Ask Pat: Medicine Hat

Alice asks—

Is there any reason the Medicine Hat approach of reducing Homelessness in their city can’t be applied to New Westminster? I know it has been said senior gov’t needs to step up but the Medicine Hat strategy involved very little additional funding from senior gov’t. Their population and homeless population appear to be in line with New West.

This is one of the areas of the City’s operations where I have had to climb a pretty steep learning curve. We have Councillors and a Mayor with much more knowledge of this than I do (and some pretty stellar staff, as a bonus), but I’ll take a dive at answering this with that caveat in mind, and keep myself open to correction from those with more knowledge.

Essentially, the Medicine Hat model is based on “housing first” – the idea that if we can first get homeless people into shelter, regardless of how temporary it is, we can get them services they need and start the process of moving them to more permanent and sustainable housing options, and (this is the bigger hope) access to services to help them manage the underlying cause of most homelessness – disabilities, trauma, exploitation, and mental health concerns including addiction. This has been standard operating procedure in New Westminster for a decade or more. So why is Medicine Hat different?

Medicine Hat is a rural community, so it’s 61,000 residents are surrounded by farms and wilderness. New Westminster’s 70,000 people are in the middle of an urban population of 2,500,000 people. New Westminster needs to work along with its neighbours and operate within that reality. That is both an advantage to New Westminster, and a disadvantage.

In Medicine Hat, the most recent homeless count put their numbers at about half the average of the province of Alberta on a per-capita basis. The numbers provided in 2016 news stories estimate there were 875 people moved to supportive housing over the six years of their aggressive program – one for every 70 residents. Extrapolate that to Greater Vancouver, and we would need to facilitate 36,000 supportive housing units in the same period – 6,000 per year. To make this work, the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society received $3.9 million from the province of Alberta (plus about 10% that amount from a combination of the federal and local governments). It is clear the province of Alberta, even during difficult financial times, fulfilled their constitutional responsibility to provide housing. Extrapolate that to the Lower Mainland, and this becomes another boring post about lack of Provincial resources and the terrible priorities of the BC Liberals…

However, there is a persistent problem we have in the Lower Mainland that makes us stand out, and with which “Housing First” is of limited help: the flow of people being forced into homelessness by our out-of-scale housing costs, the erosion of our housing support programs (including the Co-op Housing model), lack of resources for people at risk (aging out of care, coming out of incarceration, or leaving protracted medical care), and our ongoing lack of rental vacancy. To avail oneself of “Housing First” assistance in BC, one first has to be homeless, which is like addressing gun violence by buying bandages: it has a value and is measurably effective, but does not address the source of the problem. This is a terrible way to organize public resources, but more importantly, it completely dehumanizes of the actual problem.

Which brings me back to the Medicine Hat miracle I keep reading about in the news. Considering it is not particularly groundbreaking in approach, and aside from the resources put into it, it’s success is not outstanding compared to many municipalities (including New Westminster), I wonder about the narrative of its success. I do not want to take even the tiniest bit of credit away from the City, the not-for-profits, or programmers (paid and volunteer) who put their lives work into helping less fortunate people, but there is a part this makes me twitchy.

Google any story of the Medicine Hat Homelessness approach, and you hear some version of the same narrative: how the “fiscally conservative” Mayor was convinced to support the program, because it turns out paying to put people in housing saves the City and the Province money in the long run. Now, this is true; so well established it isn’t even a point of debate, but quotes likes this fire my cynicism gland:

“It makes financial sense. That’s how I had my epiphany and was converted. You can actually save money by giving somebody some dignity and giving them a place to live.” – Mayor Clugston

The fact that a leader describes his decision to provide basic human dignity to marginalized residents of his community in terms of its ability to turn fiscal profit is abhorrent to the way I view governance and society. Maybe he is just saying that to keep the Randian libertarians in his town off of his ass, or perhaps it speaks deeply of the state of western Canadian politics and the erosive influence of Calgary School neo-liberal fiscal policy projected by “Think Tanks” like the Fraser Institute on governments at all levels… I’m about to go on a long rant here, so perhaps I will save that for a future blog post… but this economically-driven “come-to-Jesus moment” narrative sound more like cowardice than visionary leadership to me.

Short version is we, in New Westminster, are regional leaders in providing housing support to our homeless residents, and I will hold our success up against Medicine Hat’s any day (not that this is a contest – when it comes to supporting marginalized populations in this country, we are all losing). New West is forging partnerships with senior governments and investing in supportive housing, and we are providing City lands to develop innovative housing solutions. We have incredible staff and NWPD liaisons partnering with an amazing suite of not-for-profit agencies to address the multiple causes of (and solutions to) homelessness at a person-to-person level. We did this before it was sexy, and perhaps we don’t brag enough about it. More importantly, I would like to think we do it not becasue of some fiscal bottom line calculation, but because homeless people in New Westminster are citizens of New Westminster, who deserve representation for their elected officials, and should have the same access to support, dignity, and opportunity as everyone else.

