Council – April 3, 2023

I am so late putting this report out. The week was a short one, but very long, with a UBCM Housing Summit and Metro Vancouver meetings, but I finally have a chance to sit down and write this us up while watching Edin vs. Gushue 2. We had a relatively short agenda, starting with a Presentation:

Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project – Project Update
The Pattullo project team presented to Council for this first time in a year, with an update on their progress, and some news about upcoming road closures related to the construction. No surprise that there will be some road closures as they re-align the on- and off-ramps and put overpass spans over Front Street and Columbia. The closures of Columbia will only be at the Elliot end, but that impacts traffic patterns on the rest of the road, and temporary closures of parts of Royal and Front at different stages will mean lots of change coming over the next year. This diagram is a good indication of the timelines envisioned:

Council and the Pattullo team are aware of the construction weariness being felt be Downtown businesses and residents, and we are asking the Ministry of Transportation and the Pattullo Team to be very conscious of their outreach and transparency with the Downtown community. The re-alignment of truck routes during some of these closures is something the City is going to work with the Ministry to determine the path that best protects the livability of our community.

The following items were then removed from consent for discussion:

Building Amendment Bylaw No. 8388, 2023: BC Energy Step Code Alignment – Bylaw for Three Readings
The Province has changed the “Step Code”, which is the part of the provincial building code that regulates building efficiency and emissions. We are updating our Building Bylaw to align with this change.

New Westminster Secondary School (NWSS) Cycling Connector – Mitigation of Business Concerns
The Bike Lanes connecting the Crosstown Greenway to the new high school are not yet complete. Weather will determine when the final lane markings and signage work can be completed. There were some concerns raised by a few Uptown businesses when the lanes were being installed. Recognizing the impacts they were feeling were more likely related to construction than a completed street improvement, Council asked staff to report back on mitigation measures, in part to help with this project, and in part to inform the next time this type of change is implements, as forecast by Council’s adoption of the Active Transportation Network plan.

The resultant report is a good one, worth a read. In reaching out to other municipalities that have historically managed this type of change (Edmonton, Calgary, Portland, Burnaby, the City of North Vancouver, and others) the clear message was that the engagement process we undertook before the work began was “comprehensive… relative to what other municipalities have done in similar situations”, though there was some good advice on specific engagement approaches. This extra step of direct outreach during the construction phase is another example of this commitment.

We then read some Bylaws, including the following Bylaw for Adoption:

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8386, 2023
This Bylaw that amends the Bylaw to temporarily suspend Street Occupancy Permit fees for block parties was adopted by Council. Party on, Blocks.

We then had a few Motions from Council

Parks and Recreation registration process
Submitted by Councillor Henderson
BE IT RESOLVED that Council direct staff to explore opportunities to improve the equity and accessibility of the Parks and Recreation registration process and report back to Council with options to address the current challenges./i>
This issue arose from some concerns from parents around the challenge of getting registered for kids programs in the City. It has been likened to trying to get Taylor Swift concert tickets. And of course it is related to a very similar phenomenon: demand for great programs that far exceeds availability. The changes wrought by COVID are part of this, but there is also challenges with shifting to on-line registration. Not a couple of days after this motion was passed, there was a story on CBC radio about Surrey having very similar issues with the aquatics programs, so we aren’t alone here. Part of a region growing faster than services can keep pace.

The availability of programs (and cost related to expansion, including as təməsew̓txʷ comes on line next year) is another conversation we need to have in context of a budget discussion, but this motion is looking towards our equity programs to determine if there are structural inequities in how we do registration, and ways to address that, which is an important first step in alignment with our equity goals as a City.

