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The City of Vancouver currently has the lowest business taxes in the world. A report published by the global financial auditor KPMG places Vancouver first out a list of 41 global cities. The main finding of the report, called “Competitive Alternatives 2010 Special Report: Focus on Tax,” is that Vancouver has a tax system more favorable to corporations and the wealthy than anywhere else in the world.

Although the report was released last May, including a press release, it has not received attention in Vancouver’s corporate and alternative press. Instead, local media have placed the international rankings spotlight on Vancouver’s real-estate market, with wide reports that people living in Vancouver currently experience one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world. It is becoming common knowledge that through high-profile events like the Olympics – which the real-estate executives termed a “$6b ad campaign” for Vancouver – the municipal government has been making an effort to attract global financial investment to Vancouver, with direct effects on the cost of housing. The important background of this policy, however, has been the creation of a corporate sanctuary – the national and global elites are being drawn to Vancouver for its low levels of taxation.

VANCOUVER VIEWS |

Later today at City Hall there will be a discussion and vote on “Vancouver Views,” a policy that would see increased heights Downtown, especially in the West End.

The Vancouver Views policy has attracted quite a bit of controversy. The policy will mean serious changes to the urban environment downtown, and some have begun directly criticizing planning staff and making accusations of misleading the public with their reports. They argue that not only have the public not had enough consultation or time to absorb what the changes will mean, but also that Council could not have had enough time to “do their homework” around the policy.

The Vancouver Views policy is only one part of a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy surrounding planning within the city. This past month has seen several attempts at blanket rezonings of areas dominated by renters. There has been a serious community based, grassroots resistance to wide-sweeping changes that would increase opportunities for real-estate developers. Community organizations argue that the social effects of these policies require more discussion and consideration. Council passed an emergency motion to hold off public consultations on a similar policy, the Historical Area Height Review, last week. Dozens of speakers had signed up to speak not only against the policy but also against City Council itself.

CAPITAL BUDGET |

Also at Council will be the discussion and vote on its capital budget. The capital budget includes the construction of infrastructure, City-owned building renovations and public works projects. The staff administrative report is 117 pages, and includes everything from summaries of revenue from Developmental Cost Levies to the wide variety of proposed projects for 2011.

In spite of the huge support shown throughout the city for affordable housing, the city plans to spend only $22 million of the $337 million budget on new land, construction and renovations for affordable housing. This is not enough. Instead, the report shows a continuance of Vision’s pro-police policies. On top of an unnecessary increase in the police budget of $5.7 million approved in last month’s operating budget, the Vancouver Police Department will receive an additional $11 million to relocate to a new central station. A significant amount is also being spent on Vision’s “Greenest City” initiative. Particular spending for greener public works is difficult to decode; there are no cost comparisons provided but in general this will mean retrofitting existing city infrastructure to pass higher environmental standards. The city plans to spend another $16 million on information technology projects for city hall.

If City Council truly wants to act on the wishes of its citizens, more must be spent on ensuring all classes of people can afford to live in Vancouver. The police and upgrades to city hall should not be prioritized over housing affordability.

VISION NOMINATIONS |

Vision Vancouver has announced it will hold open nominations for all its elected positions, except the mayor. Members of council and the park and school boards will be up for grabs in the next few months.

Vision party members will decided whether or not Gregor Robertson stays as mayoral candidate in the 2011 election by referendum. The party is calling the vote a “leadership review.” Vision members will decide a question either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with a simple majority deciding. NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton said of the review that, “they don’t want to talk about his flaws.” COPE Councillor Elen Woodsworth called Robertson the “trademark” of Vision Vancouver.

Gregor has repeatedly come under fire, especially recently, about his failings on his campaign promises, especially surrounding his promise to end homelessness by 2015.

