Council – Jan 25, 2021

We had a surprisingly short Council Meeting on Monday. We were anticipating a couple of longer Public Hearings, but staff became aware late in the afternoon that the Zoom invite sent out did not point participants to the right place for the Zoom meeting, for obscure Zoom-related technical reasons. The legislative requirements for clear public access to a Public Meeting are already strained a bit operating under our remote work COVID Ministerial Orders, so our staff made the prudent last-minute decision that the Public Hearings should be re-scheduled. It’s a bit unfortunate, but mistakes happen when everyone is working with new processes, and we are always better served to err on the side of assuring legislative requirements are met. I understand now the delayed Public Hearings will occur on February 22nd, but best check with City Page updates and not rely on my Blog to schedule your participation (have I mentioned recently that this Blog is not official communications from the City?)

The delays left us with a single item on the Agenda:

40 Begbie Street (Lower Mainland Purpose Society): Temporary Use Permit for a Health Contact Centre (Overdose Prevention Site) – preliminary Report
Council has been advocating to Fraser Health to help bring more support to people impacted by the poisoned drug supply crisis. One of the approaches we have asked the Health Authority to support is an overdose prevention site – a place where people using drugs can do so with health supervision, and where users can access the kind of health services they need, including referral to treatment and other services. The New West Overdose Community Action Team has been working with Purpose (large P and small p) to bring these services to New West.

Overdose Prevention Sites save lives. They are not the solution to the opioid crisis, but they demonstrably reduce deaths, and improve health outcomes for a cohort of drug users. They are one piece of a big, complicated puzzle, but an important one.

For this to operate in the location made available by Purpose, we need to adjust the zoning language. Staff are recommending a Temporary Use Permit to do this, and have outlined a community consultation and approval process that is typical for a TUP in COVID times. Council raised concerns about the potential delay of our process. This is a Public Health Emergency – it is not hyperbole to say people may die waiting for this centre to open. There is still some work to do by Purpose, Fraser Health, and the City to get it up and running, but the message sent by Council was that we don’t want to be the ones slowing things down.

I also wanted to say a few things about the consultation around this proposal, but first I need to talk a bit about the word “consultation”. The organization for professionals who do community engagement work for a living have identified a spectrum of consultation that informs the City’s Public Engagement Strategy:

When Cities (or anyone, really) do public engagement, it is good to know where on the spectrum your engagement lands. At one end, you are just informing people about a decision that was made by the City (“we have hired a new Chief Financial Officer”), at the other end you empower the public make the decision (“And the winner of the online poll is, Boaty McBoatface!”). When it comes to the engagement about this project, we are going to land around the consult part of the spectrum.

Council, in a public motion several months ago, asked Fraser Health to provide this service in New Westminster. The Health Authority has agreed, provided a funding model, and found a partner to provide the service though a procurement process. The location meets the provider’s needs, the Health Authority’s needs, and the client’s needs. What we intend to consult with stakeholders in the community on now are parameters around how the Health Contact Centre will operate. How we will ensure compliance with the City’s good Neighbour Policy, which partners are responsible for any mitigation efforts for negative community impacts if they occur, and how communications with the community should work. The City has set up an engagement site where some questions may already be answered, and you can provide feedback.

And that was all we had on the agenda. See you all next week!

2 comments on “Council – Jan 25, 2021

  1. Thank you for the lecture ,how dare we question your decisions. How dare we expect Council to consult with voters. Please let us know when you can attend your re-education camps so we sit and learn at your feet. Do you have any idea how fatigued New Westminster is with Council.
    Perhaps you do and that’s why you are never seen in public, always riding your bike or posting your vacation pics. Go to the quay , go to sixth and sixth, go to Walmart listen to the voters , stop telling we don’t understand.

    1. Hi Walt, Thanks for the feedback.

      I have tried to use this blog to outline my own view of how Council and the City work, and to try to unpack some of the confusing or complicated parts of local government. Sometimes that means trying to explain as briefly as possible the complications behind a word like “consultation”, and I guess I can sound preachy when trying to define terms like that. Maybe that is part of me constantly trying to distill down 100-page documents into a few paragraphs. I never claimed to be a very eloquent writer, and could definitely use an editor, especially as it is hard to hear our own tone when we write.

      I have always asked people to challenge and question decisions made by Council, I spent a bunch of time myself doing that before I got elected. Now that I am elected, I have spent 6+ years telling people what my thinking was going into every decision. I’m not asking everyone to agree with me, I just want people to know how I weigh both sides, and be transparent about where I stand. That’s the best I can offer you as one member of a Council of 7 elected to represent 75,000+ people with 75,000+ sets of opinions.

      Despite the last year of being increasingly stuck in my own home, I also don’t know how else to reach out to the public than I already am. Besides my blog and social media activity, and responding to the dozens of emails I get every day, I do my best within the constraints of my other job to attend as many community events as I can. I do all of my regular shopping and the bulk of my recreation in New West, and get my ear bent all over town. I set up booths at community events to prompt people to give me their opinions or share their concerns. I even built and set up a booth at random locations (in pre-COVID times) for the same reason. I have done door-knocking blitzes when *not in an election period* to ask residents about issues in their neighbourhood. Beyond that, I have really made a conscious effort in the last few years to think about how I am listening, and how I can demonstrate that people are being heard. I frankly don’t know what else I can do to listen to voters, but would be happy to hear your suggestions.

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