Council – June 25, 2018

The June 25th Council meeting was the Reports and Awards edition! We had a presentation of the City’s Annual Report (which you can read here), and had presentations to our staff for a recent raft of planning and economic development awards won by the City. We also had a chance to thank recently-retired Director of Planning Bev Grieve for the work she did – and her instrumental role in making New Westminster a regional leader on innovative affordable housing policy. Our community owes a serious debt to Bev, and I hope she enjoys a lengthy and enjoyable retirement, content in the knowledge that her career made a meaningful difference in the lives of so many residents.

But we also had business to do, starting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Five Year Financial Plan (2017 – 2021) Amendment Bylaw No. 8023, 2018
The City’s “budget” exists in the form of a 5-year financial plan, as required by Provincial Regulation. It is completely updated once a year, and we occasionally do interim updates to keep it compliant and assist with continuous financial planning and transparency. These amendments all fall under the category of “things our finance staff do their best to accurately estimate ahead of time, but are hard to predict”, such as how much DCC revenue we will receive and how much cost recovery we can achieve on disposal of capital assets.

The regulations say we need to give the public an opportunity to comment on changes to the Financial Plan before we adopt the Bylaw. We received no correspondence, and no-one came to comment during the Opportunity. Council moved to refer the Bylaw for Adoption.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Arts Strategy – Update
We had a framework for a new Arts Strategy come to Council back in May, and it received a slightly frosty reception, at least in part because of a similarly-frosty reception it received from the Arts Community during the last round of public consultation. This is a quick update on the roadmap moving forward that was developed by our Arts Strategy Task Force and our Arts Commission.

This is a positive step forward, and we have a clear path towards a more community-focused Arts Strategy that should come back to Council before the end of 2018.

The City is investing in the Arts like never before. From the building and running of the Anvil Centre, the expansion of arts programming, the Public Art strategy and amenity fund, and our commitment to invest in renewal of the Massey Theatre, it is clear this Council wants to support the Arts, so it is really important that we get the strategy right.

Cannabis: Public Consumption – UBCM Resolution
As reported last week, we are working through the municipal response to cannabis regulations. One aspect with high potential impact on local governments is the regulation of public consumption and integration with existing smoking bylaws. Part of the problem is that smoking regulations in BC are a mish-mash or overlapping jurisdictions. The many players who have some responsibility for enforcing smoking restrictions include private property owners (through WorkSafe), the Ministry of Health (and Fraser Health), TransLink (for Transit property), the Province and Local Governments, both through Police and Bylaw Enforcement. At least in the last case, every local government has taken their own approach, resulting in more confusion amongst all of the agencies about what just what the rules are where.

We are taking a resolution to UBCM requesting that the Province use the introduction of recreational cannabis and their authority to prescribe public smoking restrictions, so that the patchwork between local governments can be made consistent.

601 Sixth Street: Development Variance Permit for Signage – consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
An Uptown commercial property wants to update its signage in a way that does not strictly comply with the Sign Bylaw, which requires a Sign Bylaw Variance, which requires an Opportunity to be Heard so people can tell us if they like or hate this idea. That Opportunity will be on August 27, 2018. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

2017 Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report
Our drinking water is supplied by Metro Vancouver, but the local delivery system (pipes and valves and such) are operated by the city, so we have a joint responsibility to assure that Provincial Regulations regarding water quality testing are met. This is our annual report. We collected just under 1,000 samples in 2017, with no significant concerns.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Renewal of Uptown New Westminster Business Improvement Areas – Results from Notification of Affected Property Owners
The 5-year term for the Uptown BIA is expired, (Has it been 5 years already!?) and it is time to re-up. As a reminder, a BIA is a business-community-led initiative permitted under the Community Charter, which allows a local government to collect a parcel or frontage tax from all commercial property owners within a geographic area and turn that tax over to the BIA members with the commitment that it will be spent on improving the viability of the commercial district and businesses therein.

After requesting that the City commit to another 5-year term, the participant businesses in the Uptown were surveyed. 6.1% of the businesses opposed participation, representing 1.15% of the commercial property in Uptown. So Council moved to approve the renewal of the BIA for Uptown.

Renovictions Action Plan: Update
Rental vacancies in New West are below 1%. Rents are going up. Much of our more affordable rental stock is reaching the age where extensive renovations are required. These factors add up to a serious “renoviction” crisis. The City has been very effective at reducing the types of wide-scale demovictions other communities are suffering, but renovictions are a more difficult problem to address because of our limited powers under the Local Government Act. As a result, we have had renoviction of at least 215 rental units in the City in the last two years (to put that in perspective, there are about 15,000 rental households in the New West).

In the last few years, New West has sought ways to do more than is strictly required by legislation to protect the vulnerable members of our community, and our staff have done many things to reduce renoviction, and assure people facing renoviction have access to as many resources as possible to assure their rights are protected. We have also advocated with the Provincial government to make changes to the Residential Tenancy Act that would provide the marginally housed more protection from renoviction (with some moderate success recently). This report provides a bit of a summary of what we have done, and an update on what we will be doing going forward, including taking part on the Provincial Rental housing taskforce work through 2018.

Sapperton/Massey-Victory Heights Transportation Plan
A new Transportation Plan for Sapperton and Massey Victory Heights was needed. The last comprehensive review of the area was last century, and with the introduction of the Millennium Line, expansion of RCH, the Brewery District and (eventually) Sapperton Green, along with regional transportation pressures, it is time to review again how we will balance the need for people to move through the region and the need to protect the livability and safety of our residential neighbourhoods.

There were some public workshops and a Community Working Group representing residents and businesses in the area. There was also extensive consultation with RCH. TransLink and other stakeholders. There was also a lot of data collection, research, and engineering planning work that went into this. As a result, the report has *a lot* of detail regarding traffic loads, future plans, and phases of implementation. Some parts are meant to be implemented in the short-term (mostly traffic calming improvements), some in the medium term (more complicated network improvements), and some more longer-term priorities are identified.

