Winter Solstice at Queen Elizabeth Park (Photos by Ned Jacobs)

Sweet Gum 15-12 P1160861cPhotographs and text by Ned Jacobs 

Georgia Straight readers voted Queen Elizabeth Park “Vancouver’s Best Urban Oasis” in 2015 for good reasons. The City’s second largest park, at the highest point in Vancouver and near the geographic centre, is loaded year round with ‘active’ and ‘passive’ recreational opportunities. Though famed for stunning spring and summer floral displays, the park takes advantage of our maritime climate to provide gorgeous color even after the autumn leaves have fallen. These pictures were taken during the shortest days of the year in 2015, December 16th – 30th, under the gentle light of overcast skies and on bright days when the sun’s low angle infuses the park with a warm glow.

Sweet Gum breath and sunbeams (photo at top): This magnificent specimen of American Sweet Gum, near 29th Avenue, waited until December to drop its spectacular autumn leaves. Liberated by sunshine, mist flows from the mossy trunk.

Snowberry  15-12 P1160835c

Snowberry and friends: Thoughtful, inspired landscape design juxtapositions trees, shrubs and flowers—common and rare, native and exotic—in combinations that create sums greater than their parts. This grouping can be enjoyed from the stairs behind the Bloedel Floral Conservatory.

Late bloomer 15-12 P1160896cLate bloomer: This charming floribunda in the Rose Garden doesn’t know when to quit—good for her!  

Early Bloomer 15-12 P1160821cEarly bloomer: Camellias normally bloom in the spring, but warmth from the Conservatory has induced a bud to open into a perfect blossom that greets the rising sun.  

Handkherchief Tree 15-12 P1160941cHandkerchief Tree: Named for its showy white bracts, which fall to ground in June like discarded tissues, this Davidia Involucrata beside stairs to the Large Quarry Garden, raises its mighty brown hand above a variegated Japanese Laurel (Aucuba).

Old Cherry 15-12 P1160915cOld Cherry: One of the park’s major spring floral attractions, this cherry has an astonishing spread. Winter brings prominence to the hefty, character-rich limbs.

Birder & Canada Geese 15-12 P1170026cBirder and Canada Geese: There was great excitement in the Birder community this Solstice when the annual ‘Christmas bird count’ turned up a little flock of redpoles at QE Park. The Common Redpole is not actually very common here; the arctic species usually winters in northern birch forests. But what really created a stir was the appearance of a single Hoary Redpole—the fluffy white breast resembles hoarfrost—an even more northerly sub-species known to mix with its ‘common’ relatives. Occasional sightings of this finch-like songbird have been reported in Vancouver, but never officially authenticated for lack of photographic evidence. But after it was spotted word went out, and scores of birders flocked to the park to be part of this historic event. Here, a birder ignores grazing Canada Geese (not ‘Canadian’ –they don’t carry passports!) beside the little marsh by the Disc Golf Course near Ontario Street, and searches for the elusive Hoary.

Hoary and Common Redpoles 15-12 P1170007Hoary and Common Redpoles: Eureka ! The white-breasted Hoary is at bottom, the pink-breasted Common Redpoles at top and on both sides. They flit about the braches feeding constantly on tiny birch seeds. For sharper, more detailed portraits and accounts,

Fountain 15-12 P1170078cFountains of Light: The Winter Holiday Season brings magical lighting (and beautiful music) to the Celebration Plaza —and inside the Conservatory too.  

Heather 15-12 P1170087cHeathers and Rhododendron: Nature joins the celebration with purple and white Heather ‘tinsel’ and golden Rhododendron ‘candles’.  

Cotoneaster15-12 P1170105cCotoneaster: Loaded with scarlet berries, frost etches the veins of the embossed evergreen leaves of this beauty alongside the Celebration Plaza parking lot.  

Winter flowering Viburnum 15-12 P1160855cWinter-flowering Viburnum: Kissed by morning sun beside the Rose Garden, looking into the Pitch & Put Golf Course.

Vancouver dawn 15-12 P1160901cVancouver dawn: The city joins the Festival of Lights.

