CityHallWatch 2013 Year in Review – City Council & Planning

Burrad Bridge from Granville Bridge Downtown Vancouver from Granville Bridge

(Updated 8 pm, Jan 1) The year 2013 was another busy one on Vancouver’s civic scene. Our review highlights a number of key themes and topics, and we hope, will help readers connect the dots, see patterns, and lead to deeper thinking. In 2014 CityHallWatch will continue to follow many of these stories and work to understand and explain the underlying players, factors, and forces influencing our local government. Vancouver is an interesting test case for democracy in the twenty-first century. This city is the nexus of factors of globalization affecting us from outside, and community/local factors on the inside. Citizens must get more involved and play a critical role in the further evolution of our city.

The last year saw at last a change of tone and awakening of mainstream media to the real workings of City Hall and Park Board. Topics ranging from the mass rezoning of entire neighbourhoods to efforts by the Park Board to centralize control and take over community centres are now fully on the radar. And more people are waking up. Examples include Marpole, Grandview Woodland, and other communities, where people organized and found their voices, making 2013 noteworthy for massive, concerted, grassroots, citizen-led actions.

In response to the push for more public accountability, the response by the City appeared to be the opposite. More secrecy, less transparency, non-responses, and a bloated ‘corporate communications’ staff are signs of the continued moves to centralize power and to politicize civil service. Perhaps the word ‘pushback‘ from citizens could summarize the year. There was a lot of pushback from citizens, but generally an unsatisfactory response by the current administration.

The Vancouver Park Board made history with a meeting that began on February 4th and ended at 3:30am on February 5th. Despite overwhelming public opposition to the plans to take over the operations of all community centres from grassroots volunteer run Community Centre Associations (CCAs), a 5-2 vote by the Vision majority on Park Board approved the General Manager’s report in the middle of the night. Vision Vancouver Park Board Commissioners repeatedly voted as a block not to adjourn and continue the meeting at a later date. Police officers were called in to escort residents out of the West End Community Centre at the end of the meeting. This meeting was the first and last public consultation on the Park Board’s plans for community centres. A public consultation motion by NPA Commissioner Melissa De Genova was passed by Park Board on February 25th. However, this action was subsequently squashed by the chair of the Park Board by later removing the report back from GM Bromley from the March 11th meeting agenda.

The City of Vancouver is now embroiled in a BC Supreme Court challenge from six Community Centre Associations. The resolve of these volunteer-run organizations to take action was galvanized by the strong mandate received at four large public meetings they held at community centres in Killarney, Kerrisdale, Kensington and Riley-Park Hillcrest. Crowd at Killarney rally October 19, 2013The Park Board’s plans to evict the six volunteer-run associations by the end of 2013 from Community Centres are presently on hold, awaiting the court’s decision. Killarney’s association marked the 50-year partnership with the Park Board in the form of a rally and an outdoor BBQ on October 19th.

The political machinations at the Park Board dovetailed into City Council. Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr tried to introduce a motion calling for analysis of the financial implications of the proposed changes to governance of community centres at the Council meeting scheduled for February 12th. We write ‘tried to’ because the item never made it onto the Council agenda. In an unprecedented action, City Manager Penny Ballem censored the motion.

Consider what happened here: A public servant, a bureaucrat, rejected a motion-on-notice duly submitted by a democratically-elected Councillor. We believe this was the first time in the City’s history. Should an unelected member of staff interfere with the workings of the elected City Council? Carr’s motion sought transparency and accountability related to the City’s budget. Financial implications of the City’s planned changes for community centres include the hiring of additional paid staff to take the place of volunteers who currently jointly run community centres across the city. Further details on the action by the City Manager are in the video below and include comments by Adriane Carr and two Vancouver lawyers:

Some items at Council passed with little controversy. But we wonder if there was adequate public discussion about the details and implications of decisions. For example, as we expected, Council approved the lease of a future site to enable the relocation of the Vancouver Art Gallery to Larwill Park (West Georgia and Cambie Street) as part of the City’s contribution to the project. It remains to be seen whether the Art Gallery can raise 75 percent of a $250-million funding shortfall by April 2015 to make the relocation move ahead. What deals will have to be made by whom to make the scheme work? What will be the costs and benefits? Who will be the winners and losers? Will the public get the full story? Are mainstream media letting our politicians off the hook too easily? Stay tuned. Related to this scheme, one third of the Larwill Park site was also slated for condo development.

