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Issue of the Day: Governance Issues Pt. 1 – Municipal Governance

Posted By Brendon Goodmurphy On January 16, 2008 @ 9:28 am In Features | Comments Disabled

This is an important issue, and a big topic. It came up in the VP Academic debate yesterday, and could use some explanation. There are two important background points to understanding this issue: 1. When UBC was created, the Province endowed the University with a lot of land – 175 acres; 2. That land is not part of the municipality of Vancouver, or any other municipality for that matter. UBC is, instead, part of “Electoral area A” (which also includes some islands around the Lower Mainland, and an expansive area above North and West Van).

It was in 1920 when the Endowment Act was amended to allow for residential development which would help fund the University’s activities – these are the residential areas now known as the UEL (University Endowment Lands), which have been returned to governmental control and are no longer part of UBC. In 1989, the Province created Pacific Spirit Park, leaving 1000 acres for what is the UBC campus as we know it today. In 1988, UBC Properties Trust was established to manage the development of certain areas of that land into market housing to increase the University’s endowment further. The first developments of Hampton Place set into motion a series of agreements between the GVRD and UBC on the terms in which UBC can develop these market neighbourhoods (see the Official Community Plan, which defines the guidelines of development, and establishes the various “Neighbourhoods”). These Neighbourhoods together are what make up “University Town [1],” and include Hampton Place, Hawthorn Place, Wesbrook Place (south of 16th, just starting development), Chancellor Place, and University Blvd.

This is how it works: the land is leased by Properties Trust to developers for 99 years. That money from the lease goes into the University’s Endowment (a financial endowment). Developers build big, expensive condos, pocket a lot, and get ‘taxed’ a certain amount (called Infrastructure Impact Charges – that $30 million helping to fund the underground bus loop that you always hear about). The money in the Endowment is invested, and the interest from those investments each year helps fund academic life at UBC (getting top researchers, funding academic programs, etc).

We could talk forever about the issues with this, but there are two ways to look at it: municipal governance issues mostly arising from University Town – which I will address in the rest of this article – and internal governance issues mostly arising from students’ concerns.

Read the juicy details about municipal governance, behind the jump…

Municipal governance issues:

The University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) was established as the body to represent U-Town residents and administer services and funds. This body could be described as the AMS for U-Town residents, but it is only a fair comparison in its representative function – the UNA has much larger and different responsibilities, such as administering municipal-like services (for example garbage collection and recycling). Because UBC does not fall into a municipality, any conflicts that may arise between U-Town residents and UBC (or in other recent examples, between community groups like the Wreck Beach Preservation Society and UBC over the development of Marine Drive Residences) that cannot be resolved, must go to the GVRD to be moderated. The GVRD does not like this responsibility, and has been applying some pressure on UBC to conduct a governance review to find better ways to resolve our own issues. UBC is fairly slow to respond to this governance review, as you can imagine they would like to maintain the status quo because they have a lot of power and leeway.

But you can also imagine that there will come a point when the people living in U-Town will feel the effects of not having municipal representation and a municipal government. What’s the difference between the UNA and a municipal government? A lot – membership in the UNA is volunteer, they don’t have any way of enforcing bylaws (Darren always gives the dog poop example), they have an elected Board of Directors rather than a City Council, and the whole operation is on a much smaller scale.

Thus, several options would arise from a governance review: the status quo, UBC becomes a municipality of its own, or UBC merges with the City of Vancouver. I think Vancouver likes the last option, UBC likes the first option, and students and UNA members are still not sure. There would be a number of factors for students to consider (I won’t get into that here, but please do take the time to creatively think about what those might be), but the AMS is going to have to take a position in the not-so-distant future, and we’re going to have to be ready to do a lot of consultation, and in my opinion get outside consultants to help us with this.

Stay tuned for Governance, Part 2: Internal Issues

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URL to article: http://ubcinsiders.ca/2008/01/issue-of-the-day-governance-issues-pt-1-municipal-governance-2/

URLs in this post:

[1] University Town: http://www.universitytown.ubc.ca/living_neighbourhoods.php

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