I am old enough to remember when there was a video rental store on every street in virtually every city, town and village. Now, they are nearly all gone.
I mention this having just read a newsletter from Black Dog Video, 1470 Commercial, announcing that they too will be closing after more than 16 years on the Drive, driven away by high rents and competition from streaming services.
To be honest, I am one of the reasons they are closing — it is a very long time since I rented a video, content to consume my movies through the internet and the streamers. However, it is always a shame to lose a long-established business from the Drive and I am sure they will be missed by their loyal clients.
It’s an election year in Vancouver, so we can expect a steady stream of announcements from City Hall showing how well the administration is managing your tax dollars. These are usually delivered in the form of small local improvements or planning exercises. And sometimes they are used to take peoples’ minds off more important matters such as housing affordability, the opioid crisis, money laundering, and the developers’ hold over City business.
So, it was in this rather cynical frame of mind that I read two such announcements from this week.
The first was about the distribution of $2 million in grants to groups — such as the BIA and the Kettle — to help with street cleaning functions using homeless folks. Hard to argue with the utility of that, and it helps employ some of the Kettle’s neediest clients.
The second item involves the beginning of a four-year plan to upgrade the City’s 44,000 street lights, many of which are old and faulty. There is now an app you can use to report lights that are not working.
Much of the talk among my local group when this was announced was about replacing the current lights with ones that dim or switch off when not needed. It was noted that the energy savings alone should be enough to cover the costs of the relevant sensors.
Regular readers will recall that we have been tracking the issues with the Alma Blackwell housing project on Adanac Street. We began last September with the Killing of Alma Blackwell, and followed up with a couple of updates here and here.
I have stayed in touch with the residents in the project, and they are still anxious and concerned about the future of the building and, of course, their own ability to stay in their preferred affordable housing. They have written letters to their housing society and both civic and provincial officials but have yet to receive the assurances they need.
Their latest attempt to bring their problems to public attention has been a useful piece on Global TV News this week which helps explain the community the long-term residents feel for the property:
“I’ve lived in co-ops before, this was the closest I could get to that — being in a community, neighbours helping each other — thinking about not being here is pretty hard.”
BC Housing Minister David Eby assures residents they will have the opportunity to return to the site once it is redeveloped “under the new rent rates.” That is hardly any consolation when “the rent is expected to increase by more than double for some tenants — from $1,600 for a three-bedroom unit to $3,250.”
When and if this re-development moves ahead at City Council, I hope our wider Grandview community will speak up for these women and their families, and help them retain what has become one of a disappearingly small number of successful and affordable spaces in our neighbourhood.
During yesterday afternoon, a group of about twenty anti-vaccination louts invaded the JJ Bean outlet at 2206 Commercial Drive, refused to wear masks inside the coffee shop and harassed the staff. Police were called and five protesters were arrested for trespassing.
Staff believe the harassment was targeted and will happen again.
The modernist extrusion onto the Drive known as 1510 Commercial, presently containing a restaurant, the liquor store, a gym, and offices, has been purchased by Fabric Living for $24,150,000.
Originally built and opened in 1973, the primary tenant was a Toronto-Dominion Bank branch until 1982. It now includes “a 38,000 sq.ft. multi-tenant retail / office building with underground parking” but the company’s literature emphasizes the “future development potential” of this “strategic” corner lot that — redeveloped — would offer “exceptional views of Downtown Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains and the Burrard Inlet” for the expensive suites above retail.
At the meeting on 8th December (next Wednesday), Vancouver City Council will decide whether or not to approve the Commercial Drive Business Society as the local BIA for another seven years, beginning next March. They will also approve (or not) the BIA’s budget of $5.6 million for that same period — a budget essentially paid for by a levy on local business and property owners in the Commercial Drive area.
If you have any comments on this motion, contact City Hall, referencing RTS 14725 by next Tuesday.
In the early 1980s, a small group of women decided they needed a safe affordable place to live and to develop a community for women and their children. To achieve their ends, they established a Housing Society called “Entre Nous Femmes” which eventually built and developed the 46-unit Alma Blackwell housing project at 1656 Adanac Street, named after the grandmother of one of the group’s founders.
