27 December 2010

Happy Holidays

A happy holiday and the best for the new year to all my readers. If you have some extra time, why not check out Bright Nights in Stanley Park, the Bloedel Conservatory's Jewel Box of Lights and Vandusen Garden's Festival of Lights. Each of them is unique and spectacular, and a fantastic family adventure.

Here's hoping that 2011 is greener and more park friendly.

22 December 2010

Parks Budget passes 4-2-1

There was little doubt as to the outcome as the Park Board budget passed its first hurdle last Thursday night. It was also quite anti-climatic City Council announced that an additional amount would be set aside to keep washrooms open and field use for kids free. Knowing that there is a civic election next year, I can't imagine any city administration would close cherished public amenities like washrooms. What was surprising was that only 2/3 of the costs of washrooms was included, so the Park Board has to come up with an additional $100,000 in efficiencies to fund the remaining 1/3. Staff were not able to give us where these efficiencies would be found on such short notice. The $700,000 in other cuts--mostly to park maintenance--went through.

COPE Commissioner Loretta Woodcock and I voted against the budget and NPA Commissioner Ian Robertson abstained, with all 4 Vision Vancouver Commissioners voting in favour. The 2 negative votes and one abstention were all cast in reaction to the lack of public consultation done by the Park Board. While City Council gave citizens ample opportunity to speak on the priorities of the overall budget, there was very little opportunity for residents to speak to the Park Board. A scheduled opportunity on Monday December 13th was cancelled by the Chair and rescheduled to Thursday the 16th--two days after City Council decided the budget. As could be expected, very few people turned out to the meeting on the 16th as there was little point.

I hope next year's process will be more inclusive and that everyone who wants to speak to the Board is given the opportunity before the budget is set.

18 December 2010

Five reasons why Vision Vancouver badmouths Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon

By Charlie Smith, The Straight

This week, Vision Vancouver park commissioners ramped up their attacks on the lone elected Green in Vancouver, Stuart Mackinnon.

In a peculiar move, Vision's Raj Hundal called Straight reporter Carlito Pablo out of the blue on December 15 to tell him that Mackinnon is "almost a bit of a bully".

Another Vision commissioner, Sarah Blyth, sent an e-mail to the Straight claiming that Mackinnon has—get this—"been anything but supportive", even rolling his eyes when she spoke.

What accounts for Vision's decision to go after Mackinnon this week?

Here are five theories:

1. The Vision Vancouver-controlled council approved the budget on December 14 before the Vision-controlled park board had a chance to hear submissions from the public. Mackinnon will likely point this out tonight (December 16). It's unheard-of for council to approve its budget before the elected park board has a chance to provide input. So the best defence for Vision commissioners was a good offence against Mackinnon in advance of him mentioning this to the media.

2. Related to the first point, the Vision-controlled park board postponed its budget consultation with the public, which was scheduled for the December 13 meeting. If Vision had proceeded on that day, there would have been a huge public outcry the night before the Vision-controlled council approved its budget. That's bad optics for a party that's obsessed with how it's perceived by the public.

3. Mackinnon simply knows a lot more about parks and recreation than the Vision commissioners. He has been attending park board meetings for years. Maybe the Vision commissioners are jealous.

4. Mackinnon is not a toady who supports all Vision motions. This doesn't sit well with a party that had an electoral arrangement whereby one spot was saved for the Greens. Vision feels that it helped elect Mackinnon and he's not sufficiently grateful for this.

5. Mackinnon lines up with NPA commissioner Ian Robertson on some issues. They both opposed opening up community centres for anti-HST petitioners, for example. Mackinnon has also put out joint news releases with Robertson. In the eyes of Vision Vancouver, that's tantamount to treason, and therefore, the Green commissioner must be punished.

Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.

10 December 2010

$7 million for a birthday party but not enough to cut grass or plant flowers?

On the Global news tonight they had a report of the plans City Council has for celebrating Vancouver's 125th anniversary next year. Two birthday 'bashes' are planned, one in the spring and another (for 3 days) in the summer. The total cost is reported as close to $7 million dollars. Now I'm all for celebrating the good things in life, but at a time when the Park Board is considering closing washrooms, planting fewer flowers and not cutting grass in some parks, as well as other cuts to our Libraries, one has to wonder where City Council's priorities are? Four days of parties or a year's worth of washrooms, gardens, fields and books?

And a note -- I just received notice that the regularly scheduled Park Board meeting on Monday night will not be discussing the budget. Instead a special meeting has been convened by the Board Chair for Thursday, 16 December at 7 pm to discuss the 2011 Park Board budget.

07 December 2010

Washroom closures? Probably not, but what about the rest?

As you know by now, the Park Board budget reductions include the closure of many park washrooms. This seems to have resonated in both the media and the public mind. I doubt very much City Council will allow for this. After all this is an election year and nobody wants to go into a campaign being the Grinch who stole the potties! So I imagine City Council will miraculously find $300K to keep the bathrooms open. And then there will be a claim of a great victory for public process.

But what about the other cuts to this and previous year's budgets? And what about the fee hikes? Will those get the same benefit? I doubt it very much. There have been more than $4 million in cuts over the past couple of years. There are fewer programmers in our Community Centres, fewer summer programs for our kids, fewer flowers in our gardens and longer grass in our fields and on our pathways. There are higher fees for our pools and rinks, and now toddlers pay too. Is Vancouver a better place for these reductions? I don't think so.

