Council – Aug 28, 2023

Sorry folks, it’s only August, but summer is over when Council meets again, and we met on Monday. It was a monster meeting, going almost to midnight, but we had a few meaty items on the agenda and whole bunch of smaller items to go through, and Council was a chatty bunch! As always, the agenda and video are here so you can follow along or catch the highlights, don’t take my word for what went down, see for yourself.

We started with these Reports:

Report Back on School Zone Enforcement Hours
Following a resolution from Council asking staff about the potential to extend the hours that School Zone speed limits apply, staff took the suggestion to a regional meeting of municipal engineers to determine the interest in adopting a regional approach to this. There is no doubt it would be more effective as a regional approach (or a province-wide approach – dare to dream), as consistency helps with compliance, New Westminster is already among the cities leading the region in adopting 30 km/h on residential and pedestrian-focused streets. We are going to ask the region to come along, but if they do not want to follow, Council sent the message that we are comfortable going alone.

Train Whistle Cessation – Q2 Update
This information report reflects Staff now reporting quarterly on progress with whistle cessation, to Council and the public. Not a lot to update this quarter as we await approval of conceptual design for the Sapperton crossings, and the Rail technical committee continues to meet.

422 Sixth Street: Good Neighbour Agreement and Community Advisory Committee Terms of Reference
This information report outlines the terms of the Good Neighbour Agreement signed between the City and the Lower Mainland Purpose Society and the Term of Reference for the Community Advisory Committee in support of the Transitional Supportive Housing project planned for 422 Sixth Street.

Response to Council Motion Re: Parks and Recreation registration process
This information report follows on the call from Council earlier this year to review the Parks the Recreation program registration process to assure equity and accessibility. Some changes have already been made for summer 2023 programs, such as changing times of registration to avoid conflicts, separating day camp registration from other programs, and improved waitlist management. But demand for programs still outstrips supply, so registration is still frustrating for some residents. There are also some “next steps” listed here, including simplifying and making clearer the on-line experience, and consideration of a central call bank, among other things.

Budget 2024 Engagement Results and Next Steps
The City spent some time late in the spring and through the summer doing active engagement with the public on the budget and budget process. This included on-line (through Be Heard New West) and in-person engagement at community events. There is a lot of data in here, and as one would expect in such a broad conversation with the community, the opinions varied. There was also an interesting contrast between the feedback received from on-line engagement and that from traditionally underrepresented groups (specifically renters and newcomers to the City) that were directly approached for consultation.

Not surprising to those who have read past public engagements, in general people feel they get good value from property taxes, and those that think property taxes should continue to meet the need for enhanced services in the community and reductions in property taxes are important to a minority of people in the City. People also support the City finding a balance between enhancing new services, maintaining reserves, and paying down debt.

The next two items I am going to write about in a follow-up post, because they were both long conversations and interesting for a variety of overlapping reasons deserving longer-form treatment, and this post is already going to be too long.

12 K de K Court Boulevard Trees
Residents in a strata on the Quayside have expressed concern to the City that the trees in front of their complex are too large.

Cooling Equipment in Rental Units
This is a motion from Council asking that the City look to regulate maximum temperatures in rental apartments in the city in the same way we regulate minimum temperature standards, in light of the deaths from the Heat Dome.

After those long discussions, we moved the following items On Consent:

Changes Announced to the Current Government of Canada Cabinet July 23, 2023 Update and Meeting Requests
This report outlines the changes to the current Government of Canada’s Cabinet on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, recommends letters of congratulations and meeting requests with several federal ministries for follow up. With the Federal Cabinet Shuffle, we are going to send congratulations letters and invites to meet to several key members of the new Federal Cabinet. It’s a bit of a formality, but a good practice that we are now shedding a bit of light onto.

Consideration of a Public Notice Bylaw No. 8417, 2023 to Provide for Alternative Methods of Publication
The New West Record is no longer printing a newspaper. This is a challenge for the City because we have always relied on the Record (and previously the News Leader) to meet our obligation under Section 94 of the Community Charter for public notice of those things that require public notice. If no local newspaper exists, the Charter has some criteria we must meet to assure notice is still adequate. Our Public Notice Bylaw needs to be updated to reflect this new reality.

