More than the map

I know a few people showed up at Council today, hoping to talk about the Official Community Plan and Land Use Map. Unfortunately, it was a Public Hearing night, as the last meeting of every month usually is, and as such we generally don’t have Public Delegations on those nights, saving space in the Agenda and reserving the floor for people who would like to talk to Council about items on the Public Hearing.

Worry not, there will be lots of opportunity for you to talk to Council about the OCP, as the entire draft Plan will be going out to Public Open houses in February. That was the decision made by Council today during our mid-day Workshop, which you can watch here, if you want to get a sense of where Council is on this topic, the conversation was wide-reaching and at times challenging.

You might want to look at the Land Use Map (as that seems to be where most of the conversation has been up to now), but you may also want to delve into the entire OCP document. This is a 150-page document that draws a much more detailed map of where the citizens of New Westminster see the City going over the next 10 to 25 years.

(You can click here to open the Council document from today’s Workshop, skip ahead to page 128, unless you also care about Heritage Protection in Queens Park!)

Under an overarching Vision Statement, there are 7 major Themes. These Themes support 12 Goals, which are descriptions of how we will describe the City in 25 years. To reach those Goals, there are 61 proposed Policies and 175 Actions that the City will take. It is only after reviewing those intended Actions that the Land Use Map and Land Use Designations make sense. The map should, if the OCP is on the right track, support those Policies and Goals, and ultimately, the Vision. And I want to talk about that.

New Westminster is a healthy, inclusive and thriving community where people feel connected with each other.  This sustainable city showcases a spectacular natural environment, public spaces and unique neighbourhoods that are well-connected and accessible. Superior urban design integrates its distinctive character, heritage assets and cultural identity. Growth and development provide a variety of services and employment opportunities that contribute to a high quality of life for all.”

When we started this process, almost three years ago, there was a burgeoning housing crisis in the Lower Mainland. In the two years since, the situation has gotten measurably worse. Accessibility to housing and affordability of housing is at critical levels in New Westminster, with 30% increases in property values in the last 12 months alone – ground oriented housing increased at more than that rate.

Over the last decade (and notably, mostly before my time, so I get little credit here) New Westminster has made real progress in addressing homelessness, in creating incentives to address the critical rental shortage, and in supporting the development of more affordable apartments and sustainable densities around our SkyTrain hubs. However, the “Missing Middle” is still a challenge. This OCP, and drafted, will open up possibilities for a variety of housing forms in some areas, and I appreciate the increased flexibility offered in the “ground oriented Infill” designation.

Just two weeks ago, we had a Council Report on the City’s Business Survey, and one of the biggest concerns of our business community was the loss of affordable family housing: for their employees and for their customers. Affordable family housing and housing variety isn’t just the biggest issue in our housing file, it is the biggest issue in our business development file, our transportation file, and our sustainability file.

I hope that during this last round of public consultation, we can correct some of the misinformation that lead to some relatively concentrated but sincerely-felt push-back, and can continue the ongoing three-year-long conversation about the context of this OCP and the future vision for the City that it presents. As part of that, we need to ask ourselves – have we done all we can to assure our family neighbourhoods can remain family neighbourhoods, accessible to the young families that will make our City prosper in the future? Have we provided opportunities for people from all walks of life and from all stages of life, to live in New Westminster and contribute to the vibrancy of this great community? Have we addressed regional affordability challenges and shown the leadership our residents expect from us?

So we are taking this back out to Open Houses, and I hope our residents and businesses ask themselves if this plan it meets their vision for that “healthy, inclusive and thriving community”.

The schedule ahead:


Pedestrians matter

The City has been doing a lot under the new Master Transportation Plan to re-prioritize our transportation system. As New Westminster is increasingly a compact, mixed-use urban centre, our public spaces become more important to the comfort and safety of residents, to the attractiveness and accessibility of our businesses, and to the building of community. That means our public spaces have to be safe places for people; that safety cannot be compromised in the interest of “getting traffic flowing”. Freeways are for flowing traffic, streets are for people.

I’m proud of the work that the City’s Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians (ACTBiPed) has done, and the collaborative attitude that City staff has adopted when discussion transportation issues, be they local traffic improvements or large regional projects like the Pattullo Bridge. However one piece of the political puzzle around transportation has been notably absent, not just in New Westminster, but regionally, and that is an independent advocacy organization to support the rights of pedestrians, and assure their voice is heard.

We have had various regional “straphangers” organizations over the years, and greater Vancouver has not one, but two separate cycling advocacy groups: The BC Cycling Coalition and HUB. The cycling groups have demonstrated that adding political voices together multiplies the volume, but also shows that advocacy can be constructive and collaborative. Their hard work over the last decades has resulted in millions of dollars in work making cycling a safer and easier alternative to driving in our region, and their work goes on.

