Presentation to City Council Opposing Casino
March 14, 2011
As some of you may recall, I am a former Vancouver City Planner.
Like former Councillors Ladner, Puil and Ford, I am not from Las Vegas; and I don’t support the proposed casino. I am also proud to be on the same side on this issue as many others with others with whom I have worked including Tom Durrie, Herb Barbolet and John Shayler as well as the Community Arts Council of Vancouver, on whose board I serve.
My reasons are simple:
1. The process doesn’t smell right
2. The stadium roof leaks money and doesn’t look right
3. Enabling addiction to gambling as a public policy doesn’t feel right
Regarding the process, the media has reported that a number of former and current public officials have been working behind the scenes or, in some cases, directly for the casino and associated facilities. Whatever their past contributions to public service – and they are considerable – I believe those who have argued that these facilities should be public priorities may have lost their way. Some have strayed so far along the path toward conflict of interest that it is unclear as to whether they have broken the law or whether the law must be fixed.
• The design of the complex is too large and will further block rather than enhance the important linkages between the Downtown Eastside, including Chinatown, and False Creek.
• The stadium roof now litters our skyline – its design is disrespectful of 3 decades of careful work to protect public views
• The stadium and the roof cost more than $560M. That these funds were spent in advance of this public hearing is disrespectful of the City’s rezoning process.
• More importantly, this is a misallocation of public funds when:
– Hundreds of homeless live on our streets
–Thousands of our children are unsafe in schools that need seismic upgrading; and
–Tim Bits are served in the emergency rooms of our hospitals
The TEAM Council on which Marguerite Ford served in the 1970’s achieved greatness.
1. It had a clear vision of a city made up of liveable, inclusive and engaged communities.
2. It also had the courage to say NO to the freeways that many experts declared were both necessary and inevitable.
The result is what is recognized as one of the most liveable cities in the world, at least for most, if not all of us.
Should you decide that you have to approve this proposal, be careful to check every detail of the permits. I helped negotiate a Community Benefit Agreement with the original owners of Edgewater so that inner city residents would be given at least 10% of the new jobs.
Many of these were contracted through Cook Studio – a social enterprise that trained low income youth. It was contracted to do offsite catering and to operate the onsite restaurant. When Paragon took over ownership of Edgewater, they cancelled the contract. This contributed to Cook Studio going bankrupt and the loss of opportunity for dozens of young people who were taking their first steps out of poverty.
I think it is important for all of us to recognize that Edgewater has been a good employer. This is why so many of its workers have taken the time to speak on behalf of the company and the pride they have in their jobs.
However, I would ask you to question Paragon as to why so many of its current workers fear that unless the casino is expanded, they may lose their jobs. If the Casino – at its current size is relocated or the license is transferred to another company, Council can help protect their jobs as a condition of development or other permissions.
More than a decade ago, Mayor Philip Owen had to wisdom to understand that addiction to illegal drugs is a public health issue. It is time for us to understand that this is also true of Addiction to Gambling.
I would suggest a Four Pillar approach to reduce government’s Addiction to Gambling.
1. The first pillar is Prevention
On one side of the chips, show the high proportion of revenue that comes from the poor;
On the other side, show where the revenues actually go; and
On the large screens show the people driven into bankruptcy, their foreclosures, divorces and innocent children.
2. The second Pillar is Harm Reduction
Develop a policy of no increase in slot machines and tables; and
Gradually eliminate highly addictive internet gambling
3. Treatment is the third pillar
Create a fair taxation policy – so that governments have the resources to provide needed public services without relying on the proceeds of gambling.
4. The fourth pillar is Enforcement
• Work with the Province to carry out a full public inquiry into all the events that led to the proposal before you this evening. This should include the circumstances under which Paragon took over ownership of Edgewater, the proposal for more than tripling the size of the casino, the public expenditures on stadium and the public engagement process.
• Whether or not the inquiry reveals illegal activity has taken place, it should check to make sure that the laws regulating conflict of interest are clear and adequately reflect the public’s sense of right and wrong.
• This will help public officials – both current and former – “To know their limit; and to stay within it.”
In my view, and those of many who have spoken and will speak before you, we need to recognize that the casino is like a freeway – a Social Freeway to Nowhere. Like the TEAM Council of the 1970’s, you have an opportunity to turn this proposal down and to have staff complete much needed planning for this area.
Finally, I think it is important that the roof – the roof that would be retractable – remain for decades to come.
Like the Georgia Viaduct before it, it should serve as a symbol for the path we chose not to take. A reminder that in the early part of this century – with all of its challenges – that Vancouver’s City Council chose to work with the senior governments to house our homeless, protect the lives of our children and become the Greenest, and the most liveable place on earth – not for most of us; but for all of us.