Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including this 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.”
City Conversations No One Else is Having #8
City Conversations No More?
By Brian Palmquist (first published 16-Sept-2021)
“How on earth am I going to get time off from work to speak to council at 9:30am on a weekday morning?” My son is not very political—I had never seen him so agitated.
He was talking about Vancouver city staff’s latest attempt to muzzle citizen participation in government. Just yesterday (September 15th), the city Council agendas for September 21st and 22nd had been published—yes, agendas are now regularly posted less than a week before the event. I will leave you to muse about who benefits from such a short fuse council meeting.
“I share your annoyance,” I responded. “Historically, we’ve had public hearings in the evenings so folks could sign up to be heard—in fact, the previous deadline to sign up to speak was 8:30am on the morning of such an evening meeting. It’s now being proposed as noon of the day before, including any accompanying visuals.”
“So what’s changed?” he asked, “And why has it changed—I can’t believe it’s as bad as you first laid it out.” I think he was beginning to regret our regular bike rides around False Creek—I always brought up the latest political outrage as we breakfasted before setting off.
“Unfortunately, it is,” I continued. “Like you, most politically active Vancouverites work, mostly during the day. Those on night shift usually sleep during the day. What better way to keep folks from speaking up than by scheduling follow-up public hearings starting at 9:30am on the day after an evening meeting that runs too late? Half or more of citizens wanting to speak will be at work.”
“Well,” he responded, “How frequently do these public hearings run over to a second day—is it really such an issue and is it so bad if I am told to dial in at, say, 10am? I can wait a few minutes on the phone.”
“Would that it were that easy,” I responded. “Almost every major rezoning, which is what most public hearings are about, has run too late to wrap up in one evening, so must be continued.”
“I get that,” he replied, “but as I said, what’s the big deal about calling in next day at a predetermined time?”
I replied: “Last time I spoke at a public hearing, I was told to call a certain phone number 15 minutes before my likely scheduled speaking time. I did that, then waited more than two hours before I was finally given my few minutes to talk. Others shared identical experiences. So even when your time to speak is identified, it’s really an hour or more before your real speaking time. Imagine trying to do that in the middle of a workday?”
He paused for a moment, “Couldn’t there be some kind of callback approach to, you know, give you better notice when your time was coming up?”
“Great idea,” I responded, “but city staff seem unable or unwilling to implement any tech improvements. If staff and Council’s objective is to actually shut down public input, why would they make it easier?”
He continued. “So how do I express my outrage about this?” He was genuinely looking for how to help.
“Ironically, the proposals to curtail public input will only be debated by Council—that’s right, there will be no opportunity for the public to speak to their rights being curtailed by staff and Council. All you can do is contact members of Council directly—by phone, email, social media, etc. and you’d better hurry, since the whole mess is up for debate on September 21st.”
With that to chew on, he tore off on his bike, much faster than usual, requiring me to work harder than ever to keep up. I thought, It’s as if City Council and staff were tearing off ahead to avoid having to confer with us, mere citizens.
Brian Palmquist is a fully vaccinated Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired, so not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on a 40+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. He is the author of the Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.”