Casino modelOn December 16th, the Development Permit Board, an internal body consisting of four City employees, approved a new casino complex next to BC Place.  The Vancouver Not Vegas Coalition urged the panel to send the matter back to our elected officials on City Council for further review. Everyone knows that the floor area for the casino can be significantly expanded in the new building at a future date — basically, at the stroke of a pen. A maximum of 600 slot machines and 75 gaming tables is currently allowed; this number can be changed by a future council by amending a single line in the CD spot zoning. Over the summer the DP Board also, with no public scrutiny or debate, approved the extension of Edgewater Casino gambling permit to the end of 2016. CityHallWatch has written how this permit could have given the City some tools to regulate or influence gambling or impose conditions on Edgewater. The City forfeited this opportunity, whether through incompetence or intention. The permit had been set to expire on July 31, 2013.

A year ago, in our preview for 2013, we predicted tension with four community plans being done concurrently — Downtown Eastside, Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, and the West End. See CityHallWatch’s preview, watchlist, and predictions for 2013 in Vancouver and compare our predictions with what actually transpired.

Astorinos site

Astorino’s (pictured above) is a heritage building and an important banquet hall at Commercial Drive and Venables Street. It became one of the flashpoints in the draft Grandview Woodland Plan. The first land use plan, released by the City of Vancouver in June, earmarked this entire block for 15-storey highrise redevelopment. Also, coming as a complete surprise to anyone who had been involved in the consultation process, this plan also suddenly showed 36-storey towers at Commercial and Broadway. As expected, the public was shocked and alarmed at what was going on. Widespread opposition to the City’s land use plan for Grandview Woodland resulted in significant pushback, evidenced by large public meetings in July and August.

At one of the meetings, organized by Grandview Woodland Area Council, on July 8th MLA Shane Simpson said the plan was ‘fundamentally flawed’ and that it ‘did not reflect the view of the community.’ Simpson received a standing ovation from the crowd (full transcript and video here). At the same meeting, Councillor Adriane Carr promised to introduce a motion to extend the timeline for the plan at the next Council meeting. (As an aside, notice the proactive involvement of this MLA in Grandview Woodland. Residents in the other planning areas — DTES, Marpole, West End — should evaluate the performance of their MLAs. How did they do? What did they do? Simpson showed how a provincial politician can get involved in civic issues if its residents need the help.)Carr’s motion was indeed added to the City Council agenda for July 23rd, but it was heavily amended and weakened by other Councillors. And public speakers were only heard after the summer recess, on September 25, 26 and 27. The final result for Grandview Woodland was the delay in the approval for at least a year, plus the promise of a quarter of a million dollars in extra funding for the process, and the creation of a new body for the process. But note that there has been no progress in the creation of the promised “Citizen’s Assembly” by city planners since the September meeting (see Straight article City slow to act on Grandview-Woodland citizens’ assembly).

Does the City treat neighbourhoods differently, and if so, what factors influence the difference in treatment? City council granted an extension to the Marpole Plan until March of 2014. The proposed massive rezoning of a significant portion of the residential section of this neighbourhood prompted a public backlash. Thousands of ‘Stop Marpole Rezoning’ lawn signs appeared throughout the community Crowd at Killarney rally October 19, 2013as residents organized to fight the City’s top-down approach to planning. 1,000 residents participated in a grassroots community event on August 18th. It still remains to be seen if meaningful changes will be made to the Marpole plan, or whether the timeline change was just a stalling tactic.

Differential treatment of neighbourhoods continued. Consider how things unfolded with the West End Community Plan and the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan.

For the West End Community Plan, Council and City staff ignored requests for fair treatment with other neighbourhoods and more time to address a myriad of unanswered questions and issues (see letter by West End Neighbours). But staff advised Council to continue on schedule. Despite the short period given for public review of the final draft (just two weeks for the main document, and less than a week for related materials), City Hall raced ahead, voted on and passed the West End plan, on November 20th. By then, many residents, disillusioned with or angered by City Hall, had already abandoned hope of being heard, and had stopped participating in consultation. Others had engaged in the process but found their comments and questions disappear into the “black box” of the City’s planning department. Many speakers who had taken time off work to speak at the Nov. 20 daytime Council meeting simply gave up and went home without being able to wait longer for their chance to speak. Meanwhile, media failed to notice or mention that the majority of speakers in favour of the West End community plan were actually agents of the Vision Vancouver political organization, or were to be on the receiving-end of largesse from City Hall as part of the plan. The Vision majority on Council, in justifying how they would vote, cited the day’s speakers who had spoken in favour of the plan as proof of community support for it. Yet staff had failed to properly convey to Council the details and extent of community concern, and the lack of objective measures to gauge public support for the plan. No mention was made of the degree of concern raised at the well-attended Town Hall meeting by West End Neighbours on August 28th. And in the end, approval of the plan by bloc vote by the Vision Vancouver majority may have violated the spirit of the request by over 13,000 signatories to WEN’s petition that asked for meaningful consultation to create a comprehensive plan. The day Council approved the West End plan, WEN wrote that it was “… disappointed that the community was not provided a greater opportunity to participate in determining the future of the neighbourhood..” As the next step, one sole public hearing in early 2014 will “pre-zone” many city blocks in the West End for towers.

