31 January 2013

Community centres protest Vancouver park board plan

Public meeting at Killarney turns ugly after commissioner's rant

 By Sandra Thomas, Staff writer Vancouver Courier January 30, 2013
 Photograph by: Dan Toulgoet, Vancouver Courier

Approximately 400 concerned citizens turned out for the Kerrisdale Community Centre Association's meeting Jan 29.

Almost 400 seniors showed up to a hastily called meeting at the Kerrisdale Community Centre Tuesday afternoon to protest what many are calling a cash grab by the park board.

As first reported in the Courier in 2011, the park board is negotiating with the city's community centre associations to finalize a new joint operating agreement. The Vision Vancouver dominated board wants to change the way the centres operate, including centralizing "core programs." The most contentious of the recommendations would see the park board take all revenues from room rentals and programs - money traditionally retained by the associations. The park board argues the money should be pooled into a general account to be distributed amongst "poorer" centres. The park board calls the recommendation "non-negotiable."

That's where at least six community centre associations have drawn a line in the sand. The model for the joint partnership, developed almost 50 years ago, sees the park board supply the physical building while the associations manage the centres. In some cases, the associations helped build the centres, rinks or pools.

The afternoon meeting at Kerrisdale was held for seniors while a second meeting Tuesday evening at the centre was open to the public.

Senior Marianne Kropf told the Courier she's been a regular at the centre since her husband died three years ago. She warned the park board must pay attention to the senior vote.

"If you want to get something done get a bunch of seniors involved," said Kropf. "There's power in this."

Robert Lockhart, vice-president of the Kerrisdale Community Centre Association, said the two main concerns with the proposed agreement are a fear the costs for programs will increase dramatically and that the seniors lunch program would be eliminated.

Another evening meeting was held at Killarney Community Centre, where the gathering turned ugly when Vision Vancouver commissioner Trevor Loke addressed the crowd in what can best be described as a tirade. Loke began by thanking the crowd for showing up, but those platitudes quickly turned into a rant about the inequalities between poor associations and their rich counterparts in communities like Killarney.

Loke's comments caused the crowd, made up largely of blue-collar workers, seniors, immigrants and young families, to react with shouts and boos of disapproval.

Following Loke's comments, a man stood up and asked the young commissioner why he thought it was reasonable to "scream at us like kids."

"Who the hell do you think you are," the man yelled at Loke.

Former Green park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon also addressed the crowd at Killarney Tuesday night.

"Tonight we are discussing in my opinion, the most cynical, desperate and dishonest power grab by a city management who are more concerned with their own megalomania and control than what is best for the people," Mackinnon said.

Green Coun. Adriane Carr told crowds at both Kerrisdale and Killarney that despite information to the contrary, the issue is in fact a council matter and does not lie solely with the park board. Carr explained if there is a financial trickle-down effect to changes in the way park board programs are run, any demand for more money will come back to city council.


New city policy puts Vancouver community centre programs at risk

Opinion: Majority on park board wants to radically alter what has been an enduring partnership. By Eric Harms, Special to The Vancouver Sun January 29, 2013

 Let’s call her Marietta. When she arrived in our community, Hastings-Sunrise, as a recent immigrant from her native Trinidad, she brought along her aging mother, her two-year-old twins, and a burgeoning addiction to prescription painkillers. If that weren’t enough, the twins were both suffering from and undiagnosed developmental condition that rendered them non-verbal and physically aggressive.
When Marietta’s mother turned up, twins in tow, at the Hastings Community Centre’s Family Enrichment Centre one day, she was, understandably, near the end of her tether. What she found there was truly a place of refuge, where staff took the time to welcome her and her young charges. On subsequent visits, staff acquainted Grandmother with available social service assistance, including assessment of the twins’ condition and a recommendation to attend the Hastings preschool, renowned for its work with special-needs children. As well, and in their own time, they checked in with Marietta, helping and encouraging her in her struggle to put her life back on track.

Of course, this account (with identifying features changed), while true, is an extreme case. Even so, every month scores of young families make use of the Family Drop-In and the parent-and-tot gym, making important social connections in an environment that encourages parent/caregiver participation, creative play, socialization, Healthy-Child Development, with health professional visits, parenting education, language development, and nutrition programs. All of this, at $2 per family per visit.

One might very well ask how it is possible for an organization or agency to provide such a valuable program for so little; how could it possibly pay for itself?

The fact is, it doesn’t. This year, our family drop-in will end up around $35,000 in the red; up from about $27,000, due to a significant cut in the social service grant that helps support it.

Happily, the Family Enrichment Centre — as are all the programs at our community centre — is operated by the Hastings Community Association, a registered charity which has for decades run the community centre in partnership with the park board.

I say happily because our association board, recognizing the incalculable social value to single parents, immigrants and young families represented by such a program, is able to underwrite this loss to our bottom line. We can do this because we have a history of quickly acting on a recognized opportunity, sound business acumen, and prudent investment. Plus — let’s be honest — a little bit of luck. These are the ingredients for an annual surplus.

