Council – Sept 25, 2023

We had a relatively quick Council Meeting on Monday, everyone probably nursing UBCM exhaustion, but we nonetheless got quite a bit done. The Agenda started with a Public Hearing:

Official Community Plan Amendment No. 8399, 2023 and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8400, 2023 for 909-915 Twelfth Street
The owner of these three properties on Twelfth Street want to bring more medium-density housing to the commercial strip. This is consistent with the OCP and neighbourhood plans, but there is a bit of a complication. To develop the property, they are looking to purchase a small strip of City owned land around the back of the property. It is a short laneway that belongs to the City, but only accesses these properties. This is not atypical, and the owner will have to pay the City the fair market value of that land, but the situation here is that the 5m wide laneway falls under a different OCP designation, so we would need to do an OCP amendment on just that small strip to bring it into the same land use category as the rest of the properties. So we go to Public Hearing.

The project itself is for a 5-story residential building with 40 units. The OCP would allow up to 6 stories here, but the zoning does not, so it needs a rezoning. The current buildings are older commercial with some upstairs suites, and a used car lot. 9 units are “ground oriented”, meaning they are townhouse-style with individual openings to the street to improve the vitality of the streetscape along that stretch, and half of all units meet our family friendly criteria with 2 or three bedrooms. The building will be highly efficient as it is built to Step 4 of the Energy Step Code, and yet will have 62 off-street parking spots. The City’s tenant relocation policies do not apply to properties with fewer than 6 rental units, nor to commercial units, however the applicant has agreed to and the City has secured relocation standards for both.

The project saw separate City-led and Applicant-led public consultation, including First Nations consultation appropriate for the OCP amendment, with a few people in the neighbourhood raising concerns about traffic impacts for the most part. The project was approved by the Design Panel, the Heritage Commission approved the demo of the existing buildings that have no significant heritage merits. We had six written submissions and about the same number of delegates at the Public Hearing. Concerns were related to increased density and traffic impacts.

I supported this project, as I think it strikes the right balance of density, family-friendliness, and a refresh of a streetscape that could use one. It not only complies with the OCP and community plans (including the Retail Strategy), but was shaped by those policies and plans. Which brings us to the regular council meeting, where we started by addressing the Bylaws form the Public Hearing:

Official Community Plan Amendment (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No.8399, 2023
Zoning Amendment (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No. 8400, 2023
Road Closure, Dedication Removal, and Disposition (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No. 8401, 2023</b.
Council unanimously supported giving these Bylaws Third reading.

We then had a Development Variance Permit to consider:

Development Variance Permit DVP00701 for 311 Ash Street
I recused myself from this discussion, as I live right across the street from the subject property, and there is a perceived conflict of interest (if not a direct pecuniary interest). We generally use the 100m rule to say if you live within 100m of a rezoning of development project, you probably have the perception of interest, but it is up to members of Council to make that determination under advice of the Corporate Office and City Solicitor.

So I don’t know what happened here and to find out, you will have to watch the video or read someone else’s blog.

We had this Report for Information:

2023 New Westminster Intersection Safety Study
The City has thousands of intersections used by cars, and all of them are dangerous, because cars are dangerous, and getting more dangerous. We have to ask the Feds and the Province to deal with the vehicles, but one of the jobs of our Engineering department (in cooperation with ICBC, the Police, MOTI, and others) is to make the intersections less dangerous. Of all these intersections in the City, at 1,089 of them had at least one ICBC-claim-generating collision over the 5-year period from 2015 to 2019. Doing engineering safety assessments and improvements for a single intersection can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, and we don’t have billions of dollars to spend locally, so how do we prioritize that work? This report answers that question.

Staff have combed through the data to infer what the most dangerous intersections are based on that ICBC data. They have prioritized 51 locations with the highest collision risk, and further filtered out locations that have already seen significant change since 2019, or are under work. From this they prioritized 25 intersections for detailed analysis of traffic operations and potential design changes. Demonstrating the difference between anecdote and data, the first intersection I always think of as crash-prone is right near my home, and it didn’t even make the top 50 list.

A traffic engineering consultant was then engaged to make safety recommendations for each of the 25. Common issues like traffic volume or gradient changes are hard to address, others like poor visibility because of parking near the intersection or inadequate lighting are easier. So interventions can be similarly prioritized, with some near-immediate changes like signage, line work, light signal timing that can be incorporated into our existing budgets as part of regular maintenance. Medium-term changes will require a capital budget to be developed and approved, while longer-term major projects require land acquisition, agreement with outside stakeholders (like TransLink or MOTI) and longer-term capital planning.

This report is a good read for transportation safety geeks, but one interesting data point I was able to pull out of it: Rear-enders are the majority collision type in all of our highest-risk intersections, ranging from 55% to 66% of all collisions. To me, this demonstrates we can’t engineer our way out of all bad driving practices. Slow down out there folks.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Decriminalization – Update to the exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
The province and federal government are taking preliminary tentative steps into drug decriminalization, as you may have read in the news. There was a lot of conversation at UBCM last week around this, and a lot of common understanding between Local Governments and the Provincial Government on reducing harms for all residents. A few months ago, New West put forward a resolution to UBCM asking for a small change – that playgrounds and park spaces be included in the “exemption” to decriminalized spaces (meaning, possession of small amounts of these harmful drugs is still illegal in those place). On Thursday I was able to withdraw that resolution as the Province and Feds had recently come through and made the change. It was unusual to hear the UBCM delegates cheer when a City withdrew a resolution, but that’s the weirdness of where we are.

