Interview: The GW Community Plan Disaster

July 31, 2014

This is a 27-minute interview I taped this afternoon for David Berner’s show on Shaw TV.  We covered the future of Commercial Drive, the failure of the Community Plan process, the sham that is the Citizens’ Assembly, and what needs to be done now.

Hope you enjoy it!

American Taliban Redux

July 31, 2014

My earlier blogs were significantly more concerned with foreign politics than is this one.  In fact, one of the reasons I started Jaksview3 was to escape from the vicious madness of rightwing bloggers who had targeted me to the extent that my family and I were threatened with phyisical violence for expressing views with which they disagreed.  You could say I allowed the rowdy fascists to “win” by withdrawing from the field, and I would be unable to disagree: Sometimes discretion really is the better part of valour.

However, during the time I was fully engaged in battle with these thugs, I had written and published “The American Taliban: The Closing Down of America“.   Written in late 2004, it is a study of the surveillance culture spawned by Bush and Cheney and the underlying patriarchal fascism of the so-called “religious” right.  I have recently re-read this piece and it seems to stand the test of time.

Although I was never a fan of Obama (no more than I am of 99.9% of US politicians), there did seem some hope that the Obamacrats might pull back from the worst excesses of the Bush-Cheney regime. That has proven to be as false as fool’s gold.  In fact, the Obama regime has intensified and strengthened the surveillance and internal intelligence machinery of the US government and its corporate allies well beyond the wildest dream of even the fanatical Dick Cheney.

Moreover, the disgusting and highly disturbing policies that shackle women and their reproductive rights to the primitive fundamentalism of unstable rightwing zealots has broadened, deepened, and in every way gotten worse since Obama was elected (I am not blaming him, rather positioning this in time).  Every week I read of more excesses, and there seems nothing the progressive forces can do about it.

And do not let us pretend that we in Canada are somehow immune from these anti-democratic, anti-personnel, and anti-women threats.

If you are interested in this stuff (and I truly believe we all should be), please take a read of “American Taliban” on the understanding that the situation is now ten years more desperate than I painted in in 2004.


No Majority Needed Or Wanted

July 30, 2014

The Georgia Straight has a good piece today about changing the balance of power on Vancouver City Council.  My part was:

As someone who disapproves of municipal political parties and who prefers wards over at-large voting, Jak King would love to see 10 independents on Vancouver council.  Since that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, the spokesperson for the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods will settle for the second-best thing: no party getting a majority on the next city council.

“I think that gives us in the neighbourhoods, to be honest, a bit more leverage,” King told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver party won back-to-back majorities in the past two elections. According to King, that only led to neighbourhoods losing their say about community plans.  “Vision can simply swamp anything that we put forward with their majority,” the Grandview-Woodland resident said. “So if there is no majority in council, then I think that will give us a significantly better chance at influencing decisions.”

King doesn’t care who wins as mayor on November 15, but he said he’s going to support council candidates outside Vision, starting with Adriane Carr, Cleta Brown, and Pete Fry, all of the Green Party of Vancouver.  King said he’ll wait to see the September nominations for the Coalition of Progressive Electors, and he may consider candidates from the Non-Partisan Association if the NPA pledges to restore grassroots power in neighbourhood-planning processes …

King admitted that he likes the people with OneCity, although there’s one thing about the new party he’s uneasy about: “I still see them as a bit too close to Vision for my comfort.”

Good quotes from other neighbourhood activiosts; well worth the read.

Where Was It?

July 30, 2014

The answer to my earlier Where Is It? post, is at Commercial & Adanac.

Here is the original post with all the details from 2012.  I saw the rose again earlier this week.

The Citizens’ Assembly: A Policy of Deliberate Distraction

July 30, 2014

Last night I attended the latest weekly meeting of the Our Community, Our Plan (OCOP) group to discuss the latest chapter in our on-going Community Plan exercise as we approach tomorrow’s deadline for residents to sign up for the Citizens’ Assembly lottery.  It was splendid to see so many people willing to spend a summer evening discussing the danger to our neighbourhood in a stuffy room.

