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NPA tries to pin blame for Pandora house fire on Vision council

January 4th, 2011 · 114 Comments

It truly feels like campaign season, as various NPA types, in co-ordination with Citycaucus.com, try to get the media going on putting the blame on the Vision administration for the Pandora Street house fire that killed three men just before Christmas. (They’re really working this thing as four or five news releases have gone out already. The latest one just out is appended below here.)

Rookie NPA candidate Jesse Johl even suggested that Vision Mayor Gregor Robertson might have wanted to look the other way on infractions at this house, because he’s so desperate to keep homelessness numbers down — an inference that more experienced campaigners steered judiciously around.

Perhaps there’s something I’m missing, but I have not seen anything yet in any news release that indicates that the city’s inspection department was operating any differently than it has for the past, oh, two decades. The department, in all the time I’ve known it, has been extremely reluctant to shut down any housing that seems to be providing accommodation to poor people, whether it’s grotty residential hotels, run-down three-story walk-ups, or illegal rooming houses. That means there are all kinds of buildings around town that have a list of warnings, ominous-sounding inspection reports and more on their files.

As you’ll all recall, an entire apartment building had to be evacuated three years ago (under then-mayor Sullivan’s administration) after the roof collapsed during a heavier-than-usual rainstorm — ironically, also on Pandora Street, only seven blocks to the west. The city had a huge file on that building, as its inspectors of various kinds prodded the landlords to make repairs. That case is still working through the courts as the former tenants try to get compensation. I was in that building while it was still being evacuated and it was a miracle no one was hurt. So did that happen because the city administration of the time also lacked the will to enforce existing bylaws?

Critics have plenty to go after the Vision council for on other issues, from the Olympic village to the botched rental-incentive program to the too-hastily-planned Hornby lane,and more. But this? At the moment, I don’t see any evidence that this has anything to do with the Vision administration one way or the other. Maybe Bill can explain this further.

4 January, 2011

For Immediate Release

Vision Vancouver’s Blind Eye Endangers Lives

Bill McCreery, NPA Council Candidate and an architect, questioned the veracity of recent statements of Vision Councillors Kerry Jang and Andrea Reimer, as well as of Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston regarding the fire that killed three men at 2862 Pandora Street in Vancouver.  “There is no question this fire could have been avoided if this Council and City Management had the will to enforce the City’s own existing by-laws”, stated McCreery. He added, “It’s clear that Vancouver Mayor Robertson and his Vision Council colleagues are more concerned with optics than actual enforcement, endangering the lives of citizens in the process”.

McCreery continued: “There are far too many inconsistencies and unanswered questions here. The City of Vancouver Information Bulletin of 23, December stated ‘…. at no time did City Inspectors find a situation which would have allowed them to….. [require that the building] be evacuated or closed down…..’.  Yet, in stunning contrast, the City seems to have given themselves the authority to order the owner to demolish the home by 14 January.  So which is it?  Play politics to pick and choose what by-laws to enforce in an attempt to look good, or enforce existing by-laws that will save lives”.

“Based on my experience as a Vancouver architect, there were a number of reasons why this building should have, and could have been shut down as of the 31st of October” deadline.

“1) The RS-1, single family zoned and Vancouver Building Bylaw, Part 9 constructed house was being used as a Vancouver Building Bylaw, Part 3 multi-tenant rooming house.  This is contrary to both the Zoning and Building By-laws, and therefore, it is illegal for the owner, or the City to permit a “rooming house” occupancy.

“2) The house had an illegal back room extension that was constructed without a Building Permit.  Any such changes to a building not only require a building permit, but once the Building Permit requirements have been met, an Occupancy Permit as well.  No Building Permit and no Occupancy Permit.  Therefore, no occupancy, and effective immediately.

“3) Contrary to Jang and Johnston’s claims, of the nine violations City Inspectors found in their 26 August Inspection Report, seven were Building Code violations, which did compromise life safety for occupants of the house.  In addition, the electrical and plumbing inspections document a host of additional life safety hazards, one of which, the use of  ‘2. …. extension cords…. being used as a substitute for fixed wiring….’ was apparently the cause of the fire (ref: CoV IR 14845, 26 August, 2010).

“The unfortunate loss of these three lives confirms that at least one of these infractions was, in fact, life threatening, and led to the deaths of the unfortunate inhabitants of the rooming house.”

McCreery further stated “the safety of the people of our City should be first and foremost and Mayor Robertson and his Vision Council must enforce life saving by-laws, where necessary enact new tough new regulations to protect people, and properly fund the Neighbourhood Integrated Service Team, so the City can prevent similar tragedies in the future.

