Community – Sept 28, 2015

This was a non-Council week, as the annual Union of BC Municipalities meeting was being held in Vancouver. I was not able to attend the annual summit of good, honest, hard-working rural BC and latté-sipping condo dwellers of Greater Vancouver due to work commitments, but several of my activities were otherwise dictated by its happening.

On Wednesday, I attended my first meeting of the Contaminated Sites Approved Professionals Society board. I was recently appointed by the Province to be the local government representative on that board. The CSAP provides professional oversight to the approval and certification processes under the Contaminated Sites Regulation. There were some seriously keen minds around that board table (many I have worked with before), and it is interesting to have another insight into how policy is implements and carried out in the interface between government and science.

Also on Wednesday, the City’s Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles, and Pedestrians (ACTBiPed) did our slightly belated “summer walkabout”. This was a tradition started by the previous ACTBiPed chair (and current Mayor) where the committee gets out of the committee room and, by bike or foot, looks at transportation “trouble spots” to have a conversation about how to make things work better. Sustainable transportation advocates, interested citizens, a Council Member, and staff working together to better understand the problems on the ground, and to chat about specific solutions.


This year, we went to the top of the West End to look at connections between the New Westminster and Burnaby greenway networks across 10th Avenue, especially in light of potential larger-scale developments on the Burnaby side. Cyclist will recognize the offset streets where they cross 10th, and the challenges that this create when trying to cross the street safely. We also had great discussions about improving the London bikeway, and about encroachment on City boulevards by some homeowners which often impact the accessibility of the public space.

Thursday was the New Westminster stop on the Fraser Fest tour, organized by the Rivershed Society of BC, which just happened to coincide with the launch of River Fest, our biggest annul waterfront event in New Westminster. It was a rainy day, but a small brave crowd came out to hear great music, and to hear from a couple of local heroes in the “protecting the river” game: Marc Angelo (the founder of World Rivers Day) and Fin Donnelly (of swam-the-river-twice fame).

Me and New West super-volunteer Karla Olsen showing off our Watershed Pledges at Fraser Fest.

Thursday was also the Annual General Meeting of the New West Pride Society. Outgoing President Jeremy Perry ran a great AGM as his last official presidential duty, for what have been a spectacular year of successes for Pride. Their street fair was bigger and bolder than ever, their finances are secure, they have made some serious impacts on improving inclusivity in the city, and are ready to ramp up to make 2016 even better. New President Mike Tiney was so cool and coordinated during this year’s huge Pride Street Fair, you can see his confidence and experience is going to serve New West Pride well.

Friday, the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance met in New Westminster. This multi-agency group brings local and regional government leaders from Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia together to talk about trans-border solutions to common concerns around the transportation of fossil fuels through our communities in trains and pipelines. We discussed upcoming projects all along the Pacific Coast, heard from subject experts on regulatory challenges and spill response capabilities (short version – little of it was good news if you like oil-free beaches) and discussed pathways forward. It was a fruitful and interesting discussion, and I am glad representatives of New Westminster, Burnaby, Vancouver, PoCo and Richmond were there to forge cross-border collaborations.


Friday was also the start of the Feast on the Fraser event with a Boathouse Restaurant and Steel & Oak Brewing collaboration starting things off. This event is continuing for 10 days, you should follow that link and buy some tickets to one of the great foodie events happening across New West.

After filling up at the Boathouse, I joined the Mayor and other Councillors at the Hyacks Football Homecoming game. The entire homecoming extravaganza is pretty exciting, and a great community-wide event, from the game ball parachute drop to the rousing defeat of GW Graham. But the pre-game tug-o-war competition between City Hall, the School District, Fraser Health and the New Westminster District Labour Council was a new tradition. After easily defeating the medical types, your Mayor and Council (with a few hired guns) we defeated in a hard-fought battle with the Labour Council Machine. The jokes write themselves.

We probably would have done better if I hadn’t gone for this rope-cam picture.

The weekend was full of River Fest activity down on the Quay, and the sun gloriously came out to shine upon the event expertly organized by the good folks at the Fraser River Discovery Centre. There were big crowds for the annual Work Boat Parade, lots of art, interpretation and love for the river that sustains us.



And then I attended a rare outside-of-NewWest event (but we like to the think Urban Digs Farm is just a temporarily inconvenienced New West institution), and there were a lot of New West folks there on Saturday night. Their annual Baconfest was a month delayed this year due to a variety of factors, but it made for a great evening on the Farm. They had bacon-themed food and drink, lots of food for sale, hay bales under the patio lanterns, incredible music of the washboard-and-moonshine flavour by The Still Spirits, and fun all around. If you choose to eat meat, you should check out Urban Digs and see how meat can be made more ethically and sustainably, and how much better the meat tastes when it is done that way. They are good people, working hard, almost making money, building a community and connecting us latte-sipping condo dwellers to the food we eat in a unique way.

I wasn't kidding about the hay bales or washboard.
I wasn’t kidding about the hay bales or washboard.

Oh, and I did a bunch of election stuff this week, including exercising my right to Vote Early at 620 Royal Avenue. I was in the neighbourhood and it took less than 5 minutes. So one thing checked off my list for October.



The Sapperton Green project is big, and it will redefine the shape of New Westminster, especially as it is slated to occur on the heels of the expansion of Royal Columbia Hospital and development of the associated Economic Health Care Cluster.

