Making Hay

I’m not the only one who blogged a Year in Review. At the risk of giving them a little more Streisand Effect attention than they deserve, local political Council Watchers have risen a bit from the political shadows to throw a little light mud towards City Council. I would normally let it pass without comment, except that a comment by their sole elected member is misinformed and misinforming in a way that I think undermines the work of Council and the School Board. So I’ll risk a retort.

In her year-end letter to the community, Trustee Connelly suggests the following:

The truth of the matter is that since the Trustee was elected in 2018, the City has altered the Official Community Plan with exactly four amendments:

OCP Amendment Bylaw #8156 (to remove Heritage Conservation Area protection from 7 houses, on account of their lack of heritage value);
#8122 (To support the Heritage Conservation the Slovak Hall at 647 Ewen Ave);
#8151 (a housekeeping bylaw to fix some designations that didn’t match current use); and
#8145 (to allow a Childcare operation in a hall attached to a church on Sixth Ave).

Of those, only one involved an increase in density: the Ewen Ave amendment permitted the building of 5 townhouse units in exchange for permanent preservation of the Slovak Hall. The Sixth Ave amendment was to permit the addition of 114 childcare spaces to a Heritage-protected church location, and the housekeeping amendment was to fix minor errors included in the original OCP regarding four properties – including one (ironically?) requested by the School District.

But the OCP is older than the tenure of this School Trustee, as it was adopted in 2017. So let’s test her assertion against all of the amendments made before the Trustee was elected:

#7956 (allowing childcare spaces on vacant City land in Queensborough);
#8025 (preservation of heritage single family houses in Queens Park);
#8021 (44 units of Temporary Modular Housing for women in need of support in Queensborough);
#7982 (appending a small portion of commercial land to a Townhouse and Childcare project in Queensborough);
#8039 (requiring builders of new mutli-family buildings provide EV charging infrastructure);
#8042 (expanding the Heritage Conservation Area in Queens Park).

So, to reframe the Trustee’s concern: the City has “alter[ed] their new official community plan to accommodate more densification and growth” by a grand total of five (5!) family-friendly townhouse units and a Temporary Modular Housing project to support women facing homelessness. The question may be asked: which of these OCP amendments would she have asked Council to vote against?

I know what you are going to say: “What about all the towers!?” And that is a fair question. What about them?

In the time since the Trustee was elected, there have been two high rise residential developments approved in New West. The first was a 237-unit building in Uptown which was the first major residential development approved in Uptown in more than a decade. It was also recently amended – without added density – to go from mixed strata and rental to 100% Purpose Built Rental – filling a dire need in our community. The second was an increase by about 190 units at 100 Braid to support a shift from Strata to Purpose Built Rental. Other than the units in these two towers, there have been fewer than 80 dwelling units approved through rezoning in two years in a City with more than 34,000 dwelling units in the midst of a regional housing crisis. To be clear, none of these rezonings required altering the OCP. All of those units were fully in alignment with the existing Official Community Plan. They were also in alignment with the Regional Growth Strategy approved a decade ago by New Westminster in conjunction with all 22 regional municipal governments and the Provincial Government, who funds the building of new schools.

The Trustee is free to argue that the City is growing too fast or changing in ways she doesn’t like, if that suits her political motivations (though I would note the sum of all approvals above represent a growth rate of less than 1% a year). But it is disingenuous to claim OCP Amendments are instruments to create growth. They are actually the responsible governance response to growth, and looking at the examples of OCP amendments in New Westminster, are more likely to *restrict* densification through Heritage Conservation than actually support it. Even the rezonings  are not examples of City Council forcing new population to move into areas underserved by the School District, but the building of much-needed housing in areas consistent with a decade-old regional plan and and Official Community Plan that the School District was not only consulted on, but provided meaningful feedback to.

No doubt there are challenges related to regional population growth for School Districts, and anticipating how growth impacts the School District is a significant aspect of how the City reviews development plans. This is not a “particular challenge for New Westminster“, but common across the growing region. That is one of the reasons we have a Regional Growth Strategy and an Official Community Plan in the first place.

This is also why we have Section 476 of the Local Government Act that specifically requires Local Governments to have this consultation with the Board of Education. The Trustee would like “a coordinated effort to accommodate this growth as it translates to schools” and I retort with Section 476 of the LGA, and the active role the School District has taken in the OCP and OCP Amendment process. We do this not just because it is the law, but because it is a good idea. We do it so when the School District is planning, for example, a replacement for McBride Elementary, the School district and their funders in Victoria know what capacity is needed. This is also why Council has been supporting the School District in their aggressive capital plan over the last decade, bringing new schools on line and anticipating their needs in the decade ahead.

I recognize that part of politics is making hay.  Political Science is often about finding local wedge issues and figuring out how to use them to separate yourself from *them*. But when your argument is disconnected from the way governance works (both in practice and in legislation) then it seems disingenuous. Maybe it’s a dog-whistle, maybe it’s just misinformed. I’m not sure which is worse. We all want the residents of the City to have access to great schools, and the Board of Education and City Council have a good working relationship based on an honest understanding of the pressures we both face, and a strong desire to deliver on those needs. Happy New Year.

Ask Pat: Smoking fines

ThRe asks—

Hello Pat, Where can I get specific data about fines to smoking bylaw offenders in New Westminster? Thank you

Smoking Bylaws are a bit of a funny beast, because there are more than one enforcement bodies that stick their nose into where you can or cannot smoke. A few years ago, I did a bit of a dive into smoking bylaws around New Westminster Station and some of the “nuisance behaviours” at this primary entrance to the City. I learned that in some areas smoking was prohibited by the TransLink regulations and Transit Police were the enforcing authority, in others the City Bylaws applied, and Bylaw Officers were the relevant authority, and in other areas such as patios and buffer around the doors to restaurants Provincial Health Authority enforcement staff were the relevant agency, but could only apply fines to the proprietors who failed to stop smoking in the public plaza, not to the actual smokers, presumably putting the Mall Cops in charge of any kind of active enforcement. Knowing which side of a metal strip on the ground or how many metres you were from a doorway was important to know who is supposed to enforce the Bylaw in that particular spot. We also apparently cannot enforce smoking bylaws within strata buildings (such as on your residential balcony) as that is something that the provincial Strata Act manages.

Add to this that smoking enforcement is by its nature difficult as it is an ephemeral act, so with overlapping and gap-prone administrative boundaries I would assume actual fines are very, very rare.

The City’s smoking Bylaw is available online: Smoking Control Bylaw 6263, 1995 (last updated in September 2018) lays out the details of what we can enforce in the City. The actual fines for violating the Smoking Control Bylaw are found in the Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw 7318, 2009 (last updated in August 2020), or the Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw 8077, 2019 (last updated in August 2020). And there is a difference.

“Bylaw Notice Enforcement” is a local administrative fine process, run completely by the City. We use this for a bunch of smaller offences (it is limited by Provincial Law to fines under $500) and would be familiar to anyone who has gotten a parking ticket. The adjudication process is run by the City, which is easier and cheaper than relying on provincial Courts. Your ultimate appeal measure would be to come to Council if you disputed it (or the Provincial Ombudsperson, I guess, if things went really bad). Here are the available Smoking fines under that process:

The “Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw” process relies on the Courts, and is more akin to a speeding ticket. You can, if you wish, go to court and appeal to a judge, and they are able to determine an appropriate fine given your situation, up to $1,000. The fun part here is that it turns out pretty much anyone with a badge has the legal authority to enforce it (though City Councillor is suspiciously absent from the list):

So those are the ways Smoking Bylaws may be enforced in the City. If you are more curious about how often or where this enforcement happens, and how many fines are actually collected, You are asking the wrong guy. I would first suggest you contact the City’s Bylaws Enforcement division and ask if they collect this data, and if they are free to share it.

The City is subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA), which is a funny two-part set of provincial regulations, one part giveth, one part taketh away. A good way to think of it is that the City must share public information under FOI unless they are strictly forbidden from sharing it under PPA. In practice, the City has to determine if there is Privacy Protection component to any information it shares,  which means staff need to comb through it and skim the privacy protection parts off. It is probably important to note that Council is completely separated from this process – except we are sometimes requested to provide information such as our correspondence. The City has professional staff who are well versed in FOIPPA who do those reviews, and under the act, the City is permitted to bill anyone asking for that information to cover the cost of that staff member’s time. It’s not a perfect system, but it is the system we have.

