The City of Vancouver spent up to $220,000 to relocate a ‘urban orchard’ at the peak of the pandemic. A vacant parking lot has been left behind after the orchard was moved off the property at 1500 Main Street at the end of March 2020. There are now several ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted by the City on the fencing around the empty site.
Why was it crucial to spend so much money in the midst of a pandemic moving this orchard? Was the move really that urgent? Could the orchard have remained here? Little questions like these lead to big questions about the murky world of the City’s $6 billion Property Endowment Fund.
Where did the orchard go, and when was the decision made?
The orchard is fortunately safe and it has been relocated to 215 West 1st Avenue. The decision to spend up to $220,000 on the move was made at the March 10th City Council meeting, when the following lease agreement was approved:
- Licence Agreement for Portions of City-owned Land at 215 West 1st Avenue and 1850 Spyglass Place to Sole Food Street Farms for Urban Agriculture Purposes
In addition to Point A of the report which is a $10 lease agreement for the rental of 215 West 1st Avenue for 3 years and 7 months, there’s point B of the report which provides a grant of $220,000 to facilitate the move:
THAT Council approve a grant of up to $220,000 to Cultivate Canada Society, dba Sole Food Street Farms (“Sole Food”) for urban agriculture moving expenses and hereby deems the grantee to be contributing to the welfare of the City. Source of funds is Arts, Culture, and Community Services 2020 Operating Budget.
The move was requested by the City-owned Property Endowment Fund (PEF). While the report mentions that the PEF seeks to rent the property, the lot remains empty. It is worth noting that there are no ‘for lease’ signs posted and the site is not listed on the City’s website as available for rent. While the PEF may have been the driving force behind the relocation of the orchard, the funds did not come from the PEF budget, but from the general Arts, Culture, and Community Services 2020 Operating Budget. The move of course consumed resources, fuel and took about a week for the operator, Sole Food, to complete. There may have also been public safety concerns at the time for people involved in the move. The trees would have been fine, as it is best to move trees when they are dormant (no foliage).
When the orchard was unveiled in 2013, there was a great deal of fanfare and excitement around urban agriculture, as noted in this CBC article. The original lease by the City was signed in 2012. This lease was later extended to Dec 15, 2019.
In addition to relocating the orchard, another site leased by Sole Food at 1580 Vernon Drive was also decommissioned and those operations were relocated to 215 West 1st Avenue in a previous move. This site on Vernon had four large greenhouses just to the north of the Grandview Viaduct. The site at 1580 Vernon is also presently empty.
There’s very little oversight of the PEF. The 2018 Audit summary of the Property Endowment Fund reveals little about the details of this entity. Eye on Norquay noted that after 2016, the total for PEF capital was no longer being reported out to the public (full article here). The murky world of the Property Endowment Fund needs much transparency. Decisions like relocating urban farms and orchards were done on the behest of the PEF. Even larger decisions are being made speculating on property, with ongoing acquisition and sales. Who is making the decisions about City-owned lands? Is it the Property Endowment Fund, City staff, or the elected Council? This is a job for a good investigative reporter.
Sole Food website: https://solefoodfarms.com/
Original lease: https://council.vancouver.ca/20120214/documents/cfsc2.pdf
Lease extension: https://council.vancouver.ca/20161214/documents/cfsc8.pdf
Previous site lease on 215 West 1st Avenue
Staff Report March 10, 2020: https://council.vancouver.ca/20200310/documents/r10.pdf
PEF Audit Summary: https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/property-endowment-fund-audit.pdf
Eye on Norquay (on PEF): https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2020/04/15/virtual-vancouver-city-council/