Year of change came with controversy for Vancouver mayor 0
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson at City Hall in Vancouver, B.C. on Thursday December 19, 2013. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)
The past year has been one of conflict for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision-controlled council as accusations the concerns of residents are being ignored have been leveraged by opposition councillors and the media, which the civic leader says is the result of progress.
In a one-on-one interview with 24 hours, the second-term mayor said the city is “far more” transparent than other levels of government and the seemingly widespread discontent is because Vancouver is undertaking four controversial plans when it usually only tackles one at a time.
“There’s always been hot spots when the city brings in change,” Robertson said. “Some years ago it was the Dunbar and 16th (Avenue) social housing project that the neighbourhood fought against vigorously and the city approved it and built it and it’s absolutely fine. There are no issues in the neighbourhood today.”
He pointed to the oft-criticized expansion of the city’s communication department as an example of its effort to consult with residents as the city tries to squeeze in new housing.
One of the mayor’s main opponents has been Randy Helten of West End Neighbours, a citizen group firmly opposed to new rental and density changes in the downtown area.
He refuted Robertson and accused the city of “mistreating” Vancouverites by pushing through projects after residents have opposed them.
“We’ve found many examples in which the city is misleading the public, providing information with a timing that is a disadvantage for the public,” Helten said. “I could give many examples.”
But Robertson dismisses how the city has taken flak for having too big a communications department while at the same time being accused of not listening to residents.
He said often when “change is at the front door” people are unwilling to let it in, but hard decisions — especially around housing — have to be made for the future.
“Vancouver’s facing a lot of change,” he said “If we don’t add more housing to Vancouver, affordability is completely gone, we’ll be in worse shape.”
Robertson and his Vision colleagues could be in for a more harmonious 2014 as he said there are no more plans for bike lanes.
24 hours: Asked why he thought the provincial government pushed for a transit referendum:
GR: I don’t understand the rational for a transit referendum when roads and bridges get rubber-stamped for billions of dollars of taxpayer money. All transportation infrastructure either needs good leadership and decisions that make sense based on people’s mobility . . . we’re adding a million more people to Metro Vancouver and we face a choice: more transit or more cars and roads.”
24: Asked about continued high costs of renting in Vancouver:
GR: I expect we’ll see more rental apartments available in the years to come after not building any for decades, frankly. So the pressure on the market was created by a lack of rental housing being built and approved. We’ve changed that but it will take a couple years before there’s enough new supply to affect the market, so it’s still a huge crunch.
24: Asked if he has considered approaching Victoria to institute measures to curb foreign ownership of Vancouver property
GR: I talked about it when I first ran for mayor six years ago, talked about a speculator tax.
24: How come you don’t talk about it anymore?
GR: There was lots of debate about whether it was necessary six years ago. I asked my task force on housing affordability to look at the foreign ownership and vacant housing issue. They came back with uncertainty about the magnitude and the best tools to address it. There wasn’t a clear-cut case that we should intervene.
24: Asked if more bike lanes are planned for the near future:
GR: There’s no more bike lanes on the list. Right now, there’s the Kits-Point Grey one being built and that’s it, but nothing else on the horizon. The Kits bike lane is the last major route to the west and in future the city will need to keep improving the network. But the basic big pieces will be built. It’ll be about better connections and improving safety within that network. The challenge five years ago was we had no safe bike network . . . the focus really is transit from here.
24: Asked about opposition from Coun. George Affleck over sending Coun. Tim Stevenson to Sochi in the name of LGBTQ rights:
GR: Affleck was dumping on gay rights and trying to disguise it as a funding issue, which is pathetic … I didn’t really see a thoughtful play there, I just saw a bunch of cheap politicking that’s damaging to a human rights issue.