Council – March 23 2020

We held a special Council meeting on Monday, and I’m sorry I’m so late getting this out. It was recorded on video, despite the slightly-strange chambers set-up to accommodate social distancing, you should be able to follow along with the conversation that occurred. Also note that Monday was a year ago with the pace of change here, so some of the below is updated, some is not. Any discrepancy between the following and today’s reality is likely a product of that lag.

There is one question you may have about why we were physically meeting at all, considering that some participants were able to call in. Short version is that the Community Charter and our Procedure Bylaw require us to have a physical quorum (at least 4 voting members) in the Chambers for it to be a legally constituted meeting, but we will fix that with the first item on the Agenda.

Amendments to the Procedure Bylaw No. 6910, 2004 to Allow for Changes in Notice, and Electronic Meetings
The City has a Procedure Bylaw that outlines, among other things, how we meet the Community Charter requirements for meeting notices, and what constitutes Quorum in Council. These proposed amendments will change the language of that Bylaw to match updated procedures.

The current Procedure Bylaw does not allow Council Meetings to be held remotely through telecommunications – there must be at least 4 members of Council present in chambers to constitute a quorum, otherwise the legal work we do (reading and adopting Bylaws) is not valid. Note the BC Government introduced some legislative changes today to change this, but we were meeting a few days ago, and suspect we still need ot enact our Bylaw to keep everything up to snuff.

We are still required to post notice of meetings in City Hall, but with City Hall closed, we are adding the City’s Website to that requirement (which is good idea for the future anyway). We are also replacing the need to put a notice of a Special Meeting in Council Member’s Personal mailboxes with the need to notify Council Members by E-mail, because it is 2008. Finally, as we need to receive Public Input before changing the Procedures Bylaw, we will be asking for this until the April 3 Special Council Meeting. Which I guess means we are having an April 3 Special Meeting. If you have comments or concerns, please send us an e-mail or letter.

Changes to Council Meetings during the period of the COVID-19 Pandemic
This is, by all definitions, a capital-E Emergency, so staff is suggestion some changes in how we meet as a Council during this time, balancing the need to get work done with the need to follow health authority orders and respecting social distancing protocols.

Our upcoming meetings will not include Open Delegations. There is just no reason to bring your concern in person to Council right now. Write us an e-mail.

We are going to ask Council to be very prudent in suggesting Notices of Motions, and the Mayor will act as a screen to assure we only bring up time-sensitive or important motions. Staff is wanting to avoid the situation like we had last meeting where a Council Member brought a motion that resulted in community outcry and a packed chamber of people from around the region to speak for and against it. We just don’t need that hassle at this time. As an aside, that specific Notice of Motion will be tabled until a more appropriate time.

As much public consultation and committee meetings cannot happen right now, but there is some concern that ongoing work that is important (even to the point of being crises – housing, childcare, climate action) will get delayed because Emergency > Crisis. Though we are putting some work aside right now, starting with cancelling next week’s public hearings, I do want us to think creatively about how we can bring some of those things back on-line, as this situation may stretch on for months, and lost progress will hurt.

I am especially interested to see how we can (technically, and legally) accommodate on-line submissions, set up an online submittal form, facilitate recorded video or audio input to public meetings, etc. Staff right now is pretty over-tasked adapting as much as they can to the emergency situation, so this is best thought of as work we can start once we get ourselves established into a new normal.

Scope of Work of Five COVID-19 Working Groups: Council Approval
As City Committees and Task Forces and much internal work in the City is grinding to a halt, there are some areas of specific need in the City. Staff have set up some temporary working groups/ task forces aligned with the biggest priorities right now. They will be working groups of City Staff, Senior Gov’t agencies, not-for-profit partners and business groups in town, depending on where the subject matter experts are.

There are three out-ward looking working group: At-risk and Vulnerable Populations; Seniors and Persons with Disabilities; and Business Continuity and Local Economy;

We also have two inward-looking working groups to address City operations: Human Resources; and Emergency Operations and IT.

Since the Agenda was put together, there have been two new outward-looking working groups: Childcare; and Education and Enforcement.

This will be the framework for future meetings and reports, so I won’t belabour them too much here.

