2 June 2011
Mayor Gregor Robertson
City of Vancouver
Copy to Vancouver City Councillors
RE: Comments on West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee (Activities, Performance, Survey, etc.)
Dear Mayor Robertson:
We are writing to express concerns about the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee (WEMAC). Part of this letter is to state some points for the record, but we also invite your responses on several points.
As you know WEMAC is important not only for the West End, but for the entire city of Vancouver. You have described it as a “pilot” for “an innovative engagement approach that can be evaluated as a potential interim measure for all communities waiting for official planning processes.” WEMAC should obviously meet the highest standards.
We are now at the halfway point between the committee’s first meeting and the next municipal election. In the spirit of building trust and serving the public interest, it would benefit the West End community to become clearly informed on the function of WEMAC and its remaining objectives. Please note that we write this with regards to WEMAC as a body you have created, and that we are not in any way criticizing individual members, who we believe are making their best effort to serve the community.
From time to time, members of our community group West End Neighbours (WEN) have received questions from the community regarding the Mayor’s West End Community Advisory Committee (WEMAC) and its progress. We hope to get your responses so we can answer such questions.
Would you kindly provide some information relating to WEMAC on the topics noted below, some of which were raised at the committee’s inception – a number of concerns regarding the format and mandate of WEMAC were outlined by WEN in a letter to you in July of 2010, shortly after a Council vote passed your motion to create the Committee (July 8, 2010). The committee was eventually created in the fall of 2010, two of your Councillors selected its members, and it has held several meetings since then. Over time, however the WEMAC mandate appears to have shifted (often referred to as “scope creep”) and the committee’s operations do not always seem to reflect the original intent of the committee. (A copy of the mandate, terms of reference, and membership is attached).
The mandate of the committee as published is:
“… communicating community priorities to the City in its planning and policy development and for helping to communicate City policy initiatives that may be of interest to residents in the West End.”
With regard to specific topics of interest, please see the sections outlined below.
A discrepancy exists between the committee’s actions and the way it has been portrayed to the public. Referring to the WEMAC meeting minutes at:
In the minutes of meetings on February 3, 2011, February 24, 2011, March 24, 2011, and April 7, 2011, there are several references to discussions about the development proposal at 1401 Comox Street, including meetings with the proponent.
Yet in a September 13, 2010 Xtra! West article titled “West end group aims to scrutinize mayor’s committee” it is noted:
“There’s been a bit of a misunderstanding among people that the committee will be discussing Comox Street and that’s not the case,” media spokesperson Kevin Quinlan recently told Xtra. “We’ve always been clear that the mayor’s advisory council was not a review panel or decision-making body for any developments in the city.”
As Mr. Quinlan frequently attends WEMAC meetings and spoke on behalf of the committee, is there an explanation for the discrepancy between the committee’s actions and Mr. Quinlan’s published comments? Residents of the West End want to have the confidence that city staff are undertaking a complete review of the rezoning proposal at 1401 Comox Street, and that this review is shared with the public. We believe that on-going project consultation and refinement between WEMAC and a development applicant is inappropriate, and outside the mandate of the committee. What is your view of this point?
Appointments to the Committee
In WEN’s July, 2010 comments regarding the formulation of the committee, concerns were expressed regarding the process by which the selection of members was to be undertaken.
Undoubtedly competence, trustworthiness and good relationships can be expedient and beneficial in many circumstances. No less important is the impression in the public’s eyes that all steps were taken to reach out as broadly as possible in member selection, so as to avoid any unintended perception of undue influence or support for particular policy or political objectives.
Given that the committee is unique in Vancouver, its members were not elected by the public or appointed by City Council, we hope that you or your office will provide a public explanation of the decision-making process that went into member selection, in order to avoid the risk that the legitimacy of the committee’s eventual findings will be undermined in the eyes of the public.
Location of and Access to Meetings
Given that all members of the committee reside in the West End, the meetings are of West End priorities, and meetings are open to the public, would it not be reasonable for the committee to hold its meetings in the West End? This would enable easier access by residents of the West End, particularly those members of the community who may have mobility challenges. Not one of WEMAC’s meetings have been held in the West End, and it appears there are no plans for one to be held here.
Further, it seems appropriate that all meetings of WEMAC be open to the public. On April 7th, the committee agreed to meet with the proponent of the 1401 Comox development proposal, but this meeting was held “in camera.” Meetings on topics affecting the future of the West End should be open to residents of the West End. Will you take steps to make all future meetings be open to West End residents?
Use of Information Already Obtained from City’s 2010 Survey of West End
It appears that the committee has chosen to set aside the findings of the city report titled “West End Discussion on Community Needs and Affordable Housing Community Discussion Summary Report” of June 2010, in favour of the committee’s own survey effort. The City published its own report on priorities, located here:
One of this report’s key messages with respect to planning issues is that “there should not be any more site specific rezoning until a comprehensive community plan is developed and the public should be more involved in the planning process.” This message is consistent with over 11,500 signatures on a petition demanding no spot rezoning until there is a comprehensive West End Plan, yet WEMAC is undertaking a further survey without mentioning a community plan as an option for the neighbourhood.