Meanwhile, the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan was granted a limited extension, with the updated draft plan released on December 17th. It remains to be seen if meaningful input will be taken from residents and from the Local Area Planning Process committee. It is interesting to note that the DTES was granted a committee for its process, and Grandview-Woodland will have its Citizens Assembly. It should be noted that citizen committees once played a key role in CityPlan processes. But they have been conspicuously absent in the West End and Marpole plans. Is this a way for the City to divide and conquer a neighbourhood? Judging by how things unfolded with the West End plan, perhaps that is one tactic consciously used by the City.

A few positives have resulted from the City’s current top-down planning paradigm. In response to the community plans and to the lack of meaningful input, not only were new residents groups formed, but these actions also gave birth to the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods that consists of 21 neighbourhood groups that will work together to reach common goals.

Ridge Theatre Sept 26, 20132013 saw the passing of the Ridge Theatre; the last show was held on February 3rd (see Saying goodbye to the Ridge Theatre, the Straight). Cressey will redevelop the entire site at Arbutus and 15th Avenue for condos. The project went ahead despite 10,000 people signing a petition to save the bowling alley on the property. The loss of the Ridge may have prompted Kitsilano residents to rally to Save The Hollywood Theatre (details in “Save the Hollywood” rally brings overflow crowd to St. James Square). In a motion introduced by Councillor Carr at the November 5th Council meeting, a temporary protection order was approved until January 21, 2014. A total of 87 speakers signed up to speak almost entirely in favour of saving the Hollywood Theatre (videos of select speeches are here). It remains to be seen if the plans to convert the theatre to a fitness centre will be approved in 2014.

Waldorf HotelEarly in the year, the Waldorf Hotel (and tiki bar) eviction and petition to Save the Waldorf showed the importance of Heritage and Cultural Venue preservation. Perhaps the Save The Hollywood Theatre movement will have similar success.

The City rarely blinks. When the administration had made up its mind, staff policies were all but rubber-stamped by a majority vote on Council. By the time a report goes to Council, the outcome rarely gets more than cosmetic changes. However, the City blinked twice in the case of rezoning proposals at Dunbar Street at 30th Avenue. Staff support for two proposals was withdrawn, one of the proposals was a 7-storey building by Pacific Arbour and the other was a 6-storey building on the Stong’s supermarket site. The applicants were informed that planning staff would not recommend either proposal for approval. These two proposals were the exception and not the rule. However, the application for the redevelopment of Stong’s might return in 2014 in a revised form. The rezoning application sign is still posted on the site.

Rezoning sign and Stong's block

Vancouver City Council also updated the policy on “Short Term Incentives for Rental” housing (STIR) and its successor, Rental 100, in response to a BC Supreme Court petition by West End Neighbours. The two policies, underpinned by legislation (bylaws), give developers lucrative incentives, allow Council to justify over-riding design guidelines and zoning policies, fast-track concurrent rezoning/development applications, in order for applicants to build rental accommodation. Council revised the policy on December 3rd. WEN forced City Hall to articulate its definition for ‘affordable housing,’ and as a result, many people were rather surprised to discover that City Hall “considers $1,443 a month for a 450-square-foot studio” located anywhere in Vancouver to be affordable, and therefore, to deserve the sweet incentives. WEN also successfully forced City Hall to rectify an improper provision that let the City Manager determine which developments were “affordable” for STIR and Rental 100. Our elected officials now must be accountable for such decisions, and cannot hide behind City staff. The court action will continue in 2014, as WEN files a revised court challenge about “affordability” and awaits a court date.

The City may also see other court action on the Edgewater Casino in response to a petition filed shortly after the spot zoning was enacted in November 2011. Another court case in the City’s queue is the challenge over the legality of putting a 12 foot wide paved bike path through Hadden Park in Kitsilano; this challenge has been successful in halting the plans by Park Board until the case is heard.