This past Thursday, the Vancouver Police Department published a press release about a series of arrests made in the Downtown Eastside. It describes eight suspected drug traffickers who used violence, torture, and fear to cruelly control residents involved in the drug trade. Some of the conditions the victims of these criminals had been put through include being stabbed, beaten, and held in cages. As the press release states, this is the first case of Criminal Organization charges in Vancouver police history.

It took community protests to pressure police to investigate exploitation of Downtown Eastside residents. The two police initiatives leading to the arrests were part of an umbrella program called “Sister Watch,” which was designed to curb violence against women in the Downtown Eastside in response to grassroots protest.

Although it would be an improvement for the police to begin protecting residents from exploitation, it must be said that the strong-arm approach of both the VPD is a significant part of the problem of violence in the Downtown Eastside. The “war on drugs” diverts resources away from social services into policing. It simply has not been the case that police use these resources to protect residents from exploitation. On the contrary, the police impose added violence onto the poor, who are unfairly shuffled through the revolving door of “justice.”

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Last Thursday, grassroots pressure forced Vancouver City Council to halt plans for two condo towers, as well as halting overall plans for height upzoning in the Downtown Eastside. Over 80 speakers were signed up to speak at City Hall, most against the City’s gentrification plan. But rather than listen to the delegations, Vision Vancouver introduced a so-called “emergency” motion. The motion agreed to grassroots demands to conduct a community plan and social impact study before rezoning.

It is time to take stock of what happened that day. Or rather, the night before, at 4am!

The first thing that stands out is this: why didn’t Vision Vancouver agree to these demands last year? Or last month, when The Mainlander published the arguments clearly. Or the day before the public hearing, so that 80 people wouldn’t have to take the day off work, school and life to come all the way down to City Hall? Apparently, Vision Councilor Andrea Reimer wrote the emergency motion at “4am” the night before. What made Vision change its mind at the last minute, after literally years of pressure from grassroots low-income organizations? Was it the letter signed by dozens of professors? Was it this dialogue between Mike Harcourt and Councilor Andrea Reimer on Jan 19? Was it our pull-no-punches editorial (we wish)? Was it the prospect of having to listen to 80 public speakers?

AFFORDABILITY |

Several BC cities have been ranked “severely unaffordable” in a recent world-wide affordability report. The list included Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford and Kelowna.Vancouver ranked 324 out of 325, making it the second most unaffordable city in the world next to Sydney (another “Olympic” town).

The effects of the affordability crisis are hitting working people hard. It has been reported that working-class residents across the Lower Mainland have been struggling to find housing, and that the working-poor are increasingly turning to shelters.

In response to criticism that their policies are exacerbating the housing crisis, the City of Vancouver and the Province have repeatedly boasted about their mythical fourteen sites. Now, in another questionable arrangement with real-estate developers, the City is planning to abandon the requirement of affordable housing on North False Creek in exchange for two properties in the Downtown Eastside. But Councilor Geoff Meggs told CBC on Monday that the City might build condos for young professionals on one of these DTES sites (58 West Hastings – site of the 2010 Olympic Tent Village). Meanwhile, North False Creek would have 4 new unaffordable condo towers as part of a new casino complex (more below).

As previously reported, a coalition (10SITES Coalition) has been formed of Downtown Eastside organizations and allies to pressure the City to buy at least 10 sites per year for 5 years in their neighbourhood. Since it is now out in the open that BC cities are “severely affordable” – not merely Vancouver – housing activism will have a reason to grow across the province, and the 10SITES Coalition may prove to be a model.

CASINO |

A new casino proposal passed the first stage of approval at Vancouver City Council last week. The proposed development would also include four associated condominium towers, bringing a small-scale Las Vegas to downtown Vancouver.

Council is giving lip-service to the arguments against the Casino, but has so far approved the project. Some critics are proposing the Vision-led council is simply playing politics and that the proposal will likely go ahead.

