UBCM17 – Day 0

The annual UBCM Conference was in Vancouver last week, and I attended for only the second time in my term as a City Councillor. I reported here, here, and here on my impressions from last year, but I was among those going into this year with different expectations, what with a fresh new provincial government, and one that has emphasized the importance of working with Local Governments. Indeed, I expect many local government types had expectations going in they were unrealistically high, but let’s see where this went.

I will drag this out across a few blog posts, as it was a jammed week. I’ll try to keep it concise, though this may get pretty wonkish for some regular readers. There was a lot to learn this year, and since the citizens of New Westminster pay my registration, I think it is important to report out so you know what you got for that money.

Monday is a bit of a pre-conference day, as the conference in earnest begins on Tuesday, but I attended two education sessions on Monday, and am glad I did.

The morning session was on Cannabis Regulations from a Local Government Perspective. There were presentations from the new Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall, and Sukhbir Manhas, a Lawyer specializing in Municipal Law who put the legal framework in perspective. This was followed by a Panel Discussion with four Mayors from around the Province and a bit of a Q & A session.

It is clear that marijuana for recreational consumption will be legal federally in July of 2018. We also know that the federal government will be responsible for the regulation of production of marijuana, and the provinces will be responsible for regulating wholesale and retail distribution of product, regulating consumption, and for enforcement. It is not clear what role Local Governments will play, except in that we are “Creatures of the Province”, and will be given our roles either through direct regulation or by a local desire to fill a regulatory gap left by provincial action.

It was an interesting session, with a lot of topics discussed, but short version is that the Minister made the commitment to open public consultation and to engaging Local Governments in a constructive way to address our concerns. There will clearly be economic impacts of any regulation. But the Minister was warned by other jurisdictions with which he has been consulting (including Washington State and Colorado) that revenue generation cannot be the driver of regulation, or the important public policy implications can fall by the wayside while short-term costs of setting up the regulatory regime are often underestimated. There will be revenue, but perhaps the message is that we shouldn’t be in a rush to spend it until we understand its character.

Dr. Kendall gave us some interesting perspectives about the public health implications of different policy directions – what age is the right age to permit cannabis use? What to do about public smoking rules, and what to do with multi-unit buildings? How to manage edibles? How do we provide the right price-quality-convenience balance that we effectively cut organized crime out of the supply chain? Legislation must balance these out if we wish to have the best public health outcomes. He presented this compelling graph:

link to source.

In short, if your interest is in managing public health impacts, a well-regulated market is better than a completely unregulated market (like cigarettes used to be) or blanket prohibition (like Cannabis is now) – but finding that middle is the delicate balance we need to strive for. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have provided some pretty good guidelines, and research in existing and potential policy tools, but we have yet to see what advice the federal government will be taking.

Mr. Minhas and the Mayors’ Panel both discussed some of the challenges and opportunities for local governments coming out of this, and the importance of us coordinating with the province prior to next July. We need to be ready for the inevitable change that is coming, if only so we are ready to address the inevitable community concerns in areas that Local Governments have jurisdiction – land use, business regulation, and nuisance management. Our tools are limited, but are most effective if we get ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately, there is lots of evidence, especially from the Q&A session, that this is an area where many local government attitudes lag far behind the progressive public policy work of other jurisdictions and even public perception. From the lame Cheech & Chong joke that opened the session to one long-serving Mayor of an certain agriculture-intensive Lower Mainland Municipality expressing fear that her City will become the “Pot Capital of BC” (causing me to question if she would feel that worried if it became the Craft Brewing Capital of BC, or the Winery Capital of BC?), it is clear that attitudes about cannabis will not change as quickly as the regulation of it will – which suggests some difficult conversations ahead.

My second session on Monday was on Green Innovation and new Environmental Policies. We had a presentations from Jonathan Wilkinson, the Parliamentary Secretary to the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and from George Heyman, the new provincial Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. They talked mostly of senior governments’ commitment to meeting the Paris Agreement goals to reduce emissions, and both acknowledged the role local governments will need to play to meet those goals.

A statistic oft repeated during UBCM was that local governments in Canada are responsible for about 66% of infrastructure, create about 50% of all emissions, but only receive about 6% of all tax revenue. This results in some pretty obvious math: if we want to reduce emissions, we need to update that infrastructure, which is going to cost money.

Which brought us to the topic of grants. There were some details on the Federal Build Canada Infrastructure Fund, and the process being developed through the Provincial Government to make these funds available to local governments. These funds may be applicable to help us fund a few projects in New Westminster where we are planning to reduce the emissions by updating our infrastructure (Canada Games Pool is our single largest emission source) or wish to shift the community to lower-carbon energy sources (The proposed District Energy Utility for Sapperton would replace gas-fired boilers for and expanded RCH and could provide ample carbon-free baseload heat for dozens of high-density residential and commercial developments).