Although the 320+ page report was more than I could dig deeply into before Monday’s meeting, my initial impressions are that the estimates for “Trip Reduction” (diversion to transit or active modes as opposed to single-occupant vehicles) seem very conservative, both locally and regionally. We currently have 16% of all trips generated in Sapperton as walking/cycling only, and the report estimates 20% for Sapperton Green – a pedestrian-oriented community on a SkyTrain station to be built out in the 2030s. Throughout the document, current mode shift is projected to the decades ahead, with little gain over current numbers. I recognize the need to be conservative when planning far in to the future, but if we do not achieve much greater mode shift to transit and active modes by 2040, then the regional plan and regional transportation plans will have completely failed. In this eventuality, the regional call to pave Sapperton down to accommodate through-drivers will be deafening.

On a related topic, the data around traffic and parking related to an expanded RCH is concerning. Unless Fraser Health starts to recognize that dependence on single-occupant vehicles as the “default” transportation option is a public health concern and makes Transportation Demand Management a priority for its community, starting with its staff and patients, the impact on Sapperton threatens to offset the benefits of having this important community health amenity in our City.

Another important aspect not discussed in the Plan (and I have been harping on about this for a while) is that East Columbia will never be a Great Street, and we will never achieve the goals we have for that commercial streetscape and pedestrian realm if it is the sole access for all traffic to RCH and the Brewery District. Those two uses are incompatible. There must be access to the expanded RCH via Brunette Avenue, and that means a fully signalized intersection at the foot of Keary, Allen, or Sherbrook. (I think Keary works best, as that is the direct access to the RCH underground and the later phases of the Brewery District underground – however a traffic barrier will be required between Brunette and East Columbia to prevent this becoming a major rat-running throughfare).

Of course, installing a signalized intersection will impact through-travel “capacity” on Brunette, which is a truck route and on the Major Road Network, meaning the City cannot make these changes without buy-in from everyone one from TransLink to the trucking industry. However, as this plan talks about re-aligning the East Columbia & Brunette intersection to improve flow, and making Brunette four lanes between East Columbia and Spruce we need to assure these things are designed as a single package, or we will never receive this important amenity for our community.

Anyhow, besides these point, which fall squarely in the “medium- and long-term” category, and as the plan is a living document, I do not want to delay the short-term traffic calming and livability improvements. Council endorsed the Traffic Plan with this in mind.

New Utility Commission Bylaw No. 8029, 2018
We are updating some of the language in the Bylaw that regulates our Electrical Utility, mostly as a result of how we have really expanded the responsibility of the Utility as of late, to include power generation (Solar Garden and District Energy) and information networks (BridgeNet). We are really lucky in the City to have this resource that not only pays a dividend to taxpayers, but provides us an ability to take on new and exciting challenges.

Emergency Advisory Committee: Request Provincial Government to Provide Access to Alert Ready (Emergency Alert System) to Local Governments
This recommendation from the Emergency Advisory Committee is to take a resolution to the UBCM meeting in the fall that the Provincial Government provide better access to real-time emergency alert system info to better plan our local emergency response in the case of a large, regional emergency event. Endorsed by Council.

We then had another Opportunity to be Heard:

Temporary Use Permit for 218 Queens Avenue
This is an interesting project. The owner of an exceptionally large residential lot in Queens Park wishes to relocate a couple of smaller heritage homes that may otherwise be demolished onto the back part of his property so they can be preserved and renovated. There are two challenges to this. When a house becomes available, it must be moved fairly quickly, usually because the current owner just wants the house out of the way so they can re-build, and moving it is only considered over demolition when it doesn’t delay the project. Of course, permitting the moving of a house onto a property from the City’s side is not a fast process, so the property owner here wants to get a sort of “pre-approval” for the land use. The best path is a Temporary Use Permit, with the idea that the full Zoning change would happen after the house is moved, in the event a house is moved.

We received no correspondence on this item, and only the Proponent came to speak on the Temporary User Permit. Council moved to approve issuance of the permit.

Finally, we went through our regular Bylaws approvals:

Utility Commission Bylaw No. 8029, 2018
As mentioned above, this Bylaw that updates some of the language and mandate of the Electrical Utility was given three readings.

Uptown New Westminster Business Improvement Area Bylaw No. 8019, 2018
As discussed last week, this Bylaw that renews the Uptown BIA agreement was adopted by Council. Adjust your buying habits appropriately.

Street Naming Bylaw No. 7984, 2018
As discussed previously, this Bylaw that officially names a new street n Queensborough Roma Avenue was adopted by Council.

Housing Agreement (406 to 412 East Columbia Street) Bylaw No. 8000, 2018
This Bylaw that secures rental use for the residential portion of this development in Sapperton was Adopted by council. More Purpose Built Rental in New West!

Animal Care and Control Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8026, 2018
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8027, 2018 and
Municipal Ticketing Information Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8028, 2018
These Bylaw changes that remove charges for the licensing of therapy dogs in New Westminster was adopted by Council.

Council Top 3!

I write about Council a lot here, always after the fact, and always in a long form that isn’t really the fashion these days. People’s on-line attention is short, arguably shorter than the long run-on sentences I have the tendency to write. And listicles, apparently listicles are a thing. So I’m going to add something new to my Blog, and hopefully it becomes a regular thing:

Council Top 3

This is my regular pre-council list of what I think are going to be the most important three items on our Council agenda tomorrow* in no particular order, so you can decide if you want to tune in.

#1: Sapperton/Massey-Victory Heights Transportation Plan: Staff have provided a summary report of the result of two years of data collection, stakeholder workshops, public meetings, and planning work. They outline some short-term, medium-term and long-term capital investments and policy work that will hopefully help reduce the livability impacts of regional population growth, RCH expansion, and local development.

#2: Renovictions Action Plan Update: The City has taken a lot of measures to protect the affordable rental housing stock, but renovictions still occur, and we have little regulatory authority to stop them. We are, however, working to make sure tenants have resources and understand their rights in the event that they are facing renoviction, and are continuing to call on the Provincial Government to take more measures in updating the Residential Tenancy Act.

#3: 2017 Annual Report presentation: This is the annual summary of what the City has done in the 2017 Fiscal Year, from how we spent your money to Changes in policy and new capital works. Our CAO will present a summary of the report, the public will be provided an opportunity to speak to it, and the published report is already available on-line.

