Council – June 26, 2023

We had long meeting Monday, over 5 hours not including our afternoon Workshop session or the closed portion. There was a fair amount on the agenda, but the bulk of the discussion was on only a few topics. We started with a presentation on the City’s Annual Report:

Presentation of the 2022 Annual Report
This is the Annual Report mandated by the Local Government Act. We talk about our successes over the last year, and provide financial and statistical data for the province. 2022 was indeed a strange year, with the transition between the former Council and this one right in the middle of it. There is much to be proud of, and I appreciate the extra effort Staff undertook to guide us through that transition and keep the City recovering from the Pandemic response to more of a normal operation through it all.

I also want to Once again thank Mayor Jonathan Cote and Councillors Mary Trentadue, Chinu Das, and Chuck Puchmayr. The bulk of the work of the last year was initiated under their watch. As we cut the ribbon on the Queensborough substation (last week), and on təməsew̓txʷ (early next year), this Council has the opportunity to do that only through the leadership of the previous Council.

The things I’m proudest about over the last year don’t show up in the big numbers section in the back of this report. They are the strides we have made in Reconciliation and in Climate Action. Those are not jobs done, they are jobs that people on Council will still be working on after I’m gone. However, the progress and commitments we made in 2022 have us on a path to success and moved us further along that path than any previous year.

You can read the Annual Report and see all the numbers here.

Council Code of Conduct
Codes of Conduct are a hot topic in Local Government right now. Over the last few years, there have been many regional examples of elected Councils that have gone off the rails because of the actions of one or more elected folks who don’t take their Oath of Office, fiduciary duty, or Duty of Care seriously in this role, either because they don’t know how or because disruption for the sake of disruption is the goal. The Provincial Government responded to some calls to step in in various cases by doing the quite literally least they could do: requiring Councils to consider whether they need a Code of Conduct.

The City of New West already had a Code of Conduct, but we responded to the “call to consider” with a decision to update it. Working with a subject matter expert (one of the few people in the region who has served in the role of Ethics Commissioner for a local government), Staff and Council worked to develop a model for review. There are four major components:

  • An external Ethics Commissioner that takes the complaint and investigation process out of the hands of elected officials;
  • A Code that allows complaints to be launched by City residents, volunteers, employees, and members of Council;
  • A Multi-phase investigation process with the EC doing an initial review of applicability, an informal resolution process, a formal resolution process with timelines; and
  • Transparency in the decision-making around contraventions, while assuring compliance with FIPPA.

This is first reading of the empowering Bylaw, and we made a few recommendations to inform a second and subsequent readings. More to come here, but we are on a good path.

We then moved the following On Consent:

2022 Statement of Financial Information
This is our annual report of financial information about the City, as required by the Financial Information Act. These included audited financial statements, Council expenses, staff salaries, and every supplier from whom we bought more than $25K worth of goods and services from. It’s all there, and part of Local Government being the most transparent order of Government.

Development Variance Permit (300 Duncan Street, 313 to 327 Blackley Street, and 326 to 340 Mercer Street): Permit to Vary Off-Street Visitor Parking and Permit Tandem Parking – Notice of Consideration of Issuance
A builder is bringing 146 townhouses and 14 commercial units to this property in the “Eastern Node” portion of Queensborough, and are requesting a Development Variance Permit to adjust the parking in two ways. First by allowing some “tandem” parking in the residential units and by reducing the number of visitor parking spots from 30 to 17 (there would still be 8 commercial parking spots). The project is complaint with the OCP and the existing zoning for the site, and would finally bring some small retail to the eastern end of Q’boro to service the Port Royal community. This is the issuance of notice about the DVP, which will be reviewed at a future Council Meeting. If you have opinions, let us know.

Official Community Plan Amendment, Rezoning and Development Permit Application: 805 Boyd Street – Preliminary Report
The owner of Queensborough Landing wants to build a 4-storey self-storage building on a part of their property that is not currently very active. This would require an OCP amendment (as this is not a land use envisioned in the OCP) and a rezoning. That means external consultation (including First Nations and the Province) and a Public Hearing. This is a preliminary report, if you have opinions, let us know.

Report Back on Safety Concerns at Eastbound Tenth Avenue Between First Street and McBride Boulevard
A scary incident occurred in the spring when a car left 10th avenue and ended up in someone’s front yard, via their front fence. We asked Engineering to review if there were engineering controls that could be reasonable installed here to improve safety in the area. Staff reviewed several years of crash data and found this was a one-off incident.

Cars leave roadways; that is only one of the ways they pose danger in urban areas. However, we cannot install jersey barriers on every road to prevent this, as it would cause significant knock-off effects for everyone from pedestrians to emergency responders. However, in this spot, it is likely that reflective posts could reduce the chances of drivers leaving the road by making the curb location more apparent and adding visual “friction” that makes drivers slow down and be more attentive. This seems to be an intervention concomitant with the risk posed by the curb geometry at the site.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Additional Public Consultation Events Summary Report: 422 Sixth Street
At the request of the majority of Council, there were public engagement sessions held on the proposed supportive affordable housing project at 422 Sixth Street, one on-line and one in-person. I attended both, as did several members of Council, and found the dialogue constructive and positive in both cases. It was clear some in the room were in favour and some opposed to the project, and there were clear learnings from both groups.

