November 14th 2022—My first City Conversation 21 months ago was about the chipping away of views of the mountains and water in order to allow super high-rise unaffordable residential development. The issue has not gone away.
“That’s actually quite an attractive, almost seductive building form,” offered my son as he looked over my shoulder. “What’s your beef?” I had to smile before replying—from an architectural objet point of view, I agreed.
“My beef, as you call it, is that like so many arguments in favour of doing away with our city’s view cones, it fails to consider the building’s context.” He awaited patiently for me to continue.
“This illustration is a bit extreme in the sense that it has no context—no surrounding buildings, streets, etc. We only know it’s the Bay parkade site because we’re told so. Worse still, it’s taken from an angle that would never be seen except by a drone.” He nodded agreement before interjecting.
“I get that and agree it’s a bit deceptive, but it looks like it could be really good architecture—shouldn’t we make exceptions for that?”
“That’s been the recurring argument so long as the view cones have been under attack, which is pretty much as long as they have been around, some 40+ years.”
I continued. “Getting back to the context I mentioned earlier, I completely agree with the arguments that the view cones themselves are artificial constructs.” He looked surprised so I continued. “But for me and many others, the context of the view cones is not architecture that penetrates, ultimately obliterates them—it’s the visual richness that arises from their existence.” He looked puzzled.
As of this writing, 722 people have signed the change.org petition Miracle for the Elm Tree. The City of Vancouver is going back on its word that a magnificent heritage Elm would be saved as a condition of development.
From the petition:
Although this news saddens us immensely, we are even more aggrieved by the fact that both the City and the developer have made it known that the trees were here to stay, and are now backing down on their word.
On July 9, 2019, the General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability report recommending the Rezoning: 1535-1557 Grant Street, specified that “No City trees are to be removed” to keep in compliance with the The Urban Forest Strategy (p.14).
At the September 19th, 2019 public hearing, when we voiced our concern about the feasibility of the project, we were told by the Planning Department and the developer that the heritage trees were in no danger of being removed and that an arborist had signed on the plan to keep it.
On September 10, 2020, the Director of Planning approved the development of the site under the condition “that the applicant has to maintain or extend existing front boulevard width as required to accommodate the existing street trees” ( 1.19 p.5 of 11).
For further information and to sign the petition, additional details are available here.
The controversial development at 1535-1557 Grant Street broke the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan (GWCP) on a number of counts, including not keeping the minimum front yard setback of 20 feet. Planning staff falsely claimed that the rezoning was compliant with the GWCP. The bait and switch of saving the Elm tree and then later authorizing its removal is yet another example of the lack of integrity and professionalism by planning staff at Vancouver City Hall.
Announcement: It’s time to explore a more coordinated approach to gentle density housing in BC neighbourhoods. Event by Small Housing.
On November 22, Small Housing will gather municipal planners and elected officials from around the province to Vancouver for the Gentle Density Local Leaders’ Summit to build momentum for more housing options in our single-family neighbourhoods.
Participants will have the opportunity to connect, collaborate, and contribute to shaping policy, and identifying gaps and emerging practices experienced by leaders who are committed to creating attainable housing for all British Columbians. No more struggling in silos: it’s time to create a community to advance this work.
The Summit provides ample opportunities for both learning and sharing. The action-packed agenda includes active sharing and collaborative workshops, success stories from across Cascadia, a neighbourhood tour of gentle density projects in Vancouver, and a reception to build connections and reinforce relationships.