04 December 2010

My presentation to City Council

Although I requested to speak to Council late on Wednesday, I was the first speaker on the list for the Thursday meeting. After I had made my presentation, one of the city clerks announced that the microphone wasn't working and so my remarks were not properly recorded. Just for the record here is what I said to the Mayor and Council:

Well here we are again. One year later and I stand before you, again asking that you give the Park Board enough money to fulfill its role. Did you know that over the term of this mandate you have reduced the operations of the Park Board by over 4 million dollars? That is much, much more than the previous 8 years combined. And this year we are facing another reduction of more than $1 million. By this point we are no longer finding efficiencies but cutting real programs and services. Next year we may very well be closing community centres if these reductions continue.

Last year’s reductions meant the end of the Stanley Park farmyard, the reduction of programmers in our community centres, the end of many children’s summer programs in our parks, and the closure of an after-school care program. We reduced garbage pick up in the parks, planted fewer trees, reduced park maintenance, reduced building maintenance, and nearly lost the Bloedel Conservatory.

This year the reductions will mean real hardships for the citizens of Vancouver and to our visitors too. The 1.03 million in reductions will be found by cutting back the pruning of street trees from 7 to 8 years, planting fewer flowerbeds in Stanley Park and at English Bay as well as the introduction of fees for youth playing on our fields. And these on top of the higher fees charged for using our services. All of these will be noticed and felt.

What stands out for me this year are the plans to close public washrooms and further reduce maintenance in our parks.

Washrooms are, in my opinion, essential services in cities. They are not a luxury, but a necessary public amenity to the population as a whole. We should be expanding our network of public washrooms, not closing them. There are some people in our city who rely on public washrooms for their basic hygiene, and many others who because of age or infirmity rely on public washrooms so they can lead normal active lives. And of course any of us can be caught short.

Let me put a face to this and give you an example of just one location. I live across from Riverfront Park in Fraserlands. Every morning groups of elders, many of them from the Ross Street temple, walk along the foreshore of the Fraser River. This walking keeps them healthy and is a social outlet for them. They use the Riverfront facilities as a halfway point in their morning walk to relieve and refresh themselves. Without the washroom facilities I am sure many will no longer be able to walk such a great distance.

There is also a playground in this park. On any day you can see mums and dads with their kids playing there. They use the washrooms too. You only have to hear the cry “I have to go!” once to know how important these facilities are. Without these amenities, parents are faced with the choice of not visiting the playground, or if they do, have their children urinate or defecate in the bushes. No one wants that.

There is also a plan to stop cutting passive areas of the parks and public areas and let them naturalize. Well I can tell you this is not naturalization of parks space. Naturalization would cost too much money, what with the removal of turf and the planting of native species. No this is letting the areas go to weed and letting invasive species like Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, and morning glory run rampant. The passive areas will then be full of weeds and look unsightly, turning off residents and visitors alike. And it won’t be just the Park Board who will be getting the angry calls about this.

Now you can say these are the choices the Park Board has to make, and you are right, but they are choices forced on us by under-funding, and we are running out of choices. You may say “we are increasing funding”, but just like public education the increase is not keeping up with costs and so there are reductions. You can also say that times are hard, the economy hasn’t recovered and the city can’t afford these things. Well I tell you again, an economic downturn is precisely the time when we need our parks and recreation facilities the most.

So there you have it. These are our choices. Cut backs, closures and reductions. Not properly funding the Park Board will result in a real and noticeable decline in the quality of life in our city. Not only will we have crap in our parks, but our parks will look like crap too. This may be your vision of Vancouver, but it sure isn’t mine.

Keep Vancouver healthy and beautiful. Do the right thing. Give the Park Board enough money to do its job. Good night.

03 December 2010

Operation Red Nose

Budget Notes

I made my brief presentation to City Council last night, asking once again for full funding for the Park Board. After more than $4 million in reductions over the past two years the Park Board cannot afford a further $1 million+ cut again this year. After last year's charade at the same hearing I decided not to stick around for questions and let other people have the opportunity to speak.

There are many issues within the budget proposal but I chose to focus on the closure of washrooms and the reduction in maintenance of passive areas. I would be very surprised if Council ignored the plea to fund public washrooms and fully expect them to "find" $300 thousand to keep them open. I can't imagine the ruling party going into an election year with that legacy. I do wonder about our park maintenance though. Visitors from all over the world come to Vancouver because of our beautiful parks and gardens and any reduction in their care and attention could give the city a black-eye.

I want to take this opportunity, while talking about park maintenance, to thank and commend our hardworking gardeners and caretakers for the wonderful job they do keeping our parks and public spaces looking so terrific. With every budget reduction their work gets harder to do, but they still keep our city beautiful.
I know that my plea didn't fall completely on deaf ears. I received this e-mail this morning:

"I just wanted to let you know that I found your short statement at the budget meeting extremely moving. As a citizen, I'd like to thank you for your thoughtfulness and commitment. DC"

01 December 2010

Park board may close washrooms and cut cleaning

Commissioner calls for more council cash

Anyone visiting a city park next year might want to take along a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of disinfectant.

The toilet paper will come in handy if the washroom in the park is closed due to proposed park board cuts and your child is forced to go in the bushes. Since the board is considering reducing the frequency of cleaning washrooms outside the Downtown Eastside, the disinfectant will come in handy.

According to a recent park board staff report, closing washrooms in some parks and cutting back on cleaning could save the board $300,000 of the $1.03 million budget shortfall it's facing in its 2011 operating budget. The city has a $20 million budget shortfall and is asking each of its departments to find ways to cut costs. City council wants to keep the upcoming residential tax increase to two per cent, a goal that means cuts to services across the city.

Green Party park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon says council should increase the number of washrooms in Vancouver instead of closing them by forcing cuts to park board services.