Preserving, protecting and enhancing the Samson V museum for future generations
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back on the costs, potential sources of funding and operational impacts associated with temporarily placing the Samson V in dry dock to repair and restore the vessel for public viewing; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff report back on options to find a permanent indoor home for the Samson V adjacent to or on our waterfront as part of a possible pier expansion and/or long-term tourism strategy; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff consult with the Fraser River Discovery Center and other key stakeholders and report back regarding the opportunity and costs associated with undertaking a pilot program that would permit short-term pleasure craft usage at the moorage vacated by the Samson V

The Samson V is under repair. It is 90 years old, and is (notably) “the only completely intact and floating wooden sternwheeler in North America.” As discussed several times during Council onboarding, there is a maintenance plan to keep it so, fully costed in our Capital budget ($60K for maintenance and repair this year, $38K for dredging this year to keep it floating, $72 total over the following 4 years for maintenance and repair). The current roof repairs need to be performed in good weather, so boat wrap is being used to keep the rain and pigeons out until that is done. That said, there is nothing dire about it that regular maintenance can’t address. There is no pressing need to dry dock it, to buy or build a 6,500 square foot 5 story building in which to house it. Indeed, doing these things would take away one of the key heritage aspects of the museum, would cost millions of dollars, and likely add to the maintenance costs of the boat, as we would now need to maintain and operate a building. This is not a priority for me right now with so many things pressing for staff time and limited resources in the City right now. Council seems to agree with me, and did not support this motion.

Hearing from the communities regarding their priorities for the new Growing Communities Fund
Submitted by Councillor Minhas
BE IT RESOLVED that Council hold a special open meeting at City Hall at the earliest opportunity to obtain feedback from the public regarding what the priorities should be for the Growing Communities Funding; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff develop an online survey opportunity for the public to provide their feedback regarding what priority areas Council should consider as part of the Growing Communities Funding

Through discussion with Council, this motion was amended to the point of replacement with another motion that is further-reaching:

BE IT RESOLVED: that early in the 2024 budget process, Community Engagement staff lead a structured consultation including an online survey component with the goal to involve a representative sample of the community in determining priority areas for future Capital budget spending.
BE IT FUTRTHER REOLVED no decision will be made regarding the Growing Communities Fund until Council has received the report back on the engagement consultation process, per the motion above.

The mindset of the original motion is one I felt the need to challenge, and that is of the Growing Communities Fund being money we need to spend like a lottery win, in that it represents a large amount of money in the scope of our Capital budget. $15.85 Million seems like a lot of money for capital investment, except that it is only 9% of the $173.2 Million 2023 Capital Budget coming forward for approval next week, and only 4% of our $410 Million 5-year capital plan.

Of course $16 Million is still a lot of money that must be spent wisely, and we need to be transparent about how it is spent. The point is we need to be transparent about how we spend all of our Capital Budget, not just this part. This is why Council expanded the discussion to expand public consultation for the next budget cycle to help us set priorities for our capital budget. In the broad scope of things, does the public want us to use this $16 Million to reduce the debt related to our current Capital Program? To bolster our reserves, recognizing the infrastructure deficit we are facing? Or do they want us to spend it on new capital items? If we want to spend it on new items, how do we prioritize what to add to the already extensive capital program?

The language of the motion introduced by Councilor Nakagawa was intentional – “Involve” is the level of consultation we are aiming towards on the IAP2 Spectrum, which is important as staff need to understand what type of consultation we are looking for. It is also important that the consultation be structured to consult a representative group of New Westminster, as we know many forms of consultation result in a skewed and often privileged view of public opinion. Questions around this were asked of the original mover, but I did not hear the member offer any answer.

I was not happy with the second clause of this motion, as it again reinforced the false perception that this was a “lottery win” and not a part of a more important broader discussion of the capital budget. Indeed, a Councilor clearly tried to reinforce this perception while arguing for the original motion with some incorrect ideas about how the capital budget is structured (which were corrected on the record by the Director of Finance). This is especially important as I have seen some members of council putting out videos and encouraging people to delegate to council with ideas that have already spent this money three times over (that is not a joke), but overall I am satisfied that we will have an opportunity for deeper public consultation leading to the next Capital budget.

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