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Vision rides high as Vancouverites fume

This year in Vancouver politics presents us with a paradox. While the pushback by citizens through protests and litigation aimed at the ruling party and its bureaucrats has been unprecedented, Vision’s popularity persists.
Facing lawsuits, community centre revolt and a bike path backlash, the Vision Vancouver dominated park board had a historic and contentious 2013.

This year in Vancouver politics presents us with a paradox. While the pushback by citizens through protests and litigation aimed at the ruling party and its bureaucrats has been unprecedented, Vision’s popularity persists.

The Courier chose the park board’s contentious year battling with various community groups as our Newsmaker of the Year. In fact, a number of departments from park board to planning to police managed to tick people off.

Just look at the unusual number of citizen-driven court actions. Most recently the West End Neighbours petitioned the B.C. Supreme Court out of frustration with the city’s seemingly arbitrary spot zoning and handing out of benefits to create vaguely defined “affordable rental housing.”

That petition forced Vision to be more transparent.

Court action caused the Vision park board to pull back on the reins too. First, there was an injunction granted to halt their actions to eliminate a number of community centre volunteer boards who won’t go along with plans to enforce a new joint operating agreement. It would strip them of much of their independence and pool all community centre revenues.

Even those community centre boards negotiating with the park board are complaining that too much of the discussion is still dominated by threats from the board about seemingly arbitrary deadlines for decision making.

A second court action involves another ill-thought-out decision by the park board to carve a 12-foot-wide bike path through Hadden Park and Kits Beach. It seems that when Harry Hadden bequeathed the land to the board back in 1928 he had a covenant placed on it that it be maintained “as near as possible in its present state of nature.” That was enough for the Supreme Court of B.C. to support objections from residents and issue a temporary injunction on the park board’s plans.

There was no court case against the Vancouver Police Department about the inordinate number of tickets for minor offences being handed out in the Downtown Eastside. But Pivot Legal Society did take that matter to the police board chaired by Mayor Gregor Robertson, only to have it dismissed.

Pivot had more success when it appealed to Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe. This month Lowe chastised the police and the board asked them to develop a policy more in line with the Missing Women’s task force recommendation and reduce the number of tickets, which cause an unnecessary burden on our most vulnerable citizens.

The issue I spilled much ink on this year was the clumsy attempt by the planning department to impose its will when developing community plans for the West End, Marpole, Grandview-Woodland and the Downtown Eastside.

The most vociferous resistance came from Grandview-Woodland and Marpole, both saying that stuff turned up in the plans that was never talked about during the so-called consultation with city staff. The city agreed to defer deadlines for all but the West End plan. And the battles aren’t over yet.

Finally there is the standoff with the Ming Sun Benevolent Society. It is the latest in citizen appeals including the Waldorf Hotel, The Ridge and The Hollywood to save a heritage buildings. The society is made up of a group of seniors of Chinese descent who have happily occupied their modest but historic building on East Pender for decades.

They rented a few rooms at below welfare rates to needy folks and some artists until the building was damaged by a crew contracted by the city to demolish an adjacent building. The city ordered their building vacated and demolished while refusing to pay for the damage its crew caused.

The seniors are fighting back and gathering community support. But our bubble-wrapped mayor and his party have managed to rise above much of this fray. If there is flak to be faced, Robertson dispatches a councillor to catch it. Meanwhile opposition parties proliferate in number but fail to gain traction or even, in the case of the once mighty left of centre COPE, lose supporters.

And I leave you with an Insights West poll done last week measuring who has been “naughty” or “nice.” It had Toronto mayor Rob Ford scoring 96 per cent on the naughty scale. Robertson stood out as the only politician who was considered “nice.” Sixty two percent polled thought so.

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