“Gong Show”: Eyewitness report of Public Hearing of May 24, 2016 (3365 Commercial Drive)

Intro: Four City Councillors walked out of the Public Hearing on May 24, 2016, leaving the meeting without quorum. This may be be unprecedented in Vancouver history. The development application for (search “Cedar Cottage” for recent CityHallWatch coverage) was up for the final vote by City Council. This application and these events are extremely important for public scrutiny, so we will be following the story with a number of posts in the coming days. Here below, with permission, we carry an eyewitness report from Eye on Norquay, entitled “Gong Show.”

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GONG SHOW – reprinted from Eye on Norquay: https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/gong-show/

Among the far too many days and evenings spent at Vancouver City Council proceedings over the years, the 24 May 2016 public hearing on

3. REZONING: 3365 Commercial Drive and 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue
http://council.vancouver.ca/20160524/phea20160524ag.htm

rivals 20 January 2011 for weirdest scene ever encountered at City Hall.

The unfolding of the series of events looks like a set of poor drivers taking turns piling into each other. To perceive execution of a clever political script by any caucus or player seems impossible.

What follows is an eyewitness report from recent memory, supplemented by some research. Efforts are made to stick to certainties, and to label speculations as such. City hall video of the evening mysteriously and conveniently “crashed” at 4:05:06.
3365-cutfeed

[Image Credit: CityHallWatch]
After approximately 2 1/2 hours spent on item 3, the public hearing aborted with a walk-out by four of the seven City Councillors present. Affleck, Ball, Carr, and De Genova left behind the three Vision who were present: Deal, Louie, Stevenson.

The public hearing felt eerie from the very first minute. Four other Vision were visibly “absent”: Jang, Meggs, Reimer, Robertson. Just before I was to be called up to speak, as number 8 on the registered list, the proceedings flipped into indefinite suspension. Stevenson and De Genova stepped out at the same time and killed quorum.

The speakers list showed 24 lines, one blanked as “withdrawn.” Two speakers were no-shows. Three unregistered speakers stepped up at the end. The 24 speakers seemed to sort out as 3 support and 21 opposed. The record of correspondence shows: 6 support, 41 opposed, 2 other.
3365agenda
All of the foregoing may translate merely into what the City of Vancouver likes to describe as “a degree of support.”

The opposed speakers displayed an impressive range of content, oratory, presence, and style. Ordinary, real, neighborhood folk. Minimal “coaching” and no shills. (I’ve been to a lot of meetings of CCAN — Cedar Cottage Area Neighbours. Most of these faces and names were not familiar.)

Councillors put very few questions to speakers. When Carr asked me about the introduction of Interim Rezoning Policy, I found opportunity to interject my fears that discussion and voting would be deferred forward — allowing absent councillors who faced no speakers to claim to have reviewed video of the meeting and thus merit a vote.

Early on, Louie hit replay on his standard-script whine about how applause for speakers wastes time. Later on, Louie ran on and on about how the audience should respect the “reason” that needed to be brought to bear on the “decision.” With a little less inherent respect, I would have screamed out “whipped caucus” — a phrase embedded in my “presentation.”

After all speakers were heard, staff responded to questions from councillors.

From around 9:45 onward De Genova made multiple requests for a vote to extend the meeting. Even at the verge of 10:00 pm, Louie was insisting on waiting longer. It felt like most of that frustrating quarter-hour consisted of De Genova and Louie acting up like ornery kids in a sandbox. When the vote did come, the required unanimity made it possible for the meeting to continue.

As decorum degenerated, a woman who was a self-declared first-time-ever speaker to Council stood up to object vociferously to what was going on. Louie had her marshalled out of chamber by a security guard.

Deal put forward a motion to approve the rezoning. Her appended rationale predictably boiled down to “any rental construction is always good” — with no concern shown about how existing City of Vancouver “policy” clearly fails to support the particulars. (Memo to Louie: file as case study in Vision’s exercise of “reason.”) No second to the Deal motion was ever apparent.

Following on Deal’s “motion,” Carr detailed at length the reasons that she would be voting against the motion.

Next up in the queue, Stevenson started talking about trees on the site. His concern for prospective tree loss appeared to be heartfelt and straightforward, albeit utterly muddled. Stevenson’s concerns led to some comment offered by the Cressey project arborist.

