Council – June 20, 2016

Sorry I am so late getting this update done. I’m busy as ever with many evening events, and long hours contemplating how a leader who proposes a completely unnecessary and divisive referendum, then fails to win that referendum creating uncertainty and chaos, immediately resigns because of that failure,  relates to BC politics… but I digress.

Our June 20th Council day included a Workshop during the day where we discussed the branding of our Waterfront Vision, some long-term Capital Asset Management and had a pretty cool report outlining some visions for the “Public Realm” of Downtown New West – all topics that will no doubt be subject of future discussions here and in the community. We also had a pretty happening Agenda.

We also had a presentation of the 2015 Annual Report, which is a report on what the City did over the last year. You can read it all here.

The following Items were Moved on Consent:

228 Nelson’s Crescent: Housing Agreement Bylaw for Three Readings
This is the Housing Agreement that secures Market Rental use for the portion of 228 Nelson’s Crescent – the second residential tower at the Brewery District. This formally sets the terms that forces Wesgroup to only operate those suites as rental into the future.

This is a good thing for Sapperton, where the rental market is very limited. It isn’t subsidized housing, so the rentals will be “full market price”, but there is a good mix of more family-friendly 2+ and 3-bedroom apartment sizes, which should add another housing option adjacent to SkyTrain and the rapidly expanding RCH.

Consideration of Development Permit DPS00034 for Proposed GVRD Pump Station & Brunette Fraser Greenway Extension
This project has been a while coming, and Metro Vancouver was doing public consultation on park options at last year’s Riverfest in September. The new pump station that Metro is building at the end of the Brunette River will coincide with an extension of the Sapperton Landing Park and massive improvements for the public space at the mouth of the Brunette. As part of the City’s bigger Waterfront Vision to connect Pier Park and the Quay to the Central Valley Greenway along the Brunette River, this will be an important link and an important rest stop, as public bathrooms will be included in the park design. Kudos to MetroVancouver for having the foresight, I look forward to the City taking credit for this great amenity!

900 Carnarvon Street – Amendment to Development Agreement Bylaw  No. 7855, 2016
The work to get the last building in the Plaza88 development out of the ground is continuing. One of the things a City and a Developer have to do is agree on interface issues like sewer hookups and sidewalks and other boring details. In this case, we need to amend the Development Agreement Bylaw that sets out those conditions because of an adjustment in the location of the sound wall on the south side of the building.

Proposal for Temporary Street Closure and Public Realm Improvements on Sixth Street and Belmont Street
Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper, see if it works. If you have ever heard the current rock star of City Planning, Janette Sadik-Kahn, speak about how she worked in the Bloomberg administration to re-write how the streets of New York City work, you will recognize where New West is going here.

In her (great! Really, you should read it!) book Steetfight, Sadik-Kahn talks about how simple interventions in the public realm can make a big difference in how a street works, and improve how your City works. Her way of getting past the natural, and often boisterous, opposition to any kind of change is to pilot an idea in a temporary way – use paint and removable fixtures to see how the space works for a little while without committing huge time and cost to the project. If the pilot fails, it is cheap to remove, and no-one is worse off, if the pilot works, you can invest in making the pilot permanent. Instead of spending time and energy on a public consultation that is made up of drawings and people complaining about an intangible, you spend that public consultation money on a temporary installation, so people get to see how an idea works. Public opposition to change often become a public embrace of a new idea.

In New West, we have seen a few ideas like this creeping in. The Parklet installed in Sapperton last year (a few complaints, but far outnumbered by positive feedback!), the sand courts at Pier Park (who wants a beach with no water!? – apparently lots of people!), and now a partial closure of Belmont Street to make an expanded public seating area.

We are doing it cheaply and quickly, but the Farmers Market over the winter was a demonstration that road closures along Belmont are possible, so I have a good feeling. People’s inclination to oppose “loitering” will push up against people’s desire to have common spaces. It will be interesting to see how this installation works.

234 Second Street: Demolition Application for a Pre-1900 House
Yes, Council approved the demolition of a pre-1900 house in Queens Park the week after we passed a “moratorium” on demolitions of heritage homes in Queens Park.

To clarify, despite what the media may report, there is no “moratorium” on demolitions. Council passed a Bylaw that puts special protection on pre-1966 homes in Queens Park Study Area for a period of one year. Anyone with a 50-year-old or older house who wishes to demolish or significantly alter that house will need to go through a special permitting process, and demolitions will have to come through Council. Council has the authority, under this temporary Bylaw, to deny that demolition permit in order to preserve heritage values of the community.

In this case, the owner of the house and their architect made a case that the heritage value of the house is low, as it is of significant age, but has little character of historic significance. The building itself is in such a condition that repairs that would restore the heritage value are economically unfeasible.

Council moved to approve the demo permit, but I would not expect this to become a trend.

The following Items were removed from consent for discussion:

2016 City Partnership Grant – Rivershed Society of British Columbia
2016 Community Grant Application – Royal City Curling Club

These were two “outside of the cycle” Community Grant requests that came to Council, both supported by Council. I voted for one, and against the other, which I leaves me trying to explain why my decisions were not arbitrary.

The Rivershed Society of BC asked for $5,000 to support their AGM and a one-day event at the Fraser River Discovery Centre (I voted against). The Royal City Curling Club asked for ~14,000 to support bringing the week-long BC Junior Curling Championships to New Westminster in December (I voted for the recommendation for a smaller grant amount of $4,000).

These are two groups I support! I curl at the RCCC, though I am not a member of the Board, nor am I in any way involved in the organization of the Juniors. I also support the work of the RSBC, and even gave a talk at one of their events not too long ago, along with generally being a supporter of the work Fin Donnelly has done to call attention to the importance of the ecology of the Fraser River. So If I have a bias here, it is for both organizations.

The RCCC was not able to apply during the regular cycle of Community Grants. The process CurlBC uses to determine hosts for provincial events doesn’t happen until the Spring, and as the Juniors is the first provincial event, it is held in the last week of December instead of early in the new year like seniors, mens’ and womens’ provincials. Our grant application and award cycle doesn’t work. for Juniors – although it notably would work for any other Provincial competition CurlBC. Otherwise, the Grant meets the criteria, is in line with what we offer similar organizations doing similar stuff (although, notably, more often through the Amateur Sports Grant), and there was a recommended award by the committee that oversees grant awards.

The RSBC did not indicate they were unable to apply during the regular granting period. Nothing about their request was extraordinary except they apparently chose to make it in June instead of in November when the applications were due. They should have anticipated the need, and made the request at the same time as the many organizations that *did* meet the deadline. Their annual event is at the same time as last year, when this Council extraordinarily granted them a similar amount as a one-time thing outside of the regular process. Once is an anomaly, totally understandable. Twice is a trend, though, and I cannot support continuing to support that trend. I don’t think it is fair to the other organizations that got their stuff in on time.

We then, having hit the designated hour, moved onto our scheduled Public Hearings on two topics:

Mobile Food Vending Bylaw No. 7850, 2016
Staff have been working on a Bylaw to allow Food Trucks to operate within the City, outside of festival events. It is (typical of government) more complicated than just saying “yes”, as there are business licenses, health authority regulations, insurance and liability concerns, and of course, public consultation – especially with the business community.

