On Tuesday morning, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told CBC Radio that the whole uproar over the Grandview-Woodland community plan was simply a matter of a misunderstanding.
There is still plenty of time for citizen input, said our bicycling mayor, clearly backpedalling given that the official email from the city dated July 5 declared the deadline for input is August 2.
But overlook that point for the moment.
That misunderstanding explanation doesnt nearly come close to the truth of what actually happened to cause the incredible lack of trust and sense of betrayal harboured by the local residents who have been among the staunchest of Robertsons supporters. Nor does it begin to touch on the potential for disaster Robertson and his Vision majority face regarding this and three other community plans now in the works.
Some of that became apparent on Monday night. It began with this: in all of the months and through the many meetings by city staff with Grandview-area residents there was discussion and even agreement about the need for increased density, but there was never any discussion let alone any mention of towers particularly at Commercial and Broadway and along Hastings.
Yet, sure enough when the emerging directions plan was released by the city, there they were much to the shock and horror of the residents.
But back to Monday: While Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs mopped his brow owing to the warmth of the night, some 200 people streamed in to pack the second floor meeting room, perch on window sills, squat down on the floor or spill out onto the balcony of the Eastside Family Place at Napier and Commercial. It was a meeting of the Grandview-Woodland Community Council. There was only one item on the agenda: the community plan. There to answer questions was area planner Andrew Pask along with two other city staffers.
Noticeably missing was Brian Jackson, the citys general manager of planning and development. I mention this because, given past practices of the planning department going back to Ray Spaxman then Larry Beasley and even Brent Toderian, whenever there was a contentious issue around planning and development, the head of planning stepped in to take the heat. That was particularly the case when the head of planning was responsible for that issue as was the case with the 11th hour addition of towers to the Grandview-Woodland community plan.
The mayor was also absent. But then he prefers more mellow settings where he can kiss babies, kick soccer balls or cut ribbons to open urban orchards. Not that the mayors office (i.e. his chief of staff Mike Magee) was without eyes and ears in the room.
Attending with Meggs was Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer, who is the liaison for the neighbourhood, champion of the community engagement committee and a former Grandview Woodland resident. As well notably another resident, Vision co-chair and frequent party spokesperson who regularly appears on CBC Radio, Maria Dobrinskaya, was there.
What they saw and heard was remarkably eloquent, informed, passionate and intimate. It demonstrated unanimity of opposition that ranged from activist Garth Mullins to the executive director of the Hastings North Business Improvement Association, Patricia Barnes.
But nothing rocked the house nor exposed the political fragility of what Vision had at stake here more than the withering comments of local NDP MLA Shane Simpson. While he doesnt usually poke his nose into local politics or impute any malicious intent on the part of his brothers and sisters in Vision, he was clearly annoyed.
Sometimes, he began, the planning process goes sideways. And then went on to say: Across the community nobody is telling me this plan meets their needs. And finally: This plan is fundamentally flawed and may be fatally flawed. Go back to the drawing board and engage the people. All of which brought many in the crowd to their feet with applause.
For his part, planner Pask, left to defend a decision he most likely didnt make, said the most controversial part of the plan, the towers at Broadway and Commercial, is off the table. Then he added: We got part right and part wrong a big part wrong.
And about that there is no misunderstanding.
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