Council – Oct 5, 2020

It was a busy September, and one that went by fast, but now that Council has its groove back, we went so far as to have Public Delegations for the first time since society fell apart back in March. We also had a relatively tight agenda:

The first item was Unfinished business postponed form the post-fire meeting of September 14:

Overdose Prevention Site and Safe Supply Program: Update
The City has been addressing the Overdose / Poisoned Drug Supply Crisis in the limited ways we can as a local government. Much of this is not readily visible to most residents, such as supporting making Naloxone more readily available in the community and changing the way first responders respond to overdose reports. Fundamentally a public health concern, we recognize that the provincial government needs to lead here and have the resources of two Ministries to apply to this challenge. However, we have a New Westminster Overdose Community Action Team established in 2018, and have been taking many measures informed by them, which are reported out in this staff report. Clearly, it is not enough.

With this in mind, I was grateful to receive a report in Council from representatives of Fraser Health to talk about their role, and hoe we can work together to implement proven life-saving measures of overdose prevention sites and a secure safe supply. These are vitally needed in New Westminster (and indeed around the region), as the illicit drug supply is still poisoned and the risk for people who use these substances is still increasing. It appears that funding will be made available for a combined safe consumption site and health contact centre, and the search is currently on for a non-profit provider. No location has yet been determined, and there will likely need to be a Temporary Use Permit or Rezoning to facilitate this use, so more to come. There are also ongoing shifts in how the safe supply program is being rolled out, and this fundamental shift of how we address opioids and stimulants in our community could be the thing that turns the tide on the death rate related to the poisoned supply.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Release of Resolutions from Closed Meeting Related to DreamsWon Project Proposal
Not much to say about this. A Developer has some (at times unclear) ideas about a major development in the Fraserview area, and has been communicating with people in the neighbourhood about it. However, the City has not yet received a formal application on that project, so we can’t really respond – and certainly cannot enter into any kind of partnership deal with the developer – until we get a submission to the planning department, preferably one that meets the requirements for a Pre-Application Review.

Small Sites Affordable Housing Initiative: Connaught Heights Next Steps
As part of our Small Sites program where affordable housing projects have been built on City lands in Downtown and Queensborough, staff evaluated two bare City-owned lots in Connaught Heights to see if a project could fit there. Turns out that the Crown Land Grant for one of the pieces of property was not registered on Title in the 1960s (therefore, a preliminary title search by the City did not disclose it), and was not discharged as planned back in the 1970s (for reasons unknown). So the property at 2038 Ninth Ave is encumbered. Short of buying the land grant out, it would be hard for a non-profit housing provider to use this land for an affordable housing project. So staff is going to go back to applicants to see if a smaller project can be penciled out on the adjacent unencumbered piece of land. If not, then we will put our energy and time into other sites in the City (though we are running out of City-owned lands to put housing on).

Metro Vancouver Sewer Inspections: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Some types of sewer work can only happen at night when flows are low. We need to give a Construction Noise exemption to allow that work to happen at night when flow are low.

User Fees and Rates Review
Aside from taxes, the City collects fees for various things, from cemetery services to parking meters. We review all of these fees every year and they are adjusted to keep up with inflation (e.g. increasing Highway Use fees by 2% in 2020), to better reflect the cost of providing the service (e.g. increased cost for replacement garbage carts this year), or just to better reflect policy goals behind the fees (increasing annual permit fees for preferential car storage on public space as per Council’s 2019 policy review). We need a Bylaw to officially set these fees for the 2021 budget year.

Recruitment 2020: Appointment of Grant Committee Members
The City has streamlined its Grants process, and now has three grant streams. When applications for these grants are received, we have a Committee of citizens review them with the help of staff and make recommendations to Council on how to allocate grant funds. We had a call for volunteers, and have no appointed members to those committees.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our regular report on the Task Forces we set up to address COVID response in the City sees that many of them are winding down activity or are just tracking along as needed. One concern is that funds from senior governments that were supporting some of the programs for vulnerable populations are starting to dry up, and we will need to make decisions about continuing some of these programs.

Update to Interim COVID-19 Food Truck Policy
We will continue the reduced Food Truck program until spring. I’m a little disappointed that we are not more supportive of street activating initiatives at a time when people are shifting how they use public spaces. I fundamentally don’t believe that a healthy Food Truck economy in the City takes away from other food service businesses, but actually enhances them by creating a more vibrant food scene. My view of this is that we went through a multi-year community and business engagement process to set the Food Truck Program up, and I hate shifting gears on it just as it starts to build steam. That said the request here is to extend the step-back until the spring, and continue to allow the few Food Trucks that are already licensed to continue to operate with minor restrictions. I hope by the spring when we are next going to review this policy, we hear more from the community about what food trucks and street activation by local businesses mean to the community. In other words, if you like food trucks, better let Council know.

Relocation of Digital Signage as a Result of the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project, and Related Public Outreach Program
I hate these signs. I said so back (before I was elected) when they were installed, and I’ve not wavered from that. They are eyesores, an intrusion into our public realm, and create strange political controversy whenever someone decides to advertise something that offends other people but nonetheless meets federal advertising guidelines which ends up putting City leaders or bureaucrats in to the role of moral arbiter of free speech. Mostly, it offends me that public resources are used to suck up cheap advertising revenue to pay for public services because we won’t raise taxes to pay for those community services. But indeed they pull in revenue, $1.4M in 2019 (which is equal to about 1.6% of property taxes we collect in the City). So here we are.

As the Pattullo construction is happening, we need to move one of the signs. Staff and the sign operation company found a location that met the needs of the contract, but this relocation still presents to me problems, as the new location to me appears to shine into the residential properties in a way the previous location did not. Council asked staff to do further review to determine if there are better options.

Finally, we had a couple of Bylaws for Adoption:

Heritage Designation (219 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8065, 2020
Heritage Designation (221 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8070, 2020

As discussed last Public Hearing, these Bylaws that afford permanent Heritage Protection to two homes re-located to a recently-subdivided lot in Queens Park were adopted by Council.

Next council meeting is after Thanksgiving and after another significant event. Until then, be safe, be calm, be kind, and vote!