The anti-protest bylaw passed by Mayor Robertson this week will hurt the homeless, Darcie Bennett of PIVOT Legal Society told The Mainlander. The bylaw states that any “structure, object, or substance” – including tents – placed on public space without permission of the City Engineer can receive a minimum $1,000 fine. “We are of the opinion that the bylaw should change, to bring it line with homeless peoples’ rights,” says Bennett.

Given that there are no specific provisions allowing the homeless to apply for permits to pitch tents or structures, and given that the $1,000-$5,000 fine is extreme, the bylaw is effectively a prohibition on people pitching tents in public spaces.

In October 2008, the City of Victoria’s bylaw banning tents on public lands was struck down by the BC Supreme Court’s Adams decision for infringing on peoples’ Charter right to shelter. At that time, says Bennett, PIVOT wrote a letter to Vancouver City Council asking that Vancouver’s bylaws be brought in line with the Adams decision, but the City offered no response.

Now, two years later, the City’s new anti-structure bylaw does nothing to protect the right to shelter of those with nowhere else to go. On the contrary, it introduces new exorbitant fines. Last week, PIVOT proposed a series of amendments to the bylaw, including making explicit exceptions for homeless people, but City Council approved the bylaw without incorporating any of these changes.

City lawyers have taken the position that “Adams doesn’t apply here in Vancouver,” and as of yet no one has challenged that position in court.

According to Bennett, the City told PIVOT that the right to shelter on public land does not exist in Vancouver because there is enough shelter space and housing to accommodate everyone. But Bennett points out that the City’s own numbers show there are far more homeless people in the City than shelter beds. On top of that, 5 additional shelters are slated to be shut down next week.

The City admits that the bylaw gives police the power to fine homeless people, but is asking critics to trust that this power won’t be used. The City Administrative report claims “compassionate” intentions toward homeless people, and a “holistic” approach toward homelessness, but offers no actual legal protection or exemption from the bylaw.

This attitude is reminiscent of the Province’s response to critics of the Olympic Kidnapping Act, which gives police the power to forcefully apprehend and detain homeless people against their will. Minister Coleman claimed that the power “probably wouldn’t be used,” but rammed the bill through the legislature nonetheless.

Bennett also criticized the anti-structure bylaw’s impact on political expression. “When you try to use zoning bylaws to regulate political expression, it’s not good governance,” she said.

Despite unanimous opposition, the Vision-led City Council voted last night in favour of limiting public expression in Vancouver. Today the BCCLA has stated that it will participate in a constitutional challenge of the bylaw, either as an intervenor or by representing a plaintiff. “We’re putting on running shoes because now there is a big race to the courts on this ludicrous measure,” said BCCLA Policy Director Micheal Vonn in an interview with The Mainlander.

An original bylaw had been proposed by City Staff two weeks ago. The version set out to implement a rigid permit system for those using any “structure, object, substance or thing” to express themselves in public. Among other restrictions, those engaged in “public expression” would be required to apply for a permit through the City and pay a fee of $200, in addition to an upfront deposit of $1000. Despite the fact that only a two-day notice was given to the public, there was so much opposition that the Mayor had to send the law back to City Staff for a review. Among concerns raised was the fact that that Staff had entered into a “confidential agreement” with the Chinese government about the proposed bylaw, as well the fact that the staff report literally lied about having garnered “general support” for the bylaw from the BCCLA.

An amended bylaw was released by the City five days ago, on Thursday April 14th. The presentation made by Staff describing the changes is available here. In lieu of the protest fee and deposit, there is now a minimum fine of $1000 for those who break the new rules. The law now allows protests outside of consulates in residential areas, which had been a major concern of the Falun Gong, who took the original bylaw to the Supreme Court and won. However, in addition to the minimum $1000 fine for failure to comply, the structures allowed are even more constrained than originally proposed, there are time restrictions placed on protest, and there is an inability to renew permits, among other things. On April 18 the BCCLA released a strong statement in opposition to the measures: “[These] bizarre, unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on political expression violate free speech; full stop.”

The Olympic Village represents a “fiasco,” but more and more it’s turning into a fiasco of journalism. Prominent columnists have spent the last week trying to convince readers of a financial disaster at the Olympic Village, but the real disaster is that they’re not telling it like it is. Due to the removal of hundreds of units of social housing, the city stands to break even on the project, and perhaps even gain money.

The discussion revolves around the cost of the land on which the Olympic Village sits, bought by the city for $30m. That $30m was paid in full by the developer in 2006. By all standards the city has no liability on the land. There is no loss and no profit because costs have been recovered, net zero. End of the story one might think.

But today in the Globe and Mail, Gary Mason argues that while there is no actual loss, the loss nontheless is “actual” because it “feels like a loss.” According to Frances Bula, also with the Globe, there is therefore “$180-million unpaid amount owing on the land.” But did nobody tell Gary Mason and Frances Bula that the land was given back to the city months ago? How can money be owed on something if that something was returned? – and returned with a $30m fee paid by the borrower.

The results from the March 20th hearing were displayed last night at a City-hosted open house. The Heritage Hall on Main Street was full of concerned citizens giving feedback on the modifications that City staff have since made to the Rize Development’s rezoning application. Most of the changes had to do with the height and scale of the building. What had been a 26 story tower has been downsized to 19 floors. The massing has been decreased on Watson and 10th Avenue, but increased on the side facing Broadway. A huge majority of residents said that a building between 6 and 12 stories would be more appropriate for the location – the smallest option on the City’s feedback forms. The drop in height reduced the density from 6.44 FSR (Floor to Space ratio) to 5.33 FSR. This is still significantly higher than the standard 3 FSR for the neighbourhood. Another new development containing social housing was talked down at City Hall from 11 stories to only 8 last July.