Council: March 27, 2017

Our post-Spring Break council meeting featured a Public Hearing and an interesting afternoon workshop, if you are one of those freaks for whom Council Workshops on infill density guidelines informing Official Community Plans are “interesting” (if they are, you should either go to planning school and get it over with, or watch the video here to get your fix).

The Public Hearing concerned two projects:

260 Twelfth Street Zoning Amendment (Calvary Worship Centre and John Knox School) Bylaw No. 7905, 2017
This project will replace a recently-demolished small church at the corner of 12th street and Third Ave with a larger building to house a private Christian high school. We received a number of submissions in favour of the project (mostly, if not all, parents attached to the school), and a few submissions in opposition.

The project meets the Official Community Plan designation for the site, and the objectives of the Lower 12th Community Plan objectives. The density is a little higher than zoning, but the land use and other aspects of the development are within the intended zoned use. The Advisory Planning Commission and Design Panel approved of the project, and no major concerns were raised by the residents association.

There were some concerns, mostly from adjacent car dealers, about what the project will mean to the number of cars parking and driving in the area (read that sentence again), however the parking and drop off provisions for the school are well within what we should expect for the use, and the School has a pretty aggressive Transportation Demand Management program to get students out of cars. This brought me to suggest that the ACTBiPed might want to review the surrounding bike and pedestrian safety (working with our staff, of course) and make recommendations to Council if there are any changes required to assure the City is doing what it can to promote active transportation by the students.

I’ve said it before, I am no fan of private or religious schools, because I think the potential erosive influence they have on community is greater than the benefits they provide the small portion of the population who are able to use their services, but it isn’t my job as a City Councillor to set provincial education policy. My job in an application like this is to help the community regulate land use through policy. This project meets the stated policies the City has established over a decade or more, so I had no compelling reason to oppose the project.

Council moved to refer the project to Regular Council, where we voted unanimously to give the proposal Third Reading.

43 Hastings Street Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Hastings Street Unzoned Right of Way) No. 7899, 2017
This is a zoning amendment to support apply a zoning designation to an undeveloped piece of road, which will be amalgamated with and adjacent lot to support an affordable housing project. No written submissions were received, but we had one resident come to ask a few questions. As her questions were related more to the housing project (which will go through its own public process), her questions were answered as far as we could at this time, but that is a separate discussion.

Council move to refer to Regular Meeting, where we moved unanimously to adopt the zoning amendment Bylaw.

This brought us to our Regular Meeting, where following the votes on the above projects, we launched into Opportunities to be Heard on three separate variance requests:

43 Hastings Street Road Closure and Dedication Removal Bylaw No. 7898, 2017
This is the actual street closure and dedication of that unopened road to support the affordable housing project above. We received no submissions, written or otherwise, and approved the road closure bylaw.

700 Royal Avenue (Douglas College): Development Variance Permit No. DVP00623 to vary Sign Bylaw requirements
Douglas College wants to modernize the signage on the side of their campus at Royal Ave and 8th Street. The site is a little outside what would typically fit into our Sign Bylaw, so they are asking for a variance to make the sign large enough to be visible and to scale with the wall upon which it will appear. The design is relatively understated (black sans-serif font), and only lighted from wall wash lights.

We received four letters in opposition to this variance, but they strangely didn’t have much to say about Douglas College or the sign itself. They all had a common theme around managing truck traffic on Royal Ave, and I couldn’t find a way to connect their concerns to this sign bylaw variance.

Council moved to approve the variance.

350 Johnston Street: Development Variance Permit No. DVP00621 for Frontage
This is yet another one of those variances related to the rule that a building lot frontage must represent more than 10% of the circumference of the lot – or a rectangular lot can only be 4x as deep as it is wide. For a few spots, typically in Queensborough, the lots are very deep and subdivisions that would normally be fine anywhere else break this rule, necessitating the variance.

We receive no submission for or against this variance, and Council voted to approve it.

We then went into a couple of Reports for Action:

813 Carnarvon Street: Rezoning to Allow a 245 Unit Residential development – Preliminary Report
This is a preliminary report for a proposed development downtown which has yet to go to public consultation, panel reviews, etc., and will end up at a Public Hearing, so I am holding off much commenting on the design or scale of the project for now. The amenity they wish to build (non-market secured rental for retired artists from the performance arts community) is interesting.

Ultimately, we were asked to provide some preliminary guidance to staff towards areas not well defined by existing policy – whether Family Friendly Housing criteria should be applied to all housing, including non-market secured rental provided as an amenity (I argued yes, it should), and how we determine what the amenity value of extra density is on this site. Kinda inside baseball, but rather important as a precedent for how we manage these projects in the future.

This project will be going out to public consultation, watch for an Open House near you!

2017 City Partnership Grant – Appeal from Rivershed Society of BC
The Rivershead Society have an annual event on the waterfront in September, coinciding with their AGM. They applied for a grant and were turned down by our Partnership Review Panel as they had used up all of their budget and this project was not placed high enough in the priority list. They appealed to Council, and we voted (in a split vote, me against) to fund them anyway.