There hasn’t been any such organization regionally working on protecting pedestrian space, or helping governments make better decisions regarding pedestrian rights. Perhaps this is because pedestrians are not seen as an under-represented minority. When you think about it, we are all pedestrians. Even if the only walking you do is to get from your car to a parking space, you need outcross a sidewalk to get there, and want that space to be safe (To expand out to truly everyone – the definition of “pedestrian” in modern transportation planning includes those who need mobility aids like walkers of chairs to help them get around). But politically, pedestrians are almost silent.

When the Ministry of Transportation, TransLink, or a Local Government design a new bridge or overpass, they seek input from the BC Trucking Association and the Gateway Council, organizations like BCAA and HUB use their political influence and the voices of their membership to assure that the interests of their member groups are added to the discussion. But pedestrians, for some reason, are absent. Because of this, sidewalks, crosswalks, and other aspects of the pedestrian realm are too often tacked on afterward, not integrated into the primary design thinking. The first thought is “how do we move cars”, then followed by “ok, let’s fit in some sidewalks”. Imagine how we would design our transportation system differently if we started with “how will a pedestrian use this space”, then decide what spaces we can allow for cars? Shouldn’t that be the default mode in a dense urban area like New West? Where is the organization to advocate for this shift?

The good news is that some local people are starting just this type of organization. They are calling themselves New Westminster Walker’s Caucus. They are a small group started by a few people familiar to the ACTBiPed as strong advocates for pedestrian rights, and for walking as a transportation mode. They have had a couple of meetings, and would love a little support from other walkers in New West and the region – show up at a meeting, lend them your skills, share the conversation.

We are all pedestrians, it’s time we stopped being so damn quiet about it.

Ask Pat: short questions

Sleepless asks—

A few short questions :

1. The trains are still whistling downtown as of the end of September. Any update on the progress w.r.t. whistle cessation?

Answered, for the most part.

2. Will New Westminster be following in the footsteps of Vancouver to require business licenses for Airbnb rentals?

I don’t know, but I suspect so.

I have done a lot of research and had a lot of discussions around Short Term Rentals. It was a big topic at the UBCM conference this year, I have brought the discussion to Council, and even organized a community conversation on the topic. It is an interesting topic from a Local Government perspective, and something I think we need to act on.

From what I have learned (and I reserve my right to change my opinion here if presented with better reasoning of evidence), I think Cities should regulate the practice of renting out residential properties to short term users (i.e. any rental situation not already regulated by the Residential Tenancy Act or the Hotel Keepers Act). I think a business licence should be required, and the City should be performing inspections to assure that rental suites meet building code and fire safety requirements. We also need a regulatory structure to manage the inevitable neighbourhood concerns and conflicts.

That said, I don’t think Vancouver’s regulatory approach is the most effective, and may be more punitive that necessary. I look instead at the approaches of Tofino and Nelson. New Westminster is unique city in that we are a small city in the middle of the metropolis. We also have a high rental population, and through progressive policies are seeing much more rental coming on line over the next few years, so although our rental vacancy is still low enough that it is a serious housing affordability issue, I think we are on the right track towards addressing that. We also, as City, have very few hotel rooms, and no serious intent (that I know of) for anyone to build more. With our walkable neighbourhoods and high transit connectivity, our well connected small business community and burgeoning “cool” factor, Short Term Rentals can be a positive economic driver for the City. We can make this a good news story – if we do it right.

3. Has the city considered moving the library downtown into the Anvil building? I grew up in a town where the city council built a white-elephant ‘civic center’, much like the Anvil building, but after seeing it going mostly unused for a couple of years, they converted one floor into a large and modern public library, and the resulting increase in traffic resulted in revitalization of the center and eventually the surrounding downtown area as well.

No. There is no room in the Anvil for a Library. And in that sense, I take exception to the idea at the Anvil Centre is a “White Elephant”. For the most part, the Anvil Centre is fulfilling expectations for the uses it was intended. The Museum and Archives are settled in their new home, the New Media Gallery is regionally lauded. The convention and rentals side of the business is doing great, and the theatre program is finally starting to come together. The community arts spaces are programming up, and although there is still more work to do on this aspect of the centre, it is already serving its intended role providing opportunities for residents to practice arts, with more positive development to come.

Yeah, the restaurant space is still empty, but we now have a solid tenant with a great vision. I remain a little disappointed about the street expression of the space – I think we need to find more effective ways to open up the ground floor to the street and vice versa to make that space more lively. Hopefully the restaurant will start that process, but I don’t think that the complete solution. I have a few ideas here, but will hold them close to my chest until we have a better opportunity to work with the Anvil staff and develop some of these ideas. However, the main point is that there simply isn’t any “unused” space in the building to allow for something like a remote library.

