Council – May 29, 2023

We had quite an eventful Council Meeting this week, and I’d suggest you make sure you read to the end, but we didn’t get to the end, so surprise there: It will all make less sense when you get there, and you can draw your own conclusions. Nonetheless, the agenda was a full one, starting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Inter-municipal TNS (Ride-Hailing) Business Licence Scheme Bylaw No. 8391, 2023
The City of New Westminster has an agreement with many other municipalities to share the business licensing of ride-hailing services. Essentially, the companies buy a license in Vancouver that applies to all municipalities, and we split the revenue. This change to that scheme would bring Mission, Kent and Hope into the fold. This change requires an Opportunity to be Heard. We received no written correspondence, and no-one came to speak to the change at Council. Council voted to approve the change.

We then had a Report for Action:

Rezoning Application for Conversion to Supportive Housing: 422 Sixth Street
This is a building in the Brow of the Hill that has operated as an office building, but is already zoned mixed use (it can have residential and office use above the commercial at grade). The owner wants to operate it as supportive affordable housing on the top two floors and continue to operate an office on the ground floor. This is compliant with the OCP and zoning, except the zoning language does not include “supportive” housing, so this is the rezoning request to add that language. This came to Council as a detailed report on the nature of that rezoning, with staff asking for anything we want added ot the empowering Bylaws, so we can consider approval at a future meeting. There was also a request to waive the Public Hearing, as the project is compliant with our OCP and stated City priorities.

We had some delegates speak for and against this project, and unfortunately, incorrect information circulating in the neighbourhood about the project appears to have taken a foothold. There was a lot of conflation between this type of supportive housing and emergency shelter, which demonstrated the need for us to have a public meeting and do further outreach about the truth of the project.

Council voted to approve the bylaws being prepared and the project to come to a future Council meeting for a vote on approval or rejection. In a move I do not remember seeing in my 8+ years on New West Council, we had council members voting against even considering bylaws on an affordable and supportive housing project. The same members voted against an amendment to have a public meeting about the project so the community can more clearly understand the project and Council can hear from the public in a constructive dialogue. Fortunately, the majority of Council voted for consultation, and will consider the approval after that consultation.

We then moved the following items On Consent

Rezoning Application: 805 Boyd Street (Queensborough Landing) – Preliminary Report
The Queensborough Landing commercial area wants to expand its offerings and are requesting expanding the permitted land uses on the site to include breweries, wineries, arcades, commercial schools, and more. They are all pretty typical of this type of “highway commercial” areas, and are not likely to conflict with other land use on the site.

This is a preliminary report, as this application will go to internal review and public consultation, but as it is consistent with the OCP, we will waive the Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 902 First St – Preliminary Report
The owner of this property in Glenbrook North wants to build a duplex where there is now a single family home, which is consistent with the OCP, and no variances from the Interim Policy (based on RT-1), but needs a rezoning. This is a preliminary report, and will go to some public consultation, but as it is consistent with the OCP, we will waive the Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know!

Street and Traffic Bylaw Amendments for Three Readings – Bylaw 8397, 2023
This is a bit of a housekeeping change to the Streets and Traffic Bylaw, updating some of the language to match the new Active Transportation Network Plan, remover reference to insurance expiry date stickers as they don’t exist anymore, and other minor updates.

Sustainable Transportation Zoning Bylaw Amendments –Transportation Demand Management and Right-Sizing Parking
This is a zoning amendment bylaw to update our requirements for off-street parking in new multi-family development. This is part of a longer process we have been undergoing to modernize our off-street parking requirements, as part of our ongoing and constant review of Policies, Procedures, and Processes to assure they are current and appropriate. This part seeks to better balance the modern (and reduced) need for parking with the (increasing) cost of building and our other climate and livability goals (which both require less dependency on cars).

The change in requirements is based on analysis of vehicle ownership trends in New West and in our cohort communities, and through benchmark comparisons with other Metro Van jurisdictions, and through consultation with the development industry.

In short, the proposal reduces the number of parking spots that need to be built in in secured rental, in the Downtown neighbourhood, and in areas with high transit service, along with requiring better end-of-trip facilities for other modes (Bicycle storage rooms in residential, other facilities in Commercial). We are also removing the part of the bylaw that limits reductions in parking spaces – if a development can make the case for any level of reduction, we will hear that case instead of there being an arbitrary minimum. This opens the door a bit more for parking-free developments in the City.

Or more this is a preliminary report on a proposed change that will, again, go to public consultation, but as it is consistent with the OCP, we will waive the Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know!

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Extension of Committee Member Terms
As we look to implement new model for Advisory Committees, including an Advisory Assembly model, staff are outlining the time that will be required to get us there, and we need to set up a schedule for the existing Advisory Committees and Grant Committees so we don’t have a gap in functionality.

Liquor Primary Patio Application (Thirsty Duck Pub) for 606 Twelfth Street
The Thirsty Duck has been operating a seasonal outdoor patio since COVID led to a shift in regulation of patios. They have not caused any problems, or generated any complaints, and the Duck now wants ot make this patio a permanent feature. So Council needs to approve and needs to send a resolution to the LCRB to assure them we are fine with the liquor license operating in this way. So we are doing both.

New Westminster Rent Bank Funding Request
The Rent Bank is a program that started in 2017 in New West, and is now funded primarily by the Province (an example of uploading?) and is operational in many municipalities across BC after New West set the example. It is an emergency short-term interest-free loan program to help people who get into Rent or Utility arrears such that they run the risk of being evicted and made homeless. This is proactive avoidance of homelessness. It is also a contact point for community-based programming for people who are precariously housed, including credit counselling and food security and health care services.

This program is a partnership, and the City has been contributing $35,000 per year to cover a portion of the administrative cost, which allows the Rent Bank to operate 5 days a week. This report is asking the city to continue this commitment for three more years, and was supported by Council.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit: 808 Royal Avenue (Douglas College) – Preliminary Report
Douglas College wants to build a new building on the empty lots across 8th Street from their New West Campus. The plan is to have a 20-storey building with 244 student housing units and academic spaces on the lower floors. This is consistent with the OCP and the Downtown Community Plan, but the site needs a rezoning.