Permissive Property Tax: Exempt Properties – Review of Application Result
Some properties don’t pay property tax in the City. Churches and a few other specific uses have a “statutory” exemption under provincial law, some other users can get a “permissive” exemption at the grace of local city councils. Since my time on Council (and for some time before that) we have continued legacy exemptions, but have been very reluctant to hand out new permissive exemptions, as they represent a significant subsidy to groups that operate in the City. Many of these orgs are doing good things in the community (including providing some services that should be funded by senior governments), we have taken the position that organizations doing good works in the city should avail themselves of our generous community partner grant process, not the permissive tax exemption process. This report asks Council to review new applications and continue this practice.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 902 First Street – Comprehensive Report
The owner of this lot in Glenbrooke North wants to build a duplex; that is two residential units where the current zoning would permit three (a main residence, a secondary suite, and a carriage home). It is the duplex form itself (two front doors, strata title) that does not currently fit zoning, though there are no other variances in regards to FSR, setback, height, or other regulations, and it is consistent with the OCP. Three pretty beat-up trees on site would be replaced with 7 new trees. There was City-led and applicant-led Public Consultation with not a lot of feedback, and Council moved to approve the application going to Bylaw readings.

Update on Council Motion Regarding the Chinatown Community Stewards Program
The City is going to work with Partners to see if the Is on the Street Program can be expanded to provide some of the enhanced ambassador-type services that the Chinatown Stewards, but this report also highlights that the Is on the Street program itself is not funded for the long-term. This report was asking if we want Staff to do the work to find a longer-term solution here.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Budget 2024: Fees and Rates Review
Every year as part of our Budget process, we review rates of various fees in the city, because those rates impact our revenue that impact our tax rates that are always centred in our budget deliberations. This report asks our endorsement for rate changes so Bylaws can be drawn up in time for budgeting.

Most rates are increased to keep pace with inflation (based on CPI). There some that have different forces on them, such as towing fees being based on ICBC rates and therefore no going up in 2024. There is a suggestion to change Street Occupancy Permit fees to better reflect the framework used by MOTI, and to increase some higher-impact SOPs related to heavy construction impacts to better match adjacent communities, n dot reduce fees for projects that provide enhanced pedestrian access through sites. We are also continuing the “Five Year Approach to On-Street Parking Fees and Rates” from 2019. There are also a number of inspection and permitting fees we try to align with other cities and reflect as best as possible the cost of delivering the service the fee is paying for. Finally, some fees have not gone up in several years, and we have some catching up to do, like increasing the cost of a replacement garbage bin or Development Permit application fees.

Overall, the average rate increase is equal to about 3% (which is CPI inflation for the last year), and will bring an extra $700,000 into the City in increased revenue.

Massey Theatre Working Group
We are working through developing a new relationship with the Massey Theatre Society as they are going to be operating a major asset that the City owns, and the City is committing Millions to capital improvement of that building that will be disruptive to the operations of the theatre and arts spaces at 8&8. A working group is being established to help keep communication between the two entities functional and positive during this time of transition. Council moved to approve the terms, and appointed Councillor McEvoy (for consistency, as he was on the working group during the ownership transition) and Councillor Campbell (as Chair of the Arts Culture and Act Dev Advisory Committee) to the committee.

We then read a bunch of Bylaws (but for brevity sake, I only report the Adopted ones here, of which we had none this week), before addressing a couple of Motions form Council:

Implementing speed limits for motorized vehicles operating on sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council regarding the operational and budget considerations pertaining to the implementation of a by-law that would impose speed limits on our sidewalks to help reduce the risk of pedestrian injuries

This was an interesting conversation at Council, and I think I am going to have to write up a follow-up post about it, and by “it”, I mean about the conversation at Council, not the motion. Council moved to agree to have staff do this preliminary work, and added a part about discussing better education programs around new mobility. The fact both of these are action items already in staff workplans as part of the eMobility Strategy adopted back in June of last year, it was a bit of a strange thing to bring forward in this form, but that speaks to the conversation that occurred and a biit about how Council is working these days, hence the follow up to come.

Increasing trust and accountability for civic officials in New Westminster
Submitted by Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council call upon all elected officials to engender public trust by abiding to such key principles; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the City’s Chief Electoral Officer report back to Council on the City’s state of readiness for and budget impacts pertaining to a possible school trustee byelection.

This motion was weirdly phrased, though I leave the political dogwhistle aspects of it to the reader’s interpretation. Asking elected officials to abide by a Code of Conduct is rather unassailable, as Council has been working on updating our Code of Conduct and introducing proper accountability measures including an independent Integrity Commissioner. It is perhaps ironic that the mover need to be reminded about the Code of Conduct and proper procedure during their motivation of the motion.

The second part is (in my opinion) an email, not a motion requiring Council deliberation. The simple answer to the question, which was asked and answered Council (therefore the second motion was defeated as now being moot), was there are no budget impacts on the City of a School Board by-election.

Finally, we had one piece of New business:

Extension of the Terms of Reference of Economic Development Advisory Committee
We are extending the term of the EDAC so we can develop new terms for the newly-proposed integration of Arts and Culture into the EDAC scope of work.

On the Curbside

The second item from last Council Meeting I promised a follow up on deserves a deeper dive for a very different reason than the last. In this case, the public policy and outcomes are comparatively simple to understand, even if for some they are counter-intuitive.

There was a motion brought to Council that would not only cost the City significant revenue on the order of $1 Million, but also stands in contrast to our City’s Official Community Plan, Master Transportation Plan, Downtown Parking Strategy, the recently-adopted Retail Strategy, our Climate Action goals, and various other city policies.

