Council – Nov 1, 2021

Another Council meeting that followed another afternoon workshop on the budget. This one was our first look at the Operational budget, and you can see the video here and look at the agenda that has spreadsheets and numbers of such if that is your thing. More on that later, because we had an entire evening Agenda to go through. We started with a Presentation:

Peer Assisted Crisis Team Pilot Project
There is no questioning the mental health and addiction crises impacting our City. This doesn’t make us any different than any city in North America during the overlapping crises of opioid addiction and poisoned drug supply, housing affordability and homelessness, COVID-related strains on support services, ongoing austerity approaches to health care and neoliberal approaches to addressing poverty. In most jurisdictions, the biggest impacts of all of these are falling upon police to address, when policing usually isn’t what is lacking in these spaces, and when police interactions have a history of turning out poorly for some people in mental health distress, and for the police. We have committed in New Westminster to not put this burden on police, but to find alternative approaches.

This presentation outlines a pilot project that takes a different approach, working in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association, and three other municipalities, based on best practices applied in other jurisdictions around North America. We are also applying to a couple of Provincial funding programs to help support this approach. The goal (fully supported by New Westminster Police) is to shift from a criminal response to a health response for the calls that warrant that response.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Canada Games Pool Unplanned Closure Update
The CGP has been closed for a couple of reasons, none of them good. An equipment vault under the pool building flooded during heavy rain damaging a bunch of water heating and recirculating equipment. With uncertain drainage capacity, and no hot water for operations, the entire pool building had to be shut down while the flooding problem was fixed and damaged equipment was repaired or replaced. Unfortunately, as these repairs were occurring, a leak in the main pool tank was detected, and that is going to take some time to diagnose and (hopefully) repair. In the meantime, we have to make some hard decisions about programming and staff as it looks like the facility will not be able to operate until at least early 2022.

One of the foundational ideas of the CGP replacement plan was that the existing pool was old and subject to significant maintenance and operational risk, but we needed to keep it running while the new pool was built so there was as little loss in continuity of programming as possible. That is still our principle, and our goal is still to get the exiting pool operating ASAP so we are no going without for the next three years. So we will hope the engineers can assess and provide a remediation plan in short order. Fingers crossed.

Electric Bikeshare Program – Motion from Sustainable Transportation Task Force
There is a new e-bike share program being piloted on the North Shore after a couple of false starts. We did some preliminary look at a similar program a couple of years ago, but the business case was not looking promising. There has been some learning in the North Shore program, some change in technology and we are moving from bleeding-edge to leading-edge on these types of programs, so we are asking Staff to take another stab at putting together a model that might work here. (That sentence was more Halloween-themed than I intended).

Miscellaneous Zoning Bylaw Amendments for First and Second Readings
Our Zoning Bylaw is a big, cumbersome document. Occasionally, staff do these omnibus updates to fix miscellaneous text, definitions, alignments with other city bylaws, or to simplify parts that are unnecessarily complicated or redundant. These don’t change how the zoning bylaw works, just how it reads. This is First and Second Reading, and we will waive Public Hearing for this update, but if you have opinions or feelings about the categorization of drive-in theatres or anything else, let us know.

Public Art Calls: Artist Roster and Artist-Initiated Projects
The Arts Commission recommends we put together an Artist Roster to reduce the amount of time and effort it takes ot engage an artist for smaller public art projects in the City. We will also open up opportunities for Artist-Led public art projects in the City, with some funding from the Public art Reserve Fund.

Temporary Use Permit: 502 Columbia Street (Former Army and Navy Department Store) – For Emergency Shelter
We have an emergency shelter crisis in the City – there are simply not enough emergency shelter beds for the unhoused population of the City. The Purpose Society has vacant space on the lower floor of the Army & Navy building they can convert to emergency shelter space for up to 50 adults. That doesn’t fit their current zoning, so we can issue a Temporary Use Permit for up to three years. This report outlines the plan and gives notice we will consider the TUP in a future meeting. If you have opinion, let us know.

But think of this: the City has no Weather Emergency Beds right now. Unhoused residents of New Westminster (of which there are more than 50) currently have no-where to seek emergency shelter as we are heading into winter. We can put in up to 50 beds for Weather Emergencies where unhoused residents can safely spend the night in the event a weather emergency is declared. If BC Housing comes through with Emergency Shelter funds, we can create up to 50 shelter beds that would be available 24/7 and come with full support for people needing support. All of this is for up to 18 months until Emergency Supportive shelter that is planned can come on line.

User Fees and Rates Review for 2022, Amendment Bylaws for Three Readings
As discussed last meeting, one of the early parts of our annual Budget process is to update our fees. We gave tacit approval last meeting, now the appropriate Bylaws have been sketched up and we are giving them three readings.

These items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Arts Advisory Committee
We are streamlining a couple of committees that provide subject matter expertise and community input to the City’s arts policies. This approves the committee Term of Reference to the new Arts Advisory Committee.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Unit) Bylaw: Next Steps
This is a slightly complicated success story. A couple of years ago, as the City was facing a burgeoning reno-viction crisis, so we took a proactive approach to use our Business Licensing powers to fill what we identified as gaps in the tenant protection parts of the Residential Tenancy Act. Since then, three things happened: the Landlord Lobby challenged us in court (we won), other cities have followed our approach (yeah!), and the province update the Residential Tenancy Act to fill some of those gaps.