November 22 (Tuesday), 2022 Day Program: 9:00 am to 4:30 pm SFU Harbour Centre, Vancouver, BC For Municipal Planners & related staff
What BC local governments are doing on gentle density (results from province-wide survey)
Spotlight on three BC municipalities leading the way on gentle density initiatives
Case studies and leading practices from outside of BC on:
How local governments responded to statewide legislation in CA and OR
Business case for gentle density housing
Supporting staff capacity
Webtool demonstration – one stop shop for gentle density resources
Crowd-sourced solutions to address key gentle density challenges
Evening Program & Reception: 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Vancouver, BC
For elected officials, Municipal Planners & related staff
Connect with speakers from Oregon and California
Reception, connections, great food & good vibes
November 23 (Wednesday) Optional Neighbourhood Tour – 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM
Explore gentle density projects in Vancouver neighbourhoods (optional; available to all Summit participants, until capacity reached)
To date, we have registrations from all points around the province, including the North Coast, Okanagan, Southern Vancouver Island, and Lower Mainland.
Register now to ensure your community is represented in these ground-breaking conversations.
**To facilitate gathering a balanced representation of voices around the table, Small Housing is pleased to offer travel subsidies, with priority given to members of equity-deserving groups and delegates from remote and under-resourced communities.
What changes can Vancouverites expect to see under a new regime led by Mayor Ken Sim and an ABC Vancouver majority on city council, park board, and school board? Time will tell, but there are some important signs to watch. Monday, November 7, is a big day for this new regime, which swept into a supermajority on October 15 promising change.
On November, 7, the invitation-only 2022 inaugural ceremony and oath of office for City Council is at 1:15 at the Orpheum Theatre (link to live online video will be here).
Then to handle business, there’s the inaugural Council meeting at 5 pm in the Council Chambers at City Hall (see agenda and link to live broadcast here), to set the 2023 council meeting schedule, designate acting mayor/deputy mayor/council representatives, and make appointments to council committees (Finance & Services; Policy & Strategic Priorities; Nominations; Auditor General), regional bodies, boards, statutory committees, non-profits, and the intergovernmental UNDRIP task force.
Meanwhile, the Park Board has its inaugural meeting also on November 7, at 7 pm (link here), special this time at the Vandusen Gardens. Business includes oaths of office for 2022-2026, election of board chair and vice-chair, and establishment of the Park Board Committee.
When it comes to governance of the City, there are signs that no major changes are expected in the senior management who were installed by Vision Vancouver under Gregor Robertson (Vision 1.0, from 2008 to 2018) and maintained under Kennedy Stewart (Vision 2.0, from 2018 to 2022).
Vision Vancouver was turfed out in the 2018 election, but the civic system and culture they installed continued under Kennedy Stewart, who was turfed out in 2022. Incoming politicians make big promises. Ken Sim and ABC promised change, but what kind of change will that turn out to be?
What is the significance of Raymond Louie being the master of ceremonies at the Nov 7 inauguration ceremony? A Vision Vancouver councillor until 2018, he was hired by a developer after his years on council and became industry lobbyist. See “Why is a former Vancouver councillor bringing developers to meet the mayor? Former city councillor Raymond Louie has been advocating for some of the city’s high-profile developers and joining them in a series of private meetings at city hall with Mayor Kennedy Stewart.” (Mike Howell, Vancouver Is Awesome, 19-May-2019). If anything, his selection reinforces the impression that industry lobbyists will have direct access to the mayor, council and City Hall.
Then there is the huge influence of developer money in the past several elections.
In “Despite Reforms, Big Money Still Fuels BC Politics: Municipal election donations from 2014 and 2022 show wealthy donors continue to wield influence” (October 31, 2022, The Tyee), Jen St. Denis looks at how powerful developers funnelled huge amounts of money into both Sim’s ABC Vancouver campaign and Kennedy Stewart’s Forward Vancouver campaign.
