COPE Electeds: General Meeting Reports, Autumn 2020

Jean Swanson, Vancouver City Councillor 

Hi everyone.  Wish I could see your smiling faces in person and get/give a hug.  I’m really missing all of you. 

I’d like to start my report by acknowledging that we are on the stolen territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh People and commit to trying to get the land back for them or get them some compensation for it.

I need to start by thanking my rock and back-bone stiffer upper, Anne Roberts.  She has been such a support!  She reads the council agendas and makes notes on them for me, raising all kinds of stuff I didn’t think of; she does research; talks to different people for me; and helps me figure out how to vote and what to say.  She edits everything I write and she is a really good editor and then gets stuff published for me.  She sends me little reassuring texts when the council meetings are particularly bad. And when I haven’t  a clue what to do I call her up and we figure it out.  So a huge thank you to Anne.

The last year has been quite a learning curve. That’s why you should run for office when you’re young, cause what you learn will last longer.  Ive tried to get some good things passed like the SRO vacancy control motion, one on truck pollution, one to implement a meaningful Access without fear policy for people without immigration papers,  2 to push for free transit for kids and low income folks, and the police motion called decriminalizing poverty.  These all passed but what I’ve learned is it takes eons in the bureaucracy before anything happens and that might just be the staff coming back and saying we can’t do it. The big learning from this is WE NEED A MAJORITY!  With a majority we could be clear about what we want and what our priorities are. But without one it's just everyone heaping their priorities into a pile that keeps getting higher.

Some issues coming up are pretty important:

On Oct 2 there will be a staff report on a long motion about what to do about homelessness.  Its conceivable that there could be a good outcome for this report but that’s  a long shot  I think cause the city won’t want to pay for hotel rooms or other ways of housing people who don’t have homes--even though we could by deeking into the Property Endowment Fund or something else.

Later there will be a report on SRO vacancy control.  I’m afraid the staff will say the city can’t do it.  We are trying to mobilize people to say the city should do it. Christine and I are working  the VDLC, VTU, Seniors, and BCGEU on a tenant protection motion.  The mayor may have one too. So we’ll have to work that out.I’m afraid nothing will come of the police motion I made and that passed, until next year.  But the budget will come up in Dec and i’ll try to cut the police and probably fail.

Also probably in Dec will be a motion that I made to ensure that if rentals on certain arterials are demolished they have to be replaced with rentals.  The landlords and developers hate this and will probably be out in force to stop it.

So if anyone wants to help support on those issues thats what we need.  Thats why the police motion passed I think, cause almost 400 speakers signed up, some of you did, thanks. 

We definitely need to start thinking about the next election, finding candidates, building a war chest, and working on the issues that are important to us like rent freeze and mansion tax.. Oh,I did try for a motion just to ask staff to look at a progressive property tax and it was defeated.  More reason we need a majority.

I’ve really enjoyed working with the SRO-C, Unite Here, VTU, the city seniors and renters advisory cttes that I’m a liaison to, the folks fighting for defunding the police, the group we had for the Access without Fear motion, the folks at the tent city and others that happen along.

I also want to appreciate Nancy for all her work and for her absolute devotion and instinct of sticking up for those that need it the most and for pushing COPE in that direction and to Tristan for all his interesting and nerdy info that actually does help.

 

Park Board midterm report to COPE: Gwen Giesbrecht

Two years in and we have made some important decisions at the Park Board:

The reworking of the VanSplash Aquatic strategy with an eye to the renewal of facilities and a moratorium on closing any local pools until well after an assessment of the impact any new facilities have. We will receive an update on the implementation of the strategy later this fall and at that time will be able to give direction to staff on the progress to date and any changes in actions proposed we see needed.

Adoption of the 25-year strategic plan VanPlay with its top priorities of:

  • Equity- more equitable distribution of parks and recreation opportunities
  • Assets Needs- articulates needs relating to physical assets and sets targets to track progress.
  • Connectivity- a network of parks, green spaces and recreational areas that connects us to nature, to each other and to ourselves.

