More late night dramatics over Olympic Village housing decision

TV-Test-PatternAnother late night with Vision Vancouver

As we predicted yesterday afternoon, Vision Vancouver decided to ram through another late distribution report under the pretence of "urgency" when everyone in the room knew it was all about political expediency. At 12:55am this morning, the Mayor’s office pushed Send the press release prepared hours earlier. What was decided was an example of some of the most audacious politics in Vancouver’s history. I have to give Robertson & co credit for their gall even if I disagree with their decision.

Last night the Vision/COPE council gave a repeat performance of a scene that played out last April. They approved a $45 million agreement to bring on a sole-sourced operator for the market and non-market housing at the Olympic Athlete’s Village. The Cooperative Housing Federation of BC was brought on to take over, after earlier being rejected by the Province of BC and BC Housing, with no tendering process.

The City of Vancouver posted the late distribution report, marked as ‘URGENT 1’ on the City’s website after 4pm the day of the council meeting. Council’s Planning and Environment Committee ran until 10:50pm where it decided to approve the long-stalled Norquay Neighbourhood Centres plan. After objections by lone NPA councillor Suzanne Anton, the Vision/COPE majority overrode the rule about ending meetings at 11pm and proceeded to discuss staff’s recommendations.

Then council took speakers – a total of six, all from the VAN-ACT housing activist group – and proceeded to burn the midnight oil. Several staff patiently let another late night Vision Vancouver council meeting play out. The line-up of speakers, all surprisingly lucid despite the time of day, proceeded to blast Gregor Robertson and the Vision council. The video is now posted and you (Windows users only) can watch it here.

This was a repeat of the meeting that took place back in April 2010. For those who don’t remember the story, the City Manager had finalized the decision on what to do with the social housing at the Olympic Athlete’s Village back in November 2009. Fearing an embarrassment during the Olympic Games, Vision covered up that report for nearly six months. Then the City Manager posted that report in the spring – ALSO as a late distribution report.

Starting to see a pattern here, folks? Repeat after me: Vision. Vancouver. Does. Not. Consult. Citizens.

Vision’s perpetual late night meeting habit is apparently as a result of someone’s insomnia, but we’re not sure if it’s Gregor Robertson’s, Penny Ballem’s, or both. We do know that the end result is that the public is conveniently left out of the dialogue involving millions of their tax dollars. Robertson and Vision ran on a platform of making the City more accountable and transparent, which this behaviour clearly contradicts.

Each of the speakers chided council for making them stay up past midnight for this meeting. Raymond Louie strained credulity with his insistence that "people were dying on the street" and their decision to find a housing operator would help save lives. Of course, it was his council’s decision to delay this process six months in the first place, and also his council’s decision to complicate the social housing requirements. It was Louie who seconded Coun. Meggs’ amendment to give first dibs to unionized police, firefighters and teachers.

The VAN-ACT reps all asked how "urgent" was a decision to find an operator for the 63 market rental units? After all of the effort put into this showpiece social housing project, only 21 units (only one quarter of the promised non-market units originally discussed) were to be left on the table for at least another six months.

Because of the "green" requirements of the other buildings, the City will not have a permanent operator for the remaining 168 units until someone figures out how to manage these features. Ironic considering the City’s insistence on being green.

After Coun. Suzanne Anton tweeted out on Thursday afternoon that the report had been posted as a late distribution, I decided to have a look. I was appalled that this kind of costly decision was being rammed through so quickly, and decided to watch what happened. It took me by surprise that things would run so late, and that I would follow along with it. Staying up until 1am watching council meetings is not something I would recommend to anyone.

I did something I’ve never done before but found quite useful. I tweeted an entire portion of a city council meeting, specifically the discussion around the Olympic Village social housing. Vision Vancouver hoped that no one would offer to speak at the council meeting, but VAN-ACT stuck it out.

I realize it’s a lot of information, but I find the sequence of events that took place over nearly two hours to be fascinating. Here are my tweets @CityCaucus from that meeting:

Another late night with Vision Vancouver. Meeting scheduled to end at 11pm, but could go later. No respect for staff or the public.

Clr Louie says that we must "serve the people" which is why they want to ram thru meeting after 11pm. Anton is rejecting it.

Louie arguing that they will "get people off the street" by voting 2nite. Really?

Anton rejects vote to override council rules. SLAMS Robertson that he would run on openness and hold a meeting after late dist. report.