It also is a long-term project. Even at the most ambitious pace, I cannot imagine Sapperton Green building out within 20 years. It is simply too large and too complicated, and the organization developing this new community are not build-it-and-run types, but long term players in developing and managing large real estate investments. One indication of the slow approach being taken here is the pace so far. The project has already seen 5 public open houses, the striking of a community stakeholder group with representatives from the community, and numerous “checking in” reports to Council over more than 5 years of initial planning before a Public Hearing was even scheduled. The developer is taking the slow approach here, and this appears to suit New Westminster Council just fine.

That is why I find this story a little frustrating, as it unfairly presents a confrontational motif to what I expect to be a respectful dialogue between municipalities. The concerns raised by Coquitlam city staff in their report and by their Council at the meeting are excellent, and are remarkably similar to the conversations that have taken place between New West Council and staff, and to the comments I heard from the public at the Open Houses I attended. My feeling (and I cannot speak for all of Council on this) is that Sapperton Green can only be developed in concert with a re-imagining of how the Brunette and Highway 1 interchange operates. Those discussions will (because of jurisdictional requirements, and because it only makes sense) include Coquitlam, the Ministry of Transportation (as owner of the interchange) and TransLink (as administrator of the Major Road Network). As I understand, those conversations have already begun at a staff-to-staff level, where the real expertise resides.

One comment made at Coquitlam Council to which I do take exception is the suggestion that this plan represents New Westminster not working in the best interest of the region. This City, along with Coquitlam, is a signatory to the Regional Growth Strategy and the regional transportation plan known as Transport 2040. We have agreed to take on a fair chunk of the projected population growth in the region, up to 30,000 more people by mid-century. Both of these documents emphasize building dense, compact, multi-use (work, live, and play) development projects adjacent to major transit hubs as the best way to address that growth. They both see development along the SkyTrain corridors as the highest priority to accommodate regional growth, as that is the best way to reduce the impacts and costs of that growth when it comes to transportation, utility infrastructure, and protecting greenspaces across the region. New West has, through the ongoing consultation, made it clear that Sapperton Green must be a mixed-use development, with real job-generation lands (not just a scatter of retail-in-the-pedestal) included with the residential development. I would be hard pressed to find a proposed development in the region that better reflects the long-term regional growth vision than what is proposed for the Braid Skytrain station.

That said, this project is still at a very preliminary stage, and Council has not yet officially provided any approval to the project. The open houses so far are a precursor to an Official Community Plan amendment that would permit the rezoning of the site to a Comprehensive Development District. Only the broadest of zoning principles are being established at this point, and even if this OCP amendment is approved by Council after the Public Hearing, there is a long way to go and a lot of design and amenity discussions to be had before the first concrete gets poured on this site. There will be Public Hearings, there will be more Open Houses, and indeed there will be further consultation with key stakeholders like Coquitlam. The recent report to Council lays out the comprehensive consultation plan, and the City of Coquitlam is #1 on the list of communities we need to be having discussions with. In fact, the report that Coquitlam Council was addressing at the September 8th meeting was sent by New Westminster as part of that longer-term consultation plan.

If I was to put the most optimistic light on this situation, I would think the ongoing consultation is a unique opportunity for the neighbouring Councils to get together and talk about how we can better manage boundary issues like this. There may be areas we fundamentally disagree, but we already share many services and would both benefit from better integration. There is no reason that the inevitable re-alignment of the Brunette overpass and interchange can’t be a project that suits both of our needs (indeed, we may need to work together to assure that is the case, as the Ministry of Transportation may have other needs in mind). Ultimately we both win if we can work together to address knotty issues, as we can both make better decisions for the people who elected us. I’m not sure offsetting Reports to Council and edited comments printed in the media are the most productive way for us to do this.

Maybe we should use Twitter. (Just kidding!)

Ask Pat: Legalizing secondary suites.

I am way behind on my Ask Pat responses, because there are some tough ones there that really challenge my know-it-all attitude. I am especially ignoring ones that refer to the 4th Street Elevator, because I have stopped believing it will ever be done. But here we go…

Someone asked—

Some Canadian municipalities will waive permit fees for homeowners looking to legalize an existing illegal secondary suite. Is this in the cards for New West? It would be a great incentive for homeowners and would also assist the city in creating more affordable living spaces!

Secondary suites are a challenge and an opportunity for every municipality. The sad reality of the Lower Mainland experience in the new century is that one income very rarely pays a mortgage on a single family detached home, and two incomes is often not enough. A working couple often needs the extra $1,000 a month that comes from a basement suite. This also means there are a lot of people for whom a mortgage is out of reach, and a $1000 basement suite is a good lifestyle choice. Secondary suites help with housing affordability at several levels.

That said, there are reasons for Municipalities to be careful and not take a laissez-faire attitude about secondary suites. Often, home-renovated suites are not built to building codes, and simple things like making sure a bedroom window allows escape in the case of fire can be lifesaving. People with extra suites also arguably need more water, sewer, parking, emergency services, libraries, pools, and all of the things you pay for through your property taxes, and in the interest of fairness should pay more property taxes.

So the City tries to strike a balance here, since its Secondary Suite policy was developed in 2008. We generally allow one secondary suite in all houses, as long as they meet design standards and building codes to keep the occupants safe. The City does not take extraordinary action to seek out or remove secondary suites that may be uninspected (i.e. illegal), but has the authority to ban the occupancy of one determined to be dangerous to the health and security of a resident. If you have an occupied secondary suite that you rent out, you are expected to pay a 50% premium on your non-metered utilities for the reasons listed above.

