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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.
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.
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.
"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.