Vision-run public hearings: From bad to worse

Tuesday night the City of Vancouver held a Public Hearing on a controversial rezoning application for a Cressey development at East 18th and Commercial Drive in the Cedar Cottage area. Many citizens took time out of their busy schedules to attend the Public Hearing, which was chaired by Raymond Louie, one of Vision Vancouver’s councillors.

As people who have paid attention to the way public hearings are conducted by Vision Vancouver will know, these vitally important steps in the rezoning process have become more and more undemocratic over the last few years. Tuesday night was no exception. In fact, the hearing became so unfair and undemocratic that the Green Party’s Adriane Carr and all the NPA councillors felt they had no option other than to walk out, forcing an abrupt halt to proceedings.

Apparently, it was one of the few hearings where a majority of Vision Vancouver councillors weren’t present so, theoretically speaking, the Green and NPA councillors could have carried the vote. But Councillor Louie took to such underhanded techniques as chair — like favouring his Vision colleagues, even inviting Vision Councillor Tim Stephenson to try and delay the meeting — that walking out was the only suitable response.

Communicating with the people who elected you has always been part of the job. Does this really merit a paycheque increase for our Mayor and Council?

Vision Vancouver has made public hearings incredibly undemocratic. Councillors can vote no matter how little of a hearing they attend.

A number of years ago Vision Vancouver decided to change the procedure bylaw governing public hearings. Up to that point, it had always been necessary for city councillors to be present at the entire public hearing in order to vote “yea” or “nay” at the end of it. But this was far too onerous for many Vision Vancouver councillors, who didn’t appreciate the fact that they were forced to sit through the entire public hearing — which could sometimes last days — before voting in favour of their developer friends.

The bylaw was therefore changed to permit a member of City Council to vote at the end of the public hearing no matter how little of it they attended. The only requirement specified in the new bylaw was that councillors were to be briefed by the city clerk as to what happened in their absence.

Imagine for a moment you are a party to a lawsuit. You attend court at the beginning of the trial, and there is no judge present! However, the court clerk tries to reassure you by telling you the judge will only be allowed to render a judgment, in your favour or against you, after reviewing the clerk’s notes and being briefed by the clerk!

I’m aware of no other municipal jurisdiction in all of Canada where a public hearing can be decided in this manner. Bad enough that Vision Vancouver always votes in favour of the applicant developer without regard to citizens’ input provided over the course of the hearing. Even worse that Vision Vancouver councillors are no longer present for most of the public hearing!

Contrast Vision Vancouver’s voting record at public hearings with the voting record of the Green’s Adriane Carr, who appears to genuinely appreciate the comments, advice and input provided by citizen delegations. She then votes based on the evidence before her. This is how a public hearing, which is in fact a quasi-judicial process, should be conducted.

When City Council moves into a public hearing, they become a court of sorts. On occasion in Canada, when a councillor has indicated that before a public hearing his or her mind is already made up one way or the other, the entire public hearing outcome has been overturned by our courts. This makes clear just how important proper procedure is.

As my hero, mentor and long-time former city councillor, Harry Rankin, often said, City Council’s single most powerful ability is its ability to rezone property. By increasing the density permitted, Council literally turns dirt into gold.

Speaking of dirt, there seems to be so much of it around 12th and Cambie these days it’s time for a house cleaning.

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It’s time for a house cleaning at Vancouver City Hall.

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4 Responses to Vision-run public hearings: From bad to worse

  1. Peter Finch says:

    Hypocrisy reigns supreme at Vancouver City Hall.

    Here we have an application by Cressey Developments, a big supporter of Vision Vancouver. Now, just let that sink in for a moment.

    Vision Vancouver is a civic party. The primary function of civic government is the regulation of land use. Cressey is a developer.

    Do you see a conflict of interest? How about a betrayal of the public trust?

    Fact: Cressey gets what Cressey wants. In every development they have done in the Cedar Cottage area, they have asked for exceptions, allowing them to build higher with more and smaller units, some with no parking space available at all.