But back to the original question. I know there was some media recently relating to the City of Calgary waiving some fees in making secondary suites legal, but those were specifically the Development Permit fees and building permit and inspection fees were still applied. They allowed the homeowner to skip over the entire development permit process when making their secondary suite “legal”, likely to encourage the large number of illegal and unregistered secondary suites in Calgary’s rapidly-expanding suburbs to be registered. This does not relate well to New Westminster, because we do not require a Development Permit for this process (in other words, you already are waived this fee), and we do not have that rapid a rate of growth. A few others have created short-term incentive programs of waiving the fee for initial inspection or some part of the application process. I have not heard in New Westminster of any similar program being suggested. There was talk at Council in 2011 about how to deal with the large number of “illegal” suites in the City, but I have heard no discussion past this.

So without a call from the public, and a solid policy reason to support it, I don’t think we will see any increased incentive program any time soon.

Community – Sept. 22/15

Happy Equinox. Please read that with a little bit of sad sarcasm. I love summer, and the long, dry days for bike rides. But winter is apparently not without charms, and I can start packing on my curling weight.


Yes, the Royal City Curling Club is open again, for it’s 50th season, and I had two curling games this week (a win and a loss, natch), and it is great to be back at the Best Curling Club in BC. It is not too late if you are thinking of trying the roaring game out, or are thinking of returning after a bit of a break. There are leagues for all abilities and levels, a great junior program (with Little Rocks for players as young as 6!), and for the adults, the S&O is always on tap.

Wednesday was a Chamber of Commerce dinner, where the City’s Chief Administrative Officer, Lisa Spitale talked to the members of the Chamber and other guests about her history with the City, and the challenges and opportunities she sees fort he City going forward. She even answered a few kind-of-political questions that probably made her a little uncomfortable with the Mayor and a couple of councilors in the room. As always, Lisa handled it with aplomb and professionalism. She is a true leader, is proud of the progress this City has made, and never puts limits on what we can do of we commit ourselves to it.


On Saturday was the Memorial Service for Anita Hagen. it was an very well attended service, and a very moving one. With a long list of present and former politicians and community builders of all stripes present, there was much talk of her long legacy of service to the community, locally and provincially. The memorial service concluded, however, with an uplifting recital of “Song for the Mira”, with Anita’s closest family on piano and violins leading the congregation and choir, in a way closing a circle back to her childhood home on Nova Scotia and the people closest to her. It was a special moment for a remarkable woman, who will be missed.

Sunday was the 4th? 5th? annual Shoreline Cleanup in Queensborough, organized by the New Westminster Environmental Partners with a little help from the City. It was a windy day with a few showers, but several dozen people showed up to pick up trash along the shoreline of South Dyke Road, pull some invasive plants that are threatening the ecology of the waterfront and the beauty of the City’s waterfront trail system, and even plant some native species to replace the invasives and slow their return.



I also went down to Caps the Original and bought me a new lid. It was due.

See how happy the end of summer makes me?

Council Report – September 14, 2015

This meeting was unique in a few ways. First, Council On Tour continued with a trip to the Queensborough Community Centre. Second, this was the first time we have rolled out the new Council format, where we have done away with the Committee of the Whole, and instead do all of the day’s open business in one evening meeting. It is hoped (and we are working out the bugs) that this will make Council more accessible, and more of the conversation around out decision making will take place in the evening meeting, when most people are paying attention.

That said, we had a fairly light agenda to deal with, and many issues were addressed in the Consent Agenda (as they typically are in Committee of the Whole), so it wasn’t a long Council Meeting.

Items passed in Consent Agenda:

404 Ash Street (3 Reports):
This is the replacement rental building on Ash and 4th Ave for the one that burned down in 2014. This came to us last meeting, and I asked Staff to explore whether the mature trees that line the north side of the property could in any way be saved during development. They survived the fire, they survived the windstorm, and they provide true ecosystem services to the properties around them, but unfortunately, I was probably too late in the process to make this difference. You can read the staff report, but the long and short is that the excavations, setbacks, and parking needs for the building make it pretty much impossible to save the trees without a significant redesign and a whole raft of variances. On the good side, more trees were added to the landscape plan.

I was recently asked by a Downtown resident about the trees that were lost on Agnes Street as part of the landscaping for the new rental development at Merrivale. This speaks to our City’s need to get moving on the Urban Forest Strategy.

Overall, this project has a lot of positives for the neighbourhood, and I think on balance it would not be fair at this late stage to hold up the official process. Council voted unanimously to approve the Housing Agreement that will protect this as a rental building, and to issue the development Permit.

1308 Fifth Avenue:
These are minor changes to an already-approved development in the West End. Council approved unanimously.

Development Cost Charges Update:
Development Cost Charges are the fees that the City collects from developers when they add density to a neighbourhood. The idea (and I am simplifying this, so give me some slack) is that it costs money to build (for example) sewers, and if we add population, we need to build bigger sewers, which costs more money. So when a developer says they want to put 100 houses where there used to be 10, the City calculates how much it is going to cost us to provide that 10x larger infrastructure, and we charge a fee to the developer for that cost. That way, the new people moving into the new development (through the purchase price, passed on by the developer) pay for the new sewer capacity, instead of the people who were there before the density increase paying for it.