OCOP came up with a number of important and innovative strategies to further the cause over the next couple of months. As those plans develop and come to fruition, they will be announced on the OCOP site.

As I have reported here earlier, I have had meetings with both Charles Campbell (Assembly staff) and Rachel Magnusson, the Chair of the Assembly appointed by the City without consultation.  I have therefore some idea of how they want the Assembly to work.  I have also been following the elusive pronouncements of Brian Jackson, the City’s planning boss, who has made it clear his priority is to get Grandview-Woodland finished by next spring and approved by Council immediately thereafter.  From these sparse gleanings I have divined my own thoughts on what is actually happening.

I believe the Assembly was first seen as a sop to the extraordinary outrage expressed by residents last summer to their original land use planning draft. It then became a useful tool to delay the entire Plan beyond the next election. And now it is being used as a distraction to keep activists busy while the meat-and-potatoes of transforming our neighbourhood into a developer’s wet dream takes place elsewhere.

It is perfectly clear to me that the detailed planning work of replacing what we have with what they want will take place well away from the Assembly and, when it is completed, a report will simply be filed with the Assembly for the comments (not approval, just comments).  I say this because Ms. Magnusson told me that the sub-area workshops (where the detailed destruction will  take place) will be handled by Planning outside the Assembly process.  That is the key.  The rug will be pulled from beneath our feet while our attention is diverted by whatever non-binding conceptual and philosophical discussions the Assembly is allowed to partake in.

This will be another fine example of Vision’s bread and circuses, faux engagement strategy — unless we keep our eyes peeled and our powder dry.


Selected earlier posts about the Community Plan:

There are many more — see “Grandview & Commercial Drive:  Community Plan” on the right hand sidebar.


Where Is It?

July 29, 2014

rose high

This beautiful rose can be found about forty feet above the sidewalk.  But where exactly?

Slowly, Slowly

July 28, 2014

It seems like an age since I posted, but I guess it is just a couple of days.

Until today, I haven’t really been able to get my head in gear, and I have spent my time reading, watching sports, and generally feeling a bit sorry for myself.  However, my mind seemed to wake up a bit today and I have actually been working, researching, making notes, and tidying up my files.  I even trimmed my new beard.  Not a bad start.

Tomorrow I will venture up the Drive, do some banking, have lunch somewhere.  I am also determined to get to the OCOP meeting tomorrow night and get back on track with finding a community alternative to the Citizens’ Assembly.  I hope a lot of you can join us for this vital conversation.

Star Grazer

July 26, 2014

Star Grazer

This image is for my wonderful daughter who, just last week, touched her first star fish.

This Sporting Life #9

July 26, 2014

With the completion of today’s Individual Time Trial, and with the exception of the almost-celebratory run into Paris tomorrow, this year’s Tour de France is now complete; and it has been a quite marvelous race.

There was a clear expectation by most observers that this year’s Tour would be a closely fought battle between Alberto Contador and Chris Froome.  However, with both of them being forced to withdraw during the first week, the “lesser lights” who normally would have been supporting their leaders were given a lot more freedom to go for stage wins and high rankings in the overall classification. This opened up the race and made for some spectacular days.

NibaliVincenzo Nibali (nearly always my second choice after Contador) has been the leader almost from the beginning and will win tomorrow by more than seven minutes; a victory thoroughly deserved.  He has looked cool and prepared on every single stage, winning a major mountaintop finish, handled the difficult cobble stage, and competing effectively in the time trial.  In hindsight, I suspect that he might well have won this year even had Froome and Contador stayed in.

Peter Sagan is such a consistently good performer that he has swamped everyone else in the green jersey (sprinters) competition without winning a single stage (though he has a chance still tomorrow morning).  In the King of the Mountains polka dot race, the young Pole Rafal Majka wins after an exciting contest. Majka reminds me that this Tour has thrown up a new crop of your riders, raiders we will be seeing at the top of the lists throughout the next decade.

