Council – June 12, 2023 (part 2)

This is the second part of my report on the June 12th meeting, the first part is available here, and as there are were spicy conversations around some of these issues, I should probably add a bit of a caveat once again. This blog is written by me and me alone and not only does it not constitute official City communications, it also has inherent to it my biases. I make no claim to objectivity, even when I try my best to be objective. As always, you can watch the video here and see how the conversation itself went down, and can judge for yourself.

This Part 2 covers our various Motions from Council:

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.

This was an item delayed from the meeting two weeks ago when members of Council voted to not continue past 10:30, and this item got put aside halfway through. We already addressed the first Resolution (see link here), but had yet to address the last two.

On the second Resolution, it was amended to not just “endorse” the BIA of BC request, but to send letters to the appropriate members of the provincial government to add advocacy to the provincial government to our endorsement. All members of Council voted in favour of this advocacy to the provincial government make that endorsement clear.

On the third resolution, I was prepared to argue that this was inconsistent with the roles of Council and the Police Board. The Police Act makes very clear that there be a firewall between Police activities and City Council, to prevent exactly this kind of political interference in the operation of Police Forces. Indeed it was argued last meeting (incorrectly, in my opinion), including by council members advocating for this motion, that this firewall should prevent Council from being involved in discussions with the Police Board around budget matters, which is the one part of the Police Act where Council actually has a role. So the contradictions here are byzantine.

In my discussions with the Police Board, they appear very interested in meeting with Council to build a better budget consultation process, as police budgeting is meant to be a collaboration between the Police Board and Council, but when we start to veer into policy and operations, the Police Board will likely push back, as will the management of the police department as per the Police Act. That said, this request is to ask the Police Board for a meeting, and I have no problem with making that request to see where it goes. Council moved unanimously to move this.

Implementing initiatives to reduce catalytic converter thefts in New Westminster
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED that staff work with ICBC and the New Westminster Police Department to determine the feasibility of replicating Surrey’s “Etch It, We Catch It” campaign in our city; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff report back regarding the feasibility of implementing a by-law that would place a temporary ban on the resale of catalytic converters and impose serious fines to those individuals and/or businesses who knowingly sell stolen catalytic converters in our city.

Again, this is a matter (in my thinking) for the Police Board, not City Council, and would have benefitted from some communications with the Police Board or leadership in the police department before it came to Council. It is also problematic that the reselling of catalytic converters is not a currently licensed business in New Westminster, and the Surrey Bylaw (which you can read here) is part of its business regulation of scrap car recycling – a business type we don’t have in New Westminster. The suggestion here is to create a Bylaw to regulate a business type we don’t have. I’m not sure adding bureaucracy to regulate a business we don’t even have would be helpful, or aligned with our overall goal to simplify and streamline our business licensing.

I was also influenced here by a presentation at the Metro Vancouver Mayors Committee last week from the Chief Constable of the Delta Police Department (see meeting agenda and minutes here) on this very topic. It was very clear in his presentation – and I took the time to confirm this with him during our Q&A – that local government Bylaws are not a useful tool in addressing this issue. Instead, he emphasized in no uncertain terms that we are in a place where we need a change to provincial regulation, and was asking the Metro mayors to do that advocacy work. He indicated a patchwork of local bylaws can’t address the drivers of this crime, because they are impossible for police to administer, and would only catch people trying to sell a converter into legitimate recycling businesses, which is not the situation we are facing in BC. The vast majority of converters are stripped for precious metals and/or put into containers for overseas transport. This is an organized crime operation, not a petty crime operation, and petty crime approaches do not work.

So, although I fully recognize that catalytic converter theft is a real problem and cost in our region, and hear from people in the community concerned about it, I could not support this motion because it doesn’t meaningfully address the problem. That’s not me talking; that is the advice from regional law enforcement, the experts on the matter.

The majority of Council voted to not support the motion.

Enhancing Livability in New Westminster
Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council directs staff to report back on opportunities to bring a program similar to the Chinatown Stewards model to New Westminster.

The Chinatown Stewards are a model of community involvement in Vancouver where local residents with employment barriers are trained and employed to do a bunch of different things to make the urban space more friendly and attractive. This is similar to the I’s on the Street program we run in New West, but with an expended suite of services, which means more services for the commercial area and more diverse training for the staff.

This is a request for a report back to Council on opportunities (and, presumably, challenges), not a commitment to the model, so I was happy to support. The majority of Council voted to support this.

The Right Person, the Right Time, the Right Place Report
Councillor Campbell

BE IT RESOLVED That Staff provide a report back to Council on opportunities to action the local government recommendations presented in the Century House Association report The Right Person, the Right Time, the Right Place; and That City Staff work with Century House Association, Senior Services Society and other New Westminster senior support agencies to develop a senior government advocacy strategy to support the additional recommendations in the report.

