Letting the board of the Pacific National Exhibition govern Hastings Park permanently would violate the Vancouver Charter, according to advocacy groups who say they are prepared to take legal action if city council makes such a decision.
The groups – which include Friends of Hastings Park, the Hastings Community Association and the Hastings Park Conservancy – held a news conference in the park's Italian Garden on Wednesday, a day before Vancouver City Council votes on a governance structure for the park and the PNE. The PNE board has had interim control since 2004. In May, the Park Board voted unanimously in favour of taking over, a move park advocates strongly endorsed.
Several speakers on Wednesday cited section 488 of the Vancouver Charter, which states the Park Board "shall have exclusive possession of, and exclusive jurisdiction and control of all areas designated as permanent public parks."
"Hastings Park was given in trust, in 1889, to the city as a public park," said Sherry Breshears of Friends of Hastings Park. "Under the charter, the city has an obligation to let the Park Board govern it."
Park Board vice-chair Aaron Jasper said that when the province transferred control and management of the PNE to the municipality in 2004, the city failed to enact legislation that would have classified the park as permanent. That would have automatically given jurisdiction to the Park Board. As it stands, the park has no legal status and is in "a bit of limbo," Mr. Jasper said.
The PNE is also home to the Playland amusement park, the Hastings Racecourse and the Pacific Coliseum arena.
The shared sentiment among those advocating for Park Board control is that the PNE's corporate board, fuelled by business interests, has too much power over the public park. Noise and traffic congestion have increased over the years, and the PNE board has put little emphasis on promoting green space and has no obligation to gather meaningful public input about land use, they say.
Angelo Holmes, president of Confratellanza, a group that helped create the Italian Garden, said the garden has been poorly maintained under the governance of the PNE, with no regular scheduling of plant and grass maintenance or graffiti removal.
"Also, in the early planning of [the Italian Garden], our vision was for a park that would be accessible to all of the community, for the Italian community and all people to enjoy the park free of charge," he said. "Currently, [it] is gated off during the PNE and the only way to gain access is to purchase admission to the fair. Also, this park has been rented for exclusive private events, limiting the community's access to [it] for several months of the year."
Mr. Jasper, who put forward the motion calling for Park Board governance in May, said the move would increase public access to green space and recreational use, ensure transparency and accountability in decision making and support green initiatives.
Vancouver East MP Libby Davies and Vancouver-Hastings MLA Shane Simpson agreed, issuing a joint statement on Wednesday saying: "It is time for a recognition that Hastings Park is, in fact, a park and as such should be under the jurisdiction of the Park Board as every other park in Vancouver is."
City staff have recommended a "refined" version of the status quo, renaming the board of directors the Hastings Park/PNE board and increasing opportunities for public input. A third option is to have a city department manage the property.