NPA motion seeks to address ballooning policing costs leading Vancouver organizers to cancel special events

Seemingly ever-growing policing costs have led organizers to cancel special events that Vancouver once enjoyed on an annual basis

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      There's no love lost between Dana Larsen and Melissa De Genova.

      Larsen, an entrepreneur, cannabis activist, is a lead organizer of Vancouver's annual 4/20 festival. De Genova, an NPA city councillor and former parks commissioner, is one of the event's loudest political opponents.

      But a motion that De Genova has going to Vancouver city council today (July 10) puts the two on the same side of an issue that's closely related to the one that divides them.

      "Costs for permitted special events in the City of Vancouver continue to rise each year," it reads. "Longstanding annual events that are age friendly and free to the public have been canceled in the City of Vancouver, due to rising costs related to permits, policing and road closures."

      Therefore, the motion calls for city staff to "consider the possibility of a Special Events Fund, championed by the City of Vancouver, that accepts donations from corporations and private donors, for free public events in Vancouver that face financial hardships due to rising city costs."

      De Genova explains the idea in a July 10 media release. "A city-led fund that outlines specific event costs, and considers acknowledgement of sponsorship, could lead to an increase in donations that would assist the many non-profit organizations who are desperately trying to sustain events when the City’s permit-related costs increase every year," she said quoted there.

      In a telephone interview, Larsen expressed skepticism about prospects for the idea's success but added it could help groups like 4/20 organizers "in the long run".

      "She [De Genova] is never going to give us a permit for 4/20 or support us in any way," he told the Straight. "She's made that very, very clear. But I like the idea of city events not costing so much money. And it is the policing bills that are the biggest issues for these things.

      "It would be great if there was a process for events to cost less," Larsen added.

      He did however question how effective the policy would be if policing costs continue to rise at the pace they have in recent years.

      "What's hard about sponsors paying policing costs now?" Larsen asked. "Most big events like Pride have big sponsors that give them lots of money that they can use to help cover those costs."

      Last April, the Straight reported that the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) announced it was forced to cancel its Davie Street Party that previously took place each Pride season in June.

      “VPS board and staff reviewed our financial position and budget after our 2017 fiscal year end to determine how to best recover from a posted deficit,” reads a VPS media release. “The Davie Street Party is our most expensive event to produce. The City of Vancouver and regulatory costs for this event are approximately $79,500 with policing/security/traffic management being over $37,000 of the total cost.

      Earlier that month, Larsen, had written an op-ed for the Straight that detailed how “skyrocketing” policing costs threatened the viability of special events in Vancouver.

      “Vancouver used to have a fun St. Patrick's Day Parade, but it's been cancelled for the past two years because organizers can't afford to pay the high policing costs for their event,” he wrote. “Vancouver used to have fun New Year's Eve event at the art gallery downtown, but it got cancelled because of the rising costs in policing. High policing costs almost killed Vancouver's annual Santa Claus Parade last year; the event was only saved with last-minute support from a major corporate sponsor.”

      Speaking today, Larsen suggested that even if De Genova's motion is implemented—unlikely for now, given the NPA's minority on council—it would leave the larger problem unaddressed.

      "Events keep cancelling," Larsen said. "People keep shutting down events and they're saying it's because of policing costs. So, to me, the solution here is to bring policing costs down.

      "In my opinion, the city should cover policing costs for all public events," he continued. "Policing is a public service and whether you are in the park by yourself or in the park with 10,000 people, policing should be something that is covered by the city for all citizens of all types."

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