This was followed by Panels on actions that some Local Governments are taking to reduce emissions or modernize their energy supply – from embedding energy sustainability in their OCP (done!) to helping strata complexes bring electric vehicle charging on-line, to implementing the Step Code to promote more energy efficient buildings.

Actually, there was a lot of talk about electricity and the transportation sector, from private cars to transit to heavy trucks. Some question whether the advances in vehicles are too fast compared to our ability to provide the infrastructure to support the shift. According to BC Hydro, if all of the 2.4 Million light-duty vehicles in British Columbia could be replaced with EVs today, and it would only result in a 19% increase in base load. As EV charging predominantly happens when other loads on the system are not high, (i.e. at night), this is less of a problem at the generation end than some may have you believe. On a per-year basis, the average Tesla uses about half the electricity as the average hot tub. Let that sink in for a bit.

The reality is we cannot build the plugs for all these vehicles fast enough for it to become a problem in the short term.

I also learned this:
EV or PEV or ZEV or CEV = PHEV + BEV.
In the electric car world, that’s a funny joke.

Finally, I want to note that today’s two sessions were informative, but I couldn’t help but notice I saw 23 presenters and panelists over the two sessions. Five of them were female, while two others were visible minorities.

Our City

The new Official Community Plan for New Westminster was formally adopted on Monday. The longest and most open public consultation process in the history of the City culminated in a comprehensive re-write of the OCP, last done almost 20 years ago.

I’m really proud of the process this community went through and the work staff did to make it work. The end result is a huge step forward for the City. Although I get a sense we didn’t reach far enough in some areas, I am happy with the end result, as it was clearly driven by the community.

When this process started back in early 2014, I was not on Council. I spent a lot of time that summer knocking on doors, and heard a variety of ideas about where residents wanted the City to go. Some clearly wanted no change at all, others saw the need for a different approach to housing. These differences were not neighbourhood by neighbourhood, but were all over the map. It was clear that the new OCP would be a huge Public Consultation undertaking.

The City put together an advisory committee of a couple dozen residents from all neighbourhoods and walks of life. We brought in Residents’ Association representatives, business people, community leaders and everyday citizens to not just consult, but to help lead the intensive sessions that got the conversations going asking the first question of any OCP: “what do you want the City to be?”

This launched us into two more years of talking about how to get there. We had more open houses that I can count, some very open chats about general OCP concepts, some more directed to specific topics like the series of community discussions on housing. Staff created interesting on-line tools to help people engage, visited every Residents’ Association at least once, and went out to everything from seniors homes to daycare centres to survey for ideas and opinions. The “Our City” Pop-up-Planning booth was omnipresent at City events for two years, asking questions that changed as the process wore on. Staff consulted with 11 Council Advisory Committees, ran “travelling workshops” to community centres across the City, and reached out to agencies that serve those members of our community that are usually marginalized from political and planning conversations, such as Spirit of the Children Society and Immigrant Services Society. Feedback was received from the development community, Metro Vancouver, Provincial Ministries from Transportation to Health to Environment, the School Board, the Port, TransLink, and Qayqayt First Nation. Council received a lot of correspondence.

The result was literally thousands of interactions with members of our community, and I am thankful, once again, that New Westminster showed up and told us their opinions. We have 7,000 pages of documents backing up this consultation. That is an amazing amount of paperwork to distill down to a working 200-page document.

A successful consultation does not mean everyone gets what they want, that is impossible with so many contrasting opinions in the City. However, it does allow us to gauge the mood of the City and frame the bigger goals of the community, and in turn frame the strategies and tasks that will move us towards those goals in the decade ahead.

An important point missed by many is that an OCP is much more than a Land Use Plan. It is about the 12 Major goals that define what our City will be in the decade ahead, those goals supported by 61 well-defined Policy Areas and 182 concrete actions the City can (and will) take to achieve the goals. If the OCP works the way it is intended, these goals will drive future Council policy, the work of staff, and will even help define how the Land Use Plan develops over time. Indeed, of all the OCP products, it is the Land Use Plan that is most easily and commonly edited as the community evolves.

