Robertson’s latest whoppers on new office & bike lane

pinocchio
Mayor Gregor is caught in some nose-stretchers by CKNW’s Sean Leslie

It’s been almost a whole week since Jeff Lee’s story about Gregor Robertson’s new office and city council dining room ran on the pages of the Vancouver Sun, and it continues to suck all the oxygen out of any news from Vancouver City Hall. On Friday Gregor Robertson finally made himself available after dodging media all week up while on his second vacation this summer up at Cortes Island. Robertson just returned from 2 weeks up at his island homestead last weekend, then apparently went "off the grid".

On the phone Friday with CKNW’s Sean Leslie, Gregor Robertson danced all over the place as he appeared to be making up his own messaging on the fly as to why he and councillors needed to spend $260,000 for new digs. Those who’ve paid close attention to this story all week understand that the messaging has been confused from word go:

  • Raymond Louie attempted to blame Sam Sullivan for the office updates: FAIL
  • Kerry Jang said his free meals stunk up his office and therefore needed a new dining room: FAIL
  • Gregor Robertson says his office hasn’t been updated in fifty years: FAIL
  • Robertson says that his new office is "no frills": FAIL
  • Robertson says he needs more privacy and that his staff are too cramped: FAIL.

Hear this interview with CKNW News’ Sean Leslie with Robertson which we have archived for our readers’ benefit. The first part is about the new office and councillor dining room, and Robertson is caught in a successive string of whoppers (mp3).

Robertson says that the changes are a "necessary expense" and that they have been "approved by all of council" (both Clrs Woodsworth and Anton have denied any knowledge of the plans to expand Robertson’s office). Robertson says that his office is being used for council meetings (which he chairs) and for "ceremonial gatherings" (which the Mayor is typically present). Robertson claims that he needs more space to "get his work done" (does anyone think for one second that the Mayor actually does any real office work?).

Robertson says "all of council supported the work to get done at City Hall." Actually, the October 2008 in-camera vote to move the Engineering Department to Crossroads at Cambie & Broadway was almost unanimous with only David "Carbon" Cadman opposed and Vision Vancouver/NPA in support. Cadman could have raised it as an election issue on behalf of COPE, but by accommodating Vision Vancouver he had compromised his party’s ability to do so. For Robertson to suggest that the current council approved his office expansion and the plans for a council dining area is simply not accurate.

Robertson makes reference to City staff’s involvement in the office re-build process, but the truth is the Mayor continues to rebuff the advice of the non-partisan public service. Gregor says the office upgrades are an attempt to "keep up with the times" (more on that spurious effort to seem hip in the days to come).

Robertson says there hasn’t been "significant changes in over 20 mayors or about fifty years". Mayor Gregor better get thee to Wikipedia fast. Twenty mayors goes back to 1936. There have been changes made in recent years. Mayor Jack Volrich made sure that there is a private bathroom, shower and sleeping area within the Mayor’s apartment-sized office. Mayor Bill Rathie put in teak panels on the walls in the 1960s. Those panels were recently refurbished at a cost of about $10,000. Both of those previous mayors were voted out of office.

Robertson slips in this line: "The City’s obviously changed a great deal as have the staffing needs in the Mayor’s office. So it’s time for the space to be appropriate." Well, there you have it, folks. Credit Robertson for a smattering of forthrightness in his otherwise whopper-laden statements.

Robertson and Vision Vancouver is making a fundamental change to how the City of Vancouver is governed. The Mayor is moving forward with plans to dispense with the current "weak mayor" system for a Board of Management style government, whereby the Mayor leads all policy direction for the City, appoints a rung of political aides below him, who will direct all the top management of the City in Engineering, Planning, Social Policy, Development, etc. etc.

As Robertson goes on to say in Leslie’s interview, it’s council’s job now to "manage" the city, not staff.

