Gage South Petition: UBC Starts to Respond

It’s been a week since we announced our petition to have Gage South designated as “Academic” land. In that time we’ve gathered over 2000 signatures from UBC students, staff and alumni. If you haven’t yet signed, please visit and sign.

The university is responding to the Gage South Petition by going on the offensive. Or is that defensive? It’s hard to tell. They are emphatically saying that the decision hasn’t yet been made. The storyline they want to establish is that the petition is premature. That calls for Gage South to be designated “Academic” restricts the options for the area and doesn’t allow them to come up with innovative solutions for all stakeholders. That they can no longer have the open discussion with the community that they’ve been looking forward to throughout this whole process.

When UBC says the decision hasn’t yet been made, that’s true. To the rest: bull poopy.

When are decisions made at UBC?

Anyone even remotely familiar with UBC decision-making knows that a decision isn’t made at the time the decision is made. It’s made well before the decision becomes official, and usually before public consultation occurs, even when multiple options are presented. Based on everything that was happening behind-the-scenes, we believed that the *actual* decision point for Gage South was coming up fast, which is why the petition was launched when it was. Waiting until the public consultation phase would have been too late. I challenge anyone to come up with an example where UBC has made significant changes to a plan resulting from consultation feedback alone, without significant behind-the-scenes or external pressure. Decisions at UBC are made earlier than meets the eye. Preempting that was the whole point.

Restricting the Process & Finding Innovative Solutions

The fact that a set amount of housing has been assigned to an “Area Under Review” (which makes no sense) and that C&CP has continuously adopted the position that the proposed housing must go either in Gage South or in another part of campus, puts a huge restriction on the process. It dictates that the process must come to one of two pre-determined outcomes. Having the petition ask for “Academic” with no market housing transfer introduces an additional option which they have already ruled out. Perhaps glass houses are being planned for Gage South.

In addition, the petition is not against finding innovative solutions. In fact, that is something that I’ve publicly supported. In May, I wrote: “If the goal of this review is to get something innovative for the long term, there needs to be the possibility to complete the puzzle with a variety of different pieces. How about a “hub” piece? An “academic building” piece? A “collegium” piece? An “administration building” piece? A “student residence” piece? A “student services building” piece? A “library” piece? A “hospice” piece? A “massive whale skeleton” piece?”

All of these things could be accommodated within the “Academic” designation. None have been considered. Non-student market housing has been considered for the site at every single meeting of the Gage South Working Group.

Consulting with Campus

During the Land Use Plan revision process, Gage South was consistently brought up by many students as a topic of interest. At first, it was first completely left off of the agenda, and then later declared to be an issue to be discussed at another time through its designation as an “area under review”. The irony of UBC saying a land use designation issue should not be dealt with during a Land Use Plan revision process was not lost on students involved. Despite this, a C&CP submission to the UBC Board of Governors still noted that “The most frequent comment at the public hearing was by students calling for Gage South to be designated academic.”

Rather than an open discussion about Gage South arising, the opposite has happened. A working group is in fact discussing it but has barred media and the public from attending their meetings. An “open discussion” has comprised of “open” parts where there is no discussion and “discussion” parts that are not open.

There is an amazing example of how UBC has ignored all of these points themselves throughout the Gage South review, which is how the Aquatic Centre was being planned. That will come a bit later.

Finally, UBC is starting to discuss their plans for the area, cautiously. But what they’re saying is completely at odds with what’s actually been happening. In yesterday’s front-page Ubyssey article about the petition, director of UBC Public Affairs Randy Schmidt ‘assured that academic use is what’s looked at first by the working group.’ As he has never attended a meeting of the working group, I have no idea where he’s getting his information from but there is no record of the committee looking at academic use of Gage South at all, let alone looking at it first. All orientations they’ve looked at have left the current bus loop open where it will presumably be used for non-student market housing.

Schmidt is also quoted as saying “This petition calls for a broader consultation process, and that’s exactly the process that’s underway.” The petition is worded very clearly, and it’s not asking for more consultation. As noted, those only yield results UBC has already decided on. On the broad consultation front, I’m reminded of a passage from a 2003 Ubyssey article called “Consultation or Confrontation?” about the planning process for the University Boulevard area. This excerpt, about a design charrette organized by UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) to brainstorm alternate ideas for the University Boulevard area, sums up the entire article fairly well.

“[The charette] goes far beyond the utterly conventional plans that are being drawn by the university,” [SCARP student Peter] Whitelaw said.

“The values for the plan of University Boulevard come from the values of university planners,” Whitelaw said. “This is in contrast to a plan that asks the community, and it is the community who produces the ideas. Those ideas can then come through on the ground.”

Although the charrette’s products were welcomed by [UBC VP External] Dennis Pavlich’s office as input, the true thrust of the effort—a different process where citizens who were more empowered could produce a better plan—was ignored, said [SCARP Director Anthony] Dorcey. “They could have taken some of the ideas, but that wasn’t as important as illustrating what could happen with the process. It happened because people wanted to have a different opportunity to contribute to this.”

Even though this article was written 8 years ago, substitute Gage South for University Boulevard and the Ubyssey could publish it again tomorrow. Given that the working group they have set up to examine Gage South is completely closed to the media and public, they just don’t get what engaging the public is about and haven’t for many years.

Finally, they’re trying to pull a fast one on the market housing front. Director, Communications + Public Engagement for Campus Planning Kera McArthur commented on a Ubyssey editorial, saying “the BOG set policy that any housing in this area could only be in the form of non-market, affordable university rental housing”

There is no such BOG policy.

The minutes of the May Gage South Working Group meeting tell a different story: “In response to a question about definition of the university rental housing project, C+CP explained that the proposed university rental housing is market rental housing to be managed by Village Gate Homes”

It seems quite likely that from now on, UBC will say there were always plans are for non-market, social, or student housing to make their plans look better than they actually were. That’s all brand new; none of those have ever been proposed by UBC before. First signs of movement? Petitions work in mysterious ways sometimes…


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  1. Sorry Neal, you got part of this wrong. From the Land Use Plan (BoG passed, thus BoG policy)

    “If the area is used for neighbourhood housing, the intention is that it would be for small, affordable university rental units.”

    The language might be a bit soft, but as far as the BoG is concerned that’s all that can go there. What C+CP said I don’t know about though.

    Posted by Sean | September 20, 2011, 6:12 pm
  2. I did read that, but since “affordable” is a relative term which isn’t defined in the LUP, figured there is still a lot of wiggle room there.

    I’m guessing that it’s intended to be non-market in terms of not being available to the general public. However, the rents that will be charged are at market prices. Correct?

    Posted by Neal Yonson | September 20, 2011, 7:45 pm
  3. Currently Village Gate Homes manages a few hundred units of rental to faculty and staff only at “the low end of market” (roughly 20% below comparable open market units on UBC). With the LUP revisions we believe we need to build more of these in 1 bedroom and studio sizes, which is the vision behind that language. The Housing Action Plan is the process that’s exploring this, and public engagement in that process is starting shortly.

    Posted by Sean | September 20, 2011, 10:29 pm
  4. In my experience, a clear “intention” in a land use plan is only useful if it’s backed up with something concrete, mandatory and enforceable.

    Posted by Darren Peets | September 21, 2011, 1:58 pm
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