In Vancouver is Awesome, “Systemic issues in civic elections continue: The civic election resoundingly demonstrated the public wants change in governance at Vancouver city hall,” (3-Nov-2022) Elizabeth Murphy writes: The civic election resoundingly demonstrated the public wants change in governance at Vancouver city hall. On reflection it showed systemic influences that affected the election results that may end up with no meaningful changes where they are needed the most: in affordability, land use planning, and development… Affordability is the number one issue. However, rezonings over the last decade have only increased land values, speculation, demolition, demoviction and displacement. More new expensive smaller units do not meet local needs. Yet it is these interests who have the most incentives to retain their grip on city hall… Big money continues influencing elections, especially from major developers. Campaign finance reforms in 2018 banned corporate and union donations, while adding annual maximum limits on donations per person. However, Kennedy Stewart (Forward Vancouver) raised $1.2 million and Ken Sim (ABC) $1.6 million, with final totals yet to come. This influences elections through big campaign budgets, relentless advertising and misleading polling, with an ideological narrative that leads to strategic voting. The reforms are not working as intended. Lower limits on campaigns and third parties are needed. (Article also posted in Business in Vancouver, and The Orca)
What will ABC Vancouver’s win, and its developer connections mean for the City? Will they be excessively influenced and constrained by the influence of the big money that funded their expensive election campaign? Stay tuned.
If you are applying as a representative of an external organization (for example, as an AIBC representative on the Urban Design Panel), please attach a letter of nomination on the organization’s letterhead to your application..
Building Board of Appeal: Members of the following groups (please include nomination letter): Law Society of British Columbia (1); Architectural Institute of British Columbia (1); Engineers and Geoscientists BC (3)
Development Permit Board Advisory Panel: 1 design professional
Urban Design Panel: 1 professional artist, 1 member with experience in accessible design
As mentioned in City Conversation #89, I serendipitously copied all of ABC’s election platform just before it was deleted right after the election. I can retrieve the table of contents page on the ABCVancouver.ca website listing the Platform subjects using the Wayback Machine (thanks to Sal Robinson and my wife for that heads up), but I couldn’t open up the 12 individual platform areas on my Mac…except I can on my iPhone—go figger!
into your browser (I use Chrome/Mac and Firefox/Mac), you should open an archived copy of the Platform in which you can scroll down to your area of interest and open it up for the 94 detailed promises. Or you can get right there on your IOS device (I’ve not tried it on Android).
The workflow in summary:
Paste the URL above into your smartphone, or into your laptop if you want a more permanent copy
Scroll through the 12 platform areas to the one(s) of interest
Copy/paste into an external document—I used Word
Keep the external document! I have no idea how long this will work
I believe it was Winston Churchill who wrote:
“Democracy is the worst form of government…except for all the rest!”
In this case, to paraphrase:
“Democracy is the best form of government…when you can find what it promises!”
Good luck and happy reading.
POSTSCRIPT: The URL connections above remain “brittle”—sometimes they work, sometimes not. So I have pasted the entire platform below:
ABC commits to supporting the inherent right of all Indigenous people and affirms its support for UNDRIP and implementing TRC Calls to Action
ABC commits to government-to-government dialogue and acknowledges that each government can be separate and distinct, and that government policy needs to acknowledge the diversity and authority of all Indigenous governments
ABC commits to a future where a stronger and more meaningful partnership, sharing in the wealth of the land and sea, and acknowledges that both the history and future of Indigenous people needs to be self-determined
ABC commits to regular joint Council meetings with Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh leaders
October 27th 2022—ABC Vancouver won the Vancouver civic election handily, then deleted their platform from the web (none of the other parties have done that). By dumb luck, I screen shot the entire ABC Vancouver election platform so I could monitor its implementation—an ongoing effort.
This is the message on all ABC Vancouver web pages as of publication date—since changed, but platform remains deleted
“Are you just being a sore loser?” asked my son as he looked over my shoulder at the computer screen. He knew I had supported TEAM for a Livable Vancouverduring the election.
“Not at all,” I responded. “As you know, we decided to take a COVID-delayed visit to family back east for the first time in almost three years, departing the Tuesday after the Saturday election.” He nodded. “So as I was shutting down my computer Monday evening I visited the ABC Vancouver website and decided to screen shot their entire 94-point election campaign for posterity. My thought was that it would be interesting to monitor implementation of their platform—I also screen shot TEAM’s platform, in case as an unsuccessful party they decided to save a few dollars by shutting down their website.” He shrugged, is used to my screen captures to supply images for my City Conversations. I continued.