A number of controversial rezoning proposals and development plans were passed in 2013. The Beach Towers rezoning for an infill highrise in the West End under the STIR program was heard over three nights. City staff inexplicably “lost” the video for the February 19th meeting and only a partial audio record exists of the proceedings. A group of citizens abandoned efforts to ask the Planning Institute of British Columbia for a professional review of the report to Council written by senior staff of the City, for what might be a failure to meet professional standards and for possible violations of the Institute’s standards or Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The report appeared to be filled with errors, misrepresentation of fact, and with biased statements. In the end, the citizens gave up after realizing the time, effort, and personal sacrifice required to pursue the formal review process. In view of this experience, citizens might wonder how effective the professional bodies of planners, architects, and so on, can actually be in protecting the public interest.

A 17-storey tower at 611 Main Street and a 16-storey tower at 633 Main Street were approved in February. The density of both spot zonings was exceedingly high for the area, with Floor Space Ratios of 8.26 and 8.86 respectively. The full impacts of livability will be seen in a couple of years once both highrises on the block are constructed. Other parts of Strathcona saw pickets against gentrification, including regular demonstrations at the Pidgin restaurant in the Downtown Eastside. The gentrification of the area is further explained in the Vancouver Media Co-op: This Pig Don’t Fly: Losing It at Save-on-Meats.

439 PowellThe City of Vancouver crews hastily demolished a building at 451 Powell Street on July 24, 2013 as reported by the CBC. This demolition has created nothing but problems for the 1890-built heritage building next door; the City evicted all of the tenants living in affordable housing here provided by the Ming Sun Benevolent Society at 439 Powell Street. The City also issued a demolition order to take down the Ming Sun building, but the action appears to be on hold for now. Locals mounted a 24-hour vigil to monitor for actions by the City. Many residents and supporters of the Benevolent Society are on edge after staff put on a show of force by sending a brigade of firetrucks and other emergency vehicles to the property in the middle of a snowstorm on December 20th, 2013 (details on the Friends of 439 website). No convincing explanation was offered for this use of City resources, but some suspect that a demolition may have been intended. The owner of the buildings next door told the CBC that he wishes to assemble the block. Is the City facilitating land-assembly for future development applications?

The most under-reported story in mainstream media is likely the passage of Vancouver’s Regional Context Statement – Official Development Plan, a master document to regulate land use and guide development in this city for the next 30 years. The almost-complete media blackout from April through to the end of the public hearing on June 11, 2013 is simply astounding and escapes explanation. Only the Vancouver Courier carried a small article in advance of the hearing, an even it provided readers no sense of the importance. This topic may have received more coverage in our national capital, in the Ottawa Citizen. The City did not hold a single public Open House prior to referring the 30-year development plan to Public Hearing. We think this is highly irregular. And the City’s legal department tells Mayor and Council that after a policy has been referred to Public Hearing, they should not speak with the public on that item (see our post Can referral to a public hearing be used as a shield to prevent public access to politicians? Evidently, yes!). For the full story, see our post here:  Did the City of Vancouver fail to engage the public in good faith in its process for adoption of Regional Context Statement?

We see a pattern occurring with ever-increasing frequency: decide internally, avoid scrutiny, dismiss public concern, and ram it through.

Vancouver from Queen Elizabeth Park viewing areaDue to a “glitch”, the City failed to stream web video of the Council meeting for the Public Hearing on the Regional Context Statement and also has no video record of that meeting. The City’s website states “Due to technical difficulties video is not available, only audio.” Similar “glitches” have occurred in the past on some critical topics, like the Beach Towers rezoning. Fortunately, CityHallWatch has some of its own footage of the RCS-ODP public hearing, and will post it in due course.

In contrast, the City of Port Moody Regional Context Statement received far more public input and discussion — going through the entire text chapter-by-chapter in Council, followed by open house, town hall meeting, and active public debate, with extensive media coverage. Port Moody has yet to adopt its RCS, as have many other municipalities, who refused to be forced by Metro Vancouver to circumvent due process in order to meet the July 29, 2013 deadline for submission. What is the back story behind Vancouver’s rush to get the 30-year plan adopted? And how can we explain the behaviour of key players in the game, including our major local newspapers, television, and radio stations? Perhaps one day we will know the answer.