The casino will be another way for the City to gain revenue from working-class residents instead of taxing businesses. Vancouver’s business taxes are extremely low. A study done May of last year rated Vancouver’s taxes not only as the lowest in Canada, but the lowest in the world (study here). Resistance to business taxes has caused somewhat of a revenue crisis. The recently-passed 2011 budget increased taxes by two percent, with almost all of the increases placed on residents instead of businesses.

Casinos have an interesting history in Vancouver, and are often associated with crime, corruption and money laundering. It is also important to note that the Great Canadian Casino made a significant donation to Vision Vancouver’s 2008 election campaign.

A public hearing on the casino will be held at City Hall on Feb 17.

Instead of hearing 80 speakers from the public, City Council voted today to defer hearings until a later consulation. Fifty of those speakers were at council to speak against a motion to build condos in the downtown eastside under the Height Review plan (see yesterday’s Editorial).

According to the Mayor’s website, council decided not to hear from the public and voted instead to create a “community committee, chaired by one member of the Building Communities Society and one member of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council. The committee [will] engage with local residents and provide a report to council by December 31, 2011 on community priorities for planning and development in the neighbourhood. As well, the City would commit to completing the social impacts study by December 31, 2011.”

According to the Straight, “the motion called for the report, which proposes building height changes to some sites in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside, to be referred to public hearing and for city staff to conduct a social impact study on low-income residents of the Downtown Eastside.” However, it is not clear if this is actually true, because according the mayor’s website, “Mayor Robertson is recommending that until the social impacts study and the community committee’s report are complete, that council respect existing plans and policies for the Downtown Eastside.”

This means that instead of delaying all plans until public consultation is completed in December 2011, the City is trying to defer public input while rushing ahead with existing plans under the Height Review. According to a Carnegie Community Action Project press release, “five of the condo sites in Chinatown may be going to public hearing in February and could still go ahead.” City policy recognizes that Chinatown is inside the downtown eastside, but now they are treating Chinatown as a separate entity in order to avoid criticism and input. According to Harold Lavender of CCAP, “I live in Chinatown and they just broke the DTES into artificial pieces based on the priorities of developers. If I had a say, I could have influenced their decision. This process is a travesty.” If the City is actually serious about hearing from the downtown eastside, they will stop condo plans for Chinatown until at least December 31, 2011.


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Mayor Robertson and his party won power on the backs of the poor, claiming to represent their aspirations and promising to “End Homelessness.” Today, Vision Vancouver is waging war on the Downtown Eastside, the last refuge for Vancouver’s low-income residents.

One might wonder at the use of a military analogy – “waging war” – but sadly Robertson’s party has employed ruthless political tactics to outmaneuver Vancouver’s most marginalized residents who, despite negligible resources, are nonetheless fighting back stronger than ever.

As we have reported previously, Vision Vancouver is moving to implement the NPA’s gentrification plan for the Downtown Eastside (deceptively called the “Historic Area Height Review”). The plan, which goes to Council for a vote this Thurs, Jan 20, calls for seven 15-storey condo towers in the Downtown Eastside. It is certain that these developments would impact surrounding property values. Low-income residents, as well as the stores, services, and amenities they use, would be displaced at a pace even greater than what is already underway, with the social and economic goal of gentrifying a low-income community by importing a new class of residents (which City Planning staff like to call “body heat“).

The Decoy

To distract the broader public from their undemocratic plan to gentrify the Downtown Eastside, the Vision-led City Council will be voting on a separate “view-corridors” proposal for towers in the central business district at the same Jan 20th meeting as the DTES plan. The City has purposefully attempted to link these very different plans in the public’s mind, with some success. The supposed link between them is the abstract notion of “height.” The two plans both deal with building heights, but will inevitably have more significant impacts on density and social demographics. Focusing on height instead of density changes the debate. This article from Sunday’s Province, for example, is stuck in the City’s frame about “height,” ignoring any question of social impact, and referring only fleetingly to the Downtown Eastside at the end of the article.