Archive for August 2011
Buried in the annals of the 12 July 2011 public hearing on rezoning 2699 Kingsway is the following story that needs to see the light of day. With the permission of the person who is this particular story, I proceed to tell this tale of immigrant voices in Norquay — voices that the current Council of the City of Vancouver so disrespects and ignores.
Statistics based on the 2006 census show the two largest groups in the Norquay community as Chinese at 48.1% and English at 25.9%. Vietnamese at 4.2% occupies a distant third place. The remaining 21.8% is comprised of various other ethnic groups.
Throughout more than five years of planning, the Chinese community of Norquay has been underrepresented, misrepresented, and simply not heard.
To their credit, city planners have usually provided publications and open house displays in both Chinese and English. Except for a few token and unsatisfactory information sessions, though, notably in May-June 2009, community meetings have taken place only in English. Likewise, at meetings of City Council about Norquay, where approval has been given to mass rezoning policy and to particular rezonings, English has served as the only language.
Throughout the many meetings of Norquay Working Group, four of the five Chinese participants found themselves not listened to.
I have met with “Patrick Mah” (a pseudonym) on several occasions. Our contact history goes back to his December 2008 email response to my Norquay web site.
On Thursday July 7 I sent out an email about the impending public hearing of 12 July 2011. Here is what Patrick emailed back the next day, and what I replied to him at mid-morning on the Saturday:
Patrick: Any plan to go door-to-door to call/alert neighbours near the rezoning out to oppose Tues hearing? I could help do the knocking and talking.
Joseph: That could be effective, and I would support anyone willing to do that, to the extent of quickly producing a leaflet handout with core information for someone to get copied.
Emails flew back and forth all afternoon. Patrick provided some Chinese-language content. While I prepared a half-page leaflet, Patrick dug into researching and understanding details on the 2699 Kingsway rezoning and its context. That evening he stopped by to pick up a copy of the leaflet, and we had a brief visit.
On Sunday evening around 10:00 pm Patrick emailed me a report of his afternoon spent talking to residents around the rezoning site. Here are extracts from his report:
Started at 3 and did not finish til 6, printed some extra — delivered flyers to both sides of Duke and Ward and one block on both side of Earles. Spend most of the time talking to residents, here are some findings that you should include in your presentation to represent residents’ concern :
… Owners [on Duke Street] felt powerless to fight against city hall …
Overall, I have encountered a mix of neighbourhood residents who oppose the rezoning and want to show up Tuesday. I told them to register ahead and speak out. Most could speak English fluently; there are Mandarin or Cantonese speaking Chinese, South Asian, Fujian, East Indian and Caucasian.
Another fact these resident have misconception was that they being on the East Side, pay less tax, therefore could be “shafted” by the City. I told them that they are equally Vancouver residents and pay almost the same amount of tax based on assessment, therefore they should be treated like those in the West Side. …
You should request a hold on all development until the community agree to the changes, and not having some planners imposed on us. …
I think you could make yourself more creditable and argumentive against rezoning Tuesday by representing the residents of Ward and Duke, in addition to the Community at large.
Hopefully those said would come do come Tuesday. Yes, I will send my NO views to council.
On Monday morning I commended Patrick for his effort and his report. I suggested that he turn the email into a presentation to Council, and offered to deliver it as his proxy speaker, since I sensed a reluctance to speak on his own behalf.
On Monday evening we had this exchange:
Patrick: Disappointment today — I followed up with the six households that express interest to speak but none committed to attend and few changed their minds. I gave them all the rezoning details and suggested arguments to read. Still lots of disapproval of rezoning, but all afraid to speak out.
Joseph: Thanks for the update, and for doing so much work on this issue. Consider including something about “all afraid to speak out” and something about your being a member of the Chinese community. These parts of what you see and experience need to be heard by Council.
Patrick: Yeah, not just Chinese — backing out includes East Indian. Why are they so afraid? They asked if I go, I told them I could not since I don’t live there, and told them my presentation would not be as strong as theirs.
The next day Patrick registered to speak, named me as proxy, and worked on writing up his thoughts for Council. I offered him this advice:
Whatever you write should be what you have to say. The most effective is to talk about your experiences with people who will not come to speak, why you think they won’t come, who they are, how many they are, etc. Because this is likely to be unique. Tell their stories for them. Even think about saying something about why you want me to read for you. Tell how much time and effort you have put into talking to others.