One idea that arose out of these conversations and on-line engagement through Be Heard New West was to include both a Good Neighbour Agreement and a Community Advisory Committee as part of any approvals for the site, reflecting a successful model used for the supportive housing project on Ewan Avenue in Queensborough. Staff are recommending that here. This led to a two-hour discussion at Council that I am going to have to write a follow-up blog about, but short version: the majority of Council supported this idea.

Response to Council Motion Re: Removal and replacement of dead and/or dying trees on City property
Management of dead trees is part of the Urban Forest Management Strategy for the City, but as we are currently in a very rapid tree-planting phase in public green spaces, the restoration of some street and boulevards has taken a temporary back seat as per the approved Tree Planting Master Plan.

There are plans to get caught up on the back-log of boulevard tree re & re, but there are aspects of replacement that makes it more complicated than just putting back a tree when one dies. In some places, there are plans to replace or refurbish the sidewalk in upcoming work plans, and no point doing the tree until that happens. Similarly, there are areas that will get torn up for utility work or development, so best replace the trees after that. Finally, many of our sidewalk and street trees were not planted in ways that meet modern standards, and do not support the long-term viability of the tree or sidewalk. These may require significant excavation, installation a soil cell of sufficient size to support the tree to maturity, and re-design of the sidewalk. Safe to say if you see a tree stump that has been standing there for a year or more, one of the above applies.

Just inventorying these challenges across the City where we have thousands of boulevard trees will take some time and money, never mind the cost of actual tree replacement and increased maintenance in the first three years. So an arbitrary deadline for replacement of all trees (as was offered in the April motion that launched this review) is not practical or a responsible way to manage public costs. Instead, Staff have offered us two options: one is to keep doing what we are doing, with planned and gradual replacement of street trees and opportunistic replacement of dead/dying street trees coordinated with routine scheduled block pruning regimes within a given neighbourhood, as it most efficiently fits into the program. The other option is to invest an extra $125K in doing that inventory in 2024, then bring future funding requests to accelerate re-planting based on that inventory (and presumably, at a faster rate than the existing practice, pending Council’s approving funding that accelerated pace to the scale of $1 Million or more over the next couple of years). I liked the first approach, but Council convinced me through discussion to support the latter (which was the staff recommendation), recognizing it will have 2024 budget implications but also increases our ability to get some of this covered by senior government grants. The majority of Council voted to take this second approach.

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

New Westminster Pesticide Use Amendment Bylaw No. 8403, 2023
This Bylaw that updates the language of our pesticide bylaw to reflect changes in provincial regulation was adopted by council.

Subdivision and Development Control Amendment Bylaw No. 8369, 2023
This Bylaw that updates our offsite works agreements and standards for new developments was adopted by Council.

We then had one piece of New Business that was a late addition to the agenda.

Heat Plan Response to Extreme Heat in New Westminster: Accelerated funding for Summer 2023
This arose from an earlier request at Council to hand out money in the form of rebates to thousands of households as response to the Heat Emergency we experienced two years ago. This request was referred to the Electrical Utility Commission (seeing as it appeared they would be the budget through which this program would operate, as it was tied to utility rates). The Utility Commission met last week and said, politely, no, this is not a good idea, as handing out money to people will do nothing to keep them cool in a disaster, but there are perhaps good ways (with the advice of the Emergency Management Office) we can augment the existing Heat Emergency plans that are targeting the most vulnerable in our community. They then sent it back to Council to say “you have to decide on the budget”.

Staff put together a report from all this that outlined the many things that the Emergency Management Office are already doing in response to the 2021 Heat Dome, including targeted intervention to identified high-risk buildings and working with Fraser Health and Senior Services to identify and connect with vulnerable individuals. EMO and our Climate Action Team are providing guidance and resources around establishing safe cool rooms in people’s buildings, and are partnering with Fraser Health to provide portable AC units to those who have mobility issues preventing their accessing safe cool rooms. There are further actions being detailed out in the shorter term (e.g. partnering with faith-based community organizations to distribute water and heat response info), medium-term (e.g. Heat pump retrofit programs, regulatory responses) and long-term (e.g. tree planting, building code changes) to build resiliency into our community so emergency response is less relied upon.

There were some suggestions on how we can resource up to accelerate this work, mostly staff time and to purchase more portable AC units for vulnerable people. The budget request is a one-time of something like $270K from the Climate Action Reserve Fund, and Council approved staff developing this model with more certain budgeting to be approved next meeting.

I’m really proud of the work that our Emergency Management Office and Climate Action Team have done to address the unprecedented disaster of 2021, and to reduce the likelihood of it happening again. New Westminster is again leading on this, because it is the right thing to do when you care about the most vulnerable in your community.

And that’s all I have to say this week about the council meeting. Until I write more in the next post about the less clear things this week in council.

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