"What are young families with children and older people going to do if they're at a neighbourhood park with no washroom?" asked Mackinnon.

"If someone has a child at a park who has to go, they're going to uses the bushes and that's not healthy," Mackinnon said.

Other cuts being considered include reducing mowing of 14 per cent of the city's passive turf areas, eliminating night security at Andy Livingstone Park, the reduction of flower and shrub beds in downtown parks by 10 per cent, eliminating the budget for community-based park board meetings, reducing community centre staff and introducing new fees for playing fields.

NPA commissioner Ian Robertson said introducing fees for playing fields will push the cost of some sports out of reach for low-income families.

"For some families, Little League is their last affordable sport," said Robertson. "This Vision Vancouver council needs to get its priorities straight and put families before renovations to the mayor's office, chicken coops and bike lanes. We need to protect core services."

Robertson said cuts to the park board's operating budget are four times higher under Vision Vancouver since 2009, at $5.3 million, compared to cuts of $1.2 million in the past eight years combined under COPE and the NPA.

Vision Vancouver park board chair Aaron Jasper said fees for sports fields will be minimal. He noted many other municipalities in Metro Vancouver charge a fee to use their fields.

As for washrooms, Jasper said if the $300,000 doesn't come from closures and reductions in cleaning, it could mean cuts to even more essential services.

"I'm not happy we might have to close washrooms, but there are no good choices left," said Jasper. "What we're facing is a series of bad choices."

Vision Vancouver commissioners Jasper, Sarah Blyth, Constance Barnes and Raj Hundal are asking the Vision Vancouver-dominated council to reconsider the proposed budget shortfall.

"That $1 million target could seriously impair our ability to provide core services," said Jasper.

At Monday night's park board meeting, the board voted to defer a decision on its 2011 operating budget until Dec. 13. A special council meeting on the city's 2011 operating budget for all departments takes place at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, Dec. 2, at city hall.


Twitter: @sthomas10

Read more: http://www.vancourier.com/news/Park+board+close+washrooms+cleaning/3910684/story.html#ixzz16sirN8rJ

29 November 2010

Courtesy & Democracy hit a new low at the Park Board

At the scheduled meeting of the Park Board tonight, Vision Vancouver hit a new low for courtesy and democracy. After the usual slide show of Commissioner events, the chair of the Planning and Environment committee announced to the public that the next meeting of that committee would be postponed so Commissioners could instead address City Council at its budgetary public hearings. A nice idea, but one that courtesy would suggest discussing with other members of the committee before announcing it publicly.

The Chair of the Board then announced that the only item of the agenda--the proposed budget initiatives--would be deferred by the Board and so no decision would be made. This announcement came even before the report had been brought to the table. Never in all my years working on Boards have I come across a Chair that announced the result of a vote before the motion had appeared. Granted Vision Vancouver has a majority on the Board and can do whatever they please, but this smacks of outrageous arrogance.

A year ago, during the last budget discussion, Vision declared that this Board would now work, not as a consensus board, but as government and opposition. This year they have dropped even the pretense of listening to any other view than their own, and now do as they please. So much for democracy.

26 November 2010

No 'good choices' as Vancouver parks board prepares to vote on $1 million in cuts

By Damian Inwood, The Province November 26, 2010 9:02 PM

Vancouver could get a black eye from the “sloppy” maintenance of its parks, due to a $1 million cut in service.

“I think we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Green Party park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon Friday. “Vancouver has always prided itself on what a beautiful city it is.”

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation will vote Monday on a staff report recommending $1.03 million in cuts to its operating budget.

Included in the report are plans to cut maintenance and close some park washrooms, at a cost of $300,000, plus a 10-per-cent cut in flowers and shrubs at tourist hotspots like Stanley Park and English Bay.

“People come there to see the flowers,” said Mackinnon. “There has been talks about cuts in the rose gardens, which I think would be a huge mistake.”

Other proposed cuts include extending the street pruning cycle from once every seven years to once every eight years, reducing security and charging for the youth use of grass fields.

Mackinnon said that while city park budgets may have gone up by $1.8 million, that’s not enough to cover current operating costs.

Park board chairman Aaron Jasper, of Vision Vancouver, said the board has been asked by city hall to “whittle down” costs but has reached a “tipping point” when it comes to cuts.

“We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of good choices.”

He said the proposed cuts on washrooms would affect 40 per cent of the city’s parks.

“That’s a serious issue,” he added. “If we hadn’t put the washrooms on the list we’d be faced with a lot of bad options.”

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s office said last week the park board budget has gone up from $95 million last year to $96.8 million for 2011.

But Vancouver parks and recreation general manager Malcolm Bromley said Friday that last year’s parks budget was actually $99.3 million and $4.3 million in sanitation and information technology work is being transferred to the city, leaving $95 million.

Given inflation and rising costs, the board needs between $97.5 million and $97.7 million to pay for the same amount of services in 2011, he said.



For Immediate Release
November 26, 2010

Reductions to Park Board operating budget four times higher under Vision Vancouver’s watch

Vancouver, BC
– Vancouver Park Board Commissioners Ian Robertson and Stuart Mackinnon are calling on Vision Vancouver to return the park board’s operating budget to historic levels. Since being elected in 2008 the Vision Vancouver park board caucus has slashed the Board’s operating budget more than four times more than the previous three boards combined.

“This is another example of the Vision Vancouver park board caucus not advocating for the protection and adequate funding of the park board. Clearly they are getting their marching orders from the Mayor’s office on how to vote. It’s time they stand up and say no more cuts”, says Park Board Commissioner Ian Robertson. "It's clear that the Mayor and his colleagues have decided that chicken coops and bike lanes are more important than community centre programs for children and the elderly. This shouldn't be about politics, it should be about supporting families and the aged."

