Despite opposition, Vancouver park board votes in favour of new community centre agreement

The Vancouver park board has voted in favour of a controversial plan to revise its operating agreement with community centre associations.

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Park board commissioners endorsed the plan in principle at about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday (February 5) and approved a series of recommendations that will see a new agreement implemented by this summer.

The vote followed a special meeting attended by hundreds of residents at the West End Community Centre Monday evening. Over 70 people signed up to address park commissioners, with the majority of speakers opposed to the board’s proposal to change its funding model for 23 community centres across the city.

Non-Partisan Association park board commissioner Melissa De Genova, who along with John Coupar voted against the recommendations, told the Straight by phone that she is “appalled” by the late-night vote, describing the move as “legislation by exhaustion”.

“Vision Vancouver did not feel good about their decision last night, and they wanted to make it in the dark of night with as few people there as possible,” she charged. “It seems to me that at 3:30 in the morning, no one’s maybe thinking at their best, so I’m not sure how we could make such monumental decisions.”

De Genova said she and Coupar moved several unsuccessful motions to adjourn the meeting to hear the remainder of speakers another night.

Vision Vancouver park board commissioner Niki Sharma said facilitated discussions will now be set up with community associations to negotiate the proposed new agreement, and public consultation on the plan will be coordinated.

“I know it was a long night for people,” she said in a phone interview. “We felt it was important that people were asking for more input from the public, so we needed to vote on the public consultation moving forward. People were asking for more discussion on the financial aspects of this model, so we really needed to vote on that and push that forward, and there’ll definitely be more dialogue to come.”

At the centre of concerns voiced by dozens of residents is a financial model proposed by the Vancouver park board to collect revenues generated by the community centre associations through programs and rentals, and distribute the funds to community centres across the city.

According to park board general manager Malcolm Bromley, the revised operating agreement is designed to ensure equitable programming across city neighbourhoods, and to bring in a universal membership system and low-income access card across a network of facilities.

“My reading...is that everybody wants to try and help those people who have a financial challenge, but we do not have one technique to do it,” he said during a presentation to board members. “Our vision, our desire, is to come up with one universal system that’s respectful, that is confidential, that we don’t have to go through a community centre, perhaps talk to your neighbour who’s on the board or to part-time staff and tell them your financial situation.”

Former homeless resident Roland Clarke was one of a handful of residents who spoke in support of the plan.

“If done the right way, and if it’s transparent, and if the communities are spoken to in the right way, I believe that it is for the betterment of the low-income communities, and it’s for the betterment of Vancouver as a whole,” he said.

Ainslie Kwan, president of the Killarney Community Centre Association, stated in an interview with the Straight that a group of six centres that formed in opposition to the board's proposed new funding model have always supported accepting low-income leisure access cards as part of a joint operating agreement. She noted her centre does offer subsidized programs for low-income residents.

Other speakers at the special meeting raised concerns with the park board's process and what they called a lack of public consultation on the proposed agreement, while some spoke about the importance of maintaining programs that are run by volunteers or funded directly by community centre associations.

“The park board cannot possibly take an increased role in oversight in hiring, in programming these things that were outlined in the presentation, and not have it cost more money,” Lisa Patterson, who described herself as a big user of community centres, told the board. “You don’t seem to understand, the associations work for free, and they do it gladly for their individual communities. I don’t see how they’d be willing to continue under this new agreement.”

“Volunteers and others give time, some people give money, some people give a lot of money, some people can only afford a little bit of money, and some people give land,” said West End resident Eleanor Hadley. “Now all these things will dry up if parks board puts their hands on the donations that some community centres get more than others.”

Jesse Johl, president of the Riley Park Hillcrest Community Association, told the board that a community centre is "just that: community". 

"When you start ripping the hearts out of every community centre in this city and telling them they're greedy, they're selfish, they don't want to share, you are insulting hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers, who over the many, many decades...put in their time and effort," he said.

According to Bromley, the revised agreement will not affect fundraising or the ability of community associations to apply for grants. Surpluses generated by community associations to date, totaling $13 million, will not be affected. The board has said $1 million in new annual funding will be invested across the system “to address infrastructure inequities”. Sharma also maintained that the board will “maintain a strong volunteer base” under the new agreement.

The recommendations approved by the park board endorsed in principle the key elements for the proposed partnership agreement, directed staff to complete negotiations with community centres and implement a new agreement by July 1, and called for consultation to be initiated across the city on the framework.

