2022 in review

Having a bit of time over the Christmas break to think back about the year that was 2022, I am mostly thinking about a year of strategizing, planning, and bringing teams together like I have never experienced before. It is perhaps ironic then (though being the Alanis generation, I may not really understand irony) that my life path in 2022 was nothing I would have predicted one year ago today. This was not the path I expected, but it was a path I navigated as events occurred. So excuse me if my “Year in Review” post is maybe more self-reflective than community-reflective than is my usual.

December last year was the tail end of a challenging time. The City had weathered the worst of the Pandemic admirably, but was still seeing significant challenges around overlapping regional crises related to homelessness, spiraling housing costs and inflationary pressures, the poisoned drug supply and a regional emergency response system that was just not delivering for those suffering from health crises. There was a lot of bad news locally and planet-wide. People could not be blamed for being in a bit of a funk.

At the same time, there was a lot of talk among folks around the New West council table about who would run again. This became pressing in December, as the new campaign finance rules limit the amount of money candidates can contribute per year for their own campaigns. If you were going to run in 2022, it was a good idea to do a little fundraising in 2021, or at least put your personal maximum donation in the bank before the year end. I was very uncertain about running again for Council, and as I was leaning against it I did zero fundraising in 2021. But I hedged my bets by at least opening the bank account and putting in my personal donation.

It may seem strange for the current Mayor to suggest I was uncertain if I would run for Council again just 12 months ago, but Mayor and Council are two very different jobs and we had a solid Mayor. Council would mean another 4 years of continuing to hold my professional life slightly on the side burner: I was working half time, but my heart was not in it to build my geoscience career like it had been in the past, and the half-time work meant I wasn’t really doing the professional development that my work required if I really wanted to excel. I really enjoyed the work of City Council and the team I was working with, but I had two half time jobs, both needing fuller commitment. Something had to give.

There were also some great candidates who reached out about their interest in running for Council (some who are now elected, some who are not) and when I got into the Councillor job I made a personal commitment to not stay around too long, especially not so long that I block the path for great new candidates who can bring the kind of energy and ideas that motivated me 8 years ago. So, December 2022, I was considering not just whether I wanted another 4 years of Council, but whether I was needed.

Then on the first day of 2022, Mayor Cote surprised me (and many others, I suspect) by announcing he would not be running for re-election. That put the scramble to everything, and resulted in my 2022 being divided into four not perfectly equal quarters. All with the common theme of teambuilding.

The first was mostly discussions with friends, supporters, and political allies to determine if I was the right candidate for Mayor. If I was electable, and if there was a broad enough support base out there to get elected. This also included talking to some other potential Mayoral candidates to determine if I should throw support behind them, if they even wanted the job. There were SWOT analyses, hard personal questions asked, and even values challenged. There was also some soul-seeking and conversations about the type of campaign and vision I wanted to present – positive, optimistic and pragmatic. Is that what people would vote for in 2022?

The second quarter began when I was convinced there was a viable path, but I needed a team and a broader support group to run a winning campaign. Running as an independent (as some friends recommended) was an idea I dismissed through these early stages. I think a Mayor needs a team, a supportive Council who can help get things done. With the wide variety of topics we address on Council, a leader needs a strong team of people with diverse experiences to guide them and support them. I already mentioned there were several great new candidates interested in running for Council; I wanted to work with this team. The work of putting a party together was bigger than me, there were many hands that did much more work than I, but helping in that process informed me further on whether I was ready to do the Mayor job.

It was also about putting together and gaining the support of the volunteer team for the project that is a “campaign”. Many community leaders don’t want to run for election themselves, but want to help like-minded folks get elected. Some provide financial support, some volunteer support, some real party structure organizational support, and many a combination of all three. Just as a Council is a team, a campaign is a team. With a good team, you can worry about being a candidate, and know the logistics are taken care of. Without knowing I had this team behind me, I would not have run, because I would not have been successful.

The third quarter was the campaign itself. Parts of it began as far back as January with that self-reflection, but the really intense campaign period began in the last half of the summer. Doorknocking every night, working with the team to develop platform and communications, fundraising and events. It is non-stop, and it never feels like you are doing enough. And though I had been involved in many campaigns before, supporting others and in running for Council two times: the Mayor campaign was something different.