Still, the Land Use Plan map gets the most attention. I suspect because it more tangible than policy statements. I don’t think the friction sometimes generated between community-wide goals and parochial or political concerns is ever as hot as when talking about changes in land use – which is ultimately a local government’s primary responsibility and jurisdiction. So I guess I’ll follow the lead and talk more here about the Land Use Plan than the 12 Goals, though you will see them scattered about  about this post as constant reminders of where we are meant to be headed, like this one right here:

The first big point to make about the Land Use Plan is that it supports growth anticipated in the Regional Growth Strategy developed the best part of a decade ago. This plan does not open the floodgates to population growth – that growth is happening regardless of what we do here – but it does give us a more sustainable plan to make that growth fit within the community we want to be, in 10 years, in 20 years, and beyond. Most importantly, the OCP allows us to plan for building the roads, parks, sewers, schools and other infrastructure we need to support the residents of the future.

When the OCP process started 3 years ago, the idea of increasing our housing variety and finding opportunities for density increases in our residential neighbourhoods had to be framed in the context of bringing more amenities to neighbourhoods – making our retail areas more vibrant, supporting more frequent transit service. In 2014 when we started, the regional housing crisis was still on a low boil, at least in New West. The “Million Dollar Line” of average house values was still far off to the west, and New West was still (almost) an affordable option for young families – if we could build them the type of housing they wanted and needed.

I don’t have to tell anyone here that we are in a different place now. The housing crisis is boiling over, and though we have strategies in the City that are effectively creating a new stock of rental units and assuring family-friendly units get built, we are simply not keeping up with the region-wide demand. In hindsight, this should have been obvious, and maybe staff was ahead of both the public and Council on this front. I’d like to think this is why we had significant push-back on creating more opportunities for flexible housing choice, and why Council decided that this push-back was reasonable.

In the end, any single map or plan that comes out of such a wide consultation includes compromises. I don’t think this Land Use Plan is perfect, but I think it is a significant step in the right direction, and I was happy to support it. All such maps are living documents, subject to lot-by-lot revision and adjustment as the plan unfolds. It will be up to staff and Council to track how this Land Use Plan leads us to the larger strategic goals we outlined in the OCP, and not be afraid to make those adjustments when the case can be made for them.

From the start of the consultations, the theme of housing choice and housing affordability clearly led the discussions. Call it gentle infill, call it family housing, call it missing middle, it is clear that housing choice was a wide concern in the City, both in how to make it happen and in how to make if fit in our existing neighbourhoods. In this rests my biggest concern with the OCP. I am not convinced we got the formula right for incentivizing the growth of the missing middle housing form, townhouses and rowhomes.

In my mind, the best option at this point is to challenge staff and Council (not just this Council, but the one elected in 2018) to closely monitor the situation as the community reacts to the new land use designations. Did we get the incentives, rules and guidelines right, and create a healthy market for missing middle housing forms? Or did we fall behind the real economics of housing over the period it took for us to complete this plan?

That was my thinking in moving some direction to staff as part of adopting the OCP. The text of my motion was “THAT Council direct staff to explore additional locations that could be designated Residential – Infill Townhouse as part of a two year Townhouse and Rowhouse Monitoring Program, and include the outcome in a proposed Land Use Designation Map update at the conclusion of the Program”. The completion of an OCP isn’t the end of the planning process, it is the beginning of a new planning process. I wanted to put some expectations and timelines on the next steps in that process.

Council just attended the UBCM conference (blogs to come!), where housing was one of the most pressing topics – everything from homelessness, demo- and reno-victions, housing affordability, and an increasingly challenging market for people at every single level of the economic spectrum. The crisis is regional, and it is mutli-faceted, not doubt made worse by a decade of general indifference at the provincial level. As there is not a single problem, there is not a single solution. This OCP will not solve the problem, but it does give us a view of where some solutions will be found. And it will obviously need to be adapted as new solutions are found through collaboration of all three levels of government.

I feel positive about the future for New Westminster outlined in this OCP, and am encouraged that we got literally thousands of New West citizens involved in such a complex public consultation. There were almost as many disagreements within Council as there were in the bigger community about major aspects of the plan, but we worked together to find the compromises needed to achieve the common goals. Now we need to get to work putting it in practice.

Council – Oct. 2, 2017

Our first October Council meeting was a little disjointed and diverse, as there were a variety of topics on the Agenda, and presentations and delegations were all over the place. I don’t usually report here on delegations and announcements that happen, but stick to the decisions made by Council, but you can always get the full deal by watching on the intertubes!

The meeting started with us moving the following items on Consent:

Capture Photography Festival 2018
Our participation in this project brought two great Public Art installations to the City, and our Public Art Advisory Committee is recommending we take part again in 2018 and fund that from the Public Art Reserve Fund. Council agreed.