Just as important, this year has been the best in a full generation for the French with their riders taking 2nd, 3rd and 6th place.  In addition, with the collapse of the Sky team this year, French team AG2R Las Mondiale will win the team competition by a wide margin.

It has been a great race — a true Grand Tour — and now we look forward to the Vuelta d’Espana later this summer which may well have the finest group of riders for many years with Contador and Froome trying to make up for their TdeF failures.  I will probably be supporting the young Colombian Nairo Quintano.


Previous This Sporting Life episodes.

Abandon the Citizens’ Assembly

July 25, 2014

We are now in the final week for those who want to participate in the Grandview-Woodland so-called Citizens’ Assembly to send in their ballots to be entered in the “lottery” for a seat.  We understand that very few residents have so far agreed to join in this mis-adventure which is not surprising.

Philip Hill is one of the many intelligent and articulate residents of our neighbourhood who have called consistently over the last year or more for an open and fully democratic process in our Community Plan exercise; the sort of process that the current Citizens’ Assembly denies us.  He has written to the appointed Chair of the Assembly explaining his refusal to take part and he has kindly given me permission to reprint his astute comments:

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the Citizen’s Assembly.  I must decline my ballot, as I cannot forfeit ten Saturdays (80 hours) of personal time to participate in this capacity.  I expect that in addition to this formal requirement another 80 hours will be required to fulfil the obligations of a Citizen’s Assembly member with tasks such as preparation, information review, report writing, and presentation preparation.

Such a commitment would be worthwhile if the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly were binding on the decision of City Council.  However, it would appear that Council has already made their decision regarding the fate of the Grandview-Woodland Community plan.  The Director of Planning’s top priority for 2015 is to complete the Grandview-Woodland Official Community Plan in the spring.  The necessary zoning changes are to be ushered through Council within the following three months.

Developers and real estate brokers gleefully tell me of the outstanding opportunity the new community plan brings.  There are potential profits or “Developer Cream” to be had in the range of 15 to 30%.  Apparently, under the direction of Council, the Planning Director and senior planners, have met with developers at various forums such as the Vancouver Board of Trade.  The purpose of these meetings was to discover how to best incorporate Council’s aspirational goals to suit developer’s needs.  The result of this effort culminated in the Emerging Directions document that caused such outrage in our community.  I suspect that once the Citizen’s Assembly process is complete the Emerging Directions document will be adopted as the official community plan without significant change.  This was the case for both Marpole and the West End.

Therefore I conclude that the Citizen’s Assembly is nothing more than an engagement exercise designed to play out active members of the Grandview-Woodland community while providing the illusion of public consultation.

The Emerging Directions concept will do the opposite to what it purports.  It will decrease affordable rents, divide neighbourhoods, kill small businesses on Commercial Drive, increase the ratio of persons per park space, and bring bland homogeneity to our community rather than vibrant diversity we presently enjoy and share with the city and region at large.

The Citizen’s Assembly is badly flawed.  It should be abandoned for a participatory community based approach such as those proposed by grass roots groups like, Our Community Our Plan and GWAC under the former direction of Jak King.  Planning staff should then generate a proposed community plan that is reflective of the wishes of the community and endorsed by the community.  The endorsed plan should bind the decision of Council.  To do less is both reprehensible and shameful.

I urge everyone in the neighbourhood to take heed of Philip’s insightful analysis and not be drawn into this faux consultation.  I urge everyone to keep in close touch with the Our Community, Our Plan group who are actively seeking a healthier and more respectful alternative.  Finally, I urge everyone to write to Mayor and Council distancing yourself from this attempt to push the developers’ vision onto our wonderful and highly successful community.