There were ups and downs during the campaign, a few all-candidate events went great, some not so great. Sometimes I read the media and felt good, sometimes I was frustrated by it (Facebook was a complete shit-show, but that’s another blog altogether). In contrast, the doorknocking and the booth-style direct engagement were almost universally a positive. We had a great team of candidates it was a pleasure to share doorknocking time with, and people of New Westminster were their usual: engaged, interested, friendly, thoughtful, and inspiring. As the campaign went on, it was the doors and the booth (or more, the talking to people at both) that gave me energy every day to do the work, because the campaign overall was exhausting. We also had phenomenal doorknocking weather, and an incredible group of volunteers that brought a little joy every day to what is often an arduous journey. And that attack ad – that is some great scrapbook material!

This makes the fourth quarter the post-election period and the new job. The rest of 2022 was mostly filled with various ways of integrating into the job. This means lots of meetings with senior staff and stakeholders in the community, getting the new Council up to speed on the “State of the City” and some deeper thinking about what the “want-to-do”s and the “need-to-do”s are for the next year, and the next four years. And ow there are evets again, where I am now expected to have a few inspirational (!) words.

The good news is that the State of the City is good. We are in a decent (but not decadent) financial situation considering the chaos of COVID and our very aggressive capital plan, but costs are going up everywhere, and the City is no exception. Thanks to Mayor Cote’s leadership, we are in a good shape on a lot of policy fronts – in recent conversations with regional leaders and new Ministers in the Provincial Government, our leadership in housing policy across the spectrum has been noted repeatedly. Our role in getting PACT rolled out not just here but in other communities is also seen as demonstration of leadership, ad the multi-jurisdictional approach to addressing Downtown challenges is a great work in progress, with more to come. At the same time, the conversations we are having here on active transportation infrastructure sounds like debates from 15 years go in Vancouver, and 5 years ago in Victoria. A medium-sized City can’t be a leader on everything.

2022 also saw a return to one of the things that makes New West such a great place to live: we were back to events. Pride and Car Free Day both rocked Columbia, Fridays on Front were appreciated by significant crowds, Uptown Live and Recovery Day brought thousands to Uptown, and all kinds of different events like PechaKucha and the S&O Anniversary Party and the Mushtari Begum Festival the On Your Block Festival and the Hyack Parade and Play the Parks, etc. etc. There were so many ways for folks to connect again, to build that community spirit that was challenged for two years. It was a fun year.

And this winter, we had a few reminders that the day-to-day work of the city never stops. It has already been a challenging snow removal season, we have had crews working long hours and burning through a lot of salt and diesel to keep up with the changing conditions. The social media feedback has been demonstrative of something…

…admittedly, a bit of a mixed message.

I’m also spending some time this break thinking about how to engage differently in Social Media. Partly because the new job changes how my engagement is read, partly because I simply do not have time to track and respond to social media the way it sometimes desires, and partly because during the election I found judicious use of the “mute” button improved my outlook on the community, what with the anonymous trolls and racists filtered out. But this will be the topic of future posts and further reflection as the social media landscape is rapidly changing. Apparently Mastodon is a thing now?

So, to sum up, thank you to everyone who took part in making New West an exciting, engaged, and proactive community in 2022. There is much good coming in 2023, though I am sure the upcoming budget discussions will be contentious here as in most communities, as cost are going up and the austerity hawks will be making their damaging claims about the need to strip back community services. One of my reads over the break has been Andy Merrifield’s “The New Urban Question”, an exciting review of the impact of neoliberalism on not just the function of “The City”, but on the very nature of citizenship in the new Urban Realm, worldwide. It is an empowering and challenging read, and a reminder that the work we are doing has a purpose, even if the battle has no end.

Happy New Year! See you in Council Chambers – and around town – in 2023!

COUNCIL – DEC 12, 2022 (PT2)

The December 12th meeting had an unprecedented 7 motions presented and motivated by a single member of Council. This was surprising not only because it is the number of motions a proactive Council Member may typically present in a typical year, but also because Council has not yet finished onboarding (indeed there were onboarding meetings and tours continuing this week), and the Council has not yet had time to do the regular Strategic Planning to set priorities for the year or the term.

But here we are.

