Council – October 4, 2021

Back to back to back meetings and we are back in the Council Chambers and everything is back to normal, right? Ugh. For those who only tune in for evening meetings (Hey, Canspice) we had an afternoon workshop you might want to check out (the link is here, and there is a big spreadsheet you might enjoy!), as we started to talk about the Capital Budget for 2022. But I’m here to talk about our regular meeting agenda, which started with a Presentation:

Community Grants Highlights and Impacts 2021
This is a reporting out on our annual Grant program. The program has seen some changes in the last few years, and many of the organization that received grants in the last couple of years have had to pivot due to pandemic impacts, but we still granted almost $1 Million (between cash and in-kind assistance) to community groups through 93 Grants. You can review the report and see what community groups were given support, and even see highlights of some of the positive impacts of these grants on the community. Proving government work is never done, we have 91 applications for 2022, which staff and volunteers from the community are reviewing to make recommendations to Council about where next year’s funding goes. Stay tuned!


We then moved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 660 Quayside Drive (Bosa Development)
The Bosa Development on the waterfront is going to need a “monolithic concrete pour” – a big pour to set the foundation for the west tower. This will require working through the night, nonstop for 27 hours, as the 4,500 cubic metre pour has to happen in one big move to prevent seams in the foundation. They plan to do it October 22nd-23rd, but if the weather is crap that weekend, they will try the following weekend. There will be a day of traffic disruptions, but mostly they need the permit to allow them to work overnight. Yes, there will be noise, but this also means the pile driving is over!

Downtown New Westminster BIA Extension: 2022 – 2025
BIAs exist by Bylaw. They’re self-organized, but through the Community Charter, cities collect taxes from their members (usually based on a square footage or frontage rate) and turn that money back over to the BIA to do with what their members decide. The Bylaws are periodically updated, including changing the rate structure if the BIA members so decide. Our last update was in 2018 for a 4-year term, so we need to update again. Really, the city’s role here is to facilitate for the Members of the BIA the rate and process they democratically decide they want to see, and draft our Bylaw to suit.

Permissive Property Tax Exempt Properties for 2022 – Review of Application Result
There are some properties, like churches and private schools that don’t pay property taxes because the Provincial Government exempts them by provincial law. There are others that the City has the option to not charge property tax to because they provide a wider community service, like sports facilities or social service providers. Each year we need to update the bylaw that allows the permissive exemptions.

Release of Resolution from Closed meeting regarding 97 Braid Street (Sapperton Green)
“THAT Council direct staff to discontinue to advance processing of the Official Community Plan and Zoning Amendment applications for 97 Braid Street (Sapperton Green) until such a time as it is determined when the proposed community centre with child care will be delivered to the community, should the development applications be approved.”
This resolution is being released from a closed discussion that I can’t talk too much about, but you can read from it that the community amenity being promised as part of the Sapperton Green development proposal is important to the City and negotiations around how it will be delivered are ongoing.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Amendments to the Procedure Bylaw 2021: Bylaw for Three Readings 52
Need to change the Procedure Bylaws now that the Province has made clear we can continue to have “hybrid” participation in Council meetings. People will be able to participate in Person or Electronically. This included delegations to Council (which we will now just call “speakers”), though we are now going to ask that delegates register beforehand to make the hybrid model work. We are also, on Councillor Trentadue’s suggestion going to be having further discussions about the formal use of honorifics in Council meetings.

Massey Theatre and Complex Lease and Working Agreement
Now that the Massey Theatre has been officially transferred from the School District to the City, we need to create a working agreement with the Operator of the facility. There is a lot of background here that informed and was informed by the City decision to take over the Massey when the School District no longer wanted to hold responsibility for the facility. The MTS has been a great partner to the City in helping with the operation of the Anvil Theatre, and this transfer is going to represent a new era in that relationship.