Comments (24) Add New Comment
Marc Macvitty
It's about time. Doesn't make sense having these centres operate individually. I'm a vancouver taxpaxer and i should have equal access to facilities and programs across the entire city that i feel is my community. When my centre gets a fancy upgrade i'll welcome all of you to that too.
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Beautiful BC
If the rich communities can raise money for more or better services and facilities in their centers, so be it. But the taxpayer money should go equally across the board to all centers.
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Electra989
@Beautiful BC: Right now more taxpayer money actually goes to centres that need it. The community centre associations in areas with increased locally generated revenue pay more of their centre's operating expense, which in theory, allows the city to dedicate taxpayer money to centres that generate less. Those centres can also apply for revenue matching grants, which the associations won't be able to access if their revenue and control in running programs is removed.

@Marc – all CCAs have agreed to equal access and low-income programs. That's never been the issue.

It's a really confusing issue. There's some good information at myvancouvercc.com.
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JJ
You do have equal access to all community centres. Tell me where you are not allowed to go? Look at the parks board website. You can buy flexipasses and go to ANY community centre for pools and ice rinks. You can join ANY program in ANY community centre. No one is stopping you.
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cuz
i like how the author quotes "opposition" as if that is reason enough to not support the new agreement. If there's any one thing I have learned in my short time in Vancouver, it's that there is "opposition" to everything that happens here. I'm surprised anything ever gets built or motions passed. I've never lived in a place with so may whiny people. I'm sure there were plenty of people who were in "support" too.
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Glissando Remmy
Thought of The Day

"Montego. Villefort. Danglars. Caderousse..."

More than 300 people in the audience.
Over 70 speakers.
More than nine hours of talk.
95% arguments opposing the Park Board staff proposal.

5 incompetent utterly partisan Vision operatives sitting at the table. Voting at 3.30 in the morning, like thieves B&E in the middle of the night, VPD was called the few rein by PB staff, for intimidation of the few remaining seniors, yes, seniors.

Vote was... 5-2! Vision Vancouver Commissars unanimously voting against 95% opposition. How despicable. How disgusting. How wrong.
A clear message... 'adding insult to injury'.
All I'm asking is 'why did they even bother?'
That decision was made, written down and stamped long ago, in Ballem's dungeons.

People of Vancouver must remember these names... Jasper, Blyth, Barnes, Loke, Sharma... same way the Count of Monte Cristo remembered the names of his betrayers.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.
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Clive
There is only one voice that counts in the running of the City of Vancouver and that is Penny Ballem, City Manager. The Vancouver Parks Board is towing the line and plowing through her agenda.
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T for community
Across this city, volunteers put in over 30,000 hours of services for free to run the community centres. They cover both the staff and contractors putting on the programs and some of the parks board staff in the form of reimbursement to the park board. Centres with more money receive less grants than those that require more grants to fund programs in areas that have more people needing subsidies. Even those centres with plenty of funds help subsidize members of their communities who can't afford the programs.
The information that the commissioners are providing are not correct. Some of the community centres could loose a good portion of the grants if the city gets their way. Some of the associations volunteers will stop volunteering as most will figure out soon that they have no authority and are not listened to. Last, look at the rates for drop ins and other programs and compare them yourself as you should see that the centres that are controlled by Parks Board have higher fees than those that are controlled by the non profit societies. Than you decide whats better. After all they closed down centres and reduced hours last year to save just over $54000 for all centres than they hire management staff at $100,000. If you had all the information than you may want to side with your community neighbours, the ones that donate 120 hours per year or more of their time to have a new agreement imposed on them without any of the concerns being addressed. Unions should be watching because they get their heads boiling when the same happens to them. The six community centres are thinking of their communities and this will not be well. Imagine what happens when unions are told to accept this or your agreement expires and than you should go away, as we will replace you.
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Martin Dunphy
cuz:

The reporter wrote that "the majority" were opposed.
Another poster above estimated the number opposed to the proposal at the meeting to be 95 percent.

Were you there, in order to support your comment that "I'm sure there were plenty of people in support"?
Or do you choose to sit on your couch at home and not rub shoulders with "whiny people" who actually care enough about their community to get out to a meeting and stay until 3:30 a.m.?
Just askin'.
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Brian
Listening to clips of the meeting and one of the Vision automatons on CBC morning radio (http://www.cbc.ca/earlyedition/podcast/2013/02/04/community-centre-fundi...) it was clear that the ideologues on the Parks Board just follow the Vision city council's habit of completely ignoring community input on all the development issues that have come before throughout the city.

