Council – October 30, 2023

We had a great Council meeting on Monday where I feel we really moved some things forward, some in the afternoon Workshop (which you can see on video here) but I only report here on the regular Agenda which started with a few Reports for Council:

2023 Point-in-Time Homeless Count: Key Findings and Messages
This is a local reporting out on the regional Homeless Count back on March, an event that occurs every three years. Several members of New Westminster Council took active part in the homeless count as volunteers, and this is a valuable experience in understanding the paths to homelessness, and the challenges faced every day by unhoused and precariously housed residents in our community. It is not just a “count” but an active survey that results in a long conversation, and once you meet folks, learn their names, and hear their stories, it can change how you view people who are without a home.

It is important to note that the “count” is almost certainly an undercount; even the most dedicated teams cannot reach everyone living without secure housing in our community in 24-hour period. New Westminster is small and dense, which means our undercount is likely smaller than in some larger and more sprawling communities.

Overall, this years’ count found 57 unsheltered people in New Westminster, which is an increase of 16 over the last count in 2020. There were also 146 sheltered homeless people counted (folks who have no secure or reliable home, but do have some access to emergency shelter