That evening I read out Patrick’s words to Council, and was granted the few extra minutes that were needed to speak his two pages. Late that evening, after I got home, I received this email from Patrick, who had watched the public hearing:
Actually the real reason having you reading is keeping myself off camera.
Look like whole bunch of speakers are … from the developers and architect, making up strange supporting ideas for the rezoning.
Patrick conveyed many resident concerns through what he wrote up for me to read to Council. Through augmented context, this Eye on Norquay report documents how difficult is it for immigrant voices to make themselves heard in the City of Vancouver.
In conclusion, two themes deserve highlight. The first is fear. Fear of confronting power that so obviously does not want to listen. Fear of government, based on experience with less democratic regimes. Fear of having to function through words that are not a mother tongue. Fear of being photographed and identified. Fear of entering an unfamiliar situation filled with strange rules and conventions. Fear of facing hostile questioning.
The second is desire for representation. The people that Patrick spoke with wanted him to represent them. Patrick wanted me to represent him. Fear seeks another person to serve as buffer. A few weeks later, during the Shannon Mews public hearing, Council threw up yet another barrier by disallowing proxy speakers.
The irony is that Norquay speakers to Council have more than once been dismissed as “minority” voices. Meanwhile, planners who refuse to undertake legitimate surveys, remain quick to assert with no evidence that there is a majority out there somewhere that is not speaking.
This has been a story about people who are not speaking. And why their voices are silent.
At least three STIR applications have popped up at the fringes of Norquay, just outside the boundaries of the “neighbourhood centre.” STIR means Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing. STIR is a scam that rewards developers with a rich package of fee waivers, favorable property tax assessments, parking reductions, and priority permit processing. To juice up the deal even more, developers also score “increased density” and “discretion on unit size.”
What do present Vancouver residents get in return for these giveaways? “Supporting the development industry to maintain jobs”! Having to pay an increased share of the property tax burden. New dwelling units that rent out for whatever the market can be made to pay. And a deteriorated public realm, with development that does not pay its share for any of the supporting infrastructure (water, sewer, streets, etc). Perhaps worse, there is no funding — not even the pittance of a token CAC — to increase amenities (parks, community centres, pools, ice rinks, libraries, etc) in step with the additions to local population. Thus are the assurances of a Community Vision treated like trash. To add insult to injury, STIR projects tend to land in unattractive locations, to design out-of-scale to surroundings, and to feature cheap and ugly construction.
In the case of Norquay, STIR amounts to one more slap in the face, making the notion of a “neighbourhood centre” look even more phony than it already does. Planners claimed to want to create a denser walkable village, and therefore to need to mass rezone 1900 single-family homes. The Norquay Plan claimed: “The existing RS-1 zoning is maintained for the majority of the surrounding areas” (p. 19).
The reality is that there is no planning worthy of the word, no centre to the neighbourhood, and no rationale for allocation of density. Opportunism rules. So a developer wants to plop some no-context density outside the “neighbourhood centre” area? Well, planners seem to think that is hunky-dory. Because all building everywhere is good. Wherever new construction can crowbar its way onto a site, the bigger the better.
Surrounding Norquay are these identified STIR projects:
The closest STIR project to the official Norquay boundary is 2730 East 41st Avenue. That is the one that gets a closer look here. Walk north across East 41st Avenue and bingo, you have left STIR and entered Norquay. The project was called 5711 Rhodes Street when it went to the Urban Design Panel (UDP) for review. [Side note: UDP “advice” has no teeth: “The Panel is strictly an advisory body and makes recommendations only. It does not have the authority to approve or refuse projects or make policy decisions.”]
On 4 May 2011 this STIR project squeaked its way past the UDP approval vote, with a bare 6 to 4 of the panel stating support. Prior to that voting, the panel was told that since STIR is a special expedited program, there would be no opportunity to vote nonsupport and then to exact a further review. (Even so, one panel member did complain: “Needs one more iteration.”) The UDP minutes tone down the negativity of the set of panelist responses. The Panel’s Consensus on Key Aspects Needing Improvement lists five problem areas — problems that may never be addressed with much more than a smirk and a wink and a rubber stamp. See what gets built.