The plans for moving all staff off of the third floor and replacing it with political aides has been in the works since the day Robertson and Chief of Staff Magee moved into Vancouver City Hall. It was agreed with Ballem that they would hold off until after the Olympics were over to make this change. Ballem’s staff are already packed up and their office is being moved to the second floor as we publish this. Ballem’s staff will occupy a temporary office on the second floor beginning Monday, until their new offices on the sixth floor are ready for occupancy.

Robertson goes on to state that the reason for the new kitchen and dining room facility is because "there is no place to store or prepare food for receptions." All events on the third floor are catered by private operators. The idea that additional food prep and storage is required on the third floor comes from Robertson’s own imagination.

Asked whether the budget will go over the $260K alotted, the Mayor’s response was:

I expect that it will come in, uh, at or below budget. I don’t want to see this go above that. There’s significant dollars being invested beyond that and this is a smaller portion of that. But we want everything to come in under budget on the City Hall renovations…We’ll certainly be holding staff accountable for the expenses that get invested in the building, and uh, watching this one very closely.

Great answer, Mayor. How about just saying "No"? Funny how City staff are the ones who are being held accountable when it’s you that wants all this new office space built. Perhaps the Mayor should hold himself accountable.

Leslie asks, "some of your critics [read: CityCaucus.com] suggest that this is about the expansion of your own staff, and the administration around you. How do you respond to that?"

No, there is nothing nothing nothing to do with, uh, expanding staff. Uh, I have a budget on that front. We stick to that budget. It’s just making sure we all have appropriate work spaces and can be functional and can get their work done in the time frame that’s allocated.

Folks, please etch that response from the Mayor in your memory.

Thank goodness for honorable and wise public figures from the past such as former City Councillor Marguerite Ford, whose scathing letter to the Vancouver Sun puts the Mayor in his place:

The taxpaying citizens of Vancouver should be concerned about the money being spent to renovate and enlarge the mayor’s office. They should be even more concerned about the reasons for this. Are we going to have an imperial mayor? Enlarging the mayor’s staff means that politically appointed people who are not selected or screened in the usual way will have more and more power. Council is supposed to set policy and see that it is carried out by trained and competent staff, of whom there are many.

Vancouver has always had what is called the weak mayor system, whereby the mayor has only one vote and has to persuade council to his ideas. Apparently, two people who have funded this mayor feel that inherited wealth gives them the right to alter Vancouver without consultation with the people who live here. Is that what we want for Vancouver?

Marguerite Ford
City councillor from 1976 to 1986

Sean Leslie wraps up with a question regarding the lack of consultation and the ramming through of the Hornby bike lane project. Here is the clip below. (mp3)

What we’ve learned is that all the work schedules for building the Hornby separated bike lane that would have City engineering crews working during August were dumped because of the increasing public controversy. The "consultation" underway is a mere dog and pony show to back up Robertson’s rhetoric. When you listen to Mayor Gregor’s own words, you can hear on the one hand he thinks they’re done ("the consultation started over a month ago" – actually it started after council recessed for summer).

Gregor says "this is NOT a referendum and at the end of the day we’ll make the best transportation decisions for the City." Robertson says they’re looking for "all the best feedback" but dodges the question from Leslie as to whether the bike lane is a done deal.

That’s because it is.

– post by Mike

Urban agriculture: weighing the pros and cons
City Hall faces series of citywide political flare-ups

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  • Under The Red Clock

    I’ve been on both the current Mayor’s office and the City Manager’s office where he plans to move.
    The City Manager’s office is easily 30% smaller and is separated from the public area by two doors. The current Mayor’s office is three doors removed. So he is moving to an office that is unarguably smaller and less private.

