Mayor Gregor Robertson is hoping a facilitator can resolve a dispute with CP Rail that has the transportation giant tearing up community gardens tended by area volunteers along an 11-kilometre corridor in central Vancouver.
CP has been threatening the action for some time, but moved in Thursday, uprooting plants and plots and bulldozing tool sheds as it began working through about 350 plots in gardens along the Arbutus corridor between False Creek and the Fraser River.
Scores of volunteer gardeners and their supporters have been reeling at CP's action, which wiped out plots used to grow food and other plants, many for area residents who live in condos and apartments and thus do not have their own lawns.
On Friday, the Vision Vancouver mayor called CP's actions "completely unwarranted" given a "fair-market offer" the city had made to buy the land, which the city deemed a public thoroughfare in 2000. In May, CP indicated that it would begin clearing the corridor for rail traffic for the first time since trains moved in 2001.
"These actions are simply a bullying tactic," Mr. Robertson said in a statement, adding that his request to CP for a "facilitated discussion" has been ignored.
Earlier this week, Mr. Robertson seemed skeptical about success in the talks. Asked about the issue at a high-tech conference, he said, on one hand he was "hopeful" about reaching a deal, then said that things appeared at a "standstill." Asked about the contradiction, he told reporters talks were not advancing. Ironically, given Thursday's events, he said, "I'm happy to see them back off on ripping gardens out. It's a positive."
In a statement, a CP spokesperson said Friday that the company remains willing to enter "productive" discssions with the city to reach a fair-value deal, but has no updates right now.
Breanne Feigel wrote that CP is not prepared to have the "railway asset" unsused for another decade "when it can be put to operational use to support our operations in Vancouver."
Mr. Robertson's key rival for the mayor's job in this November's municipal election said the mayor has failed the city on this file and been invisible as things boiled over Kirk LaPointe, the mayoral candidate for the Non-Partisan Association, said Mr. Robertson was betraying talks with CP by disclosing he wanted a facilitator. "That suggests something is going wrong," he said in an interview.
"The mayor made the mess," he added, suggesting that CP has called Mr. Robertson's bluff of a "low-ball offer" by proceeding to destroy the gardens.
Media reports have suggested CP wanted $100-million for the land, far more than the approximately $20-million the city was offering. Mr. LaPointe, the former managing editor of The Vancouver Sun, said the city could have offered a tax receipt or land in lieu of cash. "The city has a lot of cards to play. It doesn't have to write a big, fat cheque."
He said gardeners are paying for city's brinksmanship. "It's very, very sad to see those community gardens wrecked. It's years of work."
Mr. LaPointe said his key question is where Mr. Robertson is as gardens are being destroyed. "Issuing a press release on a Friday afternoon claiming that the other side is bullying you or villifying their tactics is no way to get a settlement. The mayor ought to be coming back out from where he is, sitting down at the table, rolling up his sleeves and getting something done."
On Friday, some gardeners were grimly awaiting the arrival of CP crews.
Verena Foxx, chairperson of the decade-old Pine Street Community Garden, said she expected that one-third of the garden would vanish as CP crews took back land deemed company property. As a result, volunteers are moving the common shed and preparing for devastating changes to the garden, which has 100 plots and about 200 people on a waiting list for plots.
"We've said to members, 'Keep calm and carry on,' " she said.
Of CP's action, she said: "I just feel it's aggressive, brutal and non-neighbourly."
Ms. Foxx also said gardeners fear CP won't systematically work along the line, but jump from where they are working in now, and show up at Pine Street. "What I'm realizing now is [CP] means business," she said.