This is a preliminary report outlining the plan, and the project will need internal review and public consultation, but as it is consistent with the OCP and meets City Priorities, we will be waiving the Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know.

Welcome Centre Update and Funding Request
The Welcome Centre at NWSS is a partnership between the City, the School District, and service organizations supporting newcomers and their families. The City funds a “navigator” position to work in the centre and direct clients toward services they may require. We have applied to IIRC (the federal government) to help fund this position, as we are somewhat making up for gaps in the immigration systems that make it hard for recent arrivals to access these types of services, however we were not successful in getting the position funded for 2024. We will re-apply for 2025-2026, but need to commit to the position beforehand, which Council did.

Correspondence: Metro Vancouver letter dated May 16, 2023 regarding Land Use Designation Amendment to Metro 2050 Township of Langley – Gloucester Industrial Park
This is an application before Metro Vancouver to have 14.6 acres moved from Agricultural use outside the urban containment boundary to turn it to industrial land. This is adjacent to the Gloucester Industrial Park, but the land was previously (until recently) protected by the ALR. This change of the Urban Containment Boundary requires an amendment to our regional plan, which requires support of 50%+1 through a weighted vote at Metro Vancouver Board to be approved. This correspondence is our notice that we have until July 4, 2023 to the Board (as do members of the public and affected stakeholders).

Council moved the following resolution in response:
“ Council write a letter to Metro Board expressing concerns about erosion of the Urban Containment Boundary, citing its vital role in maintaining a stable, long-term footprint for urban development while reinforcing the protection of agricultural, conservation and rural lands for ecological and climate values. Sprawl of developed land outside of the UCB, whether for residential or commercial purposes, increases the cost of servicing these lands, undermines our regional transportation goals, and challenges our regional sustainable growth goals”

We then Read some Bylaws including the following Bylaw for Adoption:

Inter-municipal TNS Business Licence Agreement Bylaw No. 8393, 2023
As discussed above, this bylaw that expands the agreement among participating municipalities regarding an Inter-municipal Transportation Network Services (i.e. Ride-Hailing) Business License program was Adopted by Council. It’s the law of the land now, if the other 30 Municipalities agree.

Then on to everyone’s favourite section of the evening, Motions from Council:

2024 Police Budget
Councillor Nakagawa

Be it resolved that New Westminster City Council writes to the Police Board requesting to engage in collaborative dialogue about the 2024 Police Budget on an ongoing basis beginning in spring 2023.

City Council is required by law to approve a police budget, but we are not deeply involved in the creation of that police budget (though it represents the largest single departmental budget in the City). That is the work of the Police Board, along with setting the policy of the Police department. Under the Police Act, the Police Board is struck to specifically keep City Council (and therefore politics) separate from police operations, but the relationship over the budget is a bit more nuanced.

The idea that the Police Board and the City Council should have a collaborative dialogue about the budget during its development seems common sense. That said, it is up to the Police board to determine the budget development process that works for them, so this is an invitation from Council, and it will be up to the Police Board to decide what to do it. Council approved this request, and we will see where it goes.

I do note that the Police Act creates this weird situation where I, as the elected Mayor, am the spokesperson for both Council and the Police Board, so I should clarify here my comments are as Mayor and chair of City Council (though, of course not official City Communications, as this is my blog, not a city website), and not as Chair of the Police Board. Maybe I’ll blog out later how the Police Board reacts, but in the meantime, no-one is more aware than I of the weirdness of my conflicted position, and the role of Provincial Legislation in creating this conflict, and the challenges of doing this kind of open and transparent discussion with residents while I am doing these two jobs. Government just isn’t set up for this kind of direct and informal communications, but here we are.

Establishing a new Planning Policies, Procedures and Processes Working Group
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED that Council establish a Planning Policies, Procedures and Processes Working Group; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that once established and members of the Working Group are appointed, it be provided with up to 120 days to prepare a report to Council which includes recommendations regarding possible revisions, updates or the elimination of any unnecessary, outdated, costly or ineffective planning by-laws, policies, procedures and processes;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council appoint two city councillors to co-chair the Working Group and that they develop the terms of reference, and prepare a budget (if required) for approval by Council; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the co-chairs will recommend to Council the overall composition of the Working Group; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that all efforts should be made by the Working Group to utilize external resources as a means of limiting staff time required to support this initiative; and
BE IF FURTHER RESOLVED the representatives of the Working Group will represent the diversity of our community and that the consultation they undertake will be done so in an equitable manner

I was challenged with this set of recommendations, and was happy Council did not support this motion. It seemed to want to duplicate processes that are already going on in the City by adding a layer of bureaucracy, and appears to me to demonstrate a lack of understanding of what those processes are, which is disappointing after the work we did to onboard Council.

For example, earlier this meeting we had the item called “Sustainable Transportation Zoning Bylaw Amendments” which was part of exactly this – an updating of significant planning policies and procedures that came from staff continued effort to update and streamline policies, procedures and policies. We also recently approved a budget that included specific line items that addressed exactly this, from the update to the infill housing guidelines and new draft development permit guidelines and the new duplex/triples application approval process, to our planned “one stop shopping” eGov services program and transition to digital submissions of permit applications for review, inspections and approvals including digitization technology and resources. The conceit of this motion is that a couple of Councillors will direct this continuous improvement better than the professional staff doing this every day.

We have a process to (for example) continually review and update our zoning bylaw and processes that underlie it, including the recent changes that have provided more flexibility to waive Public Hearings and to fast-track affordable housing projects in the City where there are senior government funds on the table (something the mover of this motion seemed to express concern with in earlier conversation in this very meeting).

The point it, this work needs to be (and is) directed toward identified process problems or delays and are prioritized based on our Housing Needs Assessments. If, as this motion suggests, there are “concerns expressed about processes, procedures and policies”, then let’s have a conversation about those items. But the solution is not and un-costed and unclear fishing expedition led by a new layer of bureaucracy to add to the work load of staff already engaged in this work, especially as we are resource challenged right now.