“When I returned this past Tuesday and started trolling through accumulated Facebook and Twitter messages, imagine my surprise when I came across the news that ABC’s platform was gone! As a check, I went to the websites of the former Mayor, TEAM, NPA and Progress—the sites of the major contenders are all still there. As they say in fiction writing, I’ve suspended disbelief in the hope that this is some kind of temporary error.”
He frowned, asking: “So what’s your plan?”
“Well,” I answered, “as you know, I generally limit my Conversations to matters of planning, urban design, occasionally architectural design, and the municipal and provincial processes that are used to manage those files.” He nodded so I continued.
“ABC has divided up their election platform differently than TEAM, so I’ve looked at the pertinent platforms and highlighted the parts I feel competent to comment on. For example, ABC has two housing-related platforms where I’ve put a red rectangle around what I feel I can comment on:”
From the ABC Vancouver website—red rectangles by the author
He stared at the illustration for just a moment. “Why haven’t you included the promise about indigenous-led supportive housing?”
I responded, “I think it would be presumptuous of me to comment on any promise that’s focused on the indigenous communities. Some of the other items will affect those communities as well as others, so there will be some overlaps, but that promise is outside my professional and cultural wheelhouse.” He nodded agreement so I continued.
“By comparison, none of ABC’s promises about Market Housing are outside my areas of knowledge and experience:”
Market Housing from the ABC Vancouver website—red rectangle by the author
“After this one the ABC platform gets a bit murky—combining transportation with Design and Planning causes me to leave out some promises that are outside my interest and expertise:”
Design, Planning, and Transportation from the ABC Vancouver website—red rectangles by the author
“After this part of the ABC platform,” I continued, “promises that I am competent to consider become much more limited, even though equally important—for example, under their heading, Climate Action & Sustainability:”
Climate Action & Sustainability from the ABC Vancouver website—red rectangle by the author
“Since when do you have any knowledge about GHGs, let alone their reduction?” he asked with the beginnings of a smirk.
“Prior to the election campaign and the run-up to it, I was pretty ignorant on the subject,” I admitted. “But during the debates about the Broadway Plan and Vancouver Plan, as well as some of the concrete high-rise spot rezonings that preceded them, I was pointed to considerable research on the subject by scientists and engineers with the deep knowledge and credentials to consider GHG impacts and the harm coming from the types of construction favoured by city staff and the former Mayor and Council—a bit of it rubbed off.”
“Where does ABC figure in that debate?” my son asked.
“I’m not at all sure,” I answered. “Some of ABC’s program favours lower GHG mass timber construction; other parts favour continuing the insanity of high GHG concrete high-rise construction. I just hope they figure that out before too much more damage is done.” I paused. “There’s much good in their program, but it contains many contradictions like the GHG yes/no elements.”
He paused for a moment, running his eyes down my pages. “I count 29 promises that you’ve indicated you will be monitoring. So when will you sleep?” he asked with a smile.
I smiled back. “It gets worse. I didn’t say I wouldn’t have an opinion about the other 65 ABC promises, I probably just won’t write about them.”
Keeping a watching brief
ABC’s 94 promises are divided into 12 categories—I’ve only noted four of them for personal monitoring. Vancouver is a complex city with more than its share of issues, more than half of which are outside my expertise. Contact me by email or comment to this or future posts if you’d like copies of any of the other eight ABC categories (listed in their words in alpha order):
Economy, Sports, Arts and Culture
Equity, Diversity & inclusion
Park board priorities
Public safety, Mental Health and Community Wellness
School board priorities
Transparency, Accountability and Good Government
I’ve not yet decided just how I will monitor the four areas and 29 promises that touch on my experience and expertise—suggestions are welcome.
Today’s question: Which area(s) of ABC’s election platform interest you the most? Why?
