Off-course Garden City planning sets off alarm

Garden City Conservation Society logo, Richmond, BCA member of the Garden City Conservation Society has expressed alarm about an off-course Garden City planning process.  That happened after the member unearthed a City of Richmond request for proposals (RFPs) for “Consulting services for Garden City Lands Phase One: Site Analysis and Public Engagement Process.”

After going through the document, I can see causes for the concern.

The very first paragraph (1.1) sets an expectation for expertise in “sports planning.” That term would normally refer to competitive sports, which are not a permitted use on land zoned as Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and the Garden City Lands are famously in the ALR. From the “sports planning” expectation, informed readers would pick up that the applicants are consequently expected to create conflict.

The same paragraph specifies expertise in “conflict resolution.” Evidently the consultants are expected to resolve the conflict they create. However, there is no reason for there to be a significant level of conflict in the first place.

Here’s how I know that. In my long experience with the Garden City Lands, the informed defenders of the ALR status—defenders of the law of British Columbia under the Agricultural Land Commission Act—have been remarkably consensus-conscious despite having a wide range of preferred ALR uses. The manufactured conflict would increase media interest, but the side effects would be destructive.

Digressing a bit, I’m wondering why the heck my taxes are being used for that.

Be that as it may, a later paragraph states:

Designations on the land include Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), “Conservation and Recreation” in the Metro Regional Growth Strategy and “Under Study” in the City Official Community Plan.

That is true, but putting local designations on the same level as ALR zoning is highly misleading. The ALR is a provincial zone under B.C. law, which states in the clearest terms that it takes precedence. The ALR zone is roughly a thousand times as important as the Metro and City designations and even the unmentioned but important Richmond zoning, which is “Agriculture.” Metro Vancouver and cities, which are all local governments, can sometimes limit the ALR uses but cannot legally conflict with them.

In the field of work performance improvement, one of the most fundamental and highest-impact ways to ensure good performance is to set clear expectations. Despite that, the City has set highly misleading expectations. Our only sliver of hope is that the consultants who’ve been hired have been skilled and diligent enough to overcome the City-caused problem.

What is unclear is how the process has gone so far off course, heading into the rocks, with no sign of any responsible person on the ship’s bridge. I was at the council committee meeting that was presented with the planning process for enhancing the Garden City Lands, and it was a relief that the city was getting it right. Of particular relevance at this time, the plan expresses the City’s ratified expectations in a clear and useful way.

Phase 1, “Inventory and Analysis,” describes a step known as “biophysical inventory” that the Garden City Conservation Society strongly supports and has been advocating for years. It would take further the basic work that the Garden City Conservation Society has already done. You’ll find the plan in a Richmond parks staff support of September 13, 2012. The Phase 1 part begins on PDF page 107.  (Although it was started three years too late, I have continued to support it.)

Later (8.2), the City states the expectation that the consultant will “Identify the need for a major sports tournament site” and specifically “identify and predict current and future uses.” Most specifically, “The Consultant will . . . engage the local sports community, as identified by City staff, in a workshop on sports needs.” That workshop about a tournament site is the only proposed engaging of an interest group in Phase 1, which the planning chart shows as essentially the biophysical inventory of the lands. (Biophysical inventory is the relevant term, as seen in the title for the biophysical inventory for the rest of the Lulu Island Bog, published in 2008. For political reasons, the Garden City Lands part of the Lulu Island Bog was left out.)

For all practical purposes, the likelihood of a tournament facility on the lands is non-existent. However, the relevant aspect here is that the expectation set for consultants is bizarrely out of place, with damaging effects for community consultation about legal uses of the lands and for the appearance of unjust enrichment in the Musqueam lawsuit. It also wastes resources that were needed for the intended purpose, and it could cause the biophysical inventory to be half-done because of the siphoning off of needed funding.

Right after that sports-tournament problem (in 8.2), the consultants are told at length to “Investigate Arts and Culture as a possible theme or guiding principle.” At a time when the viewscape legacy of the lands is under imminent threat, finding ways to add human-made art instead of nature’s art sets up a disconnect with reality. In contrast, a guiding principle of best ALR uses would be in keeping with the ALR commitment for the lands that has been so strongly expressed by the community and the Agricultural Land Commission.

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We have also been alerted that a “Create Garden City Lands” website will be unveiled early on May 15, 2014. Some of us were under the impression that the Garden City Lands were created several thousand years ago as part of the “Child of the Fraser River and the sea” (as pioneer Richmond pioneer farmer Thomas Kidd called Lulu Island). In any case, one can actually go now to the new site.

The background information for this article includes an additional City of Richmond document.

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Update, May 19: The “Create Garden City Responsibilityarticle  is a later attempt to bring together the main concerns of this article and the one right above it in a way that leads to a clear expression of who needs to do what in this matter.

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