“The Vision Vancouver commissioners have the opportunity this year to finally stand up to their city council comrades and say enough is enough. It is now time to start re-investing in our parks; time to encourage recreation”, adds Commissioner Mackinnon. “Times are tough—I know that. But when the economy is hardest hit is when people need their neighbourhood parks and recreational services the most”.

The board’s operating budget has been reduced by $5.3 million since 2009 versus $1.2 million in the previous eight years combined. Recreation services has seen the biggest reduction within the board’s operating budget since Vision Vancouver took power with over $2 million being cut which has resulted in valuable children’s summer programs being eliminated.

Park Commissioner Ian Robertson
Park Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon

25 November 2010

Another $1.03 million budget reduction for the Park Board

The Park Board budget proposals were released today. The complete proposal can be viewed here. The reductions include:

$700,000 to Park Services including - closing some public washrooms; eliminating night security at Andy Livingstone Park; reduction in flower and shrub beds by 10% in downtown, Stanley park, English Bay, and around Community Centres; reduction in street tree pruning from every 7 years to every 8 years; and eliminating mowing in 14% of passive turf areas in parks and medians.

$300,000 to Recreational Services including - introduction of fees for youth using grass fields.

More on this to follow.

18 November 2010

Is this the least progressive Park Board in living memory?

Last Monday night the Park Board approved a new and revised fee schedule for Park Board recreational services. This revised schedule included the lowering of the age of children’s fees to 3 years from 6. Up until now children 5 and under were considered preschoolers and did not pay. I moved an amendment to the fee schedule to return the preschool age to 5 years and under from the new 2 years and return children to age 6. COPE Commissioner Loretta Woodcock seconded this amendment and supported it. It was defeated with all Vision Commissioners voting against it.

I moved the amendment as I believe this is an unfair burden to put on parents of young children. I simply don’t understand how bringing in new fees for toddlers will generate a significant amount of revenue for the Board. It will most probably discourage parents and children from being active and this will have long lasting costs for all of us. This new fee for young children follows the reduction in Community Centre programmers, a summer of cut-backs in playground programs, and the closing of the Kids Street Clubhouse after-school care program.

Since being elected in 2008, this Board has made more cuts to programming and park maintenance than in all the years of the previous decade combined. Last year alone saw a combined total of nearly $4 million in budget reductions to the Park Board. Since 2008, Recreational Services have been reduced by $1.7 million and Parks Maintenance by $1.2 million.

It is hard to imagine any more cuts to our Parks and Recreation system, and yet we are facing the possibility of an additional $2 million in reductions this year. If Vision Vancouver thinks our parks are a luxury that we can afford to neglect or forget; if they think that recreational services are not an integral part of our city; if they think they can dismantle what has taken more than 100 years of progressive voices from all shades of the political spectrum to build, then they are sorely mistaken. Vancouverites will not sit idly by and watch their community programming dismantled; they will not sit back and watch as their parks and gardens are neglected.

It is time Vision Vancouver stopped and took a really good look at what they are doing to our city. It is time they asked themselves if this is what they were elected to do.

This is not what attracted me to an electoral alliance with them. I thought that we would usher in a new and better way of doing things in this city. I thought there would be more meaningful consultation with the public. I thought that green issues like natural areas and healthy living would be important. I thought that kids and families would be important. I thought that parks and recreation would be important. I have been terribly disappointed.

The Vision Vancouver commissioners have the opportunity this year to finally stand up to their city council comrades and say enough is enough. No more cuts. It is now time to start re-investing in our parks; time to encourage recreation. Times are tough—I know that. But it is when the economy is hardest hit that people need their neighbourhood parks and recreational services the most.

It is time to make parks and recreation a priority.

17 November 2010

Jericho Marginal Wharf: a rational decision at last

At Monday night's Park Board meeting the Board finally approved the demolition of the Jericho Marginal Wharf. The decision--or lack thereof--has been in the works since before this Board was elected. In the summer of 2008 staff recommended the wharf be removed for safety and environmental reasons. The wharf was deemed unsafe and had been fenced off. The newly elected Board overturned that recommendation and sent the whole thing out for further public input. I felt at the time that the public process already done was adequate and that the staff recommendation was correct.

At the end of the day, the new public process could not come to any consensus and the Board was met again with a staff recommendation to tear down the wharf and return the area to its natural state. This time the recommendation passed unanimously. A long and twisting path that end up right where it started from. It prolonged the community angst and kept an area of our foreshore fenced off far longer than necessary. It was the right decision on Monday night, just as it was the right decision two years ago. All's well that ends well I suppose.

14 November 2010

Real Estate Foundation: Land Awards Gala Dinner November 18, 2010

Looks to be an interesting evening. To purchase tickets, click on the poster. For more information from one of the adjudicators click here.

13 November 2010


Not a parks blog today, but a celebration of freedom for 'An unwavering champion of peace'. Aung San Suu Kyi was released today. You can read more here.

And acknowledgement of the passing of a great contemporary composer. "We are sorry to confirm the news that Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki has passed away," Beata Jankowska-Burzynska, an official with Polish Radio's National Symphony Orchestra in the southern city of Katowice, said Friday. You can read more here. And here is a link to part of his Symphony No. 3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs"

"In the midst of life we are in death." Book of Common Prayer

24 October 2010

Sunset Beach Community Garden: Great idea, Wrong location

A proposal was brought to the Park Board to create an inter-cultural community garden in the west end of Vancouver. Sponsored by the YMCA Connections in partnership with the West End Residents Association (WERA) and Gordon Neighbourhood House, the proposal would have placed the garden in a grassy area at Sunset Beach. This area is well used by local residents and visitors to the beach. After some consultation it became very apparent that this location did not have local support and so the proposal was withdrawn.

