Attending Council meetings to observe the proceedings was never a problem. Neither was going to City Hall to deliver a letter. Whether or not they paid attention to what you said, was another story, but you could go; you could enter Council chambers when in session to observe, or enter the building to speak to a clerk. Not these days.
These days we can’t attend Council meetings unless we sign up to speak ahead of time. Neither, it turns out, can we enter the building to deliver a letter without having to answer to staffers and security guards present.
Two days ago Meena Wong, former mayoralty candidate, attended one of our RCCCD meetings to convey what for her was a trying experience.
On November 9th residents of Marpole marched to City Hall to protest the sudden alteration of the plans for a billion dollar development [2,000 units] at the site of what used to be the George Pearson Centre (700 West 57th), a place that 125 seniors living with severe disabilities used to call home. The carrot had been 600 units of social housing and a new Skytrain station. The sudden unconsulted changes turned this into fewer units of social housing, no new Skytrain, and metal and synthetic temporary modular housing to be placed across from a school.
Ms Wong saw a couple of Marpole marchers having trouble delivering a letter to Council, and went to their aid. However, when she walked towards one of the offices, she was stopped. A City staffer told her that she could not enter the building without an appointment. And when she retorted that City Hall was a public space, she was told that she was wrong, that City Hall is “a private space.” She was next escorted out by security who shut the doors in her face. The incident, says Ms Wong, was filmed by a CBC camera man. The Marpole residents’ march was captured on youtube.
When you think about it, this new restriction to our ability to physically access City Hall is symbolic of a current trend – the trend to cater to developer greed while disregarding public needs and avoiding real neighbourhood involvement. It is indicative of the trend to reduce even the token consultations that were always a check-off item in the rezoning process.
The incident shows that allowing the money to control what happens on City Council does make City Hall a “private space.” And it behooves us to turn things around come next election, lest the brazen tightening of whatever democratic openings the public had, leaves us completely powerless.
Alicia Barsallo for RCCCD,
Residents for Community Control on City Development,
Next election RCCCD, www.votelivablecity.ca,
a non-partisan organization, will be supporting only those candidates whose record assures us that they will genuinely represent the community. The party they belong to will not be a consideration.