The following items were moved On Consent:

518 Ewen Avenue: Proposed Rezoning from (C-1) to (RQ-1) to Permit Construction of a Single Detached Dwelling – Updated Application for Consideration of Public Hearing
This rezoning request to permit a single family home in Queensborough has been through a long process, and is now off to a Public Hearing in April. I will hold off further comments until then.

1002, 1012, 1016 and 1020 Auckland Street: Rezoning from Light Industrial Mixed Use Districts (M-5) to Comprehensive Development Districts (1002 Auckland Street) (CD-69) – Bylaw for Consideration of First and Second Readings
This rezoning to support a mutli-family development on the steep part of the Brow of the Hill is also going to a Public Hearing in April, so I will hold off comments until then.

Inclusion BC letter received February 17, 2017 regarding the first ever Disability Pride celebration and parade and requesting a contribution
Inclusion BC is based in New Westminster, and is working on a project to bring attention to access issues across BC. Council referred this request for funding to staff.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital) Development Variance Permit No. DVP00624 – Consideration of Issuance
The expansion of RCH is going to result in a lot of permitting and other requirements from the City. We have every reason to help facilitate this, as RCH is out largest employer and a significant part of our long-term planning for Sapperton, but we also have to assure we do proper reviews of the permits and plans to assure community interest is protected.

This DVP will support the design of the first building in the RCH expansion by allowing two small intrusions into setback areas on the west and north sides of the building. The intrusions are small, and integral to the design of the building, so I don’t think there is a large concern here.

I have some concerns about the Brunette Ave side of the building, as we have received two views of what that facia will look like – both contradictory. It will wither be a treed boulevard with sidewalk, or a parking spot for trucks dropping occasional fuel deliveries to the Hospital. I’m curious how these two uses are considered compatible – removable trees?

328 Second Street: Heritage Alteration Permit No. 084 to Build a New House in Queen’s Park – Consideration of Issuance
The HCA process is proceeding in Queens Park, and we are still operating under the temporary Heritage Conservation Period. We have turned down a couple of demolition permits (and have supported a couple), but the Heritage Protection measures also include guidelines to assure new builds are complimentary to the heritage landscape of the neighbourhood. This is the first application we have had that is testing the limits to how those guidelines will be tested.

The house is generally complimentary to heritage character in its massing and form, but the Technical Review Panel and staff expressed concern about the design having two garage doors facing the street, which is not typical of the street or of the Craftsman style, and has implications for the boulevard and street trees that are not in conformance with the existing standards for Second Street.

Council voted unanimously (Mayor Cote recused) to support the staff recommendation that the HAP not be supported, meaning that the architect will need to work with staff to adapt the design to better fit the guidelines.

Walk New West Initiative
The City is working with a residents group called The Walkers Caucus to promote walking in April and May – leading up to Jane’s Walks. One initiative is walkers challenge, where teams will keep track of their steps and miles walked and compete for some fun prizes and bragging rights.

I challenged the members of ACTBiPed to start a team, and it filled so fast I was not able to join a team, so I instead decided to put together a team of Council members – and we will set as our goal, more steps than the ACTBiPed!

If you have a community group, business, not-for-profit, neighbourhood or group of friends who might want to get a little fitter and set some goals for walking in the City, with a chance to get some prizes and motivation, you should sign up here!

12 K de K Court Boulevard Trees
Council Watchers may remember a group came to ask that the City trees on a stretch of the Quayside boardwalk be removed and replaced with smaller trees, as the trees that are currently there are much larger than anticipated when they were put in a decade ago.

I cannot support removing trees to protect views, at a philosophical level. It is 2017, and we have a newly adopted Urban Forest Management Strategy. There may have been some decisions made in the past by staff or council that need to be reviewed in light of this new era – we have not had the time to create new policies and directions for staff under the UFMS, but I can assure you “not cutting trees down to protect resident views” is one of those policies that will be seen as a reasonable response to a strategy designed to reduce the loss of trees.

I’m glad that staff has found a pruning solution that may keep trees closer to the scale that was originally envisioned to meet the aesthetic values of the neighbourhood, without threatening the health of the trees themselves or the cost and risk of relocation.

Finally, we launched into the always-popular Bylaws part of the meeting:

Zoning Amendment (1002 Auckland Street) Bylaw No. 7907, 2017
This zoning amendment to support the multi-family development in the Brow of the Hill was given two readings. This project will be going to public hearing on April 24. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (720 Second Street) Bylaw No. 7887, 2017
Council resolved to exempt the new parcels created from 720 Second Street from the statutory minimum frontage requirements set out in section 512 of the Local Government Act (that is, their frontage will be less than 105% of their circumference)

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (720 Second Street) Bylaw No. 7887, 2017 & Heritage Designation (720 Second Street) Bylaw No. 7888, 2017
This Bylaw to permit the subdivision of a lot in Glenbrook North to support the restoration of a commercial building and building of a new house as was discussed a the Public Hearing on February 20, is now adopted. It’s the Law of the Land.