Based on observer notes taken at the UDP review, together with the UDP minutes themselves, here is a tally of the nastiness in store for 2730 East 41st Avenue, aka 5711 Rhodes Street:
• Color Disaster: A weird bright mixture of blue and red cladding. While some third-rate designer may have had “creative” fun, the surrounding neighborhood will have to suffer eyesore atrocity forevermore.
• Monolith: This building will loom above the surrounding residential neighborhood. “Transitions” to adjoining properties are brutal, especially to the west (panelists harped repeatedly on the failure of the western face).
• Exterior Cladding Is Crap: In the soft words of the UDP: “There was some concern with the materials especially the Hardi panels with most of the Panel stating that the aluminum transition was a poor way to detail the panels.”
• Ugly Face to the Street: Two panelists remarked on the heaviness of the roof line. Others mentioned “too busy” and “broken façade” and “faux material.”
• Not a Place for Retail: As one UDP panelist put it, “Who would go there?” Norquay Working Group got told by planners that East 33rd Avenue could not become Norquay’s high street because moribund retail was already strung along Kingsway. Therefore a one-mile strip of Kingsway had to become the “neighbourhood centre”! Now this new retail is being allowed to locate in a hinterland.
• No Decent Landscaping or Public Realm: In the soft words of the UDP: “A couple of Panel members suggested additional vertical landscaping on East 41st Avenue and thought some street trees would be appropriate.” The project also proposes to leave an “undeveloped laneway” as weedy no-man’s-land south of the building.
• Dark Dwelling Units: In the soft words of the UDP: “There was some concern regarding the livability of the residential units along the lane as they thought they might be dark.” One panelist commented that south-facing bedrooms were not a good use of that available light.
The summarizing words from the UDP chair at the meeting seemed stronger than the minutes express: The commercial space is “questionable.” The west elevation is a “problem.” The trees not planned for are “essential.” Strong colors resulted in “division” among the panel. The project is a “big jump” for a single-family neighborhood. The “pervasiveness” of the Hardi finish requires mitigation (one panelist described the Hardi as “singularly unsuccessful … looks like a rental building”).
The evident low quality of this STIR project is one more solid piece of evidence for the dossier on how Norquay and East Vancouver are being treated like a density sewer.
[ Comment posted in response to: Bob Ransford. Charrette system may be just what city needs for planning: people in all neighbourhoods and from all perspectives need to be part of the process for the future — not just in words, but in actions. Vancouver Sun (6 August 2011) F4 ]
The big question is how to craft those plans with those ground rules in place and truly engage citizens in the process. Getting people to the table means building trust where, these days, it is in short supply. …
But building trust requires more. People need to feel as though they crafted the plans that will guide physical change. They need to be at the drawing table and the pencil needs to be in their hands — literally. …
The best way of crafting those plans is not the way the city has mostly done it in the past. The charrette is the answer to collaboratively drafting plans for physical change. There is a rigour to a real charrette and it is based on the participants collaborating over an intensive period of time, providing immediate feedback in a series of progressive developments of a design-based plan, culminating in a joint solution.
* * *
Charrette? Nothing new. Been there, done that. A perverted charrette adds up to no charrette. City planners have ever shifting strategies, and a tight set of goals. The leopard does not change its spots.
Norquay residents experienced what planners called a charrette in April 2009 . Compare the results from Workshop 3  with what we got at the end . Unrecognizable.
Norquay Working Group wanted to draft collaboratively with the planners. They refused to let us do that, and then resisted even looking at the plan that we felt forced to draw up by ourselves . Planners wanted to work on their own in a back room, and in the end that is exactly what they did. For phase three 2009-2010, the planning department sent in a new team that flat-out told us, sporadically and unpredictably, what they had already decided.
Check out the massive planner internal agenda  for that day of “charrette” and see how they prepared in detail to manage the outcome.
The apparent goal was to see how much planners could stuff down the neighbourhood throat without producing upchuck. Later on, politicians decided to stop up our windpipe with a consultant  just as the Norquay Plan headed off for Council approval. That killed off most Norquay community interest in any further “participation.”
