Vancouver’s new citywide plan is more of the same flawed process

The City of Vancouver council just passed the staff report on the process for a citywide  planning program. Although there were plenty of well-intended comments by many of the new councillors to do things differently, it is shaping up to be more of the same flawed process that the public voted against in the last election.

As primarily a major data-mining exercise, the planning process will continue to allow and promote the implementation of current policies and programs instituted under the previous Vision Vancouver council. Staff have been given an $18 million budget with which to implement this plan over three and a half years. The planning process will kick off in the fall.

Unlike the previous city plan done from 1995 to 2010, this new plan will not be done by reallocating existing resources, even though there now is a huge communications department and planning staff numbers have ballooned over the last decade. The city will be hiring staff to create a whole new department, and funding outside organizations for consulting and outreach.

The previous CityPlan was highly regarded and created directions for implementation over a 30-year time frame, which should have taken us through to 2040. But this instead was shelved by the former Vision council in 2010. Rather than now building on that work, the city is starting from scratch on this new citywide plan process.

However, the participatory planning that Vancouver was highly regarded for was replaced by a meaningless data-mining regime under the former Vision council. This will continue.

Take, for example, the Housing Vancouver strategy. This was established by consulting broadly across the city for 18 months as to if the city had a housing crisis. Of course the conclusion through feedback was that, yes, there was a housing crisis, and in general terms the city should do things to fix it.

Then staff went back into their black box and devised specific actions to be taken with industry stakeholder input. The public saw only the final report as it was presented to council for approval with only weeks for public feedback after the decisions were already made.

This and many other policies and programs the former Vision council produced continue to inform the new citywide  process. The controversial programs that provide incentives for spot rezoning like Rental 100, pilot projects and the Broadway corridor plan will continue to be implemented while the citywide  process is underway. With no interim rezoning policy like all other area planning initiatives, these spot rezonings will set precedents of scale that undermine legitimate planning.

Coun. Colleen Hardwick brought amendments forward to address the shortcomings of this proposed planning process. Staff advised them to be out of order. Hardwick rejected this advice and tried to bring the amendments forward anyway, but new councillors generally do not have the confidence to counter staff advice, so true to form, council wouldn’t even put the amendments on the floor to discuss them.

Even though Hardwick had seconded the original motion that initiated the citywide  plan, she felt she had no choice but to vote against it based on the proposed flawed process.

The only other councillor to vote against the main motion was Jean Swanson. She stated that it was the Coalition of Progressive Electors’ policy to do a citywide  plan, but that she did not have confidence that this proposed process would achieve the needed affordable housing, and that it would in fact make it worse through displacement by putting more existing rentals at risk of development pressures and demolition. 

Even though the mayor doesn’t have a majority on council, the Vision-appointed staff have been successful in herding the needed votes to pass almost all of the staff-proposed initiatives brought to council. Procedure bylaws and code of conduct are being amended to make it increasingly harder for councillors to deviate from staff direction.

As the tail continues to wag the dog, Vision council policy is implemented while Vancouverites pay the price they didn’t vote for.

If the election is the consultation, as former Vision councillor Geoff Meggs famously quipped, then this citywide plan is the non-delivery. 

Elizabeth Murphy (info@elizabethmurphy.ca) is a private-sector project manager. She was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s housing and properties department and for BC Housing.