Under the guise of “supporting local business”, the proposal was to provide free street parking for an hour in all business areas, expand free evening parking, and make parking free on Sundays. Besides taking a significant chunk out of our parking revenue (which would presumably need to be offset by Property Tax increases), there is simply no evidence that free street-parking initiatives like this help local retail businesses in urban communities like New Westminster. The studies have been done, the evidence does not exist. The idea of free street parking may be populist, but it won’t work.

It’s not just me saying this, and nothing makes New Westminster unique here. I like to paraphrase/quote Donald Shoup, the acknowledged global expert on exactly this topic and author of “The High Price of Free Parking” when he says the curb lane on a commercial street is some of the most valuable land in any city. It is the biggest mistake a city can make to take that most valuable land and give it away, for free, to cars. Underpriced street parking drives traffic congestion, it drives emissions, and it makes a place less pedestrian friendly. It also, ironically, acts to make parking less available and harms the businesses it purports to serve.

Like most things involving cars, free parking works great until everyone wants to use it. This is because cars are massive consumers of space compared to their utility when compared to any other mode. You can have abundant available parking or you can have free parking, you cannot have both without turning the majority of your public space into parking lots. This works (at abhorrent cost) at suburban malls, but in dense urban city centres, the space simply doesn’t exist to make it work without loss of all of the things that make a community walkable and livable.

This is why the City of New Westminster, much like Vancouver and other modern cities, work to adjust commercial street parking rates based on needs assessments and the principle that correctly priced parking makes it more available for critical users, and properly prioritizes it in the hierarchy of needs for that most valuable curbside real estate.

In practice, this means setting a price for street parking that is higher than adjacent off-street parking. If street parking if free or too low priced, it will immediately be overwhelmed, and the off-street parking that was expensive to build and maintain will be underutilized. Ideally, on-street parking prices should be set so about 15% of spaces are open at any given time. Price it too low and people will circle the blocks in frustration not being able to find parking. When this motion first appeared in our Council agendas, I went down to Columbia Street on a regular Friday afternoon to see where our parking utilization rate was. I found about one empty parking space per block – or about 90% utilization. This is of course anecdotal, but there was no sign that pricing is out of scale with idealized price. This is because the price is based on a well-developed and evidence-based policy.

The City spent significant time putting together an updated parking pricing policy in 2019, including consultation with the business community, and that policy clearly lays out priorities and goals of the community, and sets a pricing policy to move us towards those goals over a 5-year implementation period. Let me quote from that October 2019 policy document:

“On-street vehicle parking is a valuable resource in urbanized communities, especially in commercial districts, around major institutions, and near rapid transit stations. Like other economic goods, when parking supply and pricing are not managed, demand for on-street parking often exceeds the amount of street space available. Complicating this issue is the growing demand for existing and potential designated curbside uses, such as transit stops and priority measures, taxi and ride-hailing zones, loading zones, accessible parking, car-share parking, protected bike lanes and bike parking, bike-share and other shared micromobility docking areas, parklets, and so forth. These uses – all of which are consistent with the City’s sustainable transportation and other goals – will continue to constrain the finite supply of onstreet space for the storage of personal vehicles.”

But our parking pricing strategy does not exist in a vacuum. It builds on the principles of the Official Community Plan, the Master Transportation Plan, the City’s Downtown Parking Strategy, our Community Energy and Emissions Plan, and other city policies. All of these are undermined by an arbitrary motion that re-prices this valuable public resource on a whim or a political promise.

In my opinion, this motion only represent bad public policy, it is regressive public policy that will (and this is actually the bigger point) not achieve the goals it claims to seek. I was not able to support it, nor was the majority of Council.

It is perhaps a coincidence that this motion arrived at Council as I was finishing reading a great book on this topic. Not Donald Shoup’s bible of parking policy, but Henry Grabar’s “Paved Paradise” which somehow makes the discussion of parking policy interesting and funny. The subtitle claims that parking explains the world we live in, and as you read he clearly makes the case that “parking is the primary determinant of the way the place you live looks, feels, and functions”.

We have work to do to make our curb spaces work better in Downtown New West, Sapperton, and Uptown. This work is ongoing through updates to our Master transportation Plan with a new area of focus on “curbside management”. We need to create better accessible parking for those who require accessible spaces, we need to change our pick-up/drop-off spaces to recognize the new emphasis on direct good and food delivery, we need to finds c at the curb for new mobility, for improved transit efficiency, for placemaking. This work will help businesses in our business districts, and it will help our residents better and more safely connect with those businesses. This is where the where the good public policy that supports local businesses is found. Alas, it doesn’t have the populist cachet of “free parking!”

HRAs and HCAs and Housing Priorities

There were two items I promised follow-up from last council meeting. This one deserves a deeper dive because it was a complicated conversation that resulted in a complex discussion at Council with several amendments and re-directions, all because the public policy and eventual outcomes were not obvious.

This is a result of a decision back in 2021 by Council to put a “freeze” on HRA applications in the Queens Park HCA, and a staff recommendation that we now lift that freeze.  And yeah, those acronyms are confusing. So I’ll try to unpack.

The residential neighbourhood of Queens Park has been designated a Heritage Conservation Area (“HCA”); one of the largest in the province. Because of the unique and provincially-significant collection of pre-1941 single family homes that meet the standard of having “heritage” merit, the neighbourhood and the Community Heritage Commission recommended the City put in an HCA a few years ago to provide extra protection to those homes. If you really want the background, here is my blog post from when it occurred.

