Another week, and other Council meeting. It didn’t look like that picture above, but I thought i would add that to remind us of the before-times. We are going to start moving towards a more regular schedule again soon (see below), but for now the updates keep coming so we keep meeting. As always, we are recording the audio stream (though we are meeting using video), so you can follow along the recording or see the agenda here. We started with a significant report:
Provincial Restart Plan and City of New Westminster Recovery Plan Presentation
We have talked a lot in the last two months about response to the pandemic situation, and as I suggested last week, we are starting to talk about what recovery is going to look like. As the Provincial announcements made clear last week, we are not past the danger phase, but with most of the response now planned and being implemented, it is time to start talking about what happens where we start moving to post-emergency operations. We had a lengthy reporting out from senior staff on what this looks like for Parks, Recreation, and the Library.
As with the rest of the emergency response, this is mostly following the lead of the provincial health officer’s directions, so we don’t have control over the pace here, only the choice of actions we will take. As the report says right up front – the City has three responsibilities – it is a regulator, it is an employer, and it is a service provider. All three roles need to be considered through this process.
There is a perhaps counter-intuitive issue with facilities opening sooner than the City anticipated in its financial modelling. Opening City facilities will mean some of the cost savings from them being closed will be lost, and potentially bringing some auxiliary staff back sooner than anticipated. This is likely to start to happen before the concomitant return of traditional revenue sources, so this could ironically make our financial situation worse, not better.
For now, some parks facilities will be opening up, and we will be monitoring how that kind of thing goes, and will be working in coordination with adjacent municipalities to try to make this entire thing not be so confusing that people will have a hard time complying. A good time to remind everyone that everybody is doing all of this for this first time, and we need to work together.
The following items were Moved on Consent:
COVID-19 Pandemic The New Normal: Council and Committee Processes
We are adapting the way we are running Council meetings again, this time taking away a few of the restrictions we put in when things were first hitting the fan in late March. We are also establishing a more reasonable schedule going into the summer to replace our current weekly meetings, and trying to get more “regular” business done instead of being all-emergency-all-the-time.
The Province has provided us some extraordinary flexibility in how we run meetings under a Ministerial Order (M139) so we can do business during the emergency, with physical distancing protocols, and outside of the Council Chambers if needed. This replaced the earlier Order (M083) which we were previously operating under, so we need a refresh in our procedures.
City Advisory Committees were suspended in April, and we are now looking at re-launching some of them electronically, especially the Board of Variance and Advisory Planning Commission as needed. Most committees, however, will continue to be suspended until the end of the summer. Unfortunately, Public Delegations are still difficult to organize and manage for staff, and will remain suspended. If you wish to address Council in the meantime, please send us an e-mail or letter, and contact the Clerk’s office if you have questions about how to connect.
We are also going to look at getting electronic Public Hearings happening. This will allow anyone with access to a computer, tablet, or telephone to take part in an on-line meeting. Of course, you can still provide input to public hearings by writing an e-mail or old-skool letter to Council. If the technical stuff can get worked out, we will likely have a Public Hearing for some backlogged projects in late May.
Sapperton Pump Station: 1 Cumberland Street – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
That big sewer pump station being built below Sapperton is almost done. This is a request to do some night work to remove a bulkhead within the “wet well” – work that has to happen in the middle of the night on a night when the weather has been dry for some time because it is much, much easier to do when the sewer flows are at their lowest. Council granted a nighttime construction noise exemption to permit this work.
The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our weekly updates from the operating Task Forces. We are still working on food security, a “Hey Neighbour” initiative to help forge social connections in multi-family buildings, the Friendly Caller program to help isolated seniors is going well, and we are partnering to open an emergency shelter at the empty gym attached to the Massey Theatre. Staff have reached out to most businesses in town, including door-to-door delivering support information in multiple languages to the businesses along 12th Street that don’t have the umbrella of a formal or informal BIA to help with communications. And this is just a few of the things City Staff are doing to keep our community connected and safe.
