The Summeriest of all our Summer Council meetings was a longer meeting with a lot of important and foundational work on the agenda. We also had several delegations and a weird procedural thing where we had to fix a administrative error made earlier in the year, but it started with a pretty significant Report to Council:
New Westminster Homelessness Action Strategy
The City has been working on an updated strategy to both reduce homelessness and address the impacts of homelessness, and has done this work in partnership with the New Westminster Homelessness Coalition, the Community Action Network, and UBC to bring both lived experience and academic experience to the issue. The 46 recommendations in the strategy are based on a thorough review of policies developed in other Canadian and American jurisdictions facing similar issues, based on what worked previously in New West and where new gaps have appeared, and engaged stakeholders across the community in its development. This is work that began just before COVID hit. The previous strategy was demonstrably effective for the time it was established, but new housing cost pressures and vacancy pressures were causing an upswing in unsheltered residents in New West and around the region. When COVID hit, it impacted many vital support systems and made them less effective, at the same time housing and employment uncertainty caused a spike in unhoused people across the region. This was the context that went into developing this strategy.
The first step after this new 5-year strategy is adopted is to put together a working group to action those 46 recommendations. There will be follow-up reports as some of these actions are going to require funding and staffing (decisions that need to be addressed by Council as they come along) and the plan includes structuring work around annual action plans for both budgeting and accountability.
The report is a good read, and the CAN presentation at Council was inspiring, reflecting the work a Municipality can do that is both meaningful and effective, even when we don’t have the funding to build the thousands of new homes we need in the community (see report below). Our role is to facilitate their being built when the senior government funding does arrive, support the social supports in the community that keep people in their current housing and provide basic care to those who are unhoused, and never stop advocating to senior governments to bring their massive resources to bear on this most pressing of problems.
We then moved the following items On Consent:
Draft Community Energy and Emissions Plan
Talking about most pressing of problems, when the City Declared a Climate Emergency in 2019, staff brought us and aggressive action plan based on 7 Bold Steps to get the City to 2030 and 2050 targets that meet the commitments made by Canada at COP21. Like most municipalities, New West divides up its Climate Action work in to two parts. Corporate Emissions are those created by the City doing city stuff – running fire trucks and swimming pools. The City has a “Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy” (“CEERS”) to address these. Community Emissions are those made by the residents and the businesses in the city doing their stuff – heating their homes and driving their cars. This CEEP addresses this latter category.
Where the CEERS is direct action by the City, the CEEP is more about the behavior we incent through our policies, our bylaws, and our infrastructure investment. At the most basic level, we want to make it easier and cheaper for people to make decisions that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. As this is very public-facing work, there is more public engagement required to develop a viable plan – one that works for the community. There has already been a phase of public and subject matter expert outreach, and in this report, staff outline the framework of the CEEP that arose from those meetings, to be taken out for another round of public engagement. I hope to be talking more about this in the months ahead, but for now it is over to you, New West. See you at BeHeardNewWest.
Manufacturer’s Patio Application (Steel and Oak) for 1319 Third Avenue
Steel & Oak wants to expand their patio, and this requires that the City clearly and expressly tell the province that this expansion of their liquor license is good with us. So we are making that clear definitive statement that the City supports the liquor license change.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – September 30, 2022
September 30th is now known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, by federal mandate. It is a statutory holiday for federal employees, and the Province is still working on making it a permanent stat holiday (I honestly don’t understand the jurisdictional things here, but I’ll let it pass). In the meantime, the Province suggests it be a Stat holiday in 2022, so the City will designate it a Stat holiday for our operations this year, in anticipation that it will be a Provincial Stat holiday starting in 2023. This shouldn’t be so complicated.
Recruitment 2022: Grant Committee Appointments
The City has grants we award to groups in the community who do work to build the sustainability, social equity, and culture of the community. There are always more applicants than grant funds available, and we have a committee of volunteer community members who we task with evaluating the applications and making a recommendation to Council on where the funds should go. This report is where we appoint those committee members.
Submission to the Department of Canadian Heritage Museum Assistance Program under the Recovery Fund For Heritage Organizations
There is funding Museums and Archives from the federal Government. We are applying for it.
