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UDI Lunch - September 16, 2004
The Mayor's Message?

By Stu Wells                                       September 16, 2004

A lot of us broke bread with Mayor Larry Campbell today in the Four Seasons ballroom at the first UDI lunch since the summer break. Itís been 18 months since Mayor Campbell last addressed the group. Hereís what I heard.

Mayor Campbell (Iíll call him Larry) re-iterated that he had made it a priority then, and it remains a priority for the Mayor to be accessible to the development community and to engage in "frank and direct" discussions. Larry appears to give himself a passing grade.

His overwhelming pride in the City of Vancouver comes through. Citing the issuance of $500 million in building permits in June alone, he seems genuinely excited by the energy in the City and its prospects for the future. Almost uniquely among North American cities, Vancouverís inner city is densifying and enjoying significant inner city migration. He acknowledged that the explosive growth has demonstrated a need for more staffing and that this is being addressed. Without getting specific, he also acknowledged some "errors by council". (I suppose many of us, if asked, could have helped him out with some specifics).

The City is constantly going through a "visioning process" and Larry acknowledges that City efforts to stimulate change are both the product and the cause of serious discussion.

A number of incentive projects (read City funding) are under way in Gastown, on Broadway and in Chinatown. Larry is convinced that the Property Endowment Fund is being used for purposes for which it was specifically intended when it was established some 30 years ago. He believes the City is putting the fund appropriately to work by helping to make Vancouver a showcase for social, environmental and economic sustainability.

Larry says Woodwards is on schedule and that a very difficult choice will have to be made among three outstanding proposals. He views getting this project off the ground as a major catalyst for development in the area.

November of this year should see the adoption of a comprehensive plan for South East False Creek. Planning for the Olympic athletes village and attendant development around First and Second Avenues should be established in the Spring. Larry claims the South East False Creek Plan is consistent with that envisaged by Mayor Phillips many years ago. He acknowledged there are some challenges, including adopting Green Building Standards and getting acceptance of the notion that it will be good for consumers and good for developers.

Larry says that one of the key objectives of his Council is to support the employment and training of disadvantaged persons in the neighbourhoods. One has to wonder how this is supposed to work in the civic planning context.

Staff is working on a new initiative for False Creek Flats. Larry says a large number of exciting ideas are coming forward and he wants lots of public involvement. Stay tuned for January í05.

Larry described the 126 acre South Fraser Lands as "perfect for housing" of a new type, and "different from urban housing". A new initiative is being unveiled soon.

New plans are also afoot for Mount Pleasant and the West End. No specifics.

Larry gave more than a veiled threat to Canada Safeway relative to its refusal to waive a restrictive covenant it holds at Kingsway and Knight. The refusal is preventing the development of a grocery store on a site where Larry says "a grocery store is urgently needed". According to Larry, the position taken by our friends at CSL is preventing a transformation of the neighbourhood that the City very much wants to happen. It sounded to me like expropriation talk.

Larry mentioned the continuing drama surrounding RAV. The Cityís principal concern now is regulating the impact of the RAV stations on neighbourhoods, particularly the inner city. Various options are being considered and guidelines for business near RAV stations may come later this year.

The Convention Centre expansion is moving apace and final approvals are expected in 2005.

Float planes present the need for some tough decisions and will be dealt with by the Development Permit Board, probably by the end of September. Larry says that while floatplanes are "an essential service", the impact on residents must by minimized. (Is a commute to the float plane docks in the offing?)

Overall, Larry is pleased with the opportunities a Martin government provides to cities generally with a promised "new deal". The message from him is simple Ė flow the fuel tax to cities and theyíll get going with new initiatives like green ground transportation, child care and similar programs. Larry says he and Premier Campbell are on the same page on the "new deal for cities" and he hopes BC will be first out of the gate.

Contrary to what many of us at lunch might think, Larry believes a ward system will be good for the City (even good for UDI?). The Berger Report envisages 14 wards and concludes that a ward system will enhance civic democracy. Larry stresses, as Iím sure he feels he must, that a ward system will not be coupled with any increase in political staff for councilors and will leave civic staff independent. Besides, the total tab should only be about $600,000, annually. I kind of felt myself leaning over to the right a bit at this point. Such a deal!

In question period, Larry acknowledged that while the "Four Pillars" approach is making a difference in the Downtown Eastside, there is no simple solution. (I found the reported 600-800 safe injections being done every day at the "shooting gallery" to be a mind-boggling number). The City is working on a new prevention blueprint which should be out in a few weeks. Enforcement is admittedly pushing some of the problem to other areas. Larry says treatment facilities are seriously inadequate. He acknowledges that property crime is, to a very large extent, a result of the drug problem. Larry says that we have all the tools to deal with public safety concerns, "just not enough police resources". (I wondered, "and maybe not the full support of Council either?", but I digress). He would like to see 200 more officers on the street within 5 years, many of them "beat cops". He believes itís achievable, but it will be a difficult task to find and train suitable officers.

Larry seems to think Granville Mall will kind of take care of itself as the neighbourhood experiences increased density and activity. He says the neighbourhood will shape itself and the less desirable elements will simply disappear. Cosmetic upgrades might be in the offing.

Larry restated that he had promised last year to "open up City Hall" and he believes he has done so. He expressed gratitude to UDI for caring about our wonderful City. Larry thinks the City is doing very well.

- Stu Wells


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