Heritage Restoration Agreements (“HRAs”) are a planning tool that can be (and are) applied anywhere in the City. They are rather like a rezoning, in which a property owner asks to do something that is not permitted in the current zoning (i.e. build a duplex on a single family lot) in exchange for providing some value to the community or meeting some City policy goal. In the case of HRAs, it is essentially a rezoning where the “value” being exchanged is the permanent preservation of a heritage asset.

It is important to note that “designation” of a preserved heritage asset under an HRA is the highest level of heritage protection available to local governments in BC, and a much stronger level of heritage protection than is offered to the pre-1940 “protected” houses in the HCA. For this reason, alterations of heritage properties in the HCA usually come about through an HRA. If the owner of a pre-1940 HCA-protected house in Queens Park wants to make an exterior alteration, add a carriage or laneway house, lift the building to put in a full basement or put in dormers that increase the livable square footage of the home, they come to the City to ask for an HRA. Through an extensive review to assure the heritage merit is protected, and through a  (by regulation) Public Hearing, the Council either permits the change in exchange for “designation”, or does not. HRAs are also used outside Queens Park, but within Queens Park HCA they are essentially the only tool to allow alterations of pre-1940 homes, so they are more common there while other neighbourhoods are more familiar with other rezoning tools.

Since the adoption of the HCA, some members of the Queens Park community felt that HRAs were being applied in a way that was not complimentary to the HCA principles. I’ve heard criticism that HRAs were being granted with no benefit to the community, that they were an “end around” of the regular rezoning process. I don’t agree with these assertions, but they did lead to a few fractious HRA Public Hearings, and staff suggested we “pause” the processing of HRAs in Queens Park for a bit of time to let some policy work be done to update HRA principles across the City.

Unfortunately, this HRA process work has been repeatedly delayed by staff shortages and Council’s decision to prioritize other housing work – putting together affordable housing applications, an inclusionary housing policy, 22nd Street Area master planning, and applications coming that will help us meaningfully address the critical housing needs identified in our Housing Needs Assessment. Frankly, the HRA work was going to take up too much staff time and consultation energy for the value (and number of housing units) they provide the community during a housing crisis. Because of this, the “freeze” on new HRAs in Queens Park has dragged on for two years. Staff brought this report to us recommending we lift the freeze, because the work to update the HRA system (now wrapped into a more comprehensive Infill Density Policy Review) is not resourced to happen until 2025.

This is a question of balancing procedural fairness (people should be able to apply for rezoning or HRAs and understand the process that is available for them) with the common-good and heritage protection principles of the HCA.

During the conversation at Council there was a proposal to refer this question to the Community Heritage Commission – an advisory commission the city has to bring subject matter expertise to exactly this question: how to best evaluate heritage merit and balance its protection against other City policy and priorities? There was also a suggestion that applicants caught up in the “freeze” in 2021 be unfrozen to allow them to proceed with HRAs if they are still so inclined, but to maintain the freeze otherwise until the policy work is completed. Finally, the recommendation from staff to lift the freeze was put on the table, with the proviso that HRA applications not be prioritized over more critical housing work reflected in our Housing Needs assessment and overall housing policy direction.

This was a lengthy conversation, and I don’t want to speak for others at Council here, because the votes were split in different ways as we moved through the amendments, and everyone clearly had different comfort levels on this balance we were trying to strike. Instead, I will speak to my motivations for voting as I did.

When the HCA was introduced back in 2017, I supported in on the strict proviso that it would not stop all housing change in Queens Park – that the HCA should work to facilitate heritage-informed development of more housing diversity in Queens Park, and not act as a tool to prevent housing diversity in the neighbourhood. In the blog post I linked to above, I said it this way:

“the HCA policy cannot stop all development, infill density, or other ways of increasing housing choice in the Queens Park neighbourhood. We need to accelerate our work towards increasing laneway and carriage house infill, stratification of large houses if they wish to re-configure into multi-family buildings, and protecting the multi-family housing stock that already exists in Queens Park. The HCA as adopted will not prevent that progress,”

On a similar vein, I voted against the HRA freeze in 2021 because I felt it shifted the balance too far towards stopping the evolution of Queens Park by not even allowing change if it worked to improve heritage asset protection.

My position has not changed much here, and I voted with the slim majority of Council to lift the freeze, as recommended by Staff. I was not opposed to referring to the CHC for feedback prior to the lifting of the freeze, but that was defeated by another slim majority of Council. I also support the general direction to staff that we don’t need to prioritize this type of low-density infill at this time, and that is NOT consistent with my previous feelings and votes at Council.

Simply put, we are not in the same place now as we were in 2017 when we approved the current Official Community Plan. At the time, infill density was seen as an important part of our housing strategy, to bring more affordable but still market “family friendly” housing diversity in the community. In the last few years, land values in New West have grown to the point where infill is going to play less of a role in meeting our housing needs in the next few years, as higher-density forms re going to be needed to hit that lower-end-of-market and family-friendly sweet spot.

Council – Sept 11, 2023

Once a year, we hold a City Council meeting in the Queensborough Community Centre. We had a full house at the start of the meeting, which waned down to a few fans after a 5+ hour meeting. But at least we got a good two hours’ worth of work done during the time. Here is the Agenda, and as always you can watch the Video here to see how the conversation actually went.

We started with one piece of Unfinished Business from our previous long meeting:

Hydro Rates
Submitted by Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED that the City of New Westminster requests that the Electrical Commission explores piloting a program to provide rates geared to income for low income community members and engage with City Council to discuss implementation and targeting.