The following items were then Removed from Consent for discussion:
2022 Heat Response Planning Update
The City’s Emergency Operations folks have developed an updated Extreme Heat Response Plan. This dovetails with the Provincial alert process that triggers a “Level 1” Heat Warning for those more typical heat waves, and “Level 2” Extreme Heat Warning for events like last year’s Heat Dome. The plan details what types of supports the City can activate, including outdoor cooling areas, misting stations, indoor cooling shelters, distribution of water, managing increased staff needs to cover the emergency actions, and some communications strategies to better get the word out to vulnerable people and those who care for vulnerable people. The communication part is an ongoing effort, and something Emergency Management staff are going to continue to develop over the summer working with community stakeholder groups.
Not the full answer yet, more to do in how we communicate, and more work to do in exploring what regulatory powers we can apply to assure building management is responsible for the safety of their buildings and their residents.
Affordable Housing Project Update
The City’s Housing Needs Report indicates we need to build 230 units of affordable or supportive housing every year for the next decade to meet the anticipated need. That means at least two buildings of the scale of the Aboriginal Trust building approved on Eighth Street need to be brought on line every year. This is not a target we are currently on pace to meet, and we are ahead of almost every municipality in the Lower Mainland. The situation is dire.
Every government has a role in helping us get there, and with the fewest financial resources of the three orders of Government, out role is not to finance the building of it, but to facilitate it getting built when a proposal comes to the City, and incent more proposals to come to the City. This means streamlining approval processes (which we are doing), providing land if we have appropriate land available (we have done), and provide targeted support for capital costs through our Homlessness Reserve Fund (currently over-subscribed). The City has $8.9 Million in its 2022-2026 Capital Plan to support these projects, but how these are realized is dependent on a lot of factors. The City is also looking at hiring a Project Manager whose job will be to coordinate between these overlapping factors.
This report is mostly an update on the progress of Affordable Housing support programs the City is running. The 24/7 Emergency Response Shelter at 502 Front will provide 50 beds and is currently going through building improvements involving a BC Housing Code Consultant and Lower Mainland Purpose Society. This will “bridge the gap” until permanent shelter can be built at 68 Sixth Street. BC Housing has determined that a permanent wood-frame building works better than TMH at that location, which adds to the timeline. The City has approved the project, but they are waiting for BC Housing funding approval for those 52 beds. The proposed 58-unit family-friendly project on City lands on Fenton Street was not successful at its first funding request from BC Housing, but an application is going to CMHC. The proposal for housing on the combined City and Metro Vancouver lands at 1400 Quayside is stalled because the high cost of development on those lands pushes it down the priority list for funders.
So the update is positive, but not nearly the numbers we need. On paper here we have fewer than 200 permanent affordable housing units in the pipeline, along with a few dozen more that are being built right now but are not covered in this report (such as the PALS building on Carnarvon), which is less than half of what we need in the next couple of years.
Business License Bylaw Modernization
The City’s Business License Bylaw includes 160 different types of businesses, trades, and professions. I don’t know what the right number is, but 160 seems like a lot. I suspect this is a result of an old bylaw (1986!) that keeps getting updated in piecemeal ways over the years as the regulatory environment evolves, but less time has been taken to comprehensively review and simplify the regulations.
So we are going to modernize this by removing obsolete requirements and streamlining the language and structure of the Bylaw. This will help staff serve the community better, make things easier for businesses and staff, and we can make sure we are applying our energy in effective regulating the higher-risk businesses while not overregulating the low risk ones.
This work will take some stakeholder consultation with the business community and community at large, which will start up this summer.
Council Maternity and Parental Leave Draft Policy
Serving in City Council is a weird job. Though some are reluctant to call it a “job”, preferring to think of it as public service or a volunteer gig, the reality is that working on Council takes away from a person’s ability to do other jobs. It would be the epitome of privilege to only allow the independently wealthy dedicate the hours every week it takes to do this work.
The Council/Career balance is hard, but there are other challenges that serve as unequal barriers to participation. Trying to balance family responsibility at the same time as all of the above means that a cohort of younger candidates, disproportionally women, are disincentivized from serving on Council. This is reflected in the regional imbalance in gender and age of people who serve on Councils.
