We had a pretty long agenda in the June 21st Council meeting, commensurate with the longest day of the year. After writing more than 250 of these damn reports, I’m running out of small talk to open with, so without any pleasantries, let’s get right to it.
The following items were Moved on Consent:
2020 Statement of Financial Information
This report is the final step in our budgeting process, when our audited financial statements and regulated reporting to the Province (and the public) are complete. The City is in good financial shape. Though we just went through a period of uncertainty, we are set up to deal with significant capital costs coming up in the next few years, mostly the new recreation complex which found a name this week.
A few highlights. We ended fiscal 2020 with about $258M in financial assets, but about $181M in liabilities, so a net of about $78M in the black. This is apart from the $721M in accumulated capital assets (buildings, trucks, pencils, pipes and traffic cones). We have about $137M in reserves, and our long-term debt level is $62M. It is worth noting the $6M we got from the Provincial Government as part of the “Safe Restart Grant” was meaningful in addressing our unexpected costs and revenue loss during COVID.
There is also a cool list of everyone from whom the City bought good and services (above $25K). The $100K we pay the New West Record for the City Pages, the $525K we pay Suncor for fuel, the $250K we pay Bill Gates for software and the $27K we pay a nursery for new tree stock. It’s all there, read into it what you will.
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act Report for 2020
Every year we also report out on the FOIPPA files generated, and how they were replied to. We had about the same number of requests as the last year (just under 90) releasing 4,000+ pages of documents, and two of those requests were elevated to the provincial Privacy Commissioner. It is important to note that Council is not involved in this stuff at all (unless our correspondence is involved in a request, then our only role is to provide any such correspondence – we never know who the request came from and what information eventually goes to the requestor), we have professional staff who use guidance from the legislation to determine how to address requests. The only time I see this stuff is when we get the year-end report you are reading here.
Public Solicitation Request by HOPE International
I honestly had no idea the City has a permit process and policy (dated 1989, updated in 1994!) regulating door-to-door and other public charity canvassing. But I guess we do, and this Charity wants to knock on your door to ask for support. Weird how the United Way gets special oversight to this process…
230 Keary Street (Brewery District Building 8): Development Variance Permit for Modification to Alternative Parking Area – Consideration of Notification
The builders of the Brewery District want to build fewer than bylaw-required parking spaces in their proposed “Building 8” by instead allocating surplus parking spaces form the adjacent “Building 7” to Building 8 users, and connecting the two parkades. Frankly, we are building way too much parking in this project in the first place so I have no problem with not requiring they dig deeper for a 6th level of underground parking to add to that surplus. But this is just notice that we will consider a variance at a future meeting. If you have opinions (especially if they are different than mine) drop us a line and let us know.
65 East Sixth Avenue (New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre): Development Variance Permit for Modification to Parking Requirements – Consideration of Notification
The City generally has to follow its own bylaws. So we need a development permit for the Canada Games Pool replacement just like anyone else would in building on that site. We also have the ability to grant variances to ourselves, if we follow the same procedures as we would for other development. There is some adjustment of the site for the new complex, and it means we will build 27 fewer parking spaces than previously approved. Which means we need a variance. Which we will consider in a future meeting. If you have opinions, let us know.
9 East Columbia Street (Woodlands Wall/Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project): Heritage Alteration Permit – Preliminary Report
One of the benefits of the Pattullo Replacement project for New West will be the re-alignment of the Central Valley Greenway crossing at the foot of McBride, which has been a point of contention since long before I was elected. There is a fundamental geometry problem at this corner that is hard to solve in such a way that drivers will not stop illegally running the corner and endangering pedestrians and cyclists. Part of it (but only part – the persistent law-breaking by drivers in a way that endangers other road users is the real problem here) is a visibility issue with the Heritage Wall, and another part (also secondary to the point that drivers being relied on to follow simple rules of the road is ineffective as a way of preventing the death of vulnerable road users) is the grades of the site that make it really difficult to design a crosswalk and sidewalk that isn’t perilously steep while putting pedestrians, cyclists, and those with mobility aids in a place where inattentive drivers have better chance of seeing them before they plow them over.
