Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What the Mayor really thinks...and doesn't.

The Mayor is in trouble for saying what he really thinks about the public consultation process when he though his mike was off. For me, one of the most astounding aspects of this episode is that he wonders out loud whether Ned Jacobs is an NPA hack.

I first met Ned Jacobs, the son of Jane Jacobs, in early 2008 when I was part of a team putting in a proposal for the Little Mountain property, and he was one of the key community activists opposing any buildings above four storeys on the site. He is a regular speaker at Council...he has probably spoken two dozen times since the last election...Anyone who has ever seen him....or listened to him would know that he is definitely not an NPA hack. He's not even a member! It's surprising that the Mayor still doesn't know who he is.

Much will be said about this whole episode over the coming years, but no one will say it as well as Pete McMartin did in his Vancouver Sun column this morning. Here it is:



Christine said...

Neale--it's a mistake to characterize this as an "owners vs renters" fight. Everyone recognizes the need for more rental accommodation all over the city. What West Enders are concerned about is the lack of consultation and the lack of a plan. People would be just as opposed if they were building high rise condos in this neighbourhood.

The last time we went through this in the early 70s (I'm sure you both remember) we ended up with several MURBs including the Denman Inn and one in the 1600 block Nelson Street that are extremely ugly, far too dense, and that completely block off the sun for hours at a time.

BYTW the Denman is going 100% rental and I haven't heard anybody complaining about that.

Ned Jacobs said...

In today's Province, Michael Smyth nails it when he writes: "Does he [Robertson] think anyone who takes a serious interest in how their communities grow and change are just f---ing hacks"? It's not only an incredibly insulting comment; it also reveals the mayor's ignorance of how concerned people are about his agenda."

The Mayor knows that I am not a “NPA hack.” He was mistakenly referring to WEN members, who have a hard copy petition of 7,000+ signatures (mostly renters) opposing spot-rezonings.” Michael Geller is no fool; to suggest that I was the subject of the Mayor’s remarks strikes me as disingenuous partisan mischief-making.

Small advisory committees selected by the Mayor and members of his caucus are being touted as “innovative” (they’re not) and an “interim” (read “interminable”) measure. I was opposed the motion for the NSV network of community groups. The Grandview/Woodland Area Council, which is awaiting a CityPlan process, wrote: “GWAC doesn't want to see such a committee in the West End or any other Vancouver neighbourhood. GWAC would prefer that Council instead put resources into the CityPlan visioning process.”

MG writes that when he met me in 2008 I was "one of the key community activists opposing any buildings above four storeys on the [Little Mountain] site." This is not just oversimplification; it misrepresents the facts. The overriding concern of CALM and the Citywide Housing Coalition was the needless destruction of a fine community for a development which in any case will have to be constructed in phases; privatizing public assets to fund the social safety net; and no plan for a net increase in below-market housing on the site (too nice for poor folks). In short, a rip-off of the community by the province that Mayor Sullivan happily endorsed.

The RPSC Community Vision includes several Directions for the L M site, one of which does not support building heights over four storeys. When Council moved that the planning process consider higher forms, neither CALM nor the CityPlan Committee (I belong to both) objected. Subsequent input shows a strong preference for ground-oriented development, which could provide a huge increase in density compatible with the surrounding neighbourhood (though not lucrative penthouses overshadowing Q E Park)—like the Arbutus Walk development, the result of advocacy planning following community rejection of a "towers in the park" concept.

Instead of acknowledging the community’s legitimate objections to an ill-defined public engagement process (cooked up in the back room), the Mayor indulged in myopic speculation that these were political "hacks.” MG’s spin on my involvement in the complex LM issue may be calculated to deflect attention from the social concerns, place me in a planning pigeonhole, or it may simply reflect a developer's myopia. It's bad enough that some politicians fund their campaigns with developer money and get fixated on partisanship at the expense of policy and process; when the politicians are themselves developers—that's a recipe for disaster.

Ned Jacobs said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
michael geller said...

Ned, Thanks for your comments.

I was not intending to participate in disingenuous partisan mischief-making. I genuinely wondered why the Mayor would ask the question whether the speakers were NPA hacks when you were one of the speakers.

If he knew who you were, why did he say this?

As for Little Mountain, I apologize if I have misrepresented your views. However, when we first met, you were the one who reminded me that the community did not want to see buildings over four storeys....it stuck with me, especially since our plan included some taller buildings.

While you and I do not always agree on planning matters, as I once said to you outside the council chamber, I do admire your commitment to debating important planning issues. I hope you will continue to speak up, despite the awful treatment you and others received last Thursday night.

Ned Jacobs said...

Since Michael Geller insists that he actually believes the Mayor was referring to me when he said “Who are these f---ing…who are these hacks, man? Are they…they NPA hacks?” I withdraw the suggestion that he was “disingenuous” and give him the benefit of the doubt that he was not intentionally engaging in partisan mischief-making.

His explanation for why he characterized me and the other Community Advocates for Little Mountain as being opposed to buildings over 4 storeys underlines my point about developer myopia. Apparently, among the many things I told him about the Little Mountain issue was that the CityPlan policy did not support buildings over 4 storeys, and that towers would be resisted by area residents (less than 40% of 1000+ responses to the Community Vision survey supported over 4-storeys). Being part of a developer team preparing a RFP, that is what he apparently took away from our discussion. Michael Geller probably has a broader perspective than is typical of those in the development/design industry; even so, he allowed that one factor to dominate his view of the complex Little Mountain issue to the point that he (apparently inadvertently) stereotyped me and the other citizens who were—and still are—devoting many hours of our lives to the hope that something beneficial for the city and community will someday arise from the fenced-off 15-acre empty lot which now blights our neighbourhood; that a few of the 600 residents who were needlessly forced from their homes and social support networks will someday return to the community from which they were uprooted; and that there will be homes for families of those who stock our shelves and change our hospital beds, with appropriate and ample amenities for all. That’s a tall order, considering that the developer who was selected, Holborn, offered to pay a lot more than the others, including, I believe, Polygon Homes, who Michael Geller was working with.

We are motivated by many aspirations and concerns, as are the West End residents the Mayor crapped on. They oppose spot-rezonings for towers that will severely shade their mini-parks, make a mockery of heritage preservation, turning "discretionary zoning" into a dirty word--all this justified under the false pretence that it will provide affordable housing, when in truth it will only provide high-end rentals, condos and windfall profits subsidized by Vancouver taxpayers through the STIR program, in some cases by more than $80,000 per unit! That is why I was at City Hall last Thursday night. And this is why our Mayor was so frustrated: the truth is beginning to emerge, and it could be more damaging to his agenda (and possibly his political aspirations) than his potty mouth.

Michael Geller said...

Ned, thanks for following up.

As for Little Mountain, I too have many worries since the developer offered much too much money for the land, just like Millennium offered much too much money for the Olympic Village site.

We all know what ultimately happened at the Olympic Village site.

Now many of us are waiting and watching to see what ultimately is brought before Council on the Little Mountain site. But that's another story.