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Downtown Eastside Goes Up Against City Hall

Face to Face on April 17

by Joseph Jones

Security Removes Heart from Desk of Chair
Security Removes Heart from Desk of Chair
An Hour or Two of Council Video in One Blink
An Hour or Two of Council Video in One Blink
Councillor Reimer's Last Word (with Clerk)
Councillor Reimer's Last Word (with Clerk)

Also posted by Joseph Jones:

Watch Nothing Happen

Go to the City of Vancouver web site for a link to Council video to see what happened on the afternoon of 17 April 2012. Then stare for an hour or two at a blue screen of death with four lines of white-on-black geekish spread across the top. In this universe, nothing moves.

It's not that nothing was happening, it's that nothing was being recorded. The Vision-NPA axis was practicing opacity.

Council chamber and the gallery above were packed with Downtown Eastside participant-observers who brought their own agenda — opposition to the impending Development Permit Board processing of Sequel 138 for the 100 block of East Hastings.

The video record failed to expunge one faint and poignant trace. As the camera goes live, a security guard removes one Downtown Eastside message heart from the desk where chair of Council sits.

The Drill

In the semblance of procedure that the City of Vancouver throws up as routine barrier to recalcitrant residents, there may be three opportunities for ordinary people to convey their views on a particular development proposal.

1  At the very beginning, when a developer sponsors an "open house" and gathers opinion.
2  At a public hearing before Council, but only if the development seeks change in zoning.
3  At the very end, when prepared plans go to the Development Permit Board for signoff.

All of these pro forma "opportunities" are essentially meaningless. Sometimes, desperate residents can make a point that magically becomes incorporated into a plan. Why anything happens is never clear. The few changes ever achieved amount to tweaks applied to the determinative designs that emanate from backroom collaboration between planning staff and developers.

The Ask

After most councillors had departed from their invaded chamber, negotiations took place. Councillor Andrea Reimer eventually brokered a deal. A majority of Council would come back to listen for half an hour. In return, the Downtown Eastside contingent would agree to vacate at 3:00 pm. At one point Reimer emphasized that the "meeting" had no official standing and could transact no "business."

Councillor Adriane Carr said she would attempt to present a motion to Council. That was by far the most that any official offered in either direct response or possible substance. The immediate context says everything. In the morning session of Council, lone Green Party member Carr had already registered the only opposition to a contentious rezoning of epic proportion, an unwanted Rize tower on the Kingsway-Broadway corner. The Vision-NPA axis stood together throughout the day in evident solidarity.

At a minimum, the Downtown Eastsiders sought deferral of the Sequel 138 on the Development Permit Board agenda. After the meeting Reimer commented to journalists that in-process applications just cannot be interfered with. That would not be fair. The major ask was that Council take Sequel 138 to a public hearing and thus themselves assume ownership of the decision to blockbust the heart of the neighborhood with gentrification. Step #2 as outlined above will not happen, because the developer has taken care to keep the proposal within what is allowed on an "outright" basis. In other words, the property owner exercises absolute right to done-deal planning with no discretion left to city authorities beyond application of usual mechanical and trivial standards.

The Fallacy

"Planning" and "government" confine their scope to the mechanics of construction, the aesthetics of building form, the procedures of bylaw, the economics of taxation and subsidy, and the unremitting interests of speculators. People with lived history and established community and connection to place hope that account can be taken of existing social context and the survival of longterm residents. Clash city. Wonkism carves out a few minutes for dissipation therapy, and that's all.

The Symbolic Aftermath

As time ran out, Reimer began to harp on the "promise" made to leave at three o'clock. In the following intermission, before the "real" Council session began, one gloved female staff person scrubbed desks, chair seats, and benches with a squeegee bottle and a rag. I remained seated in my chair. Her wipedown stopped short of the counter in front of me and the chair immediately to my right. A male security guard plugged into the cleansing exercise. He energetically rewiped the end of the same desk.

When Council chamber gets exposed to a class of persons that the Vision-NPA axis prefers never to hear from, literal disinfection must follow!