Photo session 15-12 P1170095Photo Session: And the mountains reign supreme.

FOI release triggers more questions about firing of former City Manager (Sept 15, 2015)

Penny Ballem at Regular Council Meeting, September 15, 2015

Penny Ballem at Regular Council Meeting, September 15, 2015, minutes before she learned she was fired. Seated at left is Sadhu Johnston, who still fills the role as Acting City Manager five months later.

Nearly five months have passed since the dramatic and sudden firing of Vancouver’s most powerful bureaucrat on September 15, 2015, and her replacement still has not been hired. But the release of information today by the City’s FOI office (click for PDF document, or see text at bottom of this article) leads us to many questions.

Today, the City of Vancouver’s FOI department finally released the minutes of the in-camera meeting pertaining to the dismissal of former City Manager Penny Ballem. This was in response to a Freedom of Information request, which the City initially rejected. The release was secured only after the intervention of the provincial government’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).

What was the real reason for her “termination”? (We still don’t know.) Which individuals were party to the secret decision?  (We know it was not City Council.) When and where was the real decision made? (It was not at the in camera meeting.) Who is really calling the shots now? (Sadhu Johnston currently serves only as Acting City Manager?) In effect, who are the real masters of our municipal government?

Beyond this, what are the consequences–and what is the public recourse–when elected municipal officials violate legislation? (That appears to have occurred with this termination.) What are the deeper implications of all of this regarding public trust and integrity of our municipal government? (See further below regarding the possible illegality of municipal government decisions being made by caucus outside of City Council.)

Dr. Penny Ballem was Vancouver’s City Manager from 2009 until her appointment was abruptly “terminated” on September 15, 2015, during an in camera meeting (closed to the public).

City Council must state in advance the reasons to go in-camera. It appears to have violated the governing legislation (the Vancouver Charter, Section 165.2(1)(c)), as “labour relations or other employee relations” were not used as a reason to go in-camera. For further details, please see our previous post: City Manager fired – Penny Ballem let go: Cloud of mystery about reasons, and possible violation of legislation with sudden termination (Sept 15, 2015).

City Councillors who are not part of the Vision Vancouver majority did not know this was coming. See “Penny Ballem out as Vancouver’s city manager” (Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun 15-Sep-2015). Excerpt: But the decision appeared to have been made by the mayor himself, or in concert with his Vision Vancouver council members. Opposition councillors were not consulted, and were in a state of shock. “We are sitting in shock, sitting in shock,” said Coun. Elizabeth Ball, the caucus chair for the Non-Partisan Association. … City council had concluded the public portion of their meetings at noon Tuesday. They then went into a regular closed-door or in camera meeting for confidential matters. During that meeting councillors were told Ballem was gone, effective immediately…. “There was no other discussion from the mayor other than what she had accomplished and that she was moving on, immediately.”

Reflecting upon Ballems legacy, Vancouver Courier columnist Allen Garr wrote: What was once a fairly flat administrative structure became extremely hierarchical.  … The information flow that existed between senior managers and inquiring journalists for the past several decades, came to a dead halt…. Expect that the city also bought a confidentiality agreement with that settlement. So nobody will say anything.

Ballem was awarded a severance pay of $556,000. She was hired on January 19, 2009, soon after Robertson’s first time election as mayor, and the sacking of the previous City Manager, Judy Rogers, as documented on here. (This abrupt firing behaviour can be expensive for taxpayers: Rogers’ severance cost $571,788.)

Regarding the illegality of municipal government business being conducted outside of Council meetings, see our post “Significant: Councillors who meet privately likely breaking the rules, says lawyer” (23-Sept-2015) and the Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun, article referenced: “Councillors who meet privately likely breaking the rules, says lawyer: Discussing issues and making decisions ahead of council sessions is not allowed.”

In conclusion, in crucial decisions like this one, it appears that our City Council is not functioning as required, as all 11 elected officials are not involved in the real decisions. Most people can grasp the idea that it’s not the best idea to have the rabbits guarding the rabbit patch. So who is supposed to be watching over the rabbits guarding the carrot patch of public interest?