Housing Agreement (295 Francis Way – Affordable Non-Market) Amendment Bylaw No. 7910, 2017 & Housing Agreement (295 Francis Way – Market Rental) Bylaw No. 7909, 2017
These agreements to support secured market and secured non-market rental use for a multi-family development in Victoria Hill, as discussed at the March 6th Council meeting, were Adopted. They are no the law of the land.

Subdivision Control Amendment Bylaw No. 7908, 2017
This Bylaw update that regulates lighting design standards for the City was Adopted. Justice (and pedestrians) should no longer be blind.

And with that we wrapped.

Ask Pat: Taxes – the western suburbs edition

westvandude asks—

I read your property tax comparison article as I was looking to compare West Vancouver to City of Vancouver taxes. For instance if we say what is the total tax paid on a $2.5 or $3 million house in either community (so property tax, garbage, sewer, water, etc) as I always thought City of Vancouver was more expensive…. when you compare Vancouver streets potholes and snow removal it seems Vancouverites are getting ripped off. Where would I find a comparison for total taxes for same value houses?

Hey, wait, this isn’t a New West question! It also sounds like you want me to answer one of those questions that a few minutes on Google could answer. That link I just used is a little old, but fresher information is pretty easy to find. For example:

Go to the City of Vancouver Property Taxes webpage, and it gives you a pretty good summary of what your Mil Rates are, and where they go:


Unfortunately, no such page exists that I can find on the West Vancouver property taxes webpage.


To find the Mil Rates, you need to dig a bit through the Bylaws until you come upon Bylaw No. 4885, 2016, where the Mil Rates Rates are set out:


If we can ignore Metro, School, and other property taxes that don’t go to the City and are set provincially or regionally, on a house assessed at $2.5 Million in 2016, you paid $3,700 to West Vancouver (2.5M/1,000 x 1.4758), and $3,900 to Vancouver (2.5/1,000 x 1.56168). Of course, we also have to, just for a moment, put aside the absurdity of the phrase “$2.5 Million house in West Vancouver”.

Utilities are more complicated. West Van charges Quarterly for water and sewer. Water has a $60/qtr base charge, and rates that go from $1.15 to $1.93 per cubic metre of water depending on how much you use. Sewerage further costs you $32/qtr plus another $2 per cubic metre of water you use.

Vancouver bills for water on a Ternary basis, with about a $31 base charge, and rates that go from $0.95 to $1.20 per cubic metre of water based on season. Sewage costs a further $0.87 per cubic metre of water use. So it sure looks like for most users, Vancouver water rates are quite a bit lower, but it depends completely on your use. If you have typical household use, Vancouver is several hundred dollars cheaper per year.

Notably, West Vancouver charges homeowners a “Drainage Levy”, which is $400 per year for a typical home. Vancouver does not have a charge like this. That extra $400 charge easily exceeds the difference in property taxes between the Cities. And also points out how the deeper you dig into the comparisons between how different cities pay for their public services, you discover that simply saying “Vancouver has higher taxes than West Vancouver” is a bit of a meaningless phrase. This is why I tried to compare what cities collect in taxes per capita, using data normalized a bit by the provincial government. West Van looks pretty expensive when you look at it that way.

Finally, about the roads and pothole thing, you can look at the 2016 West Van budget, and see they have about $100M in revenue every year, and spend about $4.5M on all engineering services (about 2/3 of that spent on roads). Vancouver’s 2016 Budget showed $1,260 Million in revenue and spending of about $75 Million in all engineering services – so about a 33% higher proportion of revenues. Of course, the roads that Vancouver spends money fixing are way more likely to be used regularly by a West Vancouver resident than vice versa. Also note that Vancouver has (almost) the most roads by area and the most road lane kilometres per capita than any City in British Columbia, where West Vancouver has relatively sparse roads. So we are, once again, comparing apples to pineapples here.

New West taxes? We are about average per-household in the region, and are well below average on a per-capita basis. And the potholes this year are terrible, despite the $4.5 Million spent on asphalt annually. That December snow event was pretty hard on asphalt, and that is going to cost us.

Ask Pat: $1 Transit?

Terran asked—

Hey Pat,
Hope I’m allowed to still ask questions even though I don’t live in New Westminster anymore. (I’ll be back once affordability comes back)

Translink recently started asking about transit fares again. This was a long time promise for the compass card that we could better manage the system. The survey is quite overly simplistic but that’s not my question more concern.

My question stems for the comments below the Facebook post they have for the survey. The idea of $1 transit fares comes up. Considering only ~35% of the budget comes from transit fares could this actually be a realistic option? I know I would switch from using my car if I could get to work for only a $1. Would the increased ridership even come close to off setting the huge loss in revenue? Is there even a way to know?

Sure, I’ll give you one free question since you used to live in New West. Wait – was that your question?

As you mention (and I talked about a bit a few weeks ago), TransLink is going through a Fare Review process right now. This is likely in response to the integration of the Compass Card as much as to a newfound opportunity for the next stage of system growth, as the Mayor’s Plan for a decade of capital investment may be back on track.

