Written on May 29, 2016 by Tim Louis
Tuesday night the City of Vancouver held a Public Hearing on a controversial rezoning application for a Cressey development at East 18th and Commercial Drive in the Cedar Cottage area. Many citizens took time out of their busy schedules to attend the Public Hearing, which was chaired by Raymond Louie, one of Vision Vancouver’s councillors.
As people who have paid attention to the way public hearings are conducted by Vision Vancouver will know, these vitally important steps in the rezoning process have become more and more undemocratic over the last few years. Tuesday night was no exception. In fact, the hearing became so unfair and undemocratic that the Green Party’s Adriane Carr and all the NPA councillors felt they had no option other than to walk out, forcing an abrupt halt to proceedings.
Apparently, it was one of the few hearings where a majority of Vision Vancouver councillors weren’t present so, theoretically speaking, the Green and NPA councillors could have carried the vote. But Councillor Louie took to such underhanded techniques as chair — like favouring his Vision colleagues, even inviting Vision Councillor Tim Stephenson to try and delay the meeting — that walking out was the only suitable response.
A number of years ago Vision Vancouver decided to change the procedure bylaw governing public hearings. Up to that point, it had always been necessary for city councillors to be present at the entire public hearing in order to vote “yea” or “nay” at the end of it. But this was far too onerous for many Vision Vancouver councillors, who didn’t appreciate the fact that they were forced to sit through the entire public hearing — which could sometimes last days — before voting in favour of their developer friends.
The bylaw was therefore changed to permit a member of City Council to vote at the end of the public hearing no matter how little of it they attended. The only requirement specified in the new bylaw was that councillors were to be briefed by the city clerk as to what happened in their absence.
Imagine for a moment you are a party to a lawsuit. You attend court at the beginning of the trial, and there is no judge present! However, the court clerk tries to reassure you by telling you the judge will only be allowed to render a judgment, in your favour or against you, after reviewing the clerk’s notes and being briefed by the clerk!
I’m aware of no other municipal jurisdiction in all of Canada where a public hearing can be decided in this manner. Bad enough that Vision Vancouver always votes in favour of the applicant developer without regard to citizens’ input provided over the course of the hearing. Even worse that Vision Vancouver councillors are no longer present for most of the public hearing!
Contrast Vision Vancouver’s voting record at public hearings with the voting record of the Green’s Adriane Carr, who appears to genuinely appreciate the comments, advice and input provided by citizen delegations. She then votes based on the evidence before her. This is how a public hearing, which is in fact a quasi-judicial process, should be conducted.
When City Council moves into a public hearing, they become a court of sorts. On occasion in Canada, when a councillor has indicated that before a public hearing his or her mind is already made up one way or the other, the entire public hearing outcome has been overturned by our courts. This makes clear just how important proper procedure is.
As my hero, mentor and long-time former city councillor, Harry Rankin, often said, City Council’s single most powerful ability is its ability to rezone property. By increasing the density permitted, Council literally turns dirt into gold. Speaking of dirt, there seems to be so much of it around 12th and Cambie these days it’s time for a house cleaning.