Serial Detectives

July 24, 2014

When I was a very little boy I had an uncle who was essentially bed-ridden for many years for reasons that I am still unclear about. There was no TV in those days for working class families and so my uncle used to pass the time reading.  He had an enormous collection of detective novels.  My parents used to visit him and my aunt one evening every week to play cards.  While they did that, I took my pick of his library of cheap paperbacks.  Thus it was that, before I was nine or ten, I had read everything that Agatha Christie had written.

HardBoiledDetectiveStill using my uncle’s collection, I worked my way through all of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, Simenon’s Maigret, Ellery Queen and who knows what else by the time I was in my early teens. This early background set me up on two reading habits: enjoying detective stories and reading the entire oeuvre of an author.

As time went on, I read my way through all the American “hard boiled” detective novels of Hammett, Chandler, and the odd world of Damon Runyon.  This led me to many American magazines with fabulous stories. Later, I discovered the queen of detective writers, P.D. James, and swallowed everything whole.  Since then, I have devoured the entire body of work by Vancouver’s own Laurence Gough, and the impeccable Aurelio Zen series by the late Michael Dibdin, and who knows how many more.

I have also, of course, watched endless detective series on TV, including the Jack Frost and Rebus series.  Which is the catalyst for this post, really.

One of the advantages of spending time in hospital is the opportunity to just lay back and read. On this occasion, I had a few books by Ian Rankin to get through.  Rankin is the author of the Inspector Rebus series about an unconventional police detective in Edinburgh.  I had seen all of the TV episodes featuring the cop but had not read any of the novels.

I enjoyed the books though I wouldn’t put them up there with the best.  What was interesting to me was that throughout the two novels (and a collection of short stories), I kept seeing the English Inspector Jack Frost acting out the character rather than the very Scottish Rebus.  Once again, I haven’t read any of R.D. Wingfield’s Frost novels but I have seen all 42 TV episodes, often more than once.  I am not in any way suggesting anything untoward in Rankin’s writing (copying Wingfield, for instance) but that the characters are just so similar.

I’m not sure I’ll complete the entire Rankin series, at least not yet.


Fog At Sunset

July 22, 2014

Fog at Sunset_web

Fun and Games With Nukes

July 22, 2014

Deliberately breathing in a radioactive mist and then looking at the pretty pictures the airflow makes in one’s lungs sounds like something libertines might try at some fin-de-siecle drunken bash.  But that is just one of the tests I undertook during my recent stay in hospital. Then, to add to the jollity, they inject more radioactive material into your veins and watch the blood flow.  On each occasion you have to lie in an awkward position for 15 minutes while the scanning machine moves slowly around your chest.

Modern medicine is a marvelous but sometimes scary business.

Not Quite Dead Yet

July 21, 2014

It has been eight days since I last posted.  I was taken to hospital for an emergency on July 14th and have returned just a few minutes ago.

All of these days I have been without internet, email, radio, most TV and newspapers: I am therefore very behind and will take some time to catch up; catching up with 1,323 emails for example and a few dozen Twitter DMs and notes to my posts will take a day or two, so please bear with me if you are looking for a response.

I am out of hospital, but not yet available for weddings and bar mitzvahs — hopefully soon!

OCOP On Radio

July 14, 2014

Zool Suleman of the Our Community, Our Plan group will be on CBC Radio’s Early Edition at 6:40 tomorrow morning to talk about the current state of the GW Community Plan process.

Expanding The Drive Redux

July 11, 2014

In February 2013, I attended the GW Community Plan workshop on Transportation.  I had an idea then about expanding Commercial Drive’s retail footprint, which I wrote about at the time.  As we are still talking about the neighbourhood Plan, perhaps this is a good time to replay this golden oldie

* * * * *

During the Walking session, many people agreed that the lanes are a vital part of Grandview’s walkability profile; that they provide both shortcuts and a different perspective.  It was generally agreed that they would be even better if they were better maintained and tidied up.