This review is not intended to boost or reduce fare revenues, only to re-jig the system to make it work better; to make it more “fair” or more user-friendly. The working model is that any adjustment would result in about the same revenue from fares, it will just be collected in different ways. The survey therefore was designed to collect people’s feelings about fare structures such as whether people who travel farther should pay more, or the entire system should be a flat fee, but is basically silent on what the actual flat fee or distance charge would be.

What you are suggesting is not just a “flat fee” model, but one that sets the fee quite a bit lower than it is now, in hopes that it will boost ridership. Considering the purpose of the survey, what would that rate have to be?

TransLink receives a little more than 1/3 of its operating revenue from the farebox, or about $510 Million of a $1.4 Billion budget. Aside from roads and bridges and all the other things TranLink does, they annually have about 240 Million journeys on the multi-modal transit system, or 360 million boardings (obviously, some portion of journeys results in more than one boarding, as a person may transfer from SeaBus to the SkyTrain, or from one bus to another on a single journey). So depending on whether you want to issue transfers or not, you would need to charge $2.15 per journey, or $1.45 per boarding.

So a dollar won’t be enough, but would this simple and cheap fare boost ridership enough to make up for it? At current service levels, there would need to be a doubling in the number of journeys on the system, or a 45% increase in boardings. Anyone riding a SkyTrain during rush hour or standing on a 106 recognizes this is not viable without a significant increase in service levels, which would require investments in the capital part of operations (buying more trains and buses), not just increased operational costs.

Perhaps there is some wiggle room in the idea of flat $2 fares per journey, one might speculate that this would provide a 7% increase in ridership to make up for the lost revenue per ride, but that brings us back to the fairness question: should a person riding the 106 from Columbia Street to Uptown pay the same amount as someone riding SkyTrain from Surrey to Downtown Vancouver? Which type of journey are we trying to incentivize more? These are the questions the current review is trying to address, even at a relatively simple level.

Calculating an optimum fare, one that incentivizes use but also provides enough ridership to maintain a system, is some difficult calculus, even putting aside the political implications of increasing the various tax subsidies to the system (or the massive tax subsidies to the alternatives). I don’t think we are going to get there through this fare system review.

And seriously, we really need to talk about how much you are spending on your car now. If $1 fares would sway you, perhaps you might want to crunch the numbers and see where $2.15 fares put you, financially. The sad reality is that, regardless of how much we subsidize cars, they are still surprisingly expensive to operate if you do the actual math.

Ask Pat: Rapid fire

Wingate asks—

So my condo went up 31 percent so i can expect another increase over and above the percentage increase council votes approved? My net taxes went up 18 percent couple years ago in 1 year. Can you tell me the projected loss for the Anvil centre this year? Also how much last year? When will I be able to pick up copy this years budget at city hall. I did read some good news recently, Ford is going to make hybrid Ford Explorer police vehicle in 2019, so our police can enjoy the comfort and safety of a large SUV and the tax payer can save money on fuel. (Is the propane the city is using exempt from the translink tax on gasoline, hence the savings in fuel)

I hope people will use that Ask Pat button up there to the right to get a little more feedback on how the City works, or to answer a question that is grinding at them. My goal is to help people feel more engaged in New Westminster, and at the same time provide me some content ideas for the blog. I haven’t really been able to keep up with them as they arrive, and there are still a few the queue, so let’s see if I can get through this one quickly.

Question 1: Yes, becasue the City-wide average increase was about 28.5%, so you should expect your taxes to increase 2.5% plus whatever increase Council votes upon. See details here.

Question 2: No. See more details here.

Question 3: No. ibid.

Question 4: Not sure if they print paper copies anymore, but our 5-year Financial Plan for 2017-2021 was officially passed on March 6, and should be available on our Financial Reporting webpage.

Question 5: I don’t think that is a question.

(Question 6: Yes. The Gas Tax collected by the province to to fund Translink operations is only charged on gasoline and diesel)

Ask Pat: Anvils and elephants

Duke of Belyea asks—

Hi Pat, perhaps the notion of the Anvil Center being a white elephant could be dispelled if you or the City could show the actual revenue/expense numbers for the facility.

First, on the premise, I disagree with you. Second, on the solution, I wish it was that simple.

I do not think critics of the Anvil Centre (or indeed critics of Council) will ever be convinced that it is anything but a white elephant. Specific residents of Coquitlam will write occasional long-winded factually-challenged screeds to the Record for some time, using the Anvil as an example of New Westminster’s failures, regardless of any success seen around or within the Anvil. That is just political bullshit theatre we need to live with, and facts will not change it, because the Anvil is more than building, it is a totem around which previous elections were fought and lost. Some people never stop fighting yesterday’s battles.

The premise further relies on measuring the success or failure of Anvil on a balance sheet of effort-in & revenue-out. I simply don’t see it that way. To explain that, we need to clarify what the Anvil is, and what a City does.