And why wouldn't that be the case? Vision's idea of democracy consists solely of an election every three years. Community consultation? As one of the speaker's said Vision's idea of that is solely to pick the colour of the rope you're going to be hung with.

The only meaningful community input Vision will listen to being thrown out at the next election.
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Disgruntled
The Parks Board decision regarding the community centres is yet another disappointing action by Vision. They have shown in this matter, as in other matters, that they just do not listen to or care about the communities within Vancouver. The current Community Centre model works very well and has been in place for many years. Why change it? Is it to seize money for other pet projects or to weaken community associations which may be a threat to centralized power? We can only wonder but the pattern is there.
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Rob
What percentage of city staff time is spent operating the programs of the particular community boards programs where revenue goes to the board 10% 20% 75%? It could be a power snatch by the City, but are the boards subsidized by the taxpayers across the City and not just in their neighbourhoods? If someone breaks their neck at a facility - who is on the hook to pay? The Board or the City? Would like to know..
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CUPE 15 Member
CUPE 15 President Paul Faro was one of the only speakers to support the recommendations. He said the 'CUPE 15 supports this motion". Do we? Who did he discuss it with? I am a a CUPE 15 member and I was not in support of this motion that removes decision making and democracy from the community.
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James G
A universal membership card and a low income membership card are both worthy initiatives. The revenue sharing is a thorny issue given that it may initially disrupt volunteerism and donations but certainly on the right track. Not everyone wants to spend time travelling across town to another community's far better supplied centre. Done in the usual ham-fisted Vision style of course but then how ethical was it for some centres to frivilously spend on an ad campaign to oppose it? For a change, win for both Vision and Vanouver.
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T for community
To answer Rob. At the community centre that I volunteer for, the Parks Board staff that coordinate programs are paid as a reimbursement to the Parks Board by our association. Saying this, maintenance workers are paid by Parks Board. The reason that some of Parks Board staff are paid by the associations is that a number of years ago the city union challenged both the Parks Board and the associations for common employer status. The positions at that time were paid for by the associations but union argued that they also managed more and took some direction from Parks Board. The associations did not argue with the union which makes sense as they are not for profit volunteers and did not want to argue with the union so the positions became Parks Board (were paid Parks Board rates which were higher than the associations pay) and the associations reimburse for these positions. Insurance for injury is paid by the Parks Board and not the associations. So the city insurance is on the hook. Associations pay for director insurance for their directors. This is common practice now in our world of litigation. The city says they paid for the facilities and in some cases they are correct. In others, the associations paid for construction, equipment and renovations. Remember, Hillcrest was paid for by the provincial and federal governments for the Olympics. They tore down the old community centre despite area residences rally to save the building. Hillcrest is full as are allot of the community centres even though they want to densify and add another 15,000 residences in the area. This is a power and financial grab by the Parks Board with the commissioners doing nothing at all except continually threaten any association that does not fall into line. Shame on them. I was at the event and it is wrong to let seniors (80 years old plus) to stay up to talk to the commissioners to 3am in the morning. There were no buses running and they had to be driven home by others who also stayed. Do they commissioners not have mothers. That was a bigger crime than the commissioners voting on this when only having the day to review the document. Sad day for democratic process and even sadder for the citizens of this city.
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T for community
Just to be clear also, the 6 associations that are protesting the Parks Board's plan have always been ready to discuss new terms to a new agreement. We would come to the table for good faith negotiations. To do this though the Parks Board would also have too negotiate in good faith. This has been the problem. That is why the actions of these centres have taken the route they have. They are not negotiating. They are giving us the ultimatum. Take it or leave it. If you leave it we are going to replace you or your association. Good faith eh.
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T for community
Next cash grab. Parking fees at community centres. The Parks Board has already ask what people think about paying for parking at Hillcrest. This is not the associations, its the Parks Board trying to figure out how to squeeze more money out of their citizens.
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T for community
to cuz:
Over 70 speakers, 2 were for the plan.
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Rob
T for Community, that does that mean that front desk people, the programming staff, the manager of the community centre, the janitors, are paid for by the Association? Who hires the dance instructor - a city staff or an association staff, just trying to figure this out.
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Richard
Excellent article. Excellent comments. For the Editor of the Georgia Straight: Could we have some of the best comments in here, printed out in this week's paper edition so people with no access to computers or not proficient could read? Comments are very important, in this case the heartbeats of our communities across Vancouver. FYI, Glissando Remmy sums up my (and that of many of my friends) own views of what happened that terrible night perfectly! Thank you. Richard
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