Those RTA changes made parts of our Bylaw inoperative, so staff is suggesting we repeal those parts of the Bylaw (and the parts of the ticketing Bylaw that support it) as is good practice (you don’t need inoperative bylaws kicking around), and as the new RTA changes are coming into operation, we will continue to keep an eye on how they work in practice, and will be ready to act if we feel the protections are not adequate to address the issue in our community.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (208 Fifth Avenue) Bylaw No. 8271, 2021 and Heritage Designation (208 Fifth Avenue) Bylaw No. 8272, 2021: Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owner of this house in Queens Park wants to restore and permanently preserve the existing heritage house and move it forward on the lot while subdividing the lot and building an infill house facing Elgin Street. This project will go to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then. If you have opinions, let us know!

HRA Refresh: Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area Post-Implementation Evaluation and Report Back on Final Incentives
When the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area was implemented 4 years ago, the plan included developing a series of immediate and longer-term incentives to encourage the conservation of heritage homes, and perhaps to compensate owners for perceived or actual loss of house value due to the HCA. All of the short-term incentives have been introduced, and this report talks about the medium-term incentives. The great part is we are 4 years out and can do the analysis to determine whether the knock-off effects some people feared with the HCA occurred.

There was fear that the extra “red tape” would reduce the amount of renovation activity. Turns out permits are slightly up. There were fears that housing values would be impacted, and it turns out that during the HCA debates price increases went up 5% -7% slower than the rest of the region, but two years after implementation this had rebounded with values going up 10% faster than the regional average. Overall, there has been no significant impact on housing process relative to larger regional trends.

With a couple of medium-term incentives already introduced, and a couple more already in the pipeline, we are not going to explore the housing-price-driven incentives of multi-unit conversions and stratification. These will not be introduced as an as-right benefit of owning a home in the HCA, but will still be possible on a project-by-project basis under the Heritage Restoration Agreement process, much like in the rest of the City. More will come on that as we are working on a refreshing of the HRA program.

Regional Growth Strategy Update: Metro 2050 Comment Period
As we saw in the workshop presentations last time Council met, Metro Vancouver is working to update the Regional Growth Strategy, adopted 10 years ago, and look forward to 2050.

The existing plan was ratified in 2011 by the 20 Municipalities in Greater Vancouver, the sole Treaty First Nation with Municipal powers (Tsawwassen) and the neighboring Regional Districts. It projected the expected growth in the region (pretty accurately, it turns out) and set targets for each of the 22 jurisdictions within the region to fulfill the need to accommodate this growth (which were perhaps less accurate). The updated RGS puts more of an emphasis on climate, equity, reconciliation, and housing affordability, but will work in pretty much the same way. There are other changes, and I will write about this in a follow-up.

New West, like all other municipalities, was asked to provide formal feedback through both staff and council. Our Staff have already helped assure that more analysis is done on the current impacts of climate disruption (e.g. heat waves and air quality related to fires) and how we plan to address the horrific health impacts of these. They also introduced the need for more ecologically-focused set of policies around conservation lands and a more equity-focused set of strategies around tree canopy enhancement. We now have a few more suggestion to include in out input. The target of 15% of new units in transit-dense areas of the region being Affordable Rental Housing is consistent with New Westminster’s own goals, but we cannot limit ourselves to transit-dense areas where land prices are highest to fill this need, and need to find the incentives to leverage affordable housing development in these areas. We also need to have stronger renter protection regionally, so new affordable housing is not displacing the already-most-affordable stock in the region. The one part I added was a concern that jurisdictional targets are being replaced by sub-regional targets. I’m not sure I like this, because it seems to make local governments less accountable. We need more accountability for inequity across the region, not less, and we need elected officials to be accountable for decisions that impact the whole region. A sub-regional approach may remove that.

We then moved a bunch of Bylaws, including Adopting the following:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (733 Thirteenth Street) No. 8266, 2021
This Bylaw that enables the conversion of a existing single detached dwelling in the West End for use as a licensed group child care facility was Adopted by Council.

And we had one Motion from Council
Creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment outside Council Chamber, Councillor Trentadue

Whereas the City of New Westminster’s vision is “A vibrant, compassionate, sustainable city that includes everyone”; and
Whereas Reconciliation, Inclusion and Engagement is a high priority for the City as we work towards “creating a welcoming, inclusive and accepting community that promotes a deep understanding and respect for all cultures”; and
Whereas our 2019 Arts Strategy outlines goals and a vision that encompasses “Communicate, Nurture, Include, Generate and Innovate” while expanding opportunities for the Arts in our community; and Whereas a motion approved in January 2020 called for ways in which the City can be more welcoming and inclusive, specifically related to Civic facilities, City Hall and Council Meetings;
Therefore be it resolved that Arts Services report back to Council and the PAAC with options to reimagine the space and walls outside Council Chamber to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

With all the renovations of City Hall, the foyer in front of Council Chambers has been largely ignored, and is really not a very inclusive or particularly attractive place. Giving the Public Art Advisory Committee a chance to dream up something better and more fitting is a great idea.

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