  • Bill McCreery

    I would add that Art Phillips, if memory serves, opened up the Mayor’s office via installing clear glazing off the Foyer in order to make the Mayor more accessible & available. He was reelected.
    The detailed planning for the construction drwgs for the Hornby bike lane are in process & being refined on a daily basis. I reviewed them yesterday. For starters, would you believe only 1 clear traffic lane from Pacific to Davie? It gets worse.
    Other options were not on the table, nor was an assessment of the economic, parking, loading & passenger impacts on businesses & condo buildings. Staff are courageously trying to deal with these latter issues on an individual basis as best they can. But, the resolutions to date appear, @ best, largely problematic. Should not a detailed assessment of these important factors have been done in the initial selection evaluation process?
    You should also be aware that a 2nd objective of this lane is not only to connect Dunsmuir with the Burrard Bridge but, the False Creek & Harbour seawalls. This is resulting in some, to politely phase it, unusual geometrics @ both ends.
    Driving down Hornby post bike lane reminds me of the twisted, weaving course @ the Brandt’s Hatch raceway in Kent outside of London – full of unexpected surprises.
    But, yes, based on the state of the construction drwgs & the considerable cost & manpower invested to date, it is a done deal unless good sense, providence or the courts intercede.

  • victor

    Are we beginning to see our dear Mayor’s half truths coming back to haunt him?
    Needs a bit more research on his office spending.
    What about the earlier carpet replacement? Office refurbishment of stinky chairs?
    What about his promise to Vancouver that he would consult them unlike all previous Councils? The City is waiting with bated breath for that to happen.
    If he doesn’t like what he hears he either says he has “consulted and everything is excellent” ….or he APPOINTS a handpicked Mayors Advisory Committee to have them tell him only what he wants to hear.
    This Vision gang is the most disgraceful Council in the past 50 years…or ever. It is astounding that the they don’t’ start standing up to government by fiat. Surely they don’t think they will get reelected by continuing to support this hapless leader?

  • Say it ain’t so

    This mayor is very uneconomical with the truth to say the least. Why doesn’t he just admit he wants fancier digs, more political staff and to be managing the city, rather than governing it? Well, that’s because he knows it would be political suicide.
    Robertson keeps saying all these changes are “no frills” and “basic”. So if that’s true, why the hell is his office renovations costing taxpayers a quarter of a million dollars? Holy cow, that’s a lot of money for a bit of drywall and some paint.
    The reality is almost the whole third floor has been renovated over the last number of years, and all this talk of working in a 70 year old building is a red herring. Let’s hope the media properly documents all of this upcoming construction and voters don’t forget about it a year from now when we’re in an election.

  • julia

    why are these cosmetic rennovations more important than graffiti removal and little pick up? Vancouver lost both due to budget shortfalls.

  • julia

    let’s try that again, in english.
    why are these cosmetic renovations more important than paying graffiti removal and street litter pick up? Vancouver lost one and had the other dramatically reduced due to budget shortfalls. Or, are we living in a world of silo budgeting?

  • IanS

    Bill:
    “For starters, would you believe only 1 clear traffic lane from Pacific to Davie?”
    Are you sure? That seems odd. How do they end up with that? It should be wide enough for two lanes, even with the dedicated bike lane.

  • Bill McCreery

    @ IanS. They are proposing 2 lanes off Pacific but, the east lane @ Umberto’s + a loading zone adjacent to the north [which serves only 1 condo building. The 2nd, north + the Lebanese restaurant don’t count apparently. But, this loading zone is, however remotely, supposed to serve the restaurant + 2 condos so it will b e used frequently. It should also be interesting to watch Umberto’s occasionally tipsy customers who have to cross the bike lane trying to dodge bikers in high gear coming from 2 directions. This effectively leaves 1 lane for through traffic.
    Drake to Davie has the same thing for the 2 hotels @ the north end of the block. It gets even more exciting @ the Cascadia Hotel where they are proposing what they call a ‘double drop off’ which wipes out the westerly parking spaces @ the north 1/2 of the block. Here cars will have to go into the outer west curb lane if they can figure that out, or back up traffic for 10 or 15 minutes while the buses do their business. The double trouble is required because the hotel gets frequent bus pick ups & drops with 2 @ one time a couple of times a day, so they have to ‘raft’ to use a boating term. The elderly tourists will also experience the same Vancouver quick step as Umberto’s customers.
    The same 1 laner happens a 3rd time @ the Art Gallery block because the east lane traffic will be taken up with buses getting into the drop off & the backup from the right turners @ Georgia. This traffic will be significantly slowed because of the inefficiency of the bike lane / right turn timing & conflict. That backup is already frequently a 1/2 block. It’ll get much longer which will provide more sidewalk entertainment with cars jockying with the buses for the same lane. If that doesn’t happen the 1 & only lane will then be blocked —- BINGO! —- GRIDLOCK [& 1 way, ie: no grid, a transportation planning 1st].
    I have lived across form Umberto’s for several years & am very familiar with functioning of that, as well as the hotels’ drop / pickups. My advice to the City is: implement these geometrics @ your peril. They will haunt you.

