CityHallWatch’s October 20 “The Future of Vancouver” public forum will connect many dots in a larger context and address much of the spin coming from Mayor Gregor Robertson, City Hall, and certain commentators.
Whether intentionally or not, the Mayor and high-profile commentators seem to consistently miss key points of concern articulated by citizens — regarding due process and meaningful consultation. For example, they missed the main points of a letter signed by nearly thirty community groups and leaders with important appendices — it was mainly asking City Council for more than the three business days the Mayor allowed for proper public consultation on the Mayor’s Task Force recommendations, saying “Consultation should occur before, not after, adopting the recommendations.” They also miss that the main points of contention were just a few of the 15 recommendations.
Mayor Robertson and commentators forget that the public outcry is in the context of the erosion of trust in City Hall with regard to land use policy and decisions. The public is concerned about the vagueness of wording and the failure for the staff report to provide Council and the public adequate detail (e.g., not a single map included in the written staff report to Council). They should know that the erosion of trust has also been accelerated by the public’s recent experience with land use policies adopted on short notice (e.g., the Short Term Incentives for Rental program, or STIR) and with controversial rezonings (proposals rammed through public hearings by bloc voting by Vision Vancouver councillors with only cosmetic changes to original applications — once a rezoning application is made public, people know it’s basically a done deal).
Among the many examples of spin in support of Mayor Robertson’s approach include a prominent article on October 13 (Gregor Robertson says misinformation, exaggeration behind negative public reaction). And a post by Frances Bula (blogger/reporter), who wrote “Almost everything you have read or heard so far about the Vancouver’s task force on housing affordability is misleading, off-base or just wrong.” Or look at what development industry consultant Bob Ransford wrote (City’s plans for improving affordability, diversity beg the question: Why would anyone want to oppose them?).
Below, CityHallWatch offers a few observations regarding the actions and plans of Mayor Robertson and the Vision Vancouver Councillors’ (other Councillors voted clearly against this item) to reject requests for proper public consultation. Instead, on October 3, they immediately introduced an “interim rezoning policy” to accept proposals up to 3.5 storeys 100 meters from arterial streets, and up to 6 storeys within 500 meters of “neighbourhood centres” and “shopping areas.” Now we learn that proposals were being accepted already the next day, on October 4, 2012.
- The City is moving very quickly with this process: A bulletin dated October 4, only one day after Council adopted the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force, said that the City is already accepting rezoning proposals. A briefing will be Oct 17, and applications for the first 20 projects are being accepted Nov 15. The plan was obviously well scripted before the public, and even before non-Vision members of City Council, heard about it (just three working days before the Mayor planned to adopt it).
- Spin cycle in full swing: Mayor Robertson and his supporters have been working overtime to attack what they claim is misinformation and exaggeration. City Hall could have done a better job of scheduling if they wished to provide accurate and complete information to the public. But even the top civic reporters had very little time to analyze the content or interview people to get other opinions before their deadlines. And the members of Council who are not on the Vision Vancouver caucus had no more time than the public to review the report. Council meets every two weeks, so there was no need to rush the decision to adopt and immediately implement the recommendations. It was only after the Vision members on Council voted as a block to ram through the Task Force recommendations that the Mayor launched a major public relations campaign — twitter town hall, interviews on radio, television and in print.
- Map games: It was only after citizens requested to speak to Council and started asking questions that, at the last minute (oral presentation to Council), City staff were pressured (by Clr Adriane Carr) to present a map at the Oct 3 Council meeting to show the impact zones of the recommended “interim rezoning policy.” (The map was only made available online to the general public online the day AFTER the meeting.) In fact, CityHallWatch believes that the map provided to the Council and public on October 3 still misrepresents the full impact zone of the “interim rezoning policy.” (Stay tuned for more on that.)
- The role of mainstream media, reporters and commentators: Some high-profile commentators miss the critical points of public outrage –whether intentionally or by incompetence. Any individual being paid by the development industry as a consultant and who is openly biased in favor of one political party, who also happen to get frequent and free access to the public mind through mainstream media should be encouraged to properly disclose their interests, so that the public can evaluate their words in context. See also here (Vancouver Sun, 14-Nov-2011, by Jeff Lee, “Bob Ransford’s Transformation to Vision Vancouver Supporter Now Complete.” Excerpt: I suppose it won’t be much of a shock to anybody on the inside, but the conversion of Bob Ransford from one-time vociferous critic of Vision Vancouver to best buddy of Mayor Gregor Robertson is complete.) Subscribers and readers are encouraged to contact the media owners and chief editors encouraging more disclosure and balance in reporting, and offering praise when it occurs. Media outlets that portray columnists as impartial commentators are doing a disservice to society. This is a topic that should get more public debate in the coming month
- Given the failure of the Mayor and City Hall to provide the public accurate information in a timely way about many critical aspects of the Mayor’s Task Force recommendations, an even greater level of public scrutiny is required every step of the way going forward.
- We hope and expect that the public will have the right to speak to Council for each of the twenty rezoning applications that come forward. For these cases, it will be important for neighbourhoods to communicate with each other and connect the dots about what is going on at City Hall. Each project should be treated in the greater context, not as an isolated case.