Protection for Renters during COVID-19 Pandemic
As I blogged earlier, the City doesn’t have a lot of cash lying around, and measures to address the unexpected have to be funded. Staff are making some suggestions of how we can free up some reserve funds (money we have on hand already earmarked for specific purposes), and there is more discussions of budget down below. However, right now there are a lot of people worried about making rent on April 1st, because they have been laid off or their regular income sources are shut down. The City already supports a Rent Bank operated by the Purpose Society and supported by the Province and local Credit Unions. It is suggested that there may be a significant increase in need for this service the months ahead, and it is recommended we move money form the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund into this.

This conversation we knowingly a couple of days before the provincial government introduced their renter-protection measures, but we agreed to commit to a $100,000 infusion from our Affordable Housing Reserve in case it is needed, with a general wiliness to explore other supports that the City may be able to provide through that reserve fund.

COVID-19 New Westminster Emergency Response and Provincial Government Support Request
We are going to need senior government supports here. People, businesses and not-for-profits are lining up asking for supports of various kinds. Local Governments need to assure we are clear with what we need to support our communities and the priorities of our communities. We are prioritizing our requests to help with supply chain for our first responders in Fire and Rescue, Police, and Emergency Operations. Things like masks, sanitizer, gloves and other necessities are challenging to procure now, and the Provincial government has the power to control those supply chains to assure they get to those who need them the most. We also need to prioritize first responders for testing protocols, as they are by necessity, in close contact with many people all day. We need support for the Emergency Operations Centre, and for emergency shelter for the homeless and vulnerable people.

We have also identified an expanded Property Tax Deferral program, some help to replace lost local government revenues (like Casino revenues), and for a ban on eviction for renters. We also asked that some similar consideration be given to business lease-holders, those small businesses that are prevented from operating right now and will, ultimately, be the core of our economic recovery when this is all over.

2020 Budget
Obviously, things have changed since we put our draft budget together last month. We have always referred to it as “draft”, recognizing small adjustments may be necessary, but never in the history of the Local Government Act has so much changed in two weeks as the last two. We need to have a Budget Bylaw and 5-year Financial Plan approved by May, and the unprecedented amount of public consultation and discussion occurred outside of this shit show. Best laid plans. (insert grumpy face emoji).

Council moved to pull back on most of the enhancements in the budget for 2020, excepting those that are already “baked in” – such as changes in interest rates, insurance costs, collective agreements, and such. A 0% tax increase is a fanciful notion, as we have already made significant commitments to 2020 that cannot be undone, and other revenue sources aside from taxation (Casino revenues, parking revenues, recreation and program fees, etc.) are likely going to be much lower than expected. Of course, some savings will be found in not providing some services and there may be some layoffs of staff as some programs simply cannot operate. Problem is, our assumptions about the budget are more tentative than ever, as we don’t know how deep into our 2020-2021 budget year this disruption will continue, we have no idea what our emergency responses are going to cost, and we don’t know how much senior government support is coming to help. That’s a lot of uncertainty for what is usually a very tight and conservative budget process.

It is with a pretty heavy heart that I have to accept that some of the enhancements that we anticipated on 2020 will have to be deferred at least until the 2021 budget year. This does not mean we don’t support those programs, it’s just that with the uncertainty ahead, it is prudent for us to tighten the belt as much as we can to not get into a cash crunch problem.

Staff also suggested, due to the uncertainty of what the emergency response is going to cost, that we re-allocate the 1% Capital Levy to an Emergency Fund. I disagreed, as I think the capital program is still going to need to be funded. However, Council voted to support this change, and in the end the difference between the two approaches is more an instruction to staff about how to prioritize spending than a change in how much revenue we will bring in.

This situation is throwing a wrench on our capital plans for 2020-2024. Some projects will no doubt need to be delayed, though much of our Capital budget is mission-critical maintenance and replacement that will still have to go forward. There will be much more discussion of this in upcoming meetings.

There was a bit of closing roundtable after these items were addressed, to raise a few issues that were not on the agenda. I think the takeaway is that this is really uncharted water for everyone. We have an Emergency Plan and an Pandemic Response Plan, but the first is challenging as it may see a typical emergency as a single short-duration event with long recovery (think flood, earthquake, ice storm) which is clearly not the pattern here, and the latter has never been invoked before. Our emergency services and first responders are managing excellently, staff is doing their best to understand what the new priorities are, and how to address them while obviously being concerned about their own health and that of their families. Council is, ultimately, charged with making the budget and prioritization decisions based on best advice, but we have never had to rely as heavily on this advice (thank you Dr. Henry!) and feedback from residents and the business community about what the community’s priorities are.