Goodbye 2020

It’s the time to do year-in-review stuff, but I honestly have been struggling to get this written.

2020 was a year when many of us realized we are lucky, and/or privileged in ways we never considered. I got through 2020 with a secure job (well, two, and one more secure than the other), and a partner whose job was similarly transferrable to the dining room table. We also have a secure dining room in which to put that table. Our family and friends are for the most part well, though we do miss time with them. This year, the most basic seems too much to ask for.

Here in our community, there are many families impacted directly by the COVID crisis and the poisoned drug supply crisis. The pernicious effects of inequality and homelessness were made worse this year as the ability for already-strained supports to do their work met breaking points. It was a year punctuated by loss: some personal, some community-wide and far-reaching like the Timber Wharf at Pier Park. Businesses and not-for-profits are struggling, and many will not be here after this has passed. For good reason, I am sensitive to griping about my own not being able to do a year-end trip or celebrate my Dad’s Birthday-ending-in-zero with my family. In the big scheme, I am really lucky.

This was a difficult year to be on City Council, for reasons both obvious and obscure. The thing I love most about the Council job is the big vision work: the long-term planning and policy stuff that is so important to how the City is shaped over years and decades. This was the first work put aside this year when everything changed. So much of this year we were flying blind – doing things that we had to make up as we were going along. New West being a well-organized City, we had a Pandemic Response Plan that had been put together presumably after the SARS situation almost 20 years ago. It had accumulated some dust, but it at least gave staff a framework to hang new response plans on, and we were fortunate to have it. But from that part forward, it was all new.

Some of our larger visions / strategic plans / campaign promises had to take a back seat in the all-important second year of the term. Not forever, but just while staff had a chance to understand the impacts of the emerging Pandemic and its impact on City operations. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was Council’s decision to pause for a few months the procurement process on the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. Caution shown earlier in the year and the foresight of the Federal and Provincial governments to provide critical financial support directly to local governments facing revenue holes (to the tune of $6 Million for New Westminster) meant that we got out of 2020 in decent financial condition. We are not out of the woods yet, and our revenue is likely to continue to be down through to the end of 2021, but we are OK for now.

That said, I think Council was pretty unified in recognizing our priorities before the Pandemic were still priorities through the Pandemic: addressing as best we can the homelessness, childcare, and engagement gaps in the City, and integrating Climate Action into everything we do as a City so we can hit 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets. There was no time to take our foot off the gas on these pressing issues, and we managed to keep them moving. Still I fear limited desire in senior governments to help us on these ongoing issues in the year ahead. Crisis breeds austerity in the upside-down economics of neoliberalism, and that will, I think, be the real test for us as a society in 2021.

On the positive side, I am incredibly proud of the work that staff did this year. Thrown into unfamiliar territory and re-writing work plans while managing their own anxieties about health, their family, their finances, or the state of the freaking world, they found ways to get the work of the City done. The water flowed, the sewer worked, the trash went away, trees were planted, fires were put out and people in need were supported by first responders. Staff also found creative new ways to support those made vulnerable in our community, and to help businesses navigate their biggest challenges. Staff shone especially in managing the most uncertain of all budgets, in finding better ways to conduct public engagement, and in reporting out on that engagement. These efforts made it easier for Council to ground our decisions in a time of so much uncertainty. Staff have a lot of good work to look back on and be proud of in this difficult year, so if you have a chance this holiday, thank a muni worker in your life, they rarely get acknowledgement, and this year more than ever, deserve it.

So the City came through the first half of the Pandemic well, but the route was never easy. For Council, the change in how we made decisions, the uncertainty of an unfamiliar path, and even the shift to remote meetings made it a more difficult year to find consensus. In one sense, I missed spending unstructured time with my Council colleagues this year, the meeting at events or at committee meetings or just over City Hall lunches. It was in those times we found our common goals or were able to sense how others were feeling, push ideas or address push back. Instead, I found I was irritated by Council more this year than I remember previously (I suspect a few of them feel the same way about me, but that’s their story to tell), and at times frustrated by the process. I was too fast in finding the fault and too slow to see the progress. All to say, it was not fun year. But that’s not the goal, I guess.

Now I have a real week off, no travel planned, and time to kill. I have a few projects, and @MsNWimby has a few more she would love to see me get done. I have a few books to read that I hope will give me some inspiration. Looking back, even without the Pandemic it was an eventful and challenging year. Loss seemed to be the theme. It doesn’t help that I’m 50+ now and can no longer fake the side of the hill I am on. So I am trying to think more about 2021 and the work we have ahead. I’m going to take some strength from the resilience this amazing City showed in the shitty year behind us, and look to the brighter days ahead. I hope your 2021 shines bright.

Ask Pat: Blogs

JL asked—

Are you aware of a blog similar to the one you run but focused on the city of Richmond?
I have grown to love New West in my 5 years here and am sad to leave. I really want to let you know how much I appreciate the time you take to write these entries on the council meetings and topics related to the City of New Westminster. They are very informative and make me feel more connected the city. Frankly, I think a monthly (bi-weekly?) email newsletter similar to your blog would be an asset to the city’s residents.

In short, no. I don’t know anyone in Richmond doing this. Actually, I don’t know very many City Councillors doing stuff like this, which makes me wonder why I am doing it, to be honest.

I love that there are a few Councillors more actively engaging the public in interesting ways. Nathan Pachal in Langley City has a more concise blog than mine covering what happens on his Council, Mathew Bond in North Vancouver District (@mrmathewbond) has been live-tweeting Public Hearings to enlightening effect. There are some real Local Government stars like Christine Boyle in Vancouver who blogs and uses other media to tell the stories of Council work and of her vision for bigger change, but I see nothing of the sort in Richmond. A few blogs that were very active in the months before election, and silent since, seems the trend. There are likely a few more active Facebook pages, but not much else.

In my experience (disclosure: I used to work in Richmond City Hall) Richmond is a strange place politically. Where else can a candidate can run for the Conservatives in opposition to oil & gas development in one race, be endorsed by an NDP candidate in another, then after a half dozen tries, be elected when running on a slate with a Green Candidate? With the public generally disengaged in local politics (aside from the Steveston neighbourhood preservation activists and a few very tight ethnic- and religious<-based cliques), and a pretty popular and non-controversial Mayor, it was really hard to know where the public was on issues. So, maybe once you get there, you can figure it out and report out to us?

That is kinda how this all started for me here. It was back in the heady days of the 2000s when everybody had a blog. I was blogging on other stuff around my environmental activism and loving my adopted community of New West. A brief period of time between when Letters to the Editor and Calling into Your Local AM Radio Station were replaced by Facebook comment threads and Podcasts, the blog was a medium where anyone with an opinion could start a conversation with people they had never met. I do cringe a bit in reading some of my early stuff, because I really didn’t know how the City worked (I sort of still don’t, but I’m getting better). The upside is I actually earned a great network of friends in New West though this thing.

I told the story here before, but my inspiration was actually Jordan Bateman. Before he became and anti-tax Reaganite crusader for Economic Freedom™, he was a tax-and-spend City Councillor like the rest of us. Even during his spendthrift Councillor days, he was still much further over to the right side of the political spectrum than I, but I did admire his blogging prowess. While serving on Langley Township Council he did something akin to what I am doing now, reporting out on the activities of Council. You didn’t have to agree with him politically to appreciate that he at least provided justification for his positions, which to me is the most honest way to approach this work.

Eventually, Jordan flew too close to the sun. One day he used his blog to publicly criticize his own BC Liberal Party (he worked for Rich Coleman) over their inconsistency on the HST issue, and within a few days was forced (chose?) to print a retraction and apology, one that was weirdly unclear about what he was apologizing for, other than making Finance Minister Colin Hansen look bad for pointing out that the Finance Minister looked bad. Shortly after that, Jordan’s blogging days (and apparent political ascendency in Langley) were over.

I have completely failed to take the obvious lesson from that. After a few years of blogging and becoming increasingly political in New West, I threw my hat into the ring for Council. At the time, a few people suggested the blog thing was going to be a political liability, but I swore I was going to keep doing it. I am perhaps naïve enough to think that in the local politics realm, people value honesty and transparency, and the risk of pissing people off who don’t agree with you on political points is by far offset by the trust-building of being open and honest.

