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In a letter written to City Council in advance of this Thursday’s vote on approving new condo developments in the Downtown Eastside, former Vancouver Mayor and BC Premier Mike Harcourt has written a letter to the current Mayor and City Council criticizing their approach to community development in the area.

Harcourt emphasizes that the City’s proposed rezoning package would not only increase building height, but would of course add density to the area – a new cohort of residents would be brought into the neighbourhood. Rents could go up, and the things that current residents need and enjoy could be priced-out.

Harcourt writes:

It is well known that this is a uniquely sensitive area of the city. Shifts in its populations brought on by inadequately considered rezoning could be extremely harmful to the affected communities. Unforeseen displacements, deficiencies in services and amenities, and disruption of community assets may well result.

Harcourt suggests that the City should do an analysis of the impact of such demographic shifts before making decisions about particular rezonings. More importantly, community development should take a holistic approach that recognizes and addresses social issues: “We question why there is priority for this ‘height-only’ study when there is a serious lack of overall social, economic and environmental planning for the DTES?” asks Harcourt.

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The 10 SITES COALITION of Downtown Eastside organizations has issued a statement opposing the “Historic Area Height Review,” which goes before City Council on January 20 2011. The so-called “Height Review,” which the Coalition calls the “condo tower plan,” anticipates 7 condo 15-storey condominum developments in the Downtown Eastside – 2 North of Pender between Carrall and Abbott, and 5 in South Chinatown.

The Coalition statement outlines concerns that market condo gentrification is causing rent increases, renovictions, displacement of low-income residents, increased police harrassments, and erosion of community assets.

A three year community-mapping process from 2007-2010, facilitated by the Carnegie Community Action Project, identified “unique and authentic community assets” of the Downtown Eastside community (for the series of three reports, see here).

The Coalition statement asks Vancouver City Council to “vote against adding any new density for condos within the Downtown Eastside until the assets and tenure of low-income residents are secured and until the Social Impact Study and DTES Strategy are complete.”

The statement asks Council to instead take proactive measures to stop gentrification by “[buying] 10 sites for low income resident-controlled social housing within the Downtown Eastside before the next municipal election [in Nov 2011]” (click here for a list of the 10 sites).

The City’s administrative (see page 15) claims that there is broad community support for the condo plan, with the exception of one group:

Community groups were also generally supportive of the draft Rezoning Policy, noting however that the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) remains concerned about the impact of new development on the low-income community.

But the Coalition letter to City Council, dated Thursday Jan 13 2011, is signed by a dozen organizations, including:

Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society
Carnegie Community Action Project
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre Power of Women
REED
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction
W2
Gallery Gachet

The next day, Jan 14 2011, Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs told The Mainlander “so far, I have not seen any negative comment on the current report from Chinese community leaders or activists, but plenty from those who live elsewhere.”

Meggs referred the “Historic Area Height Review” incorrectly as the “Chinatown Height Review,” and suggested that the new condo developments were all South of Pender. As mentioned, two of the most controversial sites are North of Pender, including the half-block BC Electric site across from Pigeon Park.

The 10 SITES COALITION is calling on residents and allies of the Downtown Eastside to speak to City Council against more condos: “Before you can speak, you have to phone 604 873 7268 and ask for Tina Hildebrandt. Tell her that you want to speak on the issue of the Historic Area Height Review (that’s what staff is calling the condo tower plan) on Jan. 20.”



At a forum held last night at the VPL, residents questioned the way the City of Vancouver conducts public consultations. The event’s organizers, a group called cityhallwatch, admitted that the forum had been, out of necessity, organized on short notice.

Nevertheless, the forum was well attended, including a member from each of the city’s three sitting municipal parties, real-estate developers, city planners, and grassroots community organizers. There was urgency in the air, as the policies under discussion go to City Council next week.

Randy Helten, cityhallwatch founder, argued that lack of notification and community involvement are only part of a systemic problem in municipal politics in Vancouver. Staff reports and public hearing agendas are often released with very short notice to the public.

Jean Swanson, of the Carnegie Community Action Project, explained how building 7 condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, as proposed, would displace the community’s current residents and community assets by pricing them out and attracting a new class of condo buyers and boutique stores catering to them.

After the evening’s planned presentations, the audience was invited to speak on any particular issues they had. There was significant criticism of Vision Vancouver’s planning policies, and their general attitude towards the community.

The only Vision councillor in attendance, Geoff Meggs, stood up to represent Vision and defend his party, arguing that consultations had been made and that views of the mountains would be saved. Many attendees emphasized that even they (who tended to be relatively engaged in municipal politics) hadn’t been included in consultations, nevermind notified of them.

