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Jim Green, The Tyee Interview

Vancouver Vision's mayoral candidate on the big split, cops, drugs, gambling, panhandlers and more.

Rex Weyler 17 Nov
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'Maybe a lane for squeegee kids'

Also today: The Tyee interviews David Cadman of COPE and the NPA's Sam Sullivan.

"The thing I'm most proud of," says Jim Green, "is that I've helped build thousands of units of public housing, projects that have enhanced the city, received awards for urban architecture and helped people and families improve their lives."

Green claims he is "a doer," who likes to "achieve results, not just talk." His critics, particularly his NPA mayoral opponent Sam Sullivan, say he's a spendthrift whose money management imperils the city government's long-term economic well-being. On Saturday, November 19, Vancouver voters will decide if they believe he's the person to run the city.

Green has lived in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood since he immigrated from the U.S. in the mid-1970s. He has six grandchildren, one now at Strathcona elementary. Green holds a Masters in Anthropology from UBC and has studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, the Millennium Film Institute in New York and the Universities of Colorado and South Carolina. He's taught opera and architecture at UBC and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University.

Green has made his mark in Vancouver, not in the ivory tower but in the street, with eastside social housing projects and a term as Mayor Larry Campbell's right hand on Vancouver City Council.

The Tyee spoke to the possible future mayor at his campaign headquarters on Hastings Street and over the phone during his busy campaign schedule. He talked about managing money, his clash with COPE, and his new "centre-left" aspirations for Vancouver.

We also interviewed COPE councillor and former mayoral candidate David Cadman and NPA mayoral contender Sam Sullivan, which will appear Friday.

Here is what Jim Green had to say…

On charges the short-lived Downtown Eastside Four Corners Community Savings bank, which paid high union wages and lost $6 million in five years, shows he can't manage money.

"The bank didn't close because it failed. The bank closed because of the ideology of the Gordon Campbell Liberals. Every new bank loses money. The Royal Bank plans on losses for seven years when they open a branch, and we started from scratch, without the infrastructure of a chartered bank. We knew we'd lose money for five years, but look what we created.

"Four Corners was the first of its kind in history. We served 6,000 customers, who otherwise had no service. We saved these people from the loan sharks and landlords who previously held their debts at high fees. Crime went down in the neighbourhood because people were able to deposit their cash. Staff and customers took pride in their community.

"We did the right thing for our staff [by paying them well], and were able to attract labour union deposits. It was just good business. We were right on our business plan when the Liberals got elected and closed it down.

"I'm extremely proud of what we accomplished. We invested in a community business that grew and succeeded, helped the community, trained welfare recipients to be bank tellers, paid fair wages and created jobs. Sam Sullivan likes to slam me for the bank, but here's something most people don't know: Sam Sullivan sat on the board. I asked him on. During his term, he never made a single motion or offered a single idea."

On NPA charges the current council's plan to use money from the city's property endowment fund to underwrite a community amenities and social housing development in the southeast False Creek undercuts the fund's objective of protecting the city's credit rating and tax rates.

"We're recycling profits back into property development that enhances the city as the fund intended. The fund was a brilliant idea initiated by Art Phillips, to acquire city property, which stabilizes our AAA bond rating. But we can do more than collect rent. We can develop these properties to increase their value, neighbourhood value and boost the reputation of Vancouver. We are investing in culture as well as buildings. It's a bigger vision.

"In Southeast False Creek, we are creating the most environmentally sound development in the world, with recycling, geothermal heat, no greenhouse emissions and a research centre for sustainable design: a model for the world. On top of that, we will get 26 acres of park for the city, a full-service community centre, and housing for 20,000 people, split equally among low, medium, and high income This is smart urban development that will grow in value, exactly as the fund intended. Same with the Woodward's project. We are investing profits back to improve the community.

"If you want to solve homelessness, you need homes. We have to understand the connection between street crime, homelessness and neighbourhood services. This council has advanced the idea of supportive housing, affordable homes for the mentally ill with wrap-around services. Wherever we do things like this, crime rates go down."

On the concern that too much social housing on the Downtown Eastside will create a problematic social mix that isn't helpful to many of those seeking to escape poverty and, often, addiction.

"That's why we're building integrated projects. The downtown eastside is 82 percent single males. They need inexpensive housing. We provide that with Woodward's, and build in 500 middle-income condominiums, community services, university space, an open plaza, treatment centres, and design features to enhance play, public use and transportation access. We don't just build boxes and collect rent, we design in community values, so people start to take pride in their neighbourhoods. It works.

"Of all our developments, I'm most proud of the Lore Krill Co-op that is right behind Woodward's. We put in 100 units of social housing. The project won the Lieutenant Governor's Award for Architecture and the Governor General's Award. The other eight winners of this federal award are all huge projects like university campuses. We won it for well-designed affordable housing. We came in on budget and on time, created something meaningful for the neighborhood, and received recognition for Vancouver."

On the most important recent architectural project in city, and the question of whether our city buildings are beautiful enough.