I don’t know about all of the discourse that happened out there in the community during the last municipal election, but there was at least one candidate for Council who tried to leverage a few cherry-picked quotes out of my blog to campaign against me. Not having deleted any of my old posts, it was easy enough for me when challenged on what I said to point at the cherry picked posts and “here is where I am transparent, and here is where my opponent is being disingenuous”. It didn’t help that the opponent was himself a municipal affairs blogger who deleted all of his old blog posts before running – which somewhat undermined his claims about transparency and openness. Anyway, the upshot of that funny situation was that I got a lot of positive feedback from people I didn’t even know read my blog, and I’d bet a few voters were made aware of my blog via my opponent’s campaign and turned out to vote for me thanks to it.

However, we can still learn from Jordan’s Icarian moment to remember politics don’t happen within a bubble. Before being elected, I was pretty critical of the Harper Conservatives because I am an environmental scientist and saw the damage he and his policies were doing to environmental science and the environment (Damage Mr. Trudeau is, alas, reluctant and slow to undo). I also became critical of the Christy Clark BC Liberal party as she steered the ship in strangely Harperian directions. I admired the work that Jack Layton did, and have a tonne of respect for Peter Julian and Judy Darcy, and have written about this in my blog. I have even made clear my voting intent in previous provincial and federal elections. That has not, however, stopped me from being critical of the NDP at times (I still think they are 100% wrong and cynical on the topic of road pricing, for example). I have even provided firmly-worded suggestions to how they could do better when I feel like they deserve to hear it. The only evidence I ever got that they were listening is once when I was writing about the flaws in the Public Hearing process when applied to critically needed supportive housing, I get a note from (then Minister for Local Government) Selena Robinson letting me know she read it, she heard me, and was aware of the issue. I think some of the temporary changes made during COVID reflect these concerns, and I hope post-COVID we can keep some of these changes.

Anyway, I am aware that the comments my electoral opponent pulled out a few years ago that were not complimentary to the NDP or the swear words that Stephen Harper sometimes drew out of me are probably career limiting if I aspired towards senior government, so I’m not sure why anyone else elected to public service would do this, and in a way understand why so many City Councillor blogs go silent shortly after they are elected.

Problem is, I’m stuck now. After 6 years in office and 500+ blog posts (on top of the 450+ posts I wrote before getting elected) I can’t quit now. I got elected saying I was going to keep blogging about things in the City, and here I am, until the internet goes away or I get booted from office. To be honest it is getting to be a bit of a timesuck of questionable value, as unfortunately people simply don’t engage in blogs like they used to (see how few comments I get compared to the old days), and long Council Agendas, even when reduced down to 4,000-word blog posts, don’t fit the culture of Facebook (or, shudder, Reddit). So, it is good to hear someone reads them, and I’m not just shouting into the void.

This speaks to another problem that I don’t pretend my Blog can solve, and that is the trend towards lost accountability in local government. With the hollowing out of local newspaper newsrooms and the consolidation of news media, we have very little coverage of the day-to-day workings of City Hall. A single reporter in New West with a much wider beat than City Council cannot keep up with the wide range of issues we are dealing with. New West is actually lucky to still have that reporter – many Cities are going without. It is hard to keep track of what is happening locally, and blogs (or, it being 2020, Podcasts) are not the answer, especially when they are written by people like me who necessarily have a bias and do not have the training or professional responsibility to manage that bias like we expect (perhaps idealistically) from capital-J Journalism.

So good luck in Richmond. Support your local newspaper. Start a blog, or a podcast, or your own newsletter.  Let us know what’s happening over there. I worked there for 8 years, and was never able to figure it out.


I have written a few times about the Trans Mountain Pipeline project. I have strong opinions about it that have developed through the years.

At some point in my past I worked for an organization where my job was to provide technical support to an intervenor to the National Energy Board approval process, so I have way more knowledge about this project that is probably healthy. Yes, I have read the application, yes I have read the business case, yes I have watched the story of the pipeline evolve. My opinions about the project have been formed by my emersion immersion in this process, not Twitter memes or PostMedia opinion pieces.

I continue to assert it is the wrong project at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons. It will threaten the ecology of important parts of the province, including one of the most ecologically sensitive parts of New Westminster. The business case for the pipeline is a house of cards with a foundation of bullshit. If realized at the scale that the proponents aspire towards, it will blow Canada past any semblance of the commitment we made to the world in Paris. It is an embarrassing ode to a failed economic model and an icon to lack of leadership.

Fair to say, I’m not a fan.

Just last week, the reactionary Marxist hippies in the Parliamentary Budget Office told the Parliament of Canada and the Prime Minister that the pipeline is unlikely to meet its financial targets if the country plans to meet its climate targets. These were the climate targets that the Prime Minister feigned to make “law” just a few weeks before. I am not one to say “we need to choose between the environment and the economy”, because that is a false dichotomy too often used to delay climate action, but it is clear that if we are going to meet 2050 climate targets, we need to stop investing in the 1950 model of “the economy” (take that as a warning, Massey Bridge Replacement proponents). The time for special pleadings is over.

There is other news around the TMX recently, from their workers imperiling others on New Westminster city streets to the workers imperiling themselves on the worksite, but I’m not above kicking this mangy cur when it is down. So when the BNSF police (yes, a multi-national corporation with headquarters in Houston has armed police with the power of arrest roaming the streets of British Columbia) served an injunction on land defenders that have been placing themselves in the way of the deforestation of riparian habitat in the Brunette River, it is perhaps surprising that only one reporter bothered to file a story about it.

Health researcher and physician Dr. Takaro and a group of concerned citizen have been occupying space near the New West / Burnaby / Coquitlam border since the summer. The pipeline project seems to have tolerated them for a few months, but removing the trees they are occupying now appears to be on the critical path of getting the oil to tidewater, so the injunction was served last week and the Corporate armed forces of BNSF and CN, with support from the RCMP, tore down the camp an forcefully evicted the residents. As a response, the land defenders and Dr. Takaro have filed a request to the BC Supreme Court to have the injunction set aside, citing the flawed NEB process that empowered the approval in the first place.

All this as preamble to say I am proud out City Council is clear in its support for the land defenders, as our concerns in regards to this pipeline and its location in the Burnette River riparian zone have not been addressed – not in the original NEB process rammed through by the Harper Conservatives, and not in the fake “review” offered by the feckless Trudeau Conservatives once they gained control of the process. Council released this statement today:

New Westminster Council continues to be concerned about the location of the new Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project (“TMX”) within the sensitive riparian area of the Brunette River;

As an intervener in the flawed National Energy Board process that led to the approval of the TMX project, the City of New Westminster has not been satisfied that TMX sufficiently addresses the imminent and long-term risks to the Brunette River, its unique habitat, and species at risk, including recently-rejuvenated local populations of chum and coho salmon, and the endangered Nooksack dace;

New Westminster Council continues to be concerned that the TMX project is at odds with Canada’s regulated commitments under the Paris Agreement to reduce global Greenhouse Gas emissions and limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius;

New Westminster Council stands in support of the land defenders currently acting to protect fragile riparian habitat near the Brunette River through peaceful protest and occupation of federally regulated lands, and ask that the injunction preventing this action be set aside.

Council – Dec 14, 2020

We had our last Council Meeting of 2020 on Monday, with an agenda full of pre-Christmas fun:

We started with an item Removed from Closed:

Library Board addition
Council gets to appoint people to the Library Board, one seat became available and we had many great applicants from which we chose one!

We then had a Special Hearing

Council Reconsideration of Tree Removal Permit Issuance for 309 Louellen Street
The City has a Tree Protection Bylaw we approved a few years ago after much public discussion. Recognizing that a healthy tree canopy makes a healthier community, the City put restrictions on the removal of healthy trees even from private property. Not a complete ban, but limitations. The owners of a house in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood want to remove a group of mature Douglas fir trees from their back yard. Following the permitting rules, they hired an Arbourist who determined they could be removed for safety reasons, and they pose “moderate risk”.

The City’s Arbourist and an independent third party Arbourist were of the opinion that two of the trees were indeed in need of removal, but the other 5 are healthy and just need a bit of pruning care, so the request for removal of these 5 was denied. As is their right, the homeowner is appealing this decision to Council.