The City’s Electrical Utility is a bit unique in the region, and is governed by an Electrical Commission that makes recommendations to Council on rates and other strategic plans. There has been some discussion of providing rebates or discount rates to people of low income individuals this year, but this is the first time we have sent such a discussion to the Commission to test the waters. I am happy to refer this to the Commission, and am interested in how they provide feedback. This speaks a bit to the mandate the City has given the Commission, and some discussion we have had at that table about updating their governance and long term strategic planning.

There was an amendment that we ask the Commission to also look at “two tier” pricing like BC Hydro has, which charges less for the first 1376kWh per billing period and more for use above this level. This is something BC Hydro has been suggesting they are moving away from, but we don’t know where those talks are with the BCUC, so we should be able to get a report back from the Commission on this.

We then had this Report for Discussion:

TACC Project Update
The təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre is a bit delayed and almost on budget. This report gives us the first update on TACC since February, when we were anticipating an early spring 2024 opening, and that still looks like the plan, but later spring than we initially hoped. This is for “Phase 1” completion (when people are going to be able to get into the pool as opposed to “Phase 2” completion – which is when all of the external parking lot and landscaping stuff will be done, which is still on tap for summer 2024, but less important to most folks). The project is coming in very close it its adjusted budget of $114.6M, though the transition delays will have some operational budget impacts.

Right now, the building is watertight, and tiling is going on. There are a LOT of tiles in this building, with the hot tubs already sealed and tested, and the other pools to follow. Interior finishing is a huge undertaking, and supply chain issues still pose some risk to timelines, even with construction teams now double-shifting to keep us on timelines. The granting of Occupancy in (hopefully early April) leads to staffing, training, and bringing a bunch of systems on line. This is actually a daunting task – something of the scale City has not undertaken in a very long time, if ever. This will lead to a soft opening in May, if all goes by plan.

There is also going to be a transition period where programs migrate from Centennial Community Centre to TACC, and as the CCC needs to close before the TACC can be opened, there will be disruptions to some programs, though staff will work to mitigate these as best as possible, including moving programs to third locations for a transition period.

We are not finished yet here, but I am impressed that we got this project across the finish line within 10% of the original budget, and only a few months after planned. This with an initial 6-month delay caused by COVID uncertainty, unexpected geotechnical challenges, global supply chain crises, a regional concrete strike, and unpredicted inflationary pressures facing the entire construction industry. This is a major success on the part of City project management staff, and proves we can get things done here in New West. It’s not a contest, but I compare our experience in some other Lower Mainland municipalities with new major recreation centers, that are running into delay and budget challenges, and I feel really fortunate that we got this project started when we did, and our staff brought it through.

We moved the following items On Consent:

Just kidding. We moved nothing on consent because every item was pulled for discussion.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2023 Capital and Operating Quarterly Performance Report
This is our now-regular quarterly update on the Capital and Operational budgets. As expected ,there are a few minor adjustments, with a Capital Budget increase equaling about 0.6% of the existing budget, though most of this will be covered by offsets and efficiencies in the existing capital plan. Operational revenues exceed projections by about 1%, while expenses exceeding budget by 0.02%, so we net out a bit on the positive as far as operational numbers.

Accelerating Climate Action to Meet Targets and Address Extreme Heat: Staffing and Financial Considerations
The City has a Climate Action plan, and clear targets to meet by 2030 and the decades ahead. Staff have created a work plan of tasks that will need to be completed if we plan to actually meet those targets, which we reviewed and approved last meeting. This report outlines in detail the staffing required to complete those plans. This was originally driven by us moving some resources over the Heat Dome response work, and staff warning us that climate action work may suffer as a consequence, leading Council to ask staff what resources we would need to mount a serious climate disruption defense while keeping on our existing mitigation plan.

The report outlines about four new staff in the next year, and up to three more in subsequent years. There is also a suggestion that Climate Action Levy funds could be used to support this new staff compliment to reducing the direct impact on property tax rates. Council is being asked to support this model, and staff will then incorporate the changes in to the 2024 budget deliberations starting this fall.

In short – this is what it means to take Climate Action and meet our stated goals for 2030, as our part of both Provincial and Federal GHG emission reduction goals. This is an obvious yes from me, funding the plans we have already on to meet targets we have already agreed on, from a fund collected to help us get to those targets. Fortunately, the majority of Council takes our climate goals seriously, and supported this.

22nd Street Station Area Visioning Update
The 22nd Street area visioning project is moving along, after being delayed by a global pandemic. There will be a public engagement process starting soon, including public meetings and on-line components. There has also been a positive initial connection with First Nations on the idea of collaborative visioning of the site. There is also an intent to bring in academic and design expertise through an Ideas Challenge.

One of the big questions around urban development of the Lower Mainland is what some SkyTrain Stations foster successful mixed-use development (New Westminster, Surrey Centre, Lougheed) while others look fairly unchanged decades after SkyTrain arrives (Nanaimo, 29th Ave, Sperling). 22nd Street definitely falls in that latter category. Why is a site with great transportation connections, in a city willing to support densification and growth, in a central urban location linked to three communities during a time of desperate housing need not seeing development? There are certainly a variety of factors, but perhaps this design and visioning work can create the spark that has so far missed at this site.