In the session on Commercial Streets — which for us means Commercial Drive and East Hastings Street — I managed to put forward an idea I have been pondering for a while:  that the retail area of Commercial Drive be expanded into the lanes on either side of the main street. This would increase the business area thus making available a broader selection of shops and services, it would allow owners of many businesses on the Drive to increase the density of their properties without altering the current Commercial Drive streetscape, and would bring even more diversity and interest to the Drive.

Obviously this wouldn’t work along the whole length of the Drive, but there are blocks where the Commercial Drive side of the back lanes are not filled with buildings and could accommodate a lively trade.  Also obviously, this will take some serious adjustments to the current zoning, and an acceptance by both merchants and residential owners backing on to the lanes.  But this might provide a creative solution to densification desired by the BIA without damage to an important heritage street.

The idea seemed to be welcomed by quite a few at the workshop, so maybe it is worth talking about.

Beach: Post

July 10, 2014


“Beach:  Post”  (9/2008), TIFF, 16″ x 20″

Select image for a better view.

Meeting With Citizens’ Assembly Chair

July 10, 2014

I had a long and useful meeting with Rachel Magnusson, chair of the GW Citizen’s Assembly over lunch yesterday. My general impression is that she is beginning to understand the complexity of the job to be done, and that she has finally caught up on much of the history of opposition  to the Plan.  She seems genuine and appears to want to do the best she can.

I told her that I wasn’t going to spend more time in existential angst over the format of the Assembly; I don’t like what we have, but I recognize it is what we have and no changes to the overall design will be forthcoming in the near future.  I explained that I thought the only way forward now was political, and that I will be spending the next few months trying to change the makeup of the City Council in the expectation that the Plan process could still be turned around at that point, given the extensive delays to date. In the meantime, I will watch the evolution of the Assembly with enormous interest and if it can be made better than it is right now, then I will be happy to help.

We had a long and, I think, productive discussion on how dissenting opinions would be heard by the Assembly.  My opening opinion was that if it is like the five minutes we get to “talk” with City Council post facto on major issues, then it will be worse than useless.  There ought to be proper debate about alternatives. She agreed, and we put together the beginnings of a list of “non-establishment” people who should be invited to talk with the Assembly (Condon, Wozny, Villegaz, Sarkissian, Murphy, etc)

I stressed the need for data-based evidence behind the Planners’  density and population requirements, noting that the obvious arbitrariness of the 2013 land-use density plan had caused immense mistrust.  We need to be shown why our neighbourhood needs to change before we start discussing the how of the change.

I asked what was to be the relationship of the Assembly to the sub-areas and the relevant land-use workshops.  That appeared to be a tricky question for Rachel and she was reluctant to go into details.  However, she suggested that the Planners would be conducting the sub-area workshops separately and apart from the Assembly.  The Assembly would be dealing with matters of a higher-plane apparently (concepts, that sort of thing). Results from the sub-area workshops would be fed back into the Assembly by the Planners.

That was exactly as I had feared and I told her my own opinion was that I wouldn’t trust the Planners to manage the sub-area workshops without some Assembly oversight; that I feared their “workshops” would be Open Houses on their favoured plan with yellow stickies for comments.  This led to a good discussion on workshop types (I quite like the world café style) and the use of multiple options for debate rather than just a single imposed “choice.”

We discussed the Assembly’s Final Report, and the requirement that City Council must formally receive it, along with any Minority Reports that may come out of the Assembly. This is to avoid the Assembly’s recommendations being buried somewhere within the depths of a Planner’s Final Report.  She seemed to think that was OK.

She asked whether I thought there were any major blank spots in the Community Plan’s coverage.  I mentioned the development of the Venables Greenway as an area that needs looking at; and the area west of Commercial, the low-rise apartment zone that is left out of the plan altogether, and which will simply be renovicted wholesale in the next ten years or so.  This is Grandview’s affordable district, but it won’t be for long unless we get imaginative and somehow incentivize the property owners to renovate and improve without gentrifying the rents and displacing the current residents.  Somebody must have some ideas.