Conversely, we are investing quite a bit of money in the existing Uptown main branch of the library to fix some building issues and fit customer needs better. The Library is the City’s most used public facility, and it is suffering a bit from age and traffic, necessitating the investment of a few million dollars in repairs and refit. The second “satellite” library in Queensborough is by any measure a success serving a community separated by a bridge and a little too much distance from Uptown.

I would suggest, if we were looking at more of these satellite library locations, that Sapperton has a more compelling case for need than the Downtown. However, We also need to put that idea into the perspective that we are a small City: 70,000 people within 15 square kilometres. There is a serious question whether satellite campuses for the Library make sense across that space, or whether the significant investment should be better spent in making our single branch work more effectively. However, that bigger idea may be a question for the Library Board, of which I am not a member.

Keeping Busy

My New Year’s goal of writing more frequent blog posts – even just short ones – is being challenged by my schedule. So as part of ongoing lemonade-making efforts, I will make a blog post out of my too-busy-to-write-anything-useful day today.

I attended a meeting this morning where the lead researchers of the Southwest BC Bioregion Food System Design Project reported out results of the first phases of their ongoing study. There is a lot to digest (pun!) here, and the actual reports are going to be made publicly available in a couple of weeks, so I will wait until then to have a longer discussion about what this research project means, to the region and to a City like New Westminster (we were one of 8 Local Governments that provided a little funding to help bring this research to life).


Long version short – we are challenged to supply all of our food locally in this rapidly growing region, and without significant change in how and what we eat, the region will never be self-sustaining no matter how much ALR we protect. However, there are some significant economic and other advantages to encouraging increased use of ALR land for local food crops, and less reliance on food imports. There are also (somewhat paradoxically) some potential environmental/ecological disadvantages to this approach. It is a complex problem, as might be expected from an analysis of so many interweaving complex systems.

After this meeting, I took my first ever trip on the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam City Hall to meet with members of Coquitlam Council and staff to continue our discussion of the Brunette Overpass project. Nothing exciting to announce yet here, except for continued progress in finding common ground on the principles and challenges of the project. I remain positive about this file.


It may be telling about our biases that the New Westminster contingent (Council members and Staff) rode the Evergreen together to and from the meeting, reducing at least by one or two the number of vehicles trying to get through the constricted interchange that connects our City. Its almost as if there are alternatives to more lanes…

Finally, this evening members of the New Westminster Advisory Committee on Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians, and the Parks and Recreation Committee had a joint meeting to talk about potential design and functional elements of a waterfront connection between the Pier Park and Sapperton Landing.


We are *really early* in this process, and although making a connection here is a Council priority, we have a lot of jurisdictional, engineering, and budget issues to work through. However, some high-level understanding of what people would want or expect from the connection is useful in setting some terms and developing concepts.

These are all projects I hope to be able to write more about soon. I’d love to hear your opinions about any of them.

NW Station glass

After several months of disruption, it is with little fanfare that the New Westminster Skytrain station was fully re-opened after renovation. Immediately noticeable in the new station is the mural stretching up the staircase to the eastbound platform.


In a nice understated nod to local history, the glass mural is an amalgam of images from New Westminster history, some familiar, some not. The photos were drawn form New West Archives and the Vancouver Public Library collection, and collaged with colour effects by artist Sean Alward.


The overall effect down the staircase is to mimic the flow of the Fraser River itself, with various pictures of “nature” juxtaposed with “resources” that we have created from nature through a 150+ year history of New Westminster’s development. And the people are more shadows, impressions imposed on the background. A really nice piece. And what’s with the blimp?


Ask Pat: Whistle cessation update.

I’ve been a little behind on my “Ask Pat” responses. There are a few questions on different aspects of the Whistle Cessation theme, so I’ll cover them all with my answer to this one:

J.S. asked—

RE: new westminster train whistle cessation

I do not understand this project. There is a law saying train has to sound its horn at every crossing. Is there a law require it to be so loud that the entire town can hear it? Instead of throwing money on all these cessation projects which seem to be going nowhere, can’t train horn simply be modified so it is less aloud like a car horn or even a bell? Canadian train travels slower than a car. And I believe the law meant for it to be heard at that intersection only.

Yes, that would make total sense, but the answer to your first question is a completely absurd “yes”.

Train horns are designed to call attention to a train approaching a lonely rural road on the Canadian Shield at 80km/h, and therefore blow at something exceeding 100db for a regulatory more-than-20-seconds-for-every-crossing. That might make sense on a snowy rural crossing 100 miles east of Thunder Bay, but in the middle of a busy urban area the volume of the horns is clearly absurd. Especially then the crossing already has gates, bells, flashing lights, and the train is rolling along at 20km/h with a gigantic diesel engine chugging away at the front of it.