Endnote — Who Was Where

For the afternoon session of Council (observed from 3:30 to 5:00 pm), two councillors who had totally absented themselves during the DTES intervention showed up:  Elizabeth Ball and Kerry Jang. [This same character directly advised DTES people to "bug" him. But on this occasion he seems to have bugged out on that commitment!] Mayor Robertson disappeared for the entire afternoon. Reimer vanished as the official afternoon session began.

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  I read Joseph Jones’ piece


I read Joseph Jones’ piece about process at City Hall, reported on April 17. Process is important. So is content.

As to process, Mr Jones correctly reports that Sequel 138 conforms in every respect to DTES zoning. We are at or below height and density limits. We have requested no setbacks, no variances, and no favors. Our project is totally within the rules. It is for this reason that we are not at Council. There is no rezoning.

As to content, here is what we are building:  79 units of affordable housing, coming in around $250,000 per unit. 18 units of social housing, operated by an experienced non-profit. These are the requirements of zoning. They are what we have met.

But we have gone beyond our obligations. I think it useful for your readers to know this, in order to develop an informed opinion.

There is no displacement. Zero. No one lives there now. No one ever has.

We are building 2500 sq ft of art space, the second-largest in the DTES. It will be operated by a non-profit society. The City does not require this.

We are providing 3000 sq ft for urban agriculture, the second-largest in the DTES. This too will be operated by a non-profit. The City does not require this.

We are building a breezeway that links Pender to Hastings, and supports the City’s plan to revitalize Market Alley. The City does not require this. We offer these amenities because we want to. Because we believe in the power of art, and the necessity of local food production. And because we support the recreation of Market Alley.

I believe in mixed housing. I know that others insist on exclusively social housing, and will settle for nothing else. Fair enough.

But we agree on this:  the DTES deserves to be a safe and healthy place for all its people. It deserves art and gardens and variety. It deserves safe sidewalks, especially for women. Even the DENC makes safe and separate lines for women attending its meetings. And the district deserves a sense of hope and progress. Sequel 138 will prove that progress is possible in an area that too many people have written off as hopeless.

We are building the art space, the urban agriculture, and the connector NOT because we have to – but because we want to. We believe in the future of the DTES. We back our belief with our investment.

If I believed in no more than the letter of the bylaw, we would build 79 market units and 18 social units -- and nothing else.

But I believe in the future of DTES. And that’s why we are doing so much more.

Thank you for reading this.

Marc Williams, Sequel 138


PS:  A reminder. My original plan called for complete restoration of the Pantages Theatre, and the addition of 136 units of social housing next door. Our opponents today were against that one as well.


Marc Williams or agent: one voice for all

   You see Mr. Williams, or his agent, you speak about technical and legal requirements being met,

which is simply the silly game all bureaucrats and politicians are stuck with through our capitalist

corporatocracy. Again, you say that "there was nothing there before", just like you did last year, but

you're wrong again. Before, there was a wonderful theatre that should have been preserved as part

of the HAHR. Secondly, on a research note, you fail to understand that professors like Eugene

McCann and Nick Blomley observantly reiterate that social mixing doesn't work, and that

the "ripple effects" are inevitable: Remember this from here


   "Therefore, and that's just the tip of the iceberg, there are numerous Canadian, C.M.H.C., Stats Canada, and American studies by the American Housing Association, Eugene McCann and Professor Blomley from U.B.C., as well as others in Australia and England, which vouch for the inevitable "ripple effects" syndrome near the "revitalisation" project in question." 

   In fact, when Ruth Glass coined the

term "gentrification" in 1964, and what Vision terms "revitalization" today, are 2 distinctly different

processes really defined by class interest. You are the 1%, and I am of the DEOD 99%. So why

should your property "rights",having evolved from colonialism, override my right to 100% social

housing ?



Dear Marc Williams

You seem to have an inflated opinion of the social value of your work.

What the City requires is not what this city needs.

Why should someone who is homeless care about the 'power of art' when the people in power ignore their immediate, basic needs?

Your plan is within the rules, but the rules are fucked.

Whose future are you doing so much more for?

18 units is bullshit.

100% social housing.


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