Council Meeting – March 2, 2015

This was a strange day at Council, because we opened with a Public Hearing on an issue where City Council serves as a sort of appellate court in a semi-judicial type hearing. I’m not really interested in discussing the matter here, but if you wish to know more about it,watch the video here.

The evening meeting began with presentations and open delegations (on of which had me thinking of Alex and his droogs), before the real business commenced with Recommendations from the Committee of the Whole from earlier in the day:

Appointment to the Canada Day Sub-Committee

Our Canada Day events are coordinated by a subcommittee made up of City representatives and representatives from the community at large. This motion was to assign someone from the Multiculturalism Advisory Committee to the Canada Day Committee. And I am reminded again how this City is run and made great by its dedicated volunteers.

Moody Park Off-leash Park Design
A few meetings ago, Council enthusiastically approved the initial concept for an off-leash dog park in Moody Park. Inevitably, this resulted in both criticism (see comments on link above) and kudos, which I take as meaning we threaded the needle of public opinion fairly well. Staff and representatives of Council have followed up with the Moody Park Residents Association and the expressed concerns of other members of the public, and have integrated some their concerns with this modified conceptual plan.

There was quite a bit of a debate at Council about how we ended up with a larger off-leash area than initially sketched, but I can see where Parks was going when addressing one of the major concerns of people who were critical of the original plan. There will now be a full 97m length, making for a pretty good run distance for dogs, especially for a park being shoe-horned into such a compact and well-programed park space as Moody Park. In the end, council voted 4-3 for the larger footprint.

Given the historic nature of the park, and its small size and attachment to adjacent residential and pedestrian areas, I think that the visual impact of the fence is an important part of integrating the off-leach area. Council did discuss the fence options as we see them, and have decided on what I interpreted to be the lowest-impact design, and one that fits the character of the park.

Campaign Finance Disclosure Statements

You may realize that these statements are now out and available for public perusal at this website. It should be noted that the Province just received the statements, and have not yet had an opportunity to review and audit them. I note several reports show declarations that are suspect (and a few that are frankly illegal), and I am sure Elections BC will be asking for some candidates, even locally, to re-issue with corrections. I also note that I will be issuing a correction, as it was only seeing the documents on-line that I realized page three of my declaration includes a typo. The “amounts of surplus funds disbursed” on that page ($12,454.46 ) does not reflect the real number which is disclosed on Form 4234 ($1,245.46). An extra 4 slipped into the .pdf there somewhere.

This does speak a bit to the complexity of these forms, and the fact that none of the forms were available from Elections BC until well into the election period (and they changed significantly since last election). Any Financial Agent who set up their accounting spreadsheets based on last election’s rules (as mine did back in August) found out late in the process that all of the rules had changed, and they had to go back and start again. There was also quite a bit of uncertainty with Elections BC staff about how to interpret some of the new rules. My Financial Agent is a spreadsheet and accounting genius who manages huge capital projects for a living, but the Elections BC staff knew her on a first-name basis by the end of the election, so frequently was she calling them to clarify some nuance of the rules.

This is mostly a pre-amble to my suggesting that we should probably cut a bit of slack to our neighbours in the community who did not file their paperwork in time. The $500 fine under the Elections Act is something we cannot (and should not) fail to enforce, just to be fair to the candidates who did file on time, but I hope you will empathize a bit with the complexity of doing these forms, and recognize that sometimes life interferes with your ability to get paperwork done in time!

Zoning Bylaw changes

Back on February 2, Council asked staff to prepare an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw to limit the number of roughed-in plumbing features allowed in accessory buildings in the City, to discourage he ready conversion of these buildings in to living suites, at least until the City is able to have a proper community and neighbourhood discussion around Laneway housing policy (which is occurring right now as part of the OCP review).

Staff have prepared this draft amendment Bylaw, and it will go to Public Hearing on March 30. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

HRA for 336 Agnes Street

There is a plan to restore the 1940 Dontenwill Hall to some of its former glory, and place long-term Heritage Protection on it. The application has been through a public open house, the Heritage Commission, the Advisory Planning Commission.

The Project will go to Public Hearing on March 30. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Rezoning of 210 Durham Street

This is a proposal to re-zone a lot in Glenbrooke North to allow subdivision into two lots, each with a 33’ frontage. This is the very beginning of the formal process for a rezoning, as it will go to Advisory Planning Commission, the Neighbourhood Association, Public Open House, and Advisory Planning Commission.

Alberta Street Traffic Review

Regular readers (Hi Mom!) will remember that Alberta Street residents came to Council to express concerns about recent changes in the traffic patterns on their street. At the time, we asked staff to come back with options for a short-term “band aid”, and to look at longer-term neighbourhood traffic planning options. This report brought those, and the recommendations are good, but I was not without criticism of the report itself.

You can see my comments in the video, and I will use another blog post to expand on this issue. In the short term, Council decided to install the temporary traffic diverters at the foot of Alberta (the “band aid” previously discussed), then go back and do another traffic survey to see how it those changes affect drivers’ behavior. After that, we will start planning for a more comprehensive neighbourhood traffic management plan for upper Sapperton.