"It’s a matter of significant financial significance for the city" says Robertson. Overrides Anton’s objections to late night meeting.

Woodsworth also repeating the myth that there are "people on the street" who will be housed in Oly Village.

Robertson now trying to justify his council’s decision to ram through without consultation. Blames BC Housing for delays

Anton’s motion to defer vote until next meeting defeated by all others on council

Ballem confirms City’s commitment to put cops and teachers in Oly Village before others. She confirms that "homeless" not going here.

Coun. Jang says he might be getting confused because it’s 11:30 at night. Really?

Young speaker says that Vision has "completely failed" on their promise for social housing, and this is "widely held" view

Speaker says that Vision is not trying to house homeless, but fill units with "market renters". Says it’s "immoral" to rush this through

Next speaker also wonders "why is this an urgent decision?" This is being rushed "not for people" but for Vision’s plan. OMG it’s 11:45

Gregor once again blames BC Housing. Says after a year it can’t wait 2 more weeks. Revisits why the housing is not for deep core need.

Robertson is clearly nervous that the first 2 social housing guys think he’s full of crap. Spkr says that co-ops do not equal market rental

Speaker slams council for laughing at Anton’s suggestion [to defer vote]. Midnight decisions "not the way politics is supposed to happen"

Vision being shamed by speakers for burning the midnight oil again and again and again. What’s so URGENT about market rental? speaker asks

Why is council meeting "way past when I usually go to sleep"? asks speaker. "This sounds fishy" he says.

Geoff Meggs jumps in to dress down the young person who just spoke. "Didn’t you know we already gave $31 million to this project?"

Note, the speaker could be forgiven for NOT knowing, as the meeting they decided this was also based upon a late distribution report.

Andrea Reimer now trying to play good cop to Meggs’ bad cop. She goes into NPA blame game.

Speaker is furious that Reimer is suggesting the VAN-ACT people are colluding with Anton.

"I agree with Coun. Anton on the process issue, I’m not an NPA member" says speaker in defense against Vision attacks

Louie says hey, what’s wrong with us moving quickly? Trust me, he says. I know what I’m talking about… Speaker not buying it.

Louie’s palpable arrogance lights a fuse of anger among the housing activists. You can hear them off camera heckling him. Then Anton defends the VAN-ACT speakers:

3/4 of this housing is straight up market says Anton. Only 21 units of social hsing. "Not sure why you’re being brow beaten by councillors"

Speaker says it’s midnight and "you’re cutting us out of this decision". It’s "rhetoric" from council. "It’s been empty for months".

Robertson is clearly getting nervous. These folks are the same type of people who campaigned for him in 2008. He looks to deflect blame from himself:

Robertson asks strange question. Have you spoken to Province or Feds? Whaa? Speaker says I’m here because you’re here.

Robertson is pedaling fast but not getting anywhere. OMG he is blaming the Province and the Feds for the housing problem. Un-Buh-Leivable

Robertson says he’s used to all-nighters, so it’s okay. He continues to blame other levels of government.

Another speaker, a young woman who is clearly very frustrated at speaking after midnight let’s Vision/COPE have it:

"You guys are shooting yourselves in the foot" next speaker says to council and staff. There is no democratic process after midnight.

"I can see why you’re passing this after midnight, most people would see thru this" says speaker.

The mood in the room begins to turn. Robertson is looking like a chided schoolboy. Reimer and Louie began to ask questions and hint that they might delay.

Louie to Ballem: "Why do we need to proceed today?" Ballem tap dances as Vision getting nervous

Geoff Meggs goes into the Blame the NPA message box. Says they’ve tried to bring "transparency" to the Oly Village. Hmm, okay Geoff.

Now Geoff is blaming Rich Coleman for council’s problems.

Now Raymond Louie pushes the rhetoric way too far. He starts talking about how Vision will be "saving lives" with their decision.

Louie is once again suggesting that tonight’s decision will help homelessness. He’s already been mocked by speakers on this.

Louie: "Do we delay until February? I say not" "There are people dying on our streets!" "This is the best we can do for now"

At this point things snap. It’s 12:45am and the VAN-ACT folks have had enough of Louie’s BS. They leap out of the seats and walk right into the middle of council chambers.


VAN-ACT have moved into the middle of council chamber to stage a reading

Heather Deal, who is chairing the meeting because Andrea Reimer got too tired, wants to force a vote without debate.