There is abundant technical information in the reports, including a robust discussion between arborist regarding the typical behaviours of these trees and resultant risks. I am not an Arbourist, and cannot assess on that data, I need to rely on the professional competence of people who are professionals. The consensus here is that there is insufficient evidence that the trees are unhealthy or constitute a significant risk to persons or property. The homeowner still has an option to do a higher-level assessment to demonstrate that a higher-level risk exists, but until that case is made to staff, they cannot recommend removal.

I voted along with Council to not overturn the recommendation of staff and to continue to protect the trees.

We then had a review of a Development Variance Permit:

Development Variance Permit DVP00685 for 616 and 640 Sixth Street
A couple of years ago, Council approved a mixed-use building in Uptown. This was the first significant new residential development in the Uptown core in more than a decade, the first high rise approved north of Sixth Ave since Casey Cook and Jerry Dobrovolny were on Council. It was a mix of commercial at grade, and a 29 storey tower with a mix of market rental and market condominium ownership. At the time, it was in the news because a dishonest local businessperson tried to leverage it into a Facebook campaign against new residents moving to New Westminster (now in the “where are they now?” file) and because the mix of market rental and strata was structured as two buildings in a single envelope which raised the spectre of “poor doors”, though there was no affordable or subsidized housing component in the development.

Anyway, after some detailed design and number crunching, the owner would now like to make some changes to the proposal. There is no change in density here (same FSR and unit count), but they are proposing making the building slightly shorter (27 stories instead of 29) and slightly wider (a 6% increase in tower floorplate) and convert the entire residential component to market rental. They would apply for CMHC support to make some portion of the rental meet the CMHC standard for below-market (but not the City’s standard for “affordable”).

This requires that both the housing agreement that secures rental tenure for 60 years and the development permit be revised, which is where we are here. We received about 14 pieces of correspondence, almost all opposed to the original development, not the question before us now about condo vs. purpose built rental. One was from a resident of the neighboring tower who suggests shifting from condo to all rental is somehow a “tax grab” that will turn the area in to a circus, a few who have less that charitable things to say about renters as a class of people, and most of them concerned about the traffic impacts on Princess Street.

I think the shift to Purpose Built Rental is a good one, and hope that CMHC funding (always competitive) can lead to some subsidized rents here. I voted to support the change.

Then we had a Presentation from Metro Vancouver:

Metro Vancouver New Westminster Sewer Interceptor Columbia Section Rehabilitation
Under Columbia Street is a great big concrete pipe that used to move a lot of TriCities sewage down to Annacis Island. With the new Pump Station at Sapperton Landing and that big underground chamber by the old Train Station that was built in the last couple of years that had Front Street closed by Hyack Square for a while, most of that regional sewage is now redirected through a new pipe under Front Street. However, the line under Columbia still moves a bunch of sewage from the Glenbrook North and Sapperton areas, and ties into lines across downtown, and though it moves less sewage now, it is still vital, and reaching the end of its service life.

Instead of replacing, the plan is to “slip line” it – essentially slipping a slightly smaller pipe into the existing pipe to reinforce and reline it. As non-obtrusive as that sounds, it actually involves digging up a bunch of Columbia Street, and Metro Vancouver wants to do this in the summer of 2021.

There is a lot to be concerned about here. Downtown is not going great right now, businesses are suffering and residents of downtown are feeling the brunt of COVID burnout. Assuming we are re-opening society next summer, the role Columbia Street plays in the events that bring community cohesion cannot be underemphasized: Will we have a Grand Prix nest July? Will there be a Pride Festival, a Foot Truck Fest, or other events that build our community. As we look forward to a return to being a City where people meet in public spaces, we cannot forget Columbia Street is one of our most important public spaces, not just for the businesses, but for the large population of people who live in smaller homes in that neighbourhood compared to their uphill neighbours.

Council pushed back a bit, asking Metro Vancouver to look at measures to either accelerate or push back this work to reduce the disruption during the emerging-from-COVID period that is to come, and to look at other ways to address the various impacts it will have on Columbia Street as a public space.

The following items are ones me Moved on Consent

Recommended Actions in Response to Public Engagement Results on COVID-19 Recovery
We did a public engagement exercise to assess public feelings about the City’s COVID response and suggestions for what we need to do better. It was reported out to us on November 9th, and this report talks about next steps, and how we are going to act on those recommendations. We are keeping the Task Forces running and maintaining emphases on vulnerable populations, business continuity support, education and service delivery. We are going to renew our emphasis on moving things outdoors as much as possible, and finding creative ways to program outdoors in our famously damp winter and spring. We are also continuing to emphasize affordable housing projects and assuring Active Transportation in all its forms are supported with barriers removed.

I like this report because it I an important part of “closing the loop” on Public Engagement. We asked the public for input, more than 1,000 people took part and provided that input, now we are clearly saying “we heard you, and this is what we are doing to address your input”.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces.
This is our regular catch-up on the work of the City Task Forces on COVID response.

404 Salter Street (Summit Earthworks): Proposed Soil Transfer Facility and Gravel Storage Facility – Update
There is an industrial property next to the Derwent Street Bridge that is under Port of Vancouver jurisdiction. A business wants to use the site for two purposes: gravel storage on one part (404a Salter) and a soil transfer facility where waste soils from development around Vancouver would arrive, be stockpiled, and loaded by conveyers onto barges (404 Salter).

The City and neighbours have been informed of this and there has been some consultation, but the permitting is out of the City’s hands, and in the hands of the Port. As a City, we expressed some concerns about the buffer to adjacent residential neighbourhoods and impact of heavy truck traffic on Derwent Way. Apparently, the Port has already issued a permit for the gravel operation, with some conditions to manage dust impacts and reduced operational hours. The soil part is still being reviewed, has been slightly modified to reduce footprint and dike impacts, and the City will send some correspondence to the Port regarding some outstanding traffic management concerns.

Streets for People in 2020 – Final Report
This is a follow-up report on the work Staff did this summer to re-imagine some streetscapes in the City, and lead a conversation in the community about street spaces, active transportation, and improving the public realm. When we started installing temporary measures across the City, there was a lot of feedback. Some positive, some negative. The Facebook comments section perhaps the perfect distillation of the latter.

When you start to push spaces away from “cars only” to other types of use, the status quo pushes back hard. It was relieving that some of the more direct feedback, including at pop-up events throughout the City, was actually much more positive than Facebook would have you believe. There were many suggestions of how to make it work better, but overall people appreciated the work the City was doing to make the streets where they live and move around more comfortable for people who chose not to bring the comfort of a personal car along on their trip. This was encouraging, and reflected the experience of other jurisdictions across North America that have taken this approach of using the light intervention as a consultation tool.

There was also actual data collected to determine if the spaces were being used the way it was intended, and how the patterns of travel differed between streets that had an intervention and similar ones nearby that did not. This was a combination of surveys and noncontact observations of the patterns of users. So much of transportation feedback is based on anecdotes, it is great to collect more robust data like this. The report is a good read.

There are recommendations here on how we can do this better next time, on the types of interventions that people would like to see made permanent, and those they want to see go away. All fair comment. Remember we have set a goal for 10% of road space reallocation by 2030, so this important first step will help us on that path.

Update on Litter Receptacles Within Public Streetscapes, Parks and Open Spaces
This is the update requested on how the City’s street waste receptacle program is progressing since staff made some changes last year. Staff have removed some public waste bins and placed more in other areas and have been tracking impacts on the amount of waste generated and surrounding litter. Of course, people changed their regular patterns this summer because of COVID, including more parks and public space use and much more take-out food and resultant trash. Some extra waste receptacles were installed in some problem areas to address this. Alas, with the extra strain on some of our businesses, the outreach around this program came at a bad time.

The experience this summer was a slight increase in littering related to a few COVID-related shifts, and installation of a few more receptacles in strategic locations. We also had staff resources strained in mounting our own COVID response, so keeping ahead of litter and receptacle collection sometimes lagged a bit behind. Staff will continue to monitor and optimize the program, and look forward like the rest of us to a post-COVID world.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

823 – 841 Sixth Street: Proposed Affordable Housing Project – preliminary Report
This is a preliminary report on a proposed multi-family affordable housing project across the street from the new High School. This would provide a significant number of truly affordable housing units for in Uptown where there are currently 6 single family houses. There is a lot of good potential here to fill a vital housing need in our community, though we are already hearing some push back from the community.

