September 8, 2022

Monopoly Board Game? George Pearson Pawns Still Waiting, Onni Development Group Heating Dispute


Update September 16 2022: Disabled residents STILL not in their new homes provided at Cambie Gardens which was an  agreement with developer the Onni Development Group at time of development approval. 

As of September 16,  the 44 residents have been told they will commence moving in on Tuesday October 4, 2022. Only three residents a week will be moving into the new units. That will mean that four months  will pass before all of the vulnerable residents can be moved in. That would move the date for all residents to be in their new homes past Christmas  into January 2023.

For units that have been available since June 2022 that is very disappointing. These units  were not registered on title by Onni Development Group to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority over an unrelated dispute with the Neighbourhood Energy Utility. That’s not acceptable.

Viewpoint Vancouver has been following the unbelievable saga of the 44 residents of  George Pearson Centre that were promised new units at the Onni Development Group’s Cambie Gardens. The Onni Development Group had purchased the site which included George Pearson Centre, a place where people  who have wheelchair or motorized wheelchair mobility live.


George Pearson resident  Eric Wegiel with his mom Graznya and sister Agnes. Vancouver Sun photo

As part of their agreement with  the Coastal Health Authority and the former Provincial government, Onni Development Group was to provide these disabled units, which include several congregate units, at the time of building occupancy.

Cambie Gardens at 788 West 57th Avenue received occupancy permits in June. But instead of allowing these residents to move in,  Onni Development Group did not register the units on title to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.  The developer let the units lie fallow, using the waiting disabled residents as pawns with another negotiation with the City of Vancouver over the neighbourhood energy plant  or utility for the development.

Even though last week Onni Development Group said the residents could move in, there’s still no word on a time frame.  Some have died waiting.

George Pearson Centre residents drew names out of a hat to see who could leave the facility first. The residents at George Pearson Centre have specialized needs with many having spinal or brain injuries, and several are on ventilators.

You can read about the George Pearson Centre facility here but  you wonder what would be important enough for Onni Development Group not to do the right thing and house these vulnerable residents, who cannot picket or demonstrate for the right to move in.

Skillful journalist Daphne Bramham has written in the Vancouver Sun how  developers are not only producing housing units, but getting in the profitable business of running “neighbourhood energy utilities” which is a fancy term for describing the plant that provides the heat and hot water to the developments.

We already have several of those in the city, and the map below shows where the current energy utilities are located. Creative Energy is owned by Westbank developer, Ian Gillespie’s group. The Pearson Dogwood Neighbourhood Energy System which includes Cambie Gardens is of course owned by the Onni Development Group and is called the Cambie Gardens Limited Partnership (CGLP).

Through the CGLP the Onni Development Group applied to the B.C. Utilities Commission and received some exemptions from the Utilities Commission Act.  Onni’s heat and hot water service on this site was exempted from Section 45 “that forbids public utilities from making, demanding or receiving “an unjust, unreasonable, unduly discriminatory or unduly preferential rate.”

Those exemptions mean they can confidentially set the rates for the provision of heat and hot water, and apparently can also  discriminate between different kinds of dwellers, and set up higher rates than others in the same development.

You can take a look at this order from the B. C. Utilities Commission that gave the CGLP the right to not only set their own rates, but also exempts them from oversight and reporting the differential rates  to  the Commission.

What this means is that the developer can set higher rates for heat and hot water for their subsidized units, and the taxpayers will be paying for that. There is a separate charge for electricity.

With the cone of silence around the confidentiality of it all, no one may know how much the rates have been inflated for the units that are under provincial control for social housing or for the vulnerably disabled.

There is nothing new here, as Werner Troesken has written in Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America’s History” in this University of Chicago publication. The history of public utility regulation “has an odd circular quality”. While there was limited regulatory overview in the 1800’s, by 1940 most gas and electric companies had both state and federal regulation. But in the 1980’s and 1990’s gas and electric companies reverted back to private ownership, in regulatory environments that were more lax, “with limited municipal oversight”.

You will also remember on the classic Monopoly board game that the utilities  Electric Company  and Water Works had their own spaces, and were just as important as owning a property.

That 85 year old game is just as relevant today, where in private ownership clouded in confidentiality heat and hot water privately owned utilities  can be just as profitable as States Avenue  and St. Charles Place, and produce  a steady stream of monthly revenue for the life of the development.


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