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Dan Fumano: Play ball — Vancouver green-lights Little League parade, after all

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Opinion: No municipal politicians or bureaucrats are actively trying to snuff out community events. But if that’s what’s happening as a result of new policies, those policies probably need a second look.

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Graham Collings fondly remembers walking down West 41st Avenue as an eight-year-old in uniform in the Kerrisdale Little League’s opening day parade, more than 30 years ago.

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On Wednesday, Collings, who now volunteers as the league’s president, was thrilled to learn his own little sluggers, aged 10 and five, can follow in his footsteps again this year — the Little League parade, a six-decade tradition, had received the go-ahead from Vancouver City Hall, one month after getting a disheartening red light.

“For a lot of kids, the parade’s one of their highlights,” Collings said.

Earlier this month, Postmedia News reported that red tape appeared to have choked out this year’s parade. City hall’s events department told parade organizers in early February that this year’s edition couldn’t go ahead for opening day in April, because new policies had changed the timelines for event applications.

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It was a bitter disappointment for Little League volunteers, parents, neighbourhood business owners who sponsor the teams, and the kids. The parade’s cancellation, while not a life-and-death matter like other things happening now, struck a chord with readers, and several contacted the newspaper to express their displeasure. One reader emailed all of city council, and then told this reporter that a councillor had replied to say they had been “flooded by emails.”

Mayor Kennedy Stewart learned of the parade’s trouble when he read the story in The Vancouver Sun on March 4, and later that day, issued a public statement saying he had spoken with the city manager who assured him “staff are aiming to shorten timelines for upcoming events where needed.”

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Kerrisdale Business Association executive director Terri Clark, who has organized the Little League parade for two decades, applied for permits in January this year, as she does every year. In early February, Clark received an email from a senior city staffer saying the new city timelines meant it wasn’t possible to have a parade for the junior baseball group’s opening day this year, adding: “I do not say it lightly that we can’t make the timelines for your request.”

Then, on Tuesday, March 14, Clark received an email from the city thanking her for her patience, advising: “I’m happy to report that we will be able to proceed with the Kerrisdale Little League Parade this year, and I want to acknowledge and thank the Vancouver police for being able to help make this happen.”

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Reached Wednesday, Clark called the turn of events “a wonderful win.”

“It’s just a hometown parade, but it’s more than that — these kinds of neighbourhood events knit the whole community fabric together,” she said. “The small things are the building blocks, and the small things count.”

Other community groups trying to organize events this year also reported encountering road blocks with increased red tape at city hall.

Obviously, changing public health restrictions from COVID-19 had made event planning difficult for everyone, but apart from that, the City of Vancouver had new internal policies. Organizers of the annual Cambie Village Easter event said in previous years that they had completed a three-page online application form, but this year were directed to an 82-page special event permitting handbook explaining how to complete the new 17-page application.

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This week, the same day that the Little League parade organizers received the good news from city hall, the mayor unveiled a proposal to spend up to $5 million of public money to lure FIFA, a multibillion-dollar international organization, to host part of the men’s World Cup, one of the world’s largest events, here, to help the hard-hit local tourism sector.

City hall seems to like these major, international endeavours, and Vancouverites largely like them too. Before the 2010 Olympics, about two-thirds of Vancouver voters supported the idea of hosting the Games. After the Vancouver Olympics, polls showed higher rates of locals believed hosting the Games was worthwhile. Many people like the fact that living in a growing city and region means we can draw all kinds of international cultural, artistic and athletic events.

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But Vancouverites also love little neighbourhood get-togethers like Little League parades and Easter egg hunts. City hall shouldn’t neglect such comparatively small things in favour of the big ones.

City hall “may be hitting the home run on the big events,” said Kerrisdale BIA president Glenn Knowles. “But they sort of struck out on the little events, because they lost them, they fell through the cracks … when everything just became overly onerous.”

Knowles, who owns Gem Chocolates, applauded city hall for this week’s “really good news story.”

Reached Wednesday, Lisa Parker, Vancouver’s director of public space and street use, said the city “heard a lot of concerns” in recent weeks, and is increasing efforts to work with not only the Kerrisdale organizers, but also other community groups.

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“We’re not looking to only prioritize the largest events,” Parker said. “The little ones, we really want to lift those event organizers up to get going. And I totally understand how all the issues in the last weeks really were countering that, but we’re working quickly to right that.”

No municipal politicians or bureaucrats are actively trying to snuff out community events. But if they are hearing broadly that’s what’s happening as a result of new policies, those policies probably need a second look.

Meanwhile, it’s a good thing city hall has found a way to, regardless of what the policy fine print says, green-light the Kerrisdale parade and hopefully other events like it. Everyone could use more of that this year. Especially the kids.

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