Ask Pat: Now What?

SMac asked—

Congratulations! Will you still write a regular blog with your new duties?

Following up on the Election, this has been a common question. I talked a bit about this last post, and mentioned some of the considerations. Maybe I can expand a bit on that here.

As much as I’d like to say nothing has changed, the reality is that the Mayor is a de facto spokesperson for Council, for the City, and for the Police Board. This means that people will often conflate any statement made by the Mayor with the official position of those entities. As a Councillor, I am free to say “Council voted for X, and I was a dissenting vote because of these reasons”. As Mayor, one of my duties is to carry out and support the decisions of the Council (or the Police Board), so it is much more difficult for me to talk about how and why I disagree with them.

The City has communications staff, and as a Corporation it is challenging to have parallel communications streams. Messages get muddled, and confidence is eroded, both of the public and the staff. I have always tried to make clear I am writing this blog from my personal point of view without an editor (hence, the sometimes-questionable grammar), so running it through City Comms staff before I publish would be a major shift. First off, like all staff in the City they don’t work for the Mayor, they work for the CAO. Secondly, they already have enough work to do without having to worry about managing the Mayor’s Sunday morning blog ramblings.

I have been running this blog on the cheap, with some support from friends for hosting and technical services. The design is now 8 years old, and though it still functions great from my end, 8 years is forever in the Internets. Indeed, blogging itself as a medium has gone a bit by the wayside, as have 1,000+ word essays, so I have to question whether this is even an effective way to communicate in 2022 and beyond.

That said, the process of sitting down to write these blogs has been a major part of how I do the work. When reading Council Reports, I do so with the intent of understanding them enough to relate them here. And though I am slow at it, I like the accessibility of eventually answering Ask Pats. When other local issues like New West’s relative taxation level or police service levels are raised, this blog drives me to dig for data so I can better understand and better communicate. At the highest level, if I cannot explain a decision I made at Council through this medium, then maybe I don’t understand the decision enough to be confident about it. To get really meta about this: my writing this very blog post is itself part of my process for deciding whether and how I will continue to write this blog.

So, yes. I hope to keep writing here, and am setting a goal of putting up a post a week as a minimum. But it will be a bit different, and the scale of that difference is something that I will have to iterate as we go along. So stay tuned, we’ll see where it goes. Meanwhile, I’m looking into this TikTok thing…

I have also been asked about what I have planned for the next few weeks. I hasten to note we still have a Mayor, and he serves until November 7th. But there is some work going on to prepare for the months ahead. Here is a bit of a summary of the last week of my life and two weeks ahead.

I have met with Jonathan and with the CAO of the City, and more meetings are planned. I have sat down with the Police Chief to get updated on Police Board matters and with the Acting Fire Chief. I have also been connecting with Mayors from around the region, and am setting up meetings to discuss regional issues we will need to collaborate on both at Metro Vancouver and TransLink.

One immediate task is to get organized around inauguration and get Council ready for it. That means some on-boarding for the four new candidates, and getting them up to speed on the various files in the city. They also need to learn about the legal obligations of the job, our Code of Conduct, about Section 90 of the Community Charter and FOIPPA.

Though that is the work of our Clerk and CAO, I have also reached out to all of the new Council to start talking about strategic planning and larger goals each of them have for the term, about committee appointments, and those kinds of details. As I have repeated ad nauseam for the last 6 months, a Mayor can’t do any of this alone.

We are fortunate in New Westminster, because we are building on a legacy of strong leadership on the previous Council and School Board. We have led the region in protecting our most affordable housing, and in getting new affordable and rental housing built. We weathered the challenges of the Pandemic and were named among the most economically resilient communities in BC, and we are taking strong action on the climate. But we have lots of work to do. We are still a region facing a housing crisis, we are still losing people to a poisoned drug supply, and we are still facing climate disruption. We are part way through an aggressive capital plan to build new recreation facilities, new schools, new mobility routes. I ran a campaign talking about being proactive, not shrinking away from innovative approaches to these challenges, and I’m looking forward to sitting down with the new Council and getting to work.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I also took a mini-vacation this weekend. 3 days on a Gulf Island where I effectively slept 12 hours a day. My batteries needed a serious recharge, from the business of the campaign and the emotional stress of the campaign. Each day I woke up amazed at my ability to sleep, and each day a little more energized for the work ahead.