The excerpt from the September 15, 2015 in-camera meeting is reproduced below; the original PDF file is available here. Continue reading

SFU City Conversations: Fixing Vancouver’s Inflated Housing Market (Thu, 18-Feb, 12:30 pm, SFU Vancouver at Harbour Centre)


1455060698165, image City Conversations, SFU, for sale sign

Image: SFU City Conversations.

WHEN: Thu, 18 Feb 2016 12:30 PM
WHERE: Room 7000, SFU Vancouver at Harbour Centre, 515 W. Hastings St.
(Follow the signs, and take the elevator to the 7th floor)

Despite thin data, there has been widespread belief that foreign buyers looking for safe havens for their cash have inflated Vancouver’s housing market, and further tightened the market by leaving homes empty. The province has been reticent to address the issue. Stepping into the breach, some economists and academics have proposed new taxes on buyers who pay little or no B.C. income tax.

Then investigative reporter Kathy Tomlinson of The Globe and Mail did a bombshell story on how some Realtors are using legal (but controversial) sales contracts to create multiple sales of the same property, gaining commissions— and sometimes a portion of the sale price— with each flip. The original seller gets less than the final sale price, while the last buyer overpays. Then the house sits empty while the new owner plans to replace it with a larger house— and the cycle may begin anew.

To help you understand what’s going on and what to do about it are reporter Kathy Tomlinson of The Globe and Mail; Professor Rhys Kesselman of SFU’s School of Public Policy; and UBC SauderProfessor Tom Davidoff.

Then it’s your turn to question, observe, and offer your perspectives and opinions.

Registration is not required. Please arrive early as space is limited.

Pearson Dogwood Rezoning Update: Open Houses Feb 23 & 27 (Tues & Sat)

Pearson redevelopment area Jan 2013 aerial photo(Notice from City of Vancouver)

Pearson Dogwood Rezoning Update

The City has received a rezoning application to develop a new mixed-use community at the Pearson Dogwood site, located between Heather Street and Cambie Street and 57th and 59th Avenues. The proposal, based on the Pearson Dogwood Policy Statement that was approved by Council in 2014, includes the following:

  • Replacement housing for George Pearson Centre
  • Replacement facility for Dogwood Lodge
  • Retail and commercial space
  • Community health centre
  • YMCA facility with a 25m pool and a therapeutic pool
  • 69 space child care facility
  • 2.5 acre City park
  • Urban farm
  • Potential future transit station

On behalf of Onni Group and IBI, The City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), invite you to attend the first round of open houses to review the proposal for the future redevelopment of Pearson Dogwood.

Tuesday, February 23, 5 to 8pm & Saturday, February 27, 11am to 4pm
Pearson Dogwood Redevelopment Project Office
601 West 59th Avenue


Come and learn more and share your feedback. Staff from the City and Vancouver Coastal Health will be available to answer questions and receive your input.

Find out more at or contact, Yardley McNeill, Rezoning Planner at,604-873-7582.

Centerm Expansion Project: Preliminary comment period to 12 Feb 2016 (Fri). Crab Water for Life Society comments.

Crab Park at Portside 2

Image showing Crab Park at Portside as regards Canterm deevlopment

(CityHallWatch has received a copy of this public comment from the Crab Water for Life Society and posts it here with the author’s permission. NEW: See link to a related Vancouver Sun article, with excerpts, at bottom.)

DP World has submitted a “project permit application to increase the number of containers that can be handled at the existing Centennial terminal by approximately two-thirds on Port Metro Vancouver land.”

Centerm was purchased by Arab investors from Port Metro Vancouver. In April 2015, media reported that DP World Limited “is already a significant investor in Canada, as the operator of the Centerm terminal in Port Metro Vancouver. Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Chairman, DP World, commented: ‘We are delighted to extend our global footprint with a second terminal in Canada.’ Website:

The current deadline for pubic input to Port Metro Vancouver is Friday, February 12, 2016. Click here for details on the consultation and how to provide pubic comment (text copied further below, for convenience):

CRAB Park Water for Life Society logoFebruary 4th 2016

Attention: Centerm Expansion Project Preliminary Comment Period to February 12 2016
Letter in submission as alternative to online feedback
Re: Impact on Crab Park at Portside
To: Port Metro Vancouver

Crab-Water for Life Society, the founding group for the original creation of this seven acre significant public green space, Crab Park at Portside, has serious concerns about environmental impacts from the proposed Centerm Expansion.