We then Adopted the following Bylaws:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Miscellaneous Amendments) No.8225, 2020
This Amendment Bylaw that makes various minor revisions, edits and deletions to the Zoning Bylaw that needs to be done every once in a while and for which we waived Public Hearing back in November of last year, was finally given Adoption.


Finally, we had a motion coming out of Public Delegation

Move that Council stand in support of the Cities of Richmond and Vancouver in opposing the continued expansion of LNG at the Tilbury facility, and in opposition to the Phase 2 Expansion Project currently undergoing Provincial and Federal environmental assessment,

And further move that Mayor and Council send correspondence signifying this opposition to the City of Delta, to the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Action, BC Environmental Assessment Office and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

We had two delegates come and speak to Council about the Tilbury LNG expansion project, which represents a massive expansion in LNG production, storage, and export right in the heart of the Fraser River Estuary. The safety and security risks have been explored in depth by our cohort in the City in Richmond, and I empathize with their concerns. However, I am mostly concerned that it represents more than 250,000T of CO2e GHG annually into our local airshed, and potentially an order of magnitude more than that in upstream and downstream emissions. It goes without saying, this one project blows a hole in our local and regional GHG reduction goals.

We just got through a harrowing summer of wildfire, smoke, and hundreds of deaths from unprecedented heat waves. The Climate Emergency is here, and we need to act as Climate Leaders. As we here in New West are developing an updated Community Energy and Emissions reduction plan, this one facility will put out more GHG annually than all of the cars, trucks, houses, businesses and industries in New Westminster combined. I don’t think we can stay silent when these decisions are being made in our region, purportedly to help our regional economy, when the cost is so high. Climate leaders don’t invest in fossil fuels in 2021. Our powers are limited here, but our voices need to stand with our community and oppose this project.

And that was it for a relatively short evening agenda. Happy Thanksgiving!

Rental Astroturf

I’m going to get a little polemic here. A friend sent me a note asking about this Facebook post, and why New Westminster has such a low grade in supporting renters:

The post is actually a paid advertisement from a shadowy group calling themselves The Rental Project, and I’ve seen their work before. It’s not surprising that my friend saw this ad. He is a renter who spends some time online talking about the housing crisis, and The Rental Project spent more than $56,000 on Facebook ads in the last couple of years selling bunk like this in the Greater Vancouver area. $56K on Facebook will definitely get you some notice.

Perhaps it’s not really fair to call this group shadowy, because they don’t even come out into the shadows. At the surface, it looks like a grassroots group of people supporting renters and the needs of renters in Metro Vancouver. Indeed, looking at comments on any of their Facebook posts ads and you see responses from people concerned about affordable housing and policies to protect renters. But look at The Rental Project’s webpage. There are no authors, no links to members, no indication who is collecting their data, writing their reports, or paying their staff to design $56,000 in Facebook Ads. It’s not even clear who you are financing if you choose to click the prominent DONATE button.

This is Astroturf. A campaign made to look like a Grassroots effort, but clearly green-coloured plastic standing in place of grassroots. The reality of who is behind it is the story behind New Westminster’s “D” score.

If you look at the “report” being promoted in this ad, the first thing you may notice is that it is lacking in any cited sources or links for their information (though I have no reason to believe the numbers they report are untrue), and that the data and commentary that supports the letter grade headlines is inconsistent and incomplete. There is no mention of an author, and no way to connect to them to ask questions. The word shoddy is easily and fairly applied.

They award New Westminster  a grade of “D” – their lowest grade (though they failed to grade the Langleys, Delta or White Rock). I’ll come back to the rest of their comments in a bit, but I want to look closer at the only actual quantitative data they provide, a short table in the end of the report:

I need to emphasize again that there are no citations, no indication where the numbers here come from, but even if we take them at face value, it shows New Westminster (Grade D) is filling rental need at a rate compared to population growth (their measure, not mine) greater than almost any other community listed. We are more than twice as good at meeting the demand as North Vancouver City (Grade A-) and three times that of Burnaby (Grade B). The only graded Municipality with a better rate of new rental vs. growth is North Vancouver District (Grade C) who achieve that statistic by growing at less than a third of the rate of New West. Invite no-one in, and you don’t need to build new housing. I’m not sure how that serves renters during a housing crisis, though.