Supporting the victims of random and violent crimes in New Westminster
Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor, on behalf of Council, write to the Federal Minister of Justice, the Premier of British Columbia and the BC’s Solicitor General requesting that every effort be made to reform our ‘catch and release’ justice system which is facilitating repeat and prolific offenders being allowed to roam New Westminster’s streets; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council endorse a request made in February 2023 by the Business Improvement Areas of BC to establish a new provincially funded program which supports initiatives aimed at curtailing the impacts of vandalism and property crime; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council request an urgent meeting with the New Westminster Police Board to develop a joint strategy and determine what additional initiatives can be immediately implemented to ensure our streets remain safe from further violent crime.

As these three measures appeared quite disconnected, it was moved to sever into three separate motions.

On the first resolution, there was some concern expressed by council about the suggestion that the Mayor should send opposition party speaking points (both Provincial and Federal) to the governments, as this did not seem conducive to a clear outcome, bereft of context or a clear ask.

I felt the need to point out that the recent announcement by the provincial government around the creation of the Hub model in communities including New Westminster, where police, dedicated prosecutors and probation officers are working together as part of the Repeat Violent Offending Intervention Initiative, demonstrates that the province is already taking this issue seriously and are taking new an innovative approaches to that issue. Further, the introduction of Bill C-48 represents as similar refocusing on the issue by the Federal government, focusing on bail reform in a way that keeps violent offenders of the street in a way that would survive a charter challenge.

Of course, I believe that everyone has the right to feel safe in our community, and the mutli-faceted approach that target the root causes of these types of crimes while assuring the justice system has the tools it needs to protect the public from those few who commit the most atrocious violence in our communities is the right approach. I support the work the provincial and federal governments are doing now, and am not convinced my sending them opposition speaking points now is going to make any material difference. Council did not support this resolution.

On the second resolution debate was cut short because the meeting hit 10:30pm, and our Procedure Bylaw requires 2/3 of the Council to vote to extend beyond 10:30. Much to my surprise, the member who brought this resolution, and the member who brought the following resolution on the agenda voted to NOT extend debate on their own resolutions, and instead wanted the meeting to adjourn. I can’t explain that.

So we wrapped at 10:30 with a bit of an abrupt ending to the meeting. The unaddressed issues will come back (presumably) at the next meeting, though there is a time sensitive item later in the agenda that will likely require an emergency meeting. So stay tuned!

Strategic Priorities Plan

A Strategic Priorities Plan was recently endorsed by Council. I wrote previously about the process we went through to get here, this is the meat in the middle. The Plan sets out the five priority areas for our work in the next few years. One of the principles we took into Strategic Planning was a recognition that these kinds of plans need to be aspirational and values-based, not necessarily prescriptive. The last 4 years taught us that even the best laid plans can be shifted by events, and we need to be ready to pivot when events conspire. A clear understanding of our common goals and the values that guide us toward them helps us with that pivot.

The core of the plan is five priority areas, four fairly straight-forward, one more abstract. In each of these, we have objectives and some example outcomes.

Homes and Housing Options. Our Community has been a leader in full-spectrum housing policy, from shelter and supportive housing through purpose-built rental and family-friendly transit oriented development. Still, secure and affordable housing is the #1 regional priority, and we have work to do. Our focus this term will be on implementing the Homelessness Action Strategy, and better targeting our affordable housing efforts to align with senior government funding opportunities. We will continue to prioritize market housing development on and near Transit, and will update our infill density program to bring more diversity of housing in every neighbourhood. Finally, facing the labour crunch, we are going to implement a simplified and streamlined approvals process to get more built sooner.

Safe Movement of People The ways people move around our region are changing, as people want more choice and equity in how we allocate transportation space and we are starting to make the shift necessary for us to meet our Climate Action goals. To reflect this, we are emphasizing increased safety for all modes, and measuring transportation success by our ability to move people more than traditional transportation models related to moving specific types of devices. Along with generational investments in our Active Transportation Network (again, to align with senior government funding opportunities), we are going to bring a new focus on the safety and comfort of our transportation realm – we don’t want choice constrained by lack of safety. This will be inter-departmental and culture-shifting, whether we brand it “VisionZero” or not.

People-centred Economy Continuing the trend of centering the people we serve in our work, we are framing our Economic Development focus around people. This means supporting vibrant retail areas that are focused on local needs. This means assuring our jobs-creating spaces (Commercial/ Industrial) are able to support local jobs. This also means assuring the economic benefits of our strong Arts and Culture sector are shared here in the community. This is an area where relationships and partnerships will be key to our success.

Assets and Infrastructure This doesn’t get everyone excited, but the City has a 5-year capital plan I can only describe as aggressive, which means we are investing in core infrastructure like never before. Asset Management is a the practice of assuring you understand your long-term asset needs and the lifecycle of existing and new assets, so that you can properly plan the finances needed to keep your assets in good repair, and renew them when needed. We are advancing a structured Asset Management strategy in the City, department by department, and though this will be better positioned both to score senior government grants to support infrastructure growth, and to set priorities when the inevitable call for more stuff but less spending arrives.

Community Belonging and Connecting This is the slightly less tangible priority area, but through our Strat Plan discussions, it was a theme we kept coming back to organically. What makes New West unique is the way residents and businesses feel connected to the community, to each other, in a way many other municipalities in the Lower Mainland don’t. We have a culture of connections, and Council wants to foster that. This means supporting the many community organizations that are bringing people together around, arts, around culture, around sport, or around an activated street.

These are the focus areas, but the way we do this work is as important as the work itself, so this Strategic Plan includes context statements that describe the organizations foundations we work upon, and the lenses through which we view our work. That can all sound a bit like Management Consultant Speak, but let me unpack it a bit using Climate Action as an example.

We are in an era where people expect their government to take action on Climate Change mitigation and adaptation. The existential aspect of this work is such that it impacts every department in the City. We cannot achieve our 2030 and 2050 GHG goals unless we engineer our public spaces differently. We cannot be resilient in the face of climate disruption unless our Emergency Services understand and adapt to the new threats. The buildings we approve today will be the affordable building stock in the zero-carbon future, we better assure they are built for that future. It goes on. Everything we do from this point forward must be viewed through a climate lens – are we doing this in a way that reduces GHG emissions? Is what we are building going to be appropriate in 20 years? Does this move us towards mitigation, or away from it?

