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September 2021. CityHallWatch first began in 2010. The situation has changed dramatically in Vancouver civic affairs since then. Actors have come and gone. Policies have changed. Thanks to the efforts of many (including those who signed our own petition), corporate and union donations have been banned from civic elections (although the money still flows from developers to politicians through employees and other individuals and there is no duty of reporting between elections). Political careers and parties have risen and fallen, and millions of words have been written regarding Vancouver’s housing and civic system. Many senior staff have ended up working for developers. Some politicians have ended up as paid lobbyists for developers immediately after leaving office. The growth of content on civic affairs has increased significantly, in both mainstream media and social media. More researchers and journalists are shining a light on things. We have followed civic elections in 2011, 2014, 2018, and 2022 (the next one is Oct 2026). In the election of October 20, 2018, the entire Vision Vancouver regime virtually wiped out (though they left many Vision-hired senior staff playing central roles at City Hall even in 2023). The Kennedy/OneCity/Green cooperation from 2018 to 2022 was essentially Vision 2.0 as they followed the same urban planning policies put in place under Vision.
With ABC Vancouver under Ken Sim taking Council and Park Board in the 2022 election, the jury is still out. Will they be Vision 3.0? A new mix of voices appeared, nearly a complete turnover on Council. Many new groups have also sprung up, jolted awake and into action — each with different world views, connections and affiliations, and ideas.
Within the scope of our perspective on the civic system, we are looking at how we can best serve the needs of Vancouver now — all ages, all neighbourhoods, and all types of people who want to live in a livable, sound, sustainable, happy city. Vancouver is a paradigm of the whole world.
Input welcome: citizenYVR@gmail.com.
CityHallWatch Media Foundation (a registered BC society)
Our purposes are:
(1) To provide an educational platform, primarily but not exclusively web-based, for citizens to obtain information and tools to better understand and be engaged in civic government processes and decisions that affect them, particularly in the City of Vancouver.
(2) To support efforts to make public institutions socially-just, transparent, accountable, integrity-based, environmentally-sustainable, and fiscally-sound.
(3) To engage in activities that support the above-stated purposes.
Directors: Randy Helten, Steve Bohus, Gudrun Langolf
Budget: Zero. The only cost is under $20 a year for the domain. The rest is just volunteer time to research, write, and publish.
Advisors: We solicit and receive advice from scores of grassroots activists and experts from around the entire region, probably with a thousand-year collective memory of civic affairs, if you add it all up. We don’t have a formal advisory committee at the moment. That’s in the plans, though.
Twitter: Account is handled by directors Randy and Steve (see above).
Writers/reporters: We accept submissions, some regular, some one-off or periodic. Over the years we have designated volunteer reporters from time to time to attend media briefings on pertinent topics and report back for coverage on CityHallWatch.
WHAT IS CITYHALLWATCH ALL ABOUT? MIRROR, MAGNIFIER, MICROPHONE.
Our slogan is “Speak the truth. Expect the truth.”
What will Vancouver look like in the future? Neighbourhoods deserve a say in how their communities change. Many players and interests influence City Council’s decisions. We aim to balance the game by providing information to connect the dots, and to give citizens the confidence and tools to engage City Hall effectively. Systemic change is needed.
But change will only start from outside — from citizens. Our only tools are a mirror, a magnifier, and a microphone.
The mirror is used to reflect the actions and words of all those in the civic development “system” (elected officials, public servants, developers, architects, consultants, committees, civic leaders, and even the media) so that they may themselves see what they look like to observers.
The magnifier is the case-study approach we take to examine more closely specific rezoning and development applications, as well as policies.
And the microphone is one function of this website — to give voice to people who wish to speak out by providing us comments (through the comment function) or even anonymously (as some experts cannot say what they think, due to concern about risking future contracts, funding, and reputation). (Comment policy: We publish most comments, but screen out anything that appears to be unrelated to the story, containing personal information, or racist, sexist, homophobic, hate speech, potentially libelous, spam, or trolls.)
Our main focus is the City of Vancouver, Canada, but we realize that what we witness here is a microcosm of the entire Metro Vancouver region, as well as British Columbia, Canada and the world.
What we see here is not uncommon around the world. We hope that through our efforts, our society as a whole can learn and become wiser and more just.
Our ultimate goal is a socially and environmentally sustainable, livable, equitable city and region, with good fiscal management, running on a system based on trust and the creative energy of the people, plus the good governance and accountability of our elected officials and public servants.
This website is run on a budget of zero, and counts on volunteer time from contributors. Some pages may be out of date, but we do our best to keep them fresh. We welcome corrections.