Looking at the wording of the three ballot questions regarding capital plan debt financing, were the three questions very long, confusing and written in a way to skew a ‘yes’ vote in support?
Perhaps voters could have received more complete information, more clearly worded, some of which we’ll discuss below. The ballot questions are listed on the City of Vancouver website here: https://vancouver.ca/your-government/capital-plan-borrowing-2022.aspx These three questions take up one side of the ballot. For reference, we’ve included screenshots of ballot questions from the City’s webpage (see further below).
There appears to be no mention of ‘interest’ or the words ‘plus interest’ in the questions. The amount of new debt per resident is not stated. There’s no information provided about the current amount of accumulated debt on the City of Vancouver’s balance sheet, and thus residents are not able to make an informed decision on whether to take on more debt. With the way the questions are worded, it’s also unclear whether there would be any capital plan allocation from other parts of the City’s budget. Voters might be led to believe that if they vote against these borrowing questions, then there will be no investments in capital plan expenditures between 2023 and 2026.
The last official Census (May 2021) recorded a population of 662,248 residents in the City of Vancouver. A total of $495,000,000 borrowing is proposed.This works about to approximately $747.45 per resident (based on those census figures), and add to that all interest charges.
This information (debt per resident) as an aggregate is not stated clearly in the ballot questions. Nor is it broken down by amounts per resident for each of the questions.
So we calculated it, and here is a breakdown of the $747.45 per resident in new debt:
1. Transportation and core operating technology: $261.91 of new debt, plus interest charges for each resident of Vancouver (2021 Census)
2. Community facilities: $244.73 of new debt, plus interest charges for each resident of Vancouver (2021 Census)
3. Parks, public safety and other civic facilities, climate adaption, and other emerging priorities: $240.81 of new debt, plus interest charges for each resident of Vancouver (2021 Census)
There are no estimates of what the amount of interest would be on the debt. Neither is the duration of the debt stated.
For reference, we’ve included pages 19 and 20 of the noted bylaw further below. The wording on page 19 of the document states:
“The City is hereby and firmly bound and its faith and credit and taxing power are hereby pledged for the prompt payment of the principal and interest of this debenture.”
The full weight of the obligations that would be undertaken by the City of Vancouver are not stated in the ballot questions. The City of Vancouver is clearly stating in the bylaw document that it is ‘firmly bound and its faith and credit and taxing power are hereby pledged for the prompt payment of the principal and interest of this debenture.’
The ballot questions omit the seriousness of the City’s obligations. Thus, the questions are biased and leading, and voters are forced to make an important decision on how to vote based on incomplete information.
Here’s the text of the actual agreement to borrow (for $100 million in 2020):
The ballots have been counted, the election signs are gone from yards, and the dust is settling from the October 15 civic election. There’s perhaps a very short window of opportunity for the incoming administration to set the tone at Vancouver City Hall.
The outgoing Council came into office in late 2018. The 2018 civic election was a change election after a decade of Vision Vancouver rule under Gregor Robertson. Voters wanted change and nearly voted Vision Vancouver out of existence. Yet within their first few months, the new Council quickly squandered their opportunity to make big changes that voters were expecting. Here are few takeaways about blunders by the past administration:
In 2018, the incoming Council kept the Vision-installed administration/senior management in place, starting from the Vision Vancouver appointed City Manager.
The only place where there was a house cleaning was within the limited confines of the Mayor’s office, in order to install the new mayor Kennedy Stewart’s loyalists.
By contrast, when Vision first came into power in 2008, one of the first orders of business was to fire the City Manager.
Starting in 2008, the culture of City Hall changed from civil service to that of a corporation.
Changes in Council meeting rules limited their abilities to work and Councillors were actively hampered by uncooperative staff who threatened to silence them with the ‘code of conduct’ and the ‘integrity commissioner’ (who refused to investigate complaints made by the public).
The 2018 incoming Council was told ‘oh you have to get trained by staff’; perhaps the new administration can decline to accept the ‘training’ by City staff, and train members of their own caucus. At least some balance is needed to limit the tone set by staff.
