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Blog posts on this afternoon’s meeting welcome

January 12th, 2009 · 70 Comments

I’ll be off-site and on the phone and doing other things, so I’d welcome guest posts from anyone who attends the witch trial, oops, special council meeting this afternoon on the Olympic village.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Dawn Steele

    Others are talking today about the Province being ultimately on the hook for everything that has to be delivered for 2010. If there’s really a choice, I’d like to ask the question of why not just pass this albatross on to Victoria (& let them put up the $500 million out of that provincial surplus)?

    Is anyone considering the larger implications of giving the City of Vancouver the power to borrow as much money as they like, whenever they like it, without consulting citizens? [Unless this permission is a one-time deal, which it doesn’t sound like.] After this fiasco, do we really want to give City Hall the power to go out and invest in even whackier deals in secret whenever they want from here on?

    “Not running for mayor,” which crystal ball are you using to calculate condo market prices in 2012 and carrying costs for the intervening period? Or for that matter, to estimate completion costs , including all eventual over-runs? You’d be the richest person on earth if you could really predict all that!

    No one else can – which is the whole problem here. The city has gotten itself into the business of market speculation, something it had no business doing, and it’s put a billion dollars of our money & assets, not to mention our credit rating & our credibility, all on the line without either consulting or informing us. Not only that, but they were imprudent enough to do that just as the whole game was starting to collapse.

  • not running for mayor

    no crystal ball needed just conservative estimates that are on the low end of expectations for the sake of caution. I don’t need to be the richest person on earth to make safe assumptions, but I am doing okay for myself, enough so that I can afford to spend more time online then anyone should. 😉

    The fact is they could afford to sell those units at below current market price and cover contruction expenses. The only risk is selling them for enough to cover the land cost. And to answer a previous question as to why Fortress stopped lending, they did run out of money, they had to scrape everything they could at the time to make their Whilster payment or they would’ve been in default. The contract was badly written on the OV deal and Fortress had an out as a clause has put Millenium in default and Fortress has a legal reason to stop lending money without incurring a penalty.

  • LP

    “I’d like to ask the question of why not just pass this albatross on to Victoria (& let them put up the $500 million out of that provincial surplus)?”

    I guess the argument I would make for those in the province who don’t live within Vancouver City limits, is that the province seems to have had no influence or any part of the decision of where the athlete’s village would be and any decisions along with it.

    Yes there is that wording that states the province will cover any cost overruns from the staging of the games, however technically this is an asset which is to be sold, and not a cost associated with staging the games.

    As a Vancouverite, sure I’d like any loss to be divided amongst everyone else in the province but considering how the rest of the province feels they get screwed every time their tax money is spent in the cities, that isn’t likely to fly. (Especially since as someone pointed out the Liberals main electoral base is not in the cities.)

  • jaymac

    re Dawn Steele’s comments:
    “No one else can – which is the whole problem here. The city has gotten itself into the business of market speculation, something it had no business doing, and it’s put a billion dollars of our money & assets, not to mention our credit rating & our credibility, all on the line without either consulting or informing us. Not only that, but they were imprudent enough to do that just as the whole game was starting to collapse.”

    Why would she expect the Province to bail out the City who she alleges created this mess? Would she expect the City to help the Province if things were reversed? Yeah, sure.

    Her comments seem more related to what will be the continuing VV/Cope posturing that Victoria Libs are to blame for all this mess.

    Let’s face it, all the various democratically elected governments supported the Olympics as did the citizens of Vancouver.

    At face value, past Councils seem to have placed City taxpayers in a loss position. We can’t run from that. We also enjoy the benefits and win positions created by past Councils e.g world respected city planning.

    When the Millennium project is completed and those, much needed, social housing units open up, guess who’ll be there taking credit?

  • Dawn Steele

    Jaymac said: “Let’s face it, all the various democratically elected governments supported the Olympics as did the citizens of Vancouver.
    At face value, past Councils seem to have placed City taxpayers in a loss position. We can’t run from that. …”

    I can’t argue with any of that! I seem to remember everyone from Emerson on down mugging for the cameras at the ground-breaking, and I expect they’ll all be there too for the ribbon cutting unless this goes totally off the rails.