Many Cities, from Coquitlam to Whistler, are recognizing this barrier, and are bringing in a parental leave policy that aligns with what municipalities offer their non-elected staff, but structured to support the unique employment conditions of Councillors and Mayors. New Westminster is introducing a similar program to reduce barriers to participation for young adults who are thinking of starting or growing their families.
Proposed Energy Step Code Acceleration for Single Detached Dwellings
The City is subject to enforcing the BC Building Code. In recent years, the province has been rolling out an energy efficiency standard as part of the Building Code called the “Step Code”. Recognizing that it will take time for the building industry to shift from what they build now to the highest efficiency buildings we want in the near future, the “Step Code” is designed with multiple “steps” that local governments can choose to require as the industry catches up to these shifts – where Step 1 is a traditional building and Step 5 is so efficient as to approach Passive House standard. New West now requires new single family homes to meet Step 3.
The Step Code is agnostic towards energy sources, so if a City wants to incentivize moving away from GHG-producing energy sources and the use of low-carbon electricity, we need something on top of the Step Code. Following the lead of a few different jurisdictions in BC, we can increase our default requirement to Step 5, but allow a builder to only hit Step 3 if they agree to not use natural gas appliances in the new build. That way builders and homeowners have some choice, can manage their costs appropriately, and we are creating an incentive to get people off GHG.
This report outlines the process we will take to make this change, a bylaw will come when staff work out the details.
We then Adopted the following Bylaws:
Development Approval Procedures Amendment Bylaw No.8342, 2022
Delegation Amendment Bylaw No. 8344, 2022
These bylaws that streamlines some building approvals processes by allowing the delegation of minor variances to staff were adopted by Council.
Then we had some Motions from Council:
Re-Branding the City of New Westminster Mayor Cote
After some Whereases:
Be it resolved that the City of New Westminster begin the process to update the City’s logo and phase-out the use of “Royal City” moniker in our branding.
Be it further resolved that the City develop a plan to engage with the community in the development of a new brand identity that is inclusive and allows for collective pride in our city.
Launching what is sure to be an interesting conversation in the community, this motion starts a process where the City will update its branding, something the City has not done in something like 15 years (when the current gold crown was adopted). Surely not the only point of discussion, but probably a timely one, is the role of the crown itself in our marketing and branding materials.
There will be more to say here, as this will surely be a months-long consultation process, and a conversation we should not shy away from. I’m sure there will be much more to say here, but I’ll hold that for future blog posts.
Mandatory Health Warning on Alcohol Products Councillor Puchmayr
After some Whereases:
Therefore be it resolved that the City of New Westminster write to the Federal and Provincial Governments and ask them to introduces policies requiring warning labels on all alcohol containers and that the governments expand the education of our citizens, young and old, on the dangers attributed to the harmful use of alcohol.
There is a national movement to promote this idea of mandatory labelling for alcohol, and New West is joining the call for senior governments to take action on this issue.
Finally, we had a raft of On Table resolutions related to a recent administrative error made by staff and caught by a vigilant council watcher:
Public Hearing Process – Correcting an Administrative Error
There were five recent Zoning Amendment Bylaws that got procedurally caught up in recent changes to the Local Government Act, and due to those changes the City provided public notice for comment at the wrong step in the process. Three of those Bylaws were adopted by Council, two had not yet been adopted, but had passed three readings.
It is important to note that the notifications were appropriate in how they went out, and there is no material difference in people’s opportunity to be heard on the issue excepting that the opportunity was granted at third reading, when it should have been granted at first reading according to the new system. The number of reports, decision points, and notifications was appropriate, as was the time available to opine, it is just supposed to happen at a different period in the process.
So, in the interest of us meeting the letter of the law, not just the spirit, we are going to go through a process where these Bylaws are rescinded, and readings and notice are done in a way consistent with the new regulations. It’s a bit of a hassle, but the right thing to do. We started the process this meeting, and there will be some subsequent readings of Bylaws in the couple of meetings ahead.
That was an evening’s work, along with some public delegations that I usually don’t address in these reports. This was our last meeting until the end of August, and there are many events going on in the City this summer – have fun and stay safe. I’ll probably be generating less content here over that summer break as the Campaign is starting to ramp up, and I hate mixing the streams. You can pop over to pjnewwest.ca to see how that develops now that Council is on break. Cheers!