Below is an updated CityHallWatch list of court challenges, legal actions, injunctions, and lawsuits brought against the City of Vancouver and members of City Council by individuals, and by community groups. Perhaps these legal actions are a symptom of deeper systemic problems, a natural result of the current civic system in Vancouver, which pits various interests against the public interest, as we have depicted here. Having failed to get satisfactory results from City Hall through normal channels (direct communication, consultation process, public hearings, BC Ombudsperson, etc.), a growing number of groups and citizens are going to court as nearly a last resort. Will the public ever find out the amount of resources Vancouver City Hall is spending on internal and external legal resources to fight its own citizens, who seek integrity and fairness from their local government?
Here is our updated list of current and recent legal cases that have received public attention (most recent filing dates at top). There may be others. If readers e-mail additional tips and info to us citizenYVR@gmail.com, will will keep track and share online.
- Alleged conflict of interest lawsuit, Vancouver councillors Geoff Meggs and Kerry Jang, rezoning of Heather Place. On June 13, eleven electors filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court alleging these two councillors were in conflict of interest. Both sit on the board of the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MVHC), receive payment for sitting on the Metro Vancouver Housing Committee, and failed to recuse themselves from a Public Hearing for a rezoning for Heather Place. If found in breach, they are disqualified from office. Media release 140617 Councillors in Conflict. CityHallWatch post here. Case filed Jun 13, 2014. (CHW text as of June 18)
- On May 21, 2014, the False Creek Resident’s Association filed for judicial review by the Supreme Court of the city’s decisions to grant back-to-back temporary development permits to Concord Pacific for the operation of their sales centre on land zoned for park and recreation. In addition, the FCRA asked for the Court’s direction on the ongoing commercial use of land that is zoned solely for park and recreation.
The land in question is Lot 9 in the BC Place/Expo District which was created by former Mayor Mike Harcourt and his council in 1984. In the bylaw establishing this zoning, only park and recreational uses are to be allowed on Lot 9. The zoning confirms the seawall and green belt surrounding False Creek, ensuring public access to the waterfront. The entire property is known as the former Expo lands, sold by the Province to Hong Kong financier Li Kaishing after Expo ’86. Concord acquired the lands from Li Kaishing long after the overall plan for the development of Northeast False Creek had been established by the 1984 zoning bylaw.
Although the park zoning was established, in 2005 the city allowed Concord to establish its marketing centre on site and to lease out the remaining 9 acre lot for various purposes ranging from the Molson Indy to the Cirque du Soleil The BC Property Assessment Appeal Board estimated that the lot netted Concord over $600,000 annually in revenue, although in the Olympic year, estimates are ten times that amount.
The Court will establish whether the temporary permits are permitted and whether the remaining portions of lot 9 can be used for commercial purposes without any permits as they are now. The latest temporary permit expired on May 16, 2014. The City has not renewed that permit. In addition, the City has failed to file its response to the Petition by the June 12 deadline. Case filed 21-May-2014. (This text is completely updated as of June 18.)
- The Community Association of New Yaletown filed a legal petition at BC Supreme Court to prevent the development, on the downtown city block containing Emery Barnes Park, of what could become the densest residential building in Vancouver. It alleges that in approving development of the 36-storey tower at 508 Helmcken St. and a related building across the street at 1099 Richards St., the City (1) withheld information from the public about the planned development, preventing informed community participation; (2) provided false and misleading information to the Development Permit Board in order to gain approval for a development permit; (3) hid bylaw changes concerning New Yaletown within amendments to the West End Community Plan–amendments for a completely different neighbourhood; and (4) grossly violated the bylaws of the Downtown Official Development Plan, which ensures residential livability by limiting building size and density. Click here for direct link to website: http://www.newyaletown.ca/2014/05/community-association-files-legal-petition-save-emery-barnes-park/. Filed 6-May-2014. (CHW text as of May. Seeking an update.)
- Casa Mia rezoning: Southlands Community Association seeks court injunction to delay public hearing from March 13, 2014. See web link here. Vancouver Courier story provides update on May 1, 2014. Developing Story: Casa Mia and Heather Place. Click here. It remains unclear what is happening at city hall or when hearing might be rescheduled. SCA filed an FOI request for all material and communication between the City and developer about Casa Mia, but the City has asked for more time before responding. Filed 8-March-2014. (CHW is seeking an update.)
- Alleged conflict of interest: Petition by Glen Chernen and 9 other citizens to disqualify the Vision Vancouver’s eight council members, including Mayor Gregor Robertson, for failing to disclose a direct or indirect pecuniary conflict of interest, in context of Oakridge Centre rezoning. Named are Brook Pooni and Associates, Vancouver is Awesome, and more. CityHallWatch story link here. As of May 6, the petitioners are preparing additional documentation. Filed 7-March-2014. (CHW is seeking an update.)
- Manipulation of protected view cones (updated May 6 evening): Residents Association Mount Pleasant alleges that the City—without council debate, public notice, or motion of council to amend the applicable zoning and development bylaw—significantly narrowed at least two “view cones” that were legally protected for over 20 years. A number of high-rises in East False Creek will block mountain views that were once protected by the original wide view cone from Main & 6th. The suit seeks to quash the West End Community Plan Bylaws due to 20 blocks being removed from view protection and then upzoned. A separate January FOI request was initially delayed due to “potential damage to third party interests” and is now in deemed refusal. Georgia Straight story here. Additional note — This mysterious shifting of lines on a map would add billions of dollars to the value of the land thereunder, and radically alter the skyline. RAMP may lay criminal charges soon. Filed 4-March-2014. (CHW is seeking an update.)