Posting in the two public libraries (in addition to City Hall) will augment our posting information on CityPage – this is our digital platform you can receive as an email (as ~2,000 people already do) or follow links on other social media platforms (e.g. the City’s Facebook page) or the City’s website.

Repealing Public Works Mutual Aid Agreement of 2000
The Municipalities of the Lower Mainland have forged a new Mutual Aid Agreement to replace the one from twenty years ago. This is an agreement that says during an emergency, we will share resources needed to address the emergency, and we will agree to fairly work out the payment for those resources after the emergency is dealt with. This new agreement means we have to repeal the old one, which requires authorization by Council, which is what we are doing here.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 376 Keary Street – Comprehensive Report
The owner of this single family house in Sapperton wants to replace it with a duplex. There are no variances for setback, density, or height requested, just the duplex form. The Public Consultation we generally positive, and this will come to Council for final approval soon, but does not require a Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know!

Subdivision and Development Control Miscellaneous Amendment Bylaw No. 8412, 2023
This is what we call “housekeeping”. Major Bylaws like this one that regulates how subdivisions are performed and serviced in the city evolve over time as requirements and complimentary regulations change. At times minor errors, inconsistencies, or things like page numbering get out of synch and need to be cleaned up. To edit a Bylaw needs a Bylaw.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2023 Stream 1 Accelerated Heat Plan Update
This report updates the Emergency Management Office’s approach to addressing the Heat Plan and vulnerable people in the City. They have identified 126 higher-risk multi-family buildings, have reached out to the building managers, and are working on getting air conditioners installed in common rooms to assure the most people have access to “one cool room” without having to leave their building. Fraser Health is also helping in connecting with vulnerable people with mobility challenges where an in-room air conditioner is more appropriate. The Seniors Services Society are assisting with identifying vulnerable seniors and assuring transportation is available to cooling centres. Staff are also translating educational materials about cooling centres and other cooling supports into eight languages.

This is only part of what Emergency Services staff are doing in heat emergencies, but this is the work directly to address people at risk in extreme heat. It is based on the building and leveraging of relationships with service organizations in the community to assure we are prioritizing the protection of the most vulnerable. This is really great work, and demonstrates the City’s commitment to not allowing the lessons of 2021 to go unheeded.

Accelerating Climate Action: Four Year Workplan to Meet Targets and Address Extreme Heat
Right now, some of the resources (mostly staff) to address the increased risk of Heat Emergency are being reallocated from the Climate Action work plan. This is convenient and makes best use of available resources, but it is obviously not a great idea to slow down the work on the root cause in the rush to address the symptom. To do both means we need more resources.

We have 124 implementation actions in our Climate Plan, 66 led by our Climate Action Team. We have added to that several shorter-term actions to address building safety in heat emergency events. This report outlines what action items are coming forward in the next few years, and what more we can get done if we “accelerate” climate action by providing more resources. The resource need is not clear right now, but staff are asking Council if we want them to assess those needs, or have no interest in acceleration. Council says “bring it on”.

City of New Westminster and New Westminster School District No. 40 Draft Child Care Guiding Principles
The City and School District 40 established a Childcare Protocol in 2009 to codify our desire to work together to improve childcare availability New Westminster. A lot has happened since 2009 in childcare, we have a Federal government who is committing to $10/day universal childcare, the provincial government has put delivery of public childcare under the Ministry of Education, and New Westminster’s childcare needs have exploded as your families have moved into New West at a record pace. It’s time to update the Protocol.

Our first staff-to-staff work in this indicated SD40 doesn’t think the Protocol is the right structure, and prefer a joint statement of Guiding Principles through which we can work together to bring more public and affordable childcare to New West. Council read the first draft and had several comments, mostly around a greater sense of urgency, a clearer definition of who is responsible for what, and other details. We have provided that feedback to staff and they will work with SD40 to create an updated draft.