Council, October 21, 2022.

Believe it or not, we had a Council Meeting on Friday. The shortest council meeting ever, with only one item on the Agenda. But  I’ve reported here on every other council meeting over 8 years, so it would be a shame to miss this one and break the streak.

Permissive Property Tax Exemption Bylaw No. 8366, 2022
The City provides permissive property tax exemptions to some properties that are used for community service of charitable purposes. Every year we need to update the Bylaw that empowers this. Our council schedule got messed up by the stat holiday to mark the death of the Queen, and this one outstanding piece of business needed to be addressed on a legislated timeline. So we met to Adopt this Bylaw. And voted unanimously to adopt it.

The new Council is sworn in on November 7th. See you there!

The Campaign

What a wild ride that was.

In early January, I started to ask people if they thought I should run for Mayor, and started noodling about what a run would look like. It took a few months for me to convince myself that there was a viable path, that it would take a strong team, I would need a lot of help putting that team together, but the team was there to be brought together. That work took another 3 months, with conversations and facilitated sessions and the help of many people with experience in organizational development and politics. Bylaws, an AGM, candidate search and nomination process, it was a whirlwind. Then we started knocking on doors and connecting with the broader community, developing platforms, and setting ourselves up for Labour Day, when the real rush begins…

All though the campaign, I found I kept saying the same thing to the candidates: Keep it positive, and do your work. In the good times and the bad times, when we were excited and when we were lagging, when facing conflict or negativity, we just told each other to stay on the positive, and then found some work to do.

There are so many people to thank, and those will be more personal notes than this. I thought for my first post-election blog, I wanted to write a bit about the experience. I’ll follow up with more of a “what’s next” post later. For now, here are my 8 things I learned this campaign:

People are good: I admit to being a bit nervous about door knocking back in June. For a lot of people the last two years have been shitty: locked down and stuck at homes for long periods, shifts in their work and social lives, a lot of anxiety driven by economic uncertainty, concerns about health and family, loss of loved ones, doom scrolling bad news locally and around the world, and clear signs of climate disruption warning us things are not going to get better. I was afraid people were not in a mental space to talk to a hopeful election candidate who shows up at their house.

For the most part, I was wrong. Door knocking was an encouraging experience. People were happy to talk, were looking for reasons to be positive and optimistic. Yes, they had concerns and gripes, but they also had ideas about what we can do better and wanted to hear from candidates that we had ideas for a brighter future. So many people in New West responded to crises and anxiety with hope and optimism about things getting better. Door knocking was uplifting, and I hope the candidates don’t lose that feeling over the next 4 years.

Algorithms are Bad: I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that Facebook is not the real world, but I have never seen a contrast as strong as this election. If the election result was determined by Facebook comments, I had no chance this election, nor did any incumbent in the election. After all, I was called everything from an idiot to a sociopath to a “vampire slug” by people I know in the community. Some of my (alas, inevitably) non-male colleagues faced much worse. And the algorithms assure any time I spend in social media world emphasize and amplified those few voices. The contrast between the vitriol on Facebook and the conversations I had every day with real people in this community was remarkable. I’ll write more about this in the “looking forward” post, but I cannot imagine what value Facebook provides to people interested in engaging with the community. It is a broken interface.

Politics are Parochial: In our doorknocking this time, it was a good reminder of how local many concerns are. Sure climate and COVID and big issues impacting the world right now are getting all the news space, and people want to see us taking serious action on Big Issues. However, when you ask folks about issues on the spot, they can usually physically point at the thing on top of their mind as they stand on their doorstep. A sidewalk in need of repair, the loss of trees, a too-stringent tree bylaw, parking (always parking), a fire hydrant in need of painting, the schedule for glass recycling. The little details of daily life are things that people think about when they think City Hall.