Anton is asking if the Chair to allow debate

Security has been called. And Deal is ramming through a vote despite Anton’s objections to no debate.

Deal calls a 5-minute recess. Turns off mics in the council.

Anton and Deal were yelling back and forth at each other. Deal: "Are you challenging the chair?!" Anton: "Madame Chair, use your good sense. You cannot have a vote without debate."

The cameras and mics go off for a five-minute break. Presumably Vision gathers themselves behind closed doors to decide their move. Eventually the mic and camera goes back on. The VAN-ACT reps are still sitting in the middle of council chambers. Anton speaks first and blasts Vision:

VAN-ACT speakers are encamped in the middle of the council chamber. Anton says lack of notice and transparency is ‘shocking’

Vision’s decision to ram thru this report "goes against everything you campaigned on" says Anton. Why are we spending SO MUCH $$?

Anton: "It’s a disgrace that you’re ramming this through like this"

Coun. Ellen Woodsworth speaks next and attacks Anton and the NPA. She finishes with the most revealing comment of the night.

Woodsworth attacks Michael Geller saying he doesn’t like poor people mixing with the rich.

Woodsworth says let’s vote for this as we don’t want to hear from those who don’t like it.

Isn’t that special, eh? I paraphrased Woodsworth, but she essentially said ‘let’s vote on this now otherwise we’ll just have to hear from nimbys who will be against social housing’.

Coun. Jang goes into the Blame the NPA message box next, perhaps not realizing that his colleagues Chow, Stevenson, Louie and Deal all voted for the things he and Coun. Meggs were attacking. Finally the vote, and the meeting was over.

Vote happens. Anton opposed. Passes. Boom done. VAN-ACT leaves the room.

It was an exhausting evening, and I didn’t even leave my house. For Vision, it quite possibly was their most revealing behaviour in council yet. I predict this is not going to end well for them.

– post by Mike

Olympic Village: Update in response to recent comments
Vision sneaks in Olympic Village housing option as late distribution report

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  • mike

    It is very shocking a democratic council would act in such a unprofessioanl manner and without consultation but then this council does not give a damm what anyone thinks, just as long as we have pretty offices, well enjoy, your days are truly numbered but we will paying for your arrogance for many years to come

  • boohoo

    Cue ‘I can’t wait to vote these clowns out’ ‘This is the last straw’ ‘Arrogant!’ etc…

  • Vancitizen

    Thanks Mike for your coverage and for sticking with it.
    There is definitely a disturbing trend emerging with Vision as they ram change through council chambers without due process.

  • boohoo

    lol beat me to it mike!

  • Hey boo. I know that you think that the indignation is overstated by commenters. But just imagine for a moment if the shoe was on the other foot. If this was Sam Sullivan ramming through a $45 million decision with no public input, what do you think the reaction would be?

  • Wow, I missed a good one…

  • A sham of democracy. The real tragedy is that they still have a chance next November, if they spend enough and pull back for the meantime on some of their most radical policies.

  • Can you imagine if the Provincial government was elected the same way we elect City Councillors? No constituencies, no local MLA’s, all Members voted on by everybody in the province in a first past the post lame-horse derby. That’s how we elect City Coucillors. That’s why a marketer with a clear brand and little else to offer(“End homelessness…Greenest City by 20-blah blah blah”) is able to get elected and to roll over opposition to an unsafe, unnecessary bike-lane, non-amenitied density increases in one of the most dense neighbourhoods in North America, gifts to their union friends at the OV, late night meetings etc. ad nauseum…
    Not a single elector in Vancouver can claim to have a single Councillor directly representing them.
    The at-large system is desperately dysfunctional, yet all we hear on this blog and elsewhere is “With a strong Mayoral candidate, Robertson and Vision can be unseated.”
    The elector ends up in the same frying pan, just with a different cook. Big deal.

  • Alex

    How the hell did you partisan clowns get indexed by Google News? If you’re journalists, I’m a cage-fighting ex-astronaut brain surgeon.

  • Max

    ….’a cage-fighting ex-astronaut brain surgeon….’
    Wow – how did you manage that job???
    Alex, go play with the other kids and leave the adult discussions to the adults.
    Run along now!