This is a very preliminary report, and more work needs to be done. Importantly, it would require an investment from the City’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund of up to $2.4 Million, and we simply don’t have that much money in the reserve fund, so we would need to have a conversation about where that money comes from. Yes, this is downloading of some housing costs to local government from the provincial government so the province can bravely “hold the line” on taxes while putting the burden on less sustainable Property Taxes so your neighbours can have rooves over their head, but it is work someone has to do.

The timelines here are based on BC Housing timelines, and are aggressive, every change we propose along the way makes the project less viable, but we will see where it goes. On the project itself, this is a Preliminary report that will likely go to Public Hearing, so I won’t talk too much about it in this preliminary form, but we moved to let it advance to next steps, and to have staff report back to us on the implications for the Housing Reserve Fund if we agree to contribute.

Petition regarding Zoning Changes to Glenbrooke North
I took a bit of an unusual stand here and voted against even receiving this piece of correspondence. Simply put, it is full of misinforming and misinformed statements and makes baseless accusations about the motives of staff and Council when reviewing an affordable housing project in the City, and is below the standard of what should be considered useful input to the municipal governance process.

It also framed a petition that was circulated in a neighbourhood where almost 40% of households are renters (according to the 2016 census), and is on the topic of a rental development project, yet it is clearly stated that only the opinions of land owners are valid to represent the concerns of the residents of a neighbourhood. I cannot allow that to go unnoted. Considering the baseless accusations and outright falsehoods in the letter attached, I have very little faith that the petition itself was offered to the residents – oh, sorry, landowners – in a truthful and genuine way.

I want to encourage people to correspond with Council, and I appreciate grassroots activism – I did quite a bit of it myself before being elected. I have no problem receiving correspondence with political rhetoric or policy positions I don’t support for political or other reasons. Bu when a document fails to meet a basic standard of honesty and respect for your neighbours, I cannot receive in good faith.

New Westminster Police Department letter dated November 26, 2020 and report regarding Response to the Calls for Justice – Listening and Learning through Respect and Understanding
This report from the NWPD was a response to the motion put forward by Councillor Nakagawa and myself last year asking the NWPD to respond to the Calls for Action arising from the MMIWG Report that were relevant to policing. We referred this correspondence to a future Council meeting as it needs a more thorough review than we were able to provide this meeting. We have work to do as a City, and as a Police Board.

We adopted the following Bylaws:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (34 South Dyke Road) No. 8087, 2019
This zoning amendment that you may not remember because no-one even showed up when it came to Public Hearing almost 16 months ago, but will nonetheless see 16 townhouses built on a vacant lot on South Dike Road, including a swap of some lands to make a better dike and waterfront park in that area, was finally adopted by Council.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw (709 Cumberland Street) Bylaw No. 8233, 2020
This HRA that will see a replica heritage house to replace one lost, and another heritage house moved to a subdivided lot by the Canada Games Pool was adopted by Council.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (631 Second Street) Bylaw No.8239, 2020 and Heritage Designation (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8240, 2020
This HRA that will see a “character house” in Glenbrook North permanently preserved and a second infill house build on the lot was adopted by Council.

Sign Amendment Bylaw 8182, 2020
This Bylaw that puts some further restrictions on Election signs in the City was adopted by Council.

DCC Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 8244, 2020
This Bylaw that allows us to take the money we collected from developers and spend it on utility upgrades as per the DCC Bylaw was adopted by council.

Finally, we had one piece of New Business

Increases to Disability Assistance and Income Assistance
Councillor Nakagawa brought the following motion:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT The City of New Westminster write to the Provincial Minister of Finance, the Premier, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the MLA for New Westminster, and the MLA for Richmond-Queensborough advocating that the government reinstate the $300 monthly top-up for people receiving disability assistance and permanently raise the rates of income assistance and disability assistance to a livable rate that is above the market basket measure.

Council was unanimous in calling for this measure. It don’t understand why this area was chosen for government penny-pinching at this time, but the recent loss of the $300 top-up really hurts people living in our community at a time they can least adapt. It’s never a good time to cut support to the lowest income people in our society, this is the worst time.

And with that, we broke for the holidays. Have a safe Holiday, help somebody in need, and think of the positive recovery ahead. Peace.

Police budget

Last week we had a Council workshop on the budget. After a couple of previous workshops, and backed up by a pile of reports on different aspects of both the Capital and Operating plans for 2021 and beyond, staff brought us a presentation with an outline of the budget they would like to bring to Council for approval. The basic asks from staff were: do you have the info you need to make this decision, and are there any significant changes you need to see before we ask you to vote on this in a subsequent meeting?

The answers were basically yes and yes.

But I’m not going to go over the budget material again here today. It has shifted a bit since I wrote these Blog posts on the Capital, Utilities, and Operational budget, and there may be some minor adjusting yet, and when the final documents get to Council for approval, I will come back to report on that.

The one part coming out of those discussions that garnered a lot of attention was a motion to freeze the Police operational budget at 2020 levels. In short, the Police budget in 2020 was $31.6 Million and the requested budget for 2021 was $33.3 Million, an increase of $1.73 Million, or about 5.5%. As I have written about in earlier discussions of the Operational budget, some of this is a baked in increase due to inflation and annual wage increases, some of it is “enhancements”, which are new costs related to new programs or changes in how the department operates. It is also a little more complicated because some of these costs (about $650K) are anticipated to be offset by new non-property-tax revenue, as some of the activities the Police Department does are revenue-generating.

The requested “enhancements” for 2021 were pretty modest, $90,000 for a new Temporary Full Time position to hire someone to coordinate the Diversity Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (“DIEAR”) plan that arose from the recent Police Board Motion on these issues, and $44,000 to pay for increased PPE and Naloxone, which apparently used to be funded by the provincial government, but is no longer. In Council’s discussion of these enhancements, it was questioned whether the DIEAR work should be under the Police budget or the City’s HR budget (as the City is undergoing similar work and the two streams really need to be aligned). No-one opposed the spending on Naloxone, though I may lament that the Province should not be downloading this cost on to local governments.

Again, it is worth reviewing again what I wrote about in the summer. The Police Act makes a clear distinction between the roles of City Council and the Police Board. Council is not meant to oversee the operations of police, but are required to approve a budget for police. The budget is first put together by the Police Board (well, in reality, put together by the police department and approved by the Police Board, much like how City staff put together the City budget and ask Council to approve it) then brought to Council to be included in our budget. As a Council, we have essentially no say in how the Police spend the budget they are provided. Though there is some reporting every year of operational details from Police, and we do have occasional (maybe once a year?) Council-Police Board meetings, from a numbers point of view this is the level of detail that City Council gets when asked to approve a police budget:

We also go through the requests for additions to the Capital budget. The police service Capital budget request for 2021 was this, which mostly represents replacement of heavily used equipment as it approaches end-of-life:

The discussion at Council about these requests was mostly around when the best time to shift the types and number of vehicles we purchase in order to achieve our larger Climate Action goals. Police fleets as they exist are a real trouble spot for de-carbonizing our vehicle operations, as electric or even plug-in Hybrid vehicles essentially don’t exist in North American police fleets (Google low-emissions Police vehicles, and the majority of hits are from the UK, for some strange reason that is taking me way off track here…). In the end, Council voted to support all of the $1.3M in Police Capital requests, so the rest of the conversation here is the about operational budget.

During budget deliberations over the last few weeks, there has been more scrutiny of the Police Budget than I remember in previous years. Of course, this is in context of the larger conversation around North America about policing, about the impacts our model of policing disproportionally has on Black and (in Canada especially) Indigenous people and on populations made vulnerable by the overlapping crises of a poisoned drug supply, a failing mental health system, and increasing economic disparity as we endure a fourth decade of this grand neo-liberalism experiment. I hear the calls for change, and the questioning if the Police are the right organization to be at the front line addressing these crises in our community. The center of those discussions was the idea of shifting resources from policing to other ways to address the community impacts of these crises.

When the motion came forward to freeze the NWPD operation budget at 2020 levels, the motion did not come out of “Left Field”, but was a natural extension of the conversation the community (not just in New Westminster) has been having over the last year, and was written in the undercurrent of our budget deliberations over the last month. During the spirited Council debate on the issue, I was compelled by the strength of the arguments for making this move at this time, and I thank my Council colleagues for that (As always, I don’t want to speak on their behalf, you can watch the video yourself is you want to follow the tenor of the conversations).