Keen observers may note the comparisons here are bereft of actual population numbers (it would make sense that municipalities with 700,000 people should be building more rental on raw numbers than municipalities with 70,000). There are also a few municipalities missing, so I expanded the table out a bit to give a little more context. What do we learn?

here is my population data source: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/data/statistics/people-population-community/population/population-estimates

New Westminster is building more rental per capita than any municipality rated. Much more than most.

So why the D grade? Why are we graded lower than Richmond, whose numbers they don’t provide but they describe as “gain[ing] the  fewest number of rental homes in the entire Lower Mainland in 2020,” and West Vancouver, “did not increase the number of rental homes in the city in 2020. A divided council prevents the municipality from making the gains it needs”? Why the specific hate for New West?

Because we have protected the most affordable housing in the City.

This goes back to who is behind the well-financed Astroturf campaign . It is not organizations working to protect renters by supporting rental development in the community or preserving the affordability of rental across the region. It is an organization protecting the financial interest of Landlords, especially those using lower-cost rental as an investment vehicle, and those investing in REITs.

A few years ago, New West passed aggressive anti-demoviction and anti-renoviction Bylaws. The Landlord Lobby came after us hard. They bought advertising saying we were killing rentals, they came to Council and warned us of dire consequences for future rental development, they took us to court. And they launched Astroturf campaigns.

Their main argument was that these Bylaws were illegal, and that these types of policies would prevent any new rental being built. They were wrong. Not only are we still, three years later, leading the region in getting new Purpose Built Rental in the ground, we have had several major development projects shift from for-market-strata to Purpose Built Rental since these Bylaws passed, increasing by hundreds the number of PBR units in the pipeline, and being built as we speak.

These bylaw changes are so powerful that the Landlord Lobby has challenged them in court (and lost). Meanwhile, other cities from Port Coquitlam to Victoria are following suit and writing their own bylaws to provide the same protection in their communities. New West showed such leadership here that the provincial government changed the Residential Tenancy Act to provide some (but not all) of the protections we introduced in our Bylaw. At the same time, our Bylaw changes have literally prevented hundreds of lower income households in New Westminster from being demovicted or renovicted.

No wonder the big money REITs are scared and investing tens of thousands of dollars on political action. Their business model is based on finding “undervalued” rental properties – ones renting for less than the maximum market will bear – so they can jack rents and make a quick profit off putting lowest income people in the City out on the street. When that’s your business, it isn’t hard to find $50K to spend on Facebook ads that blame the unaffordability of rentals on the government. And to be clear, if that’s not the business model, if investors just want to invest in rental property, maintain it in good repair, and assure people have access to rentals at a variety of affordability levels, then they have nothing to fear from New Westminster’s Bylaw changes.

I’m damn proud of the staff of New Westminster for putting these Bylaws together, our legal advisors for assuring they are robust and defendable, and our Council for being bold enough to take these measures to protect some of the most vulnerable residents in our City when literally threatened by lobbyists for landlords and property speculators.

We can do more. Like every City in the region, we can and should be doing more to support affordability through this ongoing housing crisis. Self-evaluation is an important part of this – given funding constraints and limited land and conflicting priorities, it is important to track how we are doing compared to our cohort municipalities. As long as we are still building Purpose Built Rental at a region-leading rate, as long as we are also assuring affordable and supportive housing projects are coming to the City and are supported by our policy choices, and as long as we are preventing unnecessary renovictions and demovictions that turn homelessness into an investment vehicle, I will proudly wear the “D” grade from this deceitful Astroturf campaign as a badge of pride.