Lenses like this will be applied to assure we are being true to our goals for Reconciliation, for Public Engagement, and for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIAR). It is what our community expects, and it is the right way to approach this work.

Finally, all of this work will be done on the foundation of Organizational Effectiveness. This means supporting our professional staff to do their work, assuring they have the resources and tools they need to do it, from IT to HR to the building in which people work.

And that is the plan in a nutshell. It is meant to be aspirational and realistic, and it is flexible enough for us to shift emphasis as needs (and senior government supports) shift over the next 40ish months. We will be monitoring and measuring the success transparently so Council and staff can be kept accountable to deliver on it.

Now go enjoy your long weekend, and Tuesday we get back to work.

Strategic Planning

As I reported last week, New West Council completed our Strategic Priority Plan. You can read the plan here, and I will write a second post about the content of it, but first a bit about the process that got us here, and the next steps. In the Strat Plan Blogging sandwich, this will be about the bread, and we can talk about the meat in the middle in the next post.

This Strategic Plan is the work of all of Council, with significant support from staff in preparing it. This is a new Council, with 4 new members and a new Mayor. We have also seen some significant changes in the last few years, between the persistent impacts of COVID-19 on our program delivery and the generational scale of our capital plan. Though it is common for a new Council to adopt a new strategic plan to guide staff work for the term, I felt it was important that this time we take a bit of time for the new Council to get their feet under them, and that we do intensive onboarding and training to assure all of Council are adequately informed to take a meaningful part in the Strat Planning.

As both Strategic Planning and budget planning take a lot of work, I did not want to rush through the former before we started working on the latter, and the budget has legislated timelines we needed to meet. The timing we followed allowed Council a chance to go through their first budget cycle before we buttoned up the Strat Plan – an important lesson in compromise and priority setting. The Strat Plan (and future budgets) will be stronger because we did this learning, but we also needed to recognize that our Strat Plan will not be fully demonstrated in our budget until next year.

The Strat Plan process included a weekend workshop, it was embedded into the many onboarding workshops we held, and there were early written drafts that all of Council opined on, as staff were able to frame and make sensible from all of that input. This was a good exercise overall, as members of Council were free to discuss technical and legislative policy limits with staff in a way that they feel free and unencumbered to ask the “bad question”. There was also space to debate values, ideas, policies, and challenges in a way that is mostly free of the political fray. I think we grew as a Council through this.

All that said, there is a responsibility that Council make decisions transparently, which means that the Strat Plan comes to an open meeting, and all of Council have an opportunity to speak to it. You can see this process (closed development discussion followed by open release and endorsement) is the standard practice for Municipalities that do strategic plans, and you can see other Munis reports here, here, and here.

Now that the Strat Plan is adopted, we will use it to guide future budget discussions, and will integrate it with our other major planning documents, from the Official Community Plan to our Climate Action Plan and Parks and open Spaces Strategy. When Staff or Council bring ideas forward, they will be discussed in the context of this plan – either the new work should match our priorities, or we need a compelling reason to adjust those priorities.

To bring the Strat Plan to function, we will likely be making some changes in the operation of the City. We had a report last week about Advisory Committees, and are beginning the work to assure they are structured to serve the priorities of the Strat Plan. It is also possible that we will make some organizations changes at the staff level to assure that workplans are better aligned with Council’s priorities and that the reporting structure is designed to provide oversight and accountability to the goals of Council as expressed by the Strat Plan. This is the work of the months ahead.

We are in a time when Local Governments are being asked to do more things for more people all the time. We are also being asked to do more with less, in the sense that our budgets are strained and the regional labour shortage means fewer people are available to do the expanded work. To achieve our major strategic goals, we are going to have to set priorities. This is a hard thing for New Westminster (the City, and the community) to do – we are the small city that does a lot, and we are proud of our level of achievement. Yes, there are a lot of great things we could do but we simply cannot do it all. This is called a Strategic Priorities Plan for a reason, and I’ll write in the next post about what those priorities are.

Finally, it was disappointing that the work of the last few months was not endorsed by all of Council. I assumed everyone was in those meetings and discussions for the same reasons, to work out a shared sense of principles and priorities. I thought we had got there, and it was communicated to me that we got there. To have a last-minute amendment on a parochial item seemed performative to me, and to use the lack of support for this performative gesture as an excuse to oppose the result of months of staff and Council work seemed to disregard the collaborative approach Council had taken into this work. I am disappointed by that, but will learn from it.


I wrote last week about the political part of the Lower Mainland LGA annual conference, here is the rest of what happened, including the Sessions and Resolutions.

A major part of the annual meeting are workshops and panel sessions where Local Government leaders can share and learn. Considering about half of the attendees this year were new to the job of being a Mayor of City Councilor, these formal sessions (and the ample informal networking time) is really valuable. This is the briefest summary of the sessions this year.

Local Government Partnerships & Innovation
This was a panel discussion with representatives from three Municipalities taking innovative approaches to their unique challenges: Abbotsford taking an Airport the Federal government didn’t want anymore and making it a local economic driver; Whistler working to bring community-based health care work in their unique community; and Chilliwack taking an aggressive approach to Downtown Revitalization.

The last item sparked a lot of interest in the room, and was also the subject of a pre-conference tour. The centre of the discussion is a block branded as District 1881 that over more than 15 years went from this:

To this:

To this:

The Streetview images don’t fully represent the texture of the change, as the first photo has a lot of end-of-life buildings, many boarded up stores and low value leases inthe few remaining. The new Centre is certainly attractvie and higher value (arguably gentrified?). There were some good lessons from their experience here, some not particularly useful now (“buy up land before the prices are driven up!”), and some very useful, though sometimes hard to achieve (“be clear on your vision and stick with it, even through changes in council and government; build partnerships early”). I had some good discussion with colleagues from Chilliwack after the panel to get more details, and will be following up.

