The Killing of Alma Blackwell

September 14, 2021

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.


Last Day for Poke on the Drive

June 14, 2021

Poke 5, at 2247 Commercial, is closing for good tomorrow night.

They were here for about three years and I never tried them, to be honest. They blame the pandemic for the closure.

It is unfortunate they are closing now just while other veterans and new places are beginning to re-open on the Drive.


Library Fines Forgiven!

June 12, 2021

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


GWAC and TMH: A Report

June 8, 2021

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.


R.I.P. Frank & Danse

June 5, 2021

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.


Another Future For The Drive?

May 27, 2021

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.”

Rather than me try to summarize, the original Motion can be found at Motion – Prioritizing Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First High Street – May 18, 2021 (vancouver.ca) The final Motion approved was slightly different (the exact wording probably won’t be available to me for a few days) but the essentials are the same.

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.


Good News, and Bad

May 10, 2021

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.


Grandview Launches the Slow Zone

March 3, 2021

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.


So Who Has All The Books?

December 1, 2020

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:

The city’s chief librarian, Christina de Castell said:

[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.


Update on Grandview Park

November 4, 2020

Further to merchants’ claims and my blog post of yesterday regarding the security status of Grandview Park, I have received the following response from Supt. Michelle Davey of the VPD:


Is Grandview Park a “No Go” Area?

November 3, 2020

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.


Covid-19 Warning for Commercial Drive

September 29, 2020

This afternoon, according to Vancouver is Awesome, Vancouver Coastal Health issued a warning for patrons of the ABRUZZO Cappuccino bar at 1321 Commercial.

The incident occurred between 23 September and 26 September, between 1pm and 3pm.  Anyone who was in the cafe at those times should self-isolate for two weeks.


Grandview in Their Sights Again

September 28, 2020

Thanks to the ever-watchful CityHallWatch, we know that tomorrow’s City Council session (Tuesday 29th) includes a Motion supporting a new Kettle development at Commercial & Adanac.  There are few details about the design of the proposed development, but I am sure that if it is a 3- or 4-storey residential/drop in centre on the current parking lot, it will be welcomed by the neighbourhood.

However, the whole agenda may be thrown off-schedule by an attempt by the Mayor to piggyback his “Making Homes” 6-plex on a lot idea as an amendment to Councillor Dominato’s Motion expanding the failing and misnamed Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Project citywide. The arguments can be complicated by arcane procedural requirements and once again CityHallWatch has done the hard work of deconstructing what this is all about. They start with Dominato’s Motion:

  • “If the idea is approved, it would mean that out-of-scale apartment buildings with multiple dwelling units, without onsite parking, could be built anywhere in Vancouver.
  • Housing options should be determined through neighbourhood-based planning through the comprehensive Vancouver Plan. Not through random spot rezonings, which would create major precedents everywhere.
  • Spot rezoning do the opposite of creating order and certainty. They create uncertainty for the community and developers, and undermine local area community plans or visions.
  • Options for strata ownership will inflate land values and undermine rental incentives.
  • Increased development pressures cause more displacement, demolition of character houses, and loss of existing affordable housing and suites.
  • The MIRHPP program already sets major precedents with applications for developments that are too large for their surroundings. The MIRHPP program should be cancelled. Not expanded for even larger buildings.
  • Former CityPlan demonstration projects (referred to in the motion) were only for housing types and locations approved in each Community Vision and only for one project per neighbourhood. The text of the motion actually gets that wrong.”

Mayor Stewart’s amendment to allow multi-plex lots citywide:

“would undermine character retention and rental incentives while increasing development pressures leading to demolition of existing homes and displacement of current residents … his proposal risks inflating land values, therefore making things less affordable overall.”

The Dominato Motion and the Stewart Amendment are opposed by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods.


Community Policing Office is Hiring

September 18, 2020

 

The Grandview-Woodland Community Policing Center is looking for a part-time volunteer coordinator.

The Grandview-Woodland Community Policing Centre is dedicated to providing crime prevention assistance and education to the Commercial Drive corridor and surrounding area.  Reporting to the Executive Director, the primary role of a volunteer coordinator is to recruit, train, and schedule and oversee the work for our volunteers.  Do you have a passion for helping others, enjoy working in a team environment, and looking for a flexible schedule?

Email us your resume today at recruitment@gwcpc.ca


Development at Charles & Nanaimo

September 9, 2020

The latest proposed development that seeks to break free of the few restraints imposed on developers by the Grandview Community Plan is for a 6-storey apartment building at Charles & Nanaimo in a zone that is supposed to have a maximum of four storeys.

