Right to Cool

Glad to see the regional media touching on this important issue.

New West is once again leading the region on improving livability for renters and people made vulnerable by the overlap of the housing crisis and the climate crisis. Since the horrible 2021 Heat Dome tragedy, our Emergency Management office has worked with Senior Services Society and Fraser Health to identify high-risk buildings and vulnerable residents to assure they have access to cooling. In some buildings that means “one cool room” they can use as a refuge during a heart emergency without leaving their building. For others with mobility limitations or other needs, that means getting a City-supplied air conditioner into their room. They have also done some innovative work in connecting community and building managers to highlight the dangers of extreme heat events.

As previously discussed, the City is also investing in building upon the Province’s Air Conditioner program (being administered by BC Hydro) to assure we have adequate measures in recognition of the increased risk in our community because of our demographics.

We have also identified and called out the need for regulatory change in the Strata Act and the Residential Tenancy Act, with Councillors Nakagawa and Henderson leading the charge here while working with the New West Tenants Union and other organizations. Though “right to cool” motions had a rough ride at the Lower Mainland LGA convention, we will continue to lobby the Provincial Government for these important lifesaving measures, and the Councillors have brought a motion to test whether we can use our Business Licensing powers or other innovative means to force landlords to assure the spaces they are renting at the very least are able to support human life.

This on top of our enhanced Heat Emergency response, installation of new misting stations around town, ongoing efforts to plant more trees and provide more shaded public spaces. Save lives in the short term while we make the legislative changes that will reduce the risk. This is taking action in the face of Climate disruption.

Council – July 10, 2023

Last Council meeting before we take a summer break, and there was a lot on the agenda. We started with a Development Variance Permit:

DVP00696 for 300 Duncan Street, 313 to 325 Blackley Street, and 326 to 340 Mercer Street
The “Eastern Node” is an area of Q’boro just to the west of Port Royal that has a Master Plan to provide some moderate-density family-friendly housing and (at long last) a local-serving commercial node on the east end of Q’boro. As they work through the development of different phases of the project, they are now asking for a parking variance to include tandem parking in some of the residential and reduce the number of residential guest parking spots. For this they need a Development Variance Permit. We received no correspondence on this, and the parking numbers they are proposing actually align with our new standards, just not the standards that were in place back when this development was approved. Council agreed to grant the variance.

We then had a Report for Discussion:

City Staff’s Heat Plan Response to Extreme Heat in New Westminster: Accelerated Workplan and Funding for Summer 2023
As I have written here many times, the City had a Heat Emergency Response Plan. But like other plans across the province, it was a great plan for the mid-30s heat waves we used to have, it was not adequate for the unprecedented and anomalous 40+ heat dome event of 2021. The intensity of that event surprised everyone from the national weather service that offers forecast warnings to provincial emergency organizations that receive them to first responders across the region, all to tragic results.

In the time since that 2021 event, the City’s Emergency Management Office (EMO) has been working with our Climate Action Team, Social Planning and Facilities Staff to bring stronger measures in, and have forged partnerships with Fraser Health and Senior Services Society to help identify and target vulnerable populations in preparation for this new type of heat emergency.

There was a motion brought to Council recently to give subsidies to residents to purchase air conditioners and to further subsidize their electrical utility bill, which Council referred to the Electrical Utility Commission. The Commission suggested against this approach, and instead recommended new money be spent on enhancement of the more targeted and effective approach already underway by the EMO. During this conversation, the Province introduced an Air Conditioner program for vulnerable people (that will be administered by BC Hydro, but like pervious programs of the type, is available to New Westminster residents), which looks slightly different than the program the City was already running through the EMO and our partners.

So this is the ask from staff for the resources to accelerate the program EMO was running, and to align the City’s plan with the Provincial program being run through BC Hydro. Estimated one-time budget ask is $268K, about half of which is for air conditioners for our enhanced program, the other half for staff resources to do all the other things. Council voted to support this.

We then moved the following item On Consent:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement: 1426 Seventh Avenue – Preliminary Report
This property owner in the West End hopes to preserve a small 1911 heritage home in the West End and put one large and two small infill houses on the same lot. With two rental units, this is a total of 6 homes where there is currently one, which is a pretty creative infill density plan that nonetheless keeps the FSR under 1, and the site coverage under 35%, though there is a challenge meeting the City’s open space requirements with the current configuration. This is a preliminary report, and the project will see public consultation. If you have opinions, let us know!