But the Railway Safety Act has a tendency to err on the side of caution, probably for good historic reasons. So we are stuck with this absurdity.

I would normally say “call your MP”, except that I know your MP has been working on rail interface issues for years, and has been stonewalled by successive governments and the simple intractability of trying to get the rail industry to behave as a good neighbour in urban areas. There is a bunch of long history here, related to the railways that built the Nation thinking and such, which was at one time, when railways were part of the National Enterprise, compelling, but now seem so much hollower now that the rail companies are just another multinational corporation charged with the holy duty of returning shareholder value… but I digress.

The City is, as you may have heard, working on bringing “Whistle Cessation” to our level crossings. This requires a significant amount of safety engineering, most of it patently absurd, to provide redundant safety measures enough that the Act and the railway operators are satisfied that absent-minded pedestrians and drivers won’t physically be able to wander into the path of a train. The City needs to pay for these works, and the rail companies that own the crossings both have to approve them, then decide (after the work is done, natch) if it now constitutes adequate protection to no longer require every person in a 5km radius to be alerted of the trains’ presence.

The works in New West have been painfully slow. There were a few engineering challenges, including the need to order some special equipment that could only be provided by a supplier approved by a railway. The multiple steps of design, pre-approval, engineering drawings, waiting for clearance, approvals to work in the right of way, waiting for the rail company to do the bits only they are authorized to do, getting authorization to do the bits we are authorized to do… it was painful.

However, I am happy to announce that the City has officially notified all of the stakeholders who need to be informed* that the City will officially request that Whistle Cessation be brought into effect for the two Front Street crossings through a resolution at Council scheduled for February 6th, 2017.

There are also three level crossings in Sapperton, and I have no idea when whistle cessation will be brought to those. The engineering requirements as far as sight lines and approach angles for cars under the Skytrain pillars are such that it appears simply impossible to meet any existing regular whistle-free standard. We will try, and new road infrastructure along that corridor will be viewed through a lens of whistle cessation, but barring radical ideas, I’m not making any promises about when that will actually occur.

*The list of Stakeholders who were officially served letters informing them of the City’ intentions for the February 7th meeting included the four rail companies that regularly operate on that line, plus PLM Railcar Management Services (Canada) Ltd.; PROCOR Ltd.; General Electric Railcar Services Corporation; the Canadian Fertilizer Institute; the Canadian Chemical Producers Association; the United Transportation Union; the Transportation Communications International Union Systems Board; UNIFOR; Teamsters Canada Rail Conference; Travailleurs Unis Transport (1843); the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union; GATX Rail Canada; Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 279; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the Propane Gas Association of Canada Inc. Dear God I hope we haven’t missed anyone. It’s absurd.

Council – January 16, 2017

The January 16 Council Meeting was mostly memorable for me as I was still feeling the lingering effects of some sort of exotic fever that had me bedridden for the entire weekend. It is flu season at City hall, we are on a bit of skeleton staff because of it, but we soldiered on and did the City’s business.

The meeting began with presentations on the following topics:

2016 Business Survey
The City hired a polling firm to do a fairly comprehensive survey of the City’s businesses. This was part satisfaction survey, and part research to find out where the City needs to put more emphasis in its economic development plans.

Perhaps surprising to some was the level of overall satisfaction the business community has with the City of New Westminster. Yes, businesses have concerns with traffic, real estate costs, taxes, and a lack of affordable housing, but the responses were overwhelmingly positive about the experience of doing business in the City, and dealing with City Hall. Again, our strengths are our sense of community and “small town” connections in the middle of a big city customer base.

I was also happy to see many of the ideas businesses had for improving the business climate in the City were aligned with initiatives the City is already working on – a sign that our staff already had a pretty good sense of the needs. Overall a positive survey, and a good guide towards improvements.

City of New Westminster Innovation Week Overview
Continuing on the theme of business development, this is a great initiative developed in partnership with the Federal Government and several important local partners. Attracting innovative businesses, new-tech small industry and research & development to New Westminster is fundamental to our longer-term Intelligent City and IDEA Centre programs.

As this is all coming together, New Westminster was able to attract an event previously held in the City of Vancouver to bring emerging businesses together with federal technology grant agencies, Angel Investors, and other stakeholders. This being New West, we are spinning the one-day Innovation Forum into a week-long celebration of innovation, including a special PechaKucha evening, a Hack-a-Thon at City Hall, events for families, kids, innovators, and pretty much everyone in the City.

Follow the links here and see how you might take part.