Everyone is anxious, but everyone is doing their job as best they can. I think the Mayor and our Management Staff have shown great leadership and flexibility, and I left the meeting no less concerned about the impacts of this pandemic, but more assured that there are positive things we can do to help our community, to keep people safe, and to prepare for the inevitable after-effects on our community.

Reach out (metaphorically) to each other, folks. Find out what your neighbour needs, and if you can help. If you can think about those half-dozen small businesses in town that really make you proud to live in New West, now would be a good time to reach out to them and see if they have on-line offerings or delivery, or if there is any way you can help them bridge through this time. And if you need help, please reach out to the City, either through the Council e-mails, or through the City’s website (see a special section here). Take care of each other!

Social distance.

Strange days continue.

Like many people, I am stuck in this strange, soul-defeating cycle of trying to avoid Social Media and the radio news broadcasts, but feeling compelled to always be checking in lest I miss something important, combined with a need to feel connected with my neighbours and friends. I am not someone who typically suffers with anxiety, but am starting to recognize signs of anxiety in my behavior. I can’t concentrate on work or other tasks that take more than 5 minutes, like writing a blog post.

We all need to step back in our boredom and find the separation from the hourly updates. Find space to do the things that let you escape. I’m going for a bike ride right after I finish this, or maybe ill dig in the Garden. Find your escape.

Of course, I am working in my “regular job” as best I can with the virtual desktop, and trying to keep up with events in New West. There are updates here, if you feel that compelling need to check in. We have made a Declaration of Local Emergency, which may free up some resources and gives our Emergency management structures some delegated authority that we hope they won’t have to exercise. Staff are constantly in touch with the Health Authority and senior governments to make sure recommended procedures and protocols are followed. Council will have a meeting on Monday afternoon to help make any policy decisions that need to be made, and to allocate any resources that need to be allocated.

I think it is important for folks to recognize we are all on new ground here. The City has a Pandemic Response Plan developed after the SARS crisis, but it has never been activated before, and staff have to learn its operational parts, and determine what is applicable to the current situation and what is not. There are subject matter experts at the Fraser Health Authority and the Centre for Disease Control whose advice we can lean on, and we share resources and knowledge with our cohort communities, but no-one on the City’s staff (or the staff of any City) are experts at this, and therefore everyone is exercising caution.

What makes a “crisis” different than regular times is the will to act. Local governments, for a variety of reasons, are often reluctant or slow to act for fear of unknown or possible negative consequences – Cities are risk-adverse by regulation and by culture. A crisis is a time when that needs to shift to a fear of not acting, and we will tolerate some unforeseen risk, be it financial or doing something wrong, because that risk is smaller and more ephemeral than the real current risk we can see around us. None of this changes the limits of how a City can act within its delegated authority.

This crisis is also a strange, long-lasting one, with implications up and down our economy that are still unknown. This is one of those times where the stark differences between a business and a government are relevant. Although there are some services we can (or have to) shut down, like fitness programming or the Library, there are many we simply cannot. The City needs police and fire protection. Building inspections and permitting need to operate to keep the community safe. Water needs to keep flowing and be tested, sewer garbage collection systems need to keep working. As pool, recreation programs, and community centres wind down, the City needs to address the needs of its employees, especially as program cancellations stretch into months.

There is another aspect of how Cities work that most don’t think of, and that is our general lack of liquidity. Because of the strict regulations around our financing, we do not generally have a lot of unrestricted cash lying around. Most of our Reserves are earmarked for specific purposes by law, and we cannot move that money round at will. We are required every year to run balanced budgets, and our ability to borrow money on the fly is limited. Do the math on our annual financial plan, and you can see that New West runs through about $16M a month, and half of our income arrives when property tax bills are paid – this time of the year we are at the lowest level of our cash reserves. We do not (to my understanding) have the legal authority to defer property tax payments, and if we did, it would not be long before we ran out of cash.

Of course, every homeowner in BC who is over the age of 55 or has a child under the age of 18 can receive a deferral for their property taxes from the BC Government for a remarkably low interest rate. If you qualify and are feeling financial stress this year at tax time, I recommend you take advantage of this offer. This does not address the issue with small business taxes, and I am not sure (we have not discussed at Council yet) what legal options we have available to us to assist there. I am hopeful that the senior levels of government that do enjoy significantly more budget liquidity than local governments will step in to help here, as I would love to see the millions who work in small businesses in communities across the country get prioritized over airlines and oil companies.