"The most important recent building in Vancouver is the library, because it is a landmark. It's noticeable and it represents knowledge. It welcomes people in. This is what city architecture should do: build cultural merit into the buildings; demonstrate who we are. Buildings can't just be utilitarian; they should represent us. The Shangri La does this; the Arthur Erickson buildings do this. Vancouver has both an international and a local identity and we should enhance both.

Our best chance now is with southeast False Creek. We need young, imaginative designers and builders to put these ideas to work here."

On Green's support for some big-box store projects and his opposition to others.

"Smart planning treats each site individually. There is no blanket theory. A big-box store in the wrong place can devastate a community and displace local businesses. Some of my colleagues don't get this. Sam Sullivan supports all big box stores anywhere. Ann Roberts is against them all.

"I supported a large Canadian Tire store on Grandview because it had good SkyTrain access and no neighborhood opposition. I voted against a Home Depot on Broadway -- as did everyone else but Sam -- because the neighbourhood was against it. The Wal-Mart plan made a good effort, but there were neighbourhood issues. It was in the wrong place. The Costco downtown is okay because it provides local parking, SkyTrain access, and four residential towers on top, an idea Arthur Anderson has promoted, because it supplies its own core market. This plan works. You have to think through each plan."

On why he chose to form Vision Vancouver rather than fight for his ideas inside COPE.

"We did. Larry, Raymond Louie, Tim Stevenson, and I all fought for our ideas inside COPE and on council. More often than not, we won support, because we had well-thought-out ideas. The COPE folks voted with us on many issues. Sam Sullivan voted with us on the Hastings Park slots, [NPA councillor Peter] Ladner voted with us on the bike lanes.

"However, for two years, I spent eight hours a week inside caucus, and we could never come to agreements. Some of those people don't believe in voting, so the discussions go on forever and get nowhere. They have good hearts and good ideas, but they don't know how to get things done. The process was draining and we had nothing to show for it.

"So the four of us left to form Vision Vancouver. We had to get on with it. We would have spent another year talking in circles, but we've spent that time building a party, attracting candidates, negotiating for housing projects, researching issues, meeting with city staff and designing a platform. It has been far more productive."

On whether candidates such as Chinese Benevolent Association President George Chow could have been brought into the COPE coalition.

"No. But COPE, I must say, has been extraordinarily reasonable about it, to the point of not running a mayor candidate against me. We can still work together. Coalition-building is what civic politics is all about: learning how to get things done in large groups with many ideas and ways to do things."

On whether, when trying to get financial support for provincial or federal governments, it is important for the city council to speak with one voice.

"Well, it would be best, but this is the most difficult thing to do. Someone is always in opposition. The Woodward's final vote was 9-1, with Sullivan against. It helps, when approaching the province or the federal government, to speak with a unified voice. We have a good history of negotiating with the feds. We built 200 social housing units with out-of-province financing. We got the Woodward's property for a third of its stated value. We can work well with senior governments.

"Woodward's is a model of how we build community coalitions. We're working with local residents, advisory committees, developers, SFU, the Gastown Business Improvement Association, non-profit organizations, the federal government, the province, Chinatown groups, everyone working toward a common goal: a better community."

On whether Vision can work with the NPA councillors.

"Sure. Like I said, both Ladner and Sullivan voted with us on certain projects. You have to have sound ideas that answer to a broad base. "

On Sam Sullivan's best qualities.

"He speaks Cantonese. That's a nice thing. I wish I could. Sam will vote in favor of housing for the mentally ill. I appreciate that."

On Sullivan's biggest weakness.

"Sam talks one way and votes the other. I don't like that. It's hypocritical. He voted against every aspect of the Woodward's housing, and now he says he's in favour of it. He claims to support social housing, but he has never created a single unit of housing, and he's throwing water on some of the best projects in the city."

On the effectiveness of the "four pillars" drug strategy, given that dealers still operate openly in Vancouver alleys and NPA charges that Green overstates the safe injection site's effectiveness.

"Yes, it's working. I maintain we've saved over a thousand lives at the safe injection site. Of course, not everyone uses it. We probably serve the 10 percent [that's] most vulnerable. But it is there for them, and it saves lives, along with treatment centres, housing, jobs and everything else we're attempting to do. You have to approach these social problems from the big perspective.

"Yes, crystal-meth is a serious problem. But the NPA's 'crystal-meth task force' is just an election slogan. The Western Canadian Summit on Drugs recommended a comprehensive approach, not a special task force for one drug. You don't start by doing the one thing the recommendations say don't do! We have to simultaneous address the symptoms and the causes. We address the symptoms with harm-reduction strategies such as the injection site.

"We address the causes by improving people's lives in the community, with housing and treatment. We've added a fifth 'pillar' which is job creation. Drugs are a part of the fabric of poverty, feelings of uselessness, kids self-medicating for depression, underground economies linked into the sex trade, pimps, innocent kids abandoned, with nowhere to go. We have to solve the problem at that end.

"Yet pimps and drug dealers appear to operate with impunity in our city. What's the solution?