Heritage Revitalization Agreements in Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area
This was a big, complicated discussion at Council with several split votes, so I am going to punch the longer discussion to a follow-up blog post. But the short notes are that back in 2021 Council put a “freeze” on Heritage Restoration Agreement applications in Queens Park as we were trying to work out some details of an HRA policy refresh driven by members of the Queens Park community feeling that HRAs were being applied in a way that was not complimentary to the Heritage Conservation Area principles. Since that time, the HCA incentives and policy work has been completed, but the HRA Refresh has been de-prioritized due to staff shortages and other higher-priority housing work. Staff recommended we stop the freeze, and Council moved to do this, but more detail to come…

Housing Agreement Bylaw and Development Variance Permit to Vary Parking Requirements: 311 Ash Street
I have recused myself from this item, as I live immediately across the street from the project address and there may be a perception of conflict of interest. You will have to watch the video or read someone else’s blog to get the details.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit – 808 Royal Avenue: Application Consideration
Douglas College wishes to build student housing and expanded academic space on a vacant lot across the street from the New Westminster campus. This requires rezoning and a SDP, but it is consistent with the OCP, and therefore does not require a Public Hearing. The application is also generally consistent with the Downtown Community Plan, our Economic Development Plan, Downtown Building and Public Realm Design Guidelines and Master Plan, and the Downtown Transportation Plan. And the public engagement was generally positive.

This comprehensive report presages Staff developing Bylaws for Council Approval at our next Council meeting. If you have opinions, you can still let us know!

Official Community Plan Amendment, Rezoning, Road Closure, and Land Sale: 909-915 Twelfth Street – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owners of these lots in the Moody Park neighbourhood want to build a 5-story 40-unit residential building. This would also require purchasing a strip of unused City-owned lane to complete the lot dimensions. It is this small piece of lane land that requires the OCP amendment, as the rest of the project is consistent with the OCP. It would also require a rezoning.

This project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my opinions until then. If you have opinions, let us know!

Application for Grant Funding to the 2023 UBCM Asset Management Planning Program
As the City works through its Asset Management modernization, we are applying to a special UBCM fund to help pay for some of that work. The application requires a resolution from Council, which is this.

Authorization to Enter Into License Agreements for 68 Sixth Street and 824 Agnes Street
As previously discussed, we are moving a temporary dog park to 68 Sixth Street. We don’t own the land, so this is the license agreement that allows us to use the land for $10/year. A bargain!
The existing dog park at 824 Agnes will be licensed to the developer for them to stage and do construction of the public park before they turn it back over to the City as a completed public park. This is the license agreement to allow them to do that on City owned land. They pay fair market value for the use, which is $3,625 a month. Also a bargain.

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

Subdivision and Development Control Miscellaneous Amendment Bylaw No. 8412, 2023
This bylaw that updates the language in our Subdivision and Development Control Bylaw was Adopted by Council.

Public Notice Bylaw No. 8417, 2023
This bylaw that updated our Public Notice bylaw to reflect that fact that we no longer have a print newspaper ion New Westminster was adopted by Council.

We then had some Motions from Council:

Fair Wage and Living Wage Policies
Mayor Johnstone

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff bring a report to Council outlining a process to adoption of a Fair Wage Policy similar to that of Burnaby or the City of North Vancouver to complement New Westminster’s successful Living Wage Policy; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Mayor Johnstone take a motion to the Board of Metro Vancouver on behalf of New Westminster Council requesting that Fair Wage and Living Wage policies be developed and adopted by the Regional Government.

New Westminster was a leader in Living Wage Policy, being the first municipality to adopt it, with most others following suit in subsequent years. This policy assures the Minimum wage paid to anyone one working for the City, directly or indirectly through a contractor or consultant, is paid a fair living wage for the region (Currently $24.08/hr). Fair Wage policies, in contrast, assure that all workers are paid wages equal to a fair wage for their skill set in the labour market. This policy has been in place for some time in Burnaby and North Vancouver, and I have had conversations with Mayors Hurley and Buchannan who both fully support the Fair Wage policy in their respective jurisdictions, and say their experience is that it makes for a more competitive procurement process, has not noticeably increased costs, and has resulted in better procurement results.

I also think that Living wage and Fair Wage policies re under attack in some jurisdictions at a time when working people are feeling the effects of increased cost of living. Assuring that people who work for the City are paid a fair and living wage allowing them to live and prosper in this city is the least we can do. As members of Metro Vancouver, I hope we can use our position at that board to bring Living and Fair Wages to that bigger body.

Council unanimously supported this motion.

Conducting a Review Regarding the Cause and Cost Pertaining to the City of New Westminster Oil Spill in the Fraser River
Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed to produce a public report regarding the July 2023 oil spill which emanated from the Samson V Museum; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED this oil spill public report include the following core components:
• An overview of the negative environmental impacts caused by the Samson V oil spill to the Fraser River and surrounding communities;
• The full list of government agencies, regulators, community partners, environmental non-governmental organization involved in responding to the Samson V oil spill;
• Full costing of the environmental cleanup including an estimate of staff time;
• An estimate of any fines that may be levied by regulators and senior orders of government;
• Analysis as to circumstances which triggered the Samson V oil spill released into the Fraser River;
• Cost analysis of moving the Samson V into drydock for a period of up to 12 months for necessary repairs, safety and cosmetic upgrades/refurbishment

The spill of some oily bilgewater from the Samson V was already reported out on quite a bit. But as per the Provincial Spill Reporting Regulation, an End-of-Spill Report is a public document and will be shared with Council. As such, most of what is being asked for here has a reporting path to make it public, so this motion is really more of an email to staff than a motion required of Council, but no problem moving it.

The final bullet point, however, is different, and I asked that this could be severed so I could vote against it. In discussions with staff, it was made clear that there are no “necessary repairs” to the boat that require dry-docking, for 12 months or any other time period. The hull and decking have been inspected recently by a marine engineer, and were found to be sound and water tight, with no structural concerns. There is ongoing roofing work, and some paint and path repair on the deck is being planned out, but there is simply no reason to spend the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that would be required to pull the boat from the water. Council voted to support most of this motion except this final bullet.

