Vision pokes hornet's nest at community centres

It is hard to imagine just how much political trouble Vision Vancouver is in right now. The pushback over its attempt to put its hands into the pockets of the city's community centres makes past protests over spot zoning or the imposition of homeless shelters relatively insignificant annoyances.

Let me explain why by first telling you a story. In 1934, 22 neighbours around East Hastings near the PNE each put 50 cents in the pot to come up with $11 dollars. That was the amount they needed to register a society for the purpose of protecting their park from the encroaching exhibition.

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The neighbours then went to the park board of the day and asked for money to help develop public tennis courts and a lawn bowling facility.

The park board said: We don't have any money but you go right ahead and raise the funds on your own.

Which they did. That small group of volunteers would grow to become the Hastings Community Association, which was frequently required to be self-reliant in meeting neighbourhood needs.

That story is not unlike any number of inspirational stories generations of volunteers, who have served on the boards of Vancouver's community centres, have woven into their cultural history.

To my knowledge, none of the Vision Vancouver park commissioners - who form a majority on the board and are central to the attack community centres now feel they are under - has ever served on a community centre board.

What is worse, they fail to grasp just how disrespectful, how insensitive, how politically threatening their actions are. They most certainly must be unaware of the damage they are causing themselves as they spill the political capital that Vision has accumulated while in power.

What is most appalling is the strategy being employed to roll out Vision's new policy. We are told it will bring "equity" to all centres, rich or poor, East Side or West Side, and the people who chose to access the facilities. None of the centres, by the way, has a problem with that. It is about who controls the money that has community centre boards more than twitchy.

When was the last time you saw a government introduce a new policy where an elected official hasn't been front and centre to either cut the ribbon or take the heat?

Yet what do we see here? On Tuesday night at the Kerrisdale Community Centre meeting, while a couple of Vision Park commissioners pasted themselves against the wall and refused to speak (except to the media) and city communications bureaucrats scurried about, it was park board manager Malcolm Bromley who took to the stage to be booed by the packed room and two other spaces that were quickly set up to handle the overflow crowd of about 400.

In fact, for virtually all of the past briefing meetings with community centre boards, park commissioners have been told not to attend. It has been Bromley and, usually, city manager Penny Ballem. When the NPA's Melissa De Genova tuned up at one briefing the board invited her to, Bromley turned on his heel and walked out.

This is one reason why Hastings Community Association president Eric Harms is just one of many who say this whole attempt to get control of the community centre funds is a conspiracy being driven by the city manager: "When Malcolm Bromley speaks you can see Penny Ballem's lips moving."

Of course it would be naïve to think Ballem would do anything of this magnitude without support from the mayor's office. But the tone at the top around that joint always has our mayor heavily insulated against criticism.

With six full-time city staff apparently attached to this strategy, is it any wonder that a few of the community centres have decided, for better or worse, on funding a public relations campaign of their own?

This is particularly understandable when the park board's idea of communications has included installing locked glass bulletin boards in community centres where they alone control the content of the messages and they hold the keys. How smart is that? How smart is any of this? agarr@vancourier.com

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