There was a lot of politicking going on during these motions, and though I think most members of Council were genuinely trying to find consensus positions that could be supported, this was challenged by rhetorical questions and some confrontational approaches that did not make consensus easy to find. We have some work to do to determine how we will be working together in the best interest of the City. As it is hard for me to talk about this politicking without engaging in it a bit myself, I do need to emphasize that this blog, as always, is my viewpoint and opinions, and not official position of the City or Council.

1:Halting the Phase-out of the Royal City Moniker

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster halt the phasing out of the ‘Royal City’ moniker in our branding; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT no future change to the branding shall be undertaken without due notice and proper consultation with our residents, businesses and Indigenous people.

This resolution asked staff to do two things. The first was asking them to “halt” something that was not an actual activity they were undertaking. The use of the moniker in any real way was effectively phased out more than a decade ago, and no-one knows when the last time it was part of the City’s official branding at all, but it was at least before 2009. The second was to ask for a public consultation before undertaking re-branding, which is exactly the instruction given to staff 6 months ago.

So the first half asks staff to stop doing something they aren’t doing, and the second half asks staff to do something they re already doing, so it passing or failing changes nothing. Since there is no functional difference between supporting and defeating the motion, it is moot. I ruled the motion out of order.

Frankly, this motion could have used a bit of conversation with staff to talk about what is actually happening, and to avoid confusion over terms like “moniker”, and what constitutes branding. It seems that creating confusion about this was a political tactic during the election, suggesting something vaguely nefarious is going on is always populist. But I think thing will become clearer when staff come back with the promised engagement strategy around branding, but I m not sure that is going to happen very soon given the number of priorities the City is dealing with right now.

2:Elimination of Train Whistle Noise and Supporting Increased Liveability

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council re-establish the Railway Community Advisory Panel and that staff report back to Council on the updated terms of reference by no later than
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of New Westminster establishes a target of eliminating all unnecessary train whistles which are negatively impacting the quality of life for thousands of Sapperton and Queensborough residents by no later than 2026; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that City Council draft a letter to the Federal Minister of Transportation advising that we wish to accelerate negotiations with the Federal Government to get their support and assistance with whistle cessation in our neighbourhoods; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff be required to provide quarterly updates to City Council and the public regarding progress made to eliminate unnecessary train whistles; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff ensure the website containing critical information regarding whistle cessation is updated with the latest information; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff report back on the capital costs related to the infrastructure upgrade to the Sapperton and Queensborough train crossings and if we are eligible to apply for provincial or federal infrastructure funding to lower the tax burden on city ratepayers.

This is a motion that would have also benefitted from waiting until after onboarding so the member could discuss with staff the rather complex background behind train whistle cessation. This blog doesn’t have space to go down every hallway here, but suffice to say there is no such thing as an “unnecessary train whistle” – they are required by law every time they sound. The Federal Minister of Transportation has no role in “negotiating” Whistle Cessation (unless the member is hoping we will lobby to change the Rail Safety Act, which I’m not sure would be the best use of staff time), nor is there “negotiation” over the standards being applied. Half of our crossings are not even regulated by Transport Canada, but by Technical Safety BC. The application of arbitrary deadlines is also challenging as we (the City and senior governments) have no control over the timelines the four railways operate by when reviewing and approving plans. And the final question about Grants is really a simple question to staff (yes there are federal grants available for rail crossing safety, we have already received and spent many of them).

I think everyone on Council agreed train whistle cessation is a goal, not all agreed these steps were the best way to get there. Through some discussion, this motion was split up with Council ageing to postpone the striking of a committee (and determining the nature of that committee) until after Strategic Planning; approving the request for more frequent updates from staff and online of the progress of whistle cessation; and referring the other sections back to staff for a report with background.

3:Reducing Crime and Increasing Public Safety in New Westminster

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT a new Crime Reduction and Public Safety Advisory Committee be created and that staff report back to Council on the terms of reference for the Task Force by no later than January 31, 2023.

At the very beginning of the term, I made a commitment to the council that we would not significantly change the task force and committee structure until we had onboarding and Strategic Planning, so that all of council could be informed enough and given an opportunity to take part in the priority setting. So we postponed consideration of this motion until after that work is done very early in the new year.

