Year In Review: Advocacy
In a year when our member businesses and organizations were navigating the unprecedented impacts and existing challenges made worse by the global pandemic, providing a collective advocacy voice on the wide range of issues impacting our members has never been more important. We’re consistently working with our members, government partners, and industry professionals to move the dial on a wide range of economic, social, and environmental actions for the benefit of our members.
Rising property taxes continue to be one of the greatest challenges facing local businesses and property owners in Strathcona. For the third consecutive year, we held a Property Tax Workshop in January to help members navigate the property assessment appeal process, and a 2021 tool-kit was created to help the membership better understand and navigate property taxes. Many property owners experienced significant jumps in their taxes yet again this year, since despite protests from us and other BIAs, the Province decided not to apply the 70% reduction in School Tax as they did in 2020. We continue to advocate with other BIAs for commercial tax reforms and changes to the Provincial property valuation system and we’re lobbying for legislative change to achieve lower taxation and valuation on existing use, through new tools such as split assessments.
Sanitation and Graffiti Removal
Through advocacy efforts by the BIA’s, the City approved additional funding for street cleaning programming City-wide, including $2.1 million in funding for the 2021 Street Cleaning Grant Program. We will continue to advocate for street cleaning resources, lane flushing, and debris removal to make sure the district is clean and welcoming for everyone. The City has also invested in animal and human waste removal services, basing this program off a pilot project initiated by the Strathcona BIA. These additional City-provided street cleaning services help offset our service costs, provide more targeted resources, and allow us to support members with more private property debris pick-ups.
In partnership with other BIA districts across Vancouver we were also able to advocate for more funding to support the challenging rise of graffiti tags across our districts. We received $35,000 from the City of Vancouver for additional graffiti removal services through this advocacy effort. We will continue to raise the impacts graffiti has on our district and members.
To learn more about the impacts of our sanitation programming visit our Safety and Sanitation report.
Temporary Expedited Patio Permit Program
Quick, cheap, and cheerful patios have been a lifeblood for restaurants, cafes, and breweries over the past 18 months. In partnership with all 22 BIAs, we advocated for the creation of this program that allows businesses to apply for a free permit to set up a temporary patio, meaning food-sector businesses could be approved and up and running with a temporary patio in a number of days. Prior to this program this process could take several months of back and forth communications and headaches. To amplify the patio dining experience and to encourage customers to dine on patios all summer long, Strathcona BIA joined 15 other districts for the promotional PATIO campaign, which included a city-wide contest to crown the best patios in the city. Learn more about the campaign in our marketing and promotions report.
The community has embraced the patios, in particular at breweries, where they weren’t permitted before. We’ve been liaising with our local breweries and the City to make sure they are able to share their insights on how to make the patios permanent moving forward. This decision will be going to City Council in September where we plan to wholeheartedly support this positive impact for the brewery sector.
In Railtown, we helped navigate and obtain approvals for a Tailgate BBQ activation by Railtown Cafe to happen down the street from their cafe location. The three day event went off without a hitch in July, and it was fabulous to see community members, business members, and employees out in the sun, safely enjoying a delicious outdoor dining experience.
Community-Serving Retail Project
The Community-Serving Retail Project, running since 2017, is a collective initiative between the Strathcona BIA, Dunefield, and Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, with funding provided by the City of Vancouver. It’s mission is to partner with Chinese Benevolent Society Buildings and other non-profits in Strathcona and Chinatown to secure and repurpose currently unused or underused commercial space for affordable, culturally significant retail and businesses that support the community. With over 25 Chinese Benevolent Society buildings in Strathcona, this project has lots of potential in our district, and in the last year we’ve helped advocate for and received $216,725 in City funding for this project.
Following a first successful pilot in Chinatown with the re-opening of Kam Wai Dim Sum, the project team is now working with the Vancouver Buddhist Temple in Strathcona. They are aiming to create a community-based kitchen in their large building that benefits small food entrepreneurs and supports the Temple’s mission and finances. The first activation has recently started at the Temple, with a small soup and cold-pressed juice business now cooking there for a short time, while also serving the community with food donations and giving workshops on affordable, healthy cooking. We’re excited to see the Temple continue to welcome more community-minded food startups!
Oppenheimer and Strathcona Park
We continue to advocate for our parks and green spaces so that the community can enjoy them. Our advocacy around Oppenheimer Park began back in 2019 when we called for the return of the park to its original purpose as a green and social space. Other calls for action included asking for more support from the City for more access to clean water, public washrooms, and street cleaning resources. When another encampment started in Strathcona Park in mid-2020, we joined an appeal for action along with the Strathcona Residents Association, Produce Row, and Strathcona Community Policing Centre. A phased reopening of both parks has finally happened in 2021, involving collaboration of multiple levels of government, new housing opportunities for vulnerable community members, and community input and advocacy efforts on how best to reimagine the use of these important green spaces.
Drinker’s Lounge Project
In March 2021, in partnership with the City of Vancouver, Portland Hotel Society, VANDU, Vancouver Police and other stakeholders, we worked towards a solution to help address public drinking in front of the Astoria Hotel on East Hastings and at adjacent bus stops. After almost nine months of conflict, difficult conversations, trial and error, meetings with city engineers, and hard advocacy work, a pilot project emerged. The pilot involves a city-sanctioned parklet on Princess Ave where folks can go to drink safely and legally. There are social-service supports on-hand, medical attention on site, and more attention from the City, the VPD, and the SBIA in ensuring that drink activity is monitored, people are supported, and business concerns are addressed.
Since the launch of the pilot, a sense of community has emerged among people who use the space, and they have developed strong stewardship over the parklet area. Public drinking at the Astoria bus stops did not cease, however due to engagement by community groups and reporting by our Safety team, progress is being made, and we have noticed a stronger presence and support from the VPD when challenges arise at this location.
This project is a story of unlikely allies and we must continue to work together towards a vision for a safer community.