Also part of this was the need for us to approve spending $82,000 on two emergency food hamper programs. Because government is funny that way, we needed to approve the spending even if it is just flowing through us. I am burying the lede a bit here, as these were both the result of large grants provided by the Vancouver Foundation to local non-profit providers after the City helped with application and coordination. This is great news, as more than 1,500 food hampers will be delivered to those most in need in our community over the next 12 weeks.
COVID-19 At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force: Information and Resource Dissemination Actions
This is a reporting out on the numerous communications actions the city has taken, and tools that have been developed to assure that we are sharing information about the pandemic response and supports available, from a summary of financial supports from various government programs to a food resources calendar.
I do want to pull out of this an important initiative that came out of our Intelligent City program and a partnership with Douglas College. We are providing recycles WiFi-enabled devices and Wifi hotspots in the City. Of course, much info people need to get through the crisis is available on-line, and access to many program relies on internet connectivity to sign up or get vital information. However, lots of people in New West (especially those who most need the supports above) do not have a consistent connection to the internet. The Library is an important source of Wifi and devices/desktops to connect for many people, but it has been closed for almost two months now, as are other places where public (Anvil Centre) or private (Coffee shops) WiFi connections are available. At the same time so much information about the current crisis and supports available are easiest to find on the internet. Hopefully this program will help more people get connected.
COVID-19 Council Review of 2020 Community Grants Program
Many of the Grants the City awarded in 2020 will not be used, simply because they are for events that cannot happen due to the physical distancing requirements, and because some organizations that were awarded these grants will simply not have capacity to use them this year. Staff reached out to the awardees and did an informal survey to find out which grants will still be used (or were already used), which will not, and which the applicant would like to repurpose in light of the Pandemic situation. We are currently estimating we will still see a reduction of about 1/3 of the ~$1 Million (cash and City services) in grants awarded.
Physical Distancing on City Streets
This report talks about some of the great work our Transportation Department has done to open up pedestrian spaces in the City to help with physical distancing. It also outlines some of the next steps (and a few of the challenges along the way). Many may have noticed that Sixth Ave in Uptown had its sidewalks extended with temporary measures today. More to come, and of course I have a bunch to say about this, considering this motion came right after it:
We had two pieces of New Business:
Motion: Streets for People in 2020
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster move quickly in 2020 to expand road re-allocation toward pedestrian, cyclist, and public gathering space, using temporary measures where necessary with a mind towards more permanent solutions that can be applied after the period of crisis has passed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Transportation Task Force make rapid reallocation of road space a priority work item, are empowered to immediately apply temporary measures in 2020, and accelerate the timeline towards the 10% space reallocation goal set out in Bold Step 7 of the City’s Climate Action Plan
I put this motion forward, and will talk about it at length in one of my patented “I’ll have to write a follow-up blog post about this” follow-up blog posts about this.
Motion: Public Engagement Strategy for COVID Recovery
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff prepare a public engagement strategy for involving the community in COVID-19 recovery planning with particular focus on addressing systemic inequities and building a stronger, more vibrant and connected, climate change resilient community; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the plan proposes ways to address barriers to participation that have resulted in lack of representation by communities of colour, tenants and underhoused, lower income community members, disabled people, and other underrepresented groups that have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic.
Councillor Nakagawa put this motion forward, recognizing that we are starting the conversation about how things are going to change in Post-pandemic times. There is already a lot of talk about “the new normal”, which suggests that things were “normal” before and that the crises we have experienced throughout our community and social systems was solely a result of this virus. The pandemic only cast light on the cracks in our society that were there all along, and provided us a lens though which rapid action could be applied to, however temporarily, address them. It also provides us an opportunity to talk about whether we are going to allow things to go back to how they were, or whether a new path can be taken.
To get there, we need to have a bigger conversation with the community. Not the people who read this blog, or watch council meetings (though your input is always appreciated). We need to take this opportunity to talk to people most impacted by this crisis, most of whom we have not had a lot so success connecting with in the past. This is a Public Engagement challenge, but one we have some pieces in place to achieve through our Public Engagement Strategy.
And that was a Council Meeting.