City of Surrey Fraser Heights Metro 2050 Amendment Application
The City of Surrey is applying for a change to the Regional Growth Strategy to change some industrial land to “general urban”. The land is within the Urban Containment Boundary, and though Industrial Land is valuable right now, this land is not viable for industrial use as it is in a unique location on the slopes above the North Fraser Perimeter Road. There is no good reason to oppose this.

Community Advisory Assembly Draft Terms of Reference and Next Steps
The City is taking a bold step in Community Engagement in forming a Community Advisory Assembly – a largish committee of citizen representatives who as a group are as close as possible to a representative cross-section of residents, reflecting the diversity of the overall New Westminster community. This is an innovative and unusual model, but one supported by our Public Engagement Task Force recommendations and one that reflects a best practice for Public Participation.

We are engaging in a bit of chicken-and-egg here, because we need Terms of Reference to strike the Assembly, but we also want the Assembly itself to have a role in developing Terms, so we are putting forward DRAFT Terms now, and staff are working to start recruitment in September.

Council Strategic Plan Workshop Model
Over the last two terms, The Mayor had set up Task Forces to address Council priorities – these were sub-committees of 3 members of Council who would provide some staff guidance and make recommendations to all of Council. We have a different Council dynamic this term, and I’m hoping to streamline the decision-making a bit by moving these to a committee-of-the-whole model – I think it is important to include all members of Council in these discussion while also allowing decision-making through thos dialogues without the extra step of another report to Council.

As we already have a “workshop” model in our procedures, these can be re-purposed to follow the themes of Council’s priorities, and topic areas can be scheduled well in advance to make sure staff have a clear timeline for check-ins and reporting on their progress (which was the real strength of Task Forces). This will include a significant increase in the number of meetings all of council will be holding in workshop form, but Council seemed ok with this, so updates to the Council Calendar coming.

Interim Relocation of the Downtown Dog Off Leash Area (824 Agnes Street)
One thing we have a hard time finding space for downtown is adequate off-leash dog parks. There are a lot of dogs living downtown, and this is a difficult land use to accommodate when we are so space-constrained. The temporary space currently on Agnes is going to be incorporated into the public amenity space of a planned development and the space on Simcoe is not as accessible for many downtown residents as would be ideal. It is going to take some time to find a permanent solution, so staff have approached every vacant lot in Downtown looking for a partner for a temporary space. Only one agreed. It won’t be fancy, but it will fill a need for up to 9 months for very low cost, and we can hopefully have a longer-term solution before the building breaks ground at 68 Sixth Street.

Rezoning, Development Permit, and Development Variance Permit Application: 317-319 Howes St – Preliminary Report
The owner of this lot in Queensborough wants to build 26 townhouses similar to the lots adjacent. Council was presented this as a preliminary report to provide feedback prior to staff and the owner doing detail design of the project. And Council provided more than feedback. Two primary concerns were access to the site as the intersection at Howes and Highway 91A is challenging for a bunch of reasons including transit access, and this proposed to drop a driveway into very close proximity to the intersection. There are also a lot of trees (70+, though this number includes hedges as multiple trees, so even the count is complicated) that would have to be managed through retention or replacement plans.
The recommendation from staff was to provide these issues of concern to staff as feedback and let staff work with the owner to see how they could be addressed prior to public consultation and eventual return of a final proposal that addresses concerns for later approval. Council instead voted against this path, and effectively ended work on the development as proposed. Owners will have to go back to the drawing table.

Township of Langley Metro 2050 Amendment Application
The Township of Langley wants to convert some rural-designated land outside of the Urban Containment Boundary to Industrial use, which requires a Regional Growth Strategy amendment. This is concerning, as the UCB is meant to limit exactly this kind of higher-intensity development in rural areas and to encourage more concentrated use of lands within the UCB for a variety of economic (servicing lands inside the UCB is less expensive), food security (encroaching into ALR lands adds to speculative pressures) and environmental (we need rural green space to maintain the biodiversity and ecological health of our region) reasons. Council moved to oppose this application, and we will relate that to Metro Vancouver Board.