This does not mean public safety isn’t a priority. Indeed, we spent the first hour of this meeting talking about the Downtown Livability Strategy where safety for all businesses and residents (including the most vulnerable) was a central theme, and coordination with stakeholders was key. The Motion strangely had several “whereas” clauses referencing police budgets, and there is already a City committee comprised mostly of members of the public who are empowered by the Province to address Police budget and resources – it is called the Police Board. It exists at arms-length from City Council by provincial Law, and it was never made clear in the deliberations where it is intended for this committee to overlap with the intersection between Council work and Police Board work. Council will have an opportunity to speak to police board budgeting the upcoming budget discussions, but this seems like a motion that once again could have benefitted from more background work before it got here, and the postponing it is a good idea.

4:Creation of a New Finance and City Services Standing Committee

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council recommend to the Mayor he establish a new Finance and City Services Standing Committee and that staff report back to Council on the terms of reference by no later than January 31, 2023.

Earlier in the meeting, we had a staff report on council efficiencies, and the idea of a finance-related Committee of the Whole was raised. A Standing Committee is strictly defined in Section 141 of the Charter, and is a sub-majority of Council given standing of majority, but on finance questions, we have had a practice of involving all of Council. Indeed, most municipalities that have “finance committees” make them Committees of the Whole. There was also discussion of where asset Management and Finance overlap right now, as recent motions to dip into our reserves (already not in the healthy place our finance staff would prefer) to give one-time fee reductions demonstrate the need to think fiscally when making those kind of commitments.

Council agreed to explore this idea more following Strategic Planning in the new year.

5:Creation of a New Amateur Sport and Recreation Advisory Committee

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT a new Amateur Sport and Recreation Advisory Committee be created and that staff report back to Council on the terms of reference by no later than January 31, 2023.

Once again, this committee idea was not opposed so much as suggested it needs to come back after Strategic Planning and priority setting – taking a collaborative approach. So like the other ones that pre-empt those discussions, we postponed consideration of this motion until after that work is done early in the new year.

6:Advocacy to the BC Government to Increase Housing and Wrap-Around Supports for People Living with Mental Illness

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council request the Mayor write to Premier David Eby and request that funding be set aside and prioritized in the 2023 Provincial Budget to begin the planning, development and construction of large-scale, community-based, modern mental health residential care facilities in the Metro Vancouver area; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT staff create a motion with a similar intent that can be sent to the LMLGA and UBCM for consideration.

This motion was somewhat contentious and brought out some passions in Council. The idea that people suffering from mental health challenges and addiction need more support from all levels of government is not controversial. A motion that invokes Riverview and frames those supports (by poorly chosen words if not by intent) as being large-scale, residential and not connected to the community is not one I want to take to senior government or UBCM.

New Westminster has its own terrible history of institutionalization with Woodlands, one we have tried as a community to reconcile through memorialization. When talking about mental health support, it behooves us to be cognizant of this history, and to choose our advocacy path very carefully. Earlier this meeting, we talked about the various areas we can advocate to help people in our community feeling the impacts of the mental health and opioid crises. There is no lack of opportunity to advocate for community-based, compassionate, and progressive supports. This is what the peer community, the people with lived experience, are calling for, and we should amplify their voices. Council voted to not endorse this resolution.

7:Supporting Better Governance, Decision-Making and Public Engagement at City Hall

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City Clerk make the agenda and supporting documents available to members of Council no less than five business days prior to the meeting;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to bring forward changes to the Procedure Bylaw No. 6910, 2004 to reflect the new council package distribution timelines

A big part of Council work is being prepared for meetings. We get hundreds of pages of material to read before each meeting, some of it very technical, some digging deep into complex policy. The more time we have to read and absorb this info, the better prepared we will be for Monday meetings. On the counter to that, the closer to Monday the council reports are ready, the more time staff have to hone them and assure they are up to date.

Last term we got most Council Packages (in digital form) on the Thursday before the meeting, giving us 3-4 days to read them. That started to slip to Friday as COVID put pressure on staff and the decisions we made were increasingly reactive to very dynamic situation. The request in this motion is to assure packages are available 5 business days before the meeting, meaning (as I interpret it) Thursday or Friday the second week before council. So if we have a meeting on two consecutive Mondays, we will have two active packages at a time.

We have excellent staff preparing these agendas, and good processes to make sure Council has the information it needs to make informed decisions. We also need to balance the need to for lots of lead time with the desire to be nimble and proactive in addressing emergent issues, a long and rigid timeline for agenda completion works against our desire to be nimble. It adds a rigid bureaucracy where flexibility allows us to get more done, faster
Council was split on whether this provided enough flexibility for staff, but in the end voted to support this resolution.