On the positive side, I think food trucks are great addition to the street scene. They can activate commercial areas, adding to foot traffic for adjacent businesses and make our street more “sticky”. There is a philosophy in Urbanism, from Jane Jacobs to Charles Montgomery, that more people on a street makes a street work better, because it adds to the social character of a City, and therefore feeds the economic character of the City. You can double the number of people on a street by attracting twice as many people, or by making everyone already there spent twice as much time on the street. Food Trucks can contribute to both of these.

On the less positive side, I’m not sure how much uptake we are going to get from food truck operators. The industry is tough, with razor-thin margins. Every jurisdiction (including ours) has its own regulatory hurdles, and operators have to decide which it is worth their time to invest. The lack of off-truck support like commissary kitchens (which, if you are selling food to the public, can’t just be the stove in your basement suite) out here in the ‘burbs adds one more cost and hassle.

I’m happy to open the door and remain optimistic, but let’s see who decides to come in.

HRA Bylaw No. 7854, 2016 and Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 7853, 2016 for 1031 Sixth Avenue
The ongoing saga of the 1891 McLaughlin House finally came to Public Hearing.

The (shorter) history of this project is that the house was slated for demolition several months ago, and staff brought that information to Council, recognizing that Council had previously highlighted a desire to preserve and protect pre-1900 homes wherever possible. At the time of the demolition permit application, this house had no legal protection. The City had no legal ability to prevent the house from being demolished. Our only hope was to work with the homeowner and provide him incentives to protect the house.

Through months of work by staff, by the applicant, and by the architect hired by the applicant, a plan was developed that would provide long-term protection to a restored McLaughlin House, yet allow the homeowner to build a home on his property that fulfilled his family’s needs. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was a negotiated compromise between the City and the landowner.

It was clear form the correspondence we received (7 letters, all opposed), and from the presentations at the Public Hearing (more than a dozen presentations, only the representative of the homeowner in support), that the neighbourhood did not support this innovative approach of significantly increasing the density on the lot.

Public Hearing over, we went back to our Regular Agenda, which started with us addressing the Bylaws we just covered in the Public Hearing.

Heritage Designation (1031 Sixth Avenue) Bylaw No. 7853, 2016
Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1031 Sixth Avenue) Bylaw No.  7854, 2016

As discussed above, Council moved to reject the Application and the Heritage Conservation Plan that was presented. We did this recognizing that demolition of the 125-year-old home is likely. The inability to reach a preservation plan that the community could support is disappointing. No doubt many in the community are going to be disappointed by the inability of a City Council to prevent the demolition of a privately owned house on private property, but we are regulated by the Local Government Act, and homeowners have rights, including the right to knock their house down and replace it with a home that meets the zoning of the property.

It is possible that a preservation plan will come together, however, the homeowner has already spent a considerable amount of time and money to get to this point, only to have his work rejected. Everyone has their limits.

Mobile Food Vending Bylaw No. 7850, 2016
As discussed above, Council moved to give the Bylaw that would permit food trucks to operate in the City on a regular basis third reading. Warm up your artisanal kale-and-cheese waffle wagon.

We then had an Opportunity to be Heard:

Temporary Use Permit No. 00013 for 401 and 451 Salter Street
A movie Studio wants to use one of the big old industrial buildings in Queensborough near the Derwent Bridge to film some TV and Movie magic. This does not strictly meet the designated landuse in the zoning for the property, so short of doing a complete rezoning. No-one corresponded on the issue, and no-one came to speak to Council for or against the idea.

And one final regular agenda item:

Potential of Obtaining a Liquor License to Sell Beer and Wine at the
Westminster Pier Park Concession Eats at the Pier

We asked for a report on the legislative outlook at being able to sell beer of wine at the Pier Park concession on a regular basis. The short version is that there is not liquor license model that works for the location. As the “restaurant” does not have inside seating, it does not fit the regular license criteria. It is possible to do “special event licenses” for one-off events like last summer’s Pecha Kucha in the Park with all the regular beer garden accoutrement (security, cordoned off area, identification protocols, etc.), but that can’t be a day-to day thing.

We need to change the Provincial Liquor laws. We still have this strange puritan idea that alcohol must be separated from public space, the last vestiges of temperance laws from a century ago. So far. this provincial government has been long on promise, short on delivery of moving us into the 21st century.

We then moved onto the evening’s Bylaws for consideration:

Housing Agreement (228 Nelson’s Crescent) Bylaw No. 7838, 2016
As discussed above, this Bylaw formalizing the requirement for market rentals at the second Brewery District tower received three readings.

REGARDING Development Agreement (900 Carnarvon) Bylaw No. 7855, 2016
As discussed above, in order to fix the language in the Development Agreement Bylaw, we first RESCINDED the Third reading given to the Bylaw on May 30, 2016, Then gave Revised Bylaw No. 7855, 2016 Third reading.

HRA (313 Queens’s Avenue) Bylaw No. 7834, 2016
Heritage Designation (313 Queens’s Avenue) Bylaw No. 7835,2016

As discussed last meeting this Bylaw to allow renovation of the Heritage House on Queens Ave in exchange for permanent protection by a Heritage Designation was adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please adjust your behavior accordingly.

Zoning Amendment (900 Carnarvon Street) Bylaw No. 7764,2015
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw amending the zoning for the 4th tower at Palza88 is adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please adjust your behavior accordingly.

Five Year Financial Plan (2015-2019) Amendment Bylaw No.7849, 2016
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw amending our Budget is adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please adjust your behavior accordingly.

We then talked about Correspondence from the Postal Workers, asking that we continue to support home delivery of mail in Canada, which this Council does.

And we were done until July 4th.

Ask Pat: City Vehicles

Someone asked—

Hey Pat, recently heard that (according to the bylaw office) city vehicles are not required to obey parking regulations or bylaws and can ultimately park anywhere they want, at any time, for whatever reason with impunity. Is this really true?

The bylaw officer was right, but I think you may be reading too much into it.

The City’s Street Traffic Bylaw regulates who can park where. The Bylaw is a little long-in-tooth, and a new one is being drafted up right now (hopefully ready by the end of the summer), but for now, it is the best we have.

Section 400 of the Bylaw outlines the various parking regulations, and the following parts are relevant to your question:

413. Notwithstanding anything elsewhere contained in this bylaw, the provisions relating to stopping or parking of vehicles shall not apply to:
413.1 vehicles used in conjunction with the servicing of public utilities including telephone systems, electric systems, natural gas systems and cablevision systems;
413.2 municipal and other Government vehicles;
413.3 towing service vehicles; or
413.4 armored carriers;
while such vehicles are actually engaged in works of necessity on a street requiring them to be stopped or parked. This exemption does not relieve the drivers of such vehicles from taking due precautions to indicate the presence of such vehicles on the street while so parked or stopped.

So as long as the City Vehicle is being used for City business, and needs to be parked there to get that business done, then it is exempt from the laws. The driver is expected, however, to practice due diligence and take reasonable safety precautions while exercising that exemption. So I wouldn’t say it is total impunity, but it is pretty relaxed.

And really, do we want the City charging the City to park? Who needs the paperwork, and who is served by it?