WEMAC has written and circulated a “community priorities” survey (closing date June 10, 2011). It has not been made clear how WEMAC will weight or incorporate the previous survey work already paid for by Vancouver taxpayers, which many residents felt quite nicely reflected community priorities. We understand that WEMAC will compile the new survey results and issue a report to you as Mayor within the next few weeks. We hope that you will give them clear instructions to give due recognition to the previous survey work.
WEMAC Survey (May/June 2011) Drafting, Design and Content
WEN members have engaged in thousands of conversations with residents, and has also conducted its own surveys in the community. Before the May 12 WEMAC meeting we requested the WEMAC Co-Chairs give us the opportunity to participate in formulating the WEMAC survey questions, to ensure a most effective result.
This request was denied, and shortly thereafter the WEMAC survey went “live.”
It is our understanding that members on WEMAC are participating as individuals. For the record, WEN did not receive any formal request for input regarding the survey, and in fact, references on the WEMAC website and in promotional material about the survey wrongly give the impression to readers that WEN has cooperated in the formulation of this survey.
Also, for the record, can you advise which parties other than WEMAC members themselves participated in formulating the questions in the survey?
We have strong reservations about survey design and content. If you ask a professional to review the survey, you will likely be told that some questions require “forced answers” and that these raise the risk that conclusions drawn will not accurately reflect the full range of public opinion. In addition, there appears to be no measure in place to prevent vested interests from skewing the results as respondents are not identified. One person could submit multiple surveys. These are just a few examples of problems with the survey and the problems that may arise in interpreting the results. We have be preparing more detailed comments on the actual content of the survey and will share them with you at a later date.
Regarding WEMAC’s compiling of survey responses, analysis, interpretation, and reporting back to you as Mayor, and in all of WEMAC’s work leading up to its report to you, we hope that objective observers will be assured that the outcome was not predetermined or unduly influenced. We feel that based on the design and content of the survey, there is a risk that the conclusions eventually made by WEMAC will not accurately reflect community sentiments.
Is the “community priorities survey” the only method by which WEMAC is establishing community priorities and communicating city policy to the public? WEN has heard of some interactions with other community groups, but has not been approached directly for an opportunity to provide input on priorities. If there have been other outreach efforts to community, service, or business groups, will the results of these discussions be made public for review by residents?
WEMAC’s Role in Municipal Processes
Minutes of a WEMAC meeting note a request for staff to explore the closure of a portion of Broughton Street. It appears to be outside the committee’s mandate for WEMAC to be making particular requests of staff and affecting staff workloads and priorities. Can you confirm that instead WEMAC should be identifying issues so that requests can be made to staff by City Council?
Further, in the minutes of the meeting of May 12, 2011, it is noted that a sub-committee be established to provide recommendations on broader processes related to development applications. This topic appears far beyond the mandate of the committee. This is a topic for discussion between your Development Services staff and Council, with input from all members of the public in a public setting.
Could you please provide a rationale for why WEMAC would be working to review the City’s broader development application processes?
WEMAC Statement on Demolition at 1401 Comox Street
This is less a question and more an observation. The statement by WEMAC regarding the demolition of St. John’s Church at 1401 Comox Street is unfortunate, and to many members of the community, hurtful. It is unclear why WEMAC members felt the need to comment on this demolition, as it again suggests an on-going involvement with the developer and architect and the details of the development application at this site. WEMAC’s comment on the demolition being “a step forward to improve the health and safety of our community” appears far beyond the mandate of the committee to establish community priorities, and publicly dismisses the informed opinions of many in the community that there could have been a different future for this 30 year old building. It also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the problems that occurred as a result of the property owner’s lack of proper security and oversight of the property over the last year.
West End Neighbours is a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving the quality of life for all West End residents and the distinct, diverse character of the neighbourhood. Our mandate is premised on an 11,500 plus signature petition that calls for “no rezoning without a comprehensive plan.”
The West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee has been presented as a pilot for other Vancouver neighbourhoods. As the Advisory Committee finalizes its work and approaches the day when it delivers its advice over the next several weeks to you as Mayor, we hope that you will take the necessary steps to provide the oversight and ensure that it has functioned in a way that everyone will feel is something that all Vancouver citizens can be proud of.
We look forward to your comments and responses and welcome your efforts to ensure that the West End continues to be the outstanding neighbourhood that it is.
(Printed copy signed)
Background on Mayor’s West End Community Advisory Committee (WEMAC) From the City of Vancouver Website
The Committee is responsible for communicating community priorities to the City in its planning and policy development and for helping to communicate City policy initiatives that may be of interest to residents in the West End.
Terms of Reference
The Committee will be responsible for the following activities interim to a formal planning process be undertaken for the West End:
- Developing and maintaining a list of community priorities for the West End.
- Meeting with developers proposing re-zonings in the West End prior to community open houses to ensure these proposals are informed by current community priorities.
- Providing advice to the Mayor’s Office on further initiatives to increase linkages between the West End and the City in relation to development and policy.
The Mayor’s West End Community Advisory Committee is composed of the Chair of the Planning and Environment Committee Councillor Andrea Reimer, Councillor Tim Stevenson, Mayor Gregor Robertson and twelve (12) individuals from the West End:
Christine Ackermann Donald Allison Marlann Cooper Jim Deva Michelle Fortin Lean Hozaima Dean Malone, Co-Chair Cherie Payne Rob Hines