Council – Nov. 21, 2016

Back to our last Council stint of 2016 – three back-to-back meetings before a month-long Christmas break. There is a lot of work to get done before we get all egg-noggy, so our agendas are looking full.

We started the November 21 meeting with an afternoon workshop session to dig a little deeper into the one aspect of the ongoing Official Community Plan update that needs more consideration:

OCP Review: Summary of Feedback and Discussion of the Area Around the 22nd Street SkyTrain Station
It’s no secret that the area around 22nd St SkyTrain Station is ripe for some increased density and conversion of use. It is an important regional transit and transportation hub, and is one of the least-dense parts of the City. Rare are 30 year old SkyTrain stations surrounded by single family detached houses and no commercial development. This OCP may give us an opportunity to look at ways to re-imagine this neighbourhood.

The existing Land Use Plan has allowed some multi-family development in this area for some time, but it just hasn’t happened. Look at the history of Connaught Heights – we have built, over the last 75 years, a car-dependent suburb. There are few sidewalks, there is a road pattern designed to get people in an out to through one constricted intersection (only to be chagrinned by all the people trying to drive by). If we try to build a compact mixed-use transit oriented neighbourhood on top of the bone structure of the suburb it won’t work, even if we add on sidewalks, greenways and left turn lanes. At the same time, there is a general lack of amenities or services in the West End neighbourhood.

So let’s get conceptual, recognizing this is a 20-or 30-year plan. Can 20th be shifted to a local road? Can the BC Hydro Right-of-Way be repurposed as a linear park? Can we create a new north-south High Street along 21st?

We had a good discussion about what we can envision around the station, and what it looks like as density steps down to the north and away from the station. The opportunities that exist are going to rely on a new design for the neighbourhood, a new town centre. I look forward to what the final draft Land Use plan looks like coming out of this lengthy discussion.

We started our evening meeting with an Opportunity for Public Comment on an update of our Budget:

Five Year Financial Plan (2016-2020) Amendment Bylaw No. 7891, 2016
The City’s “budget” exists as a 5-year Financial Plan, which is required by the Community Charter, enshrined in a Bylaw, and updated annually. As a matter of the same provincial law, our budget is always balanced.

Once in a while, we need to adjust that budget, as new expenses or revenues are realized. We do that by amending the Bylaw, which is a public process you are able to comment upon. This specific amendment is to introduce 4 things to the budget that were not part of the existing financial plan:

$1.5M in capital cost for a feeder station upgrades related to the new substation. This $1.5M will come from the Electrical Utility Reserves Account – money put aside specifically for this type of infrastructure improvement.

$6.0M for Ewen Avenue upgrades. This project is going over budget, mostly due to unanticipated costs dealing with the terrible soil conditions encountered during the works. Again, this money is coming out of the Queensborough Transportation DCC Reserves – money charged to developers building new units in Queensborough and set aside for exactly this purpose – improving the transportation infrastructure to better accommodate those new residents.

$1.6M for water main upgrades as part of the Ewen Street project. Similar to above, this project is going over budget, but this part of the project is being paid by Metro Vancouver (it is their water main). However, we are doing the work as part of our larger project. So we need to add the expense to our expense column, and the increase in revenues when the GVRD pays us for the work to our revenue column – balancing the budget.

$1.7M for a slightly expanded scope in the Library upgrades. This project has been discussed before, and this is not an example of going over budget, but in discovering new project work that will improve the durability of the building and should probably be done while we have the walls open. These funds will come from debt as part of our long-term debt financing plan.

No-one came to speak to the amendment, and Council moved to approve moving it forward for adoption.

We also had two Presentations from community organizations impacting our community:

New West Pride Accessibility Initiative
I will try to write more on this in a future blog post, but short version is that Pride has done an incredible job expanding the idea of what inclusivity is in New Westminster – recognizing that their event couldn’t be called inclusive if they left barriers in place to participation. They created accessibility information for their events, and actually performed and published Accessibility Audits for all of their event locations (18 venues, and the street areas of the Street Festival). But the work Hayley & her team have done expands well beyond our Pride Street Fest or the week-long Pride festival, but creates a model of all our street festivals, for businesses and not-for-profits operating in the City – the process for Accessibility Audits is something that can expand to all of our events, to all of our public spaces, to remove barriers and make our City more welcoming.

We have two motions coming to this Council from the Access Ability Advisory Committee in a future meeting based on this experience and the input from Pride to the AAAC. A great initiative – with more to come!

Heads-up: Hayley Sinclair is a star. The City is lucky to have her.