Finally, breaking my own rule (not 300 words after I made it), I’ll add a fourth to my Top 3:

Public Hearing on 838 Ewen Avenue: This is actually on *Tuesday*, as we expect it to be a lengthy Public Hearing, and don’t want it to undermine the important work being done on Monday. If you have feelings for or against the Temporary Modular Housing project in Queensborough, Tuesday night is the time to let Council know.

*footnote: The funny thing about Council: it is almost impossible to predict what three items will rise to the top and get the most debate/ public feedback / media coverage, so these are only my guesses. For a full prediction of the entire Council agenda, go to the agenda!

Council – June 19, 2018

Our second Council meeting last this week was held on Tuesday, with Special Public Hearings to hear from the public on two Bylaw changes related to the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area, and our ongoing efforts to improve the policy.

Zoning Amendment (Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Bylaw for Incentives to be Implemented in the Short Term) Bylaw No. 8024, 2018
The City committed, when implementing a Heritage Conservation Area (HCA) to also add some incentives to provide better positive benefits for those who investing heritage conservation. Although ideally we would have done this at the same time as introducing the HCA, the statutory limits to the Heritage Protection Period and intensive community conversation and policy work that went into getting the HCA right and rolled out on time simple left us with limited resources to do the incentives work. This work has now been done, and a first phase of incentives are ready to be implemented.

We have had quite a bit of conversation about this, and I talked about some of it in my May 14 Council Report. Through these conversations, the proposed incentives were pared down to three groups: those to be implemented immediately, those that need more policy work, which should be implemented within the next year, and those that either are longer-term or more City-wide, and will take yet more work to bring about. This Zoning Amendment is to support a couple of those “immediate” incentives, those that require an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw.

In short, we will permit a slightly larger house on protected properties than is generally permitted in single family residential zones (FSR 0.7 instead of a usual 0.5), and will allow homeowners to “shift” some of this density (if they don’t want to improve their principle residence) over to a laneway of carriage house, as long as that secondary building does not exceed 958 square feet.

There is a bit of nuance in this. First off, the maximum allowable site coverage (that is the amount of a lot covered by buildings as opposed to lawn or garden) is not going to go up, so this should not result in a big change in the amount of green space. There is also some detail in how we count attic and basement space towards FSR that may be too complex for this quick summary. This incentive structure should provide the most flexibility to homeowners to maximize their living space, and add secondary rental suites.

We had a bit of correspondence on this item, about a dozen written submissions, almost all in support, and we had about a dozen people come to speak at the public hearing, again generally in favour. Some concerns were raised in regards to loss of green space (which I think will still be protected by the limit on site coverage), and some delegates are still irritated by the concept of the HCA, but I go the sense that the public understand and appreciate the incentives offered so far.

Council gave this Zoning Bylaw Amendment third reading and adoption: it is now the law of the land.

Official Community Plan Amendment (To remove Heritage Conservation Area Related Protection from Phase 1 Special Limited Category Study Properties) Bylaw No. 8025, 2018
When the HCA was put in, all residential properties in the Queens Park were put into one of three categories: Advanced (meaning they are fully protected, due to age and inferred heritage value), Limited (meaning they are not protected against demolition, as they are not old enough to constitute heritage), and Special Limited, which was somewhere in the middle, partly because their heritage value was uncertain, and partly because the nature of the residence may have created an unreasonable burden to the homeowner if they were fully protected. At the time, it was acknowledged that further analysis of these 85 “in the middle” properties would be required before eventually re-classifying them to one or the other category.

As moving properties between categories requires an Official Community Plan Amendment, staff recognized that doing these by groups will be easier than doing each individually. They created a phased screening approach to this, and the first phase is currently complete. As a result, 35 properties were recommended to be moved from Special Limited to Limited, essentially reducing the protection on the properties.

This first screening was done by the City with the help of consultants. The screening was a desktop exercise where the age and heritage value of the property was evaluated at a very basic level, as was the potential for the homeowner to achieve their zoning entitlement while still protecting the intact residence. Of the 85 Special Limited properties, 35 were found to have a combination of low heritage value and severe infringement of zoning entitlements such that removing them from protection made sense. Each of these homeowners was contacted to let them know that staff would be recommending removing their protection. They were given an opportunity to “opt in” to Advanced protection, if they wished to avail themselves of incentives (discussed above).

This leaves 50 other properties of the original 85. Four of those properties already had higher levels of protection than the HCA (they were “Designated” already), 4 were owned by people who specifically asked to have their property put into the Advanced Protection category, and 42 others that will go through a more detailed screening process as part of a Phase 2 study. This table from the Staff report explains that all:

As a complication, one of the 35 property owners being exempted requested (too late to get into this OCP Amendment Bylaw) that their protection be increased instead of reduced, so Council tacked on a motion asking staff to fast-track their individual shift from Limited to Advanced protection, after this omnibus shift of properties to Limited. 

Again, we received about 20 pieces of correspondence on the OCP Amendment, almost all in favour. We also had about a dozen delegates, mostly in favour. Council moved to give this OCP Amendment Third Reading and Adoption.

The entire HCA process has been a challenge. The call of some level of protection for the Queens Park neighbourhood led to the previous Council appointing a community working group, who put together some recommendations for this Council. The temporary Heritage Protection Period that was necessary to prevent demolitions put a tight deadline on the development of an HCA, and a lot of policy work and consultation with the community resulted in a suite of measures that will bring reasonable protection to the heritage assets of Queens Park, but will still allow the neighbourhood to grow and evolve, so it can still be a vibrant neighbourhood with a variety of housing. There is more work to go yet, but I am happy with the approach we have taken. Many thanks need to go to the staff for putting this challenging program together, and to the community for continuing to be engaged in this program and providing valuable feedback that is making the policy stronger.

