Here's why council can turn over former police station to a U.S. landlord without public input

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      When the City of Vancouver takes the relatively minor step of adding a speed hump on a neighbourhood street, there's a public process.

      In the past before speed humps have been approved, reports have gone to council.

      People have had an opportunity to speak the politicians on the matter. And the media could be present when a vote is held.

      The same is true of any $500 grant to an arts organization.

      But if the City of Vancouver wants to turn over a prized asset—such as the former Vancouver police station at Main and Hastings street—there's a possibility that it can occur entirely in secret.

      That's because under Section 165.2 of the Vancouver Charter, a part of a council meeting "may or must be be closed" to the public if it concerns "the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the Council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the city".

      Secrecy shrouds future of former cop shop

      Earlier this week, I wrote an article suggesting that the City of Vancouver may be poised to strike a deal with a California-based landlord. It would enable the NestGSV to lease the former police station to high-tech companies.

      Nobody from the city or the Vancouver Economic Commission would comment on the future of the nearly 100,000-square-foot former cop shop.

      Former Vancouver East MLA Bob Williams described it this way:

      • Discovery Parks, a local high-tech landlord, approached the city with a proposal to take over the building.

      • The city rejected this because there wasn't a sufficient social component.

      • Williams represented a different group that proposed a centre for social innovation and inclusion, which would include high-tech, nonprofit groups, and arts organizations all under one roof.

      • The city rejected that because it preferred the California company, which will create a high-tech centre without any social component.

      Keep in mind that this is Williams's characterization, and not the city's.

      There were no public meetings. There is no public report outlining who else may have wanted to secure the building.

      All that's on the public record from the city is a request for proposals for an architectural renovation.

      Secrecy can be a recipe for corruption

      When issues of this magnitude affecting a neighbourhood are dealt with in secret, it undermines respect for the city government.

      It's absurd that in the 21st century, politicians have the power to make decisions like this in the absence of any media or public oversight.

      But that is what the Vancouver Charter suggests they do.

      It wouldn't harm the city if companies were required to submit public bids that could be revealed to the citizenry before a decision is made.

      The city wouldn't come to a grinding halt if councillors debated the merits of these bids in public.

      To approach issues of this nature in any other fashion is a recipe for corruption.

      The province should act

      The provincial government can fix this by amending the Vancouver Charter to spread a little sunshine.

      And if the B.C. Liberals won't do it, then the NDP MLA representing the Downtown Eastside—former municipal affairs minister Jenny Kwan—can bring forward a private member's bill.

      As a former city councillor, Kwan knows the Vancouver Charter as well as any MLA in the legislature.

      It's the least she can do for her constituents, who will suffer the consequences of accelerated gentrification if this high-tech hothouse ever becomes a reality.

      Comments

      13 Comments

      G

      Feb 20, 2014 at 9:04pm

      The vegetable patch garage, Hootsuite and now this: how many other property deals have occurred under Vision? The Mayor & his party are masters of controlling the message. They have spent more taxpayer dollars on propaganda than any previous city government, increasing the number of civic employees with marketing degrees is something Vision believe is a public good. They need their own "ministry of truth" to keep feeding the public & media stories about the environment, cycling & the odd heritage property so few people notice the corruption.

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      Ted Alcuitas

      Feb 21, 2014 at 8:57am

      Charlie, do you think city hall will consult the people on these decisions? You must be burying your head in the sand.

      Look at what’s going on the downtown eastside specifically with the Ming Sung Benevolent Society Bldg. controversy.

      The city did not blink an eye in ordering the demolition of first, the Kalayaan Centre on 451 Powell St. and next, the Ming Sung bldg. at 439 Powell.

      The Kalayaan Centre was home to six vibrant, and militant grassroots organizations ranging from the youth to migrant workers, women and human rights. For over two decades it was ground zero for progressive political organizing in this city that drew together under its roof not only Filipinos but a host of other grassroots movements. True, it was deteriorating and finally vacated as the Centre was trying to regroup and find money to maintain it when the city decided to just do away with it at the behest of a next door neighbor who has set his sights of turning the whole block into his own personal fiefdom.