Everyone’s Responsibility: Codes of Conduct & Ethics in City Hall Description
This was an interesting and timely panel ad most local governments (by direction of the Province) are reviewing their Codes of Conduct now, we have new Councils across the region, and we were meeting in Harrison, one of the municipalities that is currently facing scrutiny for its council conduct challenges. The Panel included a member of the Provincial government who works in local government oversight, a Councillor for Squamish, which is a municipality with a “model” Code of Conduct, introduced last term, and a Lawyer who guides Cities (including New West) on Code of Conduct issues.

This was an interesting conversation that spoke about the importance of a strong CoC, and also admitted that a CoC was not a panacea for all forms of organizational dysfunction. So many of our systems in local government organization rely on good faith participation, and the development of a CoC is one of these. The importance of developing a CofC when things are going well was emphasized, because trying to bring them in during time of maximum disruption (when they are needed the most) does not work – they have to be in place ahead of time. Lesson learned.

Running a Positive Election Campaign: Reflections and Lessons Learned from the 2022 BC General Municipal Election
This panel brought elected types from Vancouver, Burnaby, Squamish, and Langley together with the observer of all things Municipal, Justin McElroy, to discuss the campaign of 2022, and the potential for positive messaging as a positive force in elections. There was a*lot* here about the battle of ideas, and the absolute quagmire that is election period Social Media. Perhaps one of the insights that stood out was Justin’s advice/observance that elected people who are still talking about the election 6 months later are probably the ones who will not survive, which evokes a bit Nenshi’s comments: stop campaigning and do some work. There will be lots of time to campaign three years from now. Perhaps the most interesting moment was when the question was asked about the role of “Kennedy Stewart’s Road Tax” in a positive campaign, but you had to be there to appreciate it.

We also had a great closing keynote from Bowinn Ma, the Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, speaking about the lessons learned from the atmospheric river floods, Lytton fire, and other major events of the last few years ,and new ways the Provincial Government is working to help local governments be prepared for the next shitty climate-change-driven catastrophe (my words, not hers), including the Climate Ready BC website

Except for years where there is a spectacular speech implosion, the resolutions session is the most noteworthy part of most Lower Mainland LGA meetings. This is the part where municipalities put forward resolutions they hope the membership will endorse, mostly calls for Senior Governments to do things, like change policy, legislation or revenue streams for local government. In 2023 we had 35 resolutions debated, and you can read all about the here. Most were successful, but some failed. I am only going to speak to the ones that New Westminster took to the session. For the rest, you will have to find some other mayor’s blog. This is a really fun debate process for those who dig local government policy wonking, and want to make change.

R9 Equitable Communities
…be it resolved that UBCM call upon the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada to provide resources and policy direction to enable local government to implement analytical processes for the assessment of systemic inequalities (i.e. Gender-Based Analysis Plus) across local government capital investments, operations and strategic initiatives to ensure all citizens can participate fully in civic life and to make measureable progress towards dismantling system inequality in our communities.
This passed non-controversially.

R10 Exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
…be it resolved that the LMLGA and UBCM request that the BC Government request Health Canada add “public park spaces designed for and used by children and youth” to the list of exceptions to the Controlled Drug and Substances Act exemptions.
This resolution was divisive, and was eventually amended to remove the work “park”, which left it asking for a ban for all public spaces. As this effectively results in full recriminalization of decriminalized drugs, this derailed the motion completely. The amended motion was endorsed by a slim majority of delegates, but in this form will no doubt be ignored by the Federal and Provincial governments, a classic example of cutting off ones nose to spite one’s face.

R16 Vacant Property Tax on Commercial Properties
…be it resolved that UBCM urge the Province of British Columbia to provide local governments with an option to introduce a vacant property tax applicable to commercial properties
This was another hotly-debated resolution, but with a solid majority of delegates voting in support. This will no doubt be ever more hotly debated at UBCM, and the rural-urban divide on this issue may be more pronounced than one might expect.

R28 Bringing Equity to Traffic Enforcement
…be it resolved that UBCM calls upon the provincial government to implement a means-tested traffic fine system, similar to Finland, Switzerland, Sweden or the UK where fines may be calculated on the basis of the offender’s income.
Perhaps surprisingly, there was little debate on this issue, and reflecting the public opinion polls on the matter, this resolution was supported by a solid majority of delegates. Again, I expect this to have a rockier ride at UBCM, but the level of support was positive.

So all in all, New West was 3 for 4 for our resolutions, and our memberswere the re to support solid resolutions for other progressive councils from around the region – this is an area where Port Moddy asnd Squamish really step up and take some regional leadership.

In what became a running joke for some during the resolution debates, was the frequency with which the term “slippery slope” was used as an excuse to not endorse a regulatory change. This is a bit silly, as all regulation is, buy it very nature, a potential slippery slope, which is why the framing of it is as important as the request for it. But I also note that the “slippery slope fallacy” is the only logical fallacy we common name as we are committing it. In debate, we rarely say “this is a total non sequitur, but…” or “I would like to offer the strawman argument that…”, but we have no shame in saying “If we approve this, it is the thin end of the wedge!”.

Maybe I’ll save the rhetoric lecture for UBCM… 

Council – May 8, 2023

It was a long, and at times complicated, council meeting on Monday, but we got a lot of really positive work done, and left the room feeling more refreshed than we should have been at that late time of night. The Agenda was lengthy, and started with an important Presentation

2022-2026 Council Strategic Plan
Council has been working on a Strategic Plan for months. This included a bunch of onboarding work, which is important when the majority of Council is new to the job, and brings different expectations of what the City is, and where it needs to be, to the equation. We had an intensive weekend retreat at the Shipyards on North Vancouver, and some workshops following that session. We have also asked staff to do a bunch of work to translate our “wants” into potential deliverables. Anyone who works for an organization the size of this City understands the challenge of distilling visions into a digestible document. I’m really proud of Council and staff for getting here. Share and enjoy.

Is it the Strat Plan I would have written? Maybe not exactly. But I am one of seven at Council, and as much as I might want to impose my own vision on everything in the community, I am part of a team, I recognize the product of the team is a better product – more likely to reflect the vision of the broader community and more likely to reflect a vision that can be realized by the team. This is a good thing, and I have a lot of faith in the team to see us though.

