58 West Hastings: Why Won’t Vision Take a Position?

Vision Vancouver has been avoiding taking a position on a key development proposal for the quickly gentrifying Downtown Eastside. Concord Pacific, the largest developer in Vancouver, is proposing a new 160 unit condo development for 58 West Hastings, about a half a block east of the Woodwards development on Hastings. The development will further increase pressures on low income housing in the area, further raise property values in the area, and lead to a new round of displacement of low income tenants from the area.

This development proposal puts in stark perspective the fact that choices around housing essentially involve political decision making. As reported by Frances Bula, at a well attended and passionate development board meeting on the project held in June of 2008, Vancouver’s head of planning, Brent Toderian told the crowd that “Market housing is allowed in this neighbourhood and it’s not the purview of this board to say otherwise”. In reviewing the concerns about the development, a city report, dated May 2008, makes the same point: “Many of the issues raised related to issues broader than this particular development application”. People need to redirect their attention from convenient villains like city bureaucrats and city developers and towards the municipal political parties. Municipal politicians set the rules by which the developers and bureaucrats play, and  concerned citizens need to hold the politicians liable for development in Vancouver.

As expected, the NPA has come out clearly on the proposal, affirming its support of the project. At least we know where they stand. However, Vision Vancouver and COPE have refused to take a position on it. In fact, rather than adding clarity, their statements on the matter cloud their intentions in fog.

In a politically acute and funny piece in the Courier, conservative columnist Mark Hasiuk documented his pursuit of a number of Vision politicians in an attempt to learn Vision’s position on the development. Haksiuk contacted Vision Council members Tim Stevenson, Raymond Louie, George Chow and Heather Deal. Deal did not return his calls. Louie refused comment. Stevenson said that he did not know Vision’s position, but he expected to be able to address the question after a Vision caucus meeting. Chow said he was ‘open to discussion’ regarding the social housing component in the development. Hasiuk also contacted David Eby, who was seeking a Vision nomination at the time (this was prior to his loss). Eby stated he opposed the project as it stood. Eby also said that Vision has no position on the development. (Aside: In another of Frances Bula’s Blog entries, she notes that ‘The company [Concord Pacific] actually had [Vision founding member] Jim Green work on a proposal for the city planning department’). Hasiuk also contacted COPE’s David Cadman, who complained about the NPA’s ‘rush to judgment’, and then complained about lack of community consultation.

Cadman and Chow each exhibit typical small ‘l’ liberal reactions to questions of social justice. Notice how neither gave a straight answer about whether they support or oppose this development. Cadman avoids taking a position on the topic, instead criticizing the NPA and criticizing the city process regarding the development proposal.  Chow embraces the classic liberal rhetoric of a possible ‘win-win’ situation, whereby he implies, but does not state, that perhaps there could be a social housing component to the development.

The proposal is a hot potato for Vision. They need to appear to be working for people with insecure housing, but they also need the funding from the developers, who provided them with the lion’s share of their war chest in the last election. Concord Pacific is the spin off from the greatest real estate scam Vancouver has ever seen, when the ‘free enterprise’ provincial Socred government sold a huge portion of the downtown core for $125 million dollars to Hong Kong plutocrat, Li Ka Shing. Since that time, Concord Pacific has dominated Vancouver development, milking the land acre by acre, development by development. If Vision came out squarely against this market development, or demanded serious social housing concessions in order to approve the development, it would send a message to the whole development community. This could jeopardize their funding base.

So don’t expect a clear statement from Vision on this matter, look for more solemn pronouncements from Vision and from their farm team, COPE using such warm liberal words like ‘community’, ‘process’, ‘consultation’, ‘dialogue’, ‘change’ and other  vacuous jargon.  At least the conservatives, like the NPA, can state things clearly.

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