      Next, came the Ming Sung bldg., for years home to a Chinese seniors SRO and a heritage structure with particular relevance to the Japanese community in this city and province. Ten poor tenants, mostly seniors lost their homes in a split second because the Gods at the city engineering office led by the highly-paid bureaucrat Ms. Carli Edwards, P. Eng., decided that the bldg. was ‘unsafe’ and ordered the tenants out. For months, the city bullied and threatened the owners with demolition despite appeals to preserve it and rebuild. Ultimately, the city capitulated when faced by a determined citizens’ movement (Friends of 439 Powell St.) that coalesced around the issue.

      The enduring images of this debacle were not the helmet-clad city workers and firemen who regularly trooped to the Ming Sung site but an old lady tenant who broke down in tears unabashedly when she came back to recoup whatever remained of her life’s possessions after the bldg. was suspiciously vandalized. Do we care where she is now?

      These are the untold stories of human depravity and blight in our city. When we drive out poor seniors who can’t afford decent homes in favour of the development mantra, when we give away city properties to moneyed friends, then the city will have lost its soul!

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      mike

      Feb 21, 2014 at 2:38pm

      This mayor and council are worst we have had ever. No consultation with voters or if there if it is only lip service. They have an attitude of "we know what is best" so don't even bother trying to change our direction once pointed out by queen moonbeam.

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      Beatriz Osorio

      Feb 21, 2014 at 4:40pm

      The ex VPD building must stand forever
      As a reminder of the suffering of our community and to serve the vulnerable of the DTES to honor
      The women that died to violence and the ones who still missing
      The victims of drug overdose that is the history
      Of that corner , we are that corner we all knew somebody
      Who stood at that cornerand enter that building to look for a son or daughter
      No tech hub is welcome where so much suffering took place
      It will be an insult to the families , city hall you won't erase the memory
      Memory, Truth and justice

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      VanCity got screwed

      Feb 21, 2014 at 6:38pm

      VanCity (credit union) really wanted this building. VanCity did everything to work with city staff and elected officials to make it work. VanCity was led by the nose, then given the boot. Do some investigative journalism.

      Check with your insiders (whistle blowers) from the city and from VanCity to corroborate this fact. Gregor Robertson, Vision Councillors and senior city staff know what really happened.

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      Save Vancouver

      Feb 21, 2014 at 8:32pm

      Another Vision Vancouver "green" giveaway that's bound to end in a steaming pile of kaka.

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      sicntired

      Feb 22, 2014 at 7:35am

      Reading this article reminds me that people that live and work in the political spectrum are a breed apart from the rest of us.While I have been hearing about this kind of center for a long time I have never heard a single idea that would be anything but a handout to a lot of movers and shakers in local politics.The names are all familiar.It reminds me of my days in the local drug reform scene.Always the same people looking to get a grant or some kind of handout and then they vanish like the mist.The actual parties that are trying to better their lives are left to wonder what happened and where everyone went.On to the next hot button issue and the feeding ground for the political hangers on.For every well intentioned person there are ten sharks circling the pool looking for blood.Once someone asked if the group was really interested in helping or just looking for funding?It got very quiet and there was some mumbling and whispered assurances but the meeting never went anywhere from that point till it ended.That was one of the last such meeting I attended.The limelight was moving on,I think to a centre for artists and media in some place in gas town .

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      Both Sides

      Feb 22, 2014 at 9:15am

      There are pros and cons to both scenarios - hight tech park vs social housing. I would vote for a mixture to buffer the effect on the area. But what I think does not matter since neither I, nor the rest of the population, will be asked what we think. What happens to this building is too important to be left to a small group of people, especially since they've shown time and time again that they are very pro development. Take a good look at this historic neighbourhood because it is about to change forever.

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      Ally

      Feb 24, 2014 at 1:25pm

      Why doesn't an investigative reporter get to the source of the madness going on in our city. It's time to get the puppet show out of city hall. Why not expose the U.S. trust fund babies who are acting as the puppeteers. As the saying goes "you are as sick as your secrets" and we have a very sick party in power.

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