(Update 2) An amendment to halt the practice of scheduling parts of Public Hearings during the daytime on weekdays narrowly passed at City Council on October 20, 2020. An extra change could reduce the practice of cramming many rezonings into June and July. The proposed 2021 Council Meeting Schedule was released as part of the meeting agenda. A key point here is that the scheduling of all meetings is prepared by staff and then approved by City Council. During discussions in this case, Councillor Hardwick brought forward an amendment to the meeting schedule and then Councillor Bligh further refined it.
In a nutshell, this outcome by Council vote will stop the practice of allowing parts of a Public Hearing to be held during normal working hours in 2021. We believe this will make it more accessible for people to participate in the process. As well, there’s an attempt to more evenly distribute the Public Hearings throughout the Council year to try to prevent a raft of items to be scheduled for July when more people might be on vacation. Here’s the exact wording of the amendment that will was passed:
- THAT council direct staff to reconvene public hearings no earlier than 6 pm on days Monday to Thursday inclusive and
- FURTHER THAT public hearings are evenly distributed month to month throughout the year as much as possible
The previous three Council terms, under the Vision Vancouver majority led by Gregor Robertson, stopped the standard practice of holding Public Hearings in the evenings. While daytime may be convenient for some people, generally, it is the evenings when more people are able to participate in a Public Hearing. Also, if a Public Hearing begins one night and not all of the speakers are heard and/or not all of the items are covered, then it will continue (‘reconvene’) at a later date. For example, the controversial rezoning proposal for a 28-storey tower at 2538 Birch Street (and Broadway) began at 6 pm on Thursday, July 9, 2020. This meeting was reconvened on the following morning at July 10, 2020 at 9:30 am to hear from the remaining speakers.
It has been our observation countless times that this scheduling practice, once it was instituted by Vision Vancouver, has allowed staff to exhaust the speakers’ list. Registered speakers are just skipped over if they cannot speak during working hours (for example, if they’re at work). We believe it was an undemocratic practice, as holding a public hearing during working hours prevents people from participating in the process.
For years, we have witnessed a rush of public hearing dates being scheduled for June and July each year, when people are away for summer break or paying less attention to City Hall. It used to be common practice to avoid public hearings in those months, but these days it seems staff preferred to schedule the most controversial ones in the summer. This was likely the point of the second part of the amendment.
Below is a screenshot of the final votes on the amendment, with five in favour. Recorded in opposition are Mayor Stewart and Councillors Boyle, Carr, Fry and Wiebe. Councillor Swanson’s vote counts as one in favour according to the meeting rules, making the total six to five. The final result has at last reversed Vision Vancouver’s practice of holding Public Hearings during normal working hours.
This is just one example of how a decade of Vision’s ways of doing things became deeply ingrained and gained inertia in the internal policies and processes at Vancouver City Hall. We hope that the current Council will continue to keep their eyes open for other examples that need fixing.
Even with the above amendments, the 2021 schedule was adopted as proposed. You can see a heavy load of Public Hearing dates for June and July 2021. It will be up to Council and the public to scrutinize how staff implement the Council amendments when it comes to scheduling of actual agendas in 2021.
Another thing we have noticed is that City staff have sometimes put several controversial items onto a single Public Hearing agenda, creating a situation in which it is unrealistic to complete all the items. The predictable result is that in many cases the Public Hearing will need to be reconvened at least once. A case in point is the Public Hearing scheduled for next Tuesday, October 27, 2020. The agenda contains seven (7) items, including the last item, a rezoning at 3701-3743 West Broadway (a proposed 14-storey tower by Westbank Projects Corp. at Broadway and Alma), which really should be the only item on another date (until the amendment kicks in in 2021, subsequent days for reconvening can still be during working hours this year). As well, if a Public Hearing starts at 6 pm on one night, and it is reconvened immediately the following morning at 9:30 am, it provides very little time for the members of the public to respond to and analyze statements and assertions made by staff during the staff presentation and their Q&A to Council (as was the case for 2538 Birch).
Below is the published 2021 Council Meeting Schedule that includes the backup dates that can be used to reconvene Public Hearings, as proposed by City staff:
Here’s another recent example of a daytime Public Hearing:
6pm start (June 25, 2020): https://council.vancouver.ca/20200625/phea20200625ag.htm
9:30am recovenened public hearing (June 30, 2020)
The audio archive of the Council Meeting of October 20th is available at this link. You can hear the reasons why Councillors Hardwick, Bligh, DeGenova and Kirby-Yung supported the amendment and why Councillors Boyle and Carr opposed it; this is in the discussions starting at 4:50:15 in the audio archive (before the 5-6pm break):