Intelligent City Digital Inclusion and Marketing and Advocacy subcommittee update
Our “Intelligent City” initiative is meant to be more than just dark fibre in the ground and using smarter systems in the City, it includes many different programs to connect the entire population of New West to the advantages of Innovation and digital connectivity. We had a hugely successful Innovation Week last spring, and are gearing up for another in 2018. We also are developing various initiatives to assure connectivity is inclusive, which means we are finding ways to include people who may have barriers (education, economic, equipment, etc.) to connecting to the digital world have opportunities for access, for education, and for support. This report gives us an update of where those programs are.

Memorandum: Metro Vancouver Regional District acceptance of the City of New Westminster Regional Context Statement
This is a step in the Official Community Plan process, where the regional government essentially signs off that the OCP, after receiving Third Reading, complies with the Regional Growth Strategy. This is the last step to Adoption of the new OCP.

Recruitment 2017: ICAC Appointment
There is a shift of representation on the Intelligent City Advisory Committee, due to people changing job roles in one of our partnership organizations. Moved!

41 and 175 Duncan Street: Official Community Plan Amendment Consideration of Public Consultation
This project to develop a medium-sized townhouse development in Queensborough will be going into consultation, including a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until them.

900 Carnarvon Street (Tower 4): Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 – Request for Exemption
The construction of noise barriers over SkyTrain rails is challenging. It needs to happen when the train isn’t running (at night), and is pretty specialized work. Degelder have been trying to get the work done for the 4th Tower at Plaza 88 for a couple of months, and it is yet to start. We are approving a long construction noise variance, though the actual work will only take about 7 days within that longer window. The workers will need to provide 72 hours’ notice to nearby residents before evenings when works will actually occur.

Information Update re Recommendation from Ecole Glenbrook Middle School Student Presentation
Students from Glenbrook gave a memorable presentation to Council in May about how to make their community more fun and friendly. This report is a follow-up from staff. Short version: some improvements have been made as part of capital maintenance programs, there has been great feedback sought and integrated into a couple of bigger projects (Canada Games Pool and the Skate Park replacement) Spring, and we are going to continue to engage these students in future consultations.

Report on Major Purchasing Transactions for the Period May 1st to August 31st, 2017
Ternary report on what we have bought.

Downtown New Westminster BIA Extension
The two Downtown BIAs have been doing some really great work. It has been great to watch them become a more professional organization over the last decade with some really stellar staff. They have been proactive in developing a new Strategic Plan, and have been great partners to the City in our Economic Development initiatives. However, the Bylaw that enables them to be funded by a Parcel Tax on downtown businesses is expiring, and they have asked us for a renewal/update. I am happy to support this.

1319 Third Avenue (Steel and Oak Brewery): Proposed Increase in Seating Capacity
S&O wishes to increase their seating capacity, but have bumped up against the Zoning Bylaw maximums for their current zoning. This report will launch the Public Process to enable that, and I’ll hold off my comments until that happens.

Access Ability Advisory Committee: Consideration of the Effect of Demovictions and Renovictions on Low-Income and Disabled Residents
There was much talk at last week’s UBCM meeting (yes, I will blog about it soon!) about renovictions and the impact on homelessness, and it resulted in some promising action. This topic also came up at the last AAAC Meeting, and that committee wanted to assure Council considered the impacts of the housing and rental crises are harder on people with barriers – the lack of housing adapted to the needs of the disabled is even more dire than “regular” housing.

Access Ability Advisory Committee: Massey Theatre Universal Accessibility Design Review
Again, the AAAC heard about barriers in the existing Massey Theatre, and formally asked Council to invest in making the facility fully accessible when the High School project is completed and the Theatre property is transferred to the City.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Recruitment 2017: CHC Appointment
Unfortunately, a member of Community Heritage Commission passed away and we have to do the dry process or naming a replacement. However, Council did not want this to pass without the Council representative on the Committee noting that Laura Moodie was a long-serving volunteer in our community with a passion for the arts, heritage, and travel. She served on several City committees including as chair of the Public Art Advisory Committee. Her passing was sudden and untimely. All of Council wants to acknowledge Mrs. Moodie’s service to the community, and pass on condolences to her family.

Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw (Increase in Taxi Licenses) No. 7943, 2017 – Bylaw for Three Readings
I think I ranted about this once before. Many of the issues with the current regulation around Taxi services is the many hoops they need to go through to get new licenses, even when it is clear that current service is inadequate. Royal City Taxi is applying to the province for more licenses to improve service, let’s see where this goes!