I’m a little disappointed that after all this work, there was not unanimous adoption of the product of that work, ostensibly because the balance of Council was unwilling to add a last minute parochial issue (that had recently been the target of a campaign by a business person with a clear pecuniary interest) into the long-discussed community-focused strategy. Alas, that is where we are politically.

More blog posts to come, because this is an important topic, but for now, the Council adopted the Strat Plan, and our work ahead is prioritized.

We then had a couple of Information Reports pulled forward for discussion:

Anvil Centre Operations
This Report provided City Council with some updates and details on Anvil Centre operations, as a compliment to the report under Consent regarding Anvil Centre budgets. After almost 9 years of operation, and the Anvil Centre being important to many of the priorities in the just-adopted Strategic Plan (Downtown revitalization, the blending of Arts and Culture with Economic Development, developing better connectedness and belonging in the city), Council asked that we have a deeper discussion around the successes and challenges of Anvil, and an opportunity to discuss the mandate of Anvil going into its tenth year. This will come back to us in Workshop format in the middle future.

Demographic Profile of Be Heard New West Registered Users
The City has operated on-line engagement portal since 2020, called Be Heard New West. This is one of the deliverables from the City’s Public Engagement Strategy, which was adopted in 2016 following a Mayor’s Task Force on Public Engagement (which included two members of Council who were not on Council then!). This is , of course, not the only Public Engagement work we do, but it is one that allows pretty close tracking of who we are engaging with, and perhaps more reliantly, who we are not reaching with our community engagement.

This report compares the demographics of the people connected with Be Heard New West with the demographics of the community gleaned from the 2021 census. We have almost 3,500 registrants (just under 5% of the population), which would be a statistically relevant number if it wasn’t self-selected. Groups under-represented might not be surprising. Renters only make up 24% of Be Heard participants, while renter households are more than 45% of the households in New West. People under 35 are underrepresented, while people 35-64 are very much overrepresented. People of Colour are underrepresented, as are immigrant residents. There was some expressed interest in Council to look at other tools to assure better representation of the community in our engagement, which slightly previewed our discussion of the Advisory Committees below.

These items were then moved On Consent:

Anvil Centre Operating Overview
As a companion to the earlier info report, this is a report that arose out of some deeper conversations Council has been having around the budget for the Anvil Centre. Where some on Council have asserted repeatedly that the Anvil is “losing $5 Million per year”. The reality is something different.

It costs about $5.3 Million to run the Anvil Centre every year. $2.4M of this is conference services, $1.2M is Community Arts & Theatre operations, and the remaining $1.5M the cost of the Museum, Archives, art and technology functions. This is offset by $2.6M in revenue earned every year, mostly from Conference Services. This does NOT include parking from the parkade under Anvil or leases of the commercial spaces in the Anvil, which are a separate revenue source, nor does it include the $2.7M in annual capital depreciation, which is not an actual cash “cost”, but an accounting for the idea that the Anvil, like all assets, has a lifespan we need to account for in our capital budget.

Appointment of Corporate Officer
We have a new Corporate Officer, and this is one of the positions we need to officially assign as City Council as they have regulatory role and delegated duties. So this was done.

Approach for Budget 2024 Engagement & Budget Timelines
This report outlines the timelines for engagement on next years’ budget. We have just wrapped the 2023 budget, but Council has expressed a desire to engage earlier and deeper with the broad community on budget matters, and a desire to complete the budget work earlier in the year so we can better align our budget with annual staff work plans, which means we are going to begin the 2024 budget engagement process this month.

There are two plans here: a quick start for 2024, recognizing he tight timelines and staff resources that will include Be Heard New West and directly outreach to a broader community, including both educational materials about municipal budgeting and questions about service levels, priorities, and tax tolerance. Given how this works and more planning time, there will be enhanced work for the 2025 budget season.

Daycare Lease Agreement at 490 Furness Street
This is the Lease that allows KIDS to operate a daycare (12 infant/toddler spots and 25 preschool-age) in a building the City negotiated out of the development of a townhouse project in Queensborough. The Developer built the building and gave it to the City. The Province provided a $500,000 grant towards construction. The City fitted it out, including using $450,000 from our daycare reserve funds, and will continue to own and maintain the building. KIDS won the contract in an open call for proposals, and will staff and operate the daycare, including daily building maintenance. The City will collect $2,800/month in lease to cover the majority of costs for the building, utilities, and to help offset the depreciation of the building, which is clearly a small percentage of what “market rent” would be for a building like this. These costs (and the lease amount) will be adjusted over the term of the lease through quarterly reporting to KIDS.

Early Steps Daycare – Playground License Agreement at 601 Queens Avenue
A new Childcare is trying to set up on Queens Avenue, but the “front lawn” is not large enough to meet provincial standards for outdoor play space. Immediately adjacent to this lawn is City boulevard with more than enough space well set back from traffic, with no clear delineation where City land starts and private property ends. The Daycare operator would like to include a small part of the City-owned lawn as their designated outdoor space. This is OK with the City, but as they are a for-profit organization, we can’t just let them use it (ref. Section 25 of the Community Charter), so we need to agree to a fair lease for the use of public space. This is that agreement.

Expanding the Inter-municipal TNS (Ride-Hailing) Business Licence to include Hope, Kent and Mission
The City is part of an Inter-Municipal Business License scheme along with 20+ Greater Vancouver municipalities to provide a single business license to ride-hailing companies, meaning the operators can legally operate across the region, and each municipality gets its share of the license revenue. Three Fraser Valley municipalities want be added to this IMBL. Which means we need to amend our own bylaw. If you have opinions, let us know by May 29th.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Application for Strata Conversion of the existing building at 716 Columbia Street.
This building has been sitting empty for a long time, one of the persistent gaps in our downtown streetscape. Of all the gaps, this the one that we quickest to get filled, as there already was zoning for mixed use and building and building permits were granted almost a decade ago. Strata conversions are not common in New West, as we do not permit existing rental to be converted to Strata. This site was never a rental building in any official way (though it operated as a hotel at some point in the middle-distant past), and is currently not occupied by residents.