In addition, as the local Friends of Nanaimo Group notes:

“The Plan required that Nanaimo redevelopment occur only where it backed onto north-south alleys to limit intrusion into the neighbourhood. The new 6-storey proposal for Charles and Nanaimo does not back onto a north-south alley. The entrance/exit for vehicles in the square block spot rezoning is the east-west alley. On the west side, this alley ends at Lord Nelson School’s front door.”

The Friends report that the Urban Design Panel reviewed the Charles Street proposal and expressed “sufficient concern” that the developers had to revise their proposal.  However, even after the revision, the proposal kept its relative mass and height, and City Planning appears to be encouraging this enterprise.

Now, the Friends suddenly learn, the final decision by City Council will be made after a public hearing on September 15th, 2020.

Here is what you can do to help prevent this new attack on what we reluctantly agreed to in the Community Plan. Register either online or by phone (604-829-4238) to speak at the Public Hearing. You may speak either on the phone or in person. The registration deadline is 5:30 p.m., the same day as the hearing, September 15th, 2020.

Or you can send a comment directly to the Mayor and Councillors at https://vancouver.ca/your-government/contact-council.aspx.


Slow Streets

September 7, 2020

Some of Grandview’s streets are part of a small network called slow streets where traffic calming measures are in place to encourage walking and cycling.

City Council has asked staff to reallocate up to 11 per cent of Vancouver roadways for things like slow streets; therefore, the City of Vancouver wants to hear from residents about this initiative.

They would like residents to complete the slow streets survey.

“We’re trying to get feedback on them, kind of how they’re going, what they’re seeing out on the streets, are they working for them, are there improvements they’d like to see?” said Paul Storer, director of transportation for Vancouver. “Did we miss some streets that really should be identified? That’s going to inform some of what comes next.”

Storer said the biggest complaint about the slow streets so far is that there is still too much vehicle traffic on them. This month staff will add more signs and barriers to try to further reduce traffic.


Havana Closes Temporarily

September 2, 2020

The always popular Havana Restaurant at 1212 Commercial has closed for a while as they deal with an employee testing positive for covid-19.

After hearing from the staff member on Monday, the restaurant voluntarily closed. No re-opening date has been announced at this time.


Coming Soon — the Britannia Library!

July 3, 2020

It was announced today that Britannia will be one of the five branches that Vancouver Public Library system will re-open on July 14th. Hooray!

The other four are the Central Library, Kits, Renfrew, and South Hill; and several other branches will be opened for take-out service only.

It seems to have been a long time since March 16.


Eric Phillips: Neighbourhood Treasure

May 6, 2020

In Japan, they designate a select number of senior craftspeople and artisans as Living National Treasures (人間国宝 Ningen Kokuhō.)  Those so honoured are treated with great deference and this indicates the respect that they have earned in their lifetimes in their particular fields.

In that light, I want to suggest that Eric Phillips be honoured as one of Grandview’s Living Treasures.

I know Eric as an enthusiastic member and organizer of the Grandview Heritage Group, the Grandview Gardening Club, and the Britannia Neighbours. He is also a keen member of an historic car club. In each of these endeavours, he is the first to put up his hand when volunteers are needed, and he puts in the hours needed to satisfy every request. Eric is a man of seemingly Herculean strength, always willing to take on the heavy lifting for an event and doing it with a smile. Moreover, he is keen and eager to share the knowledge that he has.

Outside these organized groups, Eric is known by his friends and neighbours as a man who will help with even the most major repairs and restorations to houses and streetscapes.  And beyond all this he still finds the time and energy to assist his disabled brother.

A generous and kind man, in the years that I have known him I have never heard Eric say a harsh word to or about anyone.  He is truly a man one can look up to as an example of how a good community-based life can be lived.

I was triggered to write this by the erection of a plaque celebrating Eric’s lovely house.

 

Select image for a better view.


Water Restrictions Begin Today

May 1, 2020

Being in lockdown against the virus is no reason to forget our other obligations.  Thanks to City Hall Watch for reminding us that summertime water restrictions are now in place:

Water usage restrictions in Vancouver have come into effect on May 1st. These restrictions will last until October 15th.

Stage 1 of the restrictions limits lawn watering to Wednesday and Saturday (4am – 9am) for even-numbered addresses, while addresses with odd numbers can be watered on Thursday and Sunday, again from 4am to 9am. Watering lawns outside of these hours is not permitted and subject to a $250 fine as stated in the ticket offences bylaw for Phase 1.

The City may move to more restrictive water usage stages (Stage 2, Stage 3 and Stage 4) where fines increase to $500, $750 and $1000 respectively. A chart showing water reservoir levels over the last 4 years is available on MetroVancouver.org.