Ask Pat: Beg Flags

Brad asks—

Crossing a street at a crosswalk seems to be a fairly dangerous proposition these days, with people running the red light on right when turning off Columbia onto McBride, or even worse, with a child being struck by a car that failed to stop at a red light at Royal and 3rd. West Vancouver had a pilot project where they introduced “pedestrian flags” — flags that pedestrians would wave while crossing the street. Would these work at high-risk crosswalks in New West?

I need to start by putting the incident at Royal and 3rd into context. Reports are that a youth on a bicycle was crossing within a crosswalk with the light when a driver blew through the red light and struck the youth. Fortunately, the youth was only banged up a little, and there were no serious injuries, but it highlighted that something needed to be done about this dangerous crossing, right?

Once I heard a little more detail about the incident, it looked a little different. Apparently, the car did stop, but did so in a way that intruded a little into the crosswalk. At the same time, the youth was riding their bicycle through the crosswalk, leaping ahead of the crossing guard who was on site to help assure kids were kept safe. So there was a red light, a marked crosswalk, and a crossing guard. Both the driver and the youth pushed a little over the boundaries of how they were meant to transact the crossing. Of course the person on the bicycle was harmed more than the person in the car, but this does not look to me like and engineering failure, but a failure of two parties (one arguably more responsible than the other) to respect the rules of the road.

A bad situation, a scary moment for a child and for a crossing guard, a cause of worry for some parents, a teaching moment for all road users, but hardly a time for “something must be done” moral panic.

Which brings us to the beg flags. I pretty much agree with this article at City Lab. Beg Flags are a kludge solution to solve the wrong problem. I am slightly confounded by people who think a driver will ignore a painted crosswalk, will ignore cautionary signage, will ignore a red light, and will ignore the presence of children in the street yet will, for some reason, immediately yield at the sight of a little yellow flag.

I can’t help but think this is news story demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the beg flag idea. There also seems to be mounting evidence from Cities that have tried them that they do nothing to improve safety or adjust driver behavior.

Worse, actions like this put the onus on the pedestrian to adjust behaviors of the person who is breaking the law and threatening their safety. What happens if a pedestrian is hit and (aghast!) they didn’t decide to pick up the flag? Does that absolve the driver of fault? After all, the flags were right there, and the pedestrian should have used it. Or should we limit the crossings of streets to places where crossing flags are available? At what point do beg flags become the standard of safety that all pedestrians must adhere to?

We already see this evolution for cyclist. Any time a cyclist is hit by a car (and in Vancouver, it has been determined that the driver of the car is at fault 93% of the time!), the news story is not complete without the question of whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet being addressed. Like that is in any way relevant when a driver right-hooks them illegally.

The City did (in our own nod to Moral Panic) review the situation at 3rd and Royal, and found a few ways to adjust the engineering geometry of the intersection to increase safety. To be clear: they determined that the crossing was already well beyond any standard of safety – there was no issue here with meeting regulatory or design standards (especially with a crossing guard present), but we can always slightly increase buffer zones and improve signage and paint to create greater visibility for drivers. Incremental improvement is always something we should strive for when it comes to pedestrian safety.

But until we are ready to make serious changes to how the traffic system in our City, and our region works, being a pedestrian will always be more dangerous that it should be. We know how to make it safer – lower speed limits, reduced lane widths, the building of pedestrian-first infrastructure. None of these will happen until we first change our cultural bias towards getting traffic moving for safety that started with the invention of “Jaywalking” as a crime and continues today when we ask pedestrians to dress up like a Christmas tree and wave flags of surrender whenever they want to walk to their neighborhood school.

ASK PAT: Begbie redux

Sleepless asks—

Hi Pat,

I asked a question about train whistle cessation last year, which you answered on November 25, 2015. See: .

It is now six months after I asked, and four months into the new year, and the trains are still whistling away merrily downtown. In fact, the amount of whistling appears to have increased since the Front Street reconstruction project started.

I just noticed an update on the CNW web site (, stating that: “formal application
for whistle cessation may need to be delayed until the Front Street upgrade is complete in August”. That is an additional eight month delay on a project that has already been delayed for almost two years!

In your previous reply, you stated that you are starting to question how the City sets timelines, and I couldn’t agree more. Why does every project undertaken by the city get delayed by months or years? Isn’t it time to have a long, hard look at the city’s planning processes and investigate why they keep failing to deliver projects on time?

Actually, since that conversation I have had some discussions with people in our engineering department regarding transportation projects and timelines, and I am slightly more sympathetic towards their challenges. Especially in regards to some areas where I have a specific interest: active transportation, transit, and accessibility issues. I don’t want to get into details here, but there are some resource issues internally, and some of the priority shifts that the new Council and the new MTP are demanding mean we need to spend a bit more time steering ship and little less time motoring ahead… the ship of government steers slowly, I’m afraid.

That said, many projects are moving ahead in a very timely manner. The Parkade east-refurbishment / west-removal project is pretty much on schedule despite a few early hiccups, and the Mews work is similarly looking like it will be completed reasonably close to on time, and on budget. Moody Park playgrounds, numerous smaller transportation projects, and policy work around Heritage Protection and the Tree Bylaw, things that are less visible but very staff intensive, were completed in a very timely manner. I wish I could say the same about the Begbie Crossing.

However, the Begbie Crossing work, along with the other whistle cessation projects, is not completely under the control of the City. The rail companies are replacing the rails, the level crossing treatment and the controls. They operate on their own schedule based on their own needs. Council commonly gets updates from Staff, and I am confident that we are doing everything in our power to get this project completed. I still hope the Begbie work will be completed by August.

However, you do raise the bigger question – why does it seem that projects always take longer than expected, not less time?

First off – and I don’t think this is unique to New West, but has become the default in our crazy busy hyper-competitive construction market – is a general industry trend towards overpromising and underperforming . Remember, most of this work is not being done by City crews anymore, the majority of it is contracted out. With many things on the go, it is hard to oversee every aspect of an operation – careful management of the Critical Path takes resources, which brings us to a problem more about New West.

We are a City of 66,000 people, relatively small in the great scheme of things. However, our expectations are the same as those for the residents of the larger cities that surround us. We have lots of things on the go right now, and a relatively small staff managing them.

I think some of this falls on Council, as we often create new initiatives before we see the existing initiatives completed. In my short time on council, there has been not just a “yes we can” ethos, but a “Yes we should!” ethos. Setting priorities is sometimes difficult, but never as difficult as slotting something new into an existing set of priorities is. If you look at our recently-completed Annual Report, you can see that we have set a clear set of priorities, which should help both staff and Council better coordinate our desires, which (in theory) should help us hit more deadlines. So I have taken to asking staff, when new initiatives come along, how they fit into our existing strategies, to assure we are not putting last week’s priority aside to address this week’s.

Which circles me back to the first point – I’m not sure we are doing that bad a job. Whistle cessation is definitely lagging behind, for many reasons outside of our control. The 4th Street Elevator is a notable timeline fiasco, and there is a great story to be told about contractor vs. designer vs. inspectors on that one. However, there are many other capital works, from road repairs to sewer and other utility work, that is coming in on time. We had a recent report to Council from SRY about the Whistle Cessation progress, on Queesnborough and Quayside, and it looks good.