There was some discussion about the small footprint and slightly unusual layouts of these suites. They would probably not be given a development permit to build this in 2023, but they were back in 2010, and were granted building permits based on the building code and regulations applicable at the time, so it would be highly irregular (and legally questionable) to retract those approvals now that the work has finally been done.

Long and short, this is the first of the “gaps” downtown that we have got activated, with commercial at grade and some small strata apartments above. That is a good thing!

Rezoning Application for Conversion to Supportive Housing: 422 Sixth Street – Preliminary Application
The owner of this building in the Brow of the Hill wishes to convers two floors of the mixed-use office building to a form of supportive housing desperately needed in the community. 30 units of supportive housing for people facing homelessness, with on-site supports. This is consistent with the OCP designation for the site, and the mixed residential/commercial use and density are within the zoning, but the supportive nature of the housing is not, so we need to do a rezoning to address that specific point.

This is a preliminary report, and there are some details and funding to work out. There will also be a public engagement step as is typical of a rezoning, however as this is consistent with policy and priorities in the City, we are going to waive the Public Hearing on this rezoning.

We then Adopted a a Bylaw:

Tax Rates Bylaw No. 8395 2023
This Bylaw, as it suggests, sets the Tax Rates for 2023, and it was adopted by Council.

Then we had our Motions from Council:

Inviting the Community to Celebrate and Say Goodbye to the Pattullo Bridge
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor write a letter on behalf of Council to the BC Ministry of Transportation to determine the feasibility of opening the Pattullo Bridge to pedestrian, cycle and other non-vehicular modes of transportation for a period of three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) subsequent to the opening of the new bridge; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council enter into discussions with the Ministry of Transportation to facilitate a community-based celebration of the existing Pattullo Bridge by way of an ‘on bridge’ day-long street festival during the three day public access period

Through some discussion on Council, this got amended to something like (forgive my notes, this may not be perfect):

BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor write a letter on behalf of Council to the BC Ministry of Transportation and TransLink to determine the feasibility of opening the Pattullo Bridge to pedestrian, cycle and other non-vehicular modes of transportation for a period of three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) subsequent to the opening of the new bridge; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council notify the Ministry of Transportation and TransLink that the City wants them to host a community-based celebration of the existing Pattullo Bridge by way of an ‘on bridge’ day-long street festival during the three day public access period with City input to the event; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this include a memorial event or day be held to mark the lives lost on the structure.

This motion is consistent with the conversation we are already having with MOTI, including a couple of weeks ago when they came here to present to Council about the Pattullo Replacement project and we will need to engage TransLink, as I understand they are still the owner of the asset.

The history of the bridge is complicated. While the arch has marked the skyline of New Westminster for generations, and is iconic for that, it is also a place where many people lost their lives, and I think a day of remembrance would also be appropriate. We have a year or more to plan this out, so let’s see where the conversation goes.

Updating and determining the effectiveness of the City’s Tree Protection and Regulation Bylaw
Submitted by Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED that staff be directed to report back to Council regarding the costs, potential sources of funding and operational impacts pertaining to the City conducting an independent and arms-length review and public consultation regarding the effectiveness of our Tree Protection and Regulation Bylaw

It was not made clear what the goal of this motion was, or why this bylaw was being selected for scrutiny among out hundreds of bylaws. There is no data supporting the assertion that the tree canopy is declining, indeed it is likely holding steady. What we can say for certainty is that there are many, many more trees in the City than even a couple of years ago, and their contribution to overall canopy cover will not be realized for a decade. We plant a tree not for today, but for 20 years in the future, and that is why we have an Urban Forest Management Strategy, of which the Tree Protection Bylaw is only one component.

Has this Bylaw been reviewed? Yes. Since the initial introduction of the Bylaw, which came itself after significant public consultation and industry review, this Bylaw has been iterated to make it clearer, more functional, and easier to navigate. Indeed, our Amended Bylaw has served as a model for other municipalities who have followed our lead on navigating the unique challenges of implementing a tree bylaw in a heavily urbanized area facing significant population growth.

If the point is external arms-length review, I would suggest the reviews by the Canadian Institute of Planners, who gave our Urban Forest Management Strategy the national Award for Planning Excellence, and the Planning Institute of British Columbia who gave it an award of Excellence on Policy Planning. To experts in the field, this strategy and the Bylaw demonstrate incredible industry-leading work by our staff.

Without specific ideas of what needs fixing, I can’t support staff spending time or limited resources reviewing this program at this time. I would suggest that time and money are better spent in continued implementation of the strategy. Council did not vote to support this motion.

Finally, we had one piece of New Business:

Potential Changes to City Advisory Committee Structure
Now that we have an adopted Strategic Plan, we are going to do the next bit of work, which is adjusting our Advisory Committee Structure. This happens every Council term, as we did a pretty big shift in early 2019 to a paired Task Force – Advisory Committee model and pared back our 30+ Advisory Committees to more align with areas of strategic focus. There were strengths and weaknesses to this model, but the biggest challenge (identified going back to our 2016 Public Engagement Strategy) is making our advisory committees better match our community profile in demographics. This was also noted in the report further up on Be Heard New West demographics, where council agrees we needed new tools to better connect with the diversity of our community. In this report, one such tool is outlined.

Though there are details to work out, Community Engagement staff are going to develop a “community assembly” or “citizens assembly” or “advisory council” model. The name doesn’t matter (yet. I think it will matter, just not yet) as much as the idea – a larger demographically-representative group of residents to serve as an advisory body to Council and staff. This could be applied in various ways, including having a demographically-representative pool of hyper-engaged participants from which advisory task forces or panels could be drawn on various topics. As the need arises.

This is a new model, we don’t know of anywhere it has been applied yet, but it does represent a new model that meets the goals of our Public Engagement Strategy in a new and exciting way. It is a bit risky, but could be ground-breaking. I’m excited to see where this goes.

And that was the meeting that was. Go outside, get some sun.

