What are the City’s rules and practices regarding when and how to publish crucial public information?
The sooner the better when it comes to learning about a public hearing, meeting, open house, or public consultation. Conversely, delayed access to information can put people and neighbourhoods at a disadvantage and reduce their chance to prepare, study up, and develop input to the City.
CityHallWatch asked City Hall for an update on meeting notifications, and received a response from the Communications department. Here is what we learned.
Staff are working on a Public Notice By-law to be presented to an upcoming Council report (no scheduled date yet). The new bylaw will address public notification for various matters, including public hearings. Currently, the Vancouver Charter governs what is required as a bare minimum.
Currently, below are the ways the City does public notification for public hearings:
Print ad notification – The Charter requires that two ad notices be placed in a locally circulated newspaper. The ads must appear in different weeks and the last ad must run at least 7 days prior to the public hearing. The City generally runs two ads in Vancouver is Awesome on Tuesdays, in the two weeks prior to the public hearing. Sometimes Vancouver Sun is used for one of the ads, as it publishes daily (Tues-Sat), but still within the time requirements of the Charter. [Example: For the May 9, 2023 Public Hearing, an advert appeared in the Vancouver Sun on May 2.]
Postcard notification – Postcard notices are mailed at least two weeks prior to the hearing, to a notification area of about a 2-block radius of the rezoning site. Direct mail is used for property owners and, if an area is 50% rental, it is supplemented with unaddressed ad mail. The City uses Canada Post’s Postal Code Mail, which mails directly to every unit regardless of tenure or whether a mailbox has a red dot. Non-resident owners, located outside the postal code, receive direct mail. Mailing notices for hearings is not a Charter requirement, but has been the City’s standard practice for some time.
- The City’s Shape Your City (https://www.shapeyourcity.ca/rezoning) site has project pages for rezoning applications which provide background information, ways to send in comments and ask questions. [Date of the Public Hearing is typically indicated.] The timelines and outcome of the public hearing are also posted on the pages.
- Public Hearing agendas are also posted a week before the hearing date on the Council meetings page (https://covapp.vancouver.ca/councilMeetingPublic/CouncilMeetings.aspx).
Sign on site – A 4×8-foot sign is required to be on the rezoning site during the rezoning application review period. The sign gets updated by the applicant 2 to 3 weeks prior to the hearing with the information about the hearing. The rezoning sign is not a requirement mandated by the Charter.
After the hearing — The outcome of the hearing is on the City’s website – in the Clerk’s Council meeting records and on the Shape Your City page.
CityHallWatch additional comments having observed this for well over a decade.
- Rezoning information signs on the subject site are often late or out of date. There is some room for improvement.
- A rezoning application typically goes to Public Hearing within a number of weeks after a “referral report” goes to a Regular Council meeting. This is where the final details are compiled by rezoning staff, who recommend City Council send the application to a Public Hearing. So it’s useful to watch those meeting agendas.
- The Renovate the Public Hearing Project at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (https://www.sfu.ca/dialogue/programs/strengthening-democracy/strengthening-canadian-democracy/Renovate-the-Public-Hearing.html) has received a $2 million grant from the CMHC to “pilot changes to the provincial local government land-use public hearing requirements as a means to enhance social justice, community-building and strengthen democratic culture.” The basis premise of the project is that the public hearing process “is broken,” and the intention is to recommend changes in provincial legislation governing public hearings, so this is a space to watch.
- Since the City advertises in newspapers two weeks before a Public Hearing, they already have the agenda items set at that point, but only a fraction of the affected population is likely to see the notice. Citizens might advocate for the City to publish the same information online on the City website at the same time they publish in newspapers.
Where do you watch for advance notice of Public Hearings and other City meetings? https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/advance-notice-public-hearings/