31 January 2010

Rumble in the Jungle

A terrific event last night to help save the Bloedel Conservatory. The event held at the Conservatory was sold out and featured local wines from Lulu Island winery, and wonderful food from Crown st Caterers and Joe Forte's restaurant. Tahitian fire dancers and even the incomparable local legend Dal Richards entertained the crowd. And what a crowd! A glittering evening of regular Vancouver folks in support of what they love. Kudos to the organizers, especially Sheryl Hamilton, John Coupar and Thomas Hobbs.

What a shame that citizens have to organize to do what is a city government obligation--keeping our public ammenities public. Let's keep working and making a noise. Keep the public in public spaces!

For more information about how you can help, contact the Friends of the Bloedel Conservatory.

30 January 2010

Olympic Tickets

There has been a lot in the news lately about Vancouver’s elected officials being given free tickets to the Olympics. As a Park Board Commissioner I was offered two tickets for the Opening and Closing ceremonies. As well, I was offered the opportunity of choosing any amount of events throughout the games, and would somehow ‘compete’ with other elected and city officials to be the city representative at these events.

The controversy arose because the city had to buy these tickets at a cost of over $300,000. Many believe that this is an expense the city can ill afford at a time when services are being cut because of budget constraints. Some suggest that had the tickets been given to the city by VANOC, there would not be such a stir.

While I believe there is a protocol role for city officials, both elected and staff, I don’t believe the city should have spent money on tickets for individual events for elected officials. I understand the Mayor and Council being at the Opening and Closing events, and the Mayor and his designates at as many of the official functions as possible, but I do not see the need for tickets to other events.

I have declined the tickets to the Opening and Closing ceremonies and requested that tickets purchased for me be given to worthy students who would not otherwise be able to attend. Likewise, I have not put my name forward for any other specific events, rather informing the protocol office that if there is an official role they would like me to play at any of the events, I would be happy to represent the city if I am available, and they request my presence.

I hope the Olympics are a great success and I am grateful for all the amenities the Park Board will gain from them. I do not think though, that simply because I was elected to the Park Board, the tax payers should have to buy me tickets to watch the games.

15 January 2010

Bloedel Conservatory & the cost of public amenities

One of the reasons cited for the closure of the Bloedel Conservatory is its operating subsidy of $250,000. I thought that was a reasonable investment in a public amenity but it seems some of my colleagues on the Park Board and City Council disagreed. So it was of great interest when I received the answer to my question about the grants other civic amenities received in 2009:

HR MacMillan Planetarium - $524,398
City Archives - $900,000
Museum of Vancouver - $746,500
Maritime Museum - $410,710
Van Dusen Gardens - $1,166,800
Art Gallery of Vancouver - $2,167,500

I wonder what's next on the chopping block?

When you have to go... (redux)

Mike Howell in the Courier this week mentioned my blog from last September, on public toilets, so I thought I would reprint it for the benefit of those visiting for the first time:

It’s a fact of life, perhaps one we don’t want to acknowledge, but we all have to go sometimes. We all try to go at home, but sometimes we can be caught short. For most of us this is an inconvenience, but for those who don’t have a home or for those who need to go frequently, this is a chronic problem. Public conveniences have been available since at least the time of the Roman Empire—in fact until recent times, public lavatories were all that was available except for the very rich. Towns and cities had public conveniences for the masses but over time a lot of them have been decommissioned and removed. Many cities are now rebuilding these.

Here in Vancouver we are fortunate to have several public washrooms installed by the city, and many more throughout the city in our public parks. A debate on the cost and necessity of these park facilities is coming before the Park Board in the next year, and I would like to know your views on these facilities. Do you think they are important? Should scarce public funds be used for public toilets? Every park can’t support a public washroom, so which ones should?

Let me know what you think. Write to me at: betterparks@gmail.com or drop a line to the Park Board.

11 January 2010

New Mt. Pleasant Centre Opening

It has been a long time coming, but the new Mount Pleasant Centre will officially open on Saturday, January 16th. The ceremony is at 1:00pm in the gymnasium. Come on down and see this beautiful all-in-one centre. There is a fabulous library, an incredible community centre and a terrific daycare. There is also an open house with tours all day from 10 am to 4 pm.