New Energy Efficiency Initiatives for Multi-Residential Buildings and Strata Condominium Buildings in New Westminster
Energy efficiency programs have for several years that provided one-stop-shopping for homeowners looking at renovations or appliance replacements. Programs like Energy Save New West hooking homeowners up with different subsidies, rebates, and other support programs to reduce costs and encourage making our housing stock more efficient and sustainable in the long term.

However, most people in New Westminster don’t live in single family detached houses, but in Strata-managed or rental multi-family buildings. Providing them the economic and environmental benefits of more efficient housing is a bit more of a challenge, but New West has been working with regional partners to expand efficiency and retrofit programs to these housing sectors.

There is much more good stuff in this report, and coming down the pike, so I guess I’ll have to write some blog posts on the topic in coming months…

Drone Policy
We have not exactly been overwhelmed with complaints about remote control flying devices, but some Cities are taking a proactive approach to regulating them. I’m generally opposed to the idea of outright banning emergent technology, but am not opposed to laying out some community standards in how the tech is used, within the limits of our jurisdiction. Council referred this to staff to see if they can give us a little guidance.

The following items were moved on Consent without discussion:

2017 Committee, Commission and Panel Appointments
Council officially released the list of 2017 Committee appointments. If you applied and were selected to serve on a Committee, congratulations, and get ready to do some interesting work. If you applied and were not selected, Please don’t take it personally. We had a lot of great applications this year, and every committee selection is a difficult balance between viewpoints, experiences, and talents. The worst part is when someone has been a really great committee member, but you need to let them go to provide some opportunities for new members. This is an unfortunate result of having a really engaged and activated community – we always have more applicant than we know what to do with.

100 Braid Street: Development Variance Permit No. DVP00620 for the East Side Yard Setback Requirement for the Existing Building to Remain on the Site
The urban Academy / Wesgroup development at 100 Braid Street will be a two-phase project, with the school half starting pretty soon and the residential half not anticipated for a few years. The plan included subdividing the property, however the existing building at 100 Braid is too close to the proposed property line to allow such a subdivision under the current Bylaws. This variance will allow Phase 1 to proceed without the need to demolish the building that houses the current art gallery.

This variance request will have an Opportunity to Be Heard at the February 20, 2017 Council meeting. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Queen’s Park Arenex: Removal from the City’s Heritage Register
The building was on the Heritage Register. The Building is no more. We need to remove it from the Register officially. Alas…

New Westminster Age-Friendly City Strategy
Council supported staff’s intention to move forward developing this strategy to assure that our City is a place where people are able to live at all stages of life. It fits with so many of the City’s existing goals, and will help prepare us for the demographic shifts that are coming the New West and the entire region over the next couple of decades.

DCC Expenditure Bylaw No. 7900, 2017 for Sanitary Works in the Queensborough Special Study Area
A Development Cost Charge (DCC) is a fee we collect from developers when they apply to increase the density of a piece of land through development to cover the larger cost to the City’s infrastructure resulting from the density growth. More people mean bigger water pipes and sewer pipes, so we collect water and sewer DCCs, and use that money to increase the capacity of the utility system when it is more appropriate to do so. Sometimes this is before a development is built, sometimes it is after, but the City’s ability to pool DCC money, and borrow from it in anticipation of future DCC money being collected, provides the financial leverage to make the sure developers cover much of the cost of servicing population growth.

This DCC expenditure will be to replace a major sewer pump station (an expensive piece of infrastructure!) in the Queensborough area adjacent to the proposed mixed-use development just west of Port Royal.

Internet Service Provider Agreement with Wi-Band Communications
Our BridgeNet dark fibre utility has a fifth client hoping to sell services to the community by putting light in the fibre. Wi-band has a slightly different business model, using the fibre backbone and line-of-sight through-the-air service delivery to not provide the highest possible speed, but a relatively economic and highly flexible service model. You can go to the BridgeNet website for more info to find out of fibre is right for you!

720 Second Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
This interesting project in Glenbrook North, which will restore an existing historic commercial building and build an adjacent residential home, will be going to Public Hearing on February 20, 2017. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Delegation to Lijiang, China
I’m reluctant to support Sister City trips, I don’t generally see the ROI to the City for such things, as the opportunities for learning or business development are rarely realized. However, this student exchange program has been happening for several years with some success. Council moved to support this trip by Councillor Williams from the Sister Cities budget.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Interpretive Signage Policy – Objectives, Principles and Workplan
Staff will spend a bit of time putting together policy guidance for the interpretive sign program in the City. Frankly, we have various interpretive signs, but not much of a program, resulting in a bit of a mish-mash of sign styles and purposes, mostly arrived at through one-off developments or events. As things like branding and marketing become more important for Cities, and as technology changes how we deliver interpretive signage, it is probably a good time to throw some best practices and guidance into a policy package.