Alma Blackwell rapidly became the community the founders hoped for. Many women in need and their children lived in the housing project, often for decades. It has continued to thrive as a community and its success created the ability for the Housing Society to build more and more similar projects until today, ENF has eleven buildings in Vancouver.
Although not legally structured as a co-op, the ENF project operated within that milieu: the residents helped build and maintain the buildings, and controlled the Society. However, as the years passed, the governance became more and more removed from the residents, more distant, until today the residents are not only not allowed to be directors of the society, and are routinely refused access to the Society’s minutes, they even find it difficult to find out who is a director of their Society.
That change in governance has been matched by the recent unwillingness of the Society to maintain the property in a fit and livable manner. Moreover, a number of vacancies have occurred over the last couple of years which the Society has seen fit not to fill — even while the City suffers its worst ever housing crisis. This led to suspicions that something big was afoot — but the Society would not explain to the residents except to suggest that the Society did not have the funds needed to keep the building in good repair. When asked for details of the repair costs, the Society refused to respond to residents’ requests.
In April this year, Vancouver City Council approved a motion that doubled the height of buildings allowed in certain zones, including the RM-3A zone in which Alma Blackwell sits. Almost immediately thereafter, plans to demolish Alma Blackwell and replace it with a much larger building were bruited and the residents were given, by a consultant hired by the Society, an unofficial official eviction notice.
Since that time, the Society has essentially refused to speak with the residents except to pressure several of them to accept relocation to other facilities. The Society has no formal Tenant Relocation Plan, is not offering any compensation, and in at least one case offered a resident a mere 24 hours to decide whether she and her child would move from the their decades-long home and move to another building, the details of which were not disclosed.
This story, and plenty of others, were movingly told by Alma Blackwell residents at last night’s Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) meeting. All the talk was about how great a community had been fostered at Alma Blackwell; people have lived there long enough to have children and grandchildren. They are a close-knit family-like community with good and close ties to the rest of the neighbourhood. Many of the residents are teachers at Britannia.
It seemed a unanimous opinion of the large gathering at the meeting that it is simply ridiculous to destroy a perfectly good low-income community just to build a larger facility that will have to start from scratch once again after a gap of who-knows-how-many years. It is pointless from a neighbourhood point of view, and it is highly destructive to the current residents, families who have spent years developing and nurturing that community.
Councillor Jean Swanson attended the meeting and will be asking a number of questions of staff. However, she was pessimistic about the chances of reversing the course of this development, given the current majority on Council and the previously-approved zoning adjustment. No matter. The wider Grandview community needs to speak up about this, and I hope we can speak so loudly that we cannot be ignored.
I happen to think that a free and accessible public library system is one of the highpoints of modern life. But did you know that more than 70,000 Vancouverites are blocked from using our fabulous library and its services because they have outstanding fines exceeding $10? And that most of those 70,000 live in DTES, Strathcona, and Grandview?
Starting on Monday 14th June, and for two weeks thereafter, VPL will clear any outstanding fines and reactivate your library card—available to anyone, for any reason:
We want to offer people a fresh start by removing fines and fees from their library card. Fines create negative experiences for both our community and staff, and discourage individuals and families from using the library. By removing outstanding fines on Vancouver Public Library cards, we hope to reconnect people with their library and the collections and services they love and need to succeed.
People wanting to take advantage of this offer should go to their local branch, or go online to vpl.ca/finefree, or call 604.331.3670
I attended the GWAC ZOOM meeting last night which featured a long discussion about Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) in general and the new building at 1580 Vernon in particular.
The meeting began with an overview of TMH in Vancouver by Steve Bohus. It was a very useful review and was applauded by Lisa Jimenez, a CoV planner.
The meeting was then turned over to Julie Roberts and Robbie Moza of Community Buildings Group (CBG) who are in charge of operating the new building which is scheduled to open in July. CBG operates a number of low-barrier homeless shelters in Vancouver, along with two TMH projects, one in Marpole which has operated very successfully for three years, and another at Naomi House which opened earlier this year.
The new TMH at 1580 Vernon will include 98 housing units, along with a community kitchen, common areas, and office space. Each of the housing units is roughly 250 sq.ft. and includes a private bathroom and a small kitchen area. Ms. Roberts played a short but enlightening video of the TMH at Naomi House which illustrated the kind of housing units that will be available.