And the following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption: 651 Carnarvon Street (Provincial Courthouse)
The Courthouse needs to be re-roofed and have new siding put on. Unlike every other workplace in recent history (City Hall, the Hospital, etc.), the Courts feel they cannot work while construction is actively occurring. It is unclear how much of this is security or privacy or just no wanting to be in a noisy environment when they are working. I have some concerns about the potential scale of impact to the community here – there are ~400 homes within 100m of this site, and this is a projet asking for work ate in the evening and on the weekends for 18 months. To me, that level of impact requires a strong justification to explain why this work cannot happen during operational hours, and what is being done ot reduce community impacts.

There was a bit of a discussion here, and in the end, Council agreed to issue the variance for 6 months and ask the applicant to re-apply early in the new year to put them on notice that they will need to be cognizant of community impact and mitigation measures during the early phases of the work. This will come back to Council in January.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption: 660 Quayside Drive (Bosa Developments)
Unlike the above, there is a good rationale for one day starting a little early to get these crane sections delivered to site, so council is granting a Construction Noise exemption for one day without debate.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement: 203 Pembina Street – Preliminary Report
This is, for all practical effects, a rezoning request, asking for a change to allow the building of a small 6-unit townhouse project on what is currently a largish (>1,000 sq m) single family lot in Queensborough. What makes it an HRA is the proposal to protect and designate as a Heritage Asset, a significant mature tree – which is a first for New West. This is a preliminary report, and the project will see public consultation. If you have opinions, let us know!

New Westminster School District’s 2023-2024 Eligible School Sites Proposal
The School Board has been doing a lot of work updating their needs for the decade ahead, in recognition that New West is not only one of the fastest-growing communities in the lower mainland, but is growing fastest in the young family demographic. The Board develops 10-year plans to inform the School Site Acquisition Charges the City collects from all developers on behalf of the Province, and to apply for capital needs. One step in their capital planning is to run their projections by the City, which this report does.

For the first time I remember, the School District is actually anticipating faster growth of homes than the City is projecting, and faster than the city’s Regional Growth Strategy targets. This is offset somewhat by the disconnect between how the province calculates the number of students that will be yielded by multi-family housing forms – in short, the province has a record of assuming “families don’t live in apartments”, and New West has proven that untrue. The end result is the SD and the City agreeing we will have 2,000 more school-aged residents by 2043. If you want to read how the AD is planning to fill this capacity need, read their Capital Plan submission report attached to this.

The City is also sending some feedback to the Province here to reinforce the need for childcare funding to go with new school funding (as this is Provincial responsibility, and Child Care is now part of the Ministry of Education mandate), and to ask the province to recognize the unique challenges in finding adequate outdoor recreation space for new schools in one of the densest communities in the country, and increased construction costs for multi-story building in Queensborough.

Parks and Recreation 2024 Fees and Charges Bylaw Amendment
Every Year, Parks and Recreation review their fee structures, and we need to codify them with an annual bylaw update. There are several factors that inform the fees, including the inflationary effect on the cost of offering space and programs, comparison to adjacent communities, and overall market trends.

As a general trend, New Westminster has very low rates for almost all forms of recreation programming and space compared to adjacent communities, especially in facility rental rates charges to amateur sports. As we move towards opening of təməsew̓txʷ, we will need to set up an appropriate fee schedule. Though most fees are going up in the 2-5% range expected with inflation, some will be bumped a bit more to better reflect regional trends and cost, most noticeably lane rentals in the new pool. This is partly a result of us having not increased rates in the last few years as we recognized CGP was reaching end of life (though that end arrived faster than we hoped) so we had some catching up to do both to inflation and to regional averages. That said, historic user groups (read: Hyack Swim Club) and youth will still receive the “grandfathered” reduced rate.

All in all, Council voted unanimously to approve the changes.

Proposed timeline to advance requirements of the Energy Step Code and the Zero Carbon Step Code for new buildings
One of the city’s Bold Steps for climate action is to create “Carbon Free Homes and Buildings”. The City does not, however, have its own building code like Vancouver; we rely on the Provincial building code. The province gives municipalities some flexibility in how they choose to apply the Energy Step Code (“ESC”), which regulates the energy efficiency of new buildings, and the Zero Carbon Step Code (“ZCSC”) which regulates the types of energy systems in new buildings. The idea behind this approach is that the province will gradually move towards highest-efficiency zero-carbon buildings in the decade ahead, but will do so in a way that allows the market and the building industry to adapt to the new requirements. We have the option as a City to move to higher steps faster than the provincial standard.

This report offers an update approach to the Step Codes for the City, including “Part 9” buildings (mostly single family homes and townhouse type homes) and “Part 3” buildings (mostly larger multi-family buildings and mixed-use buildings). Both provide more flexibility for efficiency if builders commit to building lower-carbon buildings.

