Vancouver city council reduces social housing plans
Dec. 21st Globe
By ROD MICKLEBURGH
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Mayor Sam Sullivan and his slim majority of newly elected city councillors began dismantling past council decisions yesterday by killing the planned trial of bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge.
Despite objections that the reversal was being rammed through just before Christmas without further public consultation, council voted 6-4 to halt the controversial experiment, which was to be launched next April.
With that out of the way, after nearly six hours of delegations and debate, council moved immediately to reconsider another key past decision: the mix of social housing in the landmark southeast False Creek development, destined to be the athletes' village for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Mr. Sullivan wants to reduce the number of social-housing units in the ambitious megaproject on the shores of False Creek, hailed as a model of sustainable "green" development and public use of space.
The mayor campaigned against the previous council's decision to earmark one-third of the proposed units for low-income earners, one-third for those in the middle-income bracket, and one-third for market housing. Such a mix is not economical, Mr. Sullivan argued.
Many speakers urged council not to tamper with the original vision.
John Irwin, co-ordinator of the Southeast False Creek Working Group since 1999, noted that the number of homeless in the city has doubled in just a few years.
"This project is an investment in the future," he said. "Is there some sense that homelessness is a cheap way of dealing with social housing, when actually it costs less money to house people than allow them to live on the street?
"Please, do not cut that one-third for social housing," Mr. Irwin said of the last land available for housing on the city's inner harbour.
Debate on the contentious issue continued late into the evening.
Earlier, there was no budging on council's determination to choke off the plan to turn two lanes of the busy Burrard Bridge over to cyclists.
Mr. Sullivan and his conservative NPA party, which secured a one-seat majority on city council, strongly opposed the idea during the recent election campaign.
Critics contended that the move -- even for a one-year trial -- would cause economically damaging traffic tie-ups.
Nearly 30 proponents, however, spoke in favour of the idea at the lengthy council meeting, countering that the move would have been a brave, visionary decision in the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol on the environment.
One began singing Joni Mitchell's well-known song Big Yellow Taxi. "They paved paradise and they put up . . . something," she sang.
Charles Gautier of the Downtown Businessmen's Association was the only speaker in favour of keeping all six lanes for motorists. "This is a major artery and we need to be able to move goods efficiently to and from downtown."
If the trial had worked, it would have saved the city $13.5-million, which will now be needed to widen the sidewalks of the 73-year-old bridge to make them safer for cyclists.
Among those agreeing to quash the bike lane experiment was NPA councillor Peter Ladner, who originally supported the idea last summer, calling it "fiscal prudence" to try to save the $13.5-million. Three weeks later, Mr. Ladner changed his mind, saying he believed that there was too much opposition for the plan to proceed.
Councillor Tim Stevenson of the rival Vision Vancouver party called for more public consultation before locking council in to an "irreversible" decision to never give the bike lanes a shot and possibly save millions of dollars.
"I don't think it serves democracy to ram this thing through."
But Councillor Suzanne Anton of the NPA said there had just been an election on the issue.
"The point is: there was public discussion. People voted for us because of that [opposing the bike lanes]," Ms. Anton said.
"It's not pig-headedness. A lot of energy has gone into this process and we should make a decision now."