  • Some observations:
    1) This is terrific. Mayor Moonbeam is now caught lying on top of the lies peddled by his blogosphere whore: The decision to make changes to the offices might have been while the NPA ruled the roost, but ALL Vision councillors were also approving of the proposal. AND! Many of the changes were altered post-Sam and it’s compete bullshit for anyone to suggest they couldn’t have backed out of some of them. But the answers he gives about why the need for changes contradicts the opposition to Sam’s decision. Why blame anybody else if you believe the changes are necessary? How come no one has asked this insufferable idiot of a Mayor that question? I’ve been in the Mayor’s office several times, even twice during the first year of Gregor’s tenure–there is ample room. If he added a Filipino staffer and it’s now cramped then he and Vision should pay for those renovations–THAT particular staffer is there to bolster Visions re-election chances and has nothing to do with servicing that community. I have first hand knowledge that they paid CASH for Filipino volunteers last election. That’s the story.
    2) Marguerite Ford should be Sainted.

  • Jessie

    Gregor Robertson should stop blaming Sam Sullivan for all of his problems and start accepting the blame for his mistakes. The reality is Gregor wants to expand his office. Nobody is making him do it and to blame the councillors for needing a new dining room is dumb, dumb, dumb.
    We could have used that money for kids programs, graffiti removal and so much more. Instead the mayor is using the money to build a fancier office for himself. Voters will remember that in 2011. If I were the NPA, I would kick off my campaign outside the mayor’s new digs and say we must put an end to this fiscal madness.

  • Todd

    Marguerite Ford: “Vancouver has always had what is called the weak mayor system, whereby the mayor has only one vote and has to persuade council to his ideas.”
    ______________________________________
    Forget about the “weak mayor system”.
    Mayor Moonbeam is not only… well… weak upstairs… he is Vancouver’s first version of a marionette mayor… with those pulling the strings from both inside city hall and from without.
    BTW, Vancouver’s de facto mayor is actually Geoff Meggs. Or hasn’t everyone figured that out yet?

  • Naomi

    Susan Anton voted for this as well?
    The renovation will actually make Gregor’s personal office smaller?
    When were the last renovations?
    This attempt to get Vancouver angry: FAIL

  • George

    Naomi,
    The last renovations were just before the Olympics…

  • David

    I think Gregor spent $800K on new carpets and a renovated bathroom just last year. Only the best for our silver spoon mayor and his spoiled staff. Poor Naomi. Or should I say Kevin.

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    Well, Naomi,
    Even my Vision voting friends are talking about it. 🙂
    Quite dismayed over the cavalier expenditures in the Mayors Inner Sanctum—especially with a bit of a recession and folks being laid off, ewven here in Vancouver.
    Something stinks, all right. And it ain’t just the food in Dr. Jang’s office.

  • Naomi

    @George They’re repeating the same renovations as they did before the Olympics? They took out asbestos, put it back in, and are now removing it again?
    This whole politicizing city hall rant is especially funny when the people likely funding citycaucus.com thought this was a good idea:
    http://i.cx/1vl
    @David: Why do you think that everyone who comments on your blog defending City Hall is Kevin? Keep guessing. I’ll give you a hint: I’m not Kevin.
    Yay democracy!