Housing Matters: One big difference this election over previous ones (in my imperfect memory) is that the housing crisis was top of mind for everyone this year, even those comfortably housed in single family neighbourhoods. Previously, you heard a lot about housing security and housing affordability in multi-family and rental buildings, but now the impacts of the ongoing crisis are being felt by everyone – because their kids cannot afford to live in the neighbourhood where they grew up, because rental availability is so low, because it is harder to find employees, because homelessness is more visible than ever. There were other issues this election, but the marked difference in the housing discussion really stood out to me.

Teams: I’m really proud of the team I ran with, and so grateful of the work we did. No-one has ever knocked on as many doors as Community First did during this campaign. Some members faced unique challenges and the other members stood up to support them. The incumbents pulled for the new candidates, and the volunteers and campaign staff were always there to enable the candidates to concentrate on connecting with voters. And when something went sideways – as will inevitably happen when you have 13 stressed candidates and dozens of passionate volunteers interacting with thousands of engaged residents on a tight deadline – we were able to pull together and regroup and get back to the positive, and back to doing the work.

Who knows what works? I am a physical scientist, and a member of Generation X. Both of those characteristics lend me towards wanting to understand how things work. How does [this one thing] get me closer to [the goal]. In a campaign surrounded by political activists, experienced campaigners, and enthusiastic volunteers, you hear a lot of differing opinions about what actually works in pulling the vote: the air game vs the ground game; the lawn sign war; Full Page Ads; viral TikToks (whatever the hell those are). Few people will agree on what is most important and what isn’t, and most of the traditional knowledge is wrapped in confirmation bias, survivorship bias, and anecdata. A local government election with limited media and 13 candidates on a team is also a very different animal that a traditional two- or three-party campaign we are used to with senior government.

I guess there is a thing called “Political Science”, but I have not studied it beyond reading Hunter Thompson books from the 1970s, as I tend to be reading about policy ideas and policy failures, assuming good ideas with predictable outcomes are all people want. But good policy is really hard to meme, and often the electorate is busy, otherwise engaged, or indifferent. So, to our incredible campaign staff, I apologize for every time I took part in the “Lawn signs don’t matter” vs “We are losing the Lawn Sign War!” debate in the office. Thanks for indulging us, letting us vent, then getting us back on track.

Elections are hard: Running for office is an emotional rollercoaster. If you care about the work, about the community, and about the ideals you bring into this, then there is some point in a campaign where it is going to hurt. Maybe low blood sugar and a couple of bad interactions at a door line up and your imposter syndrome hits you and you question why the hell you are doing this. Maybe you get stuck in the spiral of reading your opponent’s messaging (“did they just say that!?”) and Facebook comments (“do people actually believe that!?”) and you have to swallow the irritation because your team keeps telling you to keep it positive. Maybe you know you need to go hit doors or attend an event, when all you want to do this evening is sit down for dinner with your daughter and talk about her first day at school. Having a great team of supporters to pull you through those low points makes it easier, and sometimes we lament the burden taken on by our families and friends in supporting us as candidates. In the end, the positives of working together to build something positive wins out, even if we sometimes need to be reminded of this. A year from now we are going to remember the funny stories from doorknocking, not those low points, but at the moment, they are hard. A campaign office with sugary snacks help.

Losing sucks: I’m heartbroken that my colleagues Chinu and Bereket were not able to get over the top. Maybe I can speculate about the “why” part when I dig into the poll-by-poll results, but for now I am just disappointed and feel badly that our team didn’t do more to help them. Chinu has been an incredible source of calm wisdom and incisive fire at Council, and I have felt honoured to sit with her and learn from her. I was feeling really confident about Bereket from the day I met him about a year ago, he is smart, principled, and was so charming at the doors, while also pulling in an amazing team of volunteers. He was persistently positive, lifting the team every chance he had, and reminding us about Queensborough if we ever let it slip. I know they will both continue to be passionate advocates for their community, it is in their hearts to do this work.