I’m sorry the project that is having the biggest effect on your day-to-day (or more night-to-night) life is so stuck in purgatory. All I can do is continue to ask staff where we are with the timeline, and reinforce that this is a priority for the City and for Council. I hope you can get a good night sleep soon!

Council – June 13, 2016

Our June 13 Regular Council Meeting started with a Presentation and Opportunity to be Heard on this Bylaw Amendment:

Five Year Financial Plan (2015-2019) Amendment Bylaw
The Financial Plan is, colloquially, the “budget” for the city, and it is a regulatory document that requires a Bylaw Amendment whenever we change it.

As we have just completed our 2015 Audited Statements, and due to the nature of budget forecasting, some adjustments to the existing 5-Year Plan need to be made to reflect the numbers in those Audited Statements.

Not surprisingly, no-one came to speak to the Bylaw Amendment, so we referred it to later in the meeting.

We then passed the following items On Consent:

Anvil Centre Artist in Residence Program
As part of the ongoing evolution of our Community’s new Centre for Arts, this program will bring a local artist in-house to work on their practice with dedicated studio time, and to better activate the 4th floor studios. Watch for a call for submissions in the Fall.

Metro Vancouver Request for Exemption to Construction Noise Bylaw
Metro needs to do some sanitary sewer work on the 300 Block of Columbia Street. The work needs to happen in the middle of the night because that is when the sewers are empty enough to allow the work to take place without causing inconvenience to sewer users. We are all sewer users. Late night work needs a Noise Exemption, and we moved to grant it for two nights between June 15 and June 29th (depending on weather).

824 Agnes Street: Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) Park Visioning Consultation Report
The open lot at Carnarvon across from McInnes has been used in part as a dog run, but is also considered for Provincial recognition as a Chinese Historic Place, as it is a portion of the original “Chinatown” in British Columbia, and had a variety of uses in the Chinese community in the early years of the city.

Working with the Chinese Benevolent Association, the City is exploring a future park on the site to commemorate the site history. We are now engaging a landscape architect to develop concepts drawn from the visioning sessions.

Union of BC Municipalities Resolution Related to Tenant Evictions through Renovations
We have talked at council several times about the “renoviction” (and “demovictions”) problem in the region, and increasingly in the City. Our Council is taking a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities to help address one aspect of this, hopefully reducing the incentives to evict residents for minor renovation and rent hikes. We will also be seeking support from other Municipalities in the regions.

Official Community Plan Review – Draft Policies and Revised Vision and Goals
“New Westminster is a caring, healthy, inclusive, sustainable, complete and prosperous city where investment, growth and development contribute to a high quality of life for all. Community members have opportunities to connect to the natural environment and to each other. The city is well connected by exceptional public spaces and is easily accessible by foot and by wheels. Each neighbourhood has a unique character and cultural identity, and exhibits a high quality of urban design that is well integrated with the city’s heritage assets.”

This report outlines some of the Vision and Goals statements and Draft Policies that will provide the backbone of the new Official Community Plan. We have spent much of the last year consulting on the eventual Land Use Plan, and a draft plan is nearing completion. However, as important in the OCP are the goals and visions that will define how our City will operate in the decades ahead.

The vision, goals and draft policies in this report will be going out the public for comment as the next stage of OCP consultation. We’re not done yet, folks. However, we are still hoping to have a new Official Community Plan ready for adoption in early 2017, and significant midnight oil is being burned to make that happen. More to come!

Heritage Control Period Bylaw and Heritage Alteration Permit Procedures Bylaw – For Three Readings
There has been increasing concern about demolition of heritage homes in New Westminster, no more than in Queens Park. The residents of Queens Park have organized a Heritage Preservation society, and have worked though their Residents Association with the City’s Heritage Commission and staff to develop a Heritage Study, review potential policy changes, and propose some strategies to preserve heritage homes. The proposed approaches have so far seen strong support from a large number of Queens Park residents.

There are limited things a Local Government can do under our empowering legislation when it comes to limiting the things you can and cannot do on your private property. We can (reasonably) prevent you from cutting down a tree, but we cannot (reasonably) prevent you from knocking down your house. Don’t blame me, blame the Community Charter.

One way a City can increase its power to protect individual homes from demolition is to establish a Heritage Conservation Area. The Queens Park group has asked the City to explore this option, and we are doing so. However, it will take time for the HCA to be developed, to draft appropriate legislation and set up internal policies and procedures to make it work. We don’t want a bunch of speculators to get in there and start knocking houses down while the City gets its ducks in a row.

Therefore, using powers the City has under the Local Government Act, we can establish a temporary Heritage Control Period over a specific area for up to one year. This will allow us to establish better oversight, and even temporarily prevent demolitions of individual homes until we get the HCA developed. The conversation should be starting now about whether this is the way the neighbourhood and the larger community want to go.

I suspect there will be a *lot* of conversation about this over the next 12 months, and I am curious about where this goes!

612 – 618 Brantford Street: Preliminary Report
This project to build a mid-rise apartment building adjacent to Bent Court in the Brow of the Hill is pretty early in the process. It will be going to review committees, to public consultation, and eventually to Public Hearing, so I’ll hold off my comments for now and wait to hear what the neighbourhood and general community think.

Sixth Street and Belmont Street Traffic Control
This is a follow up to the earlier report on the “Coffee Corner” which got a little tongue-in cheek press last month. After reviewing the recommendations and having discussions both internally and with the Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians, a modified plan was put together that will see better lighting of the crossing without the need for “beg buttons” – a plan I can support practically and philosophically.

Alternative Approval Process for Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 7842, 2016
Ugh. I hate the AAP, but have yet to come up with an alternative solution for how we prepare ourselves for the capital projects our community wants us to get done.

We are starting the process to prepare the City to secure up to $28.3 Million in borrowing ability. We are not necessarily going to borrow this money, but we do want to get the equivalent of a Line of Credit in case we need to secure cash to pay for upcoming capital works.

Those who remember a few years back (when I was notably opposed to this very form of reverse-referendum) will remember that the City cannot borrow for more than 5 years without approval of the electorate, yet we are allowed to seek that approval by seeing if more than 10% of the voters in the city are willing to fill out a form in opposition.

There will be notices in the paper and forms at City Hall, c’mon out and let us know if you think this is a bad idea.

Sapperton Park Playground Redevelopment – Preferred Option
The playground of Sapperton Park is getting a re-design and upgrade. Read the report to see what the public consultation said about the alternate designs. We should see this park renewed by next spring!

Street Food Vending at Westminster Pier Park
We are going to pilot allowing Food Trucks at the western entrance of Pier Park, as part of our very coy flirtation with making Food Trucks part of our City’s street life.

PIKNIC ELECTRONIK 2016 Concert Postponement
The proponents who wanted to hold a two-day electronic music event at Pier Park have determined that they could not secure the right talent mix to make the event successful in 2016, so they are re-booting for 2017. This doesn’t change our festival funding situation for 2016, or 2017 for that matter, as the PIKNIC folks were going to pay their own way, they only asked that the City waive the fees that would have been charged for the use of public space.

Special Occasion Permit for New Westminster Minor Baseball Association
New West Baseball wants to sell beer in part of the stands at Queens Park Stadium for the 2016 Playoff Tournament. Who am I to keep baseball fans from beer and hot dogs?