People living in Parks:

Is ongoing. This, of course, is a situation that goes well beyond the Park Board mandate. However, by continually showing majority support the board has not pursued legal injunction against folks forced to live in parks, despite having previously had a by-law that in the past has been used to forcibly eject park residents. We now have a by-law that although imperfect, no longer makes sheltering in parks overnight illegal. Our motion to suspend the rule in regard to taking down shelters during the day has not yet been debated. It has been kept alive by way of deferment and can be brought forward to debate as needed at any time in the future.

The decisions taken by the Park Board, alongside the work of the residents and activists have brought public awareness to the issues of poverty, addiction, and the displacement of people due to unaffordable housing and endemic discrimination toward Indigenous people. These issues are all brought to sharper focus with the COVID-19 and overdose health crises, and increasing pressure has resulted in some attention paid by those whose mandate it is to address these issues. Too late in coming, too slow in being implemented, at least there is some discussion happening toward finding answers.  

Washroom Strategy:

Public washrooms in Vancouver fall mainly under the management of the Park Board. There is underway a plan to up-grade existing washrooms and add to the inventory. The motion we introduced to include the provision of free menstrual supplies in PB run public washrooms be included in developing the washroom strategy passed.

Senior Management:

 The Park Board makes the decision on the PB General Manager position. With the retirement of the previous GM last spring, we had a rare opportunity to choose the new GM. This is important as the General Manager may influence directions at the PB long past the time when elected commissioners may have their influence. The person hired into the position, 

Donnie Rosa, I believe brings a perspective that aligns well with the times we are in. With a strong background in working with marginalized, vulnerable, and at-risk communities. With national recognition for understanding, and working with Indigenous people. With a keen understanding, after holding the position of Director of Recreation at the Vancouver PB, of the opportunities available through the network of Community Centres, and the key role played by the elected CCA boards, I feel a good choice was made and I look forward to seeing what directions Donnie Rosa brings.

The future:

It is a shifting landscape (that’s park speak ). We truly are in unprecedented times. For many years, since the cuts to the Park Board budget from the city budget, there has been an increased necessity for the PB to be a revenue-generating operation in order to maintain core services.

With the new reality imposed by the restrictions of COVID-19, the likely reduction in tourism, large gatherings, the potential for generating revenue is significantly curtailed. There will need to be a re-think of funding streams and a re-think of spending priorities. I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing. What we have seen in the last six months is a renewed appreciation of the 

Vancouver parks and recreation facilities and services by the residents of Vancouver. Building on this is perhaps an opportunity to create even better green spaces and recreational facilities through a lens of what works best for all the people who find their homes here.

In conclusion:

When embarking in my position at the Park Board I had some understanding of the importance of all the functions and operations of the Vancouver Board of Parks & Recreation. Two years in

I am convinced that the role we play in the lives of the people of Vancouver is critical. Day to day in the areas that most directly impact lives, we are directly responsible in adding to resilient communities, supporting families; children, parents and guardians, youth, seniors and all the many diverse populations that add to the complexity that is Vancouver. It has been my honour to contribute what I can.

 

Park Board midterm report to COPE: John Irwin

At the start of my term I laid out various goals. I want to inform the membership of the progress that was made on some of them, and also cover some issues that arose in the first half of the term.

With my colleague, Gwen Giesbrecht, we were able to eliminate fees across the Park Board system for children 4 years of age and under (this was set at 2 years of age at the start of our term).

We were able to work with others on the Park Board to restore community pools. Community pools were reemphasized in our redrafting and adoption of VanSplash and we were also able to have new smaller outdoor pools either being built (Marpole Pool) or starting to be planned (Mt. Pleasant Pool). This month, I worked with other commissioners to try to increase and expedite the planning of the long-promised Mt. Pleasant Pool by allocating more funds from the capital budget. We were also successful in extending the operation of both Templeton and Byng pools.