The last week has been a different kind of whirlwind. I am working with my elected colleagues and City Staff to get organized around inauguration (November 7th in Council Chambers, mark your calendar), and getting all of council prepped to do the work. I have chatted with and am planning more meetings with Jonathan, and have also set up some meetings with Mayors from around the region to connect again with those I already know and introduce myself to those I have I haven’t worked with yet. And the invites for events of all types are starting to stream in.

I will hope to find time this weekend to write a bit of a “what’s next” follow up to this, but first things first, to answer the big question here:

Yes, I intend to keep blogging, but it is going to be different. I don’t even know how it will be different yet, because I need to find a new context for this writing. For good or for bad, anything written by the “person wearing the chain” becomes conflated with the “Official position of the City”, and I am aware of my need to separate those two. My council colleagues and staff of the city need to know I am not going to make their work harder through this part of my new-found bully pulpit. There is also the time commitment required to do this that I will need to understand and manage.

But writing this blog has become part of my “process” for understanding and keeping track of what is happening in council business. Somewhere in my University days I learned if I can’t write clearly about it, I clearly don’t understand it. So writing the notes that become this blog are part of how I read and absorb my council package and the reports attached. for now I suggest the presentation may change, the tone may change, but I do intend to keep connecting directly like this as long as it is viable to do so.

So thank you to my regular readers (Hi Mom!), and let’s see where this goes!

Council – Oct 3, 2022


Ok, I’m over that. Here’s the report.

We had the last Council Meeting of the Term on Monday. It was a real roller coaster, because we covered some significant topics, putting a point on the road for some large topics in the hope the next Council will carry them forward – there are lots of “passing the baton” metaphors below. It was also the final council meeting for Mayor Cote and Councillor Trentadue, and at least one other member of Council. So there were emotions in the room. But for the purposes of this report I’m going to stick to the Agenda.

We started with a couple of Temporary Use Permits :

Temporary Use Permit No. TUP00028 for 97 Braid Street
The Construction of RCH has brought a lot of workers to Sapperton, and there has been a temporary parking lot installed by the Braid SkyTrain station with shuttles that run workers back and forth to the construction site. This is not a regular use of that property, so we issued a Temporary Use Permit to allow it. They are asking for a renewal, as construction is ongoing.

There was a call for public comment, sign on the site, and received no comments from the public. The operation has been largely without trouble and does actively relieve some of the parking stress Sapperton already y feels during the construction, so Council voted to support the TUP.

Temporary Use Permit No. TUP00029 for 311 Louellen Street
The owner of a large house on the Brow of the Hill Neighbourhood wants to provide a Group Living facility for people living in recovery from addiction (including alcohol, drugs, and gambling). This land use is consistent with the Official Community Plan for the neighbourhood, but would require a rezoning or a Temporary Use Permit for up to 3 years. Here were two separate public calls for comment on this, and a public Open House (with 33 neighbours attending), and we received more than 100 pieces of correspondence, mostly in favour of providing these types services in New Westminster, with some comments concerned about the specific location, operational details and effect on adjacent property values.

New Westminster has a good history with supporting these types of transitional housing operations, and they have without fail turned out to be good neighbours that do not cause conflict issues in residential neighbourhoods. That said, the regulation and oversight of an operation like this not as consistent as some in the community may like, although this is evolving. Staff have provided a list of conditions to help address some of the community anxiety around this change.

I voted in favour of this TUP with the conditions attached. I have personal experience with being a neighbours with a similar facility by a different operator that works on a very similar model, and recognize that many of the anxieties felt about these sites are just not born out in practice. They do not constitute a threat to vulnerable people in the community, nor do they correlate with nuisance behaviours or crime. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The TUP and conditions attached should provide some incentive to the operator to assure their commitment to being a good neighbours is met, and on balance having facilities in our community that help people get past the health impacts and stigma of addiction is an important step in building a strong community for all.

