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BIA promises to consult community more

'We have gone through some very strong growing pains': Graham

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION. The BIA had committees in place all along to facilitate community consultation, says WEBIA president Robert Graham. This year they'll be used more, he promises. Credit: NATASHA BARSOTTI PHOTO

The president of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) says the BIA will consult the community more in 2009.

“It will be part of the [BIA] committees’ responsibility to reach out to community leaders and community members to gain their input when specific initiatives or issues arise that will benefit from their input,” Robert Graham says.

“It [community consultation] has always been in place, but we have gone through some very strong growing pains,” he admits.

The WEBIA sparked outrage last May when it unilaterally removed the rainbow flags from lampposts throughout the gay village.

Part of the difficulty the expanded association has faced, Graham reveals, is a lack of participation by its members. “You put everything out there and only a few people show,” he says.

The West End BIA formed in April 2007 after the Davie Village BIA expanded its area of jurisdiction from three blocks in the heart of the gay village to 23 blocks encompassing all of Davie St west of Burrard, Denman and lower Robson Sts.

While Graham acknowledges that it can be challenging to find volunteers to sit on the BIA’s committees, he says a more collective approach for the association will be prioritized in the New Year.

“We are moving forward, and as president I am adamant of these things,” he stresses.

Currently the WEBIA has three committees: maintenance and security, marketing and transportation and urban policy. Graham says it will be the job of each committee chair to liaise with the community regarding issues that specifically affect them.

“We certainly are reaching out more and that’s a positive thing for the business community and the community at large,” says Jim Deva, chair of the WEBIA’s maintenance and security committee and co-owner of Little Sister’s Bookstore in the Davie Village. “Building bridges” between the area’s businesses and residents is an important step for the BIA, he adds.

Safety is a huge concern in the gay community, he continues, noting that other West Enders feel vulnerable as well. “It [safety] is a queer thing, but it’s also a seniors thing,” he explains.

“Our community is not the only community that feels vulnerable on our streets. The queer community feels vulnerable and I appreciate that and we are going to address that, but a lot of other communities feel vulnerable and we will address that as well.”

Although there is no committee specifically intended to address gay issues overall, Graham says he will keep a close eye on the proposed strengthened relationship between the BIA’s existing committees and the community.

“I don’t want this mired down stuff anymore,” he says. “I want things clean and things done.”

Community reaction to Graham’s announcement is a mixture of anticipation and skepticism.

“I would welcome more consultation from the West End BIA,” says Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of The Centre.

“We should ideally all be working on common goals,” she points out.

Breakspear says she is prepared to take the promise of a more collaborative approach at “face value” and looks forward to discussing community issues with the BIA.

“I kind of have mixed feelings about it,” admits Brent Granby, president of the West End Residents Association (WERA).

Although Granby says he appreciates the WEBIA’s plans to reach out, he is skeptical about how much influence the community can have within the organization.

Community members and area residents have no voting rights in BIA decisions unless they are also on the board as business or property owners, he points out.

Last September, Granby called for a review of the whole BIA model to ensure greater accountability and community consultation.

“I think there is a real problem in terms of accountability and transparency. Businesses are accountable to businesses in their areas and they’re not accountable to residents,” he told Xtra West at the time.

“Right now the BIA has too much influence in the city and the neighborhoods,” he continued.

“There needs to be a facilitative process for residents too, so that they can match the voice that the BIAs have in council and the community,” he suggested.

“They [the WEBIA] need to do a lot to rebuild the good faith in the community,” Granby stresses now. “The well has been poisoned.”

Graham says detailed discussions about how the committees will work with the community will occur when the BIA reconvenes later this month.