  • Annie Lennox

    You didn’t do your homework, but worry not, we are doing it for you.

  • Sandra Chamberlain-Snider

    The ultimate “weak mayor” situation could happen next election, if Robertson was re-elected but council was made up of a NPA and independant majority. At least the Mayor could not count on a rubber stamp council anymore, and Vancouver might even benefit from a council forced to collaborate.
    And if a group of independant councillors or parks board reps could not agree on anything, well we would still have our hard-working non-partisan city staff quietly going about the city’s business, right?
    But you have to vote, people, get out and vote, tell your friends, especially your young adults, this city deserves more than a 30 percent turnout!

  • Harry

    Wouldn’t that be a hoot. Robertson gets re-elected, but a majority of the councillors are not Vision. Now that would be the ultimate payback from voters pissed off at how all their money is being wasted by an imperial mayor.
    It’s actually not that far fetched of an idea. I can hear the NPA’s campaign theme now “Sure vote for Gregor, but hold him accountable by sending a majority of NPA councillors to city hall”. Kinda has a nice ring to it. The other nice thing is Jang, Deal, Stevenson, Meggs and co. would be sent packing!

  • George

    Your expect us to swallow that crap…Johnathon Ross lost any respect when he pulled the race card….

  • George

    Harry that is brilliant!

  • Naomi

    Susan Anton is worried about the City Manger and her staff: “I’m troubled by this swift move during the summer months while council are on a break, to uproot the city manager and her staff in order to meet an arbitrary deadline set by Mayor Robertson,”
    The City Manager is quoted in the Vancouver sun as saying: she moved up the renovation timetable two weeks ago to have the work done during a traditionally quiet period before fall sittings of council. She said no renovations are being done to her interim offices and the cost of the move is minimal. The permanent offices are getting upgrades to remove asbestos and install water pipes and new floors and ceilings.
    The City Manager also said, “The mayor’s renovations of my office are dead simple. In my [old] office, the mayor will get nothing. He will move on to my desk, my round cheapo glass desk with the film on it to keep the fingerprints off,”
    The City Manager seems to agree with the need for renovations and Gregor is actually DOWNSIZING his office.
    An NPA majority in Council? On what platform?
    ‘Vote NPA and we’ll stop all asbestos removal immediately’
    ‘Vote NPA and we’ll pretend to be friendly with COPE’
    ‘Vote NPA and we’ll get rid of the no idling laws in front of schools and ban biking.’
    ‘Vote NPA so City Caucus gets more advertising’

  • ‘The City Manager said…He will move on to my desk, my round cheapo glass desk with the film on it to keep the fingerprints off,”‘
    A little OCD, are we, Penny?

  • Patrick

    I have to weigh in here. Naomi, what the he$$ are you talking about when you pull out the asbestos card? Not even the mayor is using this talking point. That’s because the renovations to his office have nothing to do with asbestos.
    If you’re going to defend the mayor, at least get your facts straight. Even Robertson says this is a “no frills” renovation to build a new $265K office for himself. If you want to have any credibility on this blog, make sure you read Quinlan’s talking points and don’t try to freelance on your own.

  • david hadaway

    @ Naomi
    So Mr Robertson says he will get “more space” but you say the renovations will make his “office smaller.”
    Now that’s clever!

  • Julia

    the way I am understanding the reno is that there will now be a ceremonial office with a board table and sitting area (as there is now) and instead of his working desk being in the same room, perhaps it will become a ceremonial desk with his actual working desk in Penny’s old office.
    There is a really nice little meeting room in the City Managers office, fully equipped with a flat screen TV that was spruced up for the Olympics. Wonder if he is inheriting that too.

  • He had some in the first place???

