“Take 2” on amendments to Downtown Official Development Plan: Fact checking tips for City’s misinformation and spin

CoV Downtown District Map 1 - Areas, 4-Feb-2015

CoV Downtown District Map 1 – Areas, 4-Feb-2015

(Initial post, to be updated) Vancouver citizens may be about to witness one of the largest and most expensive public notification undertakings in the city’s history of public hearings

This is an important public matter and deserves public scrutiny across Canada (see “Shockwaves from Supreme Court decision …“) as the case has set a precedent that could affect how public hearings are held by municipalities across Canada. (Where are national media on this?)

Vancouver City Hall is trying to understate and downplay the contents of this Supreme Court ruling. And use taxpayers' own money to fight it.

Vancouver City Hall is trying to understate and downplay the contents of this Supreme Court ruling. And use taxpayers’ own money to fight it.

Local neighbourhood group CANY is leading the charge demanding procedural fairness in public hearings, and needs funds (from anywhere, even across Canada and beyond) to defend democracy. Why? The City of Vancouver is appealing the “stinging B.C. Supreme Court ruling last month that quashed two major New Yaletown developments, related to public hearings and the guiding downtown overall development plan.” And has a bottomless wallet to do so — the taxpayer’s pocket.

Below we share

  • Links to important references
  • Points to rectify some inaccurate portrayals of the situation, as presented by City of Vancouver officials and then tend to get repeated in media.
  • Excerpts of Vancouver Sun article, with comments.

REFERENCES

  1. “City of Vancouver embarks on extensive public consultation plan” (Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun, 25-Feb-2015):
    http://www.vancouversun.com/City+Vancouver+embarks+extensive+public+consultation+plan/10843060/story.html
  2. Vancouver City Council document for 9:30 am meeting Tues. 3-Mar-2015: “Proposed Amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP) including new housing definitions applicable to all areas within the DODP and including amendments to implement the West End and Downtown Eastside plans” — 44 pages: http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20150303/documents/p3.pdf
  3. B.C. Supreme Court decision: BC Supreme Court Justice McEwan, Community Association New Yaletown v. Vancouver 27-Jan-2015
  4. For readers, we have also created a web page for online browsing of the text of the Court ruling, and over time will annotate it to emphasize points and respond to media and City Hall coverage of specific parts: https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/cases/cany-v-cov-supreme-court/

POINTS TO REMEMBER WHEN READING OFFICIAL STATEMENTS AND RELATED MEDIA COVERAGE

If any of our readers communicate with media and City officials, we urge you to get these points across.

  1. City of Vancouver officials are trying to underplay the significance of problems in the lawsuit Community Association of New Yaletown v. City of Vancouver. The issues go to the very integrity of City Hall and whether or not it is serving the public interest. CANY has focused on two specific tower developments, one on publicly-owned park land in its own neighbourhood, but the issues are deep (see “Supreme Court CANY vs CoV. On trial: The integrity of Vancouver City Hall,” with short video). City Hall fought hard to keep its dealings secret with Brenhill Developments, and it was only through the use of freedom of information legislation and expensive legal proceedings that CANY was able to crack this case open.
  2. As you follow developments in this case, ask how deep and systematic the patterns of behaviour are at Vancouver City Hall (or your own municipality). Media coverage tends to focus on specific details but completely miss the overarching and systemic issues.