For one building, The Anvil Centre has purposes to fill a long paragraph (noting, for full disclosure, that I was not on Council when these conversations and decisions were made):

The Office Tower was conceived as an economic driver for Downtown, but since the City sold it off for more than it cost to build (success?), the City no longer had much say in how it is operated. The owners have every right to set their rent and manage their incentives any way they see fit, regardless of whether it serves the larger purposes of the City. The restaurant space is finally leased, and although later than we may have liked, I think we will have an operating restaurant that fills a niche in the City, brings attention to Columbia and 8th, and becomes a revenue driver for the City. I’m not sure how you measure the success of the shift of the Museum, Archives, and Lacrosse Hall of Fame to this venue. They have been relocated from various other locations to a central cultural hub, which also freed up space in those other venues. The New Media Gallery has quickly become one of the region’s most important artistic venues, drawing visitors and raves from around the region. Conference services are on or ahead of target for bookings and revenues, the program at the Theatre is (slowly) coming along, and the numerous arts and culture programs on the 4th floor are similarly starting to fulfill the original vision for activating the Arts in our City. All of these tangible purposes are wrapped up in the larger benefit of turning a windfall (the DAC funding) into a community asset to replace a failing retail strip at the renewed gateway to our central business district.

This brings us to your solution to the inevitable political push-back: a simple spreadsheet that outlines the costs and recoveries from the Anvil. I suppose it is doable, as the City’s Financial Plan and backing documents are openly reported, and every input and output is buried in those spreadsheets somewhere. But it would be really complicated, simply because the Anvil is not a single entity operating separate from the rest of the City.

The museum and archives have always cost money to operate; moving them to the Anvil doesn’t change that. The old Hall of Fame site is now home to a very popular and revenue-generating recreation program: is that success part of the Anvil, though it is located at the Centennial Community Centre? The City’s Arts Programmer works out of the Anvil, but also administers the City’s Public Art program, which is funded through a combination of fees, sales revenues, and taxes – how does that balance sheet overlap with Anvil’s? Even the Conference Services, which are a revenue-generation aspect of the Anvil, share resources with other departments (especially the theatre and our catering contractor), and rely on an integrated operation to be successful. There are staff who spend part of their time doing Anvil-related things, and part of their time working at other facilities, just as the toilet paper and photocopier toner at Anvil are bought as part of City-wide operations. The tax revenue for the office tower is higher than it was when the space was a one-story retail space, but that tax enters general revenue, and needs to be measured against opportunity cost if a private developer had taken over that site… the list goes on.

I guess it sounds like I am creating a list of excuses of why not, instead of addressing your original concern. Lyrical gentlemen from Coquitlam will accuse me of “spinning” the facts here for political reasons – the same way they would accuse any spreadsheet produced of doing the same thing. So if you want a spreadsheet to solve a political problem, I suggest it won’t work. So why spend valuable staff time producing it?

I tend to agree with one idea buried in your premise, and maybe an answer to that last question: we need to find a better way to share our financial information in the City. Although all reporting is “open”, I am afraid our efforts towards “transparency” is a little clouded by the complicated way that Public Service Accounting Standards are regulated and performed. Even as a City Councillor exposed to this stuff all day, I am sometimes challenged to create connections between line items in spreadsheets. There is a lot of Accountant Talk here, and with all due respect to the profession, they are no better than others at explaining to lay people just what the hell they are doing. I’m not sure what the answer is from a public engagement viewpoint, but suspect (hope?) we can do better. I’m just not sure it will ever be enough to satisfy some Letter-to-the-Editor authors, and maybe that shouldn’t be our goal. However, we do need to find ways to translate our financial reporting so residents and businesses can be confident that their money is being spent wisely.

I am pretty sure of one thing: any honest accounting would reveal the City spends more money on operations at the Anvil than it receives in revenue from Anvil operations. Just as it spends more money on the Canada Games Pool than revenue earned, or the all-weather playing field at Queens Park, or the Queensborough Community Centre, or the Library. I suppose there is a discussion that could be had about which of these operations community assets would need to show a financial profit to be considered “successful” in the City, but I don’t think that is where you were going with this question.

I also think there are improvements we can do to make Anvil run better, especially in opening up the first floor to more public use and making the entire centre more inviting. That is an ongoing discussion, and one very much worth having.

A modest proposal…

We all just lost an hour sleep. It makes us grumpy, large-data-set-grinding nerds tell us it causes a measurable increase in accidents, parents have to manage cycle-conditioned children. Many question the reasoning of it all.

Some say the archaic practice has to be done away with, despite alleged energy efficiency gains and whatever agrarian benefits might have brought us the concept of “saving” daylight with our watches. I am not one of those, but might humbly suggest adapting *how* we practice the fall-backward / spring-forward dance ritual.

I hate the end of daylight savings, because suddenly it is dark on the way home from work, and I have to dig my bike lights out before my commute – the surest sign that summer is truly over. However, this is an inevitable product of the tilt of the planet, not our artificial mucking with sun-clock synch. This way, it is more of a band-aid rip than a dragging out of the coming darkness – it would happen if we didn’t switch clocks, just sooner. That is hardly a reason to hate daylight savings.