We then had two Reports to Council:

Peer Assisted Care Team (PACT) Pilot Project Update
The PACT model is an exciting and innovative way to deal with mental health crises in our community, being piloted here in BC in New West, Victoria, and North Van, but based on proven models from other jurisdictions around North America. It is in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, and Purpose Society. This came out of our earlier submissions to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, and has taken a real drive be several members of Council and partnerships with the Provincial Government and other agencies to see the light of day. We are still working on the effort to properly integrate the PACT model with 911, which will lead to more consistent dispatch and better data gathering.

This does have the potential to be transformational in people’s lives, and an example of what a community can do when all members meet together with a common understanding of a problem, apply evidence-based policy and compassion, and are willing to find flexibility and innovation in finding solutions.

Council Update on Research into Actions taken by the City of New Westminster involving Indigenous Peoples from 1860-1999
Friday was National Truth and Reconciliation Day, and it was profound to see Pier Park as full as I have ever seen it, more than a thousand people, most in orange t-shirts, to witness and learn about residential schools and reconciliation. It is timely that the City provide an update on the work we have done towards Truth and Reconciliation, so we can hand over the baton to the next Council in the hopes they will continue to carry it on this long journey.

The first part of Truth and Reconciliation is Truth. It is about exposing and talking about the record of what occurred, and when it comes to the colonization and subjugation of Indigenous Peoples, a lot happened in New Westminster. As part of our work, the City went about combing the archives and records of the city to outline exactly what happened. Recognizing our records only tell the story from the colonizers’ point of view, and therefore our written record in incomplete, it is nonetheless important that we expose this history to the light, and find a respectful way to share this learning with the people who were impacted, and their descendants, in accordance with the TRC Calls to Action and the Articles of UNDRIP.

The City has begun engagement with many nations to whom these histories are relevant, and will be working through shared learnings with those nations, now that this report is available. For now, a summary report is available for the general public to review, with the more detailed and technical report being used as the foundation for deeper consultations.

At this point, we are receiving the report, and updates on progress the City has made in our Reconciliation Strategy. Much of it (training and learnings for staff, relationship building with Nations around the region, this research work) has been “behind the scenes” for good reasons, but it is outlined on the city website now to let those interested see where we are at. We also received in update on the next steps ahead in Reconciliation for the city. May the baton be passed on to the next Council, and may they run with it.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Formal Recognition of National Aboriginal Veterans’ Day
The RSIE Task Force is recommending Council formally recognize National Aboriginal Veterans’ Day on November 8th. And we will do so.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement: 441 Fader Street – Preliminary Report to Council
The owner of this unique 1930s house in lower Sapperton want to build an infill house on the property with a secondary suite and preserve the existing house with Heritage Protection. The zoning allows three units on the property (a house with a suite and a laneway house), but this arrangement, where the existing “main” house is smaller and the infill house has the suite, and the proposal to stratify the property so it operates more like a duplex instead of subdividing or making them all single ownership is unusual. This is a preliminary application, and will go to public consultation and Public Hearing before Council makes any decisions, so let us know if you have opinions!

Uptown Business Association and Downtown New Westminster BIA – 2023 Business Promotion Scheme Budget Approvals
The City’s two BIAs operate by the City collecting a special tax on the member businesses, then turning that money over to the BIAs to do the work their board determines best serves their members. As their budgets (~$150K/year for Uptown, ~$300K/year for Downtown) mostly go through our budget, and their work plans mesh with work the City is doing, we have an opportunity to review and comment on their budgets.

This is more of a report for information than it is a request for approval, as the BIAs operate fairly autonomously.

Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Carter Street Foreshore Lease Agreement Renewal
There is a part of the Queensborough waterfront by Carter Street where the City pays the Port about $600 a year to lease. This is to assure public access as a watery extension to the foreshore park where the City has park benches, trails, interpretive signage and such. We are renewing the lease we have carried since 1997 for another 10-year term.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

All Ages and Abilities Active Transportation Network Plan
A year ago, I brought a motion to Council asking that we establish a core mobility lane network and that we integrate the building of that network into the City’s 5 year Capital Plan. After a year of work, engineering, design, and public consultation, this is the draft network, and the price tag.

