Vancouver park board backs away from seawall expansion—for now
In the face of intense opposition, the Vancouver park board has put off making a decision on whether to work with the city on connecting the seawall from Jericho to Kitsilano Beach.
At the board meeting last night, all 21 speakers from the community opposed the idea, citing the importance of preserving the foreshore.
Mel Lehan, a director of the Point Grey Natural Foreshore and Waterfowl Protective Sanctuary Society, told the board that this is the last "natural beach" in the city.
He pointed out that in 1994, the park board passed a motion that requested the city to advise the province of its desire to keep the waterfront in its original state.
"Recently, your board decided to rip up the Jericho Parade grounds as it would be more helpful to the health of that area of the inlet," Lehan said. "A very wise decision. Now, we ask you to continue that direction and end all discussion of a harm-creating seawall on this indispensible Vancouver treasure."
Point Grey resident and filmmaker Laurence Keane told the board that 275 people have signed a petition opposing the seawall idea, calling instead to keep Kitsilano Beach wild.
"We've never seen this beach as a freeway for wheeled vehicles," Keane, a renter in the area, told the politicians. "We see the beach as just a place to be—to be somewhere for moments of quiet reflection and enjoyment."
Another area resident, Bonnie Collins, called for a completely transparent process that would include "reasonable public consultation", a full accounting of the construction and maintenance costs, and an independent environmental assessment that analyzes the short- and long-term impacts of making any changes.
"I hope to God the informed decision is to leave the beach alone," Collins said.
Bonnie Collins asks the commissioners to conduct a proper evaluation.
Another speaker, Isabel Minty, objected to news reports of an anonymous donor willing to pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10 million to help create the seawall expansion. Minty told commissioners that it's wrong to keep a donor's name secret. She cited the example of the Kwok brothers, two Hong Kong–based developers who have been charged in an alleged bribery scam in connection with secret payments.
Lance Read told commissioners that if they're concerned about cyclists, they should clear Point Grey Road of motor vehicles and leave the beach alone.
After the speakers wrapped up their presentations, the Vision Vancouver caucus called for a recess and scurried out of the boardroom for a quick meeting.
Upon their return, Comm. Aaron Jasper proposed severing chair Sarah Blyth's motion into two parts: the first dealing with the seawall expansion and the second focusing on whether staff should report back on ways to improve public access along the Fraser River.
Then Jasper proposed that the motion dealing with the seawall be deferred.
That was opposed by NPA commissioners Melissa De Genova and John Coupar, as well as Vision's Trevor Loke, who said he had heard enough to conclude that the sewall expansion wasn't worth pursuing.
De Genova said that she opposed deferral because she thought the seawall expansion should be rejected outright.
She also picked up on the speakers' concerns about the anonymous donor.
"I think that it's very difficult not to publicly disclose a donor who offers $10 million for the reasons that were brought up tonight: political interest, conflict of interest, all sorts of things," she said.
De Genova pointed out that an anonymous donor offered to contribute $1 million for a tunnel under the Lions Gate Bridge many years ago. When this donor was outed in a newspaper, the offer was revoked, according to De Genova.
"The COPE opposition were adamantly against having a donor who was anonymous for the very reason we're opposed to it tonight," she declared.
She noted that her father, former commissioner Al De Genova, introduced the 1994 motion to "protect the marine biology and ecology for our children and their children".
"I will follow in his footsteps and I will stand up for the Greenest City Action Plan because the Vision commissioners won't," she said dismissively. "Clearly, you know, I will protect what my father has protected for me and for my future children and for their children."
Melissa De Genova explains why she opposes a seawall linking Jericho to Kitsilano Beach.
She added that perhaps this anonymous donor would be willing to put $10 million toward another worthwhile project for the Vancouver park board.
Vision commissioner Constance Barnes said that she has visited the area with former COPE commissioner Loretta Woodcock. Barnes emphasized that she is "very supportive of keeping it as it is".
However, Barnes said that there's value in doing something that will educate people about what previous boards have done. She also thanked Blyth for bringing forward the motion.
In addition, Barnes noted that there are legitimate concerns among those who have to carry strollers down to the beach. And she said she wanted to hear from people with disabilities on how to improve access to the Point Grey foreshore.
"They have not been heard for years and years and years," Barnes stated. "And they have every right to be on every public piece of property that the Vancouver park board owns and runs."
Constance Barnes says disabled people should have a say on how to improve access.
Last week at a city council meeting, Vision's Geoff Meggs defended keeping the donor's identity secret.
“I think it’s very important that when people come forward and offer to help the city anonymously that we respect their contribution and their wish to remain anonymous,” the Vision councillor said.
The second motion passed unanimously, with commissioners asking staff to report back on ways to improve public access along the Fraser River and providing a timeline and cost estimates for these options.
De Genova tried to amend the motion to call for an independent environmental assessment, but that was voted down by the Vision majority.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.