- Alleged conflict of interest in building lease to social media company HootSuite, includes City of Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson. Filed by Glen Chernen et al (he is the Cedar Party’s mayoral candidate). The petition is aimed at removing Mayor Gregor Robertson from office before November’s civic election. Chernen says HootSuite received a non-tendered lease of a civic building in 2012 in return for helping Robertson and Vision win re-election in 2011. CityHallWatch story link here. Court date was May 20, 2014. The lawyer hired by City Hall to defend Robertson (Joseph Arvay) asked the B.C. Supreme Court to quash the petition. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson heard both sides and has reserved judgement. Case filed 14-February-2014. (CHW is seeking an update.)
- Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) and Rental 100. Petition filed by West End Neighbours sought to quash bylaws that override existing zoning guidelines, violate the Vancouver Charter, and give exceedingly sweet incentives to developers — to construct what turns out to be very expensive rental housing. Justice Susan Griffin heard lawyers from the petitioner and the City on April 9 and 10, 2014. She announced her decision to dismiss the case on May 30. See WEN media release here. WEN is claiming partial victory, even though the judge dismissed the case, as WEN did forced the City to partially amend its bylaws in December to address some concerns. The original petition was filed in September 2013, and the amended petition 4-Feb-2014. Status on June 17: WEN has declared partial victory and is considering appealing the decision.
- Hadden Park bicycle path: Community members succeeded in an injunction to prevent Vancouver Park Board from constructing a paved bicycle path through this park. CityHallWatch story here, from victory press conference 19-Feb-2014. Victorious residents held a party on April 3, 2014 — Save Kits Beach & Hadden Park Victory Wrap Party (see lots of smiles in photos here). Case closed. Victory for the community.
- Community Centre Associations: Community associations representing Hastings, Kensington, Kerrisdale, Killarney, Riley Park Hillcrest and Sunset were delighted by the B.C. Supreme Court’s decision 17-January-2014 ordering an injunction to prevent the Vancouver Park Board from terminating their operating agreements and evicting these CCAs. Link to press release. The January injunction followed two court orders (in October and November) requiring the Park Board to desist from actions designed to begin the takeover of the community centres ahead of the Board’s eviction date of 31 December. In December 2013, City lawyers indicated that they thought the court case would be heard in court in 2016. When CityHallWatch interviewed My Vancouver Community Centres on April 9, we learned that the parties are “preparing examination for discovery.” Status (June 18): This case is ongoing, and there may be up to three more lawsuits in the works, involving various parties.
- Vancouver Not Vegas court challenge to PavCo and Paragon BC Place Casino Plan. Link to Vancouver Not Vegas. Case filed 2-May-2013. (Status: CHW is await response to confirm status.)
- Alleged violation of Canadian Charter of Rights. City worker (Milan Kljajic, Twitter @KljajicMilan) takes City of Vancouver to human rights tribunal, and may reveal some of the City’s Code of Conduct to be unconstitutional. As president of Kensington Community Centre Association Kljajic was involved in fight for control of community centres, and City’s code of conduct was allegedly used to muzzle him. See The Province story here and 2-Dec-2013 Province interview here. (Status on June 18: CHW has confirmed that the case is still “very active and going through the process.”)
RELATED MEDIA AND LINKS
Another lawsuit filed against Vancouver councillors, By Emily Jackson, Vancouver Metro News, 17-Jun-2014. http://metronews.ca/news/vancouver/1069164/another-lawsuit-filed-against-vancouver-councillors/
Excerpt: While the City of Vancouver isn’t named in this particular lawsuit, the city provides indemnification for all councillors and therefore foots the bill…The city would not make someone from its legal department available for an interview … to answer questions about how many employees are working on the lawsuits, how much time is being spent doing so or whether the volume of lawsuits is typical…A spokesperson said there will not be interviews because the lawsuits are before the courts, although Metro did not ask to speak about specific case details but rather about the volume in general…The city did, however, email a statement that it already emailed to 24 Hours newspaper in May in response to a similar question…“Legal challenges commenced against the city require that the city expend considerable time and resources in defense through the work of in-house counsel and/or the retainer of outside lawyers and other experts. The amount expended in each case varies according to the nature, complexity and court process involved.”
Two Vancouver councillors accused of conflict of interest over rezoning, by Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun June 17, 2014. http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Vancouver+councillors+accused+conflict+interest+over+rezoning/9947593/story.html
Excerpt: The mayor’s office said it would not comment about the Heather Place allegations because the matter is now before the courts.
Comment: Note the dynamics here. Developers pay the most money in donations to the two top parties, Vision Vancouver and NPA, which together have 10 of 11 votes on Council. Several of these cases related to land use decisions that benefit developers. City Council has the power to hire and fire staff at City Hall, including lawyers (who also happen to be public servants) in the City’s legal department. Those lawyers and hired external legal teams are being instructed by the City to defend the City as an institution, and politicians as individuals who are alleged to have broken the law. Using taxpayer money, at hundreds of dollars per hour.