For 2024, the proposal is to require Part 9 buildings reach Step 5 (the highest step) in the ESC if the building meets only Step 1 in the ZCSC, but to allow a lower ESC level (Step 3) if building only has carbon-free fuels (ZCSC Level 4). For this first year, staff are proposing Part 3 buildings start at the lowest ZCSC level. Both of these standards will ramp up every 2 years so we are Step 5 ESC / Level 4 ZCSC by 2027.

The City is also looking at regulatory ability to require heat pumps in place of much less efficient resistive heating (baseboards) in new Part 3 buildings, but that is work still being developed.

Retail Strategy Endorsement
The City has been working for some time (slightly COVID-disrupted) on a new Retail strategy. Council watchers (hi Mom!) will know we have had a few workshops on this over the last 6 months, this is the final report to Council for adoption. Despite its name, this is not just about “retail” in the traditional sense, but all ground-level commercial land use planning in the City. It also recognized the unique character of our distinct commercial areas from Sapperton to Queensborough Landing.

Response to public engagement on this late stage was low (though there has been a tonne of engagement earlier in the development of the strategy, both with the business community and the general public), and the Economic Development Advisory Committee endorsed the plan as developed. The full report is a good read, as it talks about the modern state of experiential retail, the (negative and possibly positive) impacts of business migration to on-line, and the emphasis on integrating arts and culture to commercial areas to provide attractants to the streetscape.

The report comes with an implementation plan, and there will have to be a discussion in our 2024 budget about whether we pay for the staffing needed to see this implementation. There are some suggested changes to our Zoning Bylaw, changing our development guidelines for new storefronts, Public realm improvements, etc. etc. Council moved to adopt the Strategy, so we are on the way.

Zoning Bylaw Amendment for Retail Liquor Store: 812 Twentieth Street – Preliminary Report
There is an application to open a retail liquor store on 20th Street. This was previously discouraged by the pervious Land Use Planning Committee, but the application is back before us as is the right of any applicant. As the zoning is retail but doesn’t specifically include retail liquor, a rezoning would be required. Of course, provincial permitting will also be required, but apparently the province has put a freeze on new liquor store licenses until (get this) 2032 – so one would have to be relocated to this location.

This is not near any other liquor retailers (something the Province actually requires, which is one of the weird bits in how we regulate alcohol – we would never deny two shoe stores the right to be next to each other, or two cigarette retailers or used car lots), and it would occupy and otherwise vacant retail store. This is a preliminary report on the rezoning that would see public consultation, so if you have an opinion, let us know.

Finally, we had a Motion from Council:

Statement of Opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project
Councillor Nakagawa

WHEREAS the City of New Westminster has endorsed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, has developed the Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action, and has previously opposed the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project as an intervenor; and
WHEREAS the City of New Westminster has concerns about the impacts to the Fraser River stemming from the pipeline crossing near the Port Mann bridge;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster file a Statement of Opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline project that is traversing the Fraser River (stal̕əw̓) to the Canada Energy Regulator website.

This motion follows a delegation that came to Council about a month ago expressing concerns about some of the recent actions in punching the new TMX pipeline under the river near Port Mann. However, it is also consistent with concerns New Westminster has raised regarding the potential impacts on The Burnette and Fraser Rivers immediately upstream of New Westminster, which led us to be Intervenors in the Environmental Assessment process and delegates to the review panel. Consistent with our previous opposition, with our stated concerns about the climate emergency, and in support of concerns raised in our community by land defenders, I am happy to support this.

And with that, we were out of Council before it got dark outside. Our next scheduled meeting is August 28th, so I’ll have to find something else to write about here. Otherwise, have a good summer!


Last Monday, our Council meeting included giving three readings to a Bylaw that changed the zoning of 422 Sixth Street. The boring, technical part is that the change involved taking what was permitted on the site (Commercial Zone C3-A, high-rise commercial and mixed use commercial and multifamily residential) and add to this “supportive housing” among the long list of permitted uses. But when it comes to providing dignified housing for people in need, nothing is ever boring. As this is emblematic of the entire regional housing crisis, and as Council spent several hours over several meetings putting up and taking down red tape around this simple land use change, I am going to spend some time unpacking this project timeline and Council’s decision making.

As this project is a bit of a hot button, I am going to once again remind folks this is a blog, not official City communications. Though I try my best to stick to the facts, everything here is my opinion and filtered through my memory and notes, and not written by or edited by anyone at the City, or anyone else for that matter.

