Council – Jan 10 2022!

A New Year, the same old Council Meeting report blog, starting with the same old “sorry I’m late, but things are busy!” lame excuse. Our January 10 meeting had a fairly light agenda, but started with a big presentation from staff:

Budget 2022: Five-Year Financial Plan 2022 – 2026
This is the last step in our annual budgeting process, the approving of a Bylaw that sets out the five-year financial plan as required by provincial law. There are lots of details here, and I should probably pump those over to a different blog post – coming soon!

Joy and Whimsy Initiative, Director of Parks & Recreation
2021 was a hard year for community. Not just our community, but the very idea of community. Many of the organizations and institutions that pull us together were struggling with shifting Public Health concerns as we stepped out and back into pandemic response. It was also a year where many of the Climate Change cheques we have been writing for 100 years started to get cashed in unpredictable but totally predicted ways. Trust me from the correspondence I receive in this job, people are anxious, uncertain, stressed. They need reason to smile.

Fortunately, the City’s grant process to community groups pivoted to help support events and ideas that drew community together within the limits available, and the City’s own Arts and Culture and Parks and Recreation folks developed programs to add to the joy and reduce a bit of the heaviness of the year. This report form Staff outline the successes of the programs. I heard a lot of positive feedback from the community about these small programs, and thank the community partners who helped make this happen.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (323 Regina Street) Bylaw No. 8304
This homeowner in Queens Park wants to build a larger-than-permitted Laneway House on a largish corner lot in exchange for permanent protection of the existing house. This will go to Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 122 Eighth Avenue – Preliminary Report
This homeowner in Glenbrooke North wants ot build a largish duplex where there is currently a smaller house. This is just a preliminary report to see if Council has any red flags, and it will have to go through consultation and committee review, and possibly a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then. Frankly, I’m wondering why a property development that requires no variances from what is permitted even has to go through this onerous process, and why the density being proposed in such a high-services neighbourhood is so low.

Rezoning Application for Infill Townhouse: 337 and 339 Keary Street – Preliminary Report to Council
A developer want to build 9 townhouse-style homes on two lots in Upper Sapperton, and this is a preliminary report to see if Council has any read flags before it goes to consultation and detailed review. This looks like a positive family-friendly “missing middle” approach, the only unfortunate part being the space and livability loss due to the need to accommodate cars. Alas.

Update regarding Downtown Livability Strategy
I brought a motion to Council back in October, asking staff to be proactive at addressing some short-term and longer-term livability issues in Downtown. This is an update report on short-term measures that have been rolled out in the last few months. Primarily the interdepartmental team (Engineering, Police, Fire, Bylaws, Planning) have been emphasizing tactics (things we can and need to do now) over strategies (things we think we might want to do). These include ramped up outreach to people living unhoused, have worked to connect with and support the businesses operating downtown, worked with partners to respond to the impacts of mental health and addiction on residents, and have worked to improve cleanliness and improve access to public toilets. Staff have been re-assigned and had hours adjusted to make these things happen, and there is a constant effort to evaluate and shift how things are done to get better results. There is also some medium-term work being addressed, such as better coordination with TransLink on the station areas and looking towards more permanent public toilet options.

There is a lot here in this report, but I’m really proud of how all the departments of the City are working together to best support the entire community here, and how partner agencies from the BIA to BC housing are engaging. It is ongoing work, but we are already seeing results. Now if Metro can get that damn sewer project out of the way…

Uptown Active Transportation Improvements Projects: Design and Engagement Update
After a *lot* of public engagement, we are at a place where staff are comfortable moving forward with some concrete changes to the Crosstown Greenway and connecting this to the High School – a key Active Transportation connection. There has been a monumental amount of engagement here with alternate models demonstrated, it is time to get to work.

Some of the work is going to be done using less expensive material and a relatively rapid response (similar to the Agnes Street Greenway) that nonetheless provides protection for active transportation users. There will also be some loss of parking, which will no doubt disappoint some folks, but these corridors are vital for pedestrians, for transit users, and for cyclists (the transportation modes prioritized in our Master Transportation Plan), and displacing a few parking spaces is consistent not only with the MTP, but with our OCP and the City’s Bold Steps on climate action. If we are not willing to give up a block or two of reduced parking to achieve safe, protected, accessible active transportation, then we will never get there with any of those plans.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Alcohol in Parks Program: 2021 Review
This report outlines the public feedback received on the alcohol in parks program last year. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive (more than 80% or respondents approve the program – a higher proportion of respondents than even told us they took advantage of it!) There is a slight bias towards expanding the program vs. shrinking it. Staff also did not note any increased workload, enforcement, or other problems. They are recommending keeping the program where it is, and looking to improve litter and recycling opportunities related to the areas of parks where the program is offered.

Amendments to the 2022 Schedule of Council Meetings
Staff have recommended a slight shift in Public Hearing dates, and I did not agree with this change, preferring we keep with the original schedule. With these changes we would have 7 ½ months without a Public Hearing. I don’t know what projects – affordable housing, rezonings, new developments – are on the queue for that period, but I am not comfortable with the risk of creating a backlog at a time when we are still facing a housing crisis, an affordability crisis, etc. The city needs to keep working and moving this important work forward.

BC Superweek Pro-Cycling Series: New West Grand Prix
There is a *lot* of uncertainty in regards to whether the Grand Prix can happen in 2022. As this race is part of BC Superweek, which is a professional event relying on Continental-level talent coming to BC to compete, we just don’t know what Public Health and travel restrictions will be in place in July. That said, it is unlikely that an event in Downtown New West can happen in 2022 as a couple of construction sites are in the way and the schedule for the Pattullo Bridge road closures in not yet certain.

So we have asked Staff to not yet give up on the race, but to continue to engage with the Superweek team to determine what a timeline to certainty is, and when we would have to commit time and resources if we chose to go forward in 2022. At the same time, Staff are asked to evaluate alternate locations for 2022 if the (epic, hilly, and unique) Downtown course is not viable. As talked about above, I want us to not shrink away from events if they can happen safely, as I think people need a reason to get together and celebrate their City.

So we are not committing to do it yet, but we are not yet committing to not doing it.

We then read some Bylaws, including adopting the following:

Development Cost Charge Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 8307, 2021
As discussed on December 13, we need a Bylaw to authorize expenditures from the City’s Development Cost Charge reserves – the money developers give the city to pay for the infrastructure needs related to growth. This is that Bylaw, and it is adopted by Council.

Finally we had a Motion from Council:

Smoking Bylaws Review Mayor Cote

THAT Council request staff to conduct a review and scan of smoking bylaws in municipalities in British Columbia and report back to Council with a preliminary assessment and options to enhance New Westminster smoking bylaws.

We made a few changes to our smoking bylaws around when the federal government legalized recreational cannabis, but these bylaws are a bit complex, here and in every other jurisdiction. We get quite a few complaints about nuisance smoke, so it is definitely timely for us to have a review and compare our Bylaws to what is happening around the region, and to see if there is anything further we can do to reduce these conflicts.

And that was it for the first meeting of 2022. Happy New Year everyone.

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