Below is an open letter council-watcher Melinda Slater has written to the Mayor and Council of West Vancouver regarding July 16 public hearing on amending the Marine Drive LAP to allow additional building height.
I am writing to express my extreme dissatisfaction relating to the July 16, 2020 Public Hearing to amend the Marine Drive Local Area Plan to allow additional building heights for the Gateway Residences at Park Royal.
The first two speakers made a point of disparaging opponents of the proposal. Rick Amatea, the developer’s representative, referred to “groups and individuals who are passing on misinformation, untruths, name-calling”, although without identifying said groups and individuals or specifying what the misinformation or untruths were. The next speaker, Ms. Holly Kemp, representing the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce no less, accused the West Vancouver Community Stakeholders group of being “controversial for the sake of controversy”, “vocal” (god forbid!), “violent”, and “against any and all development proposed by city Council”.
I am a proponent of free speech and the right to express oneself, no matter how crazy the idea. And make no mistake, Ms. Kemp’s comments, including her outrage that a community stakeholder group made statements that conflicted with, as she puts it, “the actual truth as presented by the developers”, is about as crack-pot as they come. However, she is entitled to her opinions and the right to express them. And while it is disappointing and rather stunning that West Van’s Chamber of Commerce would support such a vile attack on a community group, not to mention such asinine logic that only developers are conveyers of “actual truth”, they have every right to do so. (Although one would think the Chamber of Commerce might question the wisdom of vilifying a group of local residents who surely patronize some of the very businesses they represent.)
Where my extreme dissatisfaction lies is with Mayor Booth, who allowed this character assassination and one-sided version of “facts” to play out, yet immediately reprimanded two other speakers whose comments were not the least disrespectful or out of order.
One speaker, Mr. Claus Jensen, was interrupted by Councillor Cameron, who accused Mr. Jensen of being abusive and uncivil. Mayor Booth immediately reprimanded Mr. Jensen, asking him to keep his comments to the facts and not comment on the motivations, personality or character of anyone, including a Council member. But had she waited for Mr. Jensen to finish his sentence the Mayor would have realized Councillor Cameron was the one who was out of order.
What did Mr. Jensen say that was so offensive? He mentioned that “after reading one of Councillor Cameron’s twitter rants about what Public Hearings represent, it was actually a pretty concise description by Councillor Cameron that included the statement that Public Hearings are not a referendum of the voters of West Van”. But as soon as Councillor Cameron heard his name and the word “rant”, he jumped to the erroneous conclusion that he was being abused.
Another speaker was taken to task after the following remark: “How the city can trust that some people who talk in favour of this project have not been hired to do so? Saying the community will benefit, or traffic will be improved by this project is a joke!”
Yet even when Ms. Kemp’s comments and open contempt of a community stakeholder group were called into question by Councillor Soprovich, Mayor Booth defended them, saying that she was “paying close attention to Ms. Kemp’s remark(s) and they did not cross the line of disrespectful”!
Mayor Booth showed a shocking degree of bias, further evidenced by the fact that she did not call to have the timer reset after Mr. Jensen was unfairly interrupted. When the timer rang, rather than allow Mr. Jensen to finish his remarks, she immediately cut him off.
The Mayor demonstrated a blatant double-standard by allowing comments from supporters that she would never allow from opponents. Worse still, the Mayor unfairly prevented reasonable comment. Mayor Booth contributed to a hostile environment, demonstrated inappropriate bias and restricted fair and moderate comment.
Constrictions on freedom of expression started innocuously enough when the Mayor forbade booing OR clapping at Council meetings. While booing and jeering may never be perceived as respectful, clapping is another matter entirely and one of the few means citizens (particularly those who are averse to public speaking) have to respectfully express themselves.
I am all for encouraging people to be respectful and to stick to the merits of a project and the reasons they support or oppose, rather than attack those who think differently than they do. But that is all that Council should do – encourage such behaviour, particularly by demonstrating respectful behaviour themselves towards the public and to their fellow Council members. Ultimately free speech must prevail, warts and all. These heavy-handed attempts to selectively curtail freedom of expression must stop.
A distinct lack of neutrality is further evidenced when obvious preference to a proposal is displayed through the use of “Fact Checks”, whereby the District takes a selection of “inaccurate statements” from unknown sources, then disproves them. While this may seem an unlikely cause for alarm, the problem is the inherent one-sidedness – the “facts” always support the project at hand. There is never any mention of possible drawbacks or examples of statements that raise valid concerns.
Overt attempts to influence public opinion reached an appalling level of undue interference during the initial rezoning request for 752 Marine when the District’s former CAO, Nina Leemhuis, e-mailed select citizens in an apparent effort to discredit opposing view-points under the guise of “setting the record straight”.
Transparency is further eroded by no longer requiring speakers at Public Hearings to state their address and by redacting Council correspondence unless the writer specifically requests otherwise. The District defends this pro-active practice as complying with privacy legislation, yet refuses to acknowledge that their former, passive approach of only redacting if the writer requests so, meets these obligations. The District also ignores the fact that other municipalities, such as the City of Burnaby, publish correspondence including the author’s name and address, considering it a relevant part of public record.
In spite of repeated and long-standing pleas from the public to put an end to spot-zoning and provide some degree of consistency and predictability, and in spite of numerous concerns about the precedence this would set, a slim majority of Council voted to amend the recently implemented (although flawed) Marine Drive Local Area Plan and allow rezoning for additional height. After dragging the community through yet another exhausting and acrimonious process, public sentiment was, once again, ignored. (Thank you, Councillors Lambur, Soprovich and Wong for voting against this amendment.)
Mayor Booth concluded the July 16 Public Hearing with a number of galling statements, including “developers can come back as many times as they want – it’s up to Council to make the decision”; and, “This is a democracy and we do listen and pay attention. But this isn’t a referendum.” In other words, Mayor Booth will listen to the public, then proceed to do what she thinks best regardless of popular opinion. This self-serving interpretation of democracy is completely at odds with the commonly understood principles of government by the people and rule of the majority.
The United Nations describes “good governance” as having eight major characteristics: It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and follows the rule of law. Our municipal government is not bound by these principles, but would do well to consider them and how abysmally we’re failing to meet such sound standards.
Regardless of Mayor Booth’s earnest concern for doing what’s best for the community, the process is tainted and cannot reasonably be regarded as fair. Based on these and other examples, it’s apparent our entire system needs an overhaul.
We need a transparent process that builds consensus, rather than cultivates dissent, a process that seeks without bias, to clearly establish community sentiment, and a Council that is willing to defer to that sentiment regardless of personal opinion.
Ultimately, good municipal governance is best achieved by informed residents demanding better, and a Mayor and Council that is willing to acknowledge and address valid concerns, not deflect them.
Melinda Slater is a long-time citizen of West Vancouver. Views expressed in this letter are of the writer and may not necessarily reflect those of this publication.