Council – June 18, 2018

This week we had two (2!) evening Council meetings. It is a little unusual, but have a lot to get done before the summer break, and some of it requires Public Hearings. As we rarely know ahead of time which Public Hearings will strike a chord in the community and result in hours of delegations, Staff have tried to pace things out to assure we don’t run into scheduling delays or situations where important issues that need a fulsome community conversation are overwhelmed by one another. So two meetings it was. I’ll write a second post about the second meeting, but first, a Monday Council Workshop on a single topic:

Cannabis Workshop: Implementation of Cannabis Legislation
This is a follow-up to a workshop Council held on January 29, and you might want to go back to this report to get caught up on where we are and where we are going here. It really explains the areas that the City needs to deal with – that is issues that are not already regulated by the Feds or the Province, and those where we are able to augment senior government rules because of our land use and business license regulatory powers.

After that January meeting, our staff did some work and some public consultation to develop a set of guidelines that they will draft into Bylaws. This workshop was meant to be a check-in with Council, and a conversation with the public, around that framework.

This is an evolving file, and Bylaws are yet to be drawn (this was even discussed before yesterday’s Royal Assent of the Federal Cannabis Act, demonstrating how quickly things are changing), and some may require Public Hearings. Therefore, I am going to speak in generalities about what the major areas of municipal legislation are, what the proposed direction from staff is, and what my initial opinions are (recognizing any and all three of these could change before the October 17th date the Federal Law is meant to be enacted).

Land Use for Cannabis Retail
As a City, we can regulate this, all the way from not allowing any retailing of cannabis in the City to having a complete free-for-all. The general direction would be to mimic how we deal with liquor retail: require a site-specific zoning. This gives Council a lot of discretion, in that the zoning would be based on a set of Guidelines, but Council could always be asked by a proponent to vary from those guidelines. At this point, staff have suggested limiting retial to commercially zoned areas (naturally), and to create limits on how close a store can be to a school or (potentially) to other areas like Parks and Daycares (100m). They also recommend having a prescribed distance between cannabis retailers (300m).

I suspect the first provision is a bit of a holdover from prohibition, both in how we apply it to liquor outlets and to cannabis: I don’t think it is based on risk mitigation or actual danger to children, but to a somewhat puritan “keep the sin away from innocent eyes” holdover from the temperance movement. I recognize that a community concern exists, however, and don’t think a 100m buffer to schools will be onerous for the businesses. I’m not sure I can say the same about Parks, because 100m from Pier Park and Sapperton Park (for example) does impact commercial areas.

I also have a concern that daycares are already scarce in our City, and are almost all in commercial areas, and as much as I don’t want their existence to unduly limit other retail business, I don’t want a new cannabis store to suddenly preclude the existence of new daycare centres if operators want to open them. I guess I don’t understand the risk we are hoping to avoid.

As for the 300m proximity buffer between retailers, I also think that may be too large. I used the example of the Starbucks on Sixth Street and Columbia: if it decided to shift to a cannabis outlet, it’s 300m buffer would encompass about 90% of the downtown commercial property. Similarly for Uptown if an outlet was built at Sixth & 6th. I suspect we are trying to avoid creating a “Cannabis district” where every second store is a cannabis outlet, just as a basic land use principle, but there needs to be a bit of work here to make sure we are not being too limiting for new businesses that want to open up.

Business License Regulations
The City can regulate things like operating hours, sign bylaws, and other details of how a retail business can operate in our community. The City is considering creating similar regulations (again) to liquor retail, but still have some work to do on signage and aesthetics. We don’t want businesses with blacked-out windows or bars in the windows, as that creates an uninviting street presence, but we want businesses to be secure. So there is some more work to do where, especially in consultation with potential operators.

Processing and Warehousing
Similar to retail, the City can regulate the type of industrial business that operates in the City. The City is proposing that cannabis processing and packaging be limited to the M1 zone, which is the heavier industrial zone. This is mostly related to the increased anticipated security these facilities will require under federal law, and that level of security not being appropriate for our M2 zones (which are commonly more light industrial-with-a-store-front). There will also be strict waste management and air quality protection measures required by senior government regulation, which makes M1 work better.

Public Consumption
This is where I suspect the most public concern with legalization of cannabis is going to appear: the simple nuisance of second-hand smoke. Public attitudes about public smoking have shifted significantly in the last decade, and the simple approach offered by the province (public use is legal wherever smoking is legal) may prove challenging. Although I suspect the actual use of cannabis will not increase significantly after October 17, the public exposure to its use (along with confirmation bias by its opponents) will lead to a lot of complaints.

The city will be updating our smoking bylaws to include vapor and cannabis smoke, and will continue to limit smoking with 7.5m of a doorway and in Parks. However, banning use in the way we do alcohol (i.e. no public spaces) is challenging, as we will not have “pubs” where people can go, and landlords and strata councils will have the legal authority to prohibit smoking in people’s homes, making it very difficult for some people to find a place to use what is a legal product. One of the delegates at our meeting pointed out the structural unfairness of limiting public consumption for those who may not be able to smoke at home.

Of all the regulations, this is the one that is going to be hardest to make people happy, because it runs up against a conflict between people’s individual rights. With the federal government specifically *not* legalizing edibles and tinctures at this time, smoking and vaping will be the primary delivery method. So we are going to have some learning to do as a society.

Personal Cultivation
The Federal regulations say you can grow a limited number of plants at home for personal use, and the province further restricts that the plants can’t be “visible” from public spaces, and that landlords and stratas are legally able to restrict growing of cannabis in multi-family units. As a City, we are not contemplating adding to these restrictions.

You have until June 24 to take part in the City’s on-line survey about these regulations if you have strong feelings. Otherwise, we will see some draft Bylaws at the end of the summer, and expect that we will be able to make them into law here in New West ahead of the October 17 federal legalization, and before the October 20, 2017 Municipal election!

More pool

Last Council meeting, we had an update report on the replacement plans for the Canada Games Pool, and a reporting out on the results of the last round of public engagement. I mentioned it briefly in my council report, but it is a big enough story that I thought I would flesh this out with a bit more detail, and share some of my thinking on this project.

Back in the spring, the City began this round of public and stakeholder consultation on the replacement of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. This came after two years of meeting with stakeholders, holding a pretty comprehensive public engagement process, work with program staff at the pool, architects, geotechnical engineers, and other subject matter experts. I talked about that first-phase work more in this Blog Post I wrote earlier this year, and at that time mentioned we were ready to take a draft plan out to the public based on that work.

