The UBC SkyTrain Vote: A Bad Day for Democracy
by Carol Volkart
When speaker after speaker lined up to overwhelmingly oppose the City’s latest plans for the SkyTrain extension to UBC, what did Vancouver City Councillors do?
They voted 9-1 to approve what all of the approximately two dozen people on the speakers’ list had just spent hours urging them not to.
“I despair at the state of our local democracy,” Councillor Colleen Hardwick said after the March 29 decision. The only council member to cast a No vote, Hardwick is the mayoral candidate for TEAM for a Livable Vancouver, a new civic party that focuses on neighbourhoods and believes City Hall should listen to residents.
Lack of consultation, neighbourhood planning, and even basic information about the City’s plans, was a key aspect of the speakers’ complaints. Several said it was an accident that they had even heard about the pivotal vote Council was about to take. “[O]nce again, Council is being asked to make a major decision before meaningful neighbourhood consultation has taken place,” the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods said in a letter of opposition to the plans.
At issue was a City staff recommendation that Council approve a subway station within the Jericho Lands development and confirm its support for a realigned SkyTrain route that swerves into the Jericho Lands.
The Jericho Lands station is controversial because it would replace an expected station at Tenth and Sasamat. A station there had been seen as a potential key to reviving the declining West Point Grey Village shopping area.
The staff report said a Jericho station “performs better” than a Sasamat one because it offers opportunities for future development of MST (Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh) lands on the site. It also offers “integration of a new community with rapid transit, ensuring the greatest number of people and jobs are in close proximity to the station,” and allows connections to West Point Grey Village and “improved access to beaches as a regional destination,” the report said.
Author and architect Brian Palmquist, who spoke to Council and later posted his comments online, asked why the City would endorse a plan that favours a private development at Jericho over an existing neighbourhood village at West Tenth.
He noted that TransLink officials had confirmed they proposed bending the SkyTrain alignment into the Jericho Lands “because the proponent requested it.” The officials also confirmed they hadn’t considered the economic impact on Point Grey Village of a SkyTrain “that stops several blocks from the Village, then skirts it to continue out to UBC,” Palmquist said.
In a phone interview with CBC after the vote, Hardwick said she fears the best interests of residents in terms of livability are not being taken into account, “but rather what's in the best interests of those that will make way more money building high-rises."
Besides the lack of neighbourhood consultation and planning, opponents argued that the plans for the station and extension route were rushed and premature, given that the UBC extension itself is still a question mark. The phrase “putting the cart before the horse” was used many times.
“It is entirely premature to be deciding on proceeding with station area planning when a subway extension to UBC is far from even being decided. The business case has not been produced, and an extension to UBC has not been declared a regional priority,” the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods’ letter stated.
In another letter on the issue, the Upper Kitsilano Residents Association urged Council to delay any decision until there’s been more research and proper consultation with neighbourhoods. The subway and the towers proposed for Jericho are environmentally unfriendly, and the increased density does not mean affordability, it said. “This plan, which promotes glitzy high-rises for the wealthy, will unquestionably make housing even more expensive.”
The UKRA letter and others from neighbourhood groups concerned about the UBC extension and the Jericho Lands station can be seen here.