Our park has been open since July 27th 1989 and is an important community amenity to this day, that our group worked towards, advocated and made a reality.

Attached please find an image locating Crab Park at Portside over one of your illustrations of the proposed expansion.

For instance we have environmental concerns about the interference of tidal flows by the Centerm expansion. There is a storm sewer outfall at the immediate western edge of Crab Park. We have health concerns about the future water quality e.g. increased coliform microbial density counts. In the summer, people and dogs, swim and wade in the beach area. We would request the City of Vancouver’s Health Department to do a preliminary study.

Further we have concerns regarding visual impacts of the Centerm expansion encroaching on Crab Park e.g. expanding in to the line of sight of visitors to the park. Continue reading

Unprotected Heritage

1617 West 4th Avenue
Old buildings along arterial streets do not necessarily have heritage status. For example, 1617 West 4th Avenue built in 1910 (pictured above) is not on the Vancouver Heritage Register. While the City is currently in the process of updating the Register as part of its Heritage Action Plan, there are few safeguards for buildings that are not formally designated as a protected heritage.

There are older industrial and commercial buildings, such as 2644 East 1st Avenue (evaluated as class B) that are in the Heritage Register, but are quite vulnerable without a protected designation:

2644 East 1st Avenue

The recent rezoning of 225 Smithe Street on January 19, 2016, illustrates how a building from 1925 can be approved for redevelopment.

225 Smithe Street (building from 1925)

225 Smithe Street (building from 1925)

Many old homes around the City are demolished without any consideration for heritage. We’ve previously noted that a 100-year old home at 348 East 7th Avenue was taken down at the end of 2013. Apart from the limited Heritage Register, the City for all practical purposes has no processes in place to preserve old buildings in parts of the City outside of the Shaughnessy Heritage Conservation Area.348 East 7th Avenue
The Legg Residence was on the Heritage Register. It was built in 1899 at 1241 Harwood (photo prior to demolition):
Legg Residence
The Legg Residence (June 2014):legg residence above

725-747 SE Marine Drive rezoning Open House Feb 4 (Thurs): 22-storey, 11-storey towers proposed at Super 8 Hotel site (at Fraser)

Fraser and SE MarineThe City of Vancouver will be showing a rezoning application for 725-747 Southeast Marine Drive during an Open House event.

Date: Thursday, February 4, 2016, 5-8pm
Venue: 725 SE Marine Drive (Super 8 Hotel)

The application calls for a 22-storey tower at the corner of Fraser and SE Marine Drive. An 11-storey tower is proposed at Marine and Chester. The proposed redevelopment of the Super 8 Hotel site would also include two 5-storey buildings.

The existing Super 8 Hotel site presently includes a bowling alley, a pub and a liquor store.

The proposed development would have a maximum building height of 207 feet and a floor space ratio of 3.98. A total of 368 residential units are proposed, along with 377 parking spaces. Childcare with 37 spaces is included in the design. A total of 15,445 square feet (1,435 square metres) of commercial retail is also proposed along SE Marine Drive. The proponent is Serracan Properties Ltd (a private family-owned company with 750,000 sq ft of commercial assets in western Canada; a Vision Vancouver donor; president Gino Nonni) while the design firm is Francl Architecture.

The south Fraser Street area contains some of the most affordable housing in the City of Vancouver. A massive rezoning could potentially provide the impetus for further rezoning proposals and for the subsequent displacement of low-income residents. There would also be the loss of the existing bowling alley. Further details on the proposed development can be found on the City’s website. This is in the Sunset area and the City indicates that this application is being considered under the Sunset Community Vision (undated). Public feedback can also be submitted via an online comment form.

Fraser and SE Marine model