    Five years ago, I could look from the bus stop at the corner of Commercial and Findlay in early morning and see fewer than half a dozen cars parked between Findlay and Hull Streets. Now, one would be hard pressed to find half a dozen empty parking spaces. Not only that, but nearly every available space on East 18th, Commercial Street, Porter, Victoria and Hull are also taken.

    THIS is Vision’s idea of good planning.

    “Oh, but you have the #20 bus,” Vision defenders will say.

    Yes. That. The second-highest ridership route and the most dysfunctional transit service in the Lower Mainland. Ridership is only slightly less than the #99B, but nobody is talking about transit improvements here. It’s all about Vision’s darling, the Broadway SewerTrain.

    Why do I mention that? For the simple reason that there is a common denominator. It’s all about real estate development. In the case of Cedar Cottage, Vision’s spin doctors try to paint it “green,” and talk about increasing density. Curiously, the only way Vision accepts to increase density is to knock down existing houses and replace them with building that make huge revenue dollars for developers like Cressey. The reality is that there is nothing remotely “green” about that.

    Similarly, the Broadway subway notion isn’t about transit. It is primarily about the density needed to justify transit. From the outset, we know that density is going to have to be at least four times what it is now, and Vision is happy to let people know that, because, after all, that’s easy to do. The reality is that density on the Broadway Corridor (and feeding it) would have to increase by 15 times what it is now, just to PAY for it. Never mind the ongoing costs of subway upkeep.

    But back to Cressey and the Commercial & E. 18th project.

    “Look, we want to preserve an old house!” bray the Cressey promoters. “Bad, bad CCAN people–they don’t care about old houses!” Hee haw, hee haw.

    Here’s the thing. The trees at the corner of Commercial & E. 18th are a landmark, and have been since the Second World War–and beyond. I have photos to prove that.

    The house at 3365 Commercial has very little historic standing all by itself. Though the house is of an anachronistic design for the period, it is the SITE that has significance. Located several feet below the current surface of Commercial Drive, complete with an open waterway in the front yard, this property represents the ONLY remaining example of the original “lay of the land.”

    Cressey wants to move it, gut it, fill the property up to the current level, and build beyond the limits and rules set by Vancouver City Council. Cressey makes no attempt whatsoever to design building that support the architectural style of the Commercial Street streetscape. They treat the restored Gow Block as a cute anomaly, rather than the bench-mark of vernacular style.

    Cressey doesn’t even pretend to be playing by the rules, but the Vision-dominated council, voting as a bloc, apparently in a pre-determined decision–is ready to rubber-stamp the whole deal.

    If that doesn’t bother you at all, how about the extinction of native species?

    It is my belief that the neighbourhood in question may be host to an endangered species. Bombus affinus, a native bumble bee, is extinct in over 94% of its former range. There are confirmed sightings on Vancouver Island, and in Everett Washington. Since they cannot travel very far, they are most likely to be found in places that have remained undisturbed for many years. I have sent some photos to the Xerces Society, but have yet to take a photo clear enough to confirm a sighting.

    There are two possible sites in the area that may be supporting these rare ground-dwelling bees, and the property at Commercial & E. 18th might be one.

    If Vancouver poses as the “Greenest City,” where is the ecological study that gives Cressey Developments carte blanche to do as they please?

    Democracy? Environmentalism? Community? These words seem to ring hollow with Vision Vancouver. It’s time for a change at City Hall.

  2. Pingback: City’s official statement on re-doing part of May 24 Public Hearing (3365 Commercial & 1695-1775 East 18th) | CityHallWatch: Tools to engage in Vancouver city decisions

  3. Leona says:

    Now corrupt Vision want Cedar Cottage to face another hearing. These people took time out from their daily lives to justify saving their community and Vision has the audacity to tell them they have to do a re-do. This is just criminal! I was at the hearing and Louie as per usual acted like a Nazi telling people they were not to clap after hearing speakers – is this not a public hearing? Have we no rights at city hall? At other hearings if councilors were not present they voted but at this hearing they decide to put people thru the torture again as all of Vision will be there and of course they make all the decisions.

  4. Pingback: Hypocrisy reigns supreme at Vancouver City Hall | Cedar Cottage Area Neighbours

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