It was a triumphof community action Jun 16 when more than 30 members of the gay community came together at city hall to speak out against staff recommendations that would have had bars in the Davie Village close earlier on weekdays than bars on the Granville strip.
After hearing passionate and compelling arguments from 19 community speakers, council voted to treat the Granville entertainment area, the Davie Village and the Odyssey nightclub equally for the purposes of liquor licensing. No community speakers spoke in favour of adopting staff’s original recommendation.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Vince Marino, owner of the PumpJack Pub. “Everybody asked for one thing. Just treat us equal; that’s all we asked for. This council did it.”
“I think it’s excellent,” said councillor Tim Stevenson, who laid the groundwork in council and made the motion to adopt a policy that treated the Davie bars the same as the Granville ones.
“I’ve been talking with councillors, discussing the reasons I wanted to move in a different direction. I think the community coming out and speaking did move councillors.”
“I’m totally amazed,” said Michael Levy, co-owner of the Odyssey, of the performance by the gay community. “Great support, great speakers. There was nobody to oppose this issue and it was a clear victory.
“But the gay community always comes out and supports itself,” he adds. “It’s a self-policing community.”
In November, city staff recommended council adopt a new liquor service policy for the city of Vancouver. The policy would have had bars on Davie St close up to an hour earlier than the bars on the Granville strip and would have had the Odyssey on Howe St close even earlier.
Many gay community members felt the proposed policy was unfair to the bars in the Davie Village and to queer people everywhere.
Council directed staff to re-examine hours for the Davie Village by collecting community input on the proposed changes, and then to report back to council with recommendations.
In their report May 31, staff recommended that the Odyssey get the same hours as the Davie Village but-in spite of overwhelming community input to the contrary-staff recommended the Davie Village bars close earlier than the mainstream bars on the Granville strip.
“Residents voiced strong concerns about increased community impact, particularly noise on weekday nights,” the report’s author, licences and inspections policy analyst Karen Hoese, told council. “While patrons and some business owners support the longer hours, although staff received different advice, our conclusions are based on minimizing impact on the local community.”
Even discounting community responses collected from patrons at the PumpJack and the Odyssey, the report showed at least 58 percent support for equal treatment for bars on Granville and Davie Sts.
“There is very little to distinguish this mixed-use area from the other mixed-use areas in the city,” licence coordinator Guy Gusdal told Xtra West. “That’s one of the primary issues that we’re looking at.
“Anybody-if you organize your customers and users to skew the results,” he continued. “We see it both ways. We see it in some other cases where, when someone doesn’t want something, they’re out organizing everything because they feel passionate about the issue.”
“I think that although staff is really excellent here,” said Stevenson, “they just don’t understand the depth of the sense of community we have and so they’re dealing with [the liquor policy] in the much more bureaucratic sense of hours in various parts of the city.
“This is the first time we’ve had council that has been proactive to gay people,” said Stevenson later. “It’s the first council that have been welcoming to gay people and opened up the doors and said, ‘yes, come and talk to us.'”
For the gay community, it was never just a question of booze or zoning.
Of chief concern to most speakers was the threat of violence if gay people were left with no other option than to visit the Granville strip for late-night socializing.
“I’m barely comfortable walking down Granville St holding hands with my boyfriend when it’s two o’clock in the afternoon,” said community member McKenzie McMillan. “I don’t think I’m very safe walking into a Granville St bar with my boyfriend. Granville St is war zone after work.”
Representing the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA), Jim Deva said, “Two gay men holding hands on Granville St at 2 o’clock in the morning could possibly, quite possibly in my estimation, create a situation of irreparable harm.
“I would be far more comfortable knowing that my community stays in our bars in our neighbourhood where we have the protection of numbers,” said Deva. “That’s where we have a greater number of our community on the street to protect ourselves.”
Deva also attacked some of the language in the report that he felt smacked of homophobia. The passage suggested the gay community was only one part of the Davie Village.
“Do you believe,” asked Deva, “that the person who put that statement in that report would have pointed out to the citizens of Chinatown that not all people who live in Chinatown are of Chinese heritage?”
All the speakers’ words had an impact on council.
“I came into this meeting today after having read the report and I thought, ‘yes I would support the staff recommendations,'” said councillor Anne Roberts. “I learned a lot today and I think I just have a different conclusion now. There are some very important factors in this community and that makes it different. We have to recognize the reality of the safety of the community.”
Councillor Ellen Wordsworth said: “The safety of the community in the Davie St area is a very important consideration when we make a decision on how to vote. Some of the things we’ve been hearing today we shouldn’t have to be hearing about. In fact homophobia does exist. Discrimination does exist.”
Only councilor Sam Sullivan voted to close the Davie St bars earlier than the ones on Granville St.
“You have to be very careful when you overturn staff recommendations,” he said. “You have to make sure that you know what you’re doing. You’re not setting a precedent that could bring troubles in other areas.
“I believe we set policy based on good reason and good judgment, not on how many people are shouting from chambers,” he said.
“I don’t think councillor Sullivan’s view is one that will match with the facts,” replied Stevenson, “and I don’t think it’s one that he will really want to hold at the end of the day politically.”
City council still needs to get permission from the province to change liquor policy laws. But this move means whatever happens with liquor policy in the city, as long as this city council has something to say about it, the Davie Village will get the same deal as the Granville strip.