Lower Mainland LGA 2023 (pt 1)

This week the Lower Mainland Local Government Association held their annual conference in Harrison. The Lower Mainland LGA is the collective of the elected local government officials of Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, and the Sea-to-Sky, and includes 29 of the 30 municipalities from Hope to Pemberton as members. (bonus guess on who is missing?). All of New Westminster Council attended, and as is my wont, I like to write an (admittedly-biased) review of what happened. This will be a series of blog posts, as there are three main components of the event, but I’ll start with the one that is freshest in my mind, the speeches, and come back to resolutions and sessions in follow-up posts.

Every LMLGA has speeches, political ones from each of the three main provincial parties (mush of our resolution work and discussion at the event is about advocacy to the provincial government) and a keynote.

The Keynote in 2023 was from Naheed Nenshi, the recently-more-relaxed former Mayor of Calgary. He spoke about the times and the current challenges of Local Government, and of governance of all forms during the “long emergency” we are experiencing. He spoke of the overlap of 5 crises: The ongoing Pandemic (“It’s not over folks!”); Mental Health and Addictions (Sorry, folks the Alberta Model is not a panacea); Racism and Decolonization (this has been going on for generations, but the need to reckon with it is now and present in all of our discourse); Climate (yeah, he kinds breezed over this, as a guy used to speaking to the Calgary business crowd tends to); and unprecedented inequity (economic inequity is higher now than it was during the Industrial Revolution, than it was during the days of Carnegie and Rockefeller).

He also spoke about his affinity for Purple – not a primary colour, neither red nor blue, but both. He had tried himself to be as non-partisan as possible and found success in speaking to issues, not ideologies. It was interesting to hear him talk about that line, as a Mayor of a fairly progressive local government floating in a sea of conservatism, and after him speaking of the issues above through a lens that most would recognize as a progressive one. But his message of service to the community, of love for your community, should be universal for those called to public service.

His message directed at the crowd at Lower Mainland LGA (elected people recently put in office with three and a half years of work ahead of them) was simple. Forget about the campaign and instead do your work. If you are always talking about the last election or the next one, you are not making good decisions, because you are putting the service of yourself in front of service for the community. Now is the time to Do Your Work, and 6 months before the next election, you can point back at that work, and the voters will decide whether that was enough.

The Leader of BC United, Kevin Falcon, gave a campaign speech that was at times confusing. Much like his speech at the UBCM Housing Summit a few weeks ago (where he told a room of bureaucrats that the last thing the housing crisis needed was more bureaucrats), he perhaps missed his audience here by framing the first half of his speech around the inability of government to do anything useful, while he was talking to a room of people recently elected to do things. There was also a lack of internal consistency in his comments. He spent much of the time saying “government can’t build housing”, and lamenting how ideas to build more housing are hampered by BC Hydro’s ability to supply power, by the need to expand sewers and water and roads. Then he switched to his strategy which was to “Flood the Zone” with new housing, while making no reference to the problem with that approach he just talked about. So, a campaign speech.

The speech was also notable in his unique discretion in only saying “Catch and Release” a single time. And once again, he made it clear to everyone he *Really Loves* the current members of Vancouver city council, and *really hated* the old ones. It is unclear how he stands on the majority of Vancouver councilors who were both on the old council and the new one. Maybe I’m missing some nuance here.

Sonia Furstenau of the BC Greens gave a Sonia speech, in that her approach to these events is so notably different than most politicians. She clearly riffs off of her notes, sometimes far off, but speaks about what she is hearing and feeling in a human way. She is also talented at finding parallels with the points made by others (you should never want to go before Sonia on the agenda if you have the option) and reframing them in creative ways. Example: like Falcon, she wants to “focus on outcomes” – but she is more directed in asking what those outcomes are, and who they serve? At each point, she talks at a deeper level, and challenges us to do the same.

There is a luxury in being the Third Party, but Sonia uses that privilege effectively. She is able to get meta (as the kids say), look at the debates we are having and raise the question “why”? If our processes and debates don’t let us agree on the starting point, don’t let us work from the same data, how will we ever agree on the path to better outcomes? A good example is in how she talks about question Period in the Legislature, when the two parties (for the most part) yell at each other hoping for media quotes. She asks – how does this serve anyone? What would question Period look like if we centred the people being served? If we talked about policy outcomes and took that service seriously? Dare to dream.

The NDP were represented by “our” Minister, Anne Kang of Municipal Affairs (though Minister Bowinn Ma was also on a panel on Friday). She opened in referring to herself as the “Minister of Friendship” – and her first goal being to get to know and meet with the local government leaders around the region. This is a big task with ~180 Local Governments, but Minister Kang has been working hard to make those connections. Spending time as a City Councillor herself, she was able to relate to the folks in the crowd, and received more applause than perhaps the other folks giving Friday speeches on Friday – the benefit of being able to talk about the $1billion Growing Communities Fund and other funding the Province has sent to local governments (Library funding perhaps the most popular in this crowd – note to all current and future Ministers of Municipal Affairs).

She had a few great lines (“Alberta may be calling, but only because this is the place people actually want to live”) but her speech (to my taste) leaned a bit too much on the speaking notes, and not enough on her personal experience in local government and her personal learnings from her first few months on the job. She is new to the role, and has room to grow in it, but the best part was her clear willingness to make the connections that Local Government needs in Victoria.

This points a bit to the overall tone of the room during these speeches, and over the three days. When I was first attending these Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM events 8ish years ago, relations between the Provincial Government and Local Governments were strained. There are, of course, local elected people across the political spectrum, but 8 years ago the lefties and the righties seemed fairly aligned on the idea that the province was doing local governments few favours. This shifted when the NDP got elected. Minister Robinson was “one of us” (a Local Mainland LGA Executive member!) and a bridge builder, as was Minister Osborne. The provincial government was present again at Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM events, and were actively engaging local government. Most of the lefties and the righties agreed this was a breath of fresh air, and received this support warmly, even if some begrudgenly did so.

After a few years of not meeting like this, and with the NDP now owning a long enough legacy of successes and failures, It was clear the room was more divided along partisan divisions than I ever remember feeling before. Perhaps this is “regression to the mean” after a decade of anomalous swings, maybe it is the room half full of new folks trying to find their place and their voice. But I’m afraid the message of Mayor Nenshi may have fallen on ears less purple than we might hope.