As you may have heard, part of this engagement was a call from the Hyack Swim Club to build a more competition-oriented pool than the initial plans presented. Although the plans were developed with consultation with competitive swimming, which included a 50m pool length and a secondary pool that was amenable for warm-up and cool-down lengths, they did not feel the draft plan provided a venue that supported the level of competition their club could support.

Putting the wants of this user group aside for a moment, it is clear from the engagement that the program proposed closely matches the desires of the greater community that will ultimately pay for most of the new facility. The balance of aquatics and leisure swim space, the enhanced fitness centre, community flex space and gyms, and childcare facility are all well supported (in the end, we may need more pickleball space, but I’m not sure we will ever meet that demand!). So I am satisfied that the program we have proposed is the program we need in the community, and the public engagement results reflect that.

That does not mean this facility has everything everyone wants. Simply put, that was not possible, partly because we have a limited budget and buildable area on the site, partly because when you do comprehensive public engagement (see the 60 pages(!) of comments included in the report) you get a lot of contradictory requests. For everyone who wants, for example, a lazy river, there is someone who hates the concept. Parsing through this mixed data was a big task for staff, our consultant, and the taskforce.

I need to emphasize that the Hyack Swim Club was involved in this process from the beginning. Several meetings were held with their board and coaching staff, and their members were encouraged to take part in the public engagement process. From day 1 it was recognized that the competitive swimming community valued this asset, and as a regional community they are a vocal in discussions of any new aquatics complex in the region. There was no doubt that Hyack wanted as high-level a competitive pool as possible, up to a pool that would meet all Swim Canada requirements for the highest level of competition (something that currently doesn’t exist in BC, but is best represented by the $200 Million+ Pan Am Sports Centre in Toronto), and this led to some pretty significant discussion about how far we could afford to go that way while still meeting the desires of the community for a family-friendly recreational facility, within reasonable budget expectations.

The purpose of this stage of public consultation was to hear if the draft plans that came out of the planning process hit the target the community and stakeholders were looking for. In that sense, it was anticipated that some push back from some users on the draft plans would occur. I think we got there from the community viewpoint, but the stakeholder side clearly needed more work. That is why we do this kind of consultation.

Competitive sports facilities are, by nature, regional. Sports programming rarely respects Municipal boundaries, and just as competitive curlers from across the region come to New West to curl at the Royal City Club and MsNWimby goes to Coquitlam to play in a women’s ice hockey league that suits her competitive level (wait – neither of those facilities are run by a City… never mind, let me continue my story here), we need to expect that all Cities will build facilities that will be used by people from outside that City.

I also need to clarify that the request from the Hyack Swim Club is not just “two more lanes”, and though the swim fees paid by Hyack Swim Club are definitely a significant part of our operational revenue, they will certainly not offset the increased capital cost of a larger facility. The request for two more lanes, a larger secondary pool to better accommodate warm-up and cool-down length swimming, significantly increased “wet” deck space, and some level of “dry” spectator seating represents a significant cost premium. I (speaking as one Councillor, this is, as always, not necessarily the opinion of all of Council) am not willing to compromise the community amenities that the community asked for to pay for that cost premium. Ultimately, this is a case where the public engagement is vital to decision making, and I cannot ignore the wants of the larger community when building the most expensive asset the City has ever built.

That said, if we accept that higher-level competition is a regional asset, it is reasonable to expect that the region help pay for it. All along, the City has been working towards senior government assistance to build this facility, through the promised federal Infrastructure Grants program and affiliated provincial programs to support recreation and community assets and community reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. I think we have developed a program that will very closely meet the expected criteria for federal infrastructure funds. These, matched with provincial funds, may give us the financial space to build the expanded region-serving competitive facility, while not compromising on the recreational facility the community clearly wants, and not overly burdening our (still stretched) capital budget.

So the path forward the City has chosen is to continue to work towards an expanded facility that will support higher-level competition (one the Hyack Swim Club expressed unbridled support for at their public delegation last week), and the community recreation that the public engagement outlined, and hope that senior government grants will be sufficient to make it viable. We will continue to hold the current more recreationally-focused program as a fall back in the event we are unsuccessful in receiving sufficient senior government support.

The good news is that we now have a well-supported plan to move forward, and can do some of the extra work we need to do to get this project “shovel ready” enough to get those grants. To quote someone more profound than me: Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.

And I’ll write one more post about this pool in the next few days (yes, I’ll get to your question, Jason), but this one is long enough for now!

Council – June 11, 2018

After all of that excitement, it was back to work on Monday at New West Council. We opened the meeting with presentations of plaques for the newest Registered Heritage Buildings in the community. This was followed by a couple of presentations that were emotionally charged. It is Salmonbellies Day on June 17th, but the usual celebration was subdued in light of the recent loss of a treasured member of the SalmonBellies community. This was followed by acknowledgement of World Refugee Day on June 20th, which we marked with a harrowing presentation by a New Westminster resident who is himself a recent refugee from Syria, which put many of our issues in New Westminster into a stark perspective.

Our regular agenda began with a Report for Action:

Modular Housing Update: Further Analysis on 200 Fenton Street
This report is a summary of work done to evaluate a site on Fenton Street in Queensborough for Temporary Modular Housing (“TMH”). This is a follow up report on last meeting, as we had many delegates speaking to the 838 Ewen Avenue TMH proposal, and some suggested the Fenton Street site as a better alternative for TMH in Queensborough. We asked staff to provide more details to the evaluation that was done of Fenton, and to revisit some of the assumptions that went into it being not selected to make sure we haven’t missed something important.

