27 December 2010
Here's hoping that 2011 is greener and more park friendly.
22 December 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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"