The following Reports were discussed by Council:

Update on Council’s Strategic Initiatives
We received a progress update on three of our Strategic Initiatives:

Canada Games Pool Replacement
With the Public Consultation process that will inform the design of the replacement for the CGP and Centennial Community Centre, it is timely to update the public on the work done already. As indicated, Council has decided that we need a new pool, and cannot invest in continued upgrades of the existing pool. We have also decided that the new facility will be built adjacent to the existing pool, although the exact locations and layout will be impacted by what comes out of the public consultation about what services, programs, and amenities the community is willing to finance in the new facility.

Those decisions were not made lightly. We went through a preliminary analysis of more than a dozen locations in almost every neighbourhood of the City, and shortlisted three primary locations for detailed analysis. Those three were evaluated for site layout, synergies with adjacent facilities, land ownership, geotechnical work, transportation options, user groups, and other factors. I was swayed by the body of evidence that the current location balances the various factors best. It isn’t the perfect place, but it is the best place available.

Housing Affordability Strategies
The City is moving forward on three Affordable Housing projects. Two will be smaller scale and will include some supportive housing and non-market housing, both in partnership with social service agencies in the City (Community Living and WINGS). The third will be a mix of market and non-market housing in partnership with Metro Vancouver at the current Muni Evers Park site.

As the most affordable housing is often the house people are already in, we are developing some enhanced protection policies for renters in the City. We are trying to reduce the impact of “Renovictions” within our limited Local Government Act powers, and are looking at a “rent Bank” support mechanism to keep people suffering from short-term setbacks from ending up on the street.

We also have a lot of market rental housing coming on line in the next couple of years, more than 1,200 suites. There have been very few new dedicated rental buildings constructed in New Westminster in the last decade, and vacancies are in the low single digit percentages. We have created the incentives necessary to make building market rental viable for the development community to get the stock back to where it needs to be to have some of that stock available and affordable.

Animal Shelter and Tow Yard
The City’s Animal Shelter is well past its replacement date, and the Previous Council developed a good plan to sell the land where the current tow yard is and use that money o finance the building of a new facility. We can expect the tow yard under the Queensborough Bridge to be coming on line next year, and a new animal facility across the street about a year after that.

New Westminster Fire Rescue: EMA EMR Certification and
Administration of Naloxone Signing of Collaboration Agreement

We had quite a lengthy discussion about these two related issues: the current opioid overdose crisis, and the current crisis in ambulance services. I think this is too big a topic to put in this summary, so I will save it for a future blog post – coming soon.

Except to say that I am shocked that this table is not front page news in New West:


Allocation of the Voluntary Amenity Contribution Funds
The City collects VACs from developers when larger developments occur. They don’t go in general revenue, but are earmarked for specific purposes. This report outlines how $395,000 of accumulated VACs will be spent, and include those in the Five-year Financial Plan as such.

1031 Sixth Avenue: Updated Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw 7854, 2016
This on-again off-again Heritage Revitalization project for the 1891 single family home in brow of the hill will be going to Public Hearing on June 20, 2016. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Downtown Dog Relief Station
This is a somewhat innovative idea- part pocket park, mostly outdoor convenience stop for dogs. A small park, the size of a parking spot, with an artificial turf surface and drainage to allow it to manage the waste it receives, in the downtown area where there is a general lack of places for dogs to go.

Many jokes here, and a few pooperational challenges, but we are not the first to try this, so I am interested to see how the pilot program goes!

Finally, we went through our Bylaws for the night:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1031 Sixth Avenue) Bylaw No. 7854, 2016:
First and Second Reading of Bylaw No. 7854, 2016

Due to some changes in language since first and second reading, we rescinded those readings, paving the way for:
Revised Bylaw No. 7854, 2016
Our giving First and Second reading to a revised version of the Bylaw. This HRA for the 1891 house on Sixth Ave in Moody Park will be going to Public Hearing on June 20, 2016. C’mon out and let us know what you think!

Heritage Control Period Bylaw No. 7856, 2016
This Bylaw will extend temporary (one year) added protection to pre-1966 homes in the Queens Park neighbourhood while the City gets ideas for a permanent Heritage Conservation Area organized and discussed in the general public. Contrary to what some have reported in the Social Media, this is not a “moratorium on demolitions”, but a temporary process whereby people asking for demolitions or alterations of their pre-1966 residential properties will require an extra review, to assure that heritage assets are not lost. This Bylaw passed three readings.

**Note: The Bylaw was formally Adopted by Council in a special meeting on June 15 – it is the Law of the Land, folks, for one year.**

Heritage Alteration Permit Procedures Bylaw No. 7859, 2016
This Bylaw created procedures to empower the Bylaw above, and also received three readings.

Five Year Financial Plan (2015-2019) Amendment Bylaw No. 7849, 2016
As discussed at the beginning of tonight’s meeting, this Bylaw updates our Five-year Financial Plan to reflect minor edits coming out of the audited annual reporting. The Bylaw received three readings.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 7848, 2016
As discussed at our May 30 Meeting, this change to the Bylaw regulating our Electrical Utility was Adopted by Council. It is now the Law of the Land, and I would appreciate it if everyone adapt quickly to this new way of life.

Road Closure Bylaw No. 7824, 2016
As discussed at our May 30 Meeting, this closure of an unopened alleyway off of Fifth Ave near 12th Street was Adopted by Council. It is now the Law of the Land, adjust your plans accordingly.


This is the latest in my continuing series on how inept I am at continuing my series on the things I am up to in the community outside of the regular Council Meeting schedule. However, there was so much happening on Sunday, it is worth trying to post.

June 12 is Philippine Independence Day. In 2016 that means 118 years since the Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines free of Spanish rule and for the first time unfurled the Flag of the Philippines. It would be another 48 years before the Treaty of Manila was signed, making the Philippines truly independent, but the June 12th anniversary is marked as the one where the Filipino people themselves declared their “inherent and inalienable right to freedom and independence”.

This day is celebrated in New Westminster in honour of our third largest (and fastest growing) ethnic group in the City. We were honoured to have a representative of the Consular General and other dignitaries from the Filipino community, and we raised the flag of the Philippines over Friendship Gardens, with all of the appropriate speeches from people of importance.sunday1

Some of us had to rush off from that event to Sapperton Day on East Columbia Street.


I made it just in time to take part in the annual tradition of the Red Tape race, where elected types and their proxies race tricycles for the honour, the glory, and a bag of kettle corn. You will have to read the sports pages to see who won… because it wouldn’t be classy for me to point it out. 😉

Important duties dispatched, I joined the crowds at Sapperton Day enjoying the sunny weather and great variety of events. I did all of those things a politician is meant to do:



…and even had my bike handling skills tested by the good people at Caps and HUB.

sunday 5

Then it was off to the New Westminster Lawn Bowling Club for the annual tradition of a Lawn Bowling Battle Royale between Team Mayor Cote and the New West Youth Ambassadors. It was a tightly fought competition where accuracy by far outweighed precision for both teams.