So by my count, of the 7 motions we had 1 passed as written, 1 spilt and partially passed, 1 outright defeated, 1 that was moot, and 3 that were postponed. All were heartily debated, and you can watch the video if you want more insight into any of the discussions. Or you could spend some quality time with the ones you love doing the things you love over the holiday break.

Council – Dec 12, 2022 (pt1)

We had a bit of a marathon Council meeting on Monday. A lot of things added to the agenda, a bunch of new Council members (myself included) learning the ropes and working our way through procedures and processes. There was also a fair amount of grandstanding and political theatre, which is a new vibe, but I’ll try my best in this post to stick to the decisions made, and not the distractions.

The meeting started with Reports and Presentations from staff:

Downtown Livability
This was a comprehensive reporting out and two reports to update Council and the public on all the work going on Downtown right now. A lot of this arose from a mid-Pandemic motion asking for some more proactive approaches to downtown streetfront activation, but is also related to recent delegations to council regarding interface challenges with the emergency shelter. Staff have taken a package of short-term, medium-term and long-term tactics and strategies (those are two different things) and called it a “Downtown Livability Strategy”. These reports outline a few of the measures and plans, to get both the new Council and the public caught up.

The first report was about capital investments, and goes back to the removal of the parkade and building of the “Mews” on Front Street, which has become a great public space. There were plans to expand this activation to the east all the way to the 4th street overpass, and some preliminary work was done to test out some concepts. The more permanent work got delayed by COVID as Council and staff chose to prioritize the support of businesses and the community through the pandemic. However, there is money in the 2023 capital budget to do that work (though it may need to be updated as the current cost estimate is from 2018, and inflation is a thing).

Then there was a more operational report. Staff from Community Planning, Economic Development, Engineering, Fire Services, Integrated Services (“Bylaws”), Parks and Recreation, Finance, and Police Service have all been a part of its development and ongoing implementation.

There are five main areas of action: Improved general cleanliness and enhanced access to 24/7 public toilets; Enhanced homeless outreach and added emergency shelter capacity; Opioid epidemic and illicit drug response; Business support and engagement; and mental health response and support. Each is outlined in the report and detailed in the presentation, so I won’t belabour that here.

There is also an accounting for how much we have spent, how much we anticipate spending, how much support we have received from senior government, and how much more we are going to ask. The big cost items will be Public Bathrooms, both the capital cost of long-term solutions, and the ongoing operational cost to assure they are clean, safe, operational, and comfortable for all users.
There are costs, but this detailed report is an excellent rebuke to some who would suggest nothing is being done. Challenges are daunting, the responses are not simple but require inter-departmental and interagency coordination, and they cost money. Success looks like people being safer downtown, people having access to social services they need to get through their day, people have a dignified place to go to the bathroom and to sleep at night.

As this is ongoing work, this was in part an update report, but it was also notice there would be requests coming from staff in the new year for new monies as part of our budget deliberations to support some of the medium- and longer-term goals. There is also a commitment to seek senior government support for much of the work.

Feedback from Businesses about Sixth Street Bike Lanes
Coming from last meeting’s delegations, we asked staff to engage with the business community about the construction site Uptown (“construction site” because the bike lanes are not built yet and any impacts they are feeling now will be related to construction, not bike lanes). As staff had a very limited time to connect with businesses and prepare this report, the summary is necessarily incomplete. The bulk of the comments were about snow removal and lack of bikes using the new lanes (though, of course, the lanes are not opened yet but are a construction site), though there are concerns about parking availability and some other concerns they would like addressed.

The report also goes through the two years of multi-phase engagement with the 1,000+ residents, businesses, and stakeholders during two years of active engagement and co-design of this project. And the many years stakeholders (Including the City’s Active Transportation and Youth Advisory Committees) were asking the City to provide safe cycling infrastructure to the new High School – a conversation that started long before the new school was even built.

Staff did identify some potential mitigation strategies to address some concerns raised during the engagement, which council endorsed.

We then moved the following items Moved on Consent:

Amendments to the Community Heritage Commission Bylaw No. 6423, 1997
These are basically housekeeping updates of the Bylaw that empowers the CHC. Since we were opening it up to appoint two Council members it was timely to make these updates to align with other City policies and changed provincial regulatory language.