This has brought into question the whole idea of where community gardens should be located and what kind of public consultation should take place. Local residents complained that signage was minimal and located away from from paths and sidewalks. Local residents also said that while they supported a community garden, the proposed location was inappropriate as it was already well used.

The City of Vancouver and the Park Board are great supporters of community gardens as a way of building community and increasing local food capacity. While the latter goal may be debatable, the idea of building community in a diverse and dense population like Vancouver's is good. What needs to be discussed is where community gardens should be located. Are they a good use of parkland? Are there alternatives to parkland? Is building community gardens in parks "privatizing public space" as some have suggested? Does the city have unused land in its inventory that could be an alternative?

Before new proposals for community gardens in public parks are brought before the Park Board, I think both City Councillors and Park Board Commissioners need to look at where community gardens can best be located. Rather than the piecemeal process that is in place now, that often pits garden proponents against park users, I think an overall strategy, that includes public input, needs to be developed.

17 October 2010

Parks and Recreation are integral to city life

On such a beautiful Sunday afternoon it's hard not to love Vancouver! The sky is blue, the air is crisp and the leaves are turning into golden confetti. The budget process is under way in the city and news has leaked that the City is $20 million short again this year. For the past two years deficits have meant cuts to the Park Board. Cuts to community services like summer day camps, park maintenance, and community centre programs.

It is important for citizens to participate in the budget process and let City Council know that parks and recreation are important. Parks and community centres are what make our busy city lives manageable. Can you imagine your neighbourhood without gardens and trees? Can you imagine your kids not being able play in the local park? Can you imagine no swimming pools, skating rinks, or community centres? The Park Board looks after all these amenities and much, much more.

Contact the Mayor and City Councillors and tell them that parks are important; that community centres are important; that trees are important. Tell them not to cut Parks and Recreation this year. Write to them at: mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca

15 October 2010

Park Board Budget

Public input requested
on proposed Park Board 2011 Fees & Charges
and 2011 Operating Budget Priorities

October 15, 2010 – The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation is requesting feedback from the public on proposed changes to its 2011 Fees & Charges and 2011 Operating Budget. Over 40% of the Park Board’s budget is funded from fees and charges with the rest coming from taxes. Proposed changes to Fees & Charges include: inflationary fee increases of 4% in most areas, with different adjustments proposed for Golf, Parking, VanDusen Gardens and Stanley Park Train; reducing the age at which children are charged admission from 6 to 3 years; introducing youth playfield fees; and changing the pricing structure for low cost sessions from Loonie/Toonie sessions to 50% off regular drop in fees.

Residents are also invited to provide input on a number of new revenue options such as sponsorships, advertising and expanded pay parking.

The public can share their ideas through an online survey available on the Park Board web site. The survey includes questions about what services are considered most important by residents, what suggestions they have for improvement, how the fee structure should be set, and how programs might be prioritized in light of budget challenges.

Additional background information on 2011 operating budget
Details of the proposed 2011 fees & charges

The proposed fees and charges will be reviewed by the Park Board at its board meeting on Monday, November 15, 2010 at Killarney Community Centre so that changes can be implemented for next year. The Board will also continue to solicit public feedback on its 2011 budget priorities up to Park Board approval of the budget in January.


For more information contact Joyce Courtney, Communications Manager, at 604-257-8699 or 604-861-4375.

City of Vancouver 2011 Budget Consultation

From the Vancouver.ca website:

Do you want to have a say on next year's operating budget? More than 60% of the City’s operating budget is funded by property taxes, which help the City provide the important services that are part of our everyday lives — our well-maintained streets, green parks, libraries, community centres, and police and fire departments. You can help Council make its important decisions about the budget by being part of the consultation process coming up in the fall of 2010.

In the coming weeks, open houses and information displays are planned throughout the city. The public can learn about how the City budget is spent, current priorities and how the City’s operating budget affects everyday programs and services that citizens value. Participants will have the chance to provide their input on how council prioritizes city spending and discuss the importance of library hours, community centre and park operations, police and fire services, street work, garbage collection schedules and other such priorities.

Key dates include:

- October 18: Budget displays mounted at Vancouver Public Library’s central branch and City Hall; budget information booklets distributed to community centres and library branches throughout the city, and posted on the City’s web site

- October 19: Preliminary budget report goes to City Council

- October 20: Start of online and phone surveys on budget priorities

- October 27: Presentation on budget to Vancouver’s multicultural communities

- October 28: Open house at City Hall

- October 28 to November 20: Series of community stakeholder discussions

- End of November : Report back on public input for the budget

- Mid-December: Final decision by Council on the budget

Join the mailing list for information and updates on meetings, send an e-mail to: obc-subscribe@list.vancouver.ca

11 October 2010

What Ever Happened to Civil Debate and the Exchange of Ideas?

This past week the Vancouver Sun published an Op/Ed written by former city counsellor Jim Green, in which he accuses public policy analyst and developer Michael Geller of being prejudiced against homeless people and the poor. This is yet another example of the drive by smear that is becoming too common in local politics; pundits and politicians who, rather than address the issues, choose to attack and besmirch the intelligence and reputations of those they disagree with. I don't doubt that Mr. Green and Mr. Geller have differing views on civic affairs, but Mr. Green, in a bullying and nasty piece, chose to attack Mr. Geller personally.

