Mayor moving to dismantle Vancouver Park Board

City of Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim is moving forward to dismantle the 135-year-old independent park board and shift oversight to city council. Kate Walker reports.

Mayor Ken Sim is moving forward with plans to eliminate the 135-year-old Vancouver Park Board.

Sim said Wednesday that a motion would be brought to council next week to “ask the province to amend the Vancouver Charter and to eliminate the requirements” that will effectively “bring parks and recreation services under the oversight of city council.”

“Today, we’re going to take the long overdue step that will ensure that our parks and recreational facilities are able to serve our community to their fullest potential,” he said.

“Now make no mistake about it. What we’ve learned in recent years is that how we’ve been managing our parks and recreation facilities just doesn’t work. In fact, the current setup makes it even harder to manage and grow our parks and recreation services. Now, the system is broken and no amount of tweaking will fix it in our pursuit of progress and value. For the people of Vancouver, we’re aligning the management structure for parks and recreation services with how it’s done in literally every single city across North America with the exception of Minneapolis and I’m assuming the reason for that is every other city in North America has figured out that this just doesn’t work. In fact, we don’t see people clamoring to institute an elected park board in the cities.”

Sim says the proposed changes would allow the city to manage Vancouver’s parks and recreation services “more collaboratively and in harmony with the city’s broader perspectives.”

In a leaked email that had been sent to three ABC Park Board commissioners from the mayor’s chief of staff earlier Wednesday, commissioners Laura Christensen, Brennan Bastyovanszky, and Scott Jensen have “chosen not to support the Mayor” on the move, and ABC Vancouver will “move forward with the Park Board transition team without” them.

“There is no need for any of you to attend the press conference this morning nor attend any future transitional planning meetings around Park Board as well,” the email, titled “moving forward,” reads. Those three commissioners were not present at the announcement.

In her post on X, Christensen says that this email from Chief of Staff Trevor Ford was the “first communication I’ve had from the party on this topic and I have never been asked my opinion on folding the PB.”

At the announcement Wednesday, Vancouver coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung shared that as someone who has previously served as a park board commissioner and is now a city councillor, she has seen how two elected bodies overseeing one city do not work.

She cited instances with an East Vancouver little league and the Dr Sun Yat-sen Garden where dealing with the Park Board and the city has created delays, where they have been “stymied.”

“The Sun Yat-sen Garden has been waiting since 2016 in order to secure an updated lease agreement, which has compromised the maintenance of the first garden of its kind outside of China,” she noted.

She also noted that the mayor’s plan will have a positive impact on capital planning processes. “To be clear, I am happy that council is making this bold action, this is the right thing to do. It will allow us to elevate the quality of services and delivery in our parks as Mayor Sim has said,” she added.

While thanking past and present park board commissioners for their work and the “heart” they have contributed to the city, she explained that as practically the only park board in service in North America, “this is really about a construct moving forward.”

‘Very complicated, very complex, antiquated system’: Park Board commissioner

Current Park Board Commissioner Angela Marie Clare was present at the announcement Wednesday, showing her support for the dismantling of the board.

“I believe this is a step in the right direction. I’m excited to see the next chapter for Parks and Recreation in Vancouver. I know this is in the best interest of the community to see parks and facilities be managed more efficiently and cohesively. I’m pleased that there will be a parks and recreation transition working group that will ensure a smooth transfer of our parks to city management.”

Clare noted that as it stands, “it takes about 15 years to create a park, I don’t know why it has to take so long,” explaining that developments like that need to go through both the Park Board and the city.

“But the Park Board is limited in its autonomy because it’s not raising its own tax. It is a very complicated, very complex, antiquated system that only exists because it’s been created a long time ago.

“I don’t think anyone will miss us,” Clare said.

She says that by having only one group of people responsible for the city’s parks, ultimate accountability and responsibility will be known.

“You’re not going to have this thing — ‘it’s not me, it’s them,’ which doesn’t work for city taxpayers. So, I think this is a great decision.”

Sim expects Charter changes to go through Legislature in about 6 months

Mayor Sim says the city has been in talks with the province about the proposed change to the Charter, and his understanding is that it also wants to do “what’s best for the City of Vancouver.”

“As soon as we file the motion, if it gets approved in council, then that starts the clock ticking at which time they can work on it. … Whatever they decide, they decide, but our estimate is approximately six months to get through the legislature and work on the transition,” he explained.

In a statement, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs says, “This is a decision for Vancouver City Council.”

“We will take the necessary steps to implement the decision of their elected city council,” the ministry added.

When questioned why ABC is moving forward with dismantling the Park Board even though they were democratically elected, Sim says the public wants “incredible parks” and points to Stanley Park needing to remove thousands of dead trees to looper moth infestations.

“Not only is it a blemish … its also a huge fire risk. We can lose the whole park. When you have the side of a building of the aquatic centre falling off; when you have jurisdictional disputes over water at Spanish Banks where we can’t get it fixed.

“These are the challenges that we’re addressing. We’re being very transparent right now, the structure doesn’t work.

“We’re going to make the bold decision to do this because our hearts can’t wait another three years,” Sim said.

Sim says despite having a majority ABC Park Board, it still wasn’t able to function properly. “You could literally drop seven superstars into that process, it still doesn’t work. The structure is broken.”

“When you have more than one person or one group accountable for anything, no one’s accountable,” he said.

Sim did not provide the cost of savings to the city and taxpayers if the elimination of the Park Board goes ahead, however, he categorized it as being “millions.”

“We can’t quantify it today. It’s a big organization, but intuitively … I’m a Lean Certified Black Belt. I understand workflow, I’ve done it for about three decades now,” he said, adding cost savings will not come from job losses.

“We want to keep all of our people. What we’re talking about here, is making their jobs better through fixing the workflow, so they can do their job more effectively.”

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