The short version here is that the Fenton Street site is indeed a viable location for modular housing, but there are some significant challenges for the site that impact the timing, cost, and project risk. The site would require pre-load and other ground stabilization works, and would need significant on-site and off-site landscaping and other works. In comparison to the Ewen Avenue site, the access to services is not as good, and making the site more accessible for pedestrians will come at an extra cost. Nearby transit service is less convenient and less frequent, and shopping is twice as far away. In summary, the Fenton Street site works better for a more permanent affordable housing project so the timing and costs to make it work can be absorbed into a longer project timeframe, but it is not a viable location for the current Rapid Response TMH program being led by the Provincial Government.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

2017 Statement of Financial Information
This is our official release of financial information for the year. Most of the spreadsheet stuff shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has watched our budgeting process. This report also includes how much you paid me and my Council colleagues for our work ($45,646 for me, plus $5,539 in expenses, mostly for the conferences I attended, which is why I report out on them here), a list of all of the companies we paid more than $25,000 for goods and services, and a list of the wages paid to all of our employees who earned more than $75,000, as required by law.

No doubt, the regional media will report out on peoples wages, without much effort to putting those wages into context of what those people would be paid in the private sector for similar responsibilities and skills, instead framing those wages as opulent. Alas.

Recruitment 2018: Arts Commission Appointment
We have an empty seat on the Arts Commission, and this person is willing to fill it, and she is a consummate volunteer in the City, whom I thank for her service.

Street Naming Bylaw for Roma Avenue in Queensborough – Bylaw for Three Readings
As reported earlier, the name Roma Avenue will be sued for a new street in Queensborough. This is the official Bylaw that makes that happen. The actual installation of the road sign will come after the road is built and put into service. Hopefully it is good timing to coincide with a grape-stomp.

406 – 412 East Columbia Street (Market Rental) Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8000, 2018 for Three Readings
The project planned for an empty lot on East Columbia will include Purpose Built Rental, and in order for the City to secure that rental, we need a covenant and a Legal Agreement. This agreement needs to be supported by a Bylaw. This is that Bylaw.

Amendment to the Tenant Relocation Policy: Changes to the Residential Tenancy Act
The City has a Tenant Relocation Policy to do what we can to make sure that people are not displaced from their housing unnecessarily, and to assure that when evictions are legal and required for significant renovation of a building, the residents have as much support as possible in this impossibly tight rental market. The provincial government recently updated the Residential Tenancy Act to give renters more protection from demovictions, such that their “fair notice” minimum is now longer than the one in the City’s policy, so we are adjusting our policy to match. This is a constantly evolving file, and more work is being done by local governments and province, this is a quick shift of our local policy to keep up, but not the end of story!

Proposal for Public Realm Improvements in Brow of the Hill at Seventh Street and Fourth Avenue
This is a proposal to create a small public green space improvement in the Brow of the Hill, a neighbourhood notably lacking in public green space. Up to now, our Parklet Program has been oriented to improving the streetscape in our retail areas, where this one is adjacent to a church in a relatively high-density neighbourhood. This creates some opportunities, but also a different potential set of conflicts. Like other Parklets, this is meant to be temporary, but any opportunity we have to reduce the amount of paved space dedicated to cars and re-purpose that space into something greener that all people can use is a positive.

New Westminster Arena Operations and Ammonia Safety Update
The tragic incident at Fernie last year, where three refrigeration workers were killed by an ammonia leak at their skating rink, has cause all municipalities in BC to review their safety practices around ice plants, working with WorkSafe and the Technical Safety Board, There were some changes done at both of our arenas, mostly around how TSBC have changed the application of “risk assessment” measures. The changes come with a small operational cost increase (more frequent testing, increased staffing levels to oversee ammonia plant operations) which are consistent with changes being made at most ice arenas in the province. Short version is that were up to snuff when it comes to safe operation of our ice plants, and with emergency procedures, with a some increase in operational costs.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

620 Third Avenue (Westminster House): Temporary Use Permit for Youth Residential Recovery Program – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
This is the notice that an Opportunity to be Heard will happen on July 9 for a Temporary Use Permit for a residential recovery program directed at younger women recovering from addictions. It is best practice that I recuse myself from this discussion as the application is only a few doors down from my house.

Electric Vehicle Readiness Policy for New Residential, Commercial and Institutional Buildings
Electric vehicles are coming, and they are coming on fast. The largest disruption caused by them will be the change in how people “fuel” their vehicles. Gas stations are going to go away, and distributed charging systems will replace them. We are not, however, building that distributed charging infrastructure fast enough. This policy would help push the City that direction, requiring that new buildings with off-street parking spots are built to have the background infrastructure (conduit, wiring, and adequate electrical capacity) to support installing charging stations.

The cost of making this a requirement in new builds is relatively small, well under $1000 (compared to the $40,000+ cost per stall of providing underground parking). Other cities (Vancouver and Richmond) have already made this move, and many others across the region are about where we are in in putting their policy together.

As *most* EV charging will happen at home, if an adequate charging system exists there, there is less demand for making these stations mandatory in commercial buildings. The standard practice regionally is to require 10% of off-street commercial parking be ready for an EV charger. Staff are planning to report back to us with a fully-cooked framework for how to manage the commercial sector.

Amendments to Animal Care and Control Bylaw and Associated Schedules in the Bylaw and Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw
The City is waiving Dog Permit fees for Therapy dogs, and updating some language in the Animal Control Bylaw without any major policy changes.

Queen’s Park Arenex Replacement
The replacement of the Arenex has been a difficult process. We were initially optimistic that a replacement structure could be quickly acquired that would provide greater space, and along with the Canada Games Pool replacement project, we would finally have a home for the gymnastics and trampoline programs that didn’t quite fit in the Arenex as it was. Regrettably, best laid plans ran into some procurement issues, as the tight construction market and relatively high project risk related to the geotechnical conditions resulted in no adequate responses to the Request for Proposals. In the public procurement process local governments are required to use, that often means back to the drawing board.

With some revision of scope, and more work done on the soils conditions at the old Queens Park reservoir site (where the old tennis courts and soil storage area are), we are now in a position to re-start procurement.

Honestly, it is a bit of a disappointment that it took this long to get this far, but we have reviewed the process to date and there was every reason to suspect the first procurement should have worked. It may have been our rush to get a replacement facility done as quickly as possible that (ironically) resulted in this delay. The good side is that this failure has led to the City to re-evaluate some of our project management practices, and bring in some new resources. We have an aggressive capital program, with the Library, the Animal Care Facility, the CGP replacement, and more projects charging ahead, at the same time that some senior staff is retiring, so the learning from this will be valuable. However, in the end all we can do is apologize that this project ran into the challenges it did, and move ahead aggressively to get it done as soon as possible.