I know Michael Geller and admire him greatly. We probably do not agree on everything either, but he certainly is not prejudiced and to suggest so is not only unkind, but I believe, despicable. Michael Geller worked for many years with CMHC building homes for low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. He has very definite views on the Olympic Village fiasco, which he shares with anyone who will listen or read. He has the ability to translate complex planning issues into language most people can understand. He is a kind, honest and compassionate man and we here in Vancouver are lucky that he devotes so much of his time to public policy.

During the summer I too was at the receiving end of this kind of smear. The Chair of the Vancouver Park Board, Aaron Jasper, accused me of mischief and putting the Park Board at risk. He did not address the issue at hand but rather chose to attack my honesty and integrity.

It is little wonder that so few good people are drawn into public life, and that most people have such low opinions of politicians. When civil debate is not possible, public policy loses. When the exchange of ideas turns into an exchange of insults, people turn away. It is time that public figures were held to account. It is time to say enough is enough. Stop the personal attacks and debate the issues. There should be no place in politics for cheap shots and personal smears.

29 September 2010

Future of Stanley Park's petting zoo land under debate

By Carlito Pablo

Park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon doesn’t want the Vancouver Aquarium to get the land that will be vacated by the Children’s Farmyard at Stanley Park. Due to funding constraints, the park board is closing down the petting zoo on January 2, 2011.

The Green commissioner, who noted that he didn’t know whether the aquarium had expressed interest in the site, argues that it’s better to have the area returned to natural uses.

“I don’t think the aquarium should be expanding any further in Stanley Park for commercial ventures,” Mackinnon told the Straight in a phone interview.

The aquarium didn’t make a spokesperson available for an interview before deadline. According to its website, the tourist attraction, which features whales and other marine animals, occupies 9,000 square metres in Stanley Park.

Last December, the park board called for business plans to keep the farmyard open. A staff report dated September 10, 2010, stated that two expressions of interest were received. However, one was eventually withdrawn. The other didn’t demonstrate the required financial capability. Staff didn’t identify the two parties.

Peter Hamilton, founding director of the animal-rights group Lifeforce, claimed that the aquarium has shown an interest in the farmyard land.

“They had put in a proposal to use it, and the parks board wouldn’t tell us what the proposal was, so I have a freedom-of-information inquiry at city hall now,” Hamilton told the Straight by phone.

Like Mackinnon, Coalition of Progressive Electors park commissioner Loretta Woodcock said she didn’t know whether the aquarium was interested in the farmyard site. However, Woodcock told the Straight by phone that it “wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that the aquarium might take a look at that area”.

According to Vision Vancouver park commissioner Raj Hundal, the park board will issue another request for proposals for the petting-zoo site after the facility closes down early next year.

21 September 2010

Bloedel Conservatory Saved!

Park Board unanimously voted for the proposal from the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association and the Friends of Bloedel to jointly manage the Conservatory. Here is a video clip from Global News.

12 September 2010


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 12, 2010

Delay in removing the wharf is causing severe environmental damage to fish habitat

Vancouver, BC – Vancouver Park Board Commissioners Ian Robertson and Stuart Mackinnon are demanding that the Park Board take immediate action to remove the wharf at Jericho Beach. Information provided to the Park Board from Fisheries and Oceans Canada outlines that fish habitat and other marine life is being severely compromised due to toxic contaminants leeching into the water from old creosote pilings.

“This is another example of the Vision Vancouver Park Board caucus waffling on a decision by the previous park board to return the beach to a natural foreshore. Not only is taxpayer money being wasted but now we have a significant environmental problem”, says Park Board Commissioner Ian Robertson.

The Jericho Marginal Wharf, built in the 1930s, was once used by the Royal Canadian Air Force as a float plane base. It has been closed to the public since the summer of 2009 as it has been deemed a hazard due to age related structural problems.

Vancouver, being a coastal city, is blessed with a beautiful foreshore, but unfortunately much of it is not accessible to the public. Returning this area to its natural habitat will enhance the area, and create a haven for both people and nature” says Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon. “It’s time the Park Board moved on this”.

The previous Park Board voted in July 2008 to remove a significant portion of the wharf and return the beach to a natural state. Despite three previous public meetings and strong public support for returning the beach to a natural state, the Vision Vancouver Park Board caucus voted unanimously in March 2009 to rescind the previous Board’s decision.


18 August 2010

Don't expect aquarium referendum anytime soon

Coalition For No Whales in Captivity spokesperson Annelise Sorg has been pushing for a referendum on keeping whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium for 18 years, nine park boards, six civic elections and 30 park board commissioners.

So she wasn't surprised last month when the Vision Vancouver majority of park board commissioners voted down a motion by the Green Party's Stuart Mackinnon to hold a non-binding plebiscite on keeping captive cetaceans as part of the 2011 civic election. Mackinnon's motion followed the June death of Nala, the aquarium's one-year-old baby beluga, whose death was caused by a penny and several rocks trapped in an airway.

According to Vision Vancouver park board chair Aaron Jasper, such a move could put the park board at risk of a lawsuit should the aquarium decide to get litigious. That's because in 2006 the previous NPA-dominated park board extended the aquarium's lease for 20 years with a deal there'd be no discussion on captive cetaceans until 2015. At the same time, the NPA commissioners of the day quashed the previous COPE-dominated board's promise to hold a plebiscite on the issue.

And now, the aquarium is preparing to expand, once again, thanks to $15 million from the feds and $10 million from the province. The aquarium's expansion isn't news--the $80 million project was approved in 2006 without a public referendum. But it's notable that government funding was announced just weeks after Mackinnon's failed motion--and at a time when the park board has been forced to lay off staff and cut back on community centre programs, not to mention the school board forced to close schools due to budget cuts.