That said, we do have options and more flexibility in our utilities accounts, so there may be some options here to allow some deferrals. We are already following the lead of BC Hydro and doing this with electrical bills, but have (again) not discussed the rest of utilities at Council yet, but I suspect we will on Monday.

I have talked informally with some of my Council colleagues and the Mayor about the situation. With limited and mixed information and no formal meetings, we of course have not made any decisions. However, I can tell you everyone has expressed unprecedented concern, and are worried about what we can do. We know many of the more vulnerable members of our community simply don’t have the resilience or support network to feel secure right now. We know a lot of small businesses are closing, and many are worried about when, or even if, they will be able to reopen. We know people are worried and anxious. So are we. But our community is strong, we have shown great spirit in supporting each other in the past. Every one of us lives and shops and plays and shares in this community, we are all committed to doing what we can to support the community we love.

So all that to say, there are better sources for info than my blog, and you should go there if you need info. City-wise, go to the City’s website for local updates. The Provincial Government website will have updates, and will the Centre for Disease Control. Don’t panic, be informed, but watch your sources, because there is a lot of bad info on Social Media right now.

We will be holding a Council Meeting on Monday, when I will be expecting some updates from staff and a challenging conversation about what this means to our 2020 budget process. There will not be public delegations at the meeting, so though it will be a public meeting with limited public seating (to respect Social Distancing protocols), we are highly recommending people stay home and watch the live stream.

Other than that, take care of each other folks, and think about how you can help others while keeping yourself safe. There are people in our community who cannot stay at home, who don’t have access to supports they may need, for whom this disruption is life-threatening. Every one of us on our own journey through this, so be kind.


So there is a lot of news right now, and only one news story. I have never seen anything like it, and I lived in the United States during 9/11. That was a sudden shock that changed things, this Pandemic is more like a slow-moving tsunami with bigger waves on the horizon. The news keeps coming, and every day another upending of our assumptions about the place and time in which we live. It can feel overwhelming. But then you go to the store to buy, say, gardening tools (like I did today), and you realize life is going on. Germinating my tomato seeds in mid-march means fresh veggies in July. I don’t know what July looks like, but I am betting we are going to want fresh tomatoes.

I have a few blog posts for this spring break from Council reports. During a bit of downtime this weekend, I worked a bit on them, but I kept coming back to The Only Story, because right now it seems that blogs on Regional Growth Strategies and comparisons of local property taxes seems secondary, and will likely be dated by the time another week of current events unfold.

Like most of you, I am adapting things in my personal life. Nothing I do in my “real” job is life-critical, in the sense that no-one lives or dies depending on my getting things done (well, technically, I reduce the long-term risk of exposure to some cancer-causing agents by the general public, so statistically fewer people will die, but that’s a long way off). However, my employer needs to keep providing some level of service  and supporting business continuity. So I have been provided with a laptop and a cell phone and I spent some time this week getting my virtual desktop to work, I’ll be working from home for the most part except for the few times I absolutely need to get to the office.

As for my other gigs, most committee meetings can be delayed or phoned in. I’m really disappointed that the great program we put together for the Lower Mainland LGA Conference is not likely to see the light of day, as it is starting to look like we will still be under some form of Social Distancing recommendation in May. Of course, this disappointment pales in comparison to what hundreds of events like this being cancelled means to the people who work in events, catering, hotels, entertainment, arts, etc. etc. and you realize we are in deep here as an economy. This is a time to find out how resilient our society really is.

I know we are up to the task of pulling together here locally, as we do have some really strong social service organizations and both formal and informal networks in the community. Watching the New West Twittersphere share and lament and laugh together (especially the #NewWestGoesViral hashtag) gives me hope as I see people separated by space pulling together. But I worry about how we can pull together nationally after so much of the necessary social structure has been dismantled by a couple of decades of austerity. Our health systems are strained on a good day, food and financial security is so uneven across the country and even within communities. How robust a response can we mount to this extra strain? So far, responses at all levels have sounded reasoned and rapid, but the shit is still accelerating towards the fan. The feds are promising a serious spend here, and I hope those funds get to the precariously-employed, precariously-housed, and recently-laid-off first. If we give $25 billion to airlines and Tim Hortons, I’m gonna be pissed.