So the Heritage Wall has to move. The project team working on re-alignment of the roads around the Pattullo Project have a proposal to relocate a portion of the wall to address the visibility and grade issues, and hopefully usher in a new era of motorist law abidance and safe active transportation. This will require a Heritage Alteration Permit, which requires a few consultation steps. This is a preliminary report, and we will consider the HAP after that consultation.
100 Braid Street (Market and Affordable Rental Housing) Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8221, 2021- Bylaw for Three Readings
The new apartment building approved for 100 Braid Street was approved understanding it would be Purpose Built Rental, and a portion of those rentals having rents designated as Affordable according to CMHC standards (rent fixed to 30% of median incomes) if CMHC support could be secured. It looks like that CMHC support was received, so we are putting together a Housing Agreement securing Affordable Housing for at least 16 years for 96 of the units, and market-priced rental tenure for the remaining 327 units. All 423 units will be secured as rental for 60 years or the life of the building – whichever is longer.
MOTION regarding Manufacturer Licence for 1319 Third Avenue
Last meeting, we approved zoning amendment to allow 100 seats at this local brewery. The province requires we pass a motion endorsing this with specific language so the provincial liquor license can be adapted to suit.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: that New Westminster City Council recommends the approval of the application by Steel & Oak Brewing Company Ltd. to operate a 100 person Manufacturer lounge, with indoor seating not exceeding 89, located at 1319 Third
Avenue with liquor service hours from 9:00 AM to 11:00 PM Monday through Sundays.
Environmental Strategy and Action Plan Progress (Update) Report
This is a report updating Council on progress of the Environmental Strategy adopted in 2018, and letting us know what’s been done, what is in progress, and what is yet to come. Lots of good stuff in here, but we are going to have a more detailed Council Workshop to make sure the work ahead is being prioritized in alignment with Council’s priorities, especially in relation to the Seven Bold Steps we have identified for Climate Action – not to say they aren’t aligned, but it’s always good to have a check-in and it is easier to do that in a workshop than a council meeting, like the workshop we had earlier today on Asset Management.
2021 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
Looks like the snow is melting at a moderate rate, and the snowmelt freshet flood risk for the Fraser has past, with a peak in early June, and flows not expected to peak again.
Albert Crescent Park Maintenance Update
A neighbourhood group raised some concerns about maintenance at Albert Crescent Park, and staff connected with them and took up some of their suggestions to improve the condition of the park. The area is seeing some transition as the Pattullo Bridge Project is going to result in tree removals, grade changes, and new pathways, but in the meantime it is still an important green space for many Downtown residents.
2022 Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw Amendment
Every year, we update our Parks and Recreation fees through Bylaw. For the most part this means doing a scan of fees being charged around the region to make sure we are not out of touch with industry standard (in reality, New West is often quite a bit more affordable than our comparator municipalities) and applying a ~2% or so inflationary increase. But this year, Staff are recommending we delay any increase in light of COVID limitations and to encourage folks to get back out to rec programs as they are starting to get rolled out.
Environment and Climate Advisory Committee: Improvements to Energy Save New West
The Committee also wants us to further promote ESNW, and we will refer this request to the 2022 budget process, because it would really mean hiring new resources or redirecting resources. In the meantime, here is their website where you can learn about their many programs to make your home more energy efficient.
The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
Increasing Equity in Voting: Mail Ballot Voting for Local Government Elections
One idea that cropped up last Municipal Election was the lack of a mail-in-voting option. In general, it was previously seen as expensive, a bit of a hassle, and of questionable value considering fewer than 1% of ballots are typically mailed in where the option is introduced. But our post-election survey suggested there was high interest in the community to introduce this, and it so happens that the Provincial Legislation was changed just this month to remove some of the restrictions on local government mail-in voting.