UBCM 2021

One of the things that kept me too busy to blog last month was the annual Union of BC Municipalities meeting. As with many of my Council colleagues, I attended the meeting virtually, and had a bunch of accessory meetings around the main UBCM meeting events. It’s a little tardy, but here is my slightly Inside Baseball run-down of my extended UBCM week.


Minister Meetings
UBCM presents an annual opportunity for Local Government elected folks (with staff support) to meet with Provincial Government Ministers (and their staff) on pretty much every topic under the sun. Depending on the Local Government and the Minister, this may be asking the senior government for money to support projects, for changes in legislation, for partnership on specific initiatives, to share concerns or to get clarity on programs. As this was a pandemic meeting, and therefore remote, we were not as rushed to meet during and in between UBCM events, so most Minister meetings happened in the week before the actual UBCM conference.

The City had several meetings with Ministers, attended by different members of Council. I was fortunate to be able to meet with Minister of Municipal Affairs, and along with Councilor Trentadue, provide her a summary of some significant Capital Works we have planned- including upgrades to the Massey Theatre and renewing a vision for connecting our Riverfront from the Queensborough to Sapperton Landing. We also talked about a potential for regional coordination of fire boat services.

Though I could not attend, the City also had meetings with other Ministries, including with the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and the Minister of Public Safety in regards to reviewing how we can better address the community impacts of homelessness and addiction and take the load off of Police for this work that really needs a compassionate heath-focused approach.

In my role on the executive of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, I was also able to meet with Minister of Environment and Climate Change Action Heyman to talk about our members’ recent resolutions regarding the end of CARIP and the need for some more tools to Help Cities Lead and our hopes that the next stage of Clean BC will include these supports.


Resolutions
This session stretched over two days is where Members vote to endorse or not support Resolutions proposed by member municipalities. In sense, this is meant to represent the collective desires of Local Governments across BC, but should usually be seen through the lens of the slightly strange political structure of the UBCM. Any municipality can put a resolution forward, but the Resolution Committee of the (elected) UBCM Executive vets them and prioritizes them for voting, even recommending if Members should vote for specific ones. The voting members are not weighed by population or any such thing – essentially any elected official who registers for the meeting and shows up for the resolution session gets a vote. So eleven possible votes from Vancouver, seven possible votes from New Westminster, five possible votes from Pouce Coupe.

You can read all of the Resolutions here. The City of New Westminster had two resolutions:

NR36: Single-Use Item Regional Regulation

Whereas enactment of bylaws to regulate single-use items by individual municipalities could lead to a mosaic of regulations across the region and in BC, which may lead to confusion and inconsistency for residents and businesses in the sale or distribution of these items; And

whereas greater consistency could be achieved by implementing a regional approach; And

whereas regional districts do not have the authority to establish bylaws or regulations in relation to the sale or distribution of single-use items:

Therefore be it resolved that UBCM request the Province to engage with regional governments to develop legislation which would provide regional districts with the legislative authority to restrict the sale and distribution of single-use items.

NR45: Inclusion of Allied Health Workers to Help Combat the Opioid Crisis

Whereas the opioid crisis and mental health challenges affect at least 1 in 5 BC residents and has been compounded by the COVID-19; And

whereas evidence shows that access to upstream services such as counselling related specialties and physical/occupational therapy decreases opioid use and/or provides better health intervention outcomes, but these are not accessible to many residents as they are not covered and are much too expensive through fee for services; And

whereas communities are currently struggling to meet the needs of our residents, between funding of community programs and increased mental health calls for first responders, which already comprise between 20-30 percent of local government expenditures and are not often the most appropriate service to support people in crisis:

Therefore be it resolved 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 their immigration status and income, throughout the province; And

be it further resolved that the Province increase support and funding for Peer Navigators as part of the BC Mental Health and Addictions Strategy

Members of the UBCM voted to endorse both of these motions.

