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!

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