Remember, local elections are run by City Staff, and paid for by local taxes while being strictly regulated by the province (all for good reasons!). And although we know they are coming years in advance, there is a lot that has to happen in a very tight timeline. For example, the time between when the City actually knows who the certified candidates are and voting day is only about two weeks, making the production and distribution of mail-in ballots a challenge when staff are already busy setting up voting booths and otherwise preparing for voting day counting and accountability procedures. Staff note that mail-in voting for the provincial election has fewer restrictions, has more time, and has more resources. All that to say, adding mail-in voting is not simple or inexpensive. There is also a risk that a large number of mail-in ballots means we don’t know the results of the election until after election day, as those ballots cannot be counted until after polls close.
So staff are going to give it a shot
Accessibility and Disability Justice in the Built Environment – Update
The City has prioritized accessibility in its transportation work in the last few years. Some of this is easy to see (we are the only City in the Lower Mainland to achieve 100% curb cuts) some less outwardly visible (Accessibility training for all transportation staff to better understand barriers we create and best practices to avoid them). This report gives a bit of an update on the work being done, and work yet to come.
We do this because it is the right thing to do, because truly accessible infrastructure works for everyone, not just people facing barriers, and because there is a significant justice and equity aspect to how we provide services in the City. We also have a few very vocal and passionate accessibility advocates in this City who keep Council and staff honest about doing this work. Thanks to their advocacy and the good work of staff, we are in perhaps a better situation than most Municipalities in meeting what are looking to be upcoming from the Provincial Government with the new Accessible British Columbia Act.
Canada Day 2021 Update
Canada Day is going to be different in 2021. For many people in the community, it will still be a day of celebration, and people will want to put on red and white and wave flags. Others are going to want to have a more reflective marking of 154 years since Confederation, especially in light of recent events that challenge some of the myths about Canada. Like many Canadians, I am both proud of where we are, and challenged by the work we have yet to do.
I don’t think there is a wrong way to mark this day (or not mark it). However, as a City we want to be sensitive to the differences in our community and try to accommodate and support those difference through our programs and events, and with the partners we work with to make events happen in the City. So with large public gatherings still under some restriction, we are fortunate to have partners across the community who have put together various programs from reflective to celebratory, and you and your family can make their choice. Check it out here.
Multiculturalism Advisory Committee: Black History Month Recognition and Promotion
The committee is recommending to Council that the City explore opportunities to better mark Black History Month in the City, as part of our larger Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIAR) Framework. This work will be referred through the Reconciliation, Social Inclusion and Engagement Task Force.
Environment and Climate Advisory Committee: Air Quality Monitoring in New Westminster
Air Quality is regulated by the Province under the Environmental Management Act. As a local government we cannot create regulations that limit or otherwise manage the creation of air pollution (outside of some limited nuisance bylaw power). However, in the GVRD, this power has been delegated to Metro Vancouver. Metro has staff that hand out air pollution permits to emitters like industries that might make smoke or smells (paper mills, breweries, compost facilities) and do some regional air quality tracking.
The Environment Advisory committee is asking that the City take a more proactive role at collecting air quality data collected by Metro Vancouver and disseminating that information. Staff is recommending instead we encourage a more citizen-activating program with the support of Metro Vancouver.
I am a little concerned, based on my professional experience in dealing with air quality aspects of the Environmental Management Act that air quality sampling and data reporting is way, way more complicated than most people think, and that decontextualized and unsystematic data collection actually creates more problems than it solves. If we want better reporting of air quality, we should be advocating to Metro Vancouver (and their empowering jurisdiction, the Ministry of Environment) to do that work, to assure it is done professionally and with the rigour required to give reliable data.
We then had a single Bylaw for adoption:
Housing Agreement (322 Seventh Street) Bylaw No. 8258, 2021
This Housing Agreement that secures rental tenure for his property in the Brow of the hill for the life of the building or 60 years was adopted.
Then the fun part of the meeting started as we dove in to some New Business:
Motion: Heritage Revitalization Agreement Applications in the Queen’s
Park Heritage Conservation Area
THAT Council support a temporary suspension in the processing of heritage revitalization agreement applications in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area as of June 21, 2021 and until a revised HRA policy is in place, excepting those applications or pre-application reviews received prior to that date;
THAT Council direct staff to report back on the number and status of heritage revitalization agreement applications and pre-application reviews in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area received on or before June 21, 2021, with the general expectation that they would continue to be processed;
THAT Council direct staff to finalize a work plan for an update to the 2011 policy for the use of heritage revitalization agreements, which would integrate the development of the 2017 Official Community Plan and the heritage conservation area.