    I sure hope the optimists are right but I’m hearing very divergent predictions (discussion among industry insiders on the Fortress thread is not at all reassuring!), and I’m very unhappy about being put in the position of having to worry about what costs we’ll need to bear if the rosy scenarios don’t pan out. Seems to me it was a lot more than the foolishness of the past Council that got us here and that no one benefits from this going south, so perhaps sharing the costs is the most reasonable way forward.

    What I really don’t like is the Mayor’s suggestion that we get out of this by just giving the City the power to sign loans from henceforth for whatever they want, whenever they want. Not after this. And I suspect I’m not alone.

  • Wagamuffin

    Frances,

    I hope you are enjoying ‘doing other things’ today.

    As you can see, we are managing just fine without you! (LOL!!!)

  • Scott

    “I’d like to ask the question of why not just pass this albatross on to Victoria (& let them put up the $500 million out of that provincial surplus)?”
    _________________________________
    Because as the Auditor-General pointed out, provincial and federal costs involved in the Olympic Village was $30 million, which has already been provided by VANOC to the City.

    More importantly, from the Auditor General’s report from September, 2006:

    The *indemnification* extends to costs and liabilities flowing from the Host City Contract where either municipality *acted pursuant to instructions from the Province*.

    Certainly the province did not provide the City with instructions on the development of the Olympic Village lands, with the city retaining title, selling to Millennium for $193 million, providing a completion guarantee to Fortress, 1/3 social housing, developing a more expensive sustainable community, commercial space, and on and on.

  • jay wong

    To all Vancouverites:
    Please take a look at the official site for
    “Southeast False Creek: Official Development Plan (2005) ”
    http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/southeast/odp/index.htm
    This plan was adopted in 2005 when COPE was in power. I don’t belong to any political party. I am NOT a NPA supporter. I may sound like one but I am not.
    All I ask you all to do is take a close look at the plan.
    The whole plan is NOT just for the 2010 Games, not just to build a bunch of “dorms” for the athletes. There are many many more other CITY facilities included in the plan to be built—community centre, daycare centres, park, marina, bike lanes, heritage buildings, elementary school, etc
    Not to mention there are 250 affordable housing units and 100 modest market housing units.
    It’s terrifying to think Robertson and those VV and COPE councillors mislead the public by saying the whole project is just “athletes village”
    Once they know there are more in the plan, all residents in Vancouver, I am sure, would be insanely happy to get hooked up with the “burden” of having all these wonderful public facilities on bank of False Creek.
    Oh, there are still 750 market condo units for sale after the Olympic. Are they really unsellable for the city to recoup financially like Robertson implies?
    The whole Southeast False Creek Development Plan (please don’t mislead us with athletes village) is an investment. An investment for Olympics and residents in Vancouver. It’s not a financial blackhole. It really is not.
    Robertson says the city needs to borrow $400 million and he needs help from Victoria.
    Why does the City needs to borrow when there are $3 billion in Property Endowment Fund?(not cash but lands and buildings)
    Why don’t you use your own money? Why do you need to borrow $400 million when you have $3 billion worth of assets? Mr. Robertson. Tell me, please

  • marilee

    Dawn –

    In response to: “Much of the partisan chatter in this thread is, as patriotz put it so well, “like Richard Nixon blaming the Democrats for Watergate.””

    Since you think this is about partisanship, I will assume that in this metaphor “Richard Nixon” is the NPA and “the Democrats” are VV/COPE?

    Although, IF you want to use this ridiculous metaphor at all then let’s at least clarify who has supported the Olympic Village Development from the start:

    “Richard Nixon,” in this flawed metaphor, consists of the following people: Larry W. Campbell, Fred Bass, David Cadman, Jim Green, Peter Ladner, Raymond Louie, Tim Louis, Anne Roberts, Tim Stevenson, Sam Sullivan, Ellen Woodsworth, Suzanne Anton, Elizabeth Ball, Kim Capri, George Chow, Heather Deal and B.C. Lee. (at least as far as their votes go)

    And, “the Democrats,” and here is where you will see that the metaphor is quite flawed, are: Gregor Robertson, David Cadman, George Chow, Heather Deal, Kerry Jang, Raymond Louie, Geoff Meggs, Andrea Reimer, Tim Stevenson, Ellen Woodworth.