If we agree (and I do) that we need a different model to address the impacts of addiction, mental health, and poverty in our community, that the status quo needs to change, then this is one of the few places where we, as a City Council, can force that change. So much of the increases in City budgets in recent years has been finding other ways to help with these problems in our community, even when those things are outside of our jurisdiction – we are spending the money because someone has to. We are helping provide community-based health care in our support of the Umbrella Co-op, we are helping reduce homelessness in supporting the Rent Bank, we are helping reduce the impact of the poisoned drug supply with funding of Naloxone for our fire department and in working with Fraser Health to establish safe consumption sites in the City. So much of the emphasis of our COVID response was in assuring the most vulnerable in our community have access to the supports they need – because we know they are going to feel the impacts of COVID the most. Emergency shelter, food security, seniors outreach, access to washrooms and hygene for unhoused people, the list goes on. As do the demands. This is what we need to fund to be a just and safe community for all.

So when asked “what are you going to do instead”, those are the beginning of the answers. We also need to be holding the new Provincial Government’s feet to the fire about the downloading aspects of expecting local governments to fund these things, and we need to keep pushing for the legislative changes needed to help the most vulnerable in our community. They are moving in the right direction, but it simply isn’t fast enough, and it is not clear to me that they are really committed to spending the money that needs to be spent.

This is hard. This is not a decision made lightly, or for unthoughtful reasons. It is also difficult to have conversations about these issues because so much of the public rhetoric about policing and police reform is polarized and lacking in both civics and civility. But I’m hopeful we can have a respectful and productive conversation between Council, the Police Board, and the Province about where we go from here. The idea that New Westminster could go from having an truly innovative police service (and we do) to having a transformational approach to policing, to even be a “pilot city” for new approaches at a time when the Province is talking about changes to the Police Act, is an opportunity I think we should embrace.

Council – Dec 7, 2020

Monday’s Council meeting was limited to three Public Hearing topics. We also had a workshop during the day where we made some decisions about the 2021 budget that threaten to overshadow the Public Hearing in their newsworthiness, but I’m going to stick to the Public Hearings in this report, and follow up on the budget later (as the it was a workshop, the “real” decisions will be made next Council meeting). We had three development projects up for Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (835 Royal Avenue) Bylaw No. 8237, 2020 and Heritage Designation (835 Royal Avenue) Bylaw No. 8238, 2020
The owner of a very old house on a fairly large lot on the hill on Royal Avenue wants to preserve said house with an addition and build three townhouses on the back of the lot. Before the hearing, LUPC approved on consent, the Community Heritage Commission would prefer both houses on the site preserved but approved the plan, and a few neighbours had familiar traffic-related complaints in the limited public consultation. We had a single piece of correspondence from the neighbourhood (in support) and only the proponent came to speak to the Public Hearing.

I reluctantly supported this HRA. At the current time, the density we see here (6 residential units, 5 strata ownership and one rental) is probably appropriate, so I do not want to vote against adding this kind of housing choice right now. But I also note that this location is 5 minutes’ walk from the centre of a Regional City Centre highlighted in the Regional Growth Strategy – this is a place where the regional plan tells us in the decades ahead we will need to bring more density if we are going to achieve our regional sustainability and transit-oriented-development goals.

When people complain about towers right next to single family homes, they are usually complaining about the tower, but I think it requires us to be equally skeptical if  the market calls for a tower and we have single family houses. On a site like this, 400m from a SkyTrain station and the centre of a bustling commercial area, across the street from a school, I would rather see more moderate density. If the apocryphal four-floors-and-the-corner-store had come to me as an application for this site, I likely would have voted to approve it.

Instead, we were asked to protect *forever* a single family home build form a 5 minute walk from our busiest commercial centre, because the house met some narrow sense of aesthetic good – it is a preserved example of somebody’s tastes 100 years ago. Single Family homes are going to exist in our city for a very very long time, nothing wrong with that (I live in a single family home myself), but to permanently preserve one this close to a regional centre rubs me the wrong way in 2020.

The problem I’m going on about here is not caused by the proponent, it is the City’s HRA and development policies that push owners down this path. If I were to vote against this HRA and convince Council to support me, it would likely mean this addition of housing flexibility would go away, and there is no guarantee anyone would come with a plan that fits my notions of where we should be going here any time soon. At this point, the greater good to me is the housing choice this development provides, so I talked myself out of voting against it. Maybe I overthink things.

Council voted unanimously in the follow-up meeting to support this plan and give these Bylaws Third reading.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8239, 2020 and Heritage Designation (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8240, 2020
The owner of a modest house in the Glenbrook North neighbourhood wants to preserve the house permanently through an HRA and build a second house on the subdivided side yard. As this is a corner lot, this will make for two compact lots with frontages that are pretty much consistent with the existing block, though both buildings exceed the allowable FSR.

We had several written submissions on this site, mostly neighbours in favour of the housing diversity, a few opposed for mostly over-densification arguments. We had the Proponent speak in favour and three neighbours speak in opposition.

Again, the HRA process is a bit funny here, as the original house has limited heritage value, even as admitted by the Community Heritage Commission, but is identified as a “character house”, which sounds like some pretty special pleading towards status quo to me. This process has exposed to me again that “heritage” is still sometimes used as a hammer to preserve some very personalized ideals of status quo as opposed to protecting limited and valuable assets. We really need a refreshed conversation about our goals around HRAs, but like the previous application, this is not the place to make that stand.

So the HRA part of this is neither here nor there for me. Compact lots that fit into the neighbourhood, located on a greenway, less than 5 minutes’ walk to a non-transit-oriented commercial area and a short walk to two schools, that provide some housing diversity in our established SFD neighbourhoods, should be encouraged, not discouraged by requiring special pleading about Heritage to get to Council. The current zoning entitlement for the land is for three residential units (A house, a secondary suite and a carriage house). This expands that to four (two houses with secondary suites). Any way you cut it, +1 is about a gentle a density increase as possible.

Council voted unanimously in the follow-up meeting to support this application and give these Bylaws third reading.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (100 Braid Street Text Amendment) No. 8245, 2020
The owners of 100 Braid Street have an approved development plan for 233-odd market condos in a 21 storey building at 100 Braid Street. They are requesting to change that to 423 units of rental housing, including sufficient 2- and 3-bedroom units to meet the City’s Family Friendly housing policy. This would require about a 50% increase in density (measured by FSR) and make the building about 390 feet tall. They would also apply to CMHC for partial funding to support 96 less-than-market units, which would be secured at less than market rates (though not far enough to meet the City’s definition of “affordable housing”) for 16 years. If the CMHC funding is not granted, Wesgroup will revert to the 21-storey 233-unit condo plan. Or, in theory, they could come back to Council with another plan to be assessed at that time. The proposal meets the City’s OCP land use designation, but requires a change in the zoning through this text amendment. It would require a slight relaxation from parking minimums, but one consistent with the parking need demonstrated by other rental buildings adjacent to transit centers. The inclusion of a community art space of just over 4,000 square feet is included in the application, and has not changed.

To be clear, the building is already approved, the question before us now is the existing 233 market condo plan or a bigger building with 423 secured market rentals (secured for 60 years), 96 of which would be CMHC below-market rates (secured for 16 years).

We received 22 written submissions on this application: some in favour, but mostly opposed. We also had about a dozen people connect into the Public Hearing and provide us comments, mostly in favour. If I can summarize, some in the neighbourhood felt the building was too large, and had concerns about traffic impacts. Supporters generally spoke to the need for rental in the neighbourhood and the proximity to Braid Skytrain station as being the right place for purpose built rental in our community. I note that one of the delegates at the Publci Hearing was speaking on behalf of LandlordBC. Notable, because the last time I remember that organization sending a representative to New West Council was two years ago when they argued that  if the City went through with its region-leading renter-protection bylaws (which we did go through with), then no-one would propose building Purpose Built Rental in New Westminster again. So, there’s that.

I voted in support of this change. I think discussion of “neighborhood character” here needs to be put in context of the Skytrain station 200 metres away – a station that has been there for almost 20 years now, with growth being essentially frozen around the station for those 20 years. This is going to change with the master-planned neighbourhood in development across the street, which will likely see a dozen towers and more than 4 Million square feet of residential and commercial space. 423 secured market rental suites across the street from a SkyTrain Station is completely consistent with our community plan, with the Regional Growth Strategy, and with the needs of not just renters and potential renters in our community, but the needs of employers and businesses in our community.

Council voted unanimously to support the zoning amendments.

