Letter to City August 17

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To: Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver City Councillors and Park Board Commissioners

Copies to: Canadian Pacific Railway, Vancouver MLAs and MPs

August 17, 2014

Dear Mayor Robertson, Vancouver City Councillors and Park Board Commissioners,

We are writing on behalf of the gardeners of the Arbutus Victory Gardens along East Boulevard. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to you for your willingness to continue discussion with Canadian Pacific (CP) as the city’s community gardens have been put under threat in recent months.

In the wake of the destruction of the Marpole Gardens, the time has now come for action. We respectfully request that the City intervene by any legal means available, such as a stay of action or a legal suit, to halt the progress of CP’s bulldozers until such time as it presents a viable business plan demonstrating actual intent to spend the millions of its dollars required to bring the tracks up to operational standard and demonstrates serious intent to run trains for economic benefit along the corridor.

We also call on you to prevent CP from spraying herbicides in contravention of City by-laws and other public health policies.

Further, we ask that you place priority on finding new garden spaces for those whose gardens were destroyed last week.

Also, as the grantor of the permits for those who garden adjacent the railway corridor, we request that you provide assistance with relocation of plant and garden material placed in good faith. The discovery that many of the garden plots, allocated by the City, straddle both City and CP land is something many gardeners were unaware of until CP installed survey stakes, and many established plants and materials such as compost bins are too unwieldy for gardeners to move themselves.

CP’s last statement to the public about destruction of gardens was made on July 30, 2014:

“At this time, CP’s approach on August 1 is not to begin immediate dismantling of community gardens, but we have a plan in place on how to continue track improvement in this area and will handle the removal of encroachments as work progresses…Should encroachments still exist on CP track as work progresses, a suitable plan will be developed to remove each one in an appropriate manner.” (CBC, July 30)

The bulldozing of gardens without notice contradicts their statements of just two weeks ago. CP’s only major work to date has been the destruction of the Marpole gardens. Only gardens have been targeted, with workers leaving encroaching wild vegetation – such as blackberry brambles – intact.

Gardens coexisted with the trains for six decades, and did not interfere with safe and effective running and maintenance of the railway line. For decades, there was implicit permission from CP that gardeners could use the land. Moreover, utility poles leased on CP property exist along the tracks closer than the boundaries of the gardens that have been destroyed. If these poles are not a problem for track maintenance, then the gardens are not a problem either.

There is a principle of minimal damage stated in the Canada Transportation Act, that “the railway company shall do as little damage as possible in the exercise of [its] powers” (s. 95(2)). We are asking you to intervene because of the brutal, unnecessary, and possibly illegal way that CP is proceeding.

Our reasons for desiring that you place value on the community gardens located along the Arbutus Corridor and stop CP’s destruction are the following:

1. Public green space policy. The City of Vancouver has created its Greenest City Plan to become the greenest city in the world by 2020, including expanded spaces for community gardens. CP’s bulldozers are removing gardens representing greater than 10% of community garden spaces in the city.

2. Community Benefit. The Arbutus Corridor is well used not just by gardeners but also by city residents and tourists. Currently, the 11-kilometre path along the tracks is a location where neighbours meet neighbours and people from all over the city interact with one another. There is great potential for this corridor to become an official addition to Vancouver’s world-class network of walking and cycling paths, as its gentle grade ensures accessibility for people of all ages and abilities. The gardeners’ investments of money, time and labour, has created a park-like setting that beautifies neighbourhoods at no cost to the City’s Park Board.

3. Herbicides and their effects. CP has stated in a letter released last week that it “will be spraying herbicide where necessary.” We have two major concerns with this. First, the spraying of herbicides will defoliate and kill plants and destroy the soil health of both our remaining publicly-granted gardens and those on neighbouring residential properties, potentially for decades. Second, application of herbicides in residential neighbourhoods may have long-lasting health effects on residents and gardeners and will directly contravene City by-laws. Municipal bylaws in the Greater Vancouver area, the BC Public Health Act, and WorkSafe BC policies all address the seriousness of the effects of herbicide use on human health and habitat.

4. Therapeutic value of garden spaces. In our group are gardeners who have faced cancer, death in the family, depression, and terminal disease, who find peace and healing in their gardens. Neighbourhood residents have stopped by in recent days to let gardeners know that the gardens have had therapeutic effect for them as well. A strong evidence-base exists to support the value of community gardens as providing important physical and mental health benefits, both for gardeners and for those who visit and view them.

5. Public health benefits. The beauty of this corridor, wide open to the sky and with views to the west and north through much of its length, calls for preservation and use for the common good. Urban trails, specifically developed to support public health and often reclaimed from old rights-of-way, are already a matter of public policy and development in such countries as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan. The city could seek funding and support from provincial and federal health agencies, and recent federal Access to Nature initiatives, as part of its effort to secure funds to development of the Arbutus Corridor as a public greenway.

6. Food security. Community gardens are a way for urban residents to enhance food security in their communities. Fruits and vegetables grown in one garden may supply several households with produce that is local, sustainable, and organic. Gardeners come from all economic backgrounds, and many rely on their harvest to help feed their families. Gardeners in Marpole whose gardens have been bulldozed by CP now have lost this important source of food to put on their plates this year.

7. Nature and Wildlife Habitat. Along the corridor, and particularly in areas where there are community gardens, an abundance of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers have flourished. The gardens and naturalized parts of the corridor are home to many species of wild bees, songbirds, and beneficial pollinators. CPs destruction of this valuable habitat flies directly in the face of Vancouver’s Greenest City Policy and the Vancouver Park Board’s Rewilding Vancouver initiative.

We feel that the discussions currently held have centered around the cost of this land and would like to emphasize its value to the city at large. CP’s unwarranted and needless bulldozing of gardens must be stopped and a serious effort made to ensure the Arbutus Corridor is saved for the sustainable and future use of many generations of residents in Vancouver and other Lower Mainland communities.

Thank you in advance for your efforts,

The Arbutus Victory Gardeners