Vancouver Port Authority Presentation: activities that relate to New Westminster
This was our annual update from the Port Authority. There are a few issues of interest to the City. I asked about connecting the waterfront trials past 501 Boyd Street, about Short Sea Shipping, and about the proposed expansion of the grain terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks. (see public engagement going on now)

We passed the following items on Consent:

Youth Advisory Committee Appointments
I love representing Council on this committee, which is led and chaired by teen-aged members of our community. Every meeting they remind me how old and out of touch I am. Humbling.

Alternative Representative to the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors
I am going to take Councillor Harper’s place on a Metro Vancouver board position. Nothing controversial here, just Council sharing responsibilities and shifting some committee roles around. A change is as hood as a rest, someone once said. I’m not sure I have enough context for comparison.

New Westminster Design Panel Appointment
We had a member of the Design Panel resign due to scheduling conflicts, and another representative of the Architecture community has been nominated and selected to serve.

318 and 328 Agnes Street: Housekeeping Amendment Bylaws for Housing Agreements – Bylaws for Three Readings
As mentioned last week, the building permit stage brought up some small but necessary adjustments to the allocation of units between these two secured rental buildings. We dealt with adjusting the development permits last week, and are now required to edit the agreement between the developer and the City that secures these suites as rentals. Council moved to support giving the edits three readings.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 7864, 2016 for Three Readings
This Bylaw allows our finance department to do some short-term borrowing (up to $3 Million) to cover short-term cash flow management fully within the limits of our existing 5-year financial plan. This is essentially a confirmation of our ongoing “line of credit” in case we need to pay a bill prior to the secured revenue coming through.

Engineering Users Fees and Utility Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7889, 2016
Council approved the edited Bylaw that formalizes the changes to engineering fees as discussed at the November 7, 2016 meeting.

Following open delegations, we moved on to one Report for Action:

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy (Metro 2040): Consideration of Five Year Review
There has been some discussion around the OCP about how the RGS works, why we agree to it, and often the question revolves around some form of “Why should New Westminster agree to take on this density – why don’t we just say no to letting more people into the City?”

I think this is a misunderstanding of what the RGS is, and why it exists. The Strategy is a planning document that allows all of the municipalities in the region to work together and plan for the growth that is coming. We cannot stop that growth – the west coast of Canada is an attractive place to live, for a variety of economic, social, and cultural regions. When we talk about 1,000,000 more people coming to the region by 2040 or 2045, that is a conservative estimate – I suspect as the impacts of climate change manifest in regions around the globe, as economic and social unrest grips less stable nations (like the USA?), the pressures on Canada, and especially western Canada, will increase. We need to plan for this growth, and we need to do it as a region.

This means we need to make long-term investments in things like water supply, sewers, parks, schools, roads and transit. We cannot be reactionary when the need hits, because the costs are huge, and because building after is much more difficult and creates unacceptable disruption. We need to have a decades-long plan in place to assure infrastructure is built for when the need arrives. The RGS is one tool that allows us to do that.

It also forces us (allows us?) to make choices right now. Are those 1,000,000 people going to live in far reaches of the region, far from jobs, and totally dependent on cars to get there? Are they going to spread out across our limited agricultural land, ecologically valuable greenspace, and sensitive floodplains? Or are they going to live nearer work in denser mixed-use communities with the option to use transit or active modes?

In reality, we will have both of those, as we do today, but the former will be demonstrably more expensive and difficult to build, with huge externalities like climate impacts, loss of food security, worse air quality, worse affordability, reduced security and livability. That is why a City like New Westminster needs to build more of the latter- denser, mixed-use, transit oriented communities, to save the livability of the region, to reduce the cost of living in the region.

We are signatories of the RGS not because we are forced to be, but because we recognize, along with our regional partners, that planning for this growth will make our region a better place. Communities are built by cooperation between neighbours, and New Westminster will be that good neighbour.

I think the process built into the RGS does a good job of constantly updating the RGS as conditions change, and I support the process that is proposed towards constant and metered improvement as opposed to large re-writes every 5 years.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Celebration of Canada 150
The Country is having it sesquicentennial, a few years after the City did. We are going to ramp up Canada Day events this year to better mark the occasion. More to come here…

Amendment to Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw No. 7318, 2009
These are the updates of the bylaws and fines that were discussed in a previous meeting as part of our general review of fees and charges. There were some typos in the previous Bylaw which delayed it slightly, so we are now approving it for Bylaw readings.

630 Ewen Avenue (Affordable Housing): MOU Update
Back in the April 18, 2016 meeting, Council approved in principle the development of a supportive housing project at 630 Ewen. This project developed in partnership with WINGs will provide supportive non-market housing for women with young children on a piece of land owned by the City. There is some work here to realize the project, but the MOU provides some guidelines moving forward.

2015 Corporate Greenhouse Gas Emissions Update
This is our annual report on our Greenhouse Gas Emissions, as required by Provincial Law passed back when the Provincial government thought reducing greenhouse gasses was worthy of effort.