A massive rezoning of of large sections of the Norquay neighbourhood was approved in April. The City approved the rezoning of all single-family residential areas to new townhouse and duplex zones, and also approved apartment zones (see Norquay rezoned – Flashback to April 2013 – Lessons for Marpole and ALL neighbourhoods). The mass rezoning in the “Norquay Neighbourhood Village Plan” should be seen a warning to all, most immediately Marpole residents, of how a complete neighbourhood can be changed by updating the zoning in a land use map. The changes in livability and character of a neighbourhood can be substantial.

Mount Pleasant ‘Plan Implementation‘ was also passed in 2013. This ‘plan’ essentially had staff overwrite the Community Plan while they completely ignored comments by the majority opinion on the Mount Pleasant Implementation Committee (MPIC). Further details are in the post Mount Pleasant Community Plan Implementation plan – in Council Oct 23 – “A Sham” – Serious problems of process and content.

Bjarke Ingels Westbank Granville 52-storey Tower conceptChoklit Park view of Tower Massing
Among the many towers approved, two very tall skyscrapers with major impacts on the City’s dome-shaped skyline policy were approved in 2013. The big changes to the skyline will be due to the Bjarke Ingels Group 507 foot tower at the Granville Loops site and the 550 foot Burrard Gateway. Both of these towers are located south of the City’s Central Business District, and as such have significant impacts on Vancouver views of the North Shore mountains. Much of the project was on City-owned land. The exact details of arrangements with Westbank for this project have not been made public. The skyscrapers will seriously compromise the City’s dome-shaped skyline policies and substantially intrude into the protected Queen Elizabeth Park viewcone. Are mountain views important in this City? Has the public been adequately informed prior to Council decisions with such major impacts? 

The discussions in the downtown were not just about height. Ever increasing densities of developments also raised the ire of residents. For example, the 17.19 FSR 36-storey tower in New Yaletown also saw pushback because of impacts on the neighbourhood (see Public Hearing July 16 for 36-storey tower at 508 Helmcken Street (Emery Barnes Park)).

Significant parts of Olympic Village were sold off by the financial receiver, including rental and commercial spaces. The fire sale resulting from a stalking horse offer of the commercial units was covered in the Vancouver Sun article: City-backed commercial properties at Olympic Village sold for $45 million (December 4, 2013). Fewer than 82 condo units are still up for sale. When and if a final tally is done, can taxpayers expect to see losses in the hundreds of millions over the Olympic Village properties? Could an estimate be made now for the expected losses from the listed prices of the remaining units?

Vancouver from Queen Elizabeth Park viewing areaThe developer of the Olympic Village, Millennium, is apparently broke. However, a 101-unit residential project by Millennium was approved by one sole person: the City’s Director of Planning, Brian Jackson. Jackson’s approval bypassed the usual process of reviewing such a large project in a meeting of the Development Permit Board, which should be open to the public. Further details are in our post: Millennium’s Boheme approved – 101 units at 1588 East Hastings. Olympic Village developer expects construction soon. MANY questions. The Director of Planning also unilaterally approved a major Westbank project involving three towers of 14-storeys each, with almost 450 units, at 2220 Kingsway. This decision was also done quietly, and again, bypassed the DBP.

Are checks and balances at City Hall being systemically removed?

At least with the Development Permit Board, the public has a chance for to observe discussion and provide input.

UDP_1401Comox_Feb22bThe move to reduce transparency also continued at the Urban Design Panel, when the UDP voted in-camera on April 10th to ban video recordings of their meetings and thus fetter media coverage. Video recording had been allowed at previous meetings. The video ban was upheld for the mammoth Oakridge Centre review on November 6th (see Wrongful erosion of public access to City Hall? Bogus ban on video at Urban Design Panel meetings for details). We believe this ban, which has not been put in writing as far as we know, violates the Vancouver Charter. But the City Manager has failed to respond to questions in a sincere attempt to get the facts straight.

As for the increasing level of internal control, the Vancouver Courier reported that a member of the City’s Corporate Communications staff listened into a conversation between a reporter and a senior member of planning staff:

“The Courier’s previous talks with Shillito had been done one-on-one, but now as a part of new policy, city hall’s communications manager Sandy Swanton insisted on listening in on Shillito’s phone interview by speakerphone. It marks the first time in 15 years this reporter was barred from speaking to a Vancouver city planner in private.” (Stanley Tromp, August 20, 2013)

Is it normal practice in other cities to have communications staff monitor other senior staff in this way when they deal with media? The Province also had an interesting analysis on media relations in the article: Communication breakdown at Vancouver city hall as staff have little to say about ballooning numbers (Sept 19, 2013 Sam Cooper). NPA Councillor George Affleck had introduced a motion to try to improve staff access to the media. The article also stated that the City’s communications staff numbers had bloated to 22 employees.