A few masochistic souls still showed willingness to struggle onward. Planners responded by unilaterally terminating Norquay Working Group in February 2011. At the time planners said they would form two new groups (on housing types and amenity/benefit strategy) — then flipflopped and said there would be no community input into that stage of planning. Recently planners are saying we’ll get some involvement  … after they have worked on their own to do up the package! Maybe we get to tie the knot in the string that makes sure the wrapping paper does not come off?
Preparation of the schedules to mass rezone 1900 single-family homes seems to move right along. A major site rezoning at 2667-2703 Kingsway has already been approved.
Meanwhile, the 2012-2014 Draft Capital Plan shows nothing allocated to the promises  that the plan has made to Norquay. Will 2015-2017 do anything to catch up with the big new developments already under construction, approved as rezoning, and percolating in the pipeline?
Get more cynical. Trust nothing.
In late July the City of Vancouver held three information sessions on the 2012-2014 Draft Capital Plan. Two Norquay residents attended the first one on July 21, held at City Hall during the daytime. About 16 people who were not staff showed up. A strong contingent spoke up for the Mount Pleasant outdoor pool.
One piece of information flashed out as bright as a police cruiser light in a rearview mirror. See it for yourself on page 13 of 2011-2021 Capital Strategic Outlook. Look for the bright red circle.
Current tax-supported debt charges as a percentage of operating expenditures are approaching high at 9.7% in the base case.
What you really do not want to miss is that teensy little footnote buried at the bottom of the page:
Does not include South East False Creek Village debt.
In other words, the 2010 Winter Olympic turkey is coming home to roost. Two of the main functions that the Olympic parasite performs on its host are:
• To create a mania for blowout spending that directs massive rapid benefits to certain favored sectors
• To leave a legacy of debt overhang that will constrain options for a generation
Developer Jack Poole famously declared: “If the Olympic bid wasn’t happening we would have to invent something.” Bob Rennie waxed enthusiastic over his “$6 billion ad buy.” [ More available on this topic — read Follow the Money — Understand the Olympic Scam. ]
Eye on Norquay had a special interest in poking around the 2012-2014 Capital Plan to find those benefits and amenities that are supposed to repay the Norquay community for getting taken out by an unwanted mass rezoning. Remember all those open houses with pretty pictures and big promises? (No … big is not that pancake makeup plastered over the Kingsway truck route: planters down the median, redesigned garbage cans, fancified lampposts, etc). Guess what is coming to Norquay in the next three years? Zilch plus zip equals zero. Unless some Norquay goodie lies concealed deep within the capital plan. Or somehow can be extracted at this late stage.
Maybe planner strategizing for those Norquay benefits gets really complicated. Like taking so long they hope you forget any benefits were ever supposed to arrive? Example: the Renfrew Ravine Linear Park that has not materialized after twenty or thirty years. After all, no delivery means getting to make the same promise again. And maybe even again!
Funny how planning for the Norquay mass rezoning seems to move right along. Not to mention that already approved rezoning for a twelve-storey building at 2699 Kingsway — where the developer application jumped into the hopper before the “plan” that allowed it was ever approved. And never mind the density already dumped into Norquay without much amenity while local retail has declined.
For whatever it may prove to be worth, there is at least one Norquay submission to the 2012-2014 Capital Plan. Five pages. When planners won’t put in for the local community, volunteer residents have to step up.
Skip the Art Gallery and Head Straight for City Hall
[ * NOTE: “Linda Guest” is substituted throughout for a real person’s name ]
At 9:57 am on Wednesday July 27, I sent this email to the appropriate City of Vancouver clerk:
Please register Joseph Jones to present to the following item, with Linda Guest* designated as proxy to deliver the presentation. Also please indicate position on speakers list and confirm registration by return email to us both. 1 (b) Vancouver's Next Community Plans at STANDING COMMITTEE OF COUNCIL ON PLANNING AND ENVIRONMENT DATE: Thursday, July 28, 2011 TIME: 2:00 pm PLACE: Council Chamber – Third Floor, City Hall
At 10:26 am this response came back:
Good morning Mr. Jones – As requested, I have registered you to speak to Item 1 (b) – Vancouver's Next Community Plans, at the Standing Committee on Planning and Environment meeting on Thursday, July 28, 2011, at 2:00 pm, with Linda Guest to deliver your presentation by proxy. You are no. 7 on the speakers list.