Intelligent City Project Update
This is a peculiar report, as it seems to feature an all-time high concentration of buzzwords and catch phrases. However, it does outline progress in the city’s Intelligent City initiative, and deals with things perhaps less tangible than the dark fibre in the ground. I am supportive of the initiative, as I see it as an important aspect of our business development strategy in post-resource economy we are trying to build, but I wish I knew more buzzwords.

Metro Vancouver’s Food Action Plan
The City of New Westminster has been supportive of several regional food security initiatives, including providing support for a large KPU-led study of the regional food system known as the Southwest BC Bioregion Food System Design Project. This is because we, as a City, see food security as a significant component of sustainability.

The City is continuing to support this ongoing regional initiative, that moves the food security question far beyond the simple “protect the ALR” foundation, and expands ot include advocating for, supporting and protecting the entire local food supply chain, from assuring we have healthy riparian zones to support wild salmon stocks to assuring we have adequate food storage, processing, and distribution systems to support a health food supply economy, to assuring food waste is managed in a more sustainable way.

There is a lot to unpack here, but I wanted to call special attention to the Royal City Farmers Market, which has received support from the City in the past, but has now grown into a self-supporting and thriving 4-season portal for food security in the City. Beyond just providing marketing for locally grown and healthy food, they have created a variety of programs to get healthy food education into the schools, to get senior citizens and those with mobility issues access to the market, and to promote better living through better food throughout the City. They are a real shining star, and you should support them if you have any inkling of concern about food security locally, regionally, or nationally. You might even think about volunteering a few hours with them, I know they can always use more hands!

Official Community Plan Review: Land Use Designations for the Area Around the 22nd Street SkyTrain Station
Staff are continuing to refine the Land Use Plan map and other aspects of the proposed Official Community Plan. This report was a follow-up on numerous discussions about the 22nd Street SkyTrain station area. Most on council are pretty comfortable with seeing significant density around this SkyTrain hub, including mixed-use development at both medium and high density. These changes would re-imagine how the entire Connaught Heights neighbourhood would look and operate, potentially making for an entirely new and relatively compact mixed-use neighbourhood.

Council expressed support for a draft land use plan around the station, but I am frankly not all that convinced that change will be coming soon to Connaught Heights. The lot values are pretty high, there is a fairly new stock of single family homes in the area. To my knowledge, no-one is rushing to assemble land in the area despite the fact that the existing OCP has designated multi-family medium density development around the station for more than a decade now, with no action. However, an OCP that looks forward for several decades (to 2040 and beyond) should begin to sketch out what eventual development in that vitally important regional transit hub may look like.

326 Arbutus Street: Heritage Alteration Permit No. 86 to Permit Demolition – Council Consideration
This is the fourth application for demolition of a pre-1966 house in Queens Park that has gone through our detailed and technical review process since the start of the Heritage Conservation Period. We have granted one demolition and denied two others in that time. In this case, the home is again found to have very low heritage value and both the Heritage Commission and the Technical Review Committee found that there would not be a loss of heritage value to the neighbourhood if this demolition was permitted to proceed. Council supported allowing the demolition.

Environmental Strategic Priority Update
The City is working to update and consolidate many of its environmental policies, and to bring them in to line with the commitments made by the City by endorsing the Blue Dot initiative.
I like the vision statement, but when it comes to environmental action, it is always the Metrics I am most interested in. We collect various types of data on our environmental impact, through our CEEP, through our Urban Forest Management Strategy, through our waste management department and fleet budgets. I would like to see us find creative ways (perhaps through our Open data portal, or a more interactive Environmental Dashboard) to collect and report data on environmental performance, set realistic goals, and measure our progress towards them.

That is what has worked with Greenhouse Gasses, it can work in other areas. I thought up a shift to more permeable surfaces and less asphalt, measuring our consumption of resources such as water, electricity, or paper, or even just counting our native plant populations vs. invasive species. I’m not sure where the limits are in this type of direct measurement and reporting, but an excited about the opportunities.

Finally, we once again dispatched with some Bylaw business.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (720 Second Street) Bylaw No. 7887, 2017
Heritage Designation Bylaw (720 Second Street) No. 7888, 2017
These Bylaws to support the proposed mixed commercial and residential project in Glenbrook North were given first and second readings. This project will go to Public Hearing on February 20th. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Development Cost Charge Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 7900, 2017
This Bylaw to support the spending of DCC monies to build the pump station Queensborough as described above was given three readings.

And with that, the evening was complete.