We then read a few Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8405, 2023
This Bylaw that updates the Parks and Recreation Fees for 2024 was adopted by Council. Did you know we have discounted rates for folks who have a hard time affording recreation programs for themselves or their kids?

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Off-Street Vehicle Parking – Multiple Dwellings) No. 8396, 2023
This Bylaw that reduces the number of off-street parking spots required in new buildings, as long as there is adequate Demand Management measures in place, was adopted by Council.

Finally, we had a late addition to the Agenda:

2023 Mann Cup Media Day Hosting Opportunity
Our meeting was the day before the ‘Bellies won Game 7 of the WLA Championships, but win it they did. In anticipation of that win, Council was informed of some events that will need to take place around hosting the Mann Cup in September. This is going to be a great thing for the community, but it will take some City resources to (at the least) host a luncheon for our out-of-town guests, and have a media launch at Queens Park Arena. Since the win, City Hall staff are already looking at other aspects of hosting the Six Nations Chiefs and other opportunities to help the Salmonbellies and the WLA host a memorable Mann Cup tournament – and hopefully Hoist the Mann Cup itself!

Go ‘Bellies Go.

CAPG 2023

One of the aspects of being elected Mayor in New Westminster (or in any of the 11 municipalities in BC with a local police force) is you are also made the Chair of the New Westminster Police Board. A peculiarity of this is that people commonly are elected to mayor after building experience on City Council, there was a chance to “learn on the job”. That opportunity simply doesn’t exist for police board – in BC, members of city council are forbidden from serving on police boards. So compared to council, the learning curve is sharp.

I have taken the opportunity to take some training from the Ministry of Public Safety that is available for all police board appointees, and have years of experience serving on and chairing various boards, but police boards are unique structures, and we are in a time of significant change in police governance in BC. So I took the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Police Governance and engage in some intensive learning and peer networking. I thought I would share here some of my experience and thoughts.

The event was attended by police board members from around the country (though, not Newfoundland and Labrador, but I’ll talk about that later), along with police leadership (both Chiefs and Association leadership), staff, and several academics and representatives from service agencies that interact with police. One thing I learned was about the vast difference in police governance models across Canada, and how in many ways BC is “ahead of the curve” on governance.

”Federal Government has the money, Provinces have the jurisdiction, Cities have the problem”

There was a lot of conversation about the current state of policing across Canada, including discussion of the recommendations arising from various reports looking at policing failures: Turning the Tide Together, Inquiry on the 2022 Public Order Emergency, Reclaiming Power and Place, and others. It was not always clear or consistent what a police board’s role in police reform is. More philosophically, there was some question whether boards, being part of what needs reforming, can at the same time be the agent of that reform.

As board structures vary across Canada, they also vary in the resources available to them, and in the level of political influence in their operation. Most boards have dedicated staff who report to them, not to the police service (something we do not yet have in New West). It was apparent from discussions with board members from other provinces that appointments are distinctly political in many jurisdictions – to the extent that a provincial election ushers in new board members to match the partisan leaning of the new government (something I have never sensed in BC, where most appointments are based on recommendations from the civil service through CABRO).

One thing seemed pretty universal: the recognition that reform (at the minimum) is needed in policing and police governance if we are to turn the tide on declining public trust in policing. To be clear – most Canadians do trust and respect policing, however when one panelist asked the hundreds in the audience “How many of you think we are on a good path right now?”, not a single hand went up. Not one. It seems the prevalence of “bad apple” events popping up across the country, made more visible by social media expanding events beyond local regions, is leading to conversations everywhere about whether those apples all point to a problem with the orchards or the soil (a metaphor stretched many times in this conference). This perception, as much as the reality, has the potential to impact the operational effectiveness of police, as retirements and recruiting are challenging this sector as much as any other. One compelling question was whether Peel’s 9 Principles would be the same if written today, maybe an exercise for police boards to engage in with their members.