Around 10:00 pm that evening I finished writing the 500 words that I thought Council should hear. With strange synchronicity, almost immediately an email arrived from Linda, who had just been watching the Shannon Mews public hearing live on video.
9:58 pm Hello there Joe, I turned on city council just now and Gregor is saying that proxy are not allowed anymore per their lawyer advice. They accept written submission by proxy only. Linda
I replied to Linda by email and then we had a telephone conversation. End result: I spent the next afternoon at Council, more than four hours, to deliver a statement designed to be spoken by Linda. (In the past I have complained to Council about the way they jerk around registered speakers. This is a signal instance.)
So the proxy words that I had written for a different voice were read by me the author. Very meta that was, a bureaucratic contortion that only Kafka could love.
On the afternoon, a speaker who preceded me took issue with what had happened the previous evening: the sudden disallowance of proxy speakers, the manipulative extension of the hearing well past 10:00 pm. The chair of the meeting repeatedly lashed that speaker with protocols of procedure, which do not permit imputation of motive. (Never mind that a councillor attributed motive to me on the evening of July 12 in an asymmetrical set-up that allowed me no rebut.) The way City Council operates, rules tend to become a matter of convenience.
I prefaced the following written remarks with a warning that Council were about to experience a narrative oddity resulting from the absence of a confirmed proxy who felt intimidated by their actions of the night before.
* * *
Statement of Joseph Jones on Vancouver’s Next Community Plans
It is appropriate that Linda Guest is speaking to you on my behalf. I, Joseph Jones, am a resident of Norquay, an area whose planning drew to a close late last year. Norquay is the second and to all appearances the last of what planners once foresaw as “neighbourhood centres.” That adds up to two neighbourhood centres done — and 17 still not done. If planning means looking ahead, CityPlan has failed to see even 3/4 of the way ahead — and even worse, spent millions of dollars to accomplish very little. That does not inspire confidence.
My friend Linda used to be a resident of Norquay and now lives in Grandview-Woodland — the community that now stands foremost in the sights of planners, according to the ranking in today’s report. This latest planning initiative seems intent on junking the community visions and the barely started-on neighbourhood centres in favor of something new. Such as producing multiple plans simultaneously with fewer resources. In part, perhaps, this looks like nothing but a flip back to the old local area plans.
Once communities clued in to what visions meant, and people expected to have a say in their own future, planners seemed to shift to a different process.
My word to Linda, and through her to you, and to any in the audience, is this: Be very wary of anyone who wants to plan your community in such a fashion. The driving and overriding interest seems to be extremely narrow: How fast can rezonings be facilitated? And how rapidly and extensively can new building happen? Somehow the vague promises of amenities materialize with much more difficulty. Meanwhile the rezonings and the towers burgeon.
To convert as much of Vancouver as possible into a landing strip for massive airborne cargoes of investor dollars — this is the antithesis of livable and of sustainable. Or of green, either — unless you have an awful lot of paint for all that tarmac.
A simple question here. Where are the metrics? What is the unbuilt-out capacity of already existing zoning? To put the teeth into this question: What in the world has happened to the 1 February 2011 motion of Ellen Woodsworth that asked for accounting on “density in Vancouver”? That motion stated: “This work should be completed as a priority within 30 days.” Let me suggest that 6 times that 30 days onward, Council would do better to finish that homework than to race hastily and crazily forward with this proposal.
Words are running out now. But time should not run out. The far-reaching implications of “Vancouver’s Next Community Plans” deserves more than a nod and a wink as everyone looks to August vacation — except for those already gone in July.
This scheduling is appalling. At the least, table this report until the fall. I oppose approval of this pseudo-plan that I have barely had a chance to look at.
* * *
Epilogue: By the end of the afternoon I was starting to think it might be better for Council to go ahead and haul out the rubber stamp of approval. Which they seemed destined to do in any case. Because it came out in discussion that any delay in approval could allow a rush of development applications seeking to avoid the constrictions of an upcoming period of planning. One developer representative showed up to complain about the impending planning. Raymond Louie subsequently added a confusing section to the final motion. Apparent purpose: to make developers happy. Surreal city!