Tax time – 2017 edition

Assessments are out, everybody lucky enough to have entered the housing market lottery prior to about 2008 is discovering how much their nest egg has expanded in the last year, and even to the lucky winners, this is at times disconcerting. Strangely enough, people who have just discovered that have an extra couple of hundred thousand dollars in tax-protected equity they didn’t know about are concerned about the impact on their Property Tax. People are funny that way.

I wrote a piece several years ago about how property tax relates to your assessment increase, and last year provided a handy graph showing how your assessment increase vs. the average city-wide assessment increase results in different increases in your taxes.

This year, the Mayor of Coquitlam used Facebook to send essentially the same message, and New West blogger and noted Hawaiian star-coder Canspice wrote another piece with a slightly more updated example of how the system works compared my older one. So I won’t tread over all that again, but short version is your Municipal taxes won’t go up nearly as much as your assessment.

My incredibly average house’s value went up 30% this year, and the average for New Westminster was 28.5%, so my property tax bill will go up 2.5% plus whatever increase Council decides is required to pay the bills in 2017 (now looking to be just under 3%, but not yet confirmed). If your home went up 25.5% in value, your taxes would be exactly the same as last year. If your home went up less than 25%, your taxes are going down.

However (and here is another important point people often miss), this only relates to your Municipal taxes. When Council decides it needs to collect 3% more tax revenue to balance the budget, we adjust the mill rate to increase our revenue by 3%. However, Municipal taxes are only a little more than half of your Property Tax bill. You may remember these line items from last time you paid your taxes:tabletax

In New West (and this varies between Cities for reasons that will soon become obvious), about 60% of your Property Tax goes to the City, the other 40% goes to other agencies, and the City has no control over what the rates are for those taxes.

Your 2016 property tax in New West broke down into these categories, with the Mil rates shown. Only about 60% goes to the City
Your 2016 property tax in New West broke down into these categories, with the Mil rates shown. Only about 60% (the blue bit) goes to the City.

The School Taxes (for a New West residential property, this is about 30% of the total you pay) are set by the Provincial government. They are based on a Mil rate, like your Municipal taxes, and like them, the rate is different in every City. Generally cities with higher land values have lower mil rates (West Vancouver is 1.026, Quesnel is 3.698), and the rates are adjusted every year. After that, I honestly have no idea what formula they use or what their goals are towards equity across the Province. According to the Ministry, they are raised every year “based on the previous year’s provincial inflation rate”, but I am not really able to confirm or refute that idea. I have never seen a letter written to the newspaper complaining to the province that School Taxes are going up.

There are also two regional charges attached to your Property Tax bill, again not directly controlled by the Municipality: those to support the operation of Metro Vancouver (GVRD) and TransLink (GVTA).

The Metro tax (Mil rate 0.0563) is solely for regional government operation, and is separate from the utility charges that makes up most of Metro Vancouver’s revenue. The Metro Vancouver board (which is every mayor in the region) negotiates that rate every year based on needs, and it is the same Mil rate across the region, so people in West Vancouver pay much more per household than people in New West, as their property values are higher.

The TransLink Mil rate (currently 0.2834) is determined by the TransLink board, with approval from the provincial government and within the confines of the provincial regulation that governs them. This rate is , again, flat across the region, meaning West Vancouver and Vancouver pay more than New West and Langley per household. This provides about 20% of TransLink’s revenue, and this is the heart of the long battle between the provincial government and the mayors of the region – the Province would prefer that new TransLink revenue to come from increases here, the Mayors have a long list of alternate sources they would prefer, from sales taxes to road pricing to carbon tax. But let’s not go down that rabbit hole just now.

There are also two small charges controlled by the provincial government for the benefit of local governments. The BC Assessment Authority (BCAA), who determines your land value, is funded wholly through Property taxes, and the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA) gains some operational funds through a very small Property Tax charge (20 cents for a $1,000,000 house). Both of these are collected with Mil rates flat across the province, so the average West Vancouver resident pays much more than the average Quesnel resident, with New West somewhere in the middle.

Finally, the City’s new Property Tax Estimator gives you an idea of what your actual assessment means to your tax bill, assuming that Council approves a 2.98% tax increase. It also provides an interesting break-down of how the City’s revenues are distributed between departments, giving you an idea of what you are buying with your Property Tax, and how much you are paying for each.

Meeting with Coquitlam

Members of New Westminster and Coquitlam Councils, with staff support on both sides, had a great meeting yesterday to discuss the Brunette Interchange project.

The meeting included a tour of important locations on both sides of Highway 1. Both Councils took the opportunity to share ideas and issues, and have a better understanding of the many concerns with the current traffic through this corridor and with the potential solutions offered by the Ministry of Transportation.

I still have serious concerns with this project, but was really pleased with yesterday’s discussions between the two Councils. The meeting was positive, respectful, and informing, and I am looking forward to the discussions ahead.