"Pimps get young kids hooked on drugs and turn them out in the sex trade to pay for their habit. The police know this, but the courts are clogged, it is very hard to get a conviction and the police feel frustrated. We have to work with 'equivalencies,' accomplishing the goal with indirect means. To help solve child prostitution, for example, we can bust the johns. If the girl is 13, the guy goes away to jail. If not, maybe he walks, but he won't come back and it will discourage others. If we can't rely on the courts, we have to find other ways to get rid of the pimps preying on the most vulnerable kids in our city."

On the idea that a red-light district would protect sex trade workers, and COPE councillor Tim Louis's notion that the city could run a "non-profit" brothel.

"They'd be the first pimps in history that never made any money. Operating a city brothel is not a good idea. Licensing a red light district is probably a workable solution, but it's very difficult politically. No one wants to appear in favour of prostitution, but getting the sex trade off the street would improve neighbourhoods and save lives. We already license massage parlours, so there is a precedent."

On whether we need more police and how we'd pay for them.

"Sullivan's idea of a crime prevention commissioner was an insult to police chief Jamie Graham, who already does that job. It shows a misunderstanding of how things work in the city of Vancouver. We already get coordination, deliverables and crime studies. There is no need to add a $700,000-per-year bureaucrat between the mayor and the police chief.

"I met with Chief Graham and asked him about gaining efficiencies in the department. "How?" He asks. He's already working to operate as efficiently as he can. The fact is, if we want more police services, we need the budget to provide them. The salary for another bureaucrat as NPA proposes, would be better spent for more officers on the street.

"I met with Tom Stamatakis, head of the police union, and he expressed concern with Sullivan as chair of the police board. Sam gave money to a drug-addicted prostitute to buy crack cocaine. This is illegal and would normally eliminate someone from police work. It was irresponsible. He didn't drive her to the safe injection site. What if she had OD'd? Sam showed poor judgment here.

"I follow the advice of Larry Campbell. He was an RCMP officer and city coroner. He knows the reality of reducing crime and drugs and working with the police."

On his support for allowing slot machines at Hastings Park Racecourse, when gambling is a potential addiction that can create real social problems.

"Yes, gambling can be a social problem, but it is also legitimate entertainment. We license and tax cigarettes and alcohol, which are far worse. People who want to gamble can travel to Richmond, and we still have the social problem.

"I supported the slot machines at Hastings Park for a simple reason: jobs, and specifically 800 entry-level jobs for poor, immigrant women and with English language courses offered. This helps people get a start and improves their lives. We will eventually get about 2,400 jobs for people who will spend their wages in their communities and reduce the burden on government services."

On whether the $1.72-billion Richmond-Airport-Vancouver transit megaproject is the best way to spend resources for local transport, and whether it will cannibalize the TransLink bus system.

"There could be some problem there, yes. But the RAV line also could reduce the need for buses. There are also issues of fuel costs and emissions, long-term. We bought 300 new buses and need more. We improved service on Main Street, allowing buses to control the traffic lights.

"But the RAV line is important. We want to extend the millennium line because of high use for east-west traffic. We are proposing free buses downtown and a shuttle to Stanley Park.

On whether the city has gone overboard with speed bumps, blockades, and other forms of "traffic calming".

"There are speed bumps and speed humps. They do a good job. We have to slow down traffic in neighbourhoods to make them safer and more livable. When I go home, I have to take a less direct route because of the blockade. It takes me a minute longer, no big deal, and the streets are safer.

"Maybe in some cases, it has been overkill, but if that's someone's worst complaint, I'd say they live a nice life in a good city."

On his concerns about a new soccer stadium downtown.

"The soccer stadium plan is a very creative idea, essentially producing real estate out of thin air. It could be great for soccer and for the downtown. However, I did have some concerns. To start off with, the developer upset some local residents and businesses, and insulted the city staff. This was a bad beginning. They need to learn how to do business with the city. They were just inexperienced in this."

On the debts left by the failed Sea Vancouver festival, to which the city directed $477,000 in funding.

"The Sea Vancouver festival lost money and the liability to creditors remains with the non-profit organization. Perhaps we on the city council should have been more aware, since we had not seen all the studies. This is often the case that the councillors can't actually keep up with all the studies on all the issues. We endorsed the event, but we did not contract with the creditors."

If politics presented no barrier, what radical, crazy idea would Jim Green implement to improve city life?

"Okay, I see a guy opening cab doors in Yaletown for tips. Here's a guy trying to work. We might think of this person as a nuisance, but I want to find some way to harness that energy of jobless, homeless people who want to contribute to society or offer a services. Some people find the squeegee kids a nuisance, but they're trying to be useful, rather than beg on a corner. Maybe there's some way the city could help put these people to work. Maybe create a special lane, where people could pull over to get their windows cleaned. The thing is, we need to find ways to allow people to help, weed out the aggressive behaviour, and cut down on panhandling. The solution shouldn't be highly structured. It should be simple, but should harness the human potential."

Rex Weyler is a veteran Vancouver journalist and author of Greenpeace (Raincoast, 2004), a history of the environmental group's early years in Vancouver.

Also today: The Tyee interviews David Cadman of COPE and the NPA's Sam Sullivan.  [Tyee]

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