Council – Nov 30 2020

We had Council on November 30th, and I have to say we are really getting used to this zoom meeting thing. Hardly an “uh…you are on mute” at all. We had a pretty lengthy agenda, starting with a waived Public Hearing:

Business License Amendment Bylaw (Amusement Centre) No. 8229, 2020
The owner of the Arcade in Sapperton has been trying to shift to a business model that the City has not allowed before, and one the Province’s liquor laws have tried to prevent. From the City side, that has to do with 1990s (public nuisance? moral panic?) issues about arcades that got baked into our zoning and business bylaws. This includes it not being in a Mall (where, I guess Paul Bart was going to prevent the youts causing trouble?), it being a larger footprint than currently allowed, not having controls on content (in the 1990s, most pornography was distributed by stores in similar business districts as arcades), and hours of operation (late night Arcades kept the youts from their assigned homework tasks). On the liquor side, it is generally not ok to have liquor, youth, and amusements in the same place. Any of the two, but not all three. Add to this a desire to have kids in a place where you can sell beer past midnight, and the Liquor Branch doesn’t know what to do.

So after a couple of years operating without a Liquor License on a Temporary Use Permit, all of the ducks have been lined up, and Amendment Bylaws have been drafted for our Zoning Bylaw, Permit Fees Bylaw, and Business License Bylaw. This would normally require an Opportunity to be Heard, but due to the length of the application process, the extensive public consultation the owner has gone through and the predominantly positive feedback from those consultations, Council has agreed to waive the need for this Council appearance. We moved to approve the Bylaw amendment.

Engineering and Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw Report
We discussed Utility Rates in a Workshop a couple of weeks ago and I wrote about it here. This is the Bylaw that sets the rate changes for 2021. I look forward to discussions in the 2021 about the sustainability of our reserves and our current reserve-replenishing strategy, but in the short term full agree with the need to assure financial solvency of these utilities and that these rate increases are important to meet that goal.

For a “typical” single family house, this means $42 more a year for water, $60 more for sewer service and $30 more for solid waste, a total of about $11 a month more for your City utilities. Add to this about $42 more a year or $3.50 a month for electricity (based on typical household use).

Having already approved utility rate changes in principle, the debate before us here was whether to continue waiving the 1% Climate Action Levy increase as we did in response to the uncertainty of the COVID situation early last year. This, in effect, reduced everyone’s electricity rates by 1%, or about $15/year on average. There is a bit of history here, but the Climate Levy was introduced to offset the removal of the “Rate Rider” from our rates to match a similar move by BC Hydro in 2019. The idea behind the levy was to create a stable fund source to support various energy and emissions reduction projects in the community – the work we need to do to get to our stated Climate Action goals.

I very much support this fund, and think it is prudent for the City to go back to funding the levy as originally intended. There will always be a reason to wait one more year before we take these kinds of actions. There always has been a reason to wait one more year, and that’s how we got to where we are today where a problem we have known about for decades is a sudden emergency. The levy was a good idea before COVID, it is still a good idea, and it will pay for things that save the residents and businesses of New Westminster money in the long term. The cost of us not doing this is going to cost the average New Westminster electricity customer much more than the $15 this levy will cost.

It was a split vote, but I voted with the majority to move us back to the full levy in 2021.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Budget 2021 Public Engagement Summary Report
The City led a Public Engagement exercise around budget issues, as we discussed in a recent Budget Workshop. Here we officially receive this into the Council record. Having more than 1,000 people engage in something like this is pretty good for New Westminster, but we do need to recognize this is not a scientific survey – people who choose to engage in this type of survey are by nature self-selecting. The cross-reference with demographic data is always interesting. Property owners were (as is typical) overrepresented compared to renters, youth were underrepresented, as were immigrants and visible minorities. Still, a good overview of how the voting base sees the City’s budget priorities.

Child Care Grant Update for 232 Lawrence Street and Next Steps
There is a piece of City land on 232 Lawrence Street that we were hoping to make available for a Childcare facility, as we have limited City land ownership in Queensborough, and it is the part of the City most lacking in childcare facilities. In applying for grants and doing some work assessing the land, we ran up against what is probably a typical reason why there is so little licensed childcare in Q’Boro: the difficulty of building an appropriate space with existing flood plain restrictions and geotechnical costs for that part of Lulu Island. Simply put, the cost per childcare spot is too high to meet Provincial criteria for support, mostly because the Province has shifted goalposts that make the Q’boro project no longer eligible.

I see where the Province is coming from, why spend $70,000 per space when others can be built for $40,000 per spot. But this builds in regional inequity – people in Q’Boro are just as deserving of local childcare (and have more dire need for it) as those who live on cheaper-to-develop lands on New Westminster’s mainland.

Meanwhile, staff are looking for other opportunities in Q’Boro. It seems that the owners of Queensborough Landing are not interested in leasing any of their many empty storefronts for this use, and there are limited other spaces available. We will continue to work with the School District as they have expansion plans for Queen Elizabeth School that may be able to accommodate Childcare expansion as well. Work to do.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update from the internal Pandemic Response task forces in City Hall. Not much in here, actually, as things are pretty much on a new-business-as-usual status.

Grimston Park Amendment Bylaw No. 8219, 2020 – Results of Alternative Approval Process
Not surprisingly, the completely asinine “Alternative Approval Process” for disposal of a small part of City lands where MOTI has already built a piece of infrastructure had zero responses. What a waste of staff time and City resources, but at least the Record got some advertising revenue. So, supporting local media for the win, I guess. The land can now be transferred to the Province.

Acting Mayor Appointments for January to December 2021
We all take turns being Acting Mayor. That means during that month we do mayor things if the mayor is not around. That may mean chairing a meeting, or signing important paperwork, or cutting a ribbon. I sued to be March and August (I don’t have kids, so rarely take vacations in those months), but it looks like we are going to try two-month appointments for a change, so I will be February and March.

I note than every other Councillor gets 61 days as Acting Mayor, while Councillor Trentadue gets 62, and I only get 59. A travesty.

Reorganization of Task Forces and Appointment of Chairs and Council members to Task Forces and Advisory Committees
On direction from the Mayor, with agreement of Council, we are making some adjustments of Task Forces and Advisory Committees. There are small changes, but mostly a continuation of the existing work areas.

1135 Tanaka Court: Rezoning for Cannabis Infused Product Manufacturing Facility – Preliminary Report
The owners of this empty big-box commercial space in Queensborough would like to use it to manufacture food products infused with cannabis for the burgeoning market for this stuff. Aside from one of the ingredients of the foodstuffs being cannabis, the use is pretty much consistent with the current zoning, but a few changes are needed to comply with federal cannabis production regulations. This is a preliminary report, and it may go to Public Hearing, so I’ll hold further comments until then.

6 – 320 Stewardson Way (Pacific Breeze Winery): Application for Manufacturers Lounge
The little “garage winery” just off Stewardson Way wants to open a lounge area with 20 seats. They have been manufacturing on site for several years, and have offered tasters on site, but now want people to be able to enjoy their products like they do on nearby Steel & Oak Brewery. They are applying from the Province for an appropriate license, and require endorsement from the City. Done.

618 Carnarvon Street (Urban One Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
A high-rise construction project downtown included in its plan the encapsulation of a stretch of the SkyTrain line just west of 6th Street. Construction of this requires installing forms so concrete can be poured, and for seemingly obvious reasons, some of this work cannot occur while the SkyTrain is running. This is a big job, and will take a couple of months. The builders will take some efforts to reduce the impact of this noise as much as possible, but there is no doubt it is going to cause some stress to some residential neighbors.

There are also going to be some disturbances of traffic on Clarkson Street, but Engineering are working with the builders to mitigate the impacts on neighbors.

Agnes Greenway Phase 1 Implementation & Engagement Update
The long-awaited Agnes Greenway is going to start rolling out this winter. It will arrive first with some temporary protection measures (the glue-down flexi-posts instead of concrete) to allow for a bit of a trial and active consult with the changes before we cast it in expensive concrete – which is better installed in the summer anyway. It is also going to involve some re-adjustment of traffic patterns on Agnes and Carnarvon, partly to simplify the conflict zones and make it safer for all users, partly to continue to protect the vast majority of street parking for residents. I think people angry about the changes will blame the bike lanes, not the free street parking. Such is the way with these things. That said, there is going to be a lot of attention paid to loading zones, accessibility, and transit system function through this trial, so don’t be afraid to give us some feedback. We want to get this right.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8243, 2020
This is our annual just-in-case borrowing bylaw. As the bulk of our revenue as a City arrives all at once at tax time, we maintain a cash flow with that in mind so we can make our monthly payroll. That said, we are usually pretty tight to break even, so it is possible that we would need to borrow for a short period of time (weeks) in the event an emergency happens at the worst possible time that draws us down. The best way to manage this is through a line-of-credit we can draw on if needed. Council need to give authorization for that line or credit each year. Here we are.