Sharpshooter politics

You may have heard of anecdote of the Texas Sharpshooter. He is generally portrayed as a cocky fella standing in a farmyard shooting at the side of the barn. Once his bullets are exhausted, he walks over to the barn, identifies the tightest cluster of bullet holes, and draws a bulls-eye around them. He then speaks glowingly of his targeting skills.

We just witnessed the Premier of British Columbia play Texas Sharpshooter with our coastline.

About five years ago, the Premier was in a tough political situation with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project. She didn’t know which way the political winds were going to blow as she approached her first election. She needed to telegraph general support to satisfy her political contributors, but didn’t want to be caught wearing that approval if things went south. So she pragmatically hedged her bets. She said she would approve the project only if 5 conditions are met. In other words: “I could be convinced”.

At first, the conditions sounded reasonable and concise: Federal environmental assessment approval, Adequate spill protection for land and sea, First Nations agreement, and financial benefit for BC. Five bullets shot towards the barn. It took 5 years for her to finally saunter over there and draw the targets, now declaring them hit.

The problem with what she describes as her “consistent and principled” stand on this project is that it wasn’t any stand at all. One of the conditions was a sure thing (the NEB approval of the project, and I could go on another entire rant about that one – I have in the past!), but the other 4 had no actual measures! They were phantom targets, a blank barn wall waiting for bulls-eyes to be painted.

To use “World-Leading” as the measure for the spill prevention and response plans is, of course, ridiculous. It would be difficult for the nations of the world to have a spill-prevention-off or an Oil Clean Olympics. That said, I have worked on both the Federal (marine) and Provincial (land-based) consultations as part of my previous job. I have reviewed what other jurisdictions do, have read and critiqued position papers, have attended workshops and spill response exercises, and have conferred with experts local and international. That there are major gaps and unaddressed concerns with the spill prevention and response plans is not a controversial opinion.


No plan is perfect, but for them to earn the moniker “World Leading”, I would think you would at least meet the standard set out by Washington State, and it is clear these plans fall far short of those measures. There are places in the world where shipping Afrimax tankers full of diluted bitumen is against the law – a spill prevention measure that really can’t be exceeded. We do not measure up to many other jurisdictions yet, not even close.

But it’s OK. The Premier has drawn the target around the collection of half-baked plans the Province, the Feds and Kinder Morgan have, and has determined they meet her vague test of “World Leading”.

The First Nations condition included the meeting of legal and constitutional requirements, which will be measured by a judge, I guess, but also included undefined opportunities and benefits for First Nations. Despite the Premier’s confidence, we don’t know if the legal and constitutional issues are fully addressed, as many of the groups along the route appear to still be opposed to the project, nor has it been made clear who or what opportunities or benefits agreements have been made. This was tweeted out by a reliable newsgatherer during the announcement:shaneKM

So I guess the target was 50% of First Nations. Nice to find out after.

Finally, the economic benefit to BC was also never provided a measure. It sounds like the Premier negotiated with Kinder Morgan to assure pipeline jobs go to British Columbians first (which probably violates NAFTA and TILMA, but I digress), and Kinder Morgan will contribute $25-50 Million a year to fund various local environmental programs in the Province, providing the Premier many opportunities to stand in front of banners with her Haida print shawl in the future. The amount is significant, unless you compare it to the $1.5 Billion subsidy to oil pipelines recently announced by Trudeau.

Again, this target was never defined or openly discussed until the day it was announced as being hit. If it sounds like I wanted more, maybe it is because hard negotiations to get money out of oil companies is apparently a BC Liberal strength when it serves their purposes. But that’s just politics.

Recently, a poll was released that showed 54% of BC are in favour of the pipeline. My Facebook algorithm keeps spamming my feed with that poll, and it always seems a shockingly small number to me. This was a poll conducted by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an organization with extremely deep pockets that has served as the primary public speaker in favour of the project. Not only have they and others spent hundreds of millions of dollars on print, internet, radio and tv ads trying to convince us this pipeline is a great idea, They no doubt were able to frame the poll questions in as favourable a light as possible to push towards their desired result. Yet they still only got 50% plus the margin of error in support. Describing this support as anything but tepid would be disingenuous.

However, the Premier has clearly done the math. The ridings in Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island that most opposed to this project were not likely winnable next election anyway. This approval may even boost Green Party support enough in areas like North Vancouver to assure a few quiet, obedient Liberals can still squeeze through. The great thing about drawing your targets afterwards – the real strength of Texas Sharpshooter politics – is the flexibility. We can have no doubt if polls showed an electoral advantage to opposing this project, those targets would have been drawn on another part of the barn, and our “consistent and principled” Premier would be standing in opposition to the project now. Like she was only a year ago: