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

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

      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 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.

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      Marc Macvitty

      Feb 5, 2013 at 12:46pm

      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.

      Beautiful BC

      Feb 5, 2013 at 1:15pm

      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.


      Feb 5, 2013 at 1:50pm

      @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


      Feb 5, 2013 at 2:09pm

      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.


      Feb 5, 2013 at 4:36pm

      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.

      Glissando Remmy

      Feb 5, 2013 at 5:41pm

      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.


      Feb 5, 2013 at 5:52pm

      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.

      T for community

      Feb 5, 2013 at 5:54pm

      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.

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 5, 2013 at 6:09pm


      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'.


      Feb 5, 2013 at 6:21pm

      Listening to clips of the meeting and one of the Vision automatons on CBC morning radio ( 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.