City to spend $510,000 on Pandora Green improvements

Homeless advocates say money misspent

Traffic passes Pandora Green as council decides on an improvement plan for the boulevard.

Traffic passes Pandora Green as council decides on an improvement plan for the boulevard.

City council examined lower-cost options for beautifying Victoria’s most notorious boulevard, but opted to stick with the original design despite its inflated price tag.

Citing the Good Neighbour Agreement, Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said area residents have waited a long time for improvements.

The project includes adding a sidewalk to the boulevard, restore the damaged grass and adding trees. It also includes building a lit plaza in front of the Royal Conservatory of Music to accommodate concert crowds and host outdoor events.

The improvements to the 900 block of Pandora Avenue were promised before the construction of Our Place, drop-in centre for the poor and homeless.

Back then, in 2007, the project was pegged at $250,000.

When the project was tendered in 2010, however, four bids came back all exceeding the city’s budget.

To keep costs down, city staff concluded city crews, rather than contractors, could do the work with minor adjustments for $510,000. Staff also examined ways to reduce the scope of the work. Using asphalt through the plaza could save $40,000, and foregoing the sidewalk replacement in front of the conservatory could save an additional $120,000.

City council declined these cost-saving measures.

Coun. Philippe Lucas, however, pondered whether the money could be better spent as a grant to Our Place.

The non-profit has recently announced it is due to run out of funds for its breakfast  program by the end of the month.

“We have to look at these improvements in a very holistic way,” said Lucas. The introduction of the breakfast program last year had a “great impact” in the North Park neighbourhood, he said.

The Victoria Coalition Against Poverty also criticized the decision.

“We think this expenditure is not only a waste of public funds, but an explicit attempt to eliminate people living in poverty from public view”, said VCAP spokesperson Jody Franklin.

The homeless who frequently hang out on the boulevard were not consulted about the design, she added. “The people we spoke with in our research wanted restrooms.”

Council considered adding washrooms in 2010 before passing a bylaw banning overnight camping on the boulevard.

Construction of the Pandora Green improvements are targeted to begin in spring. Staff will report back on the feasibility of a mid-block crosswalk.