Heads up, Metro Vancouver: Delta eliminated public hearings (if a rezoning is ‘consistent’ with the official community plan)

In December, CityHallWatch reported “City of Delta edges toward elimination of public hearings on developments (meeting Dec 12).” Delta council passed the proposed zoning bylaw changes on that day, despite written opposition from citizens, and with no discussion. Below is a brief update, timely now as Delta council is slated to adopt the Dec 12 minutes at its meeting (agenda link) slated for January 9, 2023.

North Delta civic watcher Pat Zawalykut submitted a letter to the North Delta Reporter (publisher Dwayne Weidendorf, Black Press) and it was published on January 5, 2023 (reprinted below). CityHallWatch is not aware of any other media coverage or analysis of Delta’s decision. A couple concise notices had appeared in local papers on Dec 1 and 8, but the Delta public was largely unaware of the significance and impacts of this decision coming just before the Christmas break, and probably only a handful of people in the population of nearly 114,000 will know that it has been made.

For context, Mayor George Harvie was reelected, for his second term, in the October 2022 civic election. He and his “Achieving for Delta” party hold all seven seats on council (Delta Optimist article). While that means council decisions could go quickly and smoothly, it also means that from the public’s perspective the municipal government risks having a lack of meaningful checks and balances. It also means that Delta merits a close watch at the regional level, for transparency and Council decisions going forward. Also worth noting, Harvie has become the chair of Metro Vancouver, the regional body for municipalities that are home to about 2.5 million residents.

With the bylaw change, rezoning applications could be approved by a one sole employee in Delta, if they are deemed, through unspecified criteria, to be consistent with the official community plan. This is the direction being sought by newly anointed B.C. premier David Eby for all B.C. municipalities.

*********

LETTER (North Delta Reporter, 5-Jan-2022): No more public hearings?
Recent bylaw changes ‘another nail in the coffin of public engagement,’ writes Pat Zawalykut

On Dec. 12, Delta council approved, without discussion, two bylaws that significantly alter the public hearing process.

The [first] bylaw states that “The Director (of Community Planning and Development) may exercise all the powers and perform the duties of council in deciding whether to hold a public hearing where a proposed zoning bylaw is consistent with the Official Community Plan.”

This puts the decision on one position [just one person] at city hall. With this in place, there is the potential for councillors to rely on a project being studied by the director in isolation and then accept the recommendation of the director. This on projects that may significantly affect a property by changing the character of the area and affect the property values of adjacent properties.

The people of Delta elected council to perform the duties of council — we did not elect city officials to perform [council’s] duties.

It is stated [in the second bylaw] that council may intervene if, for example, one councillor decided that a public hearing is warranted, but then it would take a majority of council to agree to make a public hearing necessary.

This is another nail in the coffin of public engagement in projects that affect the residents of Delta. There are no guidelines to determine whether a public hearing would be necessary. The residents of Delta lose again to Mayor Harvie and now his newly-elected “team.”

Councillors must remember that they are elected by the people of Delta and are accountable only to the people of Delta. They do not work for, report to and are not accountable to the mayor, staff or developers. Mayor and council must listen to the people they represent.

Pat Zawalykut, North Delta

**********

Related commentary:

Note: Delta council’s decision on Dec 12 is in line with recent changes to B.C.’s Local Government Act, removing the default public hearing requirement for zoning bylaws that are “consistent” with an Official Community Plan (OCP). The move was purportedly made to streamline local government development approval processes, with the aim of speeding up construction of new housing.

The report dated Nov 23 (2022) from Delta municipal staff to council outlining those changes and recommending the bylaw amendments that ended up being adopted on Dec 12 said that the city typically processes 30-40 zoning bylaw amendment applications each year, of which around five to 10 require OCP amendments. Let’s see what happens over the next year.