The reality is that most people prefer falling back, because we get that extra hour of sleep. We are a society of underslept, overworked drones feeding an unrelenting God we call “the Economy”, and love an extra hour of respite whenever we can get it. Despite the gloomy weather ahead, we all take that hour of sleep as a wonderful gift (ignoring the Marshmallow Test implications of it all).

This is what caused me to think that the entire problem is the springing forward and resultant loss of sleep. We cannot afford to lose sleep in this frantic lifestyle. So why do we?

The simple change I propose is to shift the “leap forward” moment from 2:00am on a Sunday to 4:00pm on a Friday. That way, the weekend comes 1 hour earlier for everyone. 1 less hour of waking (and working) means we will enter spring more refreshed and better slept, not the opposite. Who isn’t ready to get off work and have a beer at 4:00 on a Friday in early March? We can treat it like a 1-hour Statutory Holiday at a time of year when we need it the most. Bonus less bike light need.

Or, alternately, instead of going on the internet to complain about losing an hour of sleep, people could just go to bed an hour earlier. That would work, too.

More on setting rules

A little expansion on my last past about the election, and my talking about it here.

I received a bit of social media feedback, mostly positive, but also including a bit of criticism from someone in the community I respect immensely about being too political or partisan on my blog. They like the council updates and community stuff, but didn’t want to have to sift through partisan attacks and negativity.

Frankly, I don’t know how to respond to that, except to say sorry.

I try to use this blog as a bit of a community service, to report out on things happening in the City, but I also try to make it clear this is my voice and my opinion. This is not official communications from the City or anyone else, nor is this an official duty of my City Councillor job. It is something I do because I like it, and because I think it helps me to a better job as a City Councillor.

Because of that, I am perhaps a little more selfish about it than I would be in most things. I think I have tapered off some of the more political stuff since I got elected, partly because of time commitments, partly because I need to be more aware of a wider audience, and that I have been trusted with a bit of a Bully Pulpit (in the Roosevelt sense of the word “bully”, although some would argue a fear of the more modern usage as well…)

That caution aside, I still feel the urge to shout from this pulpit at times. Often times. There are issues like the Massey Tunnel replacement, our failing ambulance service, fighting climate change and homelessness and the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, that are important to me, important to our City and the region. These conversations are inevitably political, and inevitably partisan. I cannot not talk about them, nor can I pretend I think they are being properly addressed by the current government in Victoria.

Arguably, by not talking about important issues like this, or taking a milquetoast approach to them, I am failing to show the kind of leadership and outspokenness that got me elected in the first place. Some of my regular readers (Hi Bart!) have even suggested I have stepped too far back form the edge since getting elected, that I am getting soft. I honestly have no idea where the middle ground is here, but I am reluctant to spend too much time searching for it, because life is always more fun out by the edge.

So if reading partisan political discussion here is not to your liking, I recommend you skip past those posts. You can always skim down to the more municipal events type posts.

However, I would respectfully also ask you to consider why reading an opinion you don’t agree with, especially from someone you otherwise enjoy reading, causes you discomfort. We need to keep our eyes and our ears open to the people on the other side of the partisan aisle, because sometimes, every so often, they have an idea worth hearing.

Ask Pat: The Sub

Eric asks—

Ahoy Capt. Re: Das Sub

Great the Quayside playground is up for a needed rebuild. Has “what do we do with the submarine” come up?

After all this item has quietly slipped into historic artefact/ community heritage resource status.

We all know it came from Expo ’86. What might not be as well known: it was from a West Edmonton Mall attraction (at the time the mall had more working subs than the Cdn. navy); at Expo it was part of the brilliant public art piece Highway ’86 by James Wise of SITE, a cutting edge design firm all us young architects were in awe of.

The sub was the largest of dozens of transportation, including a tricycle and an aeroplane, all painted matte grey and set on an undulating grey asphalt “road”.

How about we hand the sub over to the Public Art Cttee. to reprise/resurface it in a new location? Our local transpo crowd – including a certain councillor- might get right into it.

Yes, the topic of saving or moving the semi-Sub has come up. Staff have even spent a bit of time looking at potential options. However, at the risk of sounding like a boo-bird, I need to point out some of the significant technical challenges staff have related to me about trying to save and/or move the Sub.

The Sub can’t stay where it is. The storm drainage pipe under it needs to be excavated and replaced, that is not an optional thing, but something the City needs to get done before compete failure of the pipe and related flooding. Try trying to remove the sub in one piece presents several challenges (not to mention the unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase). It will need to be separated from the foundation built to support it, and the entire concrete-over-steel structure would have to be lifted and moved, which if not done with great care (read: expense) may end the entire “in one piece” part of the discussion.


The Submarine itself would need extensive restoration if it was to be made a permanent art installation, as the steel is not in great shape based on the concrete delamination and spalling – the piece was built for a 6-month installation 30 years ago. The modifications of it to install it in the park (removal of the wings, installation of the railing) probably didn’t help, nor did the various coats of paint that are now peeling off of, regardless is whether the concrete overcoast comes with it or not. We currently have no budget for, and have not even had evaluated, the form of this restoration, however safe to say it will be significant.