One of my key goals was to increase active transportation. In collaboration with Green Party Commissioner, Stuart Mackinnon, with Commissioner Giesbrecht’s support, we were able to pass a motion asking staff to explore ways to lower and restrict automobile access to Stanley Park. This reduction will lead to far greater levels of walking and cycling in the park and by extension throughout the West End and other downtown communities. This will aid in our city meeting the Climate Emergency goals as laid out by Vancouver’s city council.

I have supported providing playing fields for field sports. I fully supported the recent approval of the renewal of Slocan Park grass fields (completed in August 2020), and the upgrading of the grass fields located at Montgomery Park (to be completed in 2021). I also worked with concerned citizens to try to improve, or have the Park Board rethink artificial turf. A motion was deferred to have staff fully explore the many ecological and health issues of artificial turf. A team has been set up to work on this issues, but their work has been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

I have been engaged in ongoing consultation with First Nations and urban Indigenous communities to fund and create new Indigenous-centred infrastructure and programming. The progress on this has included asking and continuing to ask for an indigenous cultural centre in Crab Park, or in the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s land next to Crab Park.  

As the Park Board liaison to Mt. Pleasant, Kitsilano, and Kerrisdale Community Centres I have worked with community centre associations as equal partners.

Throughout the first half of the term the Park Board has been faced with the challenge of the lack of available, reasonable cost, rental housing leading to greater numbers of unhoused residents, many who are First Nations, living in tents in our parks. In collaboration with other commissioners in COPE and the Green Party we were successful in preventing the seeking of injunctions to move people from Oppenheimer and Strathcona Park. 

While I fully appreciate the issues that arise for neighbours of those tenting in parks in terms of access to green space, allowing people to shelter against the elements is a constitutional right, and is better than sleeping in doorways and hidden in alleyways. At these locations peer workers were able to work with the unhoused providing overdose prevention, and other vital services, that would be much more difficult to deliver to a hidden and dispersed group of people.

Throughout this period I have met regularly with the unhoused people, and their advocates, at each location. I also met with people during the Port Lands camp period, and I wrote to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the Vancouver Chief of Police, the Mayor of Vancouver, BC’s Minister of Social Development & Poverty and the Federal Minister of Transportation asking that an injunction not be used to remove unhoused campers from this location.

I have also repeatedly spoken out in the media for the need for all three levels of government to fund and build public, affordable housing available at rates that those on limited incomes, and provincial benefits can afford. Thus I added my voice to the push to have more affordable housing and other solutions for those who are unhoused in our City.

Recently, I presented a motion, seconded by Commssioner Giesbrecht, that the unhoused residing in tents in our City’s parks not be forced to take down their tents during the pandemic period, as is required by the Temporary Shelter in Parks bylaw changes (which I also opposed as the requirements are far from ideal for the unhoused). This motion was referred, during a period when COVID-19 cases are occurring in the Downtown Eastside and we are experiencing a significant rise in COVID-19 cases across our region.

I met with Viveca Ellis, and worked with COPE City Councillor Jean Swanson on the campaign for a pilot youth and low income transit access program, which the City recently started. Other transit initiatives have included: presentations to the Mayor’s Council for TransLink and the Translink  requesting the return of the around the park bus route for Stanley Park (that existed prior to the 1990s); a successful motion asking the City to request that TransLink establish a beach express bus during the summer months (Translink has not implemented this, possibly due to COVID-19); and an earlier successful motion that asked City Council to support the All On Board initiative to lower transit fares. 

Overall, while it has been a very challenging period with COVID-19, as it has been for us all, the first half of the term has been a period of consistently working for those who are more vulnerable in our City. 

I will be introducing a motion soon that will ask the Park Board to request that City Council renegotiate the Oakridge Park agreement that allowed  for private gardeners to attend to this specific park, and that this is not pursued in future parks. Our parks should be maintained by our very professional and unionized staff who have long experience in delivering horticultural excellence in our parks.

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