DCC Expenditure Bylaw No. 8244, 2020
The City collects Development Cost Charges to help pay for infrastructure improvements that are required because of increased density in the City. (I talked about DCCs in detail here). In order for us to spend from those DCC funds, we need to pass an expenditure Bylaw. This assures transparency and assures the people who paid DCCs that the money they gave us didn’t get spent on other stuff. In 2020, we spent $16,000 from DCCs on Queensborough drainage projects, $350,000 on Queensborough transportation projects, $250,000 on mainland transportation projects, $180,000 on Queensborough parks and $350,000 on mainland parks (those last two mostly in debt repayments for parks expansions already done).

New Normal Staff Committee: Mandatory Face Masks update and New Health Orders
This is just an update on the Public Health Orders around mandatory mask use in public buildings and businesses, and how it impacts our operations.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2021 Proposed Capital Budget and Operating Budget – Additional Information
These are some reports to follow up on requests Council had from last week’s budget workshop. These were added in part On Table, so Council will use them to inform our Budget deliberations next week

Amendments to the Sign Bylaw: Amending Bylaw No. 8182, 2020 for Second and Third Reading
The big debate of the night was whether those big 4 x 4 foot election signs were really needed, and were more clutter and hassle than they were worth. There were some suggestions out of the 2018 civic election on how we can adjust the election rules and function for next time around. One of the suggestions from that was suggested improvements to our election sign bylaws. After some discussion, the idea of limiting election signs to the smaller 2×2-foot lawn signs and the banning of larger billboard-sized signs may help with some issues around visual clutter and equity.

We had two rounds of sending requests to comments to all recent local government candidates and provincial and federal riding associations, and they all seem to agree that limiting signs to 3.0 square metres (as the current bylaw is written) has never caused anyone any concerns, limiting them to the lawn-sign-standard of 2×2 feet “runs counter to the principles of free association and free expression enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” In retort, I would suggest all Sign Bylaws act as a legal limitation on free expression, and yet every City has a sign Bylaw. The Charter gives governments the right to limit expression in a reasonable way. The Province gives Local Governments the right to regulate signs in the City. I find the charter argument to be spurious. I would also argue that one would have to be *very selective* in their reading of the election sign laws in adjacent municipalities to assert that these changes “are considerably more restrictive than those in neighbouring municipalities”.

We had a pretty good debate, and Council was split about this, both arguing their side was the one that afforded most equity. I was on the side of thinking that the large signs, by their nature, require infrastructure and resources that are difficult for smaller independent candidates to muster, and they tip the balance towards larger more sophisticated campaigns (and, by nature, incumbents). I noted 100% of the feedback we got opposing the change was from established and well-funded political organizations, and all thought that restricting the size of signs represented an unfair harm to small independent candidates. Not a single independent candidate in any of the last few elections or a third-place or worse party replied to our inquiries, so take from that what you like.

Council voted in a split vote to no longer permit 4×4 signs and limit election signs to the standard 2x2foot lawn variety and to residential property (including rental properties).

Zoning Relaxations to Allow On-Site Patios to Support Business Recovery: Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8246, 2020 – Bylaw for Two Readings
Back in the Summer of COVID, we relaxed some zoning requirements to make it easier for restaurants and pubs to have outdoor patios. Those provisions were necessarily temporary at the time, and we are now extending to January 2022. Specifically, these are the provisions that reduce by two the amount of off-street parking required for these businesses. We are also waiving the need for a public hearing.

My only question was why we were not doing this permanently. I would much rather pubs and restaurants use parking spaces to serve customers food and add to the street scene than use them to place cars. Every part of that is consistent with our OCP goals and our Climate Action goals – if it a good idea during COVID, it is also a good idea in the port-COVID world. Staff will be coming back to us with a report about making this permanent, as it may have implications about the provincial liquor license process, which is set up for temporary permits, and we need to assure things are aligned.

Uptown Streetscape Vision – Final Report
The City has been working on a visioning process for the streetscape of the major commercial nexus Uptown. This is not about immediately going out to build the changes, it is about creating a coherent design and engineering vision for the area so that when we make changes, they fit the bigger vision. That could be the City going in to improve a pedestrian space, or it could be a developer re-building a block face, we want everything to fit together, and this streetscape plan provides that.

There are some principles baked into here that I strongly endorse. The major elements of Uptown were designed at the time of peak car supremacy, and in some places cars have 4.5 meter-wide driving lanes while pedestrians are asked to share a 1.8m sidewalk with benches, trees, mailboxes, signs and other “furniture”. This balance needs to be shifted, especially if we hope to bring more activity to the space. We also need to re-balance curb space allocation so priority uses (bus stops, accessibility, and business loading zones) take priority and are more optimally located. We also want to support businesses with parklets, patios, and bicycle parking, and we want to assure safe pedestrian movements are prioritized at all crossings.

I love the design for the Belmont and 6th intersection, and think the “raised” crosswalk with special pavement treatment is a real game-changer about how this space is used. I also think the treatment at 6th Street and 7th Ave is a really big step in making 7th Ave a safer route – but the cul-de-sac closure may work better on the east side than the west, but that’s a detail we can work out.

That said, I fundamentally don’t agree with the routing of the east side cycling connection to NWSS, and do not think routing bikes down a narrow back alley is the best option for us as we are creating a raft of visibility and conflict and issues. That are just as present in a residential neighbourhood with wide boulevards as they are in busy commercial areas. I can rant about this at length (and I did in the meeting, you can see in the video), but we need to build better than this in connecting our premier greenway with the new school.

So all this to say, we have more work to do on this critical two-block link, but I don’t want that to take away from all of the good in this plan. So I will endorse the plan today, with the asterisk that the school connection is not the one I think the City should build.

Pumping Up Savings in Heating Pilot Program
The City may partner with the Community Energy Association to pilot a residential Heat Pump program. I recused myself from this discussion as I am the current Chair of the Board of the Community Energy Association. Though the City of New Westminster is a member of the CEA, my position is a volunteer one, and I have pecuniary interest, to avoid the perception of conflict I am happy to step out of this conversation.

We then ran though the Bylaw readings of the day including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8247, 2020
This Bylaw that annually sets our rates for a variety of fees for service in the City was adopted.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8248, 2020
As mentioned above, this Bylaw that sets next year’s Electrical Utility rates was adopted.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8243, 2020
As mentioned above, this Bylaw that empowers staff to draw up to $3M on a line of credit to get us through an unanticipated cash crunch was adopted

Grimston Park Amendment Bylaw No. 8219, 2020
As mentioned above, this Bylaw that transfers over to the province a small portion of Grimston Park under the footings of the new pedestrian overpass was adopted.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (909 First Street) Bylaw No. 8188, 2020
As discussed in a Public Hearing back on June 22nd, this zoning amendment that would see a small set of townhouses build in Glenbrooke North was adopted by Council.

Housing Agreement Amendment (616 – 640 Sixth Street) Bylaw
As discussed back on November 9th, this amendment to the housing agreement that shifts the market condo portion of this planned development in Uptown to secured market rental (along with slightly reducing the height of the building) was adopted by Council.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8226, 2020
This Bylaw that annually sets our rates for a variety of fees for service in the electrical department was adopted.

Finally we had one piece of New Business:

Review of Firework Policy and Regulation in New Westminster
There was a lot of conversation about fireworks around Halloween this year, and lots of fireworks. Although New West already has pretty restrictive rules (no sales, and use limited to specific hours without a permit), some cities are getting more restrictive on their use, and more people are raising concerns about nuisance, impact on animals, and other issues. At the same time, these is a significant cultural component to fireworks, and if we want to be an inviting, inclusive city, we need to think about how to balance those concerns. So we are asking Staff to report back on us about what other Cities are doing. This should be the start of an interesting conversation.

And that was it for the evening. Next week is already looking like a doozy…