The NPA-dominated park board of 2006 approved the expansion based on a $300,000 survey paid for by the aquarium, which made many residents and some park board commissioners question the validity of the results. COPE commissioner Loretta Woodcock summed it up this way: "The public is being asked if they really like the aquarium expansion," said Woodcock at the time. "Or if they really, really like it."

What Mackinnon, Woodcock and many residents want now is a plebiscite that offers one simple yes-or-no question, such as "Should the aquarium phase out the containment of cetaceans in Stanley Park?"

Aquarium president John Nightingale explained that some of the work in the expansion includes vital repairs to infrastructure, such as the underwater wall and viewing window located underneath the B.C. Wild Coast exhibit, which opened in 2001. Nightingale said if that vital work isn't completed, the aquarium will have to drain that pool. He adds those improvements are interconnected with other work--for example the roof on that gallery will also have to come off and be replaced, changing the appearance of the building from the outside. The expansion has been broken up into eight separate yet connected projects to be completed in three phases.

I asked Nightingale if any of the improvements will change the way visitors view the whale, dolphin and sea lion pools in light of Nala's death, which many blame on humans tossing items into the cetaceans' pools. Just two weeks ago, the spouse of a Courier reporter was at the aquarium when a child tossed a purple wallet into the sea lion pool. Nightingale says that while changes to viewing areas aren't on the aquarium's to-do list, the final design has yet to be decided.

According to the book People, Fish and Whales: The Vancouver Aquarium Story by Murray Newman and Nightingale, the first aquarium expansion was in 1967. Subsequent expansions have taken place at regular intervals ever since. In 1995, the majority of NPA commissioners voted that any future expansion would go to referendum. But in 2006, another NPA-dominated board rescinded that promise. So the aquarium has been running the show ever since. Given the park board's history of flip-flopping, does anyone really expect a change in 2015? It's probably going to take Annelise Sorg at least another six civic elections and another 30 commissioners before the park board finally stands up and asks, "Should the aquarium phase out the containment of cetaceans in Stanley Park?"


07 August 2010

City's democratic deficit

By Michael Bellegarde, Vancouver Sun August 7, 2010

One of the hardest things to find in Canada right now is good old-fashioned democracy.

After Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament and the B.C. Liberals slammed the harmonized sales tax down the throats of the electorate, I had clung to the hope that municipal politics would be the last bastion of democracy.

Alas, the Vancouver park board recently voted against Green Party commissioner Stuart MacKinnon's motion to have a plebiscite about whales and dolphins being kept in captivity.

For me, this was less an issue of cetaceans in captivity than of the democratic process in Vancouver's politics.

The commissioners who voted against the motion all took the coward's route out -- each one stated that a deal was in place with the Vancouver Aquarium and he or she had to honour it.

I would agree with them.

However, the motion was simply to ask the citizens what they thought, not to amend the agreement or renege on the deal.

The results of the plebiscite would merely have served as a compass to guide the board in its decisions, come 2015.

I am relatively new to Vancouver, but I thought I had read somewhere that Mayor Gregor Robertson is a bit of a socialist.

Why are his Vision Party comrades on the park board catering to corporate wishes, rather than the will of the people?

Michael Bellegarde


01 August 2010

Vacation time

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation takes a break in August, and so will I. The next meeting of the Board will be on September 20th, however the Planning and Environment committee will meet on September 9th. Wishing you all a happy holiday.

23 July 2010

The Good is in the Doing

Last Monday evening COPE Commissioner Loretta Woodcock and I brought a motion to the Board of Parks and Recreation seeking a plebiscite in 2011 on phasing out cetacean (whales and dolphins) exhibits in our parks. This motion was brought forward in order to give the citizens of Vancouver the opportunity to democratically express their wishes on this controversial subject. It was not surprising that over 20 delegates came to speak. It was also not surprising that the Aquarium spoke against this initiative. What was surprising was Vision Vancouver's lack of empathy for the cetaceans in captivity and their continuing bullying tactics with the public. Board Chair Aaron Jasper had repeatedly claimed over the previous week that a plebiscite could bring a legal action against the Board which would cost the taxpayers countless dollars, yet at the table this was not mentioned, instead substituting the mantra, first intoned by the Aquarium, that "a deal is a deal". This confirmed my apprehension that Vision Vancouver believes that local government can sign away our democratic rights. Somehow a 'deal' made with the Aquarium prevents the voters of Vancouver from expressing their will in a ballot initiative.

Then in a truly bizarre twist, after accusing the proponents of the motion of trying to waste taxpayers dollars, Jasper sounded like he made a commitment to hold a stand alone plebiscite in 2015 on this subject, thereby incurring ten of thousands of dollars in costs. 2011 was the last opportunity to hold a plebiscite in conjunction with a civic election, saving you money. As my mum used to say, penny wise and pound foolish.

Despite the motion falling 5-2 I still believe this was the right thing to do. I still believe that the citizens of Vancouver have the right to decide what activities are permissible in our parks. I still believe that contracts and 'deals' cannot usurp the basic democratic rights of citizens. Bringing this motion forward was the right thing to do. As my friend Janos Mate said to me, "the good is in the doing". I believe we have done good.

20 July 2010

Park Board votes down plebiscite on whales, dolphins at aquarium

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Park Board has voted against holding a non-binding plebiscite on whether or not to keep dolphins and whales at the aquarium.

Officials say the final vote was two-to-five, with only Green party park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon and Loretta Woodcock voting for the motion.