CHG is currently working with BC Housing to select the first tenants who will be offered space at Vernon. There is an attempt to prioritize local homeless.
CHG also creates what they call a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) from the local residential community. The CAC is designed to help integrate the TMH within the local neighbourhood. In the case of 1580 Vernon, there are no residences within three blocks of the building and so the CAC will probably be peopled by the businesses that are close by.
CHG noted that there were significant community concerns before the Marpole before the TMH was opened. However, after three years of operation, there now seems to be good acceptance of the building and its residents.
I found the presentation and the discussion to be extremely valuable. I have been a strong supporter of this development, and the proposal for 1st and Clark, and I hope that this presentation helped soothed some of the concerns people may have.
It was good to see CoV Planning and BC Housing staff, along with Councillor Jean Swanson and two BIA executives, join in with the GWAC meeting.
Two of the Drive’s most colourful characters are now both lost to us.
Frank, on the right, and Danse, on the left, have been habitueès of the Drive for as long as I can recall, sometimes carving wood and sometimes just begging. They had several pitches but most of the time they had a spot outside Home Hardware at Graveley.
I found them a cheerful pair, always willing to chat. Danse could be a bit loud on the bus, but in a happy way; proudly announcing with his big grin that no-one had to bow to him as he passed.
A few years ago, they moved back to small-town Alberta, which they hated, and they soon returned to the friendlier streets of Grandview. Their support network included folks at Home Hardware, Tim Horton’s, and the Dime, and I suspect many others too.
Now, they are both gone. Frank died a few weeks ago and I heard this week that Danse had died in intensive care on 27 May. They will be missed.
I understand that their sister is coming up from San Diego for a celebration of their lives on 20 June in Grandview Park. I also hear that Home Hardware will be erecting a plaque in their memory on their wall.
After an evening of speakers last night, and an afternoon of debate and amendments this afternoon, Vancouver City Council passed the BIA-sponsored motion entitled “Prioritizing Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First High Street.”
This is a plan that — through the midwifery of Councilors Fry and DeGenova — comes fully formed from the Commercial Drive Business Society (the BIA) without any consultation with groups such as GWAC, Britannia, or any others except the Italian Cultural Centre, and it must be viewed in that context: It is designed to meet the BIA Board’s view of what businesses want, and to meet certain of their specific goals.
That being said, in my opinion it has some really good things in it; policies I support and have encouraged for years — a pedestrians-first agenda, slow streets, sidewalk widening and improvements, a better matching of the southern half of the Drive with the northern half.
It also includes some things — such as “maintaining and improving” parking on the Drive — that give me serious pause.
More generally, I have some concerns that the further gentrification of the Drive — and let us make no mistake, that is what this will be — could have significant and negative effects on the poor, troubled, and often homeless folks who live and spend their time in and around the Drive. Councilor Swanson voted against major parts of this Motion for the same reason.
But the Motion passed, so what does it actually mean? Very little in my opinion. There is no budget at Planning or Engineering for any work on the plan to move ahead: that was made very clear during the Council debate. An amendment to the Motion seeks funding in a future capital plan, but that can only be considered as wishful thinking at this point. I assume that lack of funding will also prohibit the kind of extensive consultations that are suggested by the Motion. So, we stay the way we are.
And that, believe it or not, meets one of the BIA’s most important goals — to defeat or substantially delay any plan to put a segregated bike lane anywhere on the Drive (as suggested, for example, in the Climate Emergency Action Plan approved recently by Council). Some might say that was the major goal of the exercise from the beginning. As was to be expected, Councilor Boyle made a number of amendments to get a bike lane included, but each was voted down, to the relief of the Motion’s sponsors. I have no dog in that particular fight.
I am hoping that the BIA will take this opportunity of a public debate to widen their engagement with groups and individuals in the neighbourhood. They fight hard to protect the parking that they believe encourages visitors from other neighbourhoods to come to the Drive. They need to fight just as hard to include the residents of Grandview in their plans. It is we, after all, who, day in and day out, provide most of the revenue to their businesses and make the Drive the lively and wonderful place it is.
The bad news is that Vancouver Coastal Health have declared Grandview (and a few other neighbourhoods) as a covid-19 hotspot.
The good news is that those 30-years old and up in the ‘hood can now apply for an appointment to get a vaccine.