With most events in the City shut down, no Council meeting for two weeks and all other meetings postponed, Council life is simplified. I have no idea when we are going to activate “normal” public Council meetings again with the current restrictions, but we do have a regulatory requirement to (if nothing else) get a Budget Bylaw passed in the next month, so there will be some form of meeting. Right now the Mayor and senior staff have coordinated three ad-hoc working groups within City Hall to coordinate City resources and address three identified priority areas: protecting vulnerable populations, identifying and supporting isolated seniors, and business continuity.

I don’t know what this is going to look like, and Council is currently looking to schedule an emergency meeting so we can clarify changes in work plans and deal with resourcing requests if needed I think staff need a bit more time to get their feet under them and find out what we can and should be doing before bringing those suggestions to Council, and fortunately, the City has a Pandemic Response Plan that is being activated. If you are hankering for updates on what the City is doing, best not come to bloggers like me though, and especially not Facebook posts from randos (there is a *lot* of bad info out there, unfortunately), the City website will have updates on a regular basis.

This is not going to be over soon, folks. For those of us fortunate enough to have never lived through a society-disrupting war, I don’t think we can really imagine what months of shifting our economy and our behavior is going to look like. All we know now is that it is no longer business as usual, not for some time anyway. In the meantime, do the things our Public Health professionals are telling us. Keep some distance, wash your hands. But you don’t need to be within 6 feet to be actively looking out for your neighbours and your friends. Many of them are going to be in tough mental states and/or facing some real economic stress. Be the kindness that helps them get through the day, and receive the kindness others offer. Take care.

Council – Mar. 9, 2020

The March 9th Council meeting was a long one, and at time frustrating. We had the annual draw of the May Day Royal Suite, which is always fun for kids and parents, except when there is random political posturing. Then we had a large number of public delegations from across the lower mainland about an issue that was completely inappropriate for debate in a City Council chamber in New Westminster, especially when we had a full agenda of work to do… ugh.

We had a daytime workshop where we worked through some more details of the annual budget, but I’ll hold off on detailing more of that here until we get some Bylaws coming to City Council later in the Month. If you have opinions about the draft Budget, go here and get the data you need to make an argument, then some time in the next two weeks would be a great time to send Mayor and Council an e-mail.

The first Item of the night was a presentation:

Memorandum of Understanding between the City and Century House Association
I assume most people in New West know Century House exists, but not as many know it was a ground-breaking model when opened 60 years ago – the first stand-alone municipal “Seniors’ Centre” in Canada. And since 1958 or so, the running of Century House has been a collaboration between city staff and a non-profit volunteer society called the Century House Association.

Staff and the CHA have been working on an MOU to formalize this relationship and assure it continues to support the programming and operation of Century House. Nothing is changing here in the relationship between the City and the CHA, but there are advantages for both parties to having a non-binding MOU that clarifies roles and responsibilities ad avoids future conflicts.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Appointment of Acting Director of Finance
Our Finance Director is changing Municipalities, and we need to formally name a new one because of a statutory requirement under the Local Government Act. We are doing so in an Acting role until we can complete a search.

Withdrawal of Motions Resubmitted to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LGA)
This is what happens when Councilors don’t do their homework and show up at a meeting and try to make decisions on the fly. The late add-on of two resolutions to the Lower Mainland LGA resolutions list last meeting were not required, because the resolutions had already gone to the UBCM executive and been endorsed. So we are withdrawing them now.

909 First Street: Rezoning and Development Permit for Infill Townhouses – Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8188, 2020 for Two Readings
This proposal is to rezone a property in Glenbrook North to replace the single family house with four townhouses. The lot is a little smaller than envisioned in the Infill Townhouse and Rowhouse zoning (though still over 9,000 square feet), but is a corner lot with alley adjacent and the neighbouring property is also a large lot, so this application could be thought of as a bit of a test whether this type of development fits well in that specific instance.

This project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.

45 East Eighth Avenue: Rezoning and Development Permit for a Four Unit Rowhouse Project – Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8189, 2020 for Two Readings
This proposal is to rezone a lot in the Massey Victory Heights neighbourhood to build four rowhomes. There would be fee-simple row homes of the type that are not common in New West, but we are hoping to see more of as a “missing middle” housing form.

This project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.

Metro Vancouver 2018 Regional Parking Study
TransLink and Metro Vancouver recently did a study of regional residential parking supply and demand, and we can use that 2018 data to inform how we plan and allocate parking in new developments.