This was a day of fun and games here in New Westminster, but as the clouds parted and the sun shone on our events, very dark news was unfolding. As the details of the horrific attack in Orlando trickled out, bad news became worse and more troubling as the day went on. Early in the afternoon, a few organizers from New West Pride put the word out that an impromptu vigil would be held at the Rainbow Crosswalk on Columbia Street. Social media news spread quickly, and scores of people showed up.

The President of NWPride, the Mayor and MLA Judy Darcy spoke, and several other members of the community said a few words about their personal experience or feelings. Candles were lit, silence ensued, and people shared a moment of being with other people, supporting one another, as a community is meant to do. There is a lot that people much smarter and more profound than I have said about the violence in Orlando, and I was left struggling for words for the day.

To me, and I think many others in our community, Pride in New West has been a celebration of inclusivity and acceptance. I’ve met so many great, engaged, interesting people through the organization and have enjoyed so many events they have brought to or supported in our City. So it is easy for a vanilla straight, male, cis, person like me to forget that Pride is also about a struggle for acceptance, and that the struggle is not over, even here despite how “accepting” we think our community is.

It is banal to talk about gun violence in the States; it is a national sickness that I lament they will never have the courage to address. The dog-whistle racism of blaming this event (well, every negative news event for the last decade) on a poorly defined religious/cultural stereotype is equally trite. Unfortunately, those are also useful distractions for the media in an overhyped election year. However, at its core, this was an attack on gay men for no other reason than their being openly gay. Whether you are in Orlando or New Westminster, this attack is meant to make you feel less safe simply because of who you are. That is why it is important that we don’t just celebrate, but announce acceptance; sometimes through small acts like a rainbow crosswalk or lighting up the Anvil Centre with rainbow lights, because we need to demonstrate that there is a community here who believe in this struggle, and are ready to support that struggle, hoping we can make our world more just for our friends, and for ourselves.

So you want to do something local to help with the celebration, and the struggle?

Here is a link to how you can help Pride New West out.

ASK PAT: The Timber Wharf

Daniel asks—

Can we do something with the giant paved lot near Westminster Pier Park (where the shipping container W is)? It’s such a waste of space. Westminster Pier Park is amazing but i think the area could really use more grass space to lay down, play some bocce, toss a football around etc…Another suggestion would be providing additional basketball court(s), tennis courts. There is a real dearth of outdoor sport facilities in the downtown area. Could this empty lot not be temporarily re-purposed into any of these things rather than just the empty black surface it is now? Love what the city has done by putting volleyball courts adjacent to that lot, but are there plans to re-purpose the other lot as well?

We call that part of the park the “Timber Wharf”. My understanding of the history of the space (and this was before my time on Council) is that it was originally going to be programmed as part of the Pier Park project, but that got scaled back during the park development because of unexpected environmental remediation costs that stressed the budget, and generally unfavorable geotechnical assessments for that part of the wharf. The underpinnings are not in great shape, and are going to need some repairs and upgrades before the space is permanently programmed or anything heavy is placed on it, hence the temporary installations there now.

The longer-term plan is to program that space, which will make it more amenable for some of the uses you describe, but I think the priorities for spending right now are in trying to connect the park to the east to complete that part of the waterfront connection to Sapperton Landing and the Brunette River. The capital cost of upgrading the timber wharf isn’t in the budget right now, so I suspect the “permanent” fix is going to have to wait a few years.

In the shorter term, I would love to hear suggestions about temporary programming. We are pretty limited in regards to installing anything of significant mass (the engineering hassles with WOW New West were… substantial), and are even unlikely to be able to smooth the asphalt surface much, but paint and temporary installations are possible if we can find a bit of room the Parks budget.

This also gives me a chance to promote two cool things going on in that area in the very short term – like right now!.

Through a partnership with Live 5-2-1-0, Kids New West, Fraser Health, and School District 40, a Play box is being installed at the Timber Wharf. This is a box full of toys, balls, and outdoor games to help kids get active and have fun in the relatively un-programmed space. It is free to use, and will be opened every morning and re-secured at night. This is the first time this public playbox program has come to New West, although it has been successful in a few other nearby municipalities. If you have kids, take them down and see what may emerge!

There is no better time to go down to the Timber Wharf and check it out than during the Pier2Landing street party coming up on June 19th. We are going to be encouraging people to take advantage of the currently-closed stretch of Front Street that connects the east end of the Pier Park with the west end of Sapperton Landing Park. There will be live entertainment and arts and booths and a BBQ and the usual street festival stuff, but there will also be a lot of open road space on Front where you can bring your own entertainment (road hockey, anyone?). We can look ahead to a me when these two waterfront parks are connected by an urban greenway. Or we can dream of a time when Front Street is no longer a regional through-fare, but is an active street connecting residents to the waterfront – even those who choose to not strap themselves to a couple of tonnes of carbon-spewing steel and plastic first…

Dare to dream.

On the New School

I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t blog something about this news. It does seem to be the biggest news in New West, after all.

Right off the bat, I want to say I had nothing to do with this. The High School is a Board of Education responsibility, and the Ministry of Education holds the purse strings to make things happen. Our primary role since I joined Council is to stay out of the way and let the School District do the work they need to get an approved plan. It is slightly more complicated than that, as we worked on an agreement over Massey Theatre and have plan and money in the budget for the for the Skateboard Park, but I consider those things to be included in “getting out of the way” to allow the School Board to do whatever they need to help things to proceed.

Of course, the Trustees of School District 40 and their staff deserve the most kudos. Jonina and her team have done what no Board over the last 20 years has managed to do – get an approved plan in place and money committed by the province. The School District has done some amazing work over the last few years – getting their perennial budget woes under control, some really progressive inclusion policies, getting one new school built, a second almost finished, and now a third, long-awaited project approved. School Boards often operate a little below the radar. We rarely recognize them unless something goes wrong and the pitchfork-and-torch crowd is looking for someone to blame. Perhaps a great mark for this Board is that they have been quietly and non-controversially getting the job done for the students of the district. A new NWSS may be a crowning achievement, but it isn’t the only one.

This is not to say there are no concerns in public education in New West. We still have several seismically-suspect schools, there are hard decisions being made due to ongoing funding pressures, transportation issues abound, and delivering a new NWSS on schedule is going to be a challenge, but we have many reasons to think this Board will be able to get things done.  So much good work has already been done, with so little fanfare. I am happy the Board got to stand up in front of cameras and take a bow for this one project. They deserve it.

For the Minister of Education, I give a slightly more qualified thanks. There is a hint of Stockholm Syndrome in heaping effusive praise on someone who held the purse strings for so long when they finally come through after what is (IMHO) an unacceptably long wait. A replacement for the decrepit NWSS is not a gift to the City – it is a basic social service this City has been without for way too long. Still, I thank the Minister for doing whatever he had to do in Victoria to get this approved, and I appreciate him taking the time answer what I understand were very frequent phone calls from our Board to work through the details.

Finally, I want to give thanks to the people paying for this school: the residents of the City. They have paid their school taxes through that decade-long wait, they have shown remarkable (if sometimes testy) patience, sending their kids to an increasingly festering building because they believe in public education, because they know the programs inside that building are still excellent, or because they had no other choice. Meanwhile, The students have kept making us proud with the academic, athletic, and social achievements. I have had the opportunity over the last couple of years to work with the Youth Advisory Committee and other youth organizations in the City, and am consistently inspired by the talents and confidence of students going through our school system. They are proud of their school community, I’m glad they will soon have a building to be proud of as well.

