Cambie Street and the Canada Line into a row of apartments and office towers, and was responsible for enforcing the controversial “communty amenity contribution” (developers make payments of a share of profits when land is rezoned and becomes mroe valuable).
RELATED PAST STORIES BY CITYHALLWATCH
About community opposition to planning policies, the planning system, and Planning Department
- Citywide neighbourhoods gather at City Hall (Jan 26). “Vancouver’s Planning System is Broken“
About the power/role of the position of Director of Planning
- Most powerful job in Vancouver? Perhaps the City’s Director of Planning.
About apparently flawed work by the Planning Department
- Apparent flaws in City staff report on major tower rezoning (Rize Alliance, at Kingsway & Broadway): “Ethics of visualization” (in Council Jan 31, 9:30 am)
- http://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/view-from-spanish-banks-challenge-compare-for-yourself/ (Misleading view images presented to council)