The region-wide study looked at 73 buildings, included 5 Strata buildings in New West, two in Sapperton, two Downtown, and one in Queensborough. All are relatively recent builds, but all build (and therefore had their parking allocated) prior to the 2014 changes in New Westminster’s off-street parking requirements for buildings near SkyTrian. Unfortunately, there was sparse rental building data in the study.

The big take-away is that apartment parking supply exceeds use across the region – we are building too much parking. This is doubly true near SkyTrain. And interesting related finding is that bicycle storage is poorly executed across the region in multi-family buildings, and this is actively discouraging cycling. That said, our Zoning Bylaw provides incentives to reduce parking requirements (such as end-of-trip cycling facilities, car-share parking, etc.) align well with the findings of the study.

There is a lot more in this study, and I look forward to a deeper dive. As we look at updating these parking requirements, this study will provide us some good data to underpin new policy. More to come here!

Port Royal Dog Off-leash Area Update and Launch of City-Wide Strategy for Dogs
We are still looking at a new off-leash dog area at Port Royal since the one near the old animal shelter need to be closed. We had some proposals that went to public consultation, and all of them had significant push-back from neighboring properties. Everybody wants a dog park nearby; no-one wants a dog park too nearby, and hence governance is hard.

The City is going to step back and launch a City-Wide Strategy for Dogs. We have unmet need in a couple of neighbourhoods for dog socializing and exercise areas, increased demand on parks space for all users, and no real unified vision of how to manage this.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Inter-Municipal Ride-Hailing Business Licence Bylaws: Bylaws for Three Readings and Opportunity to be Heard
This introduction of a multi-jurisdictional business license scheme for ride-hailing businesses was a more monumental task than most people will ever realize. It had to happen fast because it really could not be developed until the provincial regulatory framework was made clear, and getting 25 of 31 Municipalities to agree on a framework and roll out a comprehensive Bylaw in such short notice is unprecedented outside of wartime. Serious kudos to the Mayor’s Council and its Chair for guiding the region through these challenging political discussions, to the Bylaws staff in those 25 Municipalities for doing the work, and to Vancouver for taking on the extra administrative burden for the rest of the region of being the licensing authority for the region.

I am still not convinced that the current ride-hailing model provides a net benefit to the region, or that the well-established safety, traffic congestion, workers’ rights, emissions, and equity issues that result from it are offset by the convenience gains for so few. However, it is clear that society has accepted those costs, that the provincial government is not interested in proactively addressing them, and that local governments will, once again, be required to take on those burdens without a proportionate share of the revenue. If a regulatory approach is available to local governments, it will be through Business Licensing, and we may be able to react with regulatory measures when these operations start to show local impacts that residents will inevitably be asking us to address.

The sharing of data from the ride-hailing providers that will allow the region to track how the service is being used is a significant win, and will provide vital data to any future regulatory changes.

New West has to pass its own Bylaws to support this regional initiative, and an opportunity to be Heard on these Bylaws will occur on March 30, 2020, C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Interim Business Property Tax Relief Program
Our property tax system is borked. It is not progressive, and as a policy framework it creates a variety of intended and unintended economic signals. However, it is the system we have, and many have ideas how to fiddle with the edges to address those unintended impacts.

One problem has been identified in how properties are assessed at “highest and best use”, which means as a growing region develops and puts pressure on land use, underdeveloped lands see their value increase as much as developed lands adjacent – which is a structural problem exacerbated when land values are much higher than the value of the buildings/improvements on that land. Over decades, our property tax system has also become skewed to charge much more on commercial and industrial lands than on residential lands, and most business leases make the tenant, not the landowner, responsible for paying taxes. Pile all of this up, and increased tax pressure is most felt by small businesses.

The provincial has looked at this issue, and proposed an interim tax relief regime for 5 years starting in 2020 to be offered to a locally-derived list of small business types, not-for-profits and/or arts and culture organizations. There are some problems with this plan, including a lack of time to properly implement it in a way that would be fair and immune from court challenges, especially as we already in the middle of putting together our 2020 budget bylaws right now.