Staffing Challenges Update
Like many organizations, we are short staffed. About 10% down in simple vacancies, another 5% with people on leave (medical, parental, etc.). This makes it hard to operate. This report is mostly for information, to get the new council up to date on the conversation had with the last council. Staff will bring another report back in the near future with some new strategies to address workload and staff culture in a time of being under-resourced.

We then had the following items Removed from Consent for discussion:

Budget 2023: Engineering and Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw
We reviewed and debated Utility Rates last meeting, and approved the increases, asking Staff to prepare the necessary Bylaws. These are those Bylaws. There was once again a motion to divert money from reserves for a one-time rate reduction, but Council did not vote to support this. There will be much more discussion of the importance of reserves and their relationship to asset management best practices in upcoming budget discussions.

Child Care and Community Uses on School Sites
This report outlines a lot of the background behind the closing of community spaces (childcare and Family Place) in downtown schools as they struggle to meet their capacity needs for elementary students in the downtown. This has resulted in an exchange of formal letters, and several meetings at the staff and Council-to-School-Board level to talk about the current situation, but more about how we can work together to address the critical space shortage and longer term to better plan for school space needs.

Efficiencies – Processes and Council Meetings
This report has a collection of ideas from staff on how to make the Council Meeting process more efficient. This is one of those reviews that typically happens at the beginning of a new term. There are a few things here, and we voted on them separately, so I’ll try to be concise.

Committee of the Whole is a model used by many Local Governments, and was the standard way of doing business in New West when I was first elected in 2014. I didn’t like the way we did them then, because I saw it as being very duplicative: there was an afternoon meeting where decision were made, and an evening meeting where they were (sometimes performatively) made again. I envision them working differently now, by treating them as topic-specific Standing Committees, with all members of Council included. For example, I can see a place for a Finance and Asset Management Standing Committee, and another to address actions directly related to the 7 Bold Steps. I also think this model could replace the function of LUPC, bringing all of council into those earlier conversations on planning and development, so the Standing Committee on Development as proposed here can serve that function.

As I see a Standing Committee of the whole offsetting some of the existing Task Forces, I want to keep my commitment to Council that we not make significant changes to the tasks forces or committee structure until after Strategic Planning, so I suggested we postpone striking these Standing Committees until after that time.

There are suggested changes here to the Preliminary Application Review process (an early-review for some developments), and a new policy for Voluntary Amenity Contributions that council supported and staff will develop for our future approval.

We also approved the idea of moving “For Information” reports off of the regular agenda, and instead making the available on the city website and providing a link to them on the agenda. If there isn’t a decision for Council to make, we don’t’ need to spend a bunch of valuable Council time reviewing the reports. They are available for us (and the public) to read, and if a Councillor has questions or concerns rising from them, they can request that report be brought to the subsequent council meeting for discussion.

There were some proposed changes in delegation powers related to the noise Bylaw that we sent back to staff to give us a more fulsome report before we make any changes.

We then read several bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8370, 2022
This Bylaw that gives staff the authority to draw temporarily form our line of credit in case of low cash flow was adopted by Council.

After all of that, the night was only half done as we had a bunch of Motions from Council, but I think I’ll skip those for a follow-up post, and get right to the bottom of the agenda where we had two pieces of New Business:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Front Street from Tenth Street to McBride Boulevard – Metro Vancouver Sewer Inspection
Metro Vancouver needs to do inspection and maintenance of the major sewer line under Front Street. It has to happen at night (so the sewer flows are low enough that they can “shut down” the line for a period of time), and when it isn’t pouring rain (for the same reason – yes, a lot of rainwater gets in to the sewer. So we are granting them a Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption to do this work.

Electric Utility Billing Credit
The BC Ministry of Energy and Mines is giving BC Hydro Customers a one-time credit ($100 for most residential customers), and as New West Electrical is a BC Hydro customer, we also get a Credit. Council agreed to pass that credit on to customers the same as BC Hydro. If you had a NWE account in October, you should see the credit on your first bill in the new year.

That was the bulk of the work done in the meeting. I’ll write about the rest of the evening in a follow up. Lucky I have some vacation time coming up.