{I spoke at length with this arborist at the 21 May 2015 open house, and found him human and helpful. The Lawson Cypress trees that Cressey claims to “retain” at the corner of Commercial and East 18th would lose about one-third of root structure and suffer significantly shortened lifespan. Quite possibly, die fast from trauma. The northern trees in the grove would be cut, with the remaining trees left jammed right up against a six-storey building.]

When Stevenson’s concerns began to take on the form of a motion to delay discussion and decision — his words touched on getting information from the City arborist and on seeking pause of “a month” — Carr objected strenuously to the maneuver, asserting that this latitude had routinely been denied to her in past as not allowed by procedure. (How Louie could allow any of this discussion with a sort-of motion from Deal on the floor is not apparent.) Regularly interspersed with the Stevenson tree initiative were De Genova appeals to have a vote on time extension.

Eventually Carr’s series of set-to’s with Louie resulted in his asking the City Clerk for advice. The City Clerk went solo, rummaged and ruminated about procedure for quite a while, and then held a long whispery huddle with Louie as he sat in the mayor chair. Immediately following this private confab came what was arguably the weirdest single moment in a fraught evening. Acting Mayor Louie asked Kent Munro (Assistant Director of Planning — Vancouver Mid-town) for further guidance. Munro tossed that hot potato right back, saying that the City Clerk would know better, and that he was not prepared to say anything additional because of limits on his own grasp of Vancouver’s Procedure By-law.

After this point, memory grows sketchier, due to the acceleration and the frenzy. Ball held the floor, and while speaking, veered off into uncharacteristic venting of spleen over Louie’s treatment of Carr, and his evident violation of customary procedure. Meanwhile, De Genova arose, and Carr interacted with her, perhaps attempting to deter departure. Almost immediately after that, the four non-Vision councillors were acting in concert, standing up and exiting as rapidly as possible from the Council chamber. With little hesitation, the City Clerk declared the meeting terminated due to lack of quorum.

The foregoing narrative, based on my fairly well developed perceptions, leaves me with many questions and speculations and suppositions about the 3365 Commercial public hearing.

1.  How could such a defective report ever have been (a) prepared by planners (b) vetted by bureaucrats (c) referred to public hearing?
The policy failures are evident and stark. Most likely answers: (a) IRP is a vaunted policy falling far short of anticipated take-up. Anything, even if nonsensical, could look better than nothing. (b) Big-party big donors must be rewarded.

2.  Why were Jang, Meggs, Reimer, and Robertson all absent?
My very first thought was that none of these people had the stomach to put their name on a caucus-whipped vote to support a highly dubious implementation of a misbegotten “policy.” Warnings of trouble ahead could be seen in correspondence prior to referral to public hearing, in the formal public hearing correspondence, and in the list of registered speakers.

3.  How could Louie let Deal’s motion to approve the rezoning wander off into the Stevenson tree morass?
This may have been Louie’s single greatest failure as chair. It’s hard to imagine how Louie could ever function as mayor. This episode of “acting mayor” was not a class act.

4.  Why would Stevenson wander off into the tree topic at that point?
Simple, plausible, kind answer: Stevenson cares about trees. (Not forests.)

5.  Why would De Genova press so hard for a time extension and then lead a walk-out?
Possible answer: De Genova is a loose cannon willing to fire in any direction on short notice. Duck.

6.  What next?
Whatever the Vision caucus wants to do. That is the current governing policy in the City of Vancouver. And “legal department” has nothing to do with anything. (“Sue me and see.”)

Concluding thoughts.

1.  The NPA found a politically useful way to sidestep a 6-for versus 1-against vote that would cast a blinding light on the developer-whipped Vision-NPA axis. With more Vision present, NPA could pretend to oppose, and let Vision wear all the shame.

2.  This flame-out public hearing could create the space that Cressey and city planners need to revise the proposal and to rectify their heretofore gross disregard for existing policy. And maybe save the whole grove of Lawson Cypress for a healthy future. (Irrepressible optimism.)

3.  In the wake of the 3365 Commercial debacle, what sane developer would ever embark on the leaky, rotten, uncertain IRP ship?

One thought on ““Gong Show”: Eyewitness report of Public Hearing of May 24, 2016 (3365 Commercial Drive)

  1. When you have people like Louie and Stevenson the rainbow are in the mayors chair they always have problems, I watch the meeting online it never fails we have to get rid of these people next Election they are to incompetent & dysfunctional municipal politicians

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