I was also there to champion two resolutions from the Lower Mainland LGA:

EB35 Help Cities Lead

Whereas emissions by buildings account for 40-60 percent of a community’s green-house gas (GHG) emissions, and current actions in British Columbia to reduce GHG emissions from buildings are insufficient to achieve the province’s GHG targets for 2030 and 2050; and

Whereas the November 2020 mandate letters to ministers include direction to provincial ministries to move forward with three of the five policy measures included in the Help Cities Lead campaign to drive GHG reduction in British Columbia’s building sector:

Therefore be it resolved that UBCM call upon the provincial government to immediately introduce legislation supporting the three measures identified by Help Cities Lead and addressed in ministerial mandate letters: GHG requirements for new buildings, PACE financing, and home energy labelling; and

Be it further resolved that UBCM call upon the provincial government to introduce empowering legislation to permit local governments who so choose to implement the remaining two measures identified in the Help Cities Lead’s campaign: GHG requirements for existing buildings and building energy benchmarking.

NR32 Renewed Vision for Fraser River Estuary

Whereas the Fraser River Estuary is a diverse and productive ecosystem, supporting over 100 species at risk, including salmon and southern resident killer whales, and, is under increased development pressure and impacts of climate change, including flooding of industrial and agricultural lands, and would benefit from a regional planning approach that balances the needs of the ecosystem, people and the economy; and

Whereas Indigenous people have lived in and stewarded the Fraser River Estuary since time immemorial, and know the various species, habitat, and ecosystems as integral to their existence and identity, and are integral to the planning and governance of the of the Fraser River Estuary:

Therefore be it resolved that UBCM call on the federal and provincial governments to allocate the necessary resources and appropriately fund and support a renewed Fraser River Estuary Management planning process that will collectively protect the ecosystem of the Estuary through inter-agency collaboration; and

be it further resolved that the planning process includes, but is not limited to: First Nations, federal government and provincial governments.

Both of these Resolutions were also endorsed by the Membership.


Conference

The other part of the UBCM is all of the stuff you would usually have at a conference: Workshops, panel discussions, and Plenary sessions where we get speeches from important people, from John Horgan to Rick Mercer. I would have to say one difference this UBCM compared to some previous events was the openness of the NDP cabinet members all the way up to the Premier, even taking Questions from the (digitally) assembled crowd, instead of just doing a speech. It may be my bias, or it may have some relationship to our coming out of the peri-Pandemic times and the virtual nature of the meeting, but I get the sense that the shine is not off the NDP (yet?) for most local government officials, and the reception to them was warmer than in previous years, and with previous governments.

Unusually, I was on a panel this year (see photo above) talking about the Heat Dome event, what went wrong locally, and what it means for decision making ahead. I also attended a few other sessions, including a Town Hall led by the Minister for Local Government with a few other members of cabinet on Building Resilient Communities (which was frustratingly neoliberal in its definition of the problem, and its proposed solutions), a Workshop on Climate Action and the Municipal Pension Plan that turned out to be an hour of excuses about why they won’t do the fossil fuel divestment many of their members want. (Ugh).


The 2021 UBCM was virtual. The organization put together a really strong on-line portal to access the event, and it ran super smooth. The public face of the platform was so seamless and functional, it must have only been possible with a bunch of sweat, stress, and chaos behind the (digital) curtain. So kudos to the organizers for achieving that, and i hope the folks who made it work get the thanks they deserve.

Although I missed having those important informal social connections with my Local Government cohort from across the province, I did walk away from UBCM, once again, recharged and excited about the work ahead. So many leaders are doing incredible work to support their communities, finding local approaches to global problems, it makes sharing both the successes and the frustrations so important. Especially over the last 18 months, it has been easy to get discouraged or disheartened about the challenges. Challenges seem to be piling up everywhere, from Vancouver to Pouce Coupe. But knowing there are so many people dedicating themselves to making their corner of the province work better, be safer, more prosperous, and more just, gets me back in the mood that we can make a difference.