Council – Nov 28, 2022

Have I mentioned I’m busy? It’s not necessarily something to be proud of. Being busy is often the opposite of being productive, and usually can’t be sustained, but there is a lot of stuff (good and bad) going on that is taking away from my time to sit down and write these. So a little late but here is my report on what we did on Monday with a fairly light Council agenda:

We started by moving the following items On Consent:

2023 Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw
The City spends money all year round, but about half of our income comes in a very short period when people pay their property taxes. This means the “cash on hand” the City has to pay day-to-day bills is cyclical, reaching a nexus at tax time. We also want to limit the amount of “cash on hand” we have, as we would rather be providing services with that money (or earning investment income in reserves). So we have a line-of-credit with a bank just in a case we have a sudden need for cash at the time when our cash on hand is low. We don’t use it much, but it is better to have it there than to default on a bill because of a short-term crunch. This borrowing authority relies on the City passing a Bylaw every year to approve it. This is that Bylaw. We approved giving it 3 readings.

Appointment of Chair to the Accessibility Advisory Committee
In part related to changes in Provincial regulation, the City is reconstituting an Accessibility Advisory Committee. We approved the Term of Reference in the last meeting before the Election, we are now appointing Councillor McEvoy to serve as the Chair. Councillor McEvoy has been increasingly open about his mostly-hidden disabilities, and his lived experience will serve the community well here.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Front Street from Tenth Street to McBride Boulevard – Metro Vancouver Sewer Inspection
MetroVancouver is going to do late-night sewer inspections along Front Street. This happens at night because the traffic disruption is reduced, and because the flow in sewers is reduced late at night, allowing the temporary and necessary shutdown of the sewer pump station for the work to be done. We are granting a nighttime construction noise variance for five nights.

Proposed 2023 Schedule of Council Meetings
The proposed schedule for Council meetings in 2023 would include about two meetings a month except July August and December that each have only one meeting, totaling 21 meetings. This is consistent with the meeting schedules for the last few years, while recognizing there is an ability to add an emergency meeting if need be. Set your calendars!

The following items were then Removed from Consent for discussion:

Community Grant Program: 2022 Highlights and 2023 Program Adjustments
The City has a generous grant program for organizations providing a variety of community-building services. In 2022 about $1 Million was given out through 105 grants to 93 organizations. These are a variety of social service, childcare, sports, environmental, arts and festival organizations that make our City a richer place to live.

This report called attention to many of the successes that came from grants in the last year, and looked at some adjustments to the grant process to make it work smoother. In essence, one of the three intake periods was not working very well due to a variety of challenges, including weirdness of trying to organize grant application and approval during the summer months. Staff is recommending we reduce the intakes to two: the “regular” fall one and the in-cycle late spring one. Council approved unanimously.

Q3 2022 Capital and Operating Performance Report
This report outlines quarterly changes to our annual Capital Budget, 5-Year Capital Plan, and overall 20222 Operating Budget, based on progress on various capital projects in the City. There are a few details in the Capital part here (the pool might be delayed a bit, the Queensborough Substation may come in under budget, the AMI meter upgrade in the Electrical Utility may go over budget, etc.) but pending further reports, there is only a small adjustment ($771K, or 0.4% of the annual budget) that will be offset within the existing 5-year plan.

The operational budget update is a good-news-bad-news thing. There are reports from each department and overall we are looking at surplus numbers (revenue exceeding spending more than anticipated) but a lot of that is a result of us being short staffed and unable to deliver on a lot of programs and projects because of that shortage. Council voted unanimously to make the required adjustments.

We had a couple of pieces of New Business which were both brought forward from a previous closed meeting:

Recruitment 2023: Appointment to the New Westminster Library Board
We have a Library Board as constituted by the Provincial Library Act. As per the recommendation, we appointed the current Chair to another 2-year term.

Release of Motion regarding School Capacity and Child Care options
We received a letter from the School Board a couple of weeks ago, and also received a delegation speaking to concerns around the movement of childcare spaces from Downtown Schools where the capacity is needed for teaching spaces. We are responding to the correspondence with some shared concerns, and setting the stage for working together to address childcare capacity concerns downtown.

We had presentations, delegations, and a few readings of Bylaws, but the list above are the decisions made by Council in the meeting on Monday. We had a few referrals to staff coming out of delegations, but I will report on these when they get back to Council with staff reports.