”Keep politics out of policing”

It could be said police boards are where policing meets politics, because police boards are meant to represent the public and be the governance oversight of the public service that is policing. Governance and public representation are inherently political activities. In the panel on Politics of Policing, this was explored at some detail. I especially enjoyed the academic Michael Kempa taking us back to core principles of political economics:

The general discussion here evolved from the simplistic separation of policing from politics to how police boards need to assure transparency and accountability to the public, something they are generally not good at because of the slightly arcane nature of their existence. Police boards are not elected, and as it is unclear if or how they can be fired or reprimanded, it is unclear about how the public can hold them accountable – what is the mechanism available to the public (or for that matter a City Council, the Provincial government, or a police service) to hold a group of volunteers accountable when most of the public don’t even know they exist? This is part of the drive for governance reform.

As a bit of an aside, I found it interesting that the former president of the Vancouver Police Union was on this panel, but the notion of keeping police out of politics was never raised. Last municipal election saw active participation of police associations in the elections of the mayors of BC’s two largest cities, suggesting the “firewall” between politics and police is at best a one-way mirror.

”Speaking as a policing researcher, I can tell you one thing about data: all police data is terrible.”

My absolute favourite session of the conference was a lengthy discussion and participatory exercise about the “Alignment Gap”. This is the lack of consistency between what police leadership say policing values are, and what police members actually do. Police publicly embrace equity, diversity, and inclusion, but are still being found to fall short of delivering on those plans. Police speak of the importance of community, but are too often accused of lacking civility on the ground. In their extensive study of this “gap”, the presenting academics (Hodgkinson and Caputo) suggest the issue points back at strategic planning failures and a lack of involvement of police members in visioning the direction of policing. There is a reluctance in policing to talk to the folks “at the coal face” about the small nuisances and larger challenges in their work. This is partly because of the inferred separation of police boards (who do strategic planning) from the operations of police.

For context: one thing driven into police board members frequently is that our job is strategic planning, policy, oversight, but that operations of police are the wheelhouse of police management and the Chief. Dr. Kempa (in that earlier session) argued this distinction is blurrier than most realize – that the amount a police board can suggest or instruct operations (outside of arrests, investigation, or charging) is better characterized as a negotiation between the board and the Chief, as the board ultimately has the authority to remove a Chief in the event of conflict.

In the end, this session had some excellent suggestions on how police boards and police can better do strategic planning to close the Alignment Gap, mostly by including the membership and the public in more meaningful ways, and improving bottom-up communications.

“Victoria Police still have a Y2K Committee…”

Yes, that was the biggest laugh of the day, and I’m pretty sure (at least I hope!) it was a joke, but funny because it hits close to the bone around the general resistance to change in police organizations, and the seeming use of bureaucracy to deflect from change.

We had a presentation from the Victoria police on the path British Columbia took towards decriminalization of some drugs (which stood in sharp contrast to a presentation from the Alberta Minister of Public Safety on their anti-harm-reduction approach, which seemed disconnected from recent headlines). We heard about the impact of mental health stigma on the ability for police to get help when they are dealing with operational stress injuries and post traumatic stress injuries. There was a panel outlining the Calgary experience with mental health call diversion, which is best described as “police led and community driven”, as opposed to the PACT or CAHOOTS-type model where diversion removes police from first response.

We also had a compelling and newsworthy panel on the complete lack of police governance and failed oversight on Newfoundland and Labrador – our host community. To see a former police chief, a lawyer who primarily represents citizens suing police, a leader of an indigenous rights organization and a progressive City Councillor all asking for the same thing (modern governance for the Royal Newfound Constabulary), only to be met with silence from a provincial government, demonstrated for most of us in the room not from the easternmost province that things could always be worse.

Overall, I am really happy I was able to attend this conference, and will be taking learnings back to the New Westminster Police Board as we enter a phase of governance review. I was also able to network with members of the Police Boards of Nelson, Abbotsford, Surrey, and other municipalities across Canada, and have a new network of collaborators as I continue to learn this new job.