There is devil in the details here. My (admittedly under-informed) feeling is that $106Million will get us a school that meets our needs, but may fall short of many of our desires. The City has committed funds to help keep the Massey Theatre as a community asset, but the details of how the existing theatre will interface with the new school, and the pathway to get there, is a work in progress. Some of the school design and construction details are sure to cause conversation, and I still think we have some transportation challenges around the existing site. In short, there is a lot of work yet to do to make these plans a reality, but at least we no know the real work can start.

Exciting times ahead.

Urban Academy Redux

At last week’s Public Hearing, the most discussed topic was the proposal by Urban Academy and their partner Wesgroup to develop the property at 100 Braid Street. Urban Academy had been looking for a place to expand their school operation, and were disappointed last year when Council decided to not support the building of a larger school on their property in Queens Park.

Their second kick at the can involved creating a partnership with Wesgroup to purchase a larger piece of land, and use the available density and development potential of that property to share costs and regulatory hurdles. It was an innovative approach, and considering the significant time restraints, they did a good job putting a package together that Council could support.

The Public Hearing had something like 17 speakers, and if you are the type to score this kind of thing, the support/oppose/neutral count was something like 8/6/3. I don’t do the math that way, however, because I think the job of council at a Public Hearing is to hear all arguments, and evaluate them on the value of the argument, not the number of people able to make it. There were essentially two arguments against supporting this project, but before I get to those I want to outline some of the details of the plan, as it currently exists.

NOTE:I also need to do one of those reminder clauses here, that everything I write here is my opinion. It isn’t the official position of the City, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of any of the other members of Council. Let them write their own blog!

The lot at 100 Braid Street is 74,000 square feet, and includes three attached buildings with a largish rear parking lot, all zoned M-1 Industrial. The individual owner of the property leases the space to several businesses, Laser Tag and Bullpen in what I’ll call Building 1, 100Braid Studio/Gallery and an environmental services company in Building 2, and a music studio in Building 3. Under the current M-1 zoning, the owner was permitted to knock the three buildings down and build something like 225,000 square feet of industrial or commercial property, with no regulated setbacks and up to 6 stories (85 feet) high. According to the presentation at Council, all of the current lessees have demolition clauses in their leases, meaning the owner can shut them down and knock the buildings down whenever he wants. No need to ask Council permission to exercise these options.

The plan presented by Wesgroup and Urban Academy is to rezone the property, and as soon as possible build a school for 450 students on the location of the current Building 1. At a later time, they plan to follow up with residential development of the Building 2 and Building 3 spaces with a moderate-sized (21 story) high rise residential tower on a podium comprising enclosed parking, townhouses and some public art space. The timing of that second phase is uncertain, as it will be impacted by the ever-shifting market for residential housing and variable construction and marketing costs, but Wesgroup anticipates that phase may commence in about 5 years.

The first argument against this proposal was the ubiquitous “What about the traffic?” question. The school and eventual residential development will indeed increase the number of cars using the Rousseau and Braid intersection, and have a lesser effect on Rousseau and the adjoining lower Sapperton neighbourhood. The school appears to have a reasonable plan to address pick-up and drop-off, and are making efforts towards Transportation Demand Management which will leverage the proximity to the Braid SkyTrain Station.

I cannot say there will be no impact on the neighbouring properties, however the same could be said for locating a school in any neighbourhood in New Westminster. We have something like a dozen schools in New Westminster, and many of them are located on arterial roads, all of them have neighbouring communities. All of them have unique traffic management issues, and all of them work with the City and their PAC to make the traffic situation as safe and non-disruptive as possible. I also cannot think of another use of this M-1 zoned space that won’t have some sort of traffic-inducing impact. Light industrial and commercial properties have some of the most complicated transportation issues, especially adjacent to residential neighbourhoods.

As it is, the City is working on several projects related to the traffic issue at this property. The Sapperton neighbourhood traffic study will help us put several projects (the RCH expansion, the Brewery District, Sapperton Green) into better context and help us develop a more holistic approach to managing neighbourhood traffic concerns in lower and upper Sapperton. There are also ongoing discussions with TransLink, the Ministry of Transportation, and Coquitlam around the entire Brunette corridor, from Mallardville and the Hwy1 interchange through the Braid intersection and how it interacts with RCH, the Braid Industrial Area, and points west. No-one thinks it works great right now, and longer-term planning is required to come up with solutions to the flow concerns. This project (along with Sapperton Green) will be part of that discussion. Defining what will be on this location for the decades to come helps solidify that planning.

This brings us to the other major issue of discussion at the Public Hearing: the fate of 100Braid Studios, and the remarkable business Susan Grieg has developed over the last couple of years. I have been to the space, have attended events in it, have friends who have used the studio space, have even splattered paint in the booth. It has, in a relatively short time, become a significant piece of the local arts community, providing space for artists to work, and a space for them to display their works to an ever-shifting community of events guests. The space itself is bright, tall, and full of natural light refracting at interesting angles through seemingly-ancient amply-muntined windows.

Early on in the process when this proposal came to the Land Use and Planning Committee, this was identified as a significant community concern, and the proponents were asked to explore ways to address that concern. There was some complication in that process, as the Developer was not the landowner, and (as is pretty typical in a commercial land sale like this) was discouraged from communicating with the existing tenants by the existing landlord. However, these concerns also arose during the Public Consultations, and the developer was able to work with a few of the tenants to address various concerns.

They also added 4,300 square feet of public studio / gallery space to the podium of the residential building. This amenity will not necessarily replace 100Braid Studios for several reasons. The area is large enough for studio and galleries, but not the event hosting part of the 100Braid business. The studio space may be well appointed and designed, but it will most likely not feature that same unique aesthetic that 100Braid has.

However (and this is the ugly pragmatic part), if this project did not move forward, there is no reason to believe the 100Braid space will be preserved any longer than if this project is approved. When this partnership was put together, there were (again, based on what was reported at the Public Hearing) four offers on the land, and we simply don’t know what the other speculators’ plans were for the space. However, with 75,000 square feet of zoned industrial space near major transportation corridors that will allow 85 feet in height and an FSR of 3, the property is potentially a hot commodity, and re-development is almost a certainty.

The way this project worked out, we know that 100Braid will be able to operate for several more years, and a lease developed that will allow her maximum flexibility if another comparable or more amenable space comes available during that time. We also receive a community arts space that will be different from 100Braid, but has the potential to be a real asset to the community, and offering that space and the financial and logistical commitment to build it, is a show of good faith on the part of the developer. I hope that 100Braid can continue to prosper in this unique space for several years, until a new space can be found that continues to allow her artists to flourish.

I also hope that the UA community recognizes that there is some community-building to do with Susan at 100Braid, and with the artists who lease space from her. The UA community may feel they “won” a victory here, but to make it a win for the larger community, they need to understand that this development comes with some concerns for their new neighbours. some of whom are likely are suffering a feeling of loss and uncertainty. I hope the two communities can come together and find their common cause. There is a potential for synergy here, as Urban Academy offers an art-infused program, and they are likely to benefit from a closer relationship with Susan and 100Braid, as she is both an amazing spirit and amazing resource in the Arts community.