The Provincial Government allows local governments to collect these fees, but it isn’t a free-for all. Cities need to identify the projects for which DCCs will be applied (e.g. water service, sewers, roads), needs to put a cost to the projects, and needs to spend the money on those projects. This is why DCCs for drainage are higher in Queensborough than for the rest of New Westminster – it is more expensive to build drainage infrastructure in Queensborough (see below).

This update is a result of a review of the City’s growth plans, the projects required to accommodate that growth, and the cost for those projects. Council has very little regulatory ability to adjust these numbers (they are reviewed and approved by the Province), but need to officially pass a Bylaw to make them effective.

Victoria Hill Parking:
There have been concerns expressed about the availability of Parking in Victoria Hill. By looking at these reports, you can see the concerns go back to 2011, and there have been significant changes in Victoria Hill since then – more developments, more underground parking, and more road and street parking. Staff has provided this update, which suggests things are getting better.

Museum and Archives Deaccession Report:
I learned a new word today! This is just a heads-up report for Council approval on the process that Museum and Archives go through when they dispose of items in their collection that have no value to their collection. It is an interesting report, and I note that items can be traded with other institutions, sold, or given away, and even destroyed if none of the above are found to be possible. The only thing they can’t do is give stuff to people who work or volunteer for the City. I totally understand the conflict issues inherent here, but find it funny that destruction is preferred to giving unwanted materials to City Councillors.

Items removed from consent Agenda

Queensborough Ditch infill:
In Queensborough, we have “ditches”. In places where there are no in-ground storm sewers, we have open watercourses to direct storm water away from roads and houses.
There are certain advantages to having open watercourses – they are inexpensive to build and maintain (especially in a place like Queensborough where there is no natural gradient to force drainage), they have higher capacity than a closed pipe, and they provide a bunch of “ecosystem services” – habitat for plants, invertebrates, frogs, and even some hardy fish like sticklebacks, which in turn attract heron and ducks and provide food chain links to species we value, like salmonids.

There are also issues with open watercourses – they take up space that would otherwise be lawn or sidewalks, they can accumulate weeds (including invasive species) and trash if not maintained, and they require residents have culvert crossings to access their property.
These issues are often balanced off by the fact that some people “like” the ditches, and some people don’t. So, politics. Regardless, the general practice of the City is to move towards removal of any ditch that is “ephemeral”, which means it is not wetted all year, and therefore is not deemed to have enough ecological value to be protected by the Provincial Riparian Areas Regulation.

Although this report was more about the process that the City goes through to approve and finance the in-fills (which all seems to make sense to me), but had a few questions about the eventual outcomes of our drive towards infills, and the communities we are building while doing infills.

Asphalt to Curb & gutter to sidewalk treatments of neighbourhood roads are no longer always viewed as the optimal solution to moving rain water through our cities. Rain gardens, swales, permeable pavement treatments, soil cells and the such are more commonly applied because the reduce the “peak flow” of water during storm events (reducing the cost for downstream infrastructure), improve the quality of the water run-off by naturally filtering out hydrocarbons and other pollutants that accumulate on our streets, and by providing other ecosystem services. The profiles provided in the report appeared to emphasize “hard solutions” of curb & gutter over these softer approaches (although there was still the use of some swale structures), and I wanted to clarify the process that got there.

I was also concerned that street side parking was emphasised over the providing of sidewalks in residential areas. This might be me reading too much into the language of the report, but when I read “all road widths should accommodate an area for parking” and. “sidewalks will be added where cross section width permits”, it seems the priority is contrary to the City’s Pedestrian Charter and new Master Transportation Plan.

The condition of the unregulated crossings in the report are something I think the City has a duty to address immediately, both to responsibly manage our drainage infrastructure, and for the safety of the public, and I expect a report back form engineering on that ASAP.

Ewen Street Update:
This is just an update on the progress to making Ewen Street a proper urban street – or a “High Street”. With concurrent sewer line replacements and the significant scale of the project, it is a multi-year plan, but we can see the completion on the horizon, and the central part of Queensborough will be addressed within the next year.

Electrical Utility Bylaw:
These are housekeeping changes to the Utility Bylaw, required to make the desired changes to the Electrical Utility Commission – the governance body that provides oversight to the operation of the Utility. Council agreed to send the changes forward to three readings.

Refugee Crisis Response:
I added this item to the Agenda in response to several pieces of correspondence council received from residents, and related social media discussion from residents and businesses in New Westminster wondering what they can do – and what the City can do – to help alleviate the refugee situation, remove barriers for people who have been displaced by war and oppression in the Middle East, and make our community more welcoming to refugees seeking to build a new life here for themselves and their family

Problem is, I have no idea how to respond. This is an international situation that requires specific response by the federal government, and arranging for sponsorship or specific outreach to refugees is simply not the core competency of local government. However, our City does have staff who are regionally renowned for their ability to manage otherwise difficult social situations and find resources to help people in need.

I suspect that providing a communication portal through which people in the city can work together and pool their abilities to support a program or two that are already in place is the right approach, but I want to hear from our Staff and the subject experts.

In the meantime, people who just can’t wait should check out this excellent short piece by Burnaby reporter Jennifer Moreau with a list of 5 ways you can help right now.

