Today, City inspectors arrived unannounced to the Ming Sun Benevolent Association building and performed an inspection. The building, containing affordable housing, the artist collective Instant Coffee, and artist studio spaces for low-income Chinese seniors at 439 Powell has been under ongoing threat of demolition. The threat continues despite the fact that “several independent structural reports stated that the Ming Sun Building is structurally sound,” according to activists who have been fighting to save the site.
Several people who have been working to save the building had arrived early to perform repairs on the building, but were surprised by the arrival of City staff, sparking concerns that the building would be demolished immediately.
The concerns were amplified when at least a dozen vehicles from Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services arrived on the scene with lights flashing.
A coalition of citizens, called “Friends of 439,” has formed to preserve the building. This morning about a dozen concerned supporters of the building converged at 439 Powell to keep watch over the property.
Today, Vancouver’s City Council, Parks Board, and School Board are all controlled by a relatively new party called Vision Vancouver. How did this party rise from nothing in 2005 to edge out the once mighty COPE, then soundly defeat the NPA three short years later in 2008? This article tells the story of how the threat of a truly left-wing COPE caused Vancouver’s corporate elite to focus their efforts on infiltrating the party. This led to their facilitating the exodus of the right-wing of COPE into a new corporate party, first called the Friends of Larry Campbell, run by Geoff Meggs, and then named Vision Vancouver.
The implosion of the NPA
Since its formation in 1886, Vancouver’s City Hall has been dominated by business elites and real-estate magnates. In 1937, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) was formed in reaction to workers and tenants successfully organizing and campaigning under the banner of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. For almost seventy years, the NPA represented the interests of Vancouver’s real-estate industry at City Hall.
In 2001, however, a coup was being staged that would completely dismantle the party. NPA stalwarts such as six-term councilor, Gordon Price, jumped ship. A younger and more right-wing city councilor, Jennifer Clarke, positioned herself to take over as de facto party leader. The NPA’s leader, Philip Owen, who had been mayor for eight years, was suddenly excommunicated. Numerous factors were at play. One likely reason for the split was that Clarke and her supporters within the NPA couldn’t accept Owen’s liberal stance on drug addiction, but there were also deep personal conflicts. As Frances Bula wrote for the Vancouver Sun in 2002:
“It was a rupture that affected not just political alliances but very personal ones among the small world of Vancouver’s elite and its old-money families, and what conflicting versions were at play. It came at the end of months of increasing estrangement among the various parties. And it descended, at times, to levels that made it look more like the Divorce from Hell than politics.”
Louise Lagimodiere (right) and Dave Hamm (left) – Photo by Ward Perrin, The Province
Louise Lagimodiere (picture above) is a 70-year old Indigenous senior and member of VANDU. “I got two tickets more than a year ago,” she in an interview with The Mainlander yesterday, “but yet I’m still being called to court. I didn’t harm anybody yet they are spending thousands of dollars trying to get money out of me I don’t have. I wouldn’t be vending if I had the money to pay these fines.”
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPPC) has now rejected the reasons given by the Vancouver Mayor and Police Department for dismissing a complaint of discriminatory by-law enforcement in the Downtown Eastside. The complaint was filed by VANDU and Pivot Legal Society when it was revealed that 95% of all vending tickets and 76% of all jaywalking tickets were handed out in the Downtown Eastside. In September 2013, the Mayor dismissed the joint legal complaint and spoke in favor of a VDP board decision to dismiss the VANDU delegation.
The OPPC is a watchdog formed in 2011 in response to a systemic lack of police accountability in British Columbia.
VANDU members have been fighting against discriminatory by-law enforcement for more than a decade. In 2010 VANDU members collaborated on the Pedestrian Safety Project to address traffic safety concerns for pedestrians in the DTES. The VPD opposed the changes, including a 30km speed zone along Hastings. Many of the recommendations of the Project have since been implemented. At a press conference today, however, VANDU vice president Laura Shaver stated that police need to do more to focus enforcing speeds limits for drivers instead of fines for low-income pedestrians. “It is not the people hitting the cars, it is the cars hitting the people,” Shaver said.
Beyond the highly publicized and debated issues that pertain to Vancouver’s visual and physical space, mainly focused on the much publicized Downtown Eastside, there is a competition for sonic space that has gone largely unnoticed. Noise Pollution caused by the rapid development of condominiums dominates Vancouver’s soundscape, while the relatively minor sound intrusions of live music — in the streets, in public venues, or private spaces — is regularly restricted by city officials. This discrepancy exists largely as a result of Vancouver’s Noise Control by-law, which has a strong bias towards developer-friendly regulations, and shrouds musical/cultural sound policy in a cloud of ambiguity, hyper-regulation and selective enforcement.
In the spring of 2012, the City of Vancouver’s engineering department passed a revealing by-law. It stated that no longer could bagpipes or percussion instruments be played in the streets of the city. The engineering department claimed to have based their decision on “noise concerns”, but whether or not they were conscious of it, their disruption of legitimate street music was actually ideologically motivated. There is a trend in Vancouver toward anti-cultural and pro-developer policies concerning noise.
Low income residents taking the street at a Rally against Displacement and Gentrification on June 14th
Photo credit: p0stcap
Last week the City of Vancouver released its draft report of the Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside. Reviews of the report have been mixed. While the city’s planning director Kevin McNaney calls it “innovative, aggressive and achievable,” the Carnegie Community Action Project characterized the draft report as “a recipe for displacement.” What exactly is promised in the city’s brand new 10-year plan for the DTES?
First, the good news: the plan admits that gentrification is taking place, that it displaces low-income residents, and that this displacement has negative social impacts. These acknowledgements mark a change of position for the City and can be attributed entirely to the anti-gentrification struggle of DTES residents.
Last week, Pidgin co-owner Brandon Grossutti stole the satirical mascot known as “the People’s Pickle” from the protest picket outside his restaurant. According to one witness, picket organizer Kim Hearty attempted to retrieve the mascot from the back of the restaurant when Grossutti physically assaulted the community organizer.
Grossutti then relayed his own version of events to the Vancouver Police Department. Based on his allegations, on Monday of this week the VPD arrested Kim Hearty outside her home in East Van. After being held in jail, Hearty was released on condition that she not go within a two-block radius of the Pidgin picket.
Hearty is one of the main organizers of a legal picket action that the VPD have been seeking unsuccessfully to shut down for months. In April the police moved to arrest Pidgin picketers, announcing plans for an undefined number of premeditated arrests at the site of the picket. After a public outcry and strong show of support for the picket by Downtown Eastside residents, the VPD was forced to temporarily shelve their arrest plans.