And I’m actually optimistic about that, mostly because the public consultation process culminating in the Public Hearing was a respectful and positive one. Although I was not directly involved in conversations between the parties, from my viewpoint the consultation and resolution appeared to be a constructive process. Opponents and proponents stuck to their concerns and proposed solutions, there was none of the acrimony, accusations, or anger that sometimes arises in these hearings. We are talking about people’s neighbourhoods, homes, jobs and community connections here; it is not surprising that it can become a very emotional discussion.

One other comment I want to make about the Public Hearing process itself. It is a regulated process under Division 3 of the Local Government Act, but it isn’t a perfect process. A common comment I hear is that the result feels like a fait accompli, and that Council already made up their mind before the public are allowed to comment. In my experience that is not true. Every item that came to Public Hearing on May 30th passed (although there were some dissenting votes on some projects) but no-one knows better than Urban Academy that this is not always the case.

The way I see it, the Public Hearing is the culmination of a long process that begins when a developer walks into city hall and says they want to build a building. That launches months (and often years) of design, discussion with City Staff, comparison to City legal requirements and policies, review by several committees, updates to Council, public consultations, revisions, more discussion, more Council review, more committee review, more public consultation, and development of enabling Bylaws. By the time a project of this magnitude gets to Public Hearing, staff and Council should understand the concerns of the neighbourhood, and should be able to understand how or if those concerns are to be mitigated. Some projects simply never make it that far through the process because of unsurmountable concerns; all of them are changed substantially through the process. If Council is surprised by what is coming to Public Hearing, and concerns from the public bring issues that Council hadn’t considered, then someone (staff, the Developer, Council) isn’t doing their job.

The project that Council approved through this public hearing is not the same one that walked in the door of City Hall months ago. It was shaped by public consultation, by City Policy, and by discussions between all of the stakeholders involved. Mitigation of concerns raised by the neighbourhood was part of that shaping.

The process is not perfect. Developers often feel it takes too long, too much power is given to a few neighbourhood voices, and that some City policies are too restrictive. “Red Tape”, they call it. At the same time, some in the Public feel that there is not enough consultation, that the City doesn’t get enough community amenity from development, and the developers are driving the process. A “Rubber Stamp” they call it.

It is fascinating to watch from this place in the middle, and it gives insight into why Government is, inherently, inefficient.

Landing the Pattullo

I know we have all enjoyed the quieter streets when the Pattullo Bridge has had weekend closures. We have all equally cursed the increased afternoon congestion as irregular lane reductions have confused and vexed our daily drive-through customers. So the pump is primed for a talk about the future of the Pattullo Bridge.

For those who have lost track of the many changes in the on-again off-again Pattullo Replacement Project, the short version is thus. Much preliminary design and evaluation went into the replacement project to determine the need and urgency of the project a few years ago. TransLink recognized the need to replace the bridge (a position I don’t necessarily agree with, but there you go), but was constrained by simply not having the capital in their budget to start the project. It was rolled into the Mayors’ 10-Year Transportation Investment Plan to create the initial capital, and then provide a framework for capital recovery through tolling. Of course, that Plan received a NO Vote setback (causing me to wonder how many of those people stuck in traffic behind that bridge voted NO… but I digress), but that doesn’t remove TransLink’s perceived need to replace the bridge.

In fact, the repairs happening right now are a scaled-back version of the repairs that were once anticipated if the capital to replace the bridge could not be found. As disruptive as the work is now, it is limited to deck-replacement repairs required to eke out another 5-7 years of service life from the bridge, not long-term repairs required to get another 20 or more years. So you may read from this decision that TransLink sees a replacement bridge being operational within that 5-7 year time frame. Assuming a 1-year Environmental Assessment a longer design/procurement stage and at least two years of construction, they have a bit of work to do and need to get started (funding pending, of course).

New Westminster has signed a three-party MOU with TransLink and the City of Surrey that clearly defines the parameters for a new bridge. It will be tolled, it will be 4 lanes (with underpinnings to support eventual expansion to 6 lanes if there is demonstrated need and with all-party agreement), and it will connect with the surface streets in New West in a way that respects the urban nature of our surface streets. It’s that last bit that is the topic of upcoming public engagement being led by TransLink.

As the project looks now, the bridge will land in a very similar place to where it does now, but there are oodles of details about how it interacts with Royal Avenue, with McBride, and with the access to Victoria Hill. In my role in the Mayor’s Transportation Taskforce I have seen some preliminary sketches, but I don’t know exactly what proposed options TransLink will be presenting to the public starting next week.

My take on what we should be looking for in this phase of consultation is tied up in that phrasing around the urban nature of our community. The north foot of the Pattullo Bridge should look like other urban bridges in the centre of residential and commercial areas in the region – think of the No 2 Road and Dinsmore bridges in Richmond or the Cambie and Burrard bridges in Vancouver. This as opposed to building overpasses and flyways and offramps like the Alex Fraser or Golden Ears. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First is safety. This bridge will be built to “modern” bridge standards, which likely means 3.5m or 4m lanes, physical separation of directions, and wide open sight lines. They may slap a 60km/h speed limit on it, but everyone is going to go 90km/h, because all of the visual cues telling you how fast to drive are going to tell the reptile part of your brain to go 90km/h. I have no interest in making McBride or Royal 60km/h zones or faster, it is simply not a safe speed to be operating a vehicle in an urban environment. There needs to be visual cues that you are entering an urban environment and have to slow the hell down, and those cues need to be designed in, not sign posted. One only has to look at eastbound Stewardson Way to see what happens when cars leaving flyways and crossovers enter a 50km/h zone with nothing other than a traffic sign telling them to slow down:Capture

The now-worn-away red flags on those signs do nothing to reduce speeds, but remain flaccid tokens of a design failure. I don’t want to repeat this design failure at Pattullo.

The second is simply livability of the local neighbourhoods. People living in Victoria Hill need to be able to access the Downtown of New Westminster without a freeway cutting them off. The Central Valley Greenway is one of the City’s primary bike and pedestrian routes – it needs to be a comfortable, safe space for all residents and street users. There is no place in this environment for elevated freeway ramps. Pedestrian and cycling infrastructure needs to be well-marked, accessible, and not pretend to service active transportation users while actually being built to accommodate higher-speed traffic. Victoria Hill, Queens Park, Albert Crescent Park; these are neighbourhoods and public spaces in New Westminster, not through-fares. We need to design with that in mind.

What will that look like? I don’t know yet. But I am as curious as you to see how this develops.

So if you live in New Westminster and care about transportation, especially if you live in Victoria Hill and want better access to the rest of New Westminster, I recommend you register for one of the small-group meetings, or attend one of the public open houses. It might even be fun to attend a Surrey open house or two, and see what the conversation on the other side of the river is.

The schedule is as follows:


Go! Show up! Take Part! If experience is a guide, TransLink does take public consultation seriously, and we will only have one chance to make this right and lock in the interface to the Pattullo that residents of New Westminster will have to live with for a decades. We need some voices from New Westminster to help make this thing fit our neighbourhoods, and the future of our city, as best as possible.