Memorial Bricks:
As a final step in the completion of the Wait for Me Daddy memorial, the City is selling memorial bricks into which you can have a memorial (or any other kind of) message engraved for posterity. You can go to this link on the City webpage here it get more info about how you can make your permanent mark on Hyack Square.


Bylaw 7770 2015: Council gave the DCC Bylaw Amendment three readings, it will now go to the Province for approval before it can be adopted.

Bylaw 7775 2015: Council adopted this Housing Agreement Bylaw to formalize the rental nature of the development at 404 Ash Street.

And with that, we were done the business of the day.

Getting our head in the game

I have been pretty silent on this blog about the ongoing election, as I have directed my (almost daily) rants over to my Facebook Page. However there is one topic I figured was non-partisan enough and apropos for this blog, so I am copying it over here almost verbatim.

This Candidate-shaming thing has gotten completely out of hand.

The idea that people vying to be a Member of Parliament should not have ever expressed an opinion or uttered a word that would raise your grandmother’s eyebrow is a grotesque shift of what it means to be a community representative or a member of the “House of Commons”. Worse, it threatens the nature of our democracy and the quality of our governance.

It is hard to keep count, but there have been at least a dozen candidates from all three major parties turfed aside this election based on something they said last year – or last decade. Some may have said truly offensive things that speak to fundamental character, some may just have acknowledged the existence of sex, and used the language of his peers in talking about it. The problem in the election cycle is that we are rarely provided any context whatsoever – we are just provided a few salacious quotes from some social media stream. Soon enough, someone announces “the former Candidate’s views do not represent the Party” and the Candidate is sent down the memory hole.

There are many things wrong with this. I will try (and fail) to be concise. Beware: there may be a career-limiting four-letter word or two below.

He without sin: Ever said anything you regret? Ever had a strongly held opinion and expressed it? Ever just thrown a weakly held opinion out there to see what sticks, and after feedback, consideration, or learning, changed that opinion based on better information? Ever used sarcasm or humour to diffuse a delicate situation? Ever challenged a popular notion? If not, then your social media history and public record is probably safe from scrutiny. However, you are equally unsuited to be in a decision-making position in any organization, never mind representative government. If you have never done any of those things, you likely lack intellectual curiosity, a willingness to challenge yourself or others, and an empathy for ideas.

Selection towards older, duller people: If you have no social media history, you are likely over 35, and as much as I appreciate and value your experience and knowledge, we also need some young, fresh ideas in politics. If you have no record of challenging norms, you are probably not a very interesting person, and don’t bring anything to the table with which it is not already overflowing. Regression to the mean is a bad thing for leaders and governments.

It hurts our understanding of candidates: We currently have a raft of candidates, mostly from one party, and including local candidates here in New West, who have practically no media (traditional or social) profile. We have no idea who they are except for their scripted Bio pages. Their entire history and public record has apparently been scrubbed clean, for fear of missing one 4-letter word. It is like they popped into existence at the nomination meeting, and since then have only forwarded Tweets from Head Office. With few of them showing up for public events (all to avoid the gaffe, of course), most of us have no practical opportunity to know who these people are. I don’t mean to shock you here, but I guarantee they all have flaws, and that doesn’t mean they aren’t good people trying to serve their community. It hurts local representation when we try to shame them for a cheap news story.

It is a barrier to participation: Who wants to put themselves up for this scrutiny? Why would any person with the talent and energy to do good work for their community risk being embarrassed nationally because of an essay they wrote in their second year comparative religion class, or because they once wrote a positive review of a Biggie album that referred to “the gang lifestyle”? Why would you even want to work on a campaign or be a vocal supporter when there is a risk of some faux-outrage tarnish rubbing off on good people?

It is meaningless: There are three hundred and thirty-eight seats; more than a thousand candidates. We can spend our time digging through them all to try to find a time a local no-hope candidate said “blow job” on a rap lyrics website. But we should ask if that is really deserving of column inches when the last two elections resulted in people from the winning party going to jail for cheating, when for the second time during this election members of the Prime Minister’s Office are being named in sworn testimony during criminal proceedings, when we have no action on climate change, when we have more than a thousand murdered and missing women, when salmon stocks are collapsing and refugees are flooding Europe and our leaders are offering three very different visions of Canada…

There is an election going on, people! The polls are too close to call! Get your damn head in the game!

Community – end of Summer!

It has been a while since I did an update of my non-council activities. It was a long, glorious summer, but like a student going back to school, Labour Day passed and I am right back in the middle of it, shuffling schedules and trying to figure out how I will survive this semester!

After a long weekend for the record books (yes I will blog about it), Tuesday evening I had a meeting with the Mayor’s Public Engagement Taskforce. This group is tasked with developing new and better ideas for the City to “engage” with the public – a slightly jargony term that includes outreach, consultation, and listening. We will be reporting out on our progress, but after a few early meetings where it seemed we were tying ourselves up a bit in process and definition, this meeting I felt like the group really had its legs and some great ideas and visible paths forward are happening. It is a really great group of staff and public, and I expect good things will come out of it.

Wednesday I had the first ACTBiPed meeting of the fall, and having not been invited to the “State Dinner” apparently happening in town, I consoled myself with some good discussion of sustainable transportation improvements the City is working on, and some others the City should probably be working on. The ACTBiPed group is heavy with very vocal advocates who have no trouble assuring their concerns are heard. Progress is slow and steady on the City’s Master Transportation Plan, and we are improving, but progress sometimes seems as glacial as the timing for the walk signal at 8th Street and 7th Ave.