The 2018 incoming Council quickly rubber-stamped the budget for the following fiscal year that was put in place by Vision; they had until the end of March in 2019 to make changes
The wholesale change that was needed (City Manager, Directors in areas such as Finance, Planning, HR, etc., along with respective Assistant/Deputy Directors) was denied; staffers who stymied the operations of Council were given free reign.
There seemed to be a trend for hiring and promoting managers from outside of Canada, who may not have an appreciation of this history and culture of Vancouver.
Planning and rezoning staff appeared to be actually coaching applicants in major and controversial development applications, and providing Council and the public with information that was not correct.
The culture of secrecy continued, whether this is refusing to provide information in response even to simple requests from the public, blocking and significantly delaying responses to freedom of information (FOI) inquiries, for what seemed to be political or bureaucratic reasons.
Large tax increases continued year after year, and the majority on Council collectively toed the line and rubber stamped budgets and policies coming from staff.
Council appeared to be tone deaf to the public, and refused to consider comments from the public. Staff could say anything, and be proven wrong by the public, without any repercussions.
Lavish spending by City Hall on the bureaucratic bloat was allowed; increasingly residents were seen as ‘piggy banks’ and ‘walking ATMs.’
Staff actively fought against transparency and accountability (torpedoing attempts for line-item budgets and data releases, trying to block the process of creating an independent office of auditor general, and so on).
Pet projects by staff appeared to be favoured over the provision of basic municipal services.
When Park Board and the public showed support to reconstruct the outdoor pool in Mount Pleasant Park, the City Manager and senior staff were able to nix it without consequence.
Access to council chambers at City Hall was for the most part closed off. Speakers were only allowed up to the third floor chambers from a holding area just moments before they were up to speak in the chambers.
Daytime public hearings continued as well as reconvened public hearings that went into business hours during weekdays
Council chambers were almost entirely closed off to the public with access to the seating area cut off; in the few exceptions were members of the public were allowed to view the proceedings in person, Kennedy Stewart scolded them if they clapped after a speaker.
Speakers were often interrupted by the meeting chair even when their points were on-topic and pertinent; slide presentations were hampered.
There was a complete lack of leadership by Kennedy Stewart at the regional level on the Metro Vancouver Board, as seen by his very poor attendance record there.
Big-ticket items like a road tax and a levy for all street parking were cash cows pushed by staff; these items would surely have been passed in short order after the Oct 15 election without wholesale changes, had there not been a major change in Council composition.
The chronic slowness and expense in getting many permits and business licenses didn’t seem to be resolved; staff kept making excuses and plans to speed things up, but nothing materialized (takeaway: don’t task the same staff to make things more efficient).
Core services such as simply picking up garbage once every two weeks or upkeeping parks were left to the wayside with the bureaucracy taking up so much of the budget.
The permanent campaign mode by Kennedy Stewart and the publicly paid staff at the mayor’s office showed that decisions were already made and the spin on a vote or topic was ready as soon as a measure was passed by Council (prepared tweets and e-mails would out within minutes of a vote).
While at least one individual on Council did attempt to counter many of these problems, it was an uphill battle, so the net effect was as listed above.
One positive thing of the 2018-2022 council was that, as the council represented different civic parties, representation on Metro Vancouver regional committees was more balanced, in contrast to the Vision years, when non-Vision councillors who appeared to be locked out of access to Metro Vancouver meetings and information. Hopefully the new Council will share these tasks even with councillors who are not on the ruling regime.
In short, the corporate culture set up at the City of Vancouver under the Vision regime continued through the current Council, and many of promises made were left unfulfilled.
How could things have been done differently? While most voters probably don’t follow the minutia of City Hall such as the above list, the net feeling of the electorate was one of frustration, and it was probably due to many of the above items.
Will the incoming Council learn from the mistakes of the last? Stay tuned.