VCH will be opening a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Killarney Community Centre (6260 Killarney Street) and from May 8 to 14, 17 to 21 and 25 to 28 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Vaccinations will be provided by appointment only.
All B.C. residents 18 years of age and older (born in 2003 or earlier) are encouraged to register now through the provincial Get Vaccinated website, call centre (1-833-838-2323) or in person at a Service B.C. office. Translation services are available through the call centre.
Following registration, residents will be notified by phone, email or text message as soon as they are eligible to book a vaccine appointment.
I encourage everyone to register and get vaccinated as soon as possible.
As of today, roads in the section of Grandview bounded by Clark Drive, Grandview Highway, Commercial Drive, and First Avenue have a new speed limit of just 30 km/h, down from the city default on local streets of 50 km/h. This is a trial for what many hope will become a more widespread change in traffic habits in Vancouver.
As the City’s press release states: “Slower motor vehicle speeds dramatically improve safety for people walking and cycling. According to studies completed by the World Health Organization, higher speeds equal higher probability of fatality. For example, when a vehicle hits a pedestrian at 30 km/h the probability of fatality is 15%. The probability of a fatality increases to 50% when the speed is 50 km/h.”
In July 2020, Council approved the creation of the slow zone pilot within the Grandview Woodland neighbourhood. The area was identified by staff as the top-ranked neighbourhood based on: speed, collisions, vulnerable populations, and community amenities (we have so few of these last listed, I’m guessing).
I am all for this. I hope the trial is deemed a success and the slow zone is extended throughout the non-arterial streets in our neighbourhood.
The Vancouver Library system is seeking a budget increase of $625,000 from City Council to offset unpaid fines. There are apparently 70,000 (!) Vancouver residents unable to use the library because they owe $10 or more in fines. The library would like to forgive those fines but need help to do so. And a great many of them are here in Grandview:
[P]eople with lower incomes depend on libraries for access to computers to participate in public consultations related to civic affairs. Yet libraries were mostly closed this year during the feedback phase of the city’s 2021 operating budget. “Council may not have heard these voices,” de Castell said.
“Library staff have been hearing about the barriers of fines for many years ever since we started asking why people didn’t use the library.” She heard from community librarians that reasons for inactivity are related to fear that a patron couldn’t afford to pay a fine, if a book or library materials were returned late. “When it’s a choice between $10 for food or rent, or $10 to pay back library fines, it’s not a choice,” de Castell said.
There was a very interesting and well-attended ZOOM meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) last night. Most of the meeting was concerned with the concerns of the BIA and its members over security and safety concerns on the Drive.
The BIA and some merchants discussed what they see as ever-increasing numbers of “aggressive” pan-handlers, open drug and alcohol use, homeless people sleeping in shop doorways and on the street, illegal vending, and general lawlessness. They say the problem is now “critical”. There is no doubt about their concern, even though the statistics given at the meeting from the Community Policing Office for early October would indicate that Grandview suffered a tiny number of serious crimes; far fewer than most other neighbourhoods.
They are calling for significantly increased police, by-law officer, and Park Ranger patrols.
The most shocking claim was that Grandview Park — the central hub of the Drive — has been “abandoned” by the City and is now considered a “no go” area for police and Rangers.
There has been no official discussion about that, so far as I know, and I was rather surprised to hear it. I go by and through the Park most days and I don’t see a lot of change; it has been a daytime gathering place — and informal marketplace — for homeless and poor people for a very long time. There were a few tents a little while ago but that was settled by Rangers and offers of housing by a Kettle outreach worker. Perhaps the issues of violence and intimidation happen in the evenings when I rarely visit.
It would be good to hear an official police view on the status of the Park.
Other than increased police patrols, the BIA is proposing to convene a stakeholders’ group to discuss what demands they should present to Council for an improvement in the overall situation. They recognize that many of the issues are mental health related and they are keen to involve agencies of all kinds with the proposed group to ensure that a well-rounded approach is taken.
On other matters, the BIA estimated that local restaurants, bars, etc., have lost 50-75% of revenues due to covid and covid-related restrictions this year, while general retailing has fallen by 30-50% in the same period. They are concerned that any move to shut down non-essential businesses will create a cascading level of closures on the Drive.