We point out that individual, grassroots movements and community organizations are up against powerful, mostly privately-held companies (many on which no information about executives and directors is publicly available, many financed by offshore money and speculation, some of them even just numbered companies) many of which have made campaign contributions in the most expensive civic elections in BC history. There are also highly paid professional services and consultants supporting developers, often working in the shadows, that only large corporations can afford.
Our constant question is this: Who is looking after the public interest? Please stand up and make yourselves known.
MORE ABOUT CITYHALLWATCH.CA
The choice of where to live is one of the most important decisions in every person’s life. You choose a place for many reasons. But did you know that each neighbourhood comes with certain policies, rules and regulations that may not be visible on the street but affect every aspect of urban planning and life. Zoning is determined by “community plans” and “zoning guidelines” and so on. So what is “re-zoning”? It’s the act of changing the permitted types of buildings, land uses, heights, and much more.
When zoning changes or policies change, there are often winners and losers in each case. The job of our civic government is to protect the public interest while recognizing fair opportunities for business. Decisions by our elected officials should happen in an open, fair, and transparent way so that everyone in civil society knows what is being changed, what is being gained, and what is being lost. And that’s what this website is for — to help us figure this all out together.
- Ongoing case studies of CityHallWatch are shown in the drop-down menus on this site. More will be added as time goes by. We encourage people who know the details of these case to continue providing updates. These case studies illustrate how our public servants, elected officials, and development industry speak and act. By their actions will they be known.
- Our contact address is citizenYVR@gmail.com and the founder and coordinator is Randy Helten. For research and articles, we have about ten contributors and we also receive tips and information from many sources, from all over the city. Some contributors of material are named, but some prefer to not be named, an arrangement that permits them to speak their truth. Editorial decisions are made based on consultations in good faith with knowledgeable citizens and networks across the city. Information comes from scores of people, with hundreds of years of cumulative experience dealing with City Hall. Grassroots activists, regular citizens, and professionals in many fields.
- CityHallWatch is not against change and development, and is not against any specific form of development. We are for a fair, open and transparent decision-making system that is accountable to the public.
- As time goes by, this website will examine a series of important rezoning and development applications and provide a forum for public discussion and sharing of views.
- CityHallWatch is non-partisan. Praise where praise is due. Present the facts available.
- We try to look at the facts objectively, regardless of where they come from. We count on input provided by anyone, by name or anonymously. Besides input from citizens, we welcome especially contributions from academics, consultants, professionals, students (of policy, architecture, planning, etc.) who may offer their analysis in the spirit of public service.
- Each player in the development game is expected to act in good faith, and has in important role to play in making a city work fairly and equitably. In addition, professionals are often bound by a code of conduct. Some corporations (but not all) also have declared policies on “corporate social responsibility,” which often include guidelines on consultation, ethics, and good governance.
- It is often difficult for citizens to follow these complex issues and processes of rezonings, policies and major decisions. Things often move very quickly in rezoning. The extent of public notification is limited. Documents are technical. The public may only get a few days notice for major decisions in City Council. It’s also hard to learn what other people are thinking. Open houses where developers show their designs are drop-in events lasting a few hours, so people don’t get the chance to air their views publicly. It is hoped that this website will help citizens understand things better.
- When it comes to rezonings, policies, and other major decisions, City staff write reports with their recommendations to Council. They summarize many thousands of words from hundreds of letters of public comments into a couple hundred words. That summary is all the public sees. As soon as a decision is “referred” to Public Hearing, you are likely to find the wall coming up in any communications with your elected officials on the topic (see our findings here). Then comes the Public Hearing at the very end of the process. The way the City currently operates (preferring small groups and drop-in format open houses) this is often the only chance for people to hear what other citizens are thinking. But alas, by the time of the public hearing, our elected officials in City Council have usually made their decision or decided in caucus. Council members often wait for the time go by as citizens passionately make their appeals. Often the developer “stacks the deck” by calling in people to speak in favor of the application (sometimes coordinated by communications consultants) — typically individuals or groups who stand to benefit, having been singled out to be on the receiving end. Then the formal decision is done and the implementation begins …. This has been the typical way of the world in Vancouver for years, and it’s getting worse.
- Maybe it’s possible to change things for the better. We shall see….
We welcome submissions and suggestions. If you’d like a public hearing, rezoning, open house or other event/item promoted and advertised, please send an e-mail. It helps to have the relevant web links, the key facts in concise form, plus some bullet points beyond the straight facts. What are the implications for the community? What is the policy context? What’s right? What’s wrong? What action should people take?