The proposal that came before Council from the owner of the building at first seemed like a simple one. They have a four-story building where they operate offices on the bottom two floors. The two upper floors are underutilized and the current zoning allowed housing in those upper two floors. The owner has provided a variety of services around the region for more than 40 years (Childcare, food hamper programs, youth services, health and education programs, and housing). There is a desperate need for transitional/supportive housing in New West (according to our updated housing needs assessment, 358 units are needed by 2031, 35 a year), this operator had space, so they applied to senior government for funding to fulfill this need. They were awarded provisional funding by CMHC and BC Housing on the strength of their proposal, but needed zoning approvals by July first to add “supportive” to the already-allowable “housing”. And here we are.

Back in 2021, City Council brought forward OCP and Zoning Bylaw changes under the title “City-Wide Crisis Response” that were meant to make it easier for the City to respond with land use changes that are in support of addressing a Public Health Emergency or recognized Regional Crisis. Around the same time, the Province changed the rules to no longer require Public Hearings for zoning changes that are consistent with the OCP. When people talk about “streamlining” and “cutting Red Tape” to speed up approvals of affordable and supportive housing, this is what it looks like when the rubber hits the road.

The net effect of the changes above is that “No Public Hearing” is the presumptive default for OCP-compliant projects, though Council could move to have one if they deem it in the public interest. As a practice, New West is not having them for projects that are directly addressing stated Council priority (like addressing crisis-level need) and are compliant with the City’s Official Community Plan. This is an important step because it removes some of the uncertainty of the process at the very last stage of approvals. This does not, however, mean we are taking the public out of the process completely, but instead we will rely on earlier consultations that engage public concerns at an earlier stage in planning where issues can be meaningfully addressed. This is not without challenges (e.g. how early? A project needs to be developed far enough that there is something useful to engage the community on before we engage them; timing for senior government funding is often very, very tight, meaning consultation must occur faster than ideal), but ultimately it is a more meaningful engagement, and creates more certainty for the developer and the community.

The proposal for 422 Sixth Street first came to Council on May 8, and indeed had a tight timeline to approval, as the major senior government funding source required that zoning be put in place by the end of June. This was a fast timeline, but considered viable because the rezoning request was relatively small from a land use standpoint (again, the proposed use is aligned with the OCP and housing was already a permitted use above grade, just not “supportive” housing). After all, zoning is about land use.

At the May 8 meeting, there were a few minor questions raised regarding loss of office space, windows, and property tax implications, but no changes to the project or additional conditions were applied at the time, and Council unanimously agreed to move the project forward notionally and without a Public Hearing.

Staff then went ahead and launched a Be Heard New West page to elicit feedback on the project, put out social media calls for comment, placed an ad in the May 11 Record (where this topic was also the front page story), and sent a mailer to every household and business within 100m. All were asking for feedback by May 25 (two weeks) so the follow-up report could be prepared for the May 29th meeting, but also let folks know they could email or call or drop by City Hall for more info after this date.

Unfortunately, this is when a pamphlet prepared and distributed by an anonymous member of the community was circulated that provided misinformation about the project, raising concern for some residents or local businesses. The pamphlet curiously asked people to send feedback to me and to Councillor Henderson(?). This prompted a second City mailing to local houses and businesses correcting the record on some of the misinformation in that leaflet, and reminding people about where they could get their questions answered or provide feedback to Staff, Mayor and all of Council.

The project came back to Council on May 29th. This time I was clear with Council that this was the best opportunity to make changes that informed the Bylaws, if changes were requested. There was a staff report, we had some public delegations both in favour and opposed to the project, and a lengthy discussion at Council. Unfortunately, much of the misinformation in the pamphlet was also present during this meeting, as discussion included calling into question the capability of the operator (who has been operating in the City for 40 years), and vague inquiries about how undefined “problems” with the operator or residents would be addressed if they arise.

In the subsequent deliberation, there was a motion to add back in the requirement for a Public Hearing, which was not supported by the majority of Council. However, in light of the pamphleting, there was a request by Council to instead have genuine engagement and a dialogue with the community about the project. This included consideration of the introduction of a Community Advisory Committee and Good Neighbour Agreement on the model for the Mazarine Lodge. This latter motion for further public dialogue was supported by a majority of Council, but notably not by the members of Council who were asking for a Public Hearing. There was then a motion to move this project forward and bring Bylaws for Council deliberation after that public dialogue occurs. This motion passed (otherwise, the project dies here) but was also opposed by the two members of Council who supported a Public Hearing.