Thursday was an Open House at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall for the Sapperton Green development. This long-discussed and slow-to-progress development project between the Braid SkyTrain Station and Hume Park has the potential to be the largest single development in the history of New Westminster, so it is important that we get the planning and public engagement right.

sapp green

The open house was well attended, and although the plans are still rather preliminary, people’s reactions were quite varied. The scale is large, but the location is right for higher-density residential space and for increased employment lands, and this is the owners’ long-term plan for the site. The conversation is ongoing, and you can keep up here. The large warehouse currently on the property was recently leased for a long term, which is testament to the timeline of this project. Build-out is probably 20+ years, as you would think when you compare to the timeline of the (much smaller) Brewery District and Victoria Hill developments.

So please get involved in the conversation, but I want to correct one thing in the record: my phone number and other contact info is on the bottom of this webpage. I have no idea whose number is beside my name on this handbill posted on a telephone pole in Lower Sapperton. I don’t necessarily support the positions on this handbill, but actually want to hear from you, so better if you have the right number!


Finally, on Saturday, I was honoured to be able to “officiate” at the wedding of my friend Matt Laird and his amazing wife Mila. I hasten to mention I am in no way empowered to marry people, but through the the mechanistic shenanigans of bureaucracy and shadowy Beer Friday commitments,  this duty was thrust upon me. I was proud to stand up there with a great couple, and it gave me an excuse to pull out the official jewelry.

If I think about my current role as a City Councillor, I have to count Matt as one of the most important people in making it happen. Not directly – he didn’t convince me to run, he didn’t take a big role in my campaign, and he didn’t even vote for me (having moved to Vancouver before the election) – but by being a friend, co-conspirator, advisor, and advocate when I started to get involved more seriously with community activism in New Westminster a decade ago. He was an early champion of the New Westminster Environmental Partners, and he was a tireless advocate for a more sustainable community, for better transportation infrastructure that protected our neighbourhoods, and for social justice in the City. He was a conduit to hooking me up with other people who believed in these things. He ran for election in the City, and never quite got over the top, but he made a huge difference in this City in the decade he lived here, evidenced by the “Who’s Who” of New Westminster Elite Undesirables® who trekked up to Grouse Mountain to celebrate his marriage.


When Matt met Mila a couple of years ago, there was a huge sigh amongst his friends (and apparently his family), as he found a whip-smart and down-to-earth counter to his sometimes pie-in-the-sky idealism, a calm voice to his endless excitement, and a ready retort to his occasional idiocy. The two of them make a fun and beautiful couple, and I wish them all the best as they start their new adventure in Cambridge (the one in Jolly ol’ England) where I think Jeremy Corbyn just found a supporter.

Finally, I took a short break from Sunday’s council preparation to attend the Massey Heights RA’s Hurrah. The RA President Jason Lesage took the photo at the top with Becky and I sporting the bedazzled paper hats being produced by kids at the Arts Council booth. It was good times and great weather at the top of New Westminster (WestBurnCo Park). Congrats #MVRA!

Council Report – August 31, 2015

Welcome back. We took Council on the Road for the last meeting of August, meeting at the Anvil Centre in beautiful, historic Downtown New Westminster – Western Canada’s Original Downtowntm.

For the first meeting after a month-long break, it wasn’t as packed an agenda as one might expect, although there were a significant number of proclamations and presentations that are worth your time to watch on video.

We also had a bit of commentary about the windstorm from the Chief of Police and the Director of Parks. The short version is that our Fire and Electrical Utility folks did an exemplary job, got almost everybody’s lights back on within 24 hours, and managed a huge call volume through activation of the new Emergency Operations Centre at Firehall #1 to take a bit of the load off of the swamped central E-Comm system. This was a relatively small emergency, but was a good test of our response capabilities, and will be a learning experience going forward.

It should also be a learning experience for people like me, who were found wandering the streets of Uptown on Saturday Night trying to find a meal and a place to plug my mobile phone in (both successfully located). I will try to pop out another blog post this week about Emergency Preparedness, and what we should learn from this event.

As usual (but for the last time ever?) the meat of the meeting involved covering Recommendations from the Committee of the Whole.

FCM encouragement for Federal Leaders Debate

I don’t know if you noticed, but there is a federal election happening, and Federation of Canadian Municipalities is attempting to the get the leaders of the major parties together to hold a debate on the topic of “municipal issues”. As a Council, we support this initiative, as there are numerous Federal issues (the Long Form Census and reinvestment of the Federal Gas Tax pop immediately to mind) that have a direct impact on Municipal governments, including New Westminster.

Land Use and Planning Committee

This is part of our new Council format, where the Council will no longer be meeting as Committee of the Whole. In part to reduce the workload on the newly expanded evening meetings, and also with the intent to serve the public better in providing more timely responses to “development” questions, we are setting up a Land Use and Planning Committee. This will comprise two Councillors and the Mayor, supported by a few relevant staff members, with the plan to meet earlier in the development process and provide more detailed reviews of potential projects and potential pitfalls. The LUPC will serve as advisory to the whole of Council, and will hold their meetings in public.

I’m excited to be serving on this committee for an inaugural two-year term, and am interested to see how we can make the development process smoother for developers, and more open and transparent for residents.