In wider terms, we discussed the potential re-establishment of local planning advisory bodies (along the lines of the existing Community Visions Committees in some neighbourhoods) and perhaps an independent city-funded Office of Neighbourhood Engagement.

I asked her to suggest to Planning that publication of the revised $275,000 budget would help ease the mistrust that hangs over the process today.  She said she would see what she could do.

I didn’t get the impression that anything dramatic was going to happen in the next short while.  The “invitation” deadline is July 31st, and then they have to play the lottery, so it will be sometime in August before the make up of the Assembly is known,  In the meanwhile, she said they are working on drafting agendas for the learning sessions.  She said, they are also trying to meet as many people and groups as possible (such as this lunch) to sound out opinions.

It was a worthwhile meeting, though I have to say that these kind of sounding-out meetings would have been a lot more valuable earlier this year before the Terms of Reference were imposed on us.  Perhaps at that time we could have made the adjustments necessary to get more of us onside.  Now, these sessions seem more like a belated attempt to reach out to the oppositional elements in the neighbourhood, to explain past decisions that will not be altered rather than to find common ground.

As I made claer to the Chair, if there is any way I can help make the Assembly better than it is today, I will.  But I am still of the opinion that politics is the key, and the primary aim must be to ensure the current Vision administration is reduced to a mimority (at best) after the November elections, and that a majority of newly elected Councilors will insist on a better more democratic and a more community-based conclusion to this exercise.

Good Scents

July 8, 2014

About half an hour ago I was waiting for a bus at First & Commercial.  The sun was beating down and even with my summer hat, I was feeling as if I might melt into the sidewalk. I noticed that AAA Produce had their awning down and there was a dark cool space where the shadow lay.  I walked over and stood relaxing in the dark coolness.

Suddenly I noticed that I was standing in a pool of delicious, delightful smells coming up and surrounding me from the peaches, nectarines, watermelons, mangos, apricots, apples, pears, melons, pineapples, grapefruit and oranges on display.

Boy, that was a splendid moment.

Why Has The Kettle Gone Off The Boil

July 8, 2014

One of the most egregious problems with last summer’s City of Vancouver’s Emerging Directions document for the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan was the proposal for a 12-15 storey tower at Commercial & Venables.

AstorinosMost residents are strongly opposed to having a high-rise tower so inappropriately positioned in our neighbourhood, especially as there is a dearth of transit for the new residents to use.  In addition, many of us consider the Astorino’s building — site of the horrendous tower — to be of major cultural significance to the Italian community and others.

The proposal first came up at a GWAC meeting way back in February 2012 and was pushed prominently during last summer.  When it became clear in September 2013 that the GW Community Plan was to be delayed for a year, Nancy Keogh of the Kettle was almost in tears, pleading with City Council to allow their project to go forward. It would be a disaster for the agency if there was any delay, she said.  And City Council agreed, allowing them to fast-track the proposal outside the Community Plan.

However, the opposition to the Plan in general and the Boffo building in particular remained high and vocal.  So, suddenly, the developers and the Kettle have decided that urgency is no longer an issue, that they would prefer to wait until after the election in November in the hope that their pals, Vision Vancouver, will sweep back to power and allow Boffo to do whatever they like, regardless of residents’ opinion.

On Twitter, the Kettle’s only supporter for the tower keeps insisting, without any evidence, that my claims about residents’ opposition are untrue.  Fair enough to have that opinion.  However, every time I suggest they put on a public debate to discuss the tower, he disappears and has no answer.  Why?  They know perfectly well that a public meeting would end up criticizing the tower out of existence; and they are scared of that public reaction.  They would much prefer to hide behind Vision’s skirts and keep their fingers crossed that their buddies will see them through.

I call again on Boffo and the Kettle to convene a public meeting to discuss their tower proposal.  If they think it is such a great idea, come sell it to us.