Increasing access to fresh drinking water for local residents and their pets
Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council regarding the cost and operational requirements of installing temporary water fountains connected to a fire hydrant in time for summer 2024; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT staff reach out to the City of Vancouver who have successfully implemented fire hydrant water fountains to determine if there are learnings that can be applied in New Westminster.

This motion was supported by Council unanimously. I am afraid we may be repeating work previously done, and staff sounded pretty skeptical, as their preliminary evaluation was that this would be not only expensive, but challenging to fire operations as our fire suppression water pipe systems Is functionally quite different than Vancouver’s. But aside from some staff time, there is not too much harm in having another look at the possibilities or barriers so we can report back to public one way or the other.

Supporting our seniors by increasing hours of operation for Century House during the summer
Councillor Fontaine

Whereas other Metro Vancouver cities have ensured their seniors centers are more accessible throughout the year by keeping them open in the evening during summer; and
Whereas Century House is a critical gathering place for our seniors in New Westminster and it currently closes at 4:00 pm during the summer; and
Whereas Century House can serve as a cooling center during the hot summer months.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed as part of Budget 2024 to provide Council with the costs and operational requirements to extend the hours of operation at Century House to 9:00 pm on weekdays during the summer; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the membership of Century House be surveyed regarding their level of interest in expanding the service hours during the summer and that the results of this survey be provided to Council for further consultation and evaluation.

This was, frankly, a bit of a confusing motion and conversation. It doesn’t help that the information in the preamble was not exactly accurate, which is why I included the preamble in the quote above.

To clarify the record, Century House does not close at 4:00pm, but is open until at least 8:00pm, it is programming offered by the Century House Association (not by the City, though the City supports it) that generally ends at 4:00pm, but the centre remains open for social use and other informal programming. Century House is a cooling centre operated by the City, and we have spent money in the last couple of years upgrading HVAC systems to assure it provides that respite. We also extend the hours to provide more support during heat events, even staying open overnight when needed. The facility is also used at times by programming not provided by the Century House Association, including overlapping programs from the Youth Centre that often extend in to the evening.

This resolution therefore created some confusion on the ask, as it seemed to suggest a one-hour extension of hours, with it no being clear who is asking for that, and that the membership of Century House be asked if this is a good idea, when staff are already engaged deeply with the Century House Association (which represents “the Members”) on their programming needs, including the recent update of the MOU the City has with the Association to assure we are working together to be responsive to the community’s needs.

In the end, after lengthy discussion, Council decided to refer this motion to the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan work, as that speaks more broadly to the needs of seniors in the community and best use of our recreation/social assets in the community.

Supporting our local business community by implementing a pilot project to reduce parking fees
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back on the budget implications and operational requirements associated with establishing a pilot project to reduce parking fees in 2024 which will include the following core components:
• First hour of on-street parking (where paid on-street metered parking currently exists) will be complimentary. This would apply to the Downtown, Uptown, Sapperton and 12th Street commercial and business districts.
• Expand free on-street parking to after 7 pm during the business week from the current 8 pm setting in all commercial and business districts.
• Parking will be free on Sunday and all statutory provincial holidays in all areas of the city.

This is another item I am going to have to write a longer follow-up on, because it speaks deeply to what is good public policy and what is not. Putting aside the (~$1 Million?) in potential revenue loss and resultant impact on Property Taxes, this is a proposal that stands in contrast to our City’s Official Community Plan, Master Transportation Plan, Downtown Parking Strategy, our Climate Action goals, and other city policies. In my opinion, this is bad public policy, and regressive public policy that will (and this is actually the bigger point) not achieve the goals it claims to seek. I was not able to support it, nor was the majority of Council.

And that was what we did last Monday instead of watching the ‘Bellies in Game 3!

Council – Aug 28, 2023 part 2!

Council last week was made longer by two issues for which we received delegations, both resulting in long conversations. I’m going to try to do my best to unpack these two conversations here, but before I do, I’ll offer another of my hopefully-redundant-by-now caveats. As both of these issues have various political angles to them, and as Council was clearly not aligned on some of the core political issues at hand, it is hard to talk this out without approaching politics. So where I try to keep my Council reports as close to “just the facts”, this one will probably have a bit more opinion thrown in. As always, it is important to remember this is a my blog, not official City or Council communications, so opinions expressed here are not that of the City or of Council, and some of them might not even be mine!

Also, there were delegations from the public on both of these topics, and Council deliberated on them right after, so you can watch the video (it is available here, and these topics start at 1:20:00) and hear the conversation yourself, I’m sure you will hear ideas you agree with and those you disagree with, and such is democracy. So fairly warned:

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 and blocking their view of the river. Specifically, the trees are larger than the City suggested they would be when they were planted on the City land adjacent to their condo units back in 2007. This issue came to Council in 2017 with the residents asking the trees to be removed, and the City instead undertook an enhanced pruning schedule for these trees to hopefully train them back to what was originally suggested. After a few years, it is apparent this strategy will not work, as the trees continue to expand to a size that continues to impact peoples’ enjoyment of their suites.

Since this first bubbled up, the City has adopted a bunch of new policies around trees, including the Urban Forest Management Strategy and the Seven Bold Steps Climate Action Plan, both of which set ambitious plans for increasing the tree canopy cover in the City. This means new guidelines and restrictions around removing trees on private property, and an aggressive tree planting strategy for public lands in the City. To be really clear, removing trees from public land to improve or protect peoples’ views does not align with any of these policies or strategies. I didn’t hear anyone on Council advocate for the removal of these trees.