Development Variance Permit – 302 Fifth Ave

This is a simple request to replace a garage with one that is quite a bit taller than is allowed in the zoning. The City limits garage or outbuilding heights in part to reduce the unregulated conversion to living space, and also to reduce the visual impact on adjacent properties. In this case, the proponent was requesting a taller height so the garage matches better the unique roofline of the house, was building the garage with a truss design that prevented the upper part of the garage from ever being converted to living space, and the two closest neighbours provided letters indicating they were not opposed to the larger size.

With that information in hand, Council agreed to consider the requested Development Variance at the September 28 meeting. If you have an opinion, you should let us know before then!

Development Variance Permit – 1258 Ewen Ave

This is a request to build a new house in Queensborough 10 inches higher than permitted, which would make it the same size as the adjacent houses. Council agreed to consider the requested Development Variance at the September 28 meeting. If you have an opinion, you should let us know before then!

Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw

This is to make several housekeeping changes to the existing zoning Bylaw. The changes are:
• Changing the wording of the bylaw so the reference to the professional organization that oversees massage providers matches the language of the actual professional organization;
• An adjustment of the density formula for RM-6 and C-4 districts to make the formula actually work properly and as intended for smaller sites;
• Clarifying some language in at-grade commercial requirements in the C4 district;
• An amendment to allow animal care operations in CD-19, to bring it in line with other commercial districts of the type; and
• An amendment of the language for how corner cuts are defined for properties with front lawns.

Exciting stuff, I know, and these changes will go to Public Hearing on September 28, 2015. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Development Permit 26 E Royal

This is the final development site at Victoria Hill, which will provide some long-awaited commercial property in the centre of the neighbourhood as part of two 4-story residential buildings. The unit mix here is very family-friendly, with almost every unit being 2- or 3-bedroom, and many of them ground-oriented with access to a large public courtyard and parks.

Council voted unanimously to consider issuance of the Development Permit.

404 Ash Street Development Permit and Housing Agreement

This is the plan to replace the building lost to fire at 4th Ave and Ash in February, 2014. The rental building had 29 units, and will be replaced with a slightly larger building featuring 38 units, and will be a secured rental building.

In Committee of the Whole, I asked that we have staff report back to us prior to the DP being issued about the potential to save the row of about 18 trees that line the north side of the property.

These tall, mature evergreens trees were impacted by the fire, but survived and appear now to be healthy – they even came through last weeks’ windstorm without a scratch.
They are essentially limb-free for the bottom 25 feet, but have healthy crowns that rise to probably 50 feet. Besides all of the community amenities trees provide in regards to the sustainability of our community, this particular line of trees provide an incredible weather buffer to the apartment building to the north – shading the three-story walkup from the worst of the summer heat, and reducing wind and noise.

The trees are planted just within the property line of 404 Ash, and are prospering despite only taking up about 3 feet of soil between the driveway to the north and the excavated underground basement foundations of the building that was burned. It would be a shame if we lost these trees now. It would be a loss to the Brow of the Hill community that lacks tree coverage, to the neighbours to the north, and ultimately to the residents of this new rental building (as was pointed out recently in a news story).

The trees look healthy to me, but I am not an arbourist. Therefore, I asked that Staff provide us a bit of guidance about the viability of these trees, and to opine on whether they could be saved. If the new building’ footprint is going on top of the foundation footprint of the old building, then the trees should not be effected, and just might need a bit of protection during construction. If the planned foundation of the new building is closer to the north property line than the existing building, then I would even be happy to see the entire building shifted 3 feet south to allow these trees to remain for the entire neighbourhood.

I don’t want to hold up this development, I just want to assure that every possible step was taken to protect these trees, so they are not lost out of general neglect of their benefits.


Council will be reviewing this Development Permit at the September 14 meeting.

Queensborough Special Study Area – Consultation and preliminary zoning

Council was asked to approve an ongoing consultation plan on the comprehensive redevelopment of a large area of Queensborough. The plan outlines the stakeholders that must be consulted under the Local Government Act (like Metro Vancouver), and those that probably should be consulted (Port Metro Vancouver), along with the next stages of public consultation, especially with property owners within the Special Study Area.

This is a large redevelopment, which will bring a commercial hub to the east part of Queensborough adjacent to Port Royal, along with residential development of family-friendly ground oriented housing. I attended a Publci Open House at the Queensborough community Centre back in June, and the reception we generally very positive about this development. There were a few traffic-impact details to work out at that time, but the most frequent comment I heard was “how soon can we get those stores?” There is a real desire to get a bit of local retail around Port Royal, and I hope it can be built early in this development plan, if the plan is approved.

There are more details to be worked out yet, but Council is happy at this point with moving the project ahead to the next steps.

800 12th Street, Text Amendment to Zoning Bylaw

A business wants to move their operation to New Westminster at 12th St. and 8th Ave, but the strict wording of our Zoning Bylaw does not allow part of their business plan. They currently offer a variety of pet services, but boarding for cats is one of them, and that does not fit the zoning of the property. There are several steps to make the required change to the Bylaw, including informing neighbours, committee review, and Public Hearing. Council is happy to allow the process to proceed as required by the Bylaw and the Local Government Act.

Street and Traffic Bylaw changes
We moved 3 readings of the changes to our Street and Traffic Bylaw back on July 13th, but before it is adopted, the Bylaw needs to pass Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure muster – one of those gentle reminders that Local Governments and Municipal streets exist at the pleasure of the Provincial Government. The MoTI review found our definition of “street” was not strictly appropriate, and needed a bit of modification. No problem there, but to make the change we need to rescind our original Third Reading and replace it with a Third Reading of the text of the Bylaw that reflects the new definition.