I wrote a lot about this last year, and I don’t want to repeat it all here, but I think this work is necessary, is “core work” for a 21st century urban city, and is timely. It will represent an increase in our 5-year Capital plan, but an increase of less than 10%, and with significant senior government support available through the National Active Transportation Strategy and the CleanBC Active Transportation Fund. It is still a significant amount of money, and will also require increased staff resources to roll out on the timeline suggested, but if we want to meet the goals set out in our 7 Bold Steps, if we want to achieve the safe roads and public spaces and prepare ourselves for the transportation revolution coming with new mobility devices, if we want to be a modern forward-looking city, this is work we need to commit to now. This will be transformational.

There is a lot in here about how we got from idea to a network map, and I will maybe write more about that in a follow-up post, I but I think this plan is good. To reach AAA (“All Ages and Abilities”), staff created a CCC framework (“Comfortable, Complete and Connected”) to make sure a bike route is near every home, connects to key destinations, and is not only safe for all users, but comfortable for all users. And connected means we are finally going to invest in getting rid of the persistent gaps in our mobility lane network that created comfort and safety barriers for so many users.

Community Energy and Emissions Plan 2050 – Adoption
Another big file I am glad to see advanced before the end of the term. The City has two Plans for reducing GHG emissions- the “Corporate” plan that covers everything the City itself does from running garbage trucks to heating City Hall, and the “Community” Plan, which is all the GHG emissions residents and businesses create by driving their vehicles or heating their buildings or generating waste. Our corporate plan was reported on last meeting (we are ahead of schedule getting to 2030), and this report is asking for adoption of a new Community Plan – one to set a new target to “near zero” emissions by 2050.

This is a big strategic plan with clear actions that are already starting, and creates a strong roadmap for the next 7 years. This means faster Step Code implementation to get new buildings more efficient faster; it means retrofit assist to get older buildings off fossil fuels and adapted to our new climate; it means a faster roll out of EV-support infrastructure and transportation infrastructure that reduces the reliance on cars. And it means adopting Just Transition and Climate Equity lenses in how we prioritize and fund this work.

With adoption of the CEEP, we have clearly set out the path ahead. Again, the baton is being passed to the next Council, and I hope we have a Council ready to run with it.

Development Permit Application: Brewery District Transit Plaza – For Information
The Brewery District is looking at how it will design the last pieces of the puzzle. There is one more building (which is proposed to be mixed use with lots of commercial space) to be built, and a completion of the groundworks around the entrance to the SkyTrain station. This report outlines the preliminary designs for the latter. This is a report for information, and a development permit to approve the design will be managed through staff without further Council input.

It looks pretty good. The route from SkyTrain to RCH and Sapperton will be universally accessible, where it is now a bit challenging with existing slopes and ramp designs, and an elevator on the RCH property that has not be functional for several years. I still chagrin that the RCH design does not address the SkyTrain station better, but Wesgroup is making up for it in this plaza design. They are still taking public input, so if you have opinions, let them know here.

Lighting Up City Hall in Celebration of Diwali
The RSIE Task Force is recommending we light up and decorate City Hall to mark Diwali, so we are going to do that. This is a change from our usual practice of mostly only decorating City Hall for Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter).

And finally, we adopted the following Bylaws:

Anvil Theatre Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8367, 2022; Climate Action Planning and Development Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8358, 2022; Cultural Services Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8359, 2022; Electrical Utility Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8368, 2022; and Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8360, 2022
As discussed over the last two meetings, these Bylaws that set our fees, fines, and user rates for various services in the City for the year ahead were all adopted unanimously by Council.

Whew! There were a few speeches made, and you can watch the video, but I am sure I will have more to say about this term and my colleagues on Council after October 15th. For now, I gotta go GOTV. Remember to vote!