09 January 2010

Fraser River Park: a compromise that just might work

A staff report at the last Planning and Environment committee recommended dividing Fraser River park into two distinct areas. The western portion would be off-leash for dogs all day, all year round, while the eastern portion would have restrictions during the summer months. After listening to the public and discussing the proposal, the committee forwarded a recommendation to the full Board to make the western portion off-leash and the eastern portion on-leash all the time. This is a compromise I hope all users of the park can live with.

The issue of off-leash areas in public spaces is not going away. Most of the elected Commissioners promised to deal, once and for all (or at least for the time being) with this thorny issue. In the past the Board had developed various guidelines that pleased no one, and even set up a 'dog task force' which ended in complete dysfunction. This Board now has an opportunity to make some solid public policy around the issue and lay it to rest, if not forever, at least for a while. It is one of those issue, however, where you cannot please everybody. When the final policy is delivered there will be some who will vociferously disagree. That is not a reason, though, to avoid the issue. I will be advocating for the Board to deal with it sooner rather than later.

01 January 2010

Public say no to service cuts

Here is an article from Scotland. East Lothian Councillor Stuart MacKinnon is facing the same kind of budget questions we had here in Vancouver.

Published: Thursday, 31st December, 2009 7:00am

East Lothian Courier (Scotland)

THE vast majority of residents are against proposed cuts in the county's library and education services, the results of East Lothian Council's budget consultation have revealed.

The public's 'top three' preferred options for tackling the local authority's inevitable financial straits over the next five years were the freezing the corporate resources and the chief executive's office budget, replacing the current provision of annual flower bedding and hanging basket displays with more sustainable planting, and introducing coastal car parking charges.

The 'You Pay, Have Your Say' paper was designed to allow residents in the county to decide which services they would like to see unaffected by the looming budget cuts. But the public consultation events have proved to be far from popular with only a handful of residents showing up to voice their points of view.

The council received 240 written responses, 184 e-mail responses and 171 blog entries during the consultation period. They also received a further five petitions containing 2066 signatures which all concerned the proposed scaling down of the county's library service.

Public consultation events took place in all the county's six towns throughout November and December and featured structured exercises which were designed to allow participants to weigh up and discuss the various cost-cutting options.

The public results showed a dislike for the idea of reducing school staffing, a tendency not to favour restrictions on adult social care, and, in general, opted for a more general rationalisation and redesign of services.

Despite the poor turnout at the public meetings - only 135 people attended - the county's residents have sent a clear message to the council demanding the library service are left untouched by the proposed budget cuts.

Education was also high on the list of public priorities with an overwhelming majority of respondents against any cuts in the education budget whatsoever.

Over 2,200 people recorded a negative response to the closing of the county's smaller libraries, which are seen by many as a lifeline within their communities. 422 said they were unhappy about the possible reduction in school staffing, while 177 voiced their displeasure at the possible reduction number of management posts within schools.

The vast majority of the public results were dominated by negative responses to the proposed cuts, but budget-slashing suggestions such as reducing council office costs by having fixed working hours, pay top council managers less and by charging those who fail to use the recycling boxes were given as alternatives.

The council say initial reactions at the consultation events favoured ending the council tax freeze which has been in place for two years, but a more detailed examination of the results delivered a different outcome - with a majority in favour of continuing the freeze.

Cllr. Stuart MacKinnon, depute leader of East Lothian Council, said: "Although the administration will make the final decision on the budget this exercise will help to inform councillors as they put together their budget proposals. There are some interesting results and I would like to thank everyone who took the trouble to participate in this innovative process."

Labour councillors had boycotted the workshops in protest at the administration's public consultation.

Councillor Willie Innes, chairman of the East Lothian Constituency Labour Party, said: "The results of the public meetings are extremely disappointing for the current administration, and only backs up what we initially thought, that the meetings were fundamentally flawed.

"The way they were structured into a workshop scenario left people having to choose between services. It's up to the politicians to make these tough decisions, not the public. That's why they get paid."

The results of the month-long consultation period were published on the council's website on December 23.

Full reports on the public budget consultation are available on the website, and the council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, February 9, to decide its budget.