Yes, this all makes perfect sense, although it is a pretty good argument for why Government can’t just “run more like a business”. Checks and balances, my friends. Checks and balances.

2014 Annual Water Quality Report

There has been a lot of talk this year about water quantity, but not as much about water quality. The water that comes out of your tap is remarkably clean, and we take extraordinary measures to assure it is some of the cleanest, safest water in the world. Our Water crews in the City and our supplier the Greater Vancouver Water District do excellent work, and it is something we should trumpet more. If nothing else, we should use it to point out the silliness of paying for bottled water.

This annual report is the public disclosure of how, where and when the 966 water samples for 2014 were collected, and the detailed results of their analytical testing. Data geeks might want to have fun there, but for everyone else- the water is safe, and we are going above and beyond the requirements to assure it stays that way.

Sewer separation budget re-allocation

If you noticed all the digging activity along Queens Street near Tipperary Park of late, that is part of the ongoing “sewer separation” program, where the City’s archaic combined-flow sewers are being replaced with separate sanitary and storm systems. A legacy of being a very old city, and a lack of infrastructure investment in previous decades, much of New Westminster’s sewers still combine storm flows with sanitary flows, which means our sanitary system carries more water than it needs to, treatment costs are high, and occasional very large storm events can result in sanitary sewer spills. Replacing these systems City-wide is a decades-long process that will cost the City hundreds of millions of dollars – we do what we can when we can.

In this report, Engineering is asking Council to approve a plan to accelerate separation in an area of Sapperton where there are current plans to pave and install gutter/drain systems. It makes sense to do the separation at the same time – you only have to tear the road up once, and you are not hooking your new surface works to obsolete infrastructure. So Council approved the plan to move some money over to facilitate this and save us money in the long run.

Update 2016 Budget Survey

The City commissions a survey every year as part of our outreach efforts during the budgeting process. The questions are very opinion-poll-like (“What do you like more or less about the City? Where do you think we should put more/less emphasis?”), but the study has been asking similar questions for several years, so longitudal trends can be tracked. This report was just a final “OK” on the survey questions from Council before the poll is commissioned.

Sole Source Multi-year Maintenance Agreement

The City has enterprise software it purchases from a large company. That software is proprietary, and requires regular maintenance. We need to pay the supplier for that maintenance, as no-one else can do it. Our purchasing Policy requires that only Council can authorize sole-source procurement for the necessary ~$150,000 per year spent on this software system. We did so.

Front Street Public Art Installation

Back in July, Council decided it didn’t like the Public Art proposal for the Front Street Parkade that we chosen by an independent jury of professionals working under the guidance of the Public Art Advisory Committee. So the project was punted back to Staff and Committee to come up with a better proposal.

This is a topic where I respectfully disagree with some of my Council colleagues, in that I think that judging the aesthetics or artistic merit of Public Art is not the role of politicians (as wise and intelligent as we may be). I won’t go into this at length here (another blog post, another time – a short version can be heard in my comments at Committee of the Whole). Regardless, I agree with the idea that we need to get the PAAC involved and get a project approved for this site.

Capital Budget amendment

The NW Police Department needs to renovate its space to reflect the results of their successful recruiting of female members. The Old Boys Club needs a few more lockers for the New Girls. This approval by Council is a preliminary step towards the NWPD including the improvements in their Capital Plan, and securing cost estimates. Council will once again be able to opine on the project once some more detailed costs and timing are worked out.

Rental Displacement Policy

This is a topic I brought before Committee of the Whole for consideration. I wanted to hear how the City’s existing rental protection policies and practices, and those of the provincial Residential Tenancy Act are working to protect individuals who are living in the City’s rental properties. I also want the report to identify potential policy gaps, and how we could do better.

There have been a couple of events recently that have raised the profile of people displaced from affordable rental accommodation. During the Urban Academy debate in the spring, there was a situation created where residents of a Manitoba Street residential building were evicted in preparation for a development that was (in the end) not supported by Council. During those discussions, it was clear that the proponent felt they took measures well above and beyond to help the displaced residents, however it was also clear that some of the families that were displaced suffered tremendously, and felt that their rights were not respected by the proponent or by the process. I also had a conversation a few weeks ago with a neighbour who knew of two other men who were being displaced right now by a new small residential development in the West End.

There is increasing media attention in some of our neighbouring communities around “renovictions” and loss of affordable and rental housing that results from rapid development (especially around SkyTrain stations) and our rapidly increasing cost of housing.

There are already some policies in place in New Westminster to prevent the loss of rental properties and to reduce the impact on affordability that comes with redevelopment, but I think it is timely for us to review the policies and have a closer look at provincial and municipal standards compared to the expectations we have as a City about how rental property and affordable housing will be protected as our building stock is updated.

After all of that Committee of the Whole action, we had a few Bylaws to read:

Zoning Amendment No. 7779, 2015
Housekeeping changes to the Zoning Bylaw mentioned above, Received First and Second reading.
Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 7775, 2015
The agreement that assures this development will be secured for rental, also mentioned above, received First, Second and Third Reading.
Street and Traffic Bylaw No. 7664, 2015
The changes made by the Ministry (mentioned above) required rescinding of Third Reading and a new Third Reading.

And that was an evening’s work.