What is the “Governance” Issue in Hastings Park?

Our Vision: Public Governance of Hastings Park Means Putting the Parks Board in Charge!

Many people, even people who have lived near Hastings Park for years, have the impression that the PNE and Playland own the land at Hastings Park, or that it is private land. However, it may surprise you to know that Hastings Park is public land, and the PNE (including Playland) is a tenant, and not the owner, of the land. But, for nearly a decade, the City of Vancouver had given the PNE’s corporate Board “interim” control of all decision-making in Hastings Park. As of 2013, this “temporary” situation became permanent, through further decisions of City Council.

Effectively, this means that the PNE is currently both governing and managing the park, even though it is a private, corporate board that has no obligation to gather meaningful public input about the land use. The PNE also enjoys exemption from City noise and light bylaws, 365 days a year, that would not be tolerated in other neighbourhood parks. Hastings Park is Vancouver’s second largest park, and yet it is the only Vancouver City Park that is not governed by the publicly elected Parks Board.

We want to see the Parks Board in control of Hastings Park, like every other park in Vancouver. We want the PNE treated appropriately, as a tenant, just as other Vancouver parks have event-based tenants who do not make all the decisions about park use! (Imagine if Nat Bailey Stadium controlled all of Riley Park, or if the Aquarium controlled all of Stanley Park). The Parks Board is our elected, accountable public body, and we believe that public interest, open access to Hastings Park year-round, and sustainable development of the park will be much better achieved with the Parks Board in charge.
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How Corporate PNE Governance Currently Affects Our Public Park

The PNE has a corporate Board, made up largely of business interests, and virtually no meaningful community participation in decision-making about how the park is used. The PNE itself is technically a 2-week annual Fair in the Park. However, they have also come to manage the permanent Playland site, as well as some of the rental buildings on the site. Their goal is to make money, and host large-scale events in rental buildings, not to provide diverse community-oriented park space with affordable, family-oriented events. Over time, because of the prominence of PNE signage, and large-scale commercial events on that land, the public has forgotten that this land is really public land.

One City Councillor presides over this PNE Board, but all meetings are held behind closed doors, and all decisions receive the immediate support of the current City Council. Important decisions are made without any adequate consultation with the surrounding neighbourhoods or community-based groups.

In the current scenario, there is no open, public body to whom the community can raise their concerns about Hastings Park, such as:

  • Parking issues on local streets during large events
  • Increased noise and traffic congestion
  • PNE and Playland are exempt from City bylaws related to noise and light year-round
  • Plans for and current increase in the number and size/height of rides in Playland
  • Plans for extended hours to serve liquor at Hastings Park venues
  • The desire for a green overpass between New Brighton Park, and Hastings Park

The PNE organization has also prominently displayed a large billboard at the Hastings Park entrance, which only promotes their large-scale commercial events, and does not promote any community-based uses of the park. With the permanent installation of the large amusement park known as Playland, the presence of the PNE in the park has taken on a much more permanent appearance, and has created an industrial atmosphere in the neighbourhood and the visual impression of the PNE as being a site owner. Many people have the impression that the PNE and Playland own this land, and that it is private land.
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Some History

Hastings Park is a 160-acre piece of land that was originally gifted to the Province of BC in a Trust back in 1889. The “Trust” intended that this land be used as park space for the whole City and Province to enjoy (there is a great, full history of the park available through the Hastings Park Conservancy website). Much work had been done through the 1980s-1990s by community groups such as the Hastings Park Conservancy, together with municipal and provincial government departments at that time, to build a green space and wildlife habitat on the property. However, the vision of a green park became seriously compromised, particularly from the time that the Liberal government prepared to transfer the land to Vancouver’s City Council between 2001-2004.

This piece of property has always been public land. However, when the land was finally transferred to the City of Vancouver in 2004, the City did not give the publicly elected, publicly accountable Parks Board control of the land. Prior to the land transfer, the Government of BC also created a piece of powerful legislation that not only gave unprecedented rights the PNE as a tenant, but also gave the City of Vancouver a blank slate to ignore the terms of the Trust intended for the land, forgiving any past development decisions and opening the way to any development decisions that violate the Trust for this piece of public park land.

Over decades, this land has been treated (or mis-treated) very differently than any other park in Vancouver. Certainly since 2004, it has been treated simply as a rental property of the City of Vancouver, rather than a real park with control by the Parks Board. The original “Trust” which envisioned real park land on this site has never truly been fulfilled.

In the years since 2004, the City of Vancouver has allowed the PNE, the major tenant on the site, to have interim control of all decision-making for the Hastings Park land (i.e. this control was supposed to be temporary). This tenant has a corporate Board, that currently makes all of the decisions about Hastings Park, behind closed doors. They have prominently displayed a large billboard at the park entrance, which only promotes their large-scale commercial events and does not promote any other community-based uses or green spaces in the park. With the permanent installation of the large amusement park Playland, the presence of the PNE in the park has taken on a much more permanent appearance. Many people have the impression that the PNE and Playland own this land, and that it is private land. However, Hastings Park is public land, and the PNE is a tenant, and not the owner, of the land.

2013 Updates

Following approval of the Master Plan in December 2010, the City of Vancouver indicated plans to undertake a governance review for Hastings Park, to potentially create a new model of governance. The Friends of Hastings Park has always believed that any new model of governance should have a central role for the Parks Board, so that the community and public accountability, not commercial profit-making, is the mandate of activities that are programmed in the park.

Very little happened with this issue until late 2012, and a number of Open Houses were set by the City to occur in March and April 2013. The Friends of Hastings Park responded by attending in numbers at the Open Houses, and also holding its own Public Meeting to compile community input (details can be found here).

Most of the options the City presented, leading up to its ultimate decision, favoured continuance of PNE control of the Hastings Park site (i.e., status quo). The Friends of Hastings Park submitted this Community Input Statement to the City’s final Open House on May 2, 2013.

Sadly, despite support from the Park Board and broad residential support for Park Board governance, City Council officially made its final decision on August 1, 2013, to allow the PNE board (with some revisions) to continue as permanent governor of Hastings Park.

2015 Updates

In the latest of disappointing developments surrounding the issue of Hastings Park governance, on June 10, 2015, the City’s Standing Committee on Finance and Services officially voted to remove Park Board representation from the PNE Board. The PNE Board oversees the operation of the entire Hastings Park site (excepting Empire Field at the east end of the Park). This leaves a single elected official (Coun. Raymond Louie at the time of this writing) as the only “community” voice who can give input to the oversight of Vancouver’s second largest park, with no Park Board input anymore.

A video clip of that portion of the meeting can be viewed here:
http://civic.neulion.com/cityofvancouver/index.php?clipid=3494209,006

Despite unanimous opposition from elected Park Board Commissioners themselves, and a close vote among Councillors (5 to 4), the formal restructuring of the PNE Board removes the Park Board seat, and reduces the size of Board overall.

As several speakers pointed out during the June 10th discussion, transparency around the running of Hastings Park will most certainly decrease as a side effect of this change–rather than increase, as had been promised in earlier adoption of the Hastings Park Master Plan in 2010.

A further disappointing outcome for the Hastings-Sunrise community in regard to the dream of a green Hastings Park.

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