In comparison the City of Surrey, with a population just 22% less than Vancouver’s, has lighter staffing: two employees in corporate communications and one manager of marketing and communications. In a follow-up to this article on December 4th, Sam Cooper published an analysis of corporate communications team responses to Councillor Affleck’s motion, and noted: City Hall communications policy [is] ‘absolutely wrong’. Will the ever-expanding control and censorship of public servants by a corporate communications team result in further losses in transparency and accountability?

The lack of transparency in the 2014 City budget is a key concern that we’ve highlighted in our post Update on $1.5 billion Vancouver City budgets 2014 – Council meeting Dec 10, 2013.

Another controversial change was the Hastings Park Governance plan, that was passed by Council despite concerted public pressure. In a rare move, the Park Board unanimously opposed Council’s plans for PNE control of the lands. Notable is the fact that Chairman of the PNE Board is Councillor Raymond Louie, and he did not abstain from voting on the Council motion to hand over the control of Hastings Park to the PNE and away from public oversight.

Prior to the summer recess of City Council, the Point Grey Road plans for the closure of part of the street to through traffic brought out significant conflicts. In this case there were many concerns raised by residents on the consultation procedures and the alignment of the dedicated bike separated route; many sought a delay in the process. However, a wide range of views were presented, including a sizable number of individuals in the cycling community that supported the plan to close the road to traffic. The Public Bike Share (PBS) system was also approved by Council over the summer; however, the roll out has been delayed with reports that equipment provider BIXI is in serious financial trouble.

A number of other policies and changes to bylaws were approved in 2013, including the Little Mountain Adjacent policy, Heritage Density changes to allow the “landing” of density from the Downtown Heritage Density Bank to anywhere in the City, and laneway housing modifications. The vote was delayed on the megaproject to remove the Viaducts connected to the downtown core and make way for developments there. However, the City appears to be proceeding by stealth on the Viaduct removal by issuing tender documents. In an unexpected move toward secrecy, two recent Requests for Proposals contain Non-Disclosure Agreements (see Preliminary Design of the Georgia Ramp and Steps and the Northeast False Creek Transportation Study).

Shannon Mews demolitionThe Shannon Mews property on Granville Street (by Wall Financial) saw the demolition of Arthur Erickson-designed townhouses and a significant number of trees cut down as the first phase of the redevelopment progressed. The Casa Mia heritage property rezoning progressed, with the Urban Design Panel giving support on December 4th to a revised rezoning for a care facility at 1920 Southwest Marine Drive. A number of rezoning projects continued to wind their way through the City, including the Oakridge Centre redevelopment, Pearson Dogwood and Heather Place for possible approval in 2014. The bright, gigantic billboards continue to operate at BC Place in violation of the City’s bylaws.

For the record, here is a PDF version of the City of Vancouver Rezoning Centre list of projects proposed, approved, and enacted, as of today — January 1, 2014. CoV Rezoning Centre, Rezoning Applications, as of 1-Jan-2014

Conclusion

The year 2013 was the second full year of this civic election cycle. Currently, civic political party Vision Vancouver has held an absolute majority with eight of eleven votes on  City Council since 2008, continuing with the 2011 election.

In 2013, we witnessed the continuation of trends toward greater centralization and less transparency in Vancouver. The manifestation of many of the symptoms of an increasingly unaccountable City Hall resulted in pushback from all parts of Vancouver — pushback against the City’s neighbourhood plans, against uncontrolled growth and spot zoning, against the Park Board takeover of Community Centres, and more, as described above.

Is it a thing of the past to expect good urban design principles focused on creating healthy, livable communities through meaningful community involvement and transparent, accountable processes? We have continued to see evidence that major decisions are made by someone behind closed doors, then city staff defend the decisions, public input is ignored while only voices in agreement are heard selectively, and then decisions are rammed through by bloc voting by the dominant power. 

We feel that magnifiers, microphones, and mirrors are useful tools to understand and fix the Vancouver civic system. CityHallWatch will continue to work with others who seek a transparent, accountable government. Stay tuned in 2014 as we continue coverage of civic affairs, leading up to the November 15 civic election in 2014.

Other reading: CityHallWatch 2012 Year in Review – City Council & Planning

Note: We aim for 100% accuracy and do our best to achieve it. We welcome tips, questions, fact correction, and suggestions on any content we have provided. Volunteers are also welcome.

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