In December, CityHallWatch wrote to legal experts who have followed the provincial legislation changes carefully and learned that no information is publicly available — and it seems no one is publicly tracking — how many municipalities adopt such bylaw changes. Nor is anyone tracking how many rezoning applications are going forward without a public hearing. If someone knows otherwise, please send us a note.

Below is a link to that Delta staff memo, entitled “Bill 26 and Implications for Public Hearings” (10 pages). Residents in other municipalities in B.C. should not be surprised if similar staff memos are sent to their mayors and council. CityHallWatch has some serious problems with the underlying papers, rationale, and justifications being used by the B.C. provincial government. But that’s a topic for future analysis and articles. It’s a serious problem that this is proceeding without meaningful public debate.

CityHallWatch believes that to earn and maintain trust, governments need to be transparent and timely in their information disclosure, and must “show their work” so that the public can be confident the decisions are being made in the public interest, not catering to vested interests. We’re not joking. The development industry has its own lobby organization, and poured millions of dollars into the October 2022 elections in Metro Vancouver. In Vancouver alone, the total contributions to the top two civic parties came to a few million dollars. Obviously, that’s not for charitable purposes. Systems need proper checks and balances.

https://delta.civicweb.net/document/215398/

Below: Excerpted from staff memo – comparison of previous versus “Proposed Typical Bylaw Adoption Process for Rezonings
that are Consistent with Official Community Plan”

.

3 thoughts on “Heads up, Metro Vancouver: Delta eliminated public hearings (if a rezoning is ‘consistent’ with the official community plan)

  1. It’s out with democracy and in with dictatorship unless residents rise up to stop the insipid stripping away of their rights and voice. Stop letting your elected representatives ignore and deny your interests with no public hearings. Stop paying more taxes for receiving fewer services. Stop taking on others’ work (eg. endless sorting and recycling) for no compensation. Stop enabling addiction by providing free drugs. Stop encouraging poverty and homelessness by building free homes. Stop pretending the mentally ill aren’t. Stop aiding and abetting crime by not enforcing laws and sentences. Stop the discriminatory war on taxpayers, homeowners and motorists. Stop favouring the lowest common denominator over the most hard-working and productive. Stop allowing our society to fall any further into chaos: STOP IT, AND STOP IT NOW!

  2. > With the bylaw change, rezoning applications could be approved by a one sole employee in Delta

    Perhaps you are unfamiliar with what waiving a public hearing actually means. It does not mean that rezoning applications are approved or rejected by staff. All members of council will still vote on the rezoning.

    All it means is there is no public hearing.

    Residents will still have the opportunity to provide feedback on any application in any number of ways, including online, or at in person public information meetings. Concerned citizens can call their council people directly if they want. The only change to public feed back is there is no public hearing right before the 3rd reading vote.

    Because council still votes, the public can still hold them accountable.

    • Thanks, Caitlynn. Good point.

      In response, we’ve added the flowchart from the staff memo, comparing the situation before and after the bylaw change.

      On paper, you would seem to be right. In practice, perhaps not. What are the differences? In public hearings, discussions by our elected officials are made in public. Correspondence from concerned/affected community members is made public and stays in the public record as part of public hearing documentation. Council members need to discuss and vote in public, and give their reasons for their vote. Council can require staff to answer questions raised by members of the public, in public. That could be on video in a meeting, or even in a written memo, on record. With no public hearing. we’ll see none of that in practice. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd readings would be largely a ceremonial affair, over and done in moments. How many times has Delta city council ever opposed a recommendation made by the planning department? (Meanwhile, in a real example in the case of Vancouver, over 400 letters from citizens concerned about a development application were summarized in one sentence in the report upon which the approval decision was made by one sole person, the director of planning.) As another indication of attitude, how much public notification and public discussion by Council was there regarding the bylaw changes that were actually adopted on December 12? Virtually zero, it would seem. We know that citizens sent letters to Council. None of them were made public.

      Anyway, as written, “Let’s see what happens over the next year” in Delta.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s