  • Max

    I just watched the full meeting as posted on-line.
    Question: When did the CHF of BC find out about the meeting – they seemed well prepared.
    Next: to the advocates, as a citizen of Vancouver I applaud you for holding Vision’s feet to the fire. They’ve lied again and it is becoming somewhat evident they used the ‘homeless’ to get into office. Now, it is ‘Have you spoke to the Provincal or the Federal Government about these issues?’ Remind me again Mr. Mayor and Council members – what is YOUR JOB description.
    Not to say the least that the Olympic Village is a municipal concern, NOT Provincial.
    For Councilors Meggs and Louie – your condesending dismisive attitude and tone towards those advocates voicing their opinions or questioning your tactics was embarrassing. Shame on you (Especially Louie’s attack on a Mr. Andrew – second speaker)
    For Meggs – your aria at the end leads me to believe this ‘meeting’ just didn’t come about that afternoon – that and comments made by an equally prepared Bellam.
    For Louie – after 1 hour and 26 minutes you still couldn’t figure out that this was not about housing street homeless?????
    For Meggs and Robertson – trying to place the blame on Minister Coleman…really? Is that the best you can come up with? Remind us again of who is landlord on these properties.
    And lastly for Councilor Anton – Thank you! Thank you for openly voicing your opinion, asking questions about the project when most of the Councilors sat there like finger puppets and for taking the constant barbs and blame from Meggs, Jang, Woodsworth (who needs to get over the use of the word NIMBY – again, emabarrassing you have to go that route as you have nothing else to grab on to as a legitimate arguement as to why you are voting to push this through) and Louie. I guess they forget why this project went to cost over runs. And I guess they forget that their people voted along with the NPA way back when…
    Oh, and one for more for Louie – we know you outed the minutes from the meeting surrounding the financial dealings on this project during election period in order to get the heat off Robertson and his fare evasion. We will never know how badly that single move screwed us over. So BIG thanks.

  • Fripp

    Alex. Quite the title you have. How’s the job market for guys like you?

  • Janice

    Thanks for all the info CC – yet another night of infamy for this council. Do they really think voters won’t remember in 1 year?
    Utterly disgusting and worse when Gregor’s election platform of “open transparency” is pure hogwash. Shame on these late-night, no-notice antics subverting democratic process.
    I see a deserved Rob Ford-like landslide heading West, Vision!

  • Allen Patrick

    It’s going to take years for the next council to clean up after this circle jerk crew. Shameful.

  • Omoishiroi

    Vancitizen – I don’t think it is an emerging trend – it has been VISION’s MO since day one. Their first big move in power was the HEAT shelter fiasco – no consultation followed by open mockery of concerned citizens (ie Nimby’s in VISION speak). It’s disgusting and shameful – I hope we all remember these folks and never vote for any of those names again on any ballot.

  • Politicians must not only do good, they must be seen to do good.

  • Congratulations on your new career.

  • boohoo

    @ Mike
    As much fun as it is to play ‘what if’, it doesn’t really serve anything except to deflect from the topic at hand.
    I would hope the response would be civil discourse and if it warranted it repercussions come election time. The problem is we can’t have civil discourse because no matter what the topic, what the issue, what word said or act done it’s analyzed through this incredibly narrow political lens.
    Gerry, provincial politicians are elected basically the same way. By allegiance to political party x. No one is saying ‘we need to vote for candidate y because he/she does this or that’, they say ‘we need to vote out group x’.
    So we do. Then 2,3,4 years later we say ‘my god, we need to vote out group y and get group x back’. So we do. And on and on it goes.
    When did we stop voting FOR candidates and started voting AGAINST parties? All the posts here are ‘we need to get rid of vision’. No we need to vote in person x, or y, it’s vote out ‘them’. What kind of governance can you expect when they are put in power that way?

  • Sooner or later any system devolves into party politics-but at least Provincially and in a ward system you have someone who is at least supposedly representing you. The current at-large system is the perfect cover for the elite to milk the middle class like their own personal cash cows. It doesn’t matter if they’re Green, Red, Blue, Yellow, Pink, whatever, you’re going to end up with a self-interested elite doing what they do best. Feeding themselves.

  • david hadaway

    The irony is that the at large system survived because for so long it suited the NPA. At one time we certainly did have ward representation in a sense – for Shaugnessy, Point Grey, Kitsilano and Kerrisdale, from whence came all councillors. Remember the Puil Parkway or when we had the only single party government in North America apart from Cuba?
    Now the structure that underpinned that dominance is fractured and they are hoist with their own petard, or rather we all are.
    You are absolutely right, the anti democratic voting system is one of the fundamental factors both in creating voter apathy and degrading the standard of representation.

  • 🙂