Demolition of Pantages Theatre in Vancouver Downtown Eastside (DTES)
From Ivan :
“Watch your head on the 100-block… the sky really is falling!”
Weekly disaster report from the Pantages demolition August 21, 2011
Over the last couple weeks the contractor at the Pantages demolition has removed the tunnel over the sidewalk, ditched the flaggers who shepherded pedestrians along the sidewalk when there was a risk of falling rock and other debris, and put up a scaffolding wrapped in blue netting. This was one piece of what DTES residents, groups, and allies have been asking for in the form of basic health and safety protections for 100-block residents against the reckless, irresponsible and disrespectful demolition job being carried out by the contractor under property owner Marc Williams and developer Sequel138.
Basic safety, which we feel would have been standard in any other residential (or shopping) neighbourhood in the city, would include netting over the front of the building to prevent loose rock fall, and also a plywood tunnel to protect pedestrians. It would mean that loose rubble in the demolition site would be sprayed with water regularly to stop dust, dry rat droppings, asbestos, lead paint, and mold spores from blowing up into the open windows of homes overlooking the site.
And it would mean that rubble would not be left standing for four months as both a fire and a down-wind contaminant hazard.(*see note at bottom)
For four months we have been calling and writing the city and Worksafe BC and saying, “Someone is going to get hurt. People are going to get sick. Someone is going to get hurt.”
On Friday August 19th at 11am a full brick was dropped from the 6th story roof of the Pantages theatre demolition into a stream of passing pedestrians. It landed between two pedestrians and smashed apart on the sidewalk. A large chunk of the brick bounced up and struck Mike Whelan, who lives in the Regent hotel, in the side of his head. Mikecomplained of dizziness and went home to rest, where he started throwing up. He went to a clinic and was sent on from there to the hospital to be treated for a concussion.
I called Ron Dyke, the head of the city building inspections department, twice and left a third message through 3-11. Ian Mackie, the inspector for the district showed up pretty shortly and said nothing, just took notes. I tried to convince him to shut the sitedown and he would not engage with me.
I visited Mike in the Regent and was amazed at what I saw. He lives on the 6th floor with his wife Karen. Their room overlooks the Pantages demolition and the view from their window is worse than I previously imagined.
Mike said, “I worked in construction and demolition for a long time and I can recognize asbestos. See that white stuff there between the big joists?” He pointed out the window at the roof timbers a floor below his window. “I’m pretty sure that’s asbestos.” I asked him if he had ever seen the contractor spraying down the ample dust and dirt on that roof area. He said he didn’t know they were spraying anywhere on the site, he had never seen it and the site always looked bone dry. The dust comes in their windows all day and night.
“I dust twice a week and there’s always dust on everything,” Karen said. She showed me her bedstand as an example; there was about a quarter inch of dust with clumps of debris mixed in it. Even though it’s hot, she said, they sleep with their windows closed.
“I have asthma and cancer,” Mike said. “The asthma was never a big deal but since the demolition started I’ve been going through one asthma puffer a week.”
I called Yolande Cole from the Straight and she came and did an interview with Mike and Karen about the health and safety fallout from the Pantages demolition. It should be on the Straight website on Monday or Tuesday. I left them with promises that they would go to the clinic and the hospital.
A couple hours later Ron Dyke from the city called me back. I asked him what conditions they gave the contractor for reopening the demolition site. He said that they had not shut the site down. There was some loose mesh near the top of the scaffolding where the brick had fallen through and they had made sure that hole was closed up.
I flipped out and yelled at him. “If that was Gregor Robertson who got a concussion from being hit in the head with a brick off that building would you have declared it a safe demolition site an hour later?”
He said that he did not want to discuss politics with me. It was not the first time he had said that to me. I accused him of being structural violence that singles out poor, SRO resident, disabled, Indigenous people for different treatment, and abuse than white middle-class people. I told him that he should be doing everything he can to protect these most vulnerable people and worry over this should keep him up at night… and he hung up on me.
Later Brenda Prosken called me back and asked if she could help. I told her what we have been telling Ron Dyke for months, the basic needs that should be met at Pantages as they would have been met anywhere else in the city. This is a high-density residential area, I told her, and the city is treating it like a people-less industrial wasteland. She said they will make sure that the site is regularly sprayed down, that the rubble is all cleared out by Tuesday, that a tunnel and flaggers are brought back, and that the affected residents are cared for.
This week I hope that we can visit residents in the Regent and Wonder hotels and find out how far reaching the negative health effects of the demolition have been. I believe that the poor conditions of the Pantages demolition are a powerful symbol of how bad the Pantages condos will be for the same neighbours. The demolition is poisoning the air in the SRO hotels on the 100-block and harming residents.
Condos will poison the space on the 100-block for low-income residents too. Marc Williams says that he’s going to bring artists to the 100-block but the man whose fly-by-night demolition project gave a concussion to is an artist who lives in the Regent hotel, who was recently accepted to Emily Carr art school. How is this poisonous demolition helping him? How will condos next door to his hotel help him?
The sky is falling on the residents of the 100-block and we have to work together to protect the people while defending the land from the mutually destructive forces of gentrification.
[*When the old gas station was demolished on Pender street a couple weeks ago they had firehoses on site right away to keep the dust down and the rubble was completely cleaned-up and gone within the week. What’s the difference between the demo jobs on the same block (but onopposite sides)?
The Pender St gas station demolition has nolow-income residents’ windows overlooking it... but it is immediately behind the Keefer Bar and high-end hotel. It is within sight of the Chinatown night market tourist site. Pantages, where the rubble has sat stinking and ugly and as a fire hazard for nearly 4 months, is out of sight from any tourist area or shopping district. There’s no condo in sight either. But there are lots and lots of SRO hotel rooms...]