Council had a presentation a few weeks ago from representatives from a group at Century House to speak to the report named here, which resulted from a webinar event at Century House supported by the United Way that discussed the state of long-term care in BC, the disaster that was long term care during COVID, and the work governments need to do to assure seniors in our community have affordable, safe, and dignified options for aging in our community.

The report came with recommendations for the Federal Government, Provincial Government, Health Authorities and Local Governments, developed by Gerontology experts from SFU, the Seniors’ Advocate for British Columbia, and other subject matter experts. There are four specific recommendations for local government, which this motion requests staff review for practicality. It also suggests senior government advocacy on the other recommendations, which is (much like the first motion we discussed this day) a pretty normal thing for motions from Council to ask for.

The majority of council voted to support the motion.

New Westminster: a 15-minute City
Councillors Henderson and Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster endorse the concept of becoming a 15-minute city and create a plan to implement the plan by 2030.

This was a motion brought to Councillors (and Council) by the community, and the community in question call themselves the Monkey Rebel Group – youth activists looking to (selfishly!) support building a better City for the future. We had a delegation of from the group present to Council, and have seen a bit of correspondence for and against since the motion was presented as a notice two weeks ago. In my 8+ years of this work, I cannot recall a motion where the vocal opposition was so detached from the actual thing being asked for in the motion, but that’s the post-information environment we are in.

The idea that we should be planning and building our cities so most of your daily needs can be met in a short walk or cycle is not a new one. Indeed, this was the model for almost all city building for thousands of years prior to Motordom. Preparing to discuss this motion took me down a deep rabbit hole of using an on-line tool to look at 15 minute walk-sheds and cycle-sheds in New Westminster. And fortunately, there are provincial support programs that speak directly to the first phase of work we would need to do here, which is essentially a mapping exercise to see where we fall short. Yes, we all know some areas we fall short (the High School is more than 15 minutes bike ride from Lower Sapperton and Queensborough), but there are also details beyond the obvious, and perhaps our planning can better address these. Let’s have the talk.

The majority of Council supported this motion.

Implementation of a temporary Low-Income Energy Assistance Program in 2023
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED that effective June 1st, 2023 the New West Electrical Utility be directed to provide a one-time reimbursement of up to $500 to low income residents to install a new or replace an older non-functioning air conditioning unit; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that New West Electrical Utility establish a low-income energy assistance program effective June 1st to provide up to $500 in credits for eligible residents who are facing markedly higher energy bills due to increased consumption during the summer season (June through September); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the definition of low-income mirror that of the Province of BC which is defined as individuals with an income of $39,115 or less, and families with a household income of $50,170 or less in 2022; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that up to $500,000 be sourced from the Climate Action Reserve Fund to cover the cost of this temporary program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that on urgent basis the CAO be authorized, in consultation with the Mayor, to establish the streamlined program eligibility and temporarily reallocate the necessary internal resources to support the operations of this program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Mayor write a letter to the Premier of BC requesting the 14 recommendations contained in a June 7, 2022 BC Coroner’s Office report titled “Extreme Heat and Human Mortality: A Review of Heat-Related Deaths in B.C. in Summer 2021” be fully implemented in an expedited manner

On the face of it, support for air conditioners for low-income folks, and evaluating our opportunities to have means-tested reductions in utility rates for very low income households are things I can support. Unfortunately, the language in this motion make it seem both over prescriptive and underdeveloped.

As an example, using the $50,170 household income threshold to determine eligibility would make (based on 2021 Census data) more than 9,600 households eligible, meaning (even if we agreed that this is an appropriate use of Climate Action Reserve funds), the proposed $500,000 would represent a small proportion of the overall cost. This looks to be a plan sketched on a napkin without consultation with the Electrical Utility Commission or anyone in finance, and one that commits us to immediate spending of multiple millions of dollars.

This also (as was pointed out by other Councilors and the Renter Union) not addressing the core issue with rights for the most vulnerable in our community, many of whom are actually banned from installing an air conditioner. We need an approach here that is set in the realistic experience of people who are living in lower-cost rental or living in isolation (the identified factors in Heat Dome deaths).

The City and the Province are taking a number of proactive measures to prepare for the next Heat Dome and assure we don’t have the same disastrous impact on people’s health. We are working through Emergency Management, in partnership with the Health Authority, and are implementing many of the measures outlined in the Coroner’s Report following the Heat Dome event. These measures have been reported on openly by the City (see here, only a few meetings ago) and the Province. We are also exploring alternatives as direct action and senior government advocacy towards regulated cooling in buildings. There is a lot going on in this space right now, it is unfortunate that this motion was characterized as the one thing the City could and should do to make people safer, as that is simply not true.

Reflecting that most in Council think there is a nugget of a good idea in here, the majority of Council moved to refer this idea to the Electrical Utility Commission so they can address many of the questions raised: What would be the cost? How feasible is this? What is a practical timeline of taking this approach? Does the Utility even collect the data to go this direction? So more to talk about.

And that was the end of the excitement section of the evening’s meeting. Except for that motion to extend past 10:30, which council unanimously supported this time around.

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