Concerns were also raised about who exactly would benefit from rezoning for towers. Helten emphasized the increasingly influential role of developers in city planning, and brought up the recent radio interview where former Director of City Planning Ray Spaxman (former consultant on the Historic Area Height Review, who recently spoke with The Mainlander) warned of their influence.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM |

Legislation that would make Vancouver municipal parties disclose their donors and would cap corporate donations and overall campaign spending, might be in jeopardy. While the legislation has the support of the municipalities themselves, including Vancouver, several BC Liberal candidates have said the legislation is no longer a priority.

Campaign finance reform is increasingly important in Vancouver, where wealth disparity is growing. And with real-estate developers, often anonymously, pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into civic campaigns to influence planning decisions, campaign finance reform cannot come too soon. The legislation was to be enacted before Vancouver’s upcoming November election. Are the Liberals stalling to help their wealthy associates?

HEIGHT |

A public forum will be held tonight at 6:30 at the Vancouver Public Library discussing the future of height in Vancouver. Details on a live stream of the forum will be available here. This forum is just a part of the community convergence that has occurred around this issue.

In an interview last week, City Director of Planning reiterated that the city planning department “believe[s] strongly in the value of engagement and consultation.”

The Mainlander recently reported on the negative impact the proposed height increases would have on the Downtown Eastside (DTES). This past Saturday, Jan 8, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) general membership voted overwhelmingly to oppose this DTES condo tower plan.

When there is a rezoning, the City negotiates with the developer to extract contributions that will “benefit” the community (e.g. parks, social housing units, jobs, etc); on Saturday the DNC also voted to oppose the current method whereby residents are shut out of these negotiations.

Council is set to vote on the proposal for 7 condo towers in the DTES at 2:30 on Jan 20 2011. The public is welcome to speak on the rezoning policy, which can be found here.

A memorial service for the three men who died in an East Van house fire was held Saturday at the Longhouse Council Native Ministry.

Garland McKay, Dwayne Rasmussen and Steven Yellowquill died on Dec 22 when the porch they were living in at 2862 Pandora St. caught fire.

On Saturday, the Longhouse was filled to capacity with friends and family. The service began with a song led by Traditional Mothers. Morris then asked the mourners to stand up and share memories of the three men. For friends and family, it was a day to honour the men and their strengths. A picture emerged of the men as compassionate, respectful, and selfless.

At Saturday’s memorial, a broad picture of the men’s journey and challenges also emerged. There were many preventable factors creating the conditions for the tragedy.

The three men came from First Nations across the country (Rasmussen from Mount Currie, McKay from Kelowna, Yellowquill from Manitoba) to Vancouver looking for opportunity, but were unable to access appropriate non-market housing. As a result, the only housing that was accessible to them was the unsafe and inadequate “rooming-house” at 2862 Pandora St.

BC Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon’s campaign team sent out a press release yesterday (Jan 4) proposing that BC teachers’ pay should be tied to student performance. Falcon offered only vague ideas on methods and criteria for measuring student performance.

Falcon’s proposal has drawn condemnation from many quarters – not only teachers unions, but also the Vancouver and Burnaby school board chairs. Today, even the Globe and Mail editorial (entitled “Show us the money”) was thoroughly skeptical of proposal’s costs/benefits.

Vancouver School Board Trustee and Vice-Chair Jane Bouey told The Mainlander today (Jan 5) that Falcon’s proposal “assumes the greatest problem facing BC students is teachers. There is no evidence this is true.” If anything, fault lies at the foot of Falcon and his party: “The real issue is chronic underfunding, after more than a decade of cuts at district levels.”

Of Falcon’s proposal, Bouey said “there is no real evidence that merit pay works. Children are not widgets that just need to be produced more efficiently…It isn’t just that it doesn’t work, there is some evidence that it actually can make things worse.”

The Fight HST movement engaged much of the electorate, who were furious that the BC Liberals campaigned against the tax in April 2009 only to go-ahead with it a week after the election.

The Liberals first claimed that the people just didn’t see the benefits. But the more Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen talked, the more clear it became that their lie was deliberate, and that the the HST shifted burden from large corporations to working people.

The campaign against the tax began with over 1500 volunteers collecting signatures in April of 2010. Volunteers waived signs, canvassed, and collected signatures for five months to meet the strict BC Elections requirements for petitions. In total, more than 700,000 voters signed the petition. The moment will go down in the books as the first successful attempt at forcing a referendum in B.C. history.

For their part, the BC Liberals worked with their friends at the BC Chamber of Commerce and large extractive corporations to unsuccessfully challenge the Fight HST referendum in court. Hoping to wait out the crisis, the Liberals announced that the forced referendum wouldn’t be held until fall 2011. But polls showed that people didn’t forget the betrayal, with Campbell’s approval rating falling below 10% by the time he was forced to resign Nov 3rd 2010.

The tax has been haunting the BC Liberal leadership race. The primary strategy for candidates over the past month has been to