Red Alert: Vancouver’s Regional Context Statement going to Council Tuesday April 23

This may be one of the most important announcements made by CityHallWatch since launching in 2010. First, three questions. Do you … (1) Agree citizens have a right to a say in government decisions that affect them? (2) Believe our governments (elected officials and public servants) have a duty to consult with citizens in a meaningful way? (3) Realize that land-use planning and decision-making are among the most important functions of local government (City Hall), as they affect every aspect of our individual and community lives, civic finances, taxes, land prices, transit, community character, and more? If so, please read on to discover what is happening, why it is so important….and what action to take. 

We have learned that the Vancouver’s Regional Context Statement (RCS), written by City staff, will be going to City Council next Tuesday, April 23 for “referral” to a Public Hearing (which we understand may be on June 11). This document is extremely important. It is the equivalent of an Official Community Plan (OCP). It will demonstrate how Vancouver will meet the Metro Vancouver region’s objectives under the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). (For more detailed information, see https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/regional-context-statement/)

But this entire process is fundamentally flawed. Although this plan will direct how the city grows for the next 30 years, there has been no public process for input into the RCS. By now, citizens of Vancouver know from repeated experience that once a policy or Local Centres defined by RCS documentrezoning is referred to Public Hearing, it is already pretty much a done deal (under the current regime at City Hall). No substantial changes are likely to result from public input after April 23 — that is, if City Council accepts the staff recommendation to go to Public Hearing. We also know from experience that the Mayor and Councillors may claim that they cannot communicate with the public after it has been referred to Public Hearing. Another problem is that Vancouver citizens had virtually no involvement in the final details of the Regional Growth Strategy. This whole process has been largely under the radar. This whole picture should raise huge alarm bells for every citizen and every neighbourhood.

Staff will say that a meeting will be held before the Public Hearing to inform the public and receive input. But we can predict that such a meeting will be too late to have any significant influence on the content of the RCS document. The public already has enough experience with how City Hall operates. Once a topic has been referred to Public Hearing, it is basically a done deal, with only minor tweaking likely to happen.

The public will have no idea about the content of the Regional Context Statement (RCS) until it is posted online on the City website on Thursday, April 18. Then the City is allowing only four calendar days until Council votes on the staff recommendation. From experience, we know that no one is permitted to speak to Council on an item being referred to Public Hearing (see legal opinion, how this actually played out at the Metro level in 2011). So this means, in effect, that whatever staff have written already into the Regional Context Statement at the time it is referred to Public Hearing is likely to be nearly the final version. 

The City of Vancouver has no Official Community Plan other than the RCS. In the past the City submitted its Regional Context Statement as a written submission stating “existing zoned capacity” to show that Vancouver meets the population growth expectations stated in the Livable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP, the previous version of the Regional Growth Strategy). Vancouver also listed the current policy plans and existing zoning as proof of how the City met regional obligations. This was never an issue under the LRSP as Vancouver policies were consistent with the LRSP.

But what we are facing now is very different. A RCS must be submitted to Metro Vancouver (i.e., its Board of Directors, which neither directly accountable to nor elected by voters) with written comments from TransLink (which ranks as an “affected local government” even though its Board is politically appointed, not elected). Metro Vancouver is required to ensure that TransLink’s plans are met.

The RGS requires the city to identify areas of regional interest, such as “Frequent Transit Development Areas.” Once the city identifies a FTDA, TransLink and the region (Metro Vancouver) have greater influence in the land use policy for that area. If Vancouver later decides its wants to rescind a FTDA, an amendment to the RCS is required, and that would first have to be approved Metro Vancouver, taking TransLink’s plans into consideration. (Note all six directors from Vancouver have been self-selected by Vision Vancouver. No other civic parties represent our city on the Metro Vancouver Board, and we have seen that they do NOT share critical information or power with other members of City Council.)

If Vancouver’s RCS identifies the Downtown, West End, Cambie Corridor and Broadway Corridor as FTDAs, then the regional government and TransLink will gain effective control of the land use in these areas. In effect, it is possible that the whole city of Vancouver could be designated as an FTDA because all land is within 500 – 800 meters of TransLink’s Frequent Transit Network — which means all arterial roads and bus routes.

So you can see that the content and designation in the Regional Context Statement are critically important. But the public has had no input into this document.
Senior staff have indicated that some kind of public information meeting will be held in May, before the Public Hearing. But we believe that it is unacceptable to refer the RCS to Public Hearing at this time.

Soon after the report is up on the City website we try to analyze its content and provide initial comments. Anyone willing to participate in analysis of the RCS to share publicly, please write us at citizenYVR@gmail.com.

We believe that the text of the RCS is already complete.  

The 24 local governments under the Regional Growth Strategy are supposed to submit their RCS to Metro Vancouver by July 29, 2013. But we have confirmed that there is no penalty for partial or late submission.

Note that we will be compiling more information about the RCS and reporting on CityHallWatch.

ACTION: Please stay tuned and be ready for action. For now, we urge people to call or write Mayor and Council urging them NOT to accept the staff recommendation to refer the Regional Context Statement to a Public Hearing. Instead, remind City Council that the proper sequence should be consultation, draft report, more consultation, revisions, referral, then finally Public Hearing.

2 thoughts on “Red Alert: Vancouver’s Regional Context Statement going to Council Tuesday April 23

  1. Pingback: Vancouver’s 30-year urban development plan – Important Open House May 16, Public Hearing June 11 | CityHallWatch: Tools for engagement in Vancouver city decisions, creating our future.

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