  • Found this on Wikipedia re bike lanes.Pretty well debunks what the Vancouver Area Coalition of Cyclists and the Bicycle Advisory Committee have been promulgating for far too long. Interstingly enough the city’s own stats show that the major effect of the Burrard lanes has been to increase recreational weekend use. So what is really driving this issue? The Engineering department’s staffing and budget inertia, that’s what. The need to grow and protect their own bureaucratic fiefdom while feeding on taxpayers dollars. Build it and promotions will come…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segregated_cycle_facilities#Safety_issues

  • Max

    How about:
    Vote NPA and stop the bleeding of your tax dollars.
    Vote NPA for an Open and Transparent government.
    Vote NDP and stop the lies.

  • Hornby can already be gridlock at the best of times. This is going to end in tears.

  • rf

    A classic Hornby street morning. Not a bike to be seen in the rain.
    And a caravan of 4 tour buses parked outside the Cascadia at 6:30am, right where the bike lane would be. Surely these are buses full of tourists just off an overnight flight from Hong Kong or Mainland China.

  • Max

    The Burrard Bridge was completely vacant of cyclists as well. Not one.
    There were however 8 other persons aside from myself walking…..

  • Bill McCreery

    Rf: now imagine the scene when the bike lane goes in. East lane [1] is the bike lane; lane 2, the 1st drop of lane; lane 3, the 2nd drop off lane; lane 4 [west, curb lane] is where the cars get to sneak through to the Davie intersection if they can see it & then do it safely if they can see past the buses. Aside from the other questionable aspects of this proposal, this & other similar Cirque du Soleil maneuvers along the route are going to slow traffic considerably.
    How will Vision spin that to be green?

  • spartikus

    What we’ve learned is that all the work schedules for building the Hornby separated bike lane that would have City engineering crews working during August were dumped because of the increasing public controversy.
    Eh? Prove that.
    Road work is posted online. And it’s not there for August, and has never been there. I checked regularly when Bill McCreery first broached this on Fabula.
    Is it your position it wasn’t posted?
    What is the basis of your claim? An anonymous source?
    Until you can provide a scan of a memo/work order or an email, it’s hard not to conclude you’re making things up.

  • Bill McCreery

    @ Sparks. It’s not necessary to prove it, it didn’t happen, although there were apparently [I did not see them personally] survey crews on Hornby last month. My source was a usually reliable individual in a position to be aware of such info.
    The issue here is not the timing of work crews, unless they are constructing something which is misguided, but the inadequate consultation process & whether what they are proposing is going to work. In my view if your solution strangles an important arterial street in the downtown down to 1 lane, it isn’t going to work. Among the other consequences to obvious to mention, what are the green house gases & wasted person hours created as a result of such decisions?
    I think it is appropriate to install a separated bike lane system in the CBD. But, is this the right time when City jobs & services are being drastically cut? Also, the issue then is: is this the right street which will provide not only safe biking, but reasonable traffic flow & safety & will have the least negative impact on adjacent businesses.

  • Bill McCreery

    A further clarification. City crews were also out in August starting to reconfigure the traffic lights wiring to accommodate the bike lane. This was being done before Council has approved the project [not expected until, the earliest, 22 September according to City staff]. This work was stopped before it was completed. Maybe you know why.

  • Max

    Bruce Allen offered up his opinion on the proposed Hornby St. bike lanes.
    Bruce Allen’s Reality Check – August 27/10
    http://www.cknw.com/Blogs/RealityCheck/home.aspx

  • Good to see it’s not just UK politicians that are “liberal” with the truth!

  • spartikus

    @Bill: There was a statement of fact:
    What we’ve learned is that all the work schedules for building the Hornby separated bike lane that would have City engineering crews working during August were dumped because of the increasing public controversy.
    And it’s based on – at best, as far as I can tell – anonymously sourced hearsay. (There’s actually two issues here: The work would have begun in August; the work was cancelled due to public pressure)
    The FOI should have come first. Not very exciting, I know, but the ethics of journalism and all that. Conversely, his (and your) source could have provided him with a tangible papertrail. It works for Wikileaks, and those are state secrets.
    Maybe Mike doesn’t consider himself a true journalist. I dunno.