Several cities have signed onto a letter drafted by a group of a dozen Mayors saying “No Thank you, please give us Split Assessments instead”. This is the idea that a piece of land can be split so the value at current use can be changed one tax rate, and the difference between that and “highest and best use” can be charged a different, presumably lower, tax rate. I have my own concerns with that proposal as well as it appears to provide a significant financial incentive to leave land vacant or underdeveloped (not a great economic signal in a housing crisis) and act to encourage speculative holding of that land as an investment. With those concerns in mind, I see no reason to sign onto this letter – I don’t like asking the province for something unless I am sure I want it.

Council decided not to sign on to this letter, but we will have a report beck form staff on potential property tax changes that may be available to us to address some of the structural issues this idea is meant address.

Motions Passed at the December 4, 2019 Meeting of ACTBiPed and the February 27, 2020 Meeting of YAC
The last meeting of ACTBiPed (it has been replaced with a Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee) was a busy one, with discussions resulting in two calls for better cycling and pedestrian infrastructure related to two of the bigger development in the near future of New West: The High School replacement and the Sapperton Green project at Braid Station.

Thanks to some pressure applied by the local HUB chapter, a safe cycling connection between the Crosstown Greenway and the new high school has been identified by staff and Council as a priority, and staff have proposed that a connection on the Moody Park side (8th Street) can be accomplished by the time the high school opens. HUB has identified a connection along 6th Street as preferable, and are asking that it be built by the time the School opens. Staff has several technical reasons why this is a much more difficult project to complete (mostly due to the need to accommodate safe and accessible transit stops and a lack of road width available). They are not saying it is impossible, they are saying there are challenges that make it very difficult to get it done in short order, and unlikely to get through those hoops before the School opens.

I am not comfortable moving other cycling and pedestrian priorities to this project, and would rather the connection via 6th be completed as part of the planned upgrades to the Crosstown Greenway. We equally need to support students taking transit and walking to school, and making all three integrate is a challenge we need time o address responsible. We have committed to having a safe separated cycling route vie the Moody Park route, and will incorporate a 6th Street connection along with the work we are doing to change the 6th Street streetscape in the next year or two.

On the Sapperton Green project, the ACTBiPed were asked to opine on the plans for the site, and felt that it was not as “car light” as it could be, considering its location on a Transit Station and the “blank slate” that the developers have been given to work with. It still looks like the dominant mode at surface is cars, and that avoiding cars will be the #1 priority of people attempting to walk or roll across the site. Cars will be the #1 concern of residents walking their kids to daycare, to the community centre, to school. I would support changes that reduced the surface expression of car space and reduced parking requirements for the site.

We then did our regular Bylaw Shuffle (with a nuanced difference that only the most astute Council-watchers will notice) including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Housing Agreement (65 First Street) Bylaw No. 8178, 2020
This Housing Agreement that will provide some security for the renting residents of this strata complex that is being sold for potential redevelopment was Adopted by Council. It’s the Law of the Land.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Amendment Bylaw (815 Milton Street) No. 8179, 2020
This Bylaw that amends the Heritage Revitalization Agreement for this heritage house so it can be slightly raised and have tandem parking was Adopted by Council. Lift away!

We had a couple of pieces of New Business</b:

Partnership with Earth Day Canada
Motion THAT the City of New Westminster partner with Earth Day Canada and Potentially Local Environmental Groups to coordinator an annual Earth Day
celebration or activity in our community.

The Mayor moved this idea that the City support a bump up in our earth day participation, and partner with groups to make it happen. This is totally in line with the work we are doing to address the Climate Emergency and raise awareness of the work we need to do as a community and a society to reduce our impact on the ecosystems that support us. Council moved unanimously to support this.

Notice of Motion: A Resolution to Oppose the Indian Government’s Citizens Amendment Act and National Registration of Citizens, and to Seek Action from the Canadian Government
Therefore be it resolved, that the City of New Westminster asks the federal government to take a position in opposition of these regressive discriminatory acts, and that the parliament of Canada supports the pluralist coexistence of all residents of India regardless of culture, religion or caste.

This Notice of Motion (a notice that the Motion will come to Council next meeting) was the source of almost two hours of delegations at Council from people across Greater Vancouver, about equal numbers supporting the motion and opposing. Although I learned a variety of things about the internal politics of India during the delegations, I was pretty frustrated that this was how we spent the bulk of our meeting time. As much as I am troubled by some actions of the current Indian government, I feel completely uninformed about this specific issue, and honestly do not have the time or energy to do the research necessary to inform myself on this issue enough to support any position. I heard the passion of the people who delegated, and I am sure this issue is close to their heart, so I do not want to take anything away from them, but this is not an issue I am comfortable with New Westminster City Council getting involved in.