Had the motion passed, it would have created a public, non-binding vote on whether or not the aquarium can keep the animals for the fall civic election.

Park Board spokeswoman Joyce Courtney said the meeting was attended by 23 separate delegations, mostly for the motion. Courtney noted, however, that some groups, including the Vancouver Aquarium, were in opposition of the motion, which was originally brought up by Mackinnon.

The discussions were described as "very lively," and around 60 people packed into the room where the meeting was held.

Mackinnon had previously said he thinks the public is ready now to end the practice of capturing whales and dolphins for exhibition.

"My motion is about the democratic process," he said. "The board has agreed it will renew the bylaw concerning captive cetaceans in 2015, and so the referendum should be held next year."

The Vancouver Aquarium is one of the city's major tourist attractions. It is home to five beluga whales and three dolphins, and has housed as many as three killer whales.

Mackinnon's motion would have called for live shows at the aquarium to be phased out, with no new whales or dolphins captured to replace those now at the aquarium.

18 July 2010

Why a plebiscite on captive cetaceans? Why now?

The following is an editorial I wrote for the CityCaucus.com web site.

Post by Stuart Mackinnon in Editorial

A pivotal vote that will affect the Vancouver Aquarium happens Monday evening

Last Monday I submitted a motion to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation to hold a plebiscite during the 2011 civic election on the phasing out of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in captivity in Vancouver parks. The latest death of a beluga whale calf in June 2010 at the Vancouver aquarium has brought up once again the topic of cetaceans in captivity. According to the LifeForce Foundation, at least 36 cetaceans, including 9 orcas, 7 narwhals, 8 belugas and 12 Pacific White Sided Dolphins have died at the Vancouver Aquarium. The academy award winning documentary film, The Cove, has brought to the world’s attention the industrial killing and capture of dolphin populations. The Vancouver Province newspaper on June 23, 2010 wrote, in an editorial, that the public are calling into question the wisdom and morality of keeping captive cetaceans that otherwise deserve to be born, live, and die in their natural environment, saying "the latest in a long line of whale deaths at the aquarium — this time one-year-old beluga calf Nala — calls into question the wisdom and morality of keeping captive whales and other large marine animals. It is a practice that must end."

Aaron Jasper, the Vision Vancouver Chair of the Park Board, in a press release last week called into question the legalities of holding a plebiscite, claiming that I am “putting the Park Board at risk of a potential lawsuit, in spite of his prior knowledge of a legally binding agreement with the Vancouver Aquarium.” Commissioner Jasper does not state what this ‘legal binding’ agreement is, nor the basis of a potential lawsuit. Nor does he state that my motion passed through the city’s own legal department and was approved by both the acting GM of the Park Board and himself as Chair.

My motion is not about whales and dolphins in captivity, nor is it about the Aquarium. It is about the rights of the citizens of Vancouver to express their views on what happens in our public parks. Commissioner Jasper would have you believe that this cannot be done, and so now, according to him, the issue becomes one of government liability when conducting the normal business of government. If the government, in this case the city, cannot conduct normal business—in this case conducting a democratic survey in the form of a non-binding plebiscite—by the terms of a lease or contract, then I would ask, is this lease or contract binding or lawful? In other words, can the city sign away the public’s democratic rights in a contract? Now stop and think about that for a moment. Can the city sign away your democratic rights? I don’t think so, and I don’t for a minute believe that the courts would allow for that either. In which case, Commissioner Jasper’s release was simply a red herring and a personal attack.

Animals in captivity have a long and controversial history in Vancouver. In 1993 there was a referendum on the fate of the Stanley Park zoo and 53% of the electorate voted for its closure. The zoo was closed down three years later. In 1996 an NPA Park Board passed a motion which called for a further referendum if the Aquarium wished to expand. In 2005 a majority COPE Board set a referendum on holding cetaceans in captivity—similar to the plebiscite I am calling for—during the 2008 civic election. The next Board, which was dominated once again by the NPA, rescinded both of those previous motions and instead passed a motion stating that “it is the Board’s intention that in 2015 the board review the Parks Control By-law relating to captive cetaceans”. The motion did not deny the Board the right to review the by-law earlier, nor to collect information in order to review the by-law.

The plebiscite I am calling for is non-binding, and would be done in order for the Park Board to collect information for the review. So why hold the plebiscite in 2011, 4 years before the review? The provincial government set up an electoral review commission to look at local governance in British Columbia. This commission reported out this spring and the provincial government accepted all of its recommendations. One recommendation is to change the length of time between civic elections from 3 years to 4 years. As civic elections are held in November, the next election after November 2011 would be November 2015—after the review of the cetacean by-law. Therefore, the 2011 civic election is the last opportunity to hold a plebiscite during a civic vote. To make these bylaw decisions without prior public consultation would be contradictory to our mandate as well as disrespectful and irresponsible.

Whether you agree with keeping cetaceans in captivity or not, I think this motion is important. When politicians attempt to strip us of our democratic rights and hide behind vague and intangible legalese when denying us the right to express our voices, there is something terribly wrong.

I believe the citizens of Vancouver have the right to express their views on this controversial issue. This is why at the next meeting of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation I will be bringing a motion proposing that a plebiscite be held during the 2011 Vancouver civic elections, asking the public if they are in favour of phasing out existing exhibits that contain cetaceans, on land leased from the Vancouver Park Board. The people of Vancouver have the right to choose. I believe this plebiscite is the right thing to do.

- post by Stuart Mackinnon. Stuart Mackinnon is a Green Party member and Vancouver park board commissioner.