The Urban Design Panel has not been doing an adequate job of keeping and publishing minutes of recent meetings. This is a serious matter.
As of this writing, none of the deliberations for any of the six Urban Design Panel meetings since September 23, 2015 have been provided in the minutes posted online. Provisional minutes posted provide only the results of the UDP votes for the development projects reviewed, but there’s no information on the discussions. The document only says “Minutes to follow.” Here’s one example:
The City website says the UDP “advises City Council and staff about development proposals or policies, including major development applications, rezoning applications, and other projects of public interest,” and bears the disclaimer that it “does not approve or refuse projects or make policy decisions.” However, in fact, getting UDP support is a crucial step in getting a rezoning or development approved, and huge amounts of money are in play.
Though it advises City Council, however, this panel and its members are ultimately required to serve the public — to put the public interest first — as required by the City’s Code of Conduct.
But in that respect, one could say that it has been exhibiting a lack of transparency and accountability. Members are appointed in a closed meeting by the Council majority. The UDP meetings begin at an inconvenient time for members of the public, at 3 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. A few years ago, the UDP attempted to ban the video recording of meeting, but we believe that a ban would be in violation of legislation, including the Vancouver Charter. Now the UDP is no longer taking detailed minutes to explain their decisions. UDP members present in the room are making decisions in many cases based on information that is provided only to them. Sometimes it has not been made clear whether or not members recused themselves from voting on projects in they were actually involved with the applicant.
The UDP is known to have illegally gone in-camera at the beginning of meetings, in clear contravention of the Vancouver Charter. A number of UDP members are also financial contributors to the party with the Council majority. Arno Matis is one such donor who has served multiple terms on the UDP.
For the record, the incomplete minutes of the UDP meetings are below (as of December 6, 2015):
- 526-548 W King Edward Avenue
- 3289 Riverwalk Avenue (East Fraser Lands Parcel 8B)
- 1668 Davie Street (1225 Cardero Street)
- 438 W King Edward Avenue
- 5650 Balaclava Street (Knox United Church + New Fellowship Centre)
- 5668 Balaclava Street
- 1133 Melville Street
- 4085 Ash Street & 619-633 King Edward Avenue
- 5021-5079 Quebec Street
- 49 E 1st Avenue
- 5189-5289 Cambie Street
- 6507 & 6541 Main Street
- 305 W 41st Avenue
- 1037 W King Edward Avenue
- Joyce-Collingwood Station Precinct
- 4976 – 5010 Cambie Street (Milton Wong House)
- 288 – 388 W King Edward Avenue
- 2395 – 2443 Kingsway
- 288 E Hastings Street
(The minutes for 2015-12-02 meeting have not yet been posted)
- 800 West Georgia Street (Vancouver Art Gallery – North Plaza)
- 1550 Alberni Street
- 105 Keefer Street and 544 Columbia Street
- 1111 Richards Street (formerly 508 Helmcken Street)
ACTION: If you are concerned about this matter, you may wish to contact Mayor and Council, requesting that City Council look into the delay in posting detailed minutes of the UDP meetings, and that the UDP articulate clear performance standards for maximum delay for the complete minutes to be posted. In fact, perhaps a system should be instituted for periodic (annual) reporting from the UDP chair to City Council. It might include, for example, a list of the occasions on which the UDP goes in camera and their exact reasons (with required advance notice), as well as any delays in publishing complete minutes.
All civic bodies have an implicit social contract, and it is all founded upon trust. Perhaps some systems need to be put in place so that the public trust can be justified and unshaken.
A closing thought: Is what we see with the UDP another piece of evidence of “regulatory capture.”