The massing and form are now set to be similar to those of the Lee Building on the North-West corner of Broadway and Main. The developers have been trying to spin this new tower as becoming the “signature” building for Mount Pleasant, but most see the historic Lee Building as already filling that role.

While the City has lowered the building by a few floors, as proposed it is still almost twice as tall as anything else around the Main and Broadway hub. To meet the concerns of the community, the development will still have to change significantly. The City will also need to find a way to address the neighbourhood’s affordability concerns. As it stands the development would still be very detrimental to the socio-economic makeup of Mount Pleasant.

Most of the residents were also against the Community Amenities and Benefits that had originally proposed. People are concerned that even the STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rental) housing would not be affordable to people who currently live in Mount Pleasant. STIR units rent at market rates. Mount Pleasant has traditionally been an affordable, working class neighbourhood, and STIR rent in a luxury tower would likely be much higher than most in the neighbourhood could afford. In combination with the market rental, some community art space and public art have also been proposed to compensate the community for the developer’s gains from rezoning. Many were concerned that the proposed artist space would be too expensive for artists, and that artists are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the neighbourhood.

At the open house, there was an opportunity for residents to express further concerns. The sense in the room was that 19 stories is still much too high. Height is being framed as the major issue for this development, but there are also serious concerns about who will be able to afford living in Mount Pleasant. Residents are worried that this development will have a domino effect, leading to further large luxury condos being built in the neighbourhood.

The council meeting for this development has not yet been announced. More information is available on the City’s website for the rezoning here.

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The City of Vancouver announced Friday that it has seized numerous assets owned by the Olympic Village developer, Millennium Development, including 32 properties worth $50M and other assets valued at around $10M.

The City is owed $575M by Millennium for the Olympic Village construction loan. But City staff said Friday that after seizing Millennium assets, they now anticipate recouping a total of $725M. This means that the City plans to make $150M profit even after the construction loan is paid off.

The original 2005 Official Development Plan for the Olympic Village called for 2/3rds of the housing to be “affordable” (over 733 units out of 1100), half of which would be social housing (366 units). To that end, the City negotiated that Millennium would pay the City another $200M for using the City-owned land on Southeast False Creek. About $30M of those land-profits were already paid to the City, and in April 2010 the City invested approximately that amount ($32M) into the remaining non-market housing, although the number of these had been drastically reduced. But now that the City anticipates accumulating another $100M – $150M profits, there are no plans to invest them into meeting housing promises at the Olympic Village, or anywhere else in the City.

For now, the corporate media is parroting the nonsensical line that the City will “lose” $40M – $50M on the project (see CBC and TheSun), but it would be much more accurate to say this: whereas the City originally hoped for $200M in profits from the land lease, to be used for meeting Olympic Housing Legacy, now Gregor Robertson plans to make around $150M profit, but not re-invest it.

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B.C. Housing has declared that by the end of the month at least five shelters will be closed throughout Vancouver.* According to the province, the closures are justified because the Station Street housing project has opened this spring. Station Street contains 80 already-full units of housing, but is apparently enough to compensate for the couple hundred people who will be made homeless when the shelters close.

It is significant that Station Street is being used as a basis for closing shelters, because as a perpetually-delayed project Station Street is at the heart of the Vancouver housing crisis. The construction of the Station Street housing was promised in the 1990s but killed by the BC Liberal government when elected in 2001. After one full decade of a freeze on the construction of social housing, combined with frozen welfare rates and a frozen minimum wage, Station Street will not be capable of housing the vast number of people made homeless in these past years.

The City has announced modifications to a city bylaw that will make it much more difficult for people to exercise their democratic right to political protest. The proposed change would regulate the use of any “structure, object, substance or thing” for a political purpose on City-owned land. Those who wish to protest will need to apply to the City for permission, at a cost of $200, and put up a deposit of $1000. Most activists and citizens movements are not funded, and these monetary requirements would essentially prohibit protests or expression by groups who could not afford it. Also, no structures would be allowed before 8am or after 8pm, eliminating the possibility for extended protests.

The City claims that the change in bylaw is a response to the long-lasting Falung Gong protest that was erected outside the Chinese Embassy in 2001 and forcibly taken down by the city in 2006. The protest consisted of a small structure and several billboards with information on civil rights abuses and religious persecution taking place in China. Not only did the protest last for five years before the City ordered it taken down, there was someone at the site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

After the city’s injunction, one protester, Sue Zhang, began an uphill legal battle against the City, arguing that the removal of the structures, which had allowed the protest to proceed safely and continuously, went against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She eventually won the case in October of last year. The BC Court of Appeal argued that the city’s action was unconstitutional and its bylaw on political structures was too vague. The protest was not allowed to continue, but numerous other forms city street use were allowed for other commercial and non-commercial uses. The City’s proposed bylaw changes would mean that, despite the court ruling that it was unconstitutional to remove the original structures, no further protest would be allowed outside the Chinese Embassy. Public expression will only be allowed on commercial and industrial zoned City land. The Chinese Embassy is zoned as residential.

Over the past few years, there have been several other protests that have included the use of structures. As Vancouver becomes increasingly unaffordable, grassroots organizations have campaigned for controls on development and a stop to the gentrification of the city. Often these protests have taken the form of occupations of space. Notable examples include the 2005 squat of the Woodward’s buildings and the 2010 Olympic Tent City, both of which called for more social housing to be built in the Downtown Eastside, and involved people camping out to ensure their voices were heard. While some are saying that the policy will only be used to prevent the return of the structures outside the Chinese Embassy, many protests do use “structures, objects, substances and things.” The bylaw as proposed is so vague that should the police or future governments decide to limit citizen protests, they will have an easy bylaw to use. It’s difficult to imagine a protest or gathering of people that doesn’t include “things.”