We have nowhere to put the submarine. If we remove it, we would need to find a place to store it where it can be protected from the elements, and where restoration work can happen. Unless a generous benefactor with spare warehouse space was to come along, I’m not sure where we can do this.

Finally, and this is, unfortunately, the biggest issue with all of the above – we have very little time to get the pipe replacement work done. As much of the drainage involves an excavation within the wetted area of the river, the work needs to be done within a “fisheries window” – a short period of time when Fisheries and Oceans Canada have given us permission to do the work in order to minimize the disruption of fisheries habitat and the injury of fish. Again, this is not something we have any control over, and that is creating a very, very tight timeline for the work, and it will be starting very soon. An extra week or two to design, coordinate and execute a potentially delicate removal plan for a piece we have no long-term plans for would be perilous. Never mind trying to find the (estimated – with significant contingency) tens of thousands of dollars to do the removal work.

As for the Heritage value, there already was a preliminary assessment of the Sub. The value is considered very limited and “sentimental”, but not representing a significant heritage artifact. Its provenance is not New Westminster, and it is separated from its context. Although there are legends about a connection to West Edmonton Mall, in reality the submarine was the only machine of the 200 that made up the Highway 86 installation that wasn’t a real, operating machine before it was installed. It is a semi-sub; half of a fake boat. The “U” in this U-boat stands for “Unecht”. You get the message.

That said, on kitsch value alone I’m not opposed to the idea, and wish we had more time to allow someone passionate about such a plan to cook up a solution to the above concerns. Problem is, this project has been discussed and on the books for many months (including a few public consultation rounds and public meetings), and the topic of saving the submarine has not been put forward as an important component of the engineering work or playground replacement. I also touched bases with a few people in the Publci Art realm, and they were… underwhelmed. Unfortunately, we are now well past the eleventh hour, and jeopardizing the timeline and budget of the planned work for the site at this point would be irresponsible.

So in sumary, I’m going to suggest this is an interesting idea, likely impractical, definitely costly, and probably undoable considering the pressures on the City to get the engineering work at the Quayside done. I would suggest the submarine is finally heasded off towards the sunny horizon it has pointed at for more than a generaiton: the metal recycling and junkyards south of the Fraser.


Ground Rules

It is election time in British Columbia. The writ has not, technically, been dropped, but campaigning has been going on for quite a while. Arguably, the current government has done nothing but campaign for the last 4 years, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. In this light, I thought I would throw together a bit of a pre-campaign blog post to tell my loyal readers (Hi Mom!) and anyone else what to expect from me here.

Now, more than ever, I am partisan. This blog post will be including much partisan content in the coming months. This election matters to the future of our region and our community, and there is no way I can stay silent or disinterested in the result. I will expand on this further between now and May 9, but I can summarize my feelings in one paragraph:

The current government has failed to address the issues that are most important to me, as a citizen and as a person trying to make my community better. Their failures include the silly Transit Referendum and the shameless waste of billions of dollars on unnecessary bridges, violation of modern urban planning principles, against the desires of the very communities they are meant to serve, and in opposition to established regional and community plans. Their failures include 4 years of fiddling around the edges as the housing affordability and homelessness crises exploded across the region, including their recent attempts to blame the problem on local governments who have been busting their asses (and budgets) to fill in for a senior government failure on a subject that is clearly, constitutionally, Provincial jurisdiction. They have failed to develop any kind of vision for the future of the Province, dumping resources and time into one pet project (Massey Bridge) or another (Site C) with no cohesive vision for how these short-term expenses will result in long-term strength in a post-carbon economy. Say what you want about the LNG, at least it was a (failed) vision. And then there is the corruption…

So I am going to be partisan on this blog, and call out the BC Liberals on their failures. I will, however, endeavor to be respectful towards the people involved (as hard as that is when talking about corruption – which we need to talk about this election, often and repeatedly). They are politicians, but they are also people, and I have to trust they truly believe the lies they are telling. However, I will not spare criticism of their policies or bad decisions.

But yesterday was International Women’s Day, and that makes me want to make one more point.

When a woman serves in politics, she faces a completely different type of criticism, especially in the Social Media age. It seems the more powerful she becomes, the more criticism of her includes misogynist, sexist, and offensive language. I was myself accused last election of being misogynist because I dared to suggest the Premier wasn’t very smart when it comes to public policy, which launched me into a slightly too-long and too-mansplainy response.

So without getting too deep into it again, I just want to say that we, as a province, as a social media community, and a planet, need to point out misogynist language in the election cycle, whether it is pointed at our allies or opponents. I have already seen way too much use of language to criticise Premier Clark that would never be applied to a man in the same role. We need to, especially, point out and criticize misogynist language when it is directed at our opponents, and we need to recognize that pointing out a misogynist attack does not constitute support for the positions of the politician who was attacked.

Ugh, Facebook, why you gotta be like that? Call anyone this election a “bitch”, and I’m unfollowing you.

Keep it clean, folks, no hitting below the belt. Return to your corners, and come out fighting. Let’s get us a government that cares about the people of the province.