    … notice the problem yet?

    No? Okay, well, quite a few of those names over-lap. Also, if we’re talking about actual political-affiliation and you are comparing VV/COPE to the Democrats in America, then “Richard Nixon” is comprised of 11 so-called “Democrats” and only… wait, are you seriously comparing the NPA to Richard Nixon?? I can tell you that I have voted for NPA nominees in our city elections but I have NEVER voted Conservative on a Provincial or Federal level in my life. Heck, I sway more to the Green Party side in most of those elections…

    This has nothing to do with partisanship. Larry Campbell would never support the NPA after all. He was COPE! And from what I’ve heard, some of the things that VV have done recently in regards to this issue have not impressed him.

    One is allowed to speak out against one’s government without being accused of partisanship. In fact, I would hope that citizens would do so in a democracy. Just because we elect our government doesn’t mean that we don’t have the right to question what they do. By questioning what they do, we make sure that the people we elect stick to their promises and stay strong leaders. Right now, I see a lack of leadership… and I want my mayor to be a strong, moral-boosting leader during times of financial crisis. I don’t just want to hear him telling me that I’m going to be stuck paying more taxes forever and there is nothing he can do about it because it has nothing to do with him (it was that last council, after-all, consisting of many of HIS current councillors, he keeps informing us… want to come up with a metaphor for THAT?? Gosh I would hate it if my team-leader kept saying that about ME every time he talked to the media).

    At this point, the blame game isn’t important AT ALL, let’s just get that darn thing built in time so we don’t blow that contract and get ourselves in trouble! Because… that’s the only productive thing we can do at this point.

  • Because we lack a proper frame of reference, it’s difficult to assess if council is being as open as it can be. The contracts and in-cameras minutes haven’t been made public. Without those documents, I don’t know how I can come to a informed conclusion on the politics. I will make the observation that there’s more disclosure now than there was three months ago.

    In November, I wrote a post about the need for disclosure on deals like the Olympic Village. Disclosure is essential for public confidence, no matter how politically inconvenient it may be.

  • patriotz

    Yet we all know that if the NDP come to power, the real estate market will go into a crapper like we have never seen. Just look what happened in the 90’s. As soon as the Liberals came in, it took off. Now the market can see the NDP may be coming back and it’s falling like a rock.

    Oh come on off it. I suppose the NDP is responsible for the RE bust in the US, UK, Ireland, Spain, etc, too?

    Get this through your head you moron – for the past eight years there has been a global housing bubble and prices are crashing everywhere because they were too high. Regardless of which government is in power anywhere.

    Oh BTW were you around for the great RE bust of the early 80’s? Who was the BC government then?

    Anyway, I don’t think the NDP is going to win the next election, so people like you are going to have to find another scapegoat for your burst RE fantasies. Maybe Gregor Robertson? Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  • tommi

    patriotz, please keep your personal attacks on the condohype blog where you came from. Calling other posters “morons” is rude and creates a poisonous atmosphere.

  • greeno

    …as does pointless partisan pot shots, like asserting the NDP will impact the real estate market.

  • Its interesting to see the city taking responsibility for being the developer of this site which adds a community centre and new school to the area. I wonder how those communities, such as Yaletown which needs a new elementary school since Elsie Roy is full, and the Hastings Sunrise and Britannia areas which asked for renovations to their rather decrepit community centres feel about this area being fast tracked? Too bad council wasn’t more creative about helping those community centres to better service the many inner-city folks in the area. Does this mean that communities will only get improvement if they agree to privately develop part of their real estate? I know that Hastings Park is 80% developed with commercial enterprises but has yet to see the promised community green space or funding for their community centre? It doesn’t seem like the most fair process at this point. I didn’t vote for the Olympics because I suspected my children might be paying for it for some time. Meantime there is no access to or programming for their local park. Its interesting to see that community centre swimming programs have long wait lists while $500 million goes to one city site…..

  • Jay Wong–

    Good point.

    Unfortunately (or for fortunately, depending on your point of view) the project proposed in 2005 is not the one that is being built now.

    If it were I, personally, given my POV, would not be so concerned about paying (at least some of the) extra for it.

    However, Mr. Sullivan’s admin. b/w the views of senior management at the time gutted a considerable proportion of the ‘social’ aspects of the project almost immediately after taking office in late 2005/early 2006.

    Sam Cooper wrote about this in considerable detail in The Tyee at the time.

    .

  • Dawn Steele

    Marilee, no NPA/vision parallels intended – the Watergate analogy was a simple “don’t shoot the messenger” message – i.e. why all the fuss in earlier comments around the mayor’s making this public instead of focussing on the problem itself and what caused it in the first place (and what’s the best way to go forward).

    And yes, when you look at how we landed in this mess, that includes COPE, Vision & NPA, though the mayors, city manager and political majorities at the various points that key decisions were made have to stand in front. I don’t think discussing this through a political lens is particularly useful or enlightening (as recent comments illustrate). No one who was around before Nov. 08 really comes out of this blameless – and that includes media. (And none of the key players involved from Day 1 is going to escape blame going forward either)

    Clearly, a lot of people were asleep at the switch. (Except possibly Estelle Lo, which really begs the question of why she was gagged, sidelined and shut out? Who was pulling those strings and why??) If we don’t figure out and learn from the mistakes, we’ll keep repeating them.

    I also just learned how starkly this was all described in the City’s 2007 financial statement, which has been publicly posted for almost a year now. (I think Frances referenced this briefly a while back.)

    So while the Mayor’s investigation shed light on just how badly this had gone off the rails since September, the fact that this was a very real possibility and the extraordinary risk posed by the city jumping into the condo development game on a spectacular scale, hamstrung by a bunch of drop dead Olympic commitments and just as the market had passed its peak and was heading back down was out there all along! All that was missing was having someone with an understanding of governance and legal liability and market/financial issues – like say, the city’s director of finance – spell out for the lay people why we should have been very worried all along.

  • foo

    It’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here….

    IMHO, the only real mistake was going with Millenium. If this development had gone one of the lower bids, we’d be better off (but it would still be costing us).

    The important point to note is that without the Olympics (and it’s hard deadline), there would be nothing on the site, and the re-development in the area around there wouldn’t have occurred either (at least to the same extent). At the end of the day, there will be 250 non-market housing units there too. I’m willing to bet anyone that we would never had got those units without the Olympics.

    So, assume the city ends up being on the hook for ~$400m for 250 units. That’s about $1.6m per unit. Expensive no doubt. But, consider we just paid $320k/ROOM for the Pennsylvania restoration….

    Super expensive social housing seems to be the way we work here in Vancouver. Maybe that’s where we’re different from everywhere else…

  • LP

    good one foo,

    “So, assume the city ends up being on the hook for ~$400m for 250 units. That’s about $1.6m per unit. Expensive no doubt. But, consider we just paid $320k/ROOM for the Pennsylvania restoration….

    Super expensive social housing seems to be the way we work here in Vancouver. Maybe that’s where we’re different from everywhere else…”

  • Dawn Steele

    Foo, surely we could have found a builder to do 250 – 500 nice, cheerful apartments with cool green features as a turnkey project at a site like Little Mountain, fully funded by selling the prime SE False Creek lands to Millenium and just letting them play the condo game on their own?

    Added bonus is the athletes would have been housed right across from the new Olympic facilities around Nat Bayley, which probably would have significantly reduced security costs as well.

  • Marco

    The senior staff including all the so-called expert staff who advise City Council on project design and real estate strategies need the additional heat of public accountability – this starts with the two remaining deputy city managers and the project manager Andrews – the public and those of who work at the city need to see a clean out of this team of incompetent administrators who have overreached their skills into the private sector domain.