This motion arose from some concern raised by advocates in the Queens Park neighbourhood that the Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) process within the Heritage Conservation Area (HCA) is not working as they would like. The HRA process is due for an update, and it is on staff workplans, but some heritage advocates do not like that HRAs are continuing to be evaluated without that update.
I could only support the third part of the resolution where a workplan for the update of the HRA policy is brought to Council. I cannot support a suspension of HRA applications in Queens Park, because I think that is at odds with the principles we negotiated with the community when we agreed to implement the HCA.
I was clear when I supported the HCS, and I will quote myself from the blog I wrote at the time: “the HCA policy cannot stop all development, infill density, or other ways of increasing housing choice in the Queens Park neighbourhood. We need to accelerate our work towards increasing laneway and carriage house infill, stratification of large houses if they wish to re-configure into multi-family buildings, and protecting the multi-family housing stock that already exists in Queens Park. The HCA as adopted will not prevent that progress”
Frankly, I am a little disappointed that four years later, we have people who have been actively engaged in this process for most of a decade still choosing to misinterpret or misunderstand what the HCA actually is, and that every project that comes up for consideration of an HRA, we have to once again address the same list of mischaracterizations about the processes and accusations of nefarious activity on the part of property owners, staff or council.
Support for the HCA was not unanimous, but was opposed by a number of residents of Queens Park, and it was through consultation and compromise that we got to a place where Council could support this HCA. The perception that the HCA will now include a freeze on all new changes in the neighbourhood for an indeterminate amount of time does not reflect the principles with which we negotiated the HCA with the community, is at odds with many of the City’s broader goals, from encouraging housing diversity and affordability to supporting equity and procedural fairness. Further, I just don’t see the current process as some sort of existential threat to the heritage homes or heritage character of the HCA, I am not sure what crisis exists that warrants this type of emergency measure to stop people applying for HRAs.
Council supported the motion in a split vote.
Motion: Pilot Project to Address the Mental Health Crisis and Issues Relating to Poverty and Homelessness
THAT the City of New Westminster convenes a time-limited task force to lead City efforts to build partnerships with senior levels of government and service providers in order to bring the pilot model to reality; and
THAT the City of New Westminster hires a consultant to lead community outreach to understand community needs and refine the specifics of the pilot model; and
THAT both the consultant and task force work with a focus on anti-racism, decolonization, anti-oppression, and non-carceral perspectives.
This motion is very consistent with the direction that New West presented in our submission to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, reported on here.
Council unanimously supported it, and I just wanted to note that we should be seeking funding from the Provincial Government to fund this important development work, recognizing the important role this plays in achieving provincial goals in health care, homelessness, addiction, mental health, and police reform. I am happy we are doing this work (instead of making hollow gestures in calling for reform, as we are oft accused of doing), and hope others will partner with us.
Motion: Sex Worker Safety Workshop and Policies
THAT the City of New Westminster holds a workshop for city council and senior staff to learn about sex work and safety. The workshop should be provided by a peer-driven organization that works directly with sex workers; and
THAT staff are directed to report back to Council with sex worker safety policies, including staff training, from other municipalities including policies relating to bylaws and policing.
This is policy work consistent with the above, and though I have concerns we are running our staff a little thin in the social planning response to overlapping crises, Council voted to support this work getting done.
Motion: Support for Inclusion of Allied Health Workers in Public Health Care
THAT UBCM request that the Province expand access to and funding for allied health professionals, particularly mental health counselling specialties, and physical/ occupational therapy related specialties, through expansion of team based care through not-for-profit delivery including community health centres, available to all BC residents regardless of income, throughout the province; and
THAT the Province of BC increase supports and funding for Peer Navigators as part of the BC Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.
This is a resolution to go to the UBCM conference in September that was unanimously supported by Council.