Domino effect of Olympic village loan saga
Judging by the blast of harsh editorials in mainstream media and the predictions of pundits, the raging controversy over the Olympic-village $100-million loan looks like it will sweep Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver into power.
And then, my friends, the uproar will really begin.
Because this will be an ugly victory, one that makes the whole James Green/Jim Green fiasco of the last election pale in comparison. And there is going to be plenty of fallout in all directions once the election dust has settled.
If and when the new Vision team is elected, it's hard to see any way that those council members will be able to work with many of the senior staff now at city hall.
By going out and casting doubt on the agreement, by suggesting that the advice they got from senior staff was inadequate, by appearing to believe that they would have made a different decision if other information had been presented from absentee chief financial officer Estelle Lo -- the Vision team has essentially sent out a message of non-confidence in the current staff.
That's my read, unless some of them would like to come forward and say that's not the case. So that means they've basically said they don't trust a whole group of people: city manager Judy Rogers, director of business planning Ken Bayne, real-estate services director Mike Flanigan, Southeast False Creek project manager Jody Andrews, legal-department director Francie Connell, and a host of others.
None of the Vision group has overly stressed the safeguards that staff put in place for this project or for this entire deal, as the media frenzy has unrolled.
Does the public realize that Millennium Developments has put up, not just all of its assets on the land at Southeast False Creek, but other company assets as well, at the insistence of city staff? Those are considerable.
I realize it's fashionable among those gleefully celebrating the current troubles develoeprs are having as a sign that their assets are worth nothing. But that's not the case. Real estate might be worth 10-15 per cent less than it was a year ago, but that doesn't mean you can buy it for nothing. Just check recent sales.
People are still paying a healthy price -- less than it was two or three months ago, but still considerably higher than what they would have paid for the same condo or house in 2005 or 2006. It's a sign of the wacky times in Vancouver that we think the fact that a crack shack in east Vancouver will now only sell for $450,000 instead of $500,000 is a harbinger of economic doom.
To be fair, the Vision team has been muzzled in this whole controversy by staff directives warning them that they face serious repercussions if they talk about the details of this loan (or that it even exists).
There are still a lot of questions to be raised about this entire venture of the city's, which is, people are now beginning to realize, really a public-private partnership. (Did you know that Millennium technically doesn't own the land at all, but is just leasing it from the city, with a legal agreement to buy it once the Olympics are over?) It would have been good to hear a debate on whether this was a good, the best, the only, or a bad mechanism for getting the village built.
But we haven't heard that more substantial discussion. My guess is that the Vision politicians have been advised that complex issues won't fly in an election and it's better just to keep the uninformed and easily outraged public focused on the scandal of a secret $100-million loan.
So the Vision team has done little to suggest that it has even a shred of confidence in the ability of staff to ensure the city is protected. I haven't heard that, except from Councillor Raymond Louie when the first news of Millennium's troubles were reported last month. And even that kind of temperate observation has disappeared in the last few days.
It's hard to imagine how the Vision team and these bureaucrats could ever establish a productive relationship at this point. Which means someone has to go and, since the Vision team will have just been elected, it's not likely to be them. Some of those bureaucrats may actually decide to go on their own, not wanting to work with a team that essentially sandbagged them.
Some of you may think that's a good thing -- time to get rid of that dastardly group of plotting bureaucrats who helped engineer this deal, you say. Certainly, there is a faction in Vision that thinks it was time to clean house and this will give them the perfect excuse.
But that's a lot of expertise to lose all at once for a city facing the pressures that Vancouver will be facing as it heads into the Olympics. It could create the conditions for even more financial problems.
It will be a much different situation than the one the city faced in 2002 when then-COPE mayor Larry Campbell swept into power. Then, Campbell was supporting a program -- the Four Pillars drug policy and the supervised-injection site -- that city manager Judy Rogers and others had championed, with then-mayor Philip Owen in the lead. So Campbell and his COPE team were essentially campaigning to support what the bureaucrats had put in place.
This time, the opposition has campaigned against the city's senior staff. Even if they were willing to stay on, it's hard not to imagine them feeling incredibly burned and resentful -- scarcely the conditions for going forward with an energized city hall.
Just wait for the convulsions at city hall after the election. What's going on now will seem trivial. Here's hoping that Vision can steer its way through that upheaval, so that we don't all pay the price.