COMMENTS ON THE VANCOUVER SUN ARTICLE

  1. People need to tell City Hall that “advertising” and “public consultation” are two very different things. Spending a lot to get your message in front of people does not equal public consultation.
  2. In the Vancouver Sun article, Vancouver’s director of planning Brian Jackson is quoted as saying “The problem lies in the wording of the DODP, which is vague in its definition of what constitutes “low-cost housing… This has to do with the
    definition of social housing… We want to make sure that these people understand we are changing the definitions. We want everybody to be able to provide comment.
  3. It seems that Jackson hasn’t yet read Justice McEwan’s ruling: “A public hearing is not just an occasion for the public to blow off steam: it is a chance for perspectives to be heard that have not been heard as the City’s focus has narrowed during the project negotiations. Those perspectives, in turn, must be fairly and scrupulously considered and evaluated by council before making its final decision.
  4. The article itself provides some valuable information but also goes too far in promoting City Hall’s spin. The reporter wrote the content, but the headline was probably chosen by a senior editor, and headline puts a positive spin on the entire initiative — showing how big the effort is going to be. We have found that Vancouver Sun has a tendency to  take this approach and urge subscribers and readers to communicate with senior management at the paper asking for more impartiality and completeness in coverage of civic affairs.
COMMENTS ON THE CITY OF VANCOUVER DOCUMENT FOR MARCH 3
Anyone close to the action will find it interesting to see how the twisting of history is propagated by the City.  As an example see this quote from the report:
Thus, this report restarts the process of Council considering the DODP amendments related to the Council-approved West End and Downtown Eastside plans. Extensive public consultation was undertaken over multiple years in the development of these two community plans, as well as for the Housing and Homelessness Strategy and the Healthy City Strategy, all of which inform and support the recommended DODP amendments. More than 16,600 participants were involved in the creation of those two plans and two strategies.
COMMENT: That statement about 16,600 participants being involved is absolutely false. Anyone who watched closely know that “16,600 participants” were NOT involved in the creation of these plans. There may have been 16,600 “interactions” with residents (including, for example, a person who may have spent five seconds at an information booth during a Car Free Day street festival). But in some cases one individual involved may have constituted 100 “interactions” over the multi-year course of the processes. Staff were forced to admit that they were counting interactions rather than “participants.” But once the numbers are published, they get used to suit a desired outcome. We are not being trivial. City Hall and city officials should uphold the highest standards of factual accuracy. This is just one example. We hope City Council asks Mr. Jackson to explain how these numbers entered the report, and correct the document.
EXCERPTS FROM VANCOUVER SUN ARTICLE, with comment
  • In an effort to fix three little but troublesome words in its guiding downtown overall development plan, the City of Vancouver is proposing one of the most extensive public consultation and notification programs ever. [COMMENT: This opening sentence seriously understates the extent of the Supreme Court ruling.]
  • From postcards and ad mail delivered to the approximately 23,000 property owners, 13,000 business license holders and 30,000 renters in the downtown districts, to accessing email lists and social media, the city is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to make sure people understand why the words “low-cost housing” are being replaced with “social housing.”
  • The extraordinary efforts, which will cost taxpayers about $60,000, stem directly from a stinging B.C. Supreme Court ruling last month that quashed two major New Yaletown developments, related public hearings and the guiding downtown overall development plan.
  • The Brenhill case, as it is known, has had wide implications for municipal governments, which are now examining the extent to which they must consult the public.
  • In his ruling, Justice Mark McEwan said Vancouver did not adequately notify residents living in the downtown overall development plan area or DODP, which covers much of the downtown. [COMMENT: The article is seriously understating the points of the Supreme Court ruling. ]
  • In quashing the DODP and ordering new public hearings for the Brenhill developments, the judge’s findings also exposed a similar flaw in the West End and Downtown Eastside area plans. [COMMENT: The West End has 45,000 residents. The City should inform them if it intends to change anything related to the West End Community Plan. Similarly for Downtown Eastside]
  • A new public hearing is expected to be held in late March.
  • At the core of the problem is a city program of giving bonus density to developers in return for building targeted social or affordable housing.
  • … [This initiative] will not set a precedent for routine local rezonings, where the city typically notifies residents within a few blocks’ radius, [Jackson] said. [COMMENT: Here again, Jackson is understating the import of Justice McEwan’s ruling. The issue is not how many postcards the City sends out. It is about the “procedural fairness” of public hearings and the entire system of how they are conducted by City Hall. ]

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