Our council day on Monday included an afternoon workshop where we talked about changes to our Agendas and how we communicate the work of Council to the public. It is very “inside baseball”, but we are trying to balance how we present agenda info to meet regulatory requirements and make them as easy to read and interpret as possible for people who don’t spend their entire life reading City Council Agendas (sit down, Canspice). It’s worth watching the video if you are interested in seeing what we are looking at, but I won’t go over it too much here.
Speaking of Agendas, our evening meeting started with us moving the following items on Consent:
COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Once again, this report was just an update on the city’s task forces for Pandemic response. I think when this started, we did not imagine they would still be running today, 14 months later, but here we are. Get your shots, folks.
There is good work in here, including leveraging a Provincial Grant to help with outreach and advocacy services for the city’s homeless population, update on the health contact centre, discussion of (finally) addressing the public bathroom need in our commercial areas, continuing to engage with the local business community as operational constraints change with public health orders, and more.
Union of BC Municipalities 2021 Community Excellence Awards Submission
We are submitting applications for a couple of UBCM awards to recognize the great work staff did on our Climate Action and Pandemic Response. Cross some fingers.
Period Promise Initiative Launch
The City committed more than a year ago to pilot a program where menstrual products are made available in public bathrooms in the City, and the implementation of the program got delayed due to COVID and staff being moved on to COVID response work. It is finally up and running, and we got a little financial support from a federal government grant. Good news.
2021 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
Fraser snowpack remains slightly above average this year, but is melting off at a faster pace than expected in a La Nina phase, which reduces freshet-related flood risk. There is still some risk if we have anomalous weather, so we remain watchful, but not nervous.
Queen’s Park Preschool Society License Agreement Renewal
There is a preschool that leases space in a City-owned building in Queens Park whose lease has expired and a new lease needs to be signed. As it is a City asset being leased to a not-for profit, we need to be transparent about the terms, and Council needs to approve it. Done.
Then the following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
322 Seventh Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Off-Street Parking and Housing Agreement Bylaw for Three Readings
There is an older rental building in the Brow of the Hill that wishes to convert some of its (above ground) parking space to studio apartments. This would expand the number of units in the building from 55 to 60. The FSR increase does not take it past what is permitted in the current zoning, but a 60-unit rental building would normally require 60 parking spaces, but this proposal would take the current 51 spaces down to 42. Currently, the building only utilizes 27 of the current 51 parking spots, though the building is 96% occupied. In exchange, the building owner would enter into a housing agreement with the City to secure all 60 units as rental for the life of the building (or 60 years).
There would be small studio suites, and though this is not an affordable housing project, it would provide some relatively affordable housing in a place where there is currently empty parking spots.
If a housing agreement can be completed, then this will be reviewed through a Development Variance Permit, which Council will consider in a future meeting. If you have opinions, let us know!
FCM Grant Awarded for the “Pumping Up Savings in Heating” Pilot Program
I recused myself from the discussion here, as I volunteer as the Chair of the Board of a not-for-profit that would potentially partner with the City on this program. So I have no pecuniary interest, but to avoid the perception of conflict, I stepped out and didn’t vote on this item. Reading the report, the good news here is that the City was awarded a grant to develop a program to help homeowners convert to electric heat pump heating systems, which is one way to reduce the GHG emissions of our existing housing stock.
City of New Westminster Homelessness Response Strategy
COVID has been hard on the City’s homeless and under-housed, due to reduced capacity for support shelters and increased economic stress putting more people at risk of homelessness. This is certainly not an issue unique to New Westminster, and though there are certainly impacts on the comfortable housed, we cannot use a law-enforcement approach, but need to work with senior governments to address the causes and mitigate the harms of our neighbours being underhoused. This report outlines a strategy and some work the City is doing on that front.
There has been an ongoing effort to assure folks without a roof have access to basic sanitary needs, including a shower. Like most cities, we have a paucity of public washrooms, and this manifests in pretty unpleasant ways. We introduced some temporary measures at the beginning of the pandemic, but this only demonstrated that we need a more sustainable approach.
As always, funding is a challenge. Senior Governments are investing more now than in the last couple of decades, and we have been successful at some recent grant applications. But the there is a time gap between those grant awards and when we can see the results on the street, so catching up is going to take some time. We also recognize that ultimately, the solution is housing – government funded, truly affordable, and supportive housing.
Proposed 2021-2022 Equity Key Performance Indicator Framework
The City is committed to developing a DEIAR Framework, and as part of that work, we are identifying the “KPI” – or the measurable things that we can use to determine if we are meeting our strategic goals. This report outlines those metrics, as recommended by the Task Force, and asks Council for approval.
And we had one Bylaw to Adopt:
Consumption of Liquor in Public Spaces Bylaw No. 8264, 2021
It is now legal in designated areas of 7 parks in the City for adults to consume alcohol between 11:00am and the close of the park at dusk. I went on CKNW today (Wednesday) to talk about it, though I didn’t promote it too much because the host has me blocked on Twitter, and such is life.
Have a good long weekend, everyone.