We at Hastings are not unique; all of Vancouver’s community centres have associations that provide programming and ongoing capital improvements to facilities, overseen by volunteer boards. The vast majority of those sitting on these boards actually live in the community they serve. They are your neighbours who, until now, have made manifest the idea of local control over local resources and interests. And they do it for free.

I say ‘until now’, because the present majority on the park board want to radically alter what has been an enduring partnership — in our case at Hastings, one approaching 80 years. Under the proposed new regime, all program and rental revenues (other than a very small, as-yet determined stipend) would accrue to the park board. In most cases, including ours, we would end up with a tiny fraction of the monetary resource we currently have. This cash-grab would have the obvious effect of stripping every volunteer board of the ability to make informed decisions and respond to local needs. We would be reduced to writers of grants. And then, we would be obliged to spend the grant money on programming in which we had little or no say.

Ostensibly, the reasoning for taking all the revenue is to address inequities — taking from the ‘haves’ to give to the ‘have-nots’. But, in giving his briefing on the proposed changes to Killarney’s board and user groups, the general manager of parks and recreation said, ‘It’s all about power. And the money is the power’.

Senior park board staff would have us believe that implementation of the new ‘agreement’ will be seamless; that no patron will notice any difference. But, when pressed, the park board’s recreation director allowed that continued use of our funds in our community centres could only be guaranteed for two years. In other words, until the end of the present election cycle. Subsequent civic administrations might divert some (or all) of the funds to pet projects. Worse, a bean-counter at some far remove might see the red ink generated by our Family Enrichment Centre, and be unable to see the inestimable value of that place to the lives of our neighbours.

The mayor’s chain and mace have changed hands 20 times since our association was founded in 1934. Countless civil servants have come and gone since we signed our joint operating agreement with the park board. Regardless of which way the political winds have blown, the boards of Vancouver’s community centre associations have been intrepid in assessing and responding to the needs of our local communities. It would be a shame to squander such a resource.

The Mariettas of our city deserve better, too.

Eric Harms is president of the Hastings Community Association.

29 January 2013

The Community Strikes Back!

Tonight I witnessed a remarkable event. About 350 citizens from their neighbourhood filled the gymnasium at the Killarney Community Centre to voice their opposition to the Park Board take over of their facility. I understand an even larger crowd filled Kerrisdale Community Centre to speak out for their neighbourhood--the second such meeting they hosted today. Speaker after speaker spoke of their passion for their community and community centre; how they had spent countless hours using the facilities and volunteering for the association. Some seniors spoke of how they had work to built the community centre.

With only the exception of Vision Park Commissioner Trevor Loke, the speakers were unanimous in their condemnation of the Park Board/City proposal and process.

Commissioner Loke started out well and spoke passionately about his vision for a city wide equitable community centre policy, but unfortunately he had not read his briefing notes and didn't understand that the Community Centre Associations had already accepted equity and universality. He then harangued the audience about monetary and fiscal fairness. Unfortunately he undid whatever goodwill he had built up by attending the meeting.

Ainslie Kwan, President of the Killarney CCA spoke eloquently  to introduce the issues. She was followed by sports and senior association representatives. I was then asked to speak before opening the floor to questions and comments.

I have included here my remarks to the meeting:

My name is Stuart Mackinnon. I both work and live in this community, being a teacher at Killarney Secondary and a resident of the East Fraserlands neighbourhood. I’m also formerly a Park Board Commissioner, having served from 2008 to 2011.

I didn’t want to come here tonight. I can think of an awful lot of other things I would rather be doing. But then I remembered that quote from Edmund Burke that says “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing”. Now you might think that is a bit over the top…that we are only talking about community centres and that in the grand scheme of things this is pretty minor---but you would be wrong. What we are talking about are the fundamentals of democracy. The way participatory democracy is supposed to work is that the people have a say in the issues that affect them.

I have always maintained that community centres work precisely because they are run by the community. It is the local folks who know what’s best for their neighbourhood. Every day people are becoming more and more dis-empowered; disenfranchised; disillusioned. And it is precisely the kind of power grab that we are talking about tonight that makes people turn away; lose faith and ultimately resign themselves to disengage from the process.

Tonight we are discussing, in my opinion, the most cynical, desperate, and dishonest power grab by a city management who are more concerned with their own megalomania and control than with what is best for the people. I was part of the early discussions about this renewing of the Joint Operating Agreements, and while most of those discussions were in-camera and so I am not permitted to talk about them, I can tell everyone here tonight that this is not what was discussed. We talked about equity and fairness. We did not talk about control or a cash grab—which is, whether they want to admit it or not, what is at the heart of this matter.

