We had a brief Council meeting on Monday to address some time-sensitive issues. It was pretty bare-bones, and I was Acting Mayor, so it was not the smooth production you may be used to. Here is the recording if you want to poke fun, or if you want to see the Agenda that started with the official receipt of our Annual Report for 2019:
2019 Annual Report
Every year, the City is required to put out an annual report, which includes our annual financial reporting and some measures of what the City accomplished in the previous year. Council moved to receive the report.
Obviously 2020 is a challenging year in ways we could not have predicted, but it is still valuable to look back at 2019, now that the numbers are in and note the achievements of the City, getting more done than any other City in the Lower Mainland, regardless of size. We sometimes forget New Westminster is a small municipality surrounded by much larger ones, but we continue to punch above our weight on things that matter, including housing policy, addressing poverty and homelessness, and taking meaningful climate action.
One of the bigger achievements of 2019 is clearly the 7 Bold Steps in response to a Climate Emergency. Turn on the news this week, and you can read about collapsing ice shelves in the Arctic, record heat and wildfires consuming 10,000 square km of Siberia, and (to those like me who follow climate science at greater depth) the recent report by Woods Hole researchers published in PNAS that demonstrated the RCP 8.5 CO2 emissions pathway, which was previously used as a “Worst Case Scenario”, has turned out to be the most accurate pathway for first half of the 20th century. We have a lot of work to do, and I’m proud to be part of a Council that put actions to their words, and set serious, concrete goals not just for 2050 Paris targets, but for 2030 so that we can no longer put off actions today if we plan to meet those targets.
We also took bold steps in 2019 to address the eviction crisis in the community. Once again New Westminster was a regional leader in housing policy, and I see that other Municipalities are now following our lead. This along with the 745 new purpose built rental units that came on line in 2019, are meaningful steps to take local action on ta regional housing crisis.
I also want to emphasize something that staff did that didn’t show up in this report, but a bulk of the work was done in 2019 – and that was a new and more transparent approach to the annual budget process. Public Consultation takes time, it costs money, and it takes a willingness to both teach and learn through discussion where people’s concerns are. Of course, the COVID crisis has forced some shift of those budget assumptions, but with a foundation of solid public consultation, we have built better trust, and better understanding, which allows us to pivot when needed. And bring that experience and knowledge into our work on COVID recovery which is so going to define our 2020. Again, kudos to staff for engaging in that work so effectively.
I’m proud of the work the City has done, and thank our staff for being bold and dedicated to seeing New West become the most vibrant, compassionate, and sustainable city it can.
The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
2020 Declaration for Resilience to Canadian Cities: Feedback on Metro Vancouver Amendments to Meet Regional Goals
The Mayor endorsed a Declaration for resilience in Canadian Cities, and this is a report asking that Council endorse a suite of ideas and actions to meet these goals. As it is a pan-Canadian declaration, staff included a regional and jurisdictional analysis of the Metro Vancouver and New Westminster context for the goals.
There are a bunch of recommendations coming out of this, and we spoke a bit to minor tweaks that could be made to the declaration text to be specific to our local conditions. Council was able to provide a bit of feedback to staff on where some of the language could serve to be adjusted, but in no way did we “step back” from the goals, more we defined specifically how each reflects our own understanding of the City’s role in meeting the bigger goals. I don’t want to belabor it too much here, as this is overall really great document. Perhaps I’ll write a follow-up blog post about my personal take on some of the recommendations.
Small Sites Affordable Housing Initiative: Queensborough Recommended Proponent and Connaught Heights Next Steps
We talked earlier in the year about, and did some initial community consultation on, the next phase of the City’s ongoing Small Sites Affordable Housing program. This is where the City identifies available City-owned land for affordable housing, and hopes that BC Housing and a non-profit provider can do the heavy lifting of getting some affordable housing built. We already have two of these up and running (one Downtown and one in Queensborough), and were hoping to get at least one new project into the 2021 Funding window from BC Housing.
Staff identified two potential sites, one in Queensborough and one in Connaught Heights, and both asked for Housing providers to make proposals about how they would best use the site, and went out to the community to get feedback on the two sites and initial proposals. Staff then reviewed the proposals, and found a preferred approach for the Queensborough site. Staff were not able to recommend a preferred proponent for the Connaught Site, and recognized there needed to be some work done both with the applicants and with the community, and recognized the 2021 funding window was probably not viable for that site.
This also means we need some staff to put development of the Queensborough site into their work plan for the rest of 2020, which means a few of the other policy areas planning staff were working on will be delayed but a few months (or even up to a year), so they checked in with Council to make sure that was OK. Unfortunately, we are just not in a position right now to commit to funding more staff to get everything done as there remains some uncertainty around COVID recovery and the City’s financial situation, so a bit of policy work delay was seen as the most prudent path right now, and more affordable housing was seen as an appropriate place to prioritize staff time.
The Queensborough site will go through an expedited version of development review. It will go to both proponent-led and City-led public consultation, external and committee review including Design Panel, and a Public Hearing (hopefully) in early 2021. The proposal will no doubt shift through this process, but right now it looks to include 51 units in a three-story rental apartment building, with about 15 units “affordable” for moderate incomes, 25 with rent tied to income levels, and 11 “deeply subsidized” for very low incomes.
The Connaught Heights project needs more work, including clarifying the Crown Grant through which the City was given the land and how it impacts the available used of the site. The history of the land is interesting and somewhat complicated, and was something that came up through public consultation. There is more detail in the report here, but chasing the paper trail from 50 years ago was interesting!
Finally, we had this Motion that I brought to the meeting:
Cannabis and Edibles
THAT Council direct staff to bring forward the necessary amending bylaws to allow cannabis retails stores to sell edible cannabis products for off-site consumption and that staff not enforce the local prohibition of the sale of cannabis edibles for off-site consumption pending a decision of Council regarding such amending bylaws.
There are two cannabis retailers operating in the City (and a few more approved and going through the steps to get their doors opened). Upon opening, the two discovered that edible cannabis products were not permitted for sale in New West. The local retailers were surprised when our local Bylaw enforcement told them (correctly) that the City prohibits edibles.
The background is that edible products were not legal when we were putting the Bylaws together in 2018, though it was noted at the time that they would likely be legal some time in 2019. I’m not sure if we anticipated at the time that no retailers would actually be open until mid-2020. As a result, we are more restrictive than the federal government or the provincial government who both made edible products with appropriate labelling and controls to manage the extra public safety concerns, legal.
So, my goal here is to bring our business and zoning bylaw in line with provincial and federal regs as quickly as possible, and to allow the retailers to (if possible) ask the City’s bylaws enforcers to not enforce that part of the bylaw recognizing the unique situation here and the intent of Council. The motion was supported unanimously by Council.
And that was all we had for the meeting. I’m still basically avoiding the big Social Media platforms for August, so drop me an e-mail (as opposed to Twitter or Facebook) if you want to get in touch. Otherwise, get out and enjoy the sun in a safe, distanced, calm and kind way!