However, there was a recognition that this is a long-standing issue, and the City’s responses over the last 15+ years has not brought the results either the homeowners or the City had hoped for. There have been agreements created between the residents and the City, and notwithstanding our new policies, there is a responsibility to acknowledge, and as best we can be true to, the nature of those agreements. The final decision of Council was to continue the work being done under the 2017 agreement with enhanced pruning and tree care while working with the Strata to find a resolution to their issues.

As an aside, there was some talk during the deliberation about the City agreeing on tree removal elsewhere in the City, I think it is worthwhile clarifying what our policy and practice is. We do not remove trees from city land to improve people’s views, nor do we typically prune or shape city trees to improve views, though we do prune to support the health and safety of the tree as it grows. We sometimes remove city-owned trees if they are unhealthy or dangerous, but this is an arborist-driven decision based on detailed analysis of the tree health.

On private lands, we will permit the removal of a tree that is diseased or dangerous, but it must be replaced on a one-for-one or two-for-one basis. We will also sometimes permit the removal of healthy trees if there is a zoning entitlement that cannot be fulfilled with the tree in place, or through redevelopment. We then require replacement on a (typically) two-for-one basis. We generally require that the tree be replaced on the same property, but if you are building higher density housing, often there isn’t room on the property for all of the replacement trees to flourish. In this case the City may take cash-in-lieu of replacement, so the City can use that money to pay for planting those replacement trees elsewhere in the City, typically on City property like boulevards or parks. The goal is no net loss of trees, with 2-for-one replacement as a way of mitigating the fact a large mature tree provides more canopy cover than a necessarily-smaller replacement.

Cooling Equipment in Rental Units
Councillor Henderson and Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED that City Council direct staff to explore the tools available for the City to adopt a bylaw that requires rental units to have cooling equipment, or passive means, that prevents at least one room of the unit from exceeding the standard recommendation of 26 C (79 F);
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City write a letter to the Minister of Housing to request clarification and confirmation that these upgrades would not trigger legal renovictions or the Above Guideline Rent Increase permissible by the Province.

Since the Heat Dome of 2021, the City and the Province have taken a number of measures to prevent the deaths that shocked the region and this City. In New Westminster we had 28 people die, for the most part vulnerable people living alone in homes that where the temperature was too high to support life. We have had several reports to Council over the last two years outlining extended measures we have been taking, partnerships we have created, and resources we have re-allocated to help vulnerable people get through the net time an extreme heat event like that occurs.

One part of this work is assuring people have access to cooling. In some buildings and for some people, that means assuring that the building has “one cool room” – a common room where people have access to a cool refuge without needing to leave their building, reducing anxiety about medication, pets, and the general comfort and security of home. We have also worked with Senior Series Society and Fraser Health to identify higher-risk folks for whom this may not work, and are targeting a program to provide air conditioners as a local augment to the program the BC Government is managing through BC Hydro.

Since these programs began rolling out, we have heard that many rental building owners were not permitting air conditioning in rental units. Some even sent vaguely threatening letters to all tenants informing them that the installation of even portable air conditioners could result in eviction. As egregious and callous as this is in the face of a disaster that killed dozens of people in our community – it is not strictly illegal. Provincial laws regulate rental housing, and they require that all housing must have fire protection, must have safe electrical systems, and must (most notably) adequate heating. When the Heat Dome became a mass-death event bigger than any fire or any winter blizzard, we have to ask whether regulating cooling is as important as the above.

The request in this motion is to look at local or provincial solutions to regulate maximum sustained temperatures in rental units, in a similar way that minimum sustained temperatures are already regulated. We have in the past been innovative in New West on protecting renters, including the use of Business Licensing to regulate what the Residential Tenancy Act fails to regulate. Up to now, much of our work to protect vulnerable people from future heat emergencies has relied on us providing incentives and direct public health interventions, and we are taking those as far as we can. At some point providers of housing – those whose business is providing housing to people – need to take responsibility for assuring the housing from which they are extracting rent is safe for occupation.

Importantly, this is not requesting specific prescriptive solutions. Just as the current regulations don’t require a specific type of heating for buildings, as long as heating is available and adequate to sustain life, we can introduce similar requirements and expect the market and engineering professionals find the specific solutions that work for any single building and living unit.

There were a few amendments added to the motion that saw little support. A few were to point this issue at the provincial government and to assess cost impacts and concerns about electrical load impacts. Both of these are, in my mind, follow-ups to after the initial work comes from staff as requested in the initial motion – if we have no tools or need to rely on Provincial tools, than that extra work is redundant. The motion is not asking to immediately implement these regulations, but for an assessment of the best tools the City can use to bring them in so at that time we can assess secondary impacts as we always do through new bylaw development. As it is a non-prescriptive motion, the emphasis on in-room air conditions is premature, and frankly the emphasis on electrical demand is a bit of a red herring as modern portable air conditions have power demands similar to an electric kettle or hair dryer – two appliances that are not regulated in most residential tenancy agreements. There was also a request to consult with tenants rights organizations, which seems unnecessarily delaying to initial work here when we have representatives of several renters rights organizations delegating at this very meeting asking for exactly what the motion is requesting.

In the end, Council supported this motion as originally written, and this is work that will be coming back to Council for future discussion, which will hopefully prompt deeper conversations not just in New Westminster, but across the province, about measures that may be required to help vulnerable people in our communities adapt to climate disruption.