City staff put together two dialogue sessions, one in person and one online. I, along with several members of Council, attended both. I was also happy to see that many of the people who attended the council meeting on May 29th to oppose the project attended that session, and were able to engage in dialogue about their concerns. There were some excellent questions asked, and some challenges highlighted. The folks I shared a table with were happy to hear the details, and to hear that some of their concerns were unfounded based on the actual model of the project. I’m not going to say they all left in support of the project, I know some did not. But I did hear from several that the opportunity for a Community Advisory Committee was something they supported. Others I know went from totally opposed to still skeptical but willing to hear us out. I walked away feeling that we had the kind of two-way dialogue that would never have occurred at a Public Hearing, and that suggestions brought forward would result in a stronger Good Neighbour Agreement, and subsequently, a stronger project.

At the June 26 meeting of Council, staff reported back on those dialogues, and also brought Bylaws for Third Readings. This resulted in a two hour deliberation, and it got procedurally complicated. I’ll try to unpack as best I can.

As part of Council’s earlier direction, a preliminary Good Neighbour Agreement was taken to the public engagement, and drafted in collaboration with the service provider. At the June 26 meeting, two members of Council put forward amendments to the GNA, which was potentially problematic at this stage in the discussion, as the GNA was something developed collaboratively and with community buy-in. Making additions now around the details of staffing or how (if it was the desire of Council) to make the GNA binding as opposed to a voluntary agreement violated the spirit of those collaborative discussions. Worse, these amendments were being offered at a time that left no time to engage again with the Provider or funding governments about the impact of operational changes on the viability of the project, while timing on making them binding is especially problematic at this stage. This led staff to consult in camera and recommend to Council that tying the GNA to the Business License would be the most likely process to make it binding from a City functioning point of view.

On balance, Council did not support the majority of the proposed amendments, for a variety of reasons. I personally opposed these motions on their face (they mostly, in my opinion, frame people needing housing as people who need to be policed as opposed to people who need to be supported, which I find abhorrent), but also because this process was a violation of the mutual respect and collaboration that allows non-profit transitional housing providers to operate in the City. They are not an enemy to be contained, they are a provider of life-saving supports to be worked with. As such, it is a violation of the very Good Neighbour Agreement model that was being proposed here, which was already a demonstrable success in our community.

Council instead moved to support the implementation of the GNA and the Community Advisory Committee as voluntary collaboration tools that were developed through the community consultation process, as opposed to regulatory tools tied to the business license. The members of Council who proffered a number of amendments to the GNA voted in opposition to this.

Finally, the Bylaws were brought to Council at the end of the meeting for Three Readings, and Council unanimously supported the approval of the three readings. In a subsequent meeting on June 30th, the members of Council who were present (one had an excused absence for a family situation, two simply failed to show) unanimously voted for Adoption of the Bylaws, meaning the rezoning is approved.

In the end, the goal here is to provide housing that is needed in the community. This project is only 30 units, small in comparison to the need demonstrated in our Housing Needs Report, but it is also a vital piece in the housing puzzle – transitional units that help people move from shelter to more permanent affordable housing, or keep people from ever entering the shelter model. The model was not perfect, but it was approved by BC Housing for operational funding and by the Federal Government for capital funding, so it is a model the two levels of government are willing to support, and is vastly superior to having 30 fewer transitional housing units in the City. The tight timelines are (alas) a necessary result of our need to work within the Province of BC and Government of Canada funding models. This is what it looks like to work with those senior governments.

The rezoning here is specifically related to this being “supportive housing”, meaning the residents will be assured of having supports or wrap-around care if they need it, something they would not get from a private hotel SRO model, and cannot be provided consistently though the shelter model. This, along with fast-tracking and reduction in red tape for the development of non-profit housing that fully conforms with our OCP, are actions that were supported in the platforms of every single person who was elected to New Westminster Council. It was disappointing to see so many last-minute hurdles and Red Tape put in the pathway to approval of this project.

That said, I am really proud of the work Staff did to quickly pivot to a more collaborative and respectful community dialogue about the project when faced by a disinformation campaign in the community. It is this kind of dialogue that builds trust in the community that will make approval of future projects easier. It demonstrated the difference between a (by design) confrontational Public Hearing and a (well designed) dialogue with the community.

I especially appreciated a delegate coming to Council on June 26th to speak about their experience as a young parent in Queensborough through the approval, opening and operation of the Mazarine Lodge. They spoke of the fears that were spread in the community during that approval process, how they were addressed by the provider, residents, and community meeting together and having a process for dialogue, and how their entire community has benefitted. This is a model that works, and breaks down the stigma related to people who, after all, just need a home.

Good work, New West.