It didn’t take me long to make my way down most of the beach between Kitsilano and Jericho Wednesday morning in order to understand what is at stake with the proposed extension of the seawall passed by city council last week and up before the park board next week.
Beyond the blackberry thickets, wild roses and cliffs draped with English Ivy, at low tide the beach stretches beyond shoals of seaweed and eel grass and tidal pools to the shore where great blue herons hunt and crows squabble over bits of seafood.
I could have been almost anywhere on a hundred wild and natural beaches up the coast. But I was here on this small sliver of what Vancouver’s water’s edge must have looked like a 1,000 years ago. And now it’s at risk of being sanitized, paved over, not totally of course, but enough to obliterate any sense that it is as advertised by a sign erected by the park board and a group called the Point Grey Natural Foreshore and Waterfowl Sanctuary Protection Society: “A wilderness beach near downtown.”
Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of the seawall. But what is being suggested here in the name of public access strikes me as absurd as suggesting putting an escalator up the Grouse Grind so more people can enjoy the experience.
Last week, I wrote about the inside baseball political maneuvering that took place between Vision and NPA Coun. George Affleck (with the help of our sole Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr) as to who would take credit for the proposal to consider extending the seawall through this unique remnant of our city’s geography.
But that bit of politics is small potatoes compared to what the impact will be if this proposal actually goes through.
Much of the discussion since then has been on the impact the seawall would have on the most wealthy of Vancouver’s property owners whose palatial homes perch on the cliff above the beach.
But that’s not the issue.
Nor is the extensive and unsightly splash of graffiti that stains most of the private retaining walls that stop their buildings from sliding into the sea. Although it’s worth asking the question as to why, given our bylaws requiring businesses to remove graffiti from their walls or face penalties, these folks have been allowed to leave this stuff up to deface an otherwise pristine setting.
Far be it from me to suggest the rich are allowed to play by different rules than the rest of us. So let me suggest no bylaw officer has ever wandered down that way, to say nothing of how many of our local officials have taken the walk on the natural beach they are considering homogenizing.
“It is an idea that stinks.” That from long-time Kitsilano activist Mel Lehan who has been engaged in protecting this bit of waterfront from as far back as 20 years ago when he and naturalist Harry Cullis convinced the park board to maintain the beach as it is “in perpetuity.” Or, it seems, at least until some anonymous donor waved “tens of millions of dollars” under Mayor Gregor Robertson’s nose. That amount of green is enough, apparently, to shift our great green leader off his agenda.
But this is far from a done deal. Folks are just beginning to wake up to what we will miss once it’s gone. Courier readers will know local filmmaker Elvira Lount is all over Facebook with her concerns. Then there’s Harry Cullis’s so-far-silent daughter Tara (a Robertson supporter in the past) who just happens to be on the board of that foreshore protection society but who has been out of the country for the past month with her husband who just happens to be environmental activist David Suzuki who, with Tara, just happens to live in a home overlooking that stretch of beach, which he has defended in the past.
Check it out for yourself. Wait for low tide. There’s easy access at the foot of Trafalgar. You will need decent shoes.