I am told that the Community Centre Associations have agreed in principal through a negotiated JOA to accept the use of leisure access, universal memberships and the flexi pass cards in all centres. This meets all of the requirements of equity and fairness. So why are we still here? Could it be that the heart of this matter is a cash grab by not only the Park Board but the City Manager’s office? Is this a way of cutting Park Board funding even further? Is taking away the monies generated within a community, that at the moment are re-invested in the community, to put into general revenues so that the cuts to the Park Board budget are less noticeable? Through the careful use of revenues generated within this community, the Killarney association contributed $450,000 towards the new pool and $350,000 towards the ice rink used during the 2012 Olympic Games. Where would this money have come from without this community centre association’s fiduciary responsibility to the neighbourhood and the Vancouver community as a whole?

No, there is more to this issue than meets the eye. This goes beyond local management. This whole process has been flawed from the start. Too many discussions have been behind closed door, in-camera, or otherwise out of the public view. I look around here tonight and I see only one Commissioner in attendance—why? Because Senior Management have told the Commissioners they are not to attend—when did management start directing the elected members? I thought it was the other way around?

My experience tells me that both the elected officials and the community centre representatives have been misled and that these negotiations have not been in good faith. That the City through its senior management has had no intention of finding an agreeable solution, but instead have been trying to marginalize and alienate the communities so that the City can walk in and take over. This is not good management. This is not democracy. This is not what we pay our taxes for.

The people of Vancouver deserve better from its managers, better from its government. Community Centres in Vancouver have been successful because of, not in spite of, the community involvement and the local management of resources. The equity and fairness that I and others as Commissioners demanded have now been agreed to. What more do they want?

27 January 2013

The Girl Effect

VERY IMPORTANT! Please watch. And DO something about it. 

Girls + Education = REAL CHANGE.

24 January 2013

Killarney Community Centre Association pitches 'call to action'

Provoked by conditions included in the park board’s proposed joint operating agreement, the Killarney Community Centre Association has called an emergency meeting for next Tuesday evening.

Keith Jacobs, past president and current treasurer for the association, said the park board’s general manager Malcolm Bromley and city manager Penny Ballem have given the associations an ultimatum, which he described as unacceptable. The park board wants to take control of the revenues generated from programs and room rentals, which traditionally have remained with the centres. “I’ve heard Malcolm Bromley say at several meetings whoever has the money has the power,” said Jacobs. “They say it’s non- negotiable.” Jacobs said the money raised by each centre is used within that community. In Killarney, the association contributed $450,000 towards a new pool and $350,000 towards the ice rink used during the 2012 Olympic Games.

“We do that gladly,” said Jacobs. “That money doesn’t go anywhere except this community.” Jacobs added the association is asking for the public to get involved with a “call to action.”

“We want people to write to the mayor, council and park board,” said Jacobs. “The councillors have told me this has nothing to do with them and that this is a park board issue, but that changed when Penny Ballem took over every meeting. The park board is no longer an independent body.”

But not all community centre associations are as concerned as Killarney about the proposed agreement. In a Jan. 22 email to Bromley, Michael Noon, president of the Roundhouse Community Centre Association, expressed gratitude to the general manager and park board staff for responding to concerns regarding staffing, programming and fundraising.

Vision Vancouver park board commissioner Niki Sharma said the goal of the proposed agreement is to bring all of the city’s community centres in line with the four priorities of its strategic plan. Those include providing accessibility for all, leading in green practices, engaging the public, and using existing resources effectively and efficiently.

Sharma said the practice by some associations of insisting users purchase individual memberships and refusing to honor the universal Leisure Access Card goes against the board’s priority of accessibility. The Leisure Access Card is available to low-income residents. “We want to ensure community centres are accessible to everyone and that they have the same level of service,” said Sharma. She added the park board wants to pool all of the money raised through programming and room rentals and distribute it amongst all of the community centres. “Under this current proposal they’d still have the ability to fundraise,” Sharma insisted.

The emergency meeting is at 7 p.m. Jan. 29, at the community centre, 6260 Killarney St.


03 January 2013

Vancouver’s annual lifeguard school begins January 8

January 3, 2013 

The Vancouver Park Board’s annual Lifeguard School begins January 8 at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre. The program provides lifeguard certification and recertification to update qualifications.

Now in its 77th year, the school provides comprehensive training for prospective and returning lifeguards interested in summer employment at Vancouver’s nine beaches and all indoor and outdoor pools.

The school is open to those with their Lifesaving Society's Bronze Medallion as well as qualified lifeguards. Lifeguard School graduates get priority consideration for jobs at Vancouver’s swimming pools and beaches. The training also qualifies participants to lifeguard anywhere in Canada.

Instructors with the Lifeguard School have a vast knowledge of lifeguard experiences and are professional educators in the fields of emergency services, first aid and aquatic administration.

To pre-register or for more information on becoming a lifeguard, review the Lifeguard School brochure at vancouver.ca.

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Media contact:
Jason Watson

01 January 2013

Girl Rising: Make 2013 the year every girl can go to school.

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