Review of City Snow and Ice Response: 2016-2017
We discussed at ACTBIPed, and I forwarded correspondence to Council from a well-known West End pedestrian advocate that came out of that meeting. 2016-17 was exceptional year, the worst and most persistent snow event since at least 2008. And although it was at times challenging, I think the City did an exceptional job keeping priority driving routes open and safe, especially compared to some adjacent communities. However, the pedestrian realm was a disaster.

I don’t use that term lightly, because I know it was a challenging situation and I do not want to come across as critical of staff for the hard work and extra hours they all put in, but we had people with mobility challenges, and a fair number of elderly people, who were trapped in their homes for weeks because they could not walk as far as the nearest pharmacy. Even in an extraordinary situation like last winter, this is not acceptable, and we need to make change. We need to assure that the pedestrian realm and transit access is prioritized alongside arterial and connector roads.

We have a Pedestrian Charter in New Westminster – one that puts pedestrian needs at high priority. We have a Master Transportation Plan that puts pedestrians at the top of our hierarchy for investment. Yet when we prioritize the clearing of snow from streets not used by transit above the clearing of sidewalks and the important pedestrian connections that make our pedestrian realm accessible, we fail to meet our own priorities. In the event of icy conditions, we don’t need people prioritizing driving as a way to get around – that simply doesn’t improve anyone’s safety if the only way to get to the grocery store is to drive because the sidewalks between home and grocery store are impassable two weeks after a storm.

I don’t have the answers, but we need to establish guidelines on what constitutes an acceptable response to sidewalk clearing, much like we have for roads, and a plan to meet those guidelines. In this case, I would even be happy to see cycling routes bumped down the priority list to make resources available. We need a map of priority walking routes and bus stops, as these may be different than the existing priority streets. The consultant report provided some recommendations towards this, but it would be good to know if additional resources or equipment are needed to address this. Clearly enforcement and proactive action need to be prioritized – there is work to do here.

That said, this is a good report as far as it goes, and I don’t want to slow the implementation of this response plan because it only gets us half way there – half way is better than going back to the start. However, I amended the recommendation to further ask that that staff continues to work on developing a snow response plan that prioritizes pedestrian safety, and address the concerns of the ACTBiPed. More to come here.

Exempt Properties – Review of Questionnaire Results
Remember when the BC Liberals extended the property tax exemption given to private schools, essentially asking homeowners to pay more for private schools in their neighbourhoods, at the same time they were fighting in court to keep from adequately funding public schools? Good times.

Anyway, this report is our annual update and Bylaw refresh to support mandated and permissive tax exemptions. The first are required by Provincial Law, the second are the $300,000 a year in Permissive Tax Exemptions for organizations doing good work in the City, be they social service (e.g. Honour House), Sports (e.g. Lawn Bowling Club), or education (e.g. FRDC).

Licensed Event Recommendations for Westminster Pier Park
I am happy to continue with the model demonstrated at Music on the River this summer. These type of low-key events should really not be exception in a modern City, but part of the regular fabric. Loosening of our provincial liquor laws make that possible. The most, perhaps, surprising part was the wide demographic range of people hanging out in the park during the event – it wasn’t just crazy Yoots with their skateboards and bling-bloop electronic “music”, it was it was young families, seniors, and those of us in the fuzzy and increasingly grey area in between. A strange mix to see at a public event where beer is served in North America, but just another day in most European Cities.

We also read the following Bylaws:

Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw (Increase in Taxi Licenses) No. 7943, 2017
As discussed above, this Bylaw that supports the application to the provincial Government for more Taxi Licenses in New Westminster received three readings.

Taxation Exemption and Exempt Properties Bylaw No. 7945, 2017
As discussed above, this Bylaw that supports permissive tax exemptions for worthy organizations in New Westminster received three readings.

Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Area (Primary Area) Bylaw No. 7951, 2017
Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Area (Secondary Area) Bylaw No. 7952, 2017

As discussed above, these Bylaws that support the special taxation for our two Downtown Business Improvement Areas received three readings.

Official Community Plan Adoption Bylaw No. 7925, 2017
This is actually a big deal. Our new Official Community Plan, which was given Third Reading back on September 18th was adopted. It is now the Law of the Land. I will have to write another blog post about this, because this is both a great big step… and perhaps not a big enough step.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Infill Housing) No. 7936, 2017
Development Approval Procedures Amendment Bylaw No. 7939, 2017
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7940, 2017
This are the supporting Big Deals, as they support the new directions outlined in the OCP regarding Heritage, Laneway Housing, and Infill density. All three were adopted ,and are not Law of the Land. Adjust your behavior accordingly.

And other than a bunch of interesting presentations and delegations (seriously, go on-line and check them out!), that was a night of Council. I have a bunch of blog posts to follow on here, OCP and UBCM most prominently, so stay tuned!