Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Open letter to Electoral Area A Committee

Dear Ms. Harris

RE: Proposed Metro Zoning Bylaws for UBC and Local Area Governance

I am writing to request that your committee take action on the following matters:
  1. Suspend the UBC Zoning Bylaw implementation process until the issue of local area governance for the UBC/UEL area has been resolved, and:
  2. Transform your proposed working group to discuss the zoning bylaw into a working group to achieve responsible local area democracy for the UBC/UEL areas.
As you are aware the system of governance for the area west of Blanca, including the UEL and the University Town areas, leaves much to be desired for many residents of this community. While there are erstwhile 'municipal-like' structures operating in this region, neither the UEL committee nor the UNA have real municipal powers. And then thousands of student residents have no access to any form of local governance. Both the UEL and the UNA operated with delegated authority and, despite the hard work and good intentions of their officials, are not in any meaningful sense forms of autonomous responsible democracy.

Neither is the Electoral Area A Committee of the GVRD a substitute for responsible government. The committee is comprised of one person elected by residents of Electoral Area A and two committee members who's primarily affiliation and democratic responsibility lies outside of the residential community.

The proposed zoning bylaw is actually a step away from real, effective, local governance. In that it will make it harder for our community to take local control over our community. While the UNA, for example, may be a flawed governance instrument, it is a local instrument of power and authority. And, in comparison to the Electoral Area A committee, the UNA provides a responsible and flexible form of local government. Rather than expending the time creating zoning bylaws and increasing the administrative infrastructure, why not focus your attention on addressing the democratic deficit?

This brings me to my second point.

The Electoral Area A committee has shown that, if you want, you can set up working groups to discuss matters of local importance. Let’s take this in a positive direction. Transform the working group on bureaucratically imposed zoning bylaws into a citizen’s assembly on local governance for the UBC/UEl area.

If you take this approach I would suggest that the working group structure be changed to better reflect the democratic concerns of our community, as opposed to the interest group politics of Metro Vancouver.

Seats on the transformed working group should be allocated in accord with residential population and institutional connections and legal responsibilities.

Seats for Year Round Residential Areas
  • UEL 2800 population 5
  • UNA 5000 population 8
  • Acadia Park/University Apt. 1500 population 3

Seats for Student Residence Associations
  • UBC associations 2
  • Affiliated Colleges 1
Institutional Seats
  • UBC 1
  • AMS 2
  • Metro 1
  • BC 1
  • Musqueam 1
Each specific organization or area would select their own representatives for the transformed working group.

Metro’s Electoral Area A committee has an opportunity to make a real an effective difference in the shape of local democratic practices. Let’s put the zoning bylaw on hold. If the Electoral Area A committee really is concerned about UBC being "landowner, developer, and approver for the campus lands" then do something that really will address the issue. Lets’ create an authentic democratic option.


Charles Menzies
Resident, Hawthorn Place in the University Town


Alex Lougheed said...

Hi Charles,

Thanks for the post and engagement!

Notwithstanding the rest of your post, by structuring a working group in that manner you are disenfranchising the largest population of residents at UBC, and one of the most important institutional stakeholder: students.

How do you rationalize excluding this key stakeholder from proportional representation?

Charles Menzies said...

Dear Alex,

Two points -I have suggested that students be involved in two ways -through the AMS, which represents the global student body and through those students, staff and faculty living in 'institutional' housing on a permanent, year round basis -i.e. Acadia.

You are correct that the dorm housing is not directly included in this proposal. This could be addressed by assigning one or two seats to represent the residents' councils.

In the manner by which First Nations communities have a prior attachment to place through long term habitation and connect to the landscape I would suggest that for those of us who have lived here and have made a commitment to living here for the long haul that we should have, and do have, a particular perspective that should be heard and is often overlooked in the flux of the larger institutional space.