City hall change or status quo

Vision-appointed staff at Vancouver City Hall blocking change voters demanded

By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Saturday, January 11, 2019

The new council approved initiating a citywide plan that was a central part of the election campaign as a move away from the Vision planning regime. However, it is looking like staff are leading this toward just a new way to implement current Vision policy.


Although the Vision Vancouver council majority was wiped out in the last civic election, their staff machine lives on. It is clear from staff’s actions over the last few months that the meaningful and substantial policy changes that the public voted for will not happen as long as current management is retained.

So far, except for minor tinkering, the Vision budget, zoning and policies all remain in place. The upcoming citywide plan looks increasingly like it will be implementing all the Vision policy that is still in effect.

One sure way to put a downer on a social gathering is to point that out. Most people voted for meaningful change, but that is not what we are getting and the public is baffled as to why. “Didn’t we finally vote out those people?” is a common response.

But as to be expected with a mostly new council, councillors are substantially dependent on advice from staff. That advice steers them to effectively the status quo.

Two examples are the approval of the 2019 budget and the motion to reconsider the last-minute RS zoning amendments of the last council during the election.

The 2019 budget was drafted by the previous Vision council. It continues their practice of providing a narrative of how the budget fulfills the council objectives rather than a transparent line-by-line budget as was provided a decade ago.

Rather than delaying and reconsidering the Vision budget in detail to determine if it fits with new priorities, it was approved substantially as proposed with only minor tinkering. Some questions from councillors to staff on program details were framed with accusations of bullying rather than encouraging openness and discussion. Requests for delay to reconsider the budget were met with claims of urgency even though the budget doesn’t need to be approved until the spring.

The Vision policy agenda is essentially funded now for the next year.

The new council approved initiating a citywide plan that was a central part of the election campaign as a move away from the Vision planning regime. However, it is looking like staff are leading this toward just a new way to implement current Vision policy.

The last actions of the Vision council was to approve the Making Room Program, refer quick-starts of rezoning citywide to public hearing without any public consultation and then implement this before the new council was in control. Staff were the lead and complicit in this delivery.

One of the most controversial quick-starts was the citywide rezoning of all RS zones to allow outright strata duplexes with two secondary suites (four units) on every lot. This was without any conditional disincentives to demolish character houses like typical duplex RT zones and without design guidelines.

The public hearing took place in the election period and drew overwhelming opposition. The Vision majority approved the RS zoning amendments regardless.

After the election, in the last meeting of the ousted Vision council, staff rushed through the zoning bylaw enactment. If staff had not done this, the bylaw could have been simply withheld by the new council. Instead, staff made it as difficult as possible for council to reverse the decision since it would now require a new public hearing.

When a motion to reconsider the RS zoning amendments was brought forward by the new council, staff misled council in the amount of costs and delay to the citywide plan process.

But more disturbing, the staff report positioned the flawed Making Room Program to continue being implemented through the new citywide plan. It even recommended that the new council endorse it.

Thankfully, the new council didn’t buy into endorsing the Making Room Program which was removed from the final motion. Incumbent Green Coun. Adriane Carr gave a passionate speech about how former mayor Gregor Robertson added last-minute changes to the Making Room Program to add multiplexes without any public consultation, while the former council was in the middle of the motion vote.

Councillors Carr, Colleen Hardwick, Rebecca Bligh and Sarah Kirby-Young voted to reconsider the RS zoning amendments by referring it to a new public hearing. The rest of council unfortunately believed false staff claims that the citywide plan would be significantly delayed by a public hearing, so they did not support reconsideration. It therefore did not pass.

So the Vision RS rezoning remains in place in spite of the vast majority of the public who opposed it at the public hearing and then voted at the election against the council who implemented it.

Staff have been tasked with developing the terms of reference for the upcoming citywide plan. Staff will be meeting with council in private to get their feedback in advance of bringing the recommendations public.

Based on recent practice, it is reasonable to assume that the objectives of staff will be to convince council that the existing Vision policies should be implemented through the citywide plan. Certainly they will be pushing the Making Room Program and the related Housing Vancouver Strategy, neither of which had any meaningful public consultation on the report recommendations.

The city spent over a year consulting on whether there was a housing crisis, concluding that there is. But it did no public consultation on the specifics of how this would be addressed.

A new program from the Housing Vancouver Strategy coming into effect this month is the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program that already has a spot rezoning proposed by a developer on the former Denny’s restaurant on Broadway. It was recently approved to 16 storeys with a floor space ration of 7.0 — significantly over the C3A-zoned 12 storeys /3.0 FSR. Under the new program, it is proposed to go to 28 storeys/10.7 FSR, an enormous precedent for the Broadway Corridor.

The subway boosters, who assume the Broadway subway as a foregone conclusion, including a proposed extension to the University of B.C., frame transit less about transportation and more about delivering tower forms of development that supports investment and global capital.

Former Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs is now Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff. Given that the province has appointed to the UBC board of governors Joel Solomon, the founder of Tides Canada and Vision Vancouver, it is fair to expect more pressure from the province and UBC to implement the Vision subway and development agenda.

More on this to come. But as long as the Vision senior city staff machine remains in place, the Vision influence at the city, province and now UBC, will continue to deliver the same agenda that the public voted against.

Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s housing and properties department and for B.C. Housing.

Vancouver Sun Print Edition – Saturday January 12, 2019 – page B2

Copyright Elizabeth Murphy 2019 all rights reserved. 

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