This Happened (v.5)

Yikes, too much going on since last time I reported out on my Council-adjacent activities, so I’ll keep this short. One paragraph each (scroll down to see if I keep that promise, kinda curious if I do myself…)

I am on the Lower Mainland LGA executive, and we had an executive meeting to move some business along, which was mostly about making some fundamental program decisions about the 2020 conference we are planning for the beginning of May. It looks like a great program, so if you are a Local Government elected type reading this (and who else would?) make sure you register!

I gave opening greetings as “Acting Mayor” at the 2020 Innovation Expo at Anvil Centre. This annual event is part of the Intelligent New West program, where we bring people working in tech and innovation in the private sector together with people from the public sector to talk about how the two can work together to build capacity and promote investment in science and engineering. One of New West’s innovative businesses – Landcor – was a major sponsor of the event this year, and the event was really well attended.

Last weekend, the City of New West also hosted the semi-annual Council of Councils meeting, where local elected types from accross Metro Vancouver get together to get an update on what Metro Vancouver is up to. I guess I should write a blog post about separately!

On the same day, a few of us from Council attended the annual Royal New Westminster Regiment Mess Dinner, which is an event I have never actually had the honour of attending before. I was lucky to be seated with some members involved in the Cadet programs, and it was great to hear about the work they do, and the role they play in the community.

I am now serving as Chair of two new Council advisory committees: Facilities, Infrastructure, and Public Realm Advisory Committee (“FIPRAC”) and the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee (“STAC”), and both had their opening meeting in the last two weeks. It occurs to me now that I need to write another blog post about this, and how we are envisioning our new advisory committees being more effective and efficient.

For reasons too complicated to get into here, I was able to tour the OceanWise laboratory at the Pacific Science Enterprise Centre, which is what we are now calling the old DFO laboratories in West Vancouver. I was there to learn about some of the work OceanWise is doing to better understand microplastic pollution in our marine environment. This is an emerging area of science, as the impacts of residual clothing fibres, tire dust, paint chips, and other microscopic plastic particles are not well understood, even as we are now recognizing they have become ubiquitous in our oceans, air and sediments, and are becoming more common in marine micro- and mega-fauna. We may be some distance from knowing if we have any policy levers to do anything about this, but the foundational science is being done to at least allow us a better understanding of the problem.

I am also the Chair of the Community Energy Association, a not-for-profit agency that helps communities across BC (and increasingly adjacent parts of Yukon and Alberta) set and achieve energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. We had a meeting last week where we approved a 2020 budget and set some priorities for special initiatives for the year ahead (including a new website, so enjoy this one while it lasts!).

I had a brief telephone interview with CKNW’s Jill Bennett on the morning of February 29th to talk about Council’s plans to undertake a master planning exercise for the 22nd Street Station area. It is interesting that a mention of reducing auto-dependency, even as a long-term plan in light of a Climate Emergency, triggers a strong reaction for people. Even as we continue to have a regional vision of less car dependency, the idea that we can create an area attractive to people who choose to not be car-reliant, even in a small underdeveloped area around a 30-year-old SkyTrain station, is treated with the level of incredulity expected if we were planning a moon base.

I was able to attend the small vigil/gathering at Hyack Square last weekend to show support for the Wet’suwet’en people and express hopes for respectful dialogue and a peaceful resolution for the current dispute. It was nice to see some local engaged residents come out, and I had some great conversations with people. Although there has been some positive news coming out of Victoria and Smithers as the two sides work towards resolution, the discussion on that day was mostly around how unhealthy and divisive the conversation was in the social and traditional media on this topic. Having a gathering of people support a more respectful model of discourse left me feeling more positive about our community. Thanks to the organizers for this!

There was also a successful fundraiser event thrown last weekend by the Rotary Club of New Westminster that brought a couple of hundred people to the Royal City Centre atrium to have a some snacks and taste craft beer from around the region as an excuse to raise money for two great organizations in the City, I’s on the Street and KidSport.

Finally, the Royal City Curling Club is winding its season down over March, and Team DeGobbi went into the playoffs in 12th seed, and won our first game against the #5 seed but then lost our second game to the 14th seed, so we have the long row to hoe if we plan to go deep in the playoffs. If you are wondering where I am Tuesdays and Thursday evenings…