On a related topic, we had a Staff Presentation:

New Aquatics and Community Centre Feasibility Study, Public Engagement Results
Regular readers (Hi Mom!) will recall we are moving ahead with the Canada Games Pool replacement, and took a proposed “program” out for public comment back in late April. This report gave us a summary of the public engagement results. I have a lot to write about this, so will hold off for a second blog post, but the short version is that we have developed a pathway where we may be able to accommodate a higher-level competition pool while not taking away from the community focus of the new community centre.

As always, we closed the evening program processing our Bylaws:

Street Naming Bylaw No. 7984, 2018
This Bylaw that makes the name of a new street in Queensborough “Roma Avenue” was given three readings.

Housing Agreement (406 to 412 East Columbia Street) Bylaw No. 8000, 2018
This Bylaw that secures the agreement that this new development in Sapperton will be a rental building was given three readings.

Animal Care and Control Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8026, 2018;
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8027 2018; and
Municipal Ticketing Information Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8028, 2018
The amendments to these three bylaws that will allow us to not charge license fees for therapy dogs and make other small changes in our Animal control Bylaw, were given three readings.

Five-Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8020, 2018
As discussed last meeting, these updates to the 5-year Financial Plan were adopted by Council. It is now the law of the land.

Automated Voting Machines Authorization Amendment Bylaw No.
7994, 2018
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that is required by Elections BC to use electronic ballot-counting devices in our civic election was adopted.

Building Amendment Bylaw (Building Permit Exemption for Hoop Greenhouses) No. 8018, 2018
Also as discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that removes the need for a building permit for some types of backyard greenhouses larger than 100 square feet was adopted. May your tomatoes enjoy a warmer fall.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (306 Gilley Street) Bylaw No. 8007,
Heritage Designation (306 Gilley Street) Bylaw No. 8008, 2018
These Bylaws that secure permanent protection of a heritage home in the Brow of the Hill were adopted by Council.

Ask Pat: Elections?

Ed Sadowski asks—

When will we know if you will be running again in the upcoming municipal elections?

Yes, I am running for Council again. Sorry for the delay responding to you, but I did have to do a bit of serious thinking and also put a few things in place so that when I announce my intention to run again, people have a way to contact me and I don’t lose that initial campaign bump on that is (apparently) important.

If you want to read about my campaign, why I am running, what I want to do next term, and why I think you should vote for me, please go over to my campaign website ( It is a little bare-bones right now, but I will be updating and improving it as the campaign goes on. One of my challenges with “launching” my re-election campaign is trying to figure out how I can keep this conversation – 8 years of blogging, hundreds of blog posts, its gotta be a million words by now – and keep it a little separate from the rhetoric necessary for campaigning. The election is in October, but I still have 4 months of work to do before then, so here is my strategy.

This website will pretty much stay the same, with blogs, updates on City stuff, random opinions on topics that interest me, and Ask Pats answered when I get a chance. My Campaign website will talk campaign, will have all of that campaign “why you should vote for me” stuff. My regular Facebook Page will be pretty much as it always was, and my Campaign Facebook Page will have campaign Facebook stuff like updates on where I am going to be, special campaign events, and probably a fair amount of campaign-related opinions. There is no way I am managing two Twitter accounts, or two Instagram accounts, so those are staying as is.

In the meantime, I’ll be out in the community as I have always been, ready to talk about the City and sharing ideas with the citizens of New West. It’s going to be a busy 4 months, but let’s take the time to talk.

LMLGA 2018 part 2

As a follow-up to this post, here is the second half of the LMLGA Conference in May. This may not be as interesting for my regular readers (Hi Mom!) as me ranting about traffic, but I think it is important that I report out to the community what I learned during the conference, because the community paid for me to attend the conference. As I am on the LMLGA Board, the cost for one of my nights was covered by the LMLGA, but the City still paid my registration for the conference, and paid part of the travel cost (I car-pooled with other attendies).

As I mentioned last post, a big part of the annual conference is the Resolutions session. This is when the members of the LMLGA vote on resolutions to be forwarded to senior governments, asking them to change policy or prioritize spending to meet the needs of our communities. The 2018 session included more than 40 resolutions, with about half of them at least slightly debated. This was an unusual year in that three separate resolutions or proposed amendments were defeated in tie votes (which is pretty unique with ~100 voting members present). If you want to know the results of all of the votes, you can read them here.

In brief, the two resolutions put forward by New Westminster were endorsed. The first was to ask the provincial government to prioritize the funding and support of the Community Health Centre model for providing general health care in communities across BC. The second was to ask the provincial government to update the BC Motor Vehicle Act by addressing the recommendations of the Road Safety Law Reform Group of BC to better protect vulnerable road users ( as I talked about in this report earlier in the year). Both were endorsed by the LMLGA Executive, and passed by the membership without debate.

Day 2 Featured a session on Digital Connectivity that started with a presentation from a technology director at Amazon, talking about what they see as the future of retail. Depending on your outlook on the world (or possibly your age), he either described a stunning future where your computer will know exactly what hammer you need before you even go on line to shop for it, and one click later the hammer arrives at your door within two hours, or a stark dystopia where every decision you make is predetermined by algorithms and every human interaction or social aspect of purchasing goods is scrubbed away as “friction” that interferes with the efficiency of the market. So that was interesting.

XKCD, as always, predicts the most logical end result.

This was followed by another ying/yang tech discussion by Mayor Greg Moore, directed at the elected officials in the room. He talked about the positive opportunities that Social Media provides to engage with your electorate, both during campaigns and while you are in office. He then described, step by step, how a single person with a bone to pick, a couple of hours to kill, and $20 can use a social media platform like Facebook to create a powerfully disruptive disinformation campaign using the same tools, and make themselves look like a large crowd of people to amplify their voice. It was stunningly familiar, and a valuable lesson to all of us who seek to engage meaningfully in decision making. If you don’t know who you are talking to on-line, it is quite possible they do not actually exist.