Figure 1 is the quick summary:figure 1 ghg

We are on target, which is good to see, and unfortunately uncommon amongst senior governments in Canada and elsewhere. Local governments in Bc have (for the most part) taken this issue seriously, and should be applauded.

This is the 9th year of our 10-year plan – developed in 2008. To be sure, we have feasted a bit on low-hanging fruit, like replacing lighting with LEDs, and with replacement of heating systems in many of our larger buildings. 1/3 of our emissions reductions are passed down to us by BC Hydro, a large amount of or carbon offsets from Metro Vancouver through mandated reductions and diversion of solid waste. However, we have also opened the Anvil Centre and an expanded Queensborough Community Centre, and have expanded our vehicle fleet to provide better services, so the reduction and adherence to targets is impressive.

2017 City Grant Programs – Allocation of Funds
The City has no less than 8 separate Grant programs. The money comes from a variety of sources, including parking revenue, and a couple of specified trust funds, but the majority is right out of property tax, and that proportion is going up as grant requests are increasing the other sources of revenue are slowly declining.

The City Grant Review Panel is recommending we have a substantial increase in grant funding this year, but I’m cautious about a 10% increase in the existing budget without having a more fulsome discussion of what how we measure the effectiveness of our Grant program. Also problematic is that while requests for grants are going up, every year a half-dozen special requests some to Council and ask for a little extra, and Council typically says yes, resulting in this strange hybrid-grant mechanism.

I would agree with increasing grants in line with inflation on an annual basis, unless we have a situation where the full grant amount is not awarded over several years. However, it doesn’t speak to fiscal responsibility to just raise grant amounts based on requests, because the requests will never be satiated.

We had a pretty good discussion around the Council table about this, but ended up with a motion that I can paraphrase here. We approved maintaining a budget and allocations reflecting what we awarded last year, $860,484 (note: this is more than we budgeted for last year). We approved the idea of having a staff review of managing inflationary increases for Grants, criteria that Council should use to determine allocations in relation to Council goals.

Finally, we blasted through a raft of Bylaws readings and adoptions (which we really should set to music some time):

Five-Year Financial Plan (2016-2020) Amendment Bylaw No. 7891, 2016
As discussed above, this edit to the Budget received three readings.

Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 7868, 2016
As discussed above, these changes to our fines and bylaw practices received three readings.

Housing Agreement (318 Agnes Street) Amendment Bylaw No. 7882, 2016 Housing Agreement (328 Agnes Street) Amendment Bylaw No. 7883, 2016
As discussed above, the required edits to the housing agreements for these properties to reflect the changes we made in their Development Plan were given three readings.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 7864, 2016
As discussed above, this bylaw allowing short-term lending to cover cash flow within the current year received three readings.

Engineering User Fees and Utility Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7889, 2016
As discussed in the November 7, 2016 meeting, these changes to various engineering fees received three readings.

2016 Racial Discrimination Enactment Repeal Bylaw No. 7884, 2016
As discussed in the November 7, 2016 meeting, these archaic and offensive Bylaws that are somehow still on our books are now rescinded. No longer the law of the land, no adjustment of your behavior required.

Police Fees Bylaw No. 7874, 2016
Cultural Services Fees and Charges Bylaw No. 7875, 2016
Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7879, 2016
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7869, 2016

As discussed in previous meetings, these Bylaws officially adopting our new fees and charges for most City operations is now Law of the Land. Adjust your behavior appropriately.

Street and Traffic Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 7664, 2015
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 7769, 2015
Municipal Ticketing Information Amendment Bylaw No. 7666, 2015

As discussed in previous meetings, these Bylaws which comprehensively outline how people drive, walk, roll and park on our streets are now the Law of the Land. Break out the Skateboards and use them responsibly!

Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw (100 Braid Street) No. 7836, 2016
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (100 Braid Street) No. 7837, 2016

The Bylaws that support the OCP amendment that permits the Urban Academy and adjacent residential use for this land is now the Law of the Land.

We had one final late addition to the agenda to cover:

Removal of Parking Meters and New Bus Stop in front of 609 Twelfth Street
A couple of weeks ago, TransLink moved a bus stop a half-block north on 12th Street. There was a good reason for doing this: several accidents had occurred near the 12th and 6th intersection, and moving the busses forward opened u pa little space and made the road safer.

The business owners on 12th Street were concerned about this shift as they (wait for it) lost 2 parking spots in front of their business.

Frankly, I am less concerned about the move (it was done for good reasons,) and more concerned that the impacted residents and businesses were not alerted ahead of time. Moving the stop further north on 12th is not a good solution, as it moves the stop further from 6th, where a crossing bus line connection is commonly used.

In the end, we asked staff to review these processes and consultation procedures so that we can understand whether or not changes to protocols may be required.

And with that, we wrapped.

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