-30-

For Further Information Contact:

Bill McCreery

Categories: 2011 Vancouver Civic Election

  • boohoo

    Max,

    See how it works with you? You bitch and moan that the city isn’t doing anything, isn’t taking any action in light of the pandora fire. Now they are taking action and you bitch and moan that they’re just ‘looking concerned’.

    How is it possible for you to be satisfied?

  • Max

    @boohoo # 101

    The same way you, after a while play the victim and declare :

    1) missing my point

    2) ignoring my point

    Lord only knows how may of us regular posters on various sites have read that response.

    Cheers.

  • Bill McCreery

    @ Max 100.

    Why not indeed? The City Fire Department’s announcements today are a good start. They’re getting a computerized tracking and record system (an Olympic legacy?) to replace their old ‘rip and run’ method. They’re going to up the inspections using front-line staff, and based on todays Dundas closure, they’re starting to enforce the by-laws.

    The missing ingredient here are the illegal single family houses which are being used as multi-tenant rooming houses. Many of these are known to staff, fire and police.

    No doubt the lawyers will have a field day arguing when does a single family house become a multi-tenant dwelling. But my architectural experience tells me that if it smells fishy, it’s a fish.

    The City should immediately announce that it is including these flop houses in their inspections. It should also come up with some kind of effective monitoring method so that when houses are turned into flophouses the City is aware of that fact and can monitor it.

  • Morven

    Timing, as they say, is everything.

    Today the city, in my view, redeemed itself in using an opportunity to signal deterrence. No.ne of this reclusive administration style.

    What I witnessed on the supper TV news hour was the Vancouver equivalent of a perp walk. The perp walk (short for perpetrator) is an American legal gambit where the accused is publically displayed and the consequence of his/her alleged offenses, trumpeted to the heavens. What I saw were displaced residents, columns of firefighters and a short clip on the possible consequences for an intransigent property owner. Not bad in using publicity as a deterrent.

    And I am sure commercial property owners and their legal advisers duly took note that the city does now mean business when public health and safety is concerned. (it probably always did, only most citizens were not aware).
    -30-

  • George

    what Max #102 said.. right on!

  • Lin

    @ boo hoo #88

    Actually, the City was not ‘working behind the scenes’ since the SUN notes “The changes were contemplated long before the deadly Pandora Street fire on Dec. 21 that killed three men, according to Ballem. And they wouldn’t have caught the significant deficiencies in the house because single-family homes aren’t required to have fire inspections, she said.”

    Thanks Max #91 for your well-put words that explain further.

    Again I’ll repeat the Mayor leads this city and we must demand better. Sadly, it’s we who have the will but he who holds the power.

  • George

    Lin # 106

    Amen to that

  • The Fourth Horseman

    Lin #106. Yes, the City has been planning since the spring, so it was a fortunate time to launch.

    sparty #92. PR rule of thumb. Whenever there is loss of life, or a catastophic event, and it appears to be tied in any way to an organization’s operations, response (or lack therof), the top dog needs to make a statement (or a series of them) to acknowledge the problem, commit to change, and to show that change has been implemented. Like Bloomberg in NYC after the snow storm (and he misfired in his initial response, too), the Mayor here should have taken the reins and dealt.

    While the City Manager is now stepping up and saying (and doing) the right things (including, hooray, the billing of city services services to those errant landlords who are not complying—another piece of advice I gave earlier in this thread), I think it actually undermines the perception of the Mayor as the leader of the city, for him not to have had his time on this matter.

    In fact, it appears to me, that proxies are often used when the Mayor should be stepping up. This is both for “appearances sake” as it should be part of the requirement of the office, as well as for political sake, as to demonstrate his ability to lead—and to be seen to lead.

    And if he is afraid of facing hard questions from the media, well, tough darts. That is part and parcel of what the job entails. IMO, he is actually damaging his reputation by not appearing in this matter.

    He is–and here is a coarse political reason—wasting an opportunity to take charge and change voter ‘perception’ (note I am saying
    ‘perception’ as perception is the reality, regardless as to actual culpability—did HE do the inspections? No. Did HE not go after the landlords himself. No, of course not. But he and council can damn well make sure that this doesn’t happen again!) by saying, “mistakes have been made, we are making amends, this is how we are doing it, and this is what will happen if slumlords don’t respond”.

    Let me put it another way. This mayor looks to be scuttling away any time “bad news” happens. He is creating a lot of doubt out there as to his actual abilities as Mayor.