In my opinion, this speaks to a need or a bit of a culture change in how we (as a City) address neighbourhood traffic impacts in our City. It speaks to the Pedestrian Charter, the priorities set out in our Master Transportation plan, and even the direction we are receiving from the general public in the Official Community Plan public consultations. In short: I care less about how well Alberta Street works for through-commuters, and more about how Alberta Street operates for the people who live on it.

Animal Shelter Task Force

The City is looking to replace it’s 25-year old and wholly inadequate animal shelter. A task force has been struck to oversee the development of this shelter. Council approved the Terms of Reference. Woof.

Special Occasion Permits of Queens Park Arena

Beer and Bellies – two great tastes that go great together! Here’s to a good season!

Electrical Utility rates

The City runs its own Electrical Utility, which makes it pretty unique in BC. The City can buy bulk electricity at wholesale rates from BC Hydro, and sell it to residents and businesses in New Westminster for retail rates. The existing policy in the City is to sell electricity at the same rate as BC Hydro charges at the retail level. The City is able to use the difference to pay for the upkeep of the City’s electrical grid, and put a tidy sum of money into the City’s general revenue. Currently, that amount transferred is about $6 Million per year – that is $6 Million in City services and operations that you don’t have to pay for with your taxes.

The City has a lot of latitude about how it sets rates. We could charge more for electricity than BC Hydro charges in surrounding Cities, or we could charge less. Of course, if we did the former, people would probably not react well to paying more; if we did the latter, we would need to find alternate revenue sources to cover that loss to our operating budget (read: property tax increase). I have yet to hear a compelling argument that we should do anything other than what our current policy is: peg our rates at the BC Hydro standard, and use the income to offset property taxes.

This report recommends (and Council Agreed) to raise our rates to match the changes at BC Hydro. Council added to more recommendations.

Councillor Puchmayr asked that the Electrical Utility report beck on the root causes of BC Hydro’s increases: namely, mismanagement by BC Hydro and the Provincial government of the BC Hydro file, with a lack of oversight of the BCUC on issues from run-of-the-river contracts to the installation of Smart Meters.

I further requested that the Electrical Utility provide some reporting on how our rates in New Westminster differ from or match those of BC Hydro customers in our surrounding community. The overall amount of money we change per KwH is the same as what Hydro charges, but there are some subtle differences in how those rates are charged. Because of the different “base charges” and the tiered rates, there may be instances where these charges are different, and I think it is important that New Westminster residents and businesses know how our rates compare.

New West SkyTrain Station upgrades

There is a summary report on the consultations with Council and several Council Advisory Committees in regards to planned capital improvements at New Westminster SkyTrain Station. Timing of this work is not certain, and is likely contingent somewhat on the results of the upcoming Referendum, as TransLink Capital funding is rather up in the air until then.

The bit Council added to this discussion is about the name of New Westminster Station, and by extension Columbia Station. Back in 1985, calling New Westminster Station (as it was the terminus of the line at the time) made sense. Now we have 5 stations in New Westminster ,and two on Columbia Street. With other stations in the system more reflecting local community landmarks (Stadium, Roundhouse, Waterfront), it was thought that maybe we could re-think New Westminster and Columbia Stations. New West Anvil? New West Hyack Square? New West Riverfront? It suspect this is opening a can of worms that TransLink would rather avoid, but I think just having the conversation might be fun.


Letters, we get letters. We get lots and lots of letters.


1: Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw No. 7742, 2015. As Discussed on February 23, this Bylaw change will permit 4 more taxi licenses to be granted in the City. This process moves the Bylaw forward, and there will be an Opportunity to be Heard on this change on March 30, 2015 at our Regular Council Meeting. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

2: Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw. As discussed above, your electrical rates are going up to match those rates offered by BC Hydro. This is now the Law of the Land.

3: Zoning Amendment Bylaw 7743, 2015 As Discussed on February 2, this Bylaw will limit plumbing rough-ins in accessory buildings to curtail their illegal conversion to unpermitted living quarters. A Public Hearing on this change will be held on March 30, 2015. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

4 & 5: HRA and Heritage Designation, 336 Agnes Street. As Discussed above, there is a proposal to restore Dontenwill Hall. A Public Hearing on this change will be held on March 30, 2015. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

One comment on “Council Meeting – March 2, 2015

  1. Re: Electrical Utility Rates: “I have yet to hear a compelling argument that we should do anything other than what our current policy is.”

    Though certain former mayoral chiefs of staff may rail on about how swingeing New West property tax rates are, you have convinced me (and others I hope) otherwise:

    The big take away (at least for me) from your thorough analysis was that the *average* homeowner pays about the same IN ABSOLUTE TERMS, as average homeowners in other municipalities in Metro Vancouver. And I agree, most of the services a city provides is somewhat irrespective of the market value of the homes in the city so I contend your comparisons are valid.

    However, given the above, the city is charging market rates for electricity and using the margin for general revenue, one could make an argument that that margin is an opportunity cost (and implicit) additional tax on ratepayers, making our average tax bill less reasonable in relationship to other municipalities than your analysis shows.

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