This led us into a closing plenary session on Human Connectivity, which brought together several aspects of making human connections in a time of digital disconnection. We had presentations about the power of volunteering, about working for sustainability within a community framework, and about thinking deeper about the everyday interactions we have, and what underlying the narratives we often miss may be telling us about ourselves and our community. It was inspirational, but also challenging – we are so busy “doing” or “planning”, that we are sometimes forgetting to take the time to listen, look, and understand the interactions in front of us.

I’ve given a bit of a summary of my learnings/rememberings from LMLGA, but there was more. The Minister for Local Government and Housing gave us a great update on where housing policy is going in the province, the Leader of the Official Opposition told us all of the things that the current government has not accomplished in 9 months, seemingly forgetting his government had 16 years to do the same things. Of course the networking, both formal and informal, with local government leaders across the region are valuable, and the LMLGA executive met to discuss next steps, including developing a better plan to present the resolutions to government members in Victoria. Altogether an informative, inspiring, and crazy busy 2-1/2 days.

LMLGA 2018 – Part 1

I’m out in Halifax at the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is a nation-wide conference for local government types. However, I don’t want to report on this yet, because I still haven’t reported on my trip to Whistler last month for the LMLGA. Sorry, things have been busy!

The Lower Mainland Local Government Association is a networking and advocacy group that serves the local governments of the southwest corner of the mainland of BC, which I talk about a little more in my report on the 2017 meeting here.

The 2018 conference was at Whistler in the first week of May, and it was a full couple of days. Here is a quick run-down of what kept me busy over that time.

Pre-conference Sessions
There were two plenary workshops on Wednesday afternoon (I am on the LMLGA Executive, so I had to go up early for Wednesday morning executive meetings). One was on challenges that cities have in attracting and retaining family doctors, the second on the latest updates on cannabis legalization. I did not have a lot to say about the first session, as there was a lot of details about the problem (from how we teach Doctors to how we pay them and how we attract them from other jurisdictions – all firmly in the Provincial realm) and the solutions local governments could apply were a strange mix of making your city more livable and selling the benefits of your community to young professionals and their families.

The second session was more compelling, as there was a lot of new information about how other local governments are approaching legalization. There is a strict division between what the federal government and provincial government will be regulation, and there is a fairly well defined role for local government. As always, our role is land use (where will these businesses be able to set up?), business licensing (how will a local business operate –hours, signage, staffing, etc.), and nuisance management (where will we enforce smoking, growing, etc.). In New West, we expect to have a report back from Staff early in the summer to set up our local rules, though it seems obvious that the roll-out of federal regulations will be delayed from the July deadline set up by thr federal government.

The opening day ended with a Keynote by Chris Syeta’xtn Lewis from the Squamish Nation, who gave a informative and poignant summary of the history of his people, and the context of where the amalgamated Squamish nations exist today, and what they see for the future of their region. A follow-up discussion with Mayor Patricia Heintztman of Squamish talked about the opportunities all Cities have for not just starting reconciliation, but finding a respectful space to have conversations about our shared future. It was an inspiring evening.

Day 1
Our Morning Plenary was a talk by author James Hoggan, whose discussed his book “I’m Right and You’re and Idiot”. It was a long dissertation on the current problem of public discourse (including there are too many people intentionally disrupting it for personal or political gain), and some techniques to address this (“speak the truth, but never to punish”). Any summary I give here will give short shift to his great multi-faceted talk that covered what Hoggan calls the “social pathology” of our natural predisposition to form teams, the opportunity to be found in embracing cognitive dissonance, and how all of us on every side of every issue think we are David and the other is Goliath.

I then ran a Transportation Connectivity session, which was in two parts. First, Don Lidstone gave a talk on the autonomous vehicle and vehicle-sharing future from the perspective of local government legal issues. Don is, among many I have heard on this topic, at the techno-optimist side of things, anticipating that our entire vehicle landscape will shift dramatically in the next decade to something we do not recognize. He switches quickly to pessimist, however, when he talks about how completely unprepared the province and local governments are. Nothing in our Motor Vehicle Act addresses driverless vehicles. The liability that falls on a Local Government if our infrastructure is not read correctly by an autonomous vehicle (say, if someone vandalizes a stop sign or road lines are buffed off) is uncertain and untested. There is also the not-minor problem that every local government has its own Street / Traffic / Parking Bylaws, and there is no system to an autonomous car to know this, or even any understanding of who is responsible for teaching a car that drives into New Westminster from, say, California, what a flashing yellow light means here or what the local parking restrictions are.

The second part was a panel discussion moderated by Mayor Cote, where a Planner from the City of Abbotsford, the Mayor of Squamish and a staffer from BC Transit discussed the opportunities and challenges of connecting the entire Lower Mainland (Hope to Delta to Pemberton) with Public Transit. Abbotsford and Squamish are both growing quickly, and both are becoming denser, more –transit oriented communities well served by Transit, but barriers exist between the area served by TransLink and those served by BC Transit. This is a bigger issue for Squamish, where up to 4,000 people a day commute to Vancouver, but Abbotsford is all about connecting local communities as opposed ot getting people to the “core”, as job growth is being pushed out to Abbotsford in a major way. So clearly, needs differ around the region, but the need for coordination does not.

We then had a unique program element: An actual honest-to-goodness debate. Seth Klein and Josh Gordon each had teams debating the question: “Does the Speculation Tax go far enough?”, which was fun to watch and quite informing about the strength of the tax as public policy (which resulted in the audience shifting somewhat from slightly in favour of the tax to slightly more in favour of the tax).

The rest of the Day 1 was spent doing AGM-type activities, including Bylaw updates, passing a budget, and electing officers for the upcoming year. You may now congratulate your new Lower Mainland LGA Second Vice President. Jason Lum of Chilliwack has been an excellent President for the last year, and Jack Crompton from Whistler will no doubt fill his shoes well, as he has already been a real driving force behind some of the new initiatives LMLGA has brought into assure it serves its members. We also had resolutions, which I will talk about in Part 2 of this report, which will be arriving soon…