    He appears mostly for “good news” announcements. But again, IMHO, you are made as a leader when you are seen to be handling the heavy lifting during the bad news issues, for things that are relateable to ALL citizens–the ultimate being loss of life under this type of circumstance. Ribbon cutting for bike lanes, trying to grab a bit of Olympic glory, photo ops those things will be forgotten by the general voter. This—not so much.

    True empathy and taking responsibility (not buck passing, or putting off, as evidenced by Andrea Reimers dreadfully inept earlier statement) goes a long way in calming situations, and building up respect (even grudging) and buys time in getting to the right course of action.

    It shows the voter that while you, representing the political and bureaucratic systems of this city, are imperfect, that lessons have been truly learned and that real change will be implemented. Anything less leaves people in a pessimistic and cynical mood.

    My question to all parties: why the hell does it take a tragedy like this to get things done the way they show be done, or the way that they are mandatd by by-law to do. And, no, I am not buying the “lack of resources” argument or a political one (they just don’t care!) as a reason. There are plenty of paid city people who had been traipsing in and out of these establishments.

    Someone needs to have the cajones to say “one, strike, you’re out!” to slumlords. This goes for those slumlords who have multiple properties and may well be donating to parties. THAT is a political decision.

  • The Fourth Horseman

    Sorry, 2nd para from the bottom should read “the way they should be done”…

    My other spelling errors come from my impassioned response and my inclination to hit the “send” button too early, before doing a dutiful spell check, under same. 😉

  • boohoo

    Max,

    Playing the victim? How am I a victim here? I think this whole thing is blown way out of proportion, but it’s got nothing to do with me being a victim…? You again didn’t answer my question, so I won’t bother asking again.

    4th,

    Not buying the lack of resources factor might be fine for you, unfortunately reality dictates otherwise.

    I happily support something like one strike you’re out for these deadbeat landlords, but like many things, it’s not quite that black and white.

    My question to you or anyone else (as it continually goes unanswered)–why does a ‘tragedy’ like this spark such outrage when we sit back and watch it happen everyday? Where’s the outrage?

    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Police+seek+Honda+Accord+driver+Christmas/4079188/story.html

    72 year old in a crosswalk hit by car, driver takes off. Where’s the outrage over this ‘tragedy’?

    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Update+Elderly+pedestrian+injured+East+Vancouver+accident/4041479/story.html

    elderly woman struck by car while crossing crosswalk. Where’s the outrage? Why no calls for the mayor to do something about pedestrian safety? No calls for vision’s head?

  • Lin

    Fourth Horseman #108, I couldn’t agree with you more, especially that our Mayor far prefers appearing for “good news” announcements.

    At difficult times requiring true LEADERship, he hides. Hence why he sneaked into False Creek North at midnight July ’09 to find out what all the fuss was about with spiraling HEAT shelter violence & drugs. But not a chance would he meet with neighbours – how cowardly.

    Skulking away that night he was recognized on the street by area residents, confronted, and got more than one angry earful. He claimed he “didn’t know” about the impacts or elementary school w/in metres.

    On that I can actually believe him. And THIS is who leads Canada’s 2nd largest metropolis with all its ensuing issues.

  • Michelle

    Lin,

    You wrote: ‘At difficult times requiring true LEADERship, he hides.’ So very true. The thing is… HIS SHIP has sailed.

  • Bobbie Bees

    I think that ever structure in the city should have to have at least one full blown inspection at least every three years.

  • Bill McCreery

    @ Bobbie 113.

    A worthwhile objective. It should be costed out including single family houses. It probably hasn’t been done to date because of the cost.

    The physical conditions at Pandora and Dundas illustrate the dangerous life safety conditions in many similar buildings throughout the City. And, while the City has some knowledge of delinquent multi-tenant buildings, it has no idea how many houses are being used illegally as rooming houses.

    The 1st item on the City’s August Inspection report was that the single family house was being used as a rooming house. These 2 experiences should be proof enough that these types of tenants are rather hard on the places they live in. For such tenants a single family house is completely inappropriate for use as a multi-tenant dwelling because of its light duty construction, no fire alarms, locks on doors, etc. A wood frame apartment is not much better. Concrete and concrete block construction would be a better, although more expensive, building type to use for this kind of housing. (in the long run it would also be cheaper because it would require less maintenance and repair.)

    Based on my observations at Pandora, the deficiency which actually caused the deaths appears to have been an aspect of the house’s construction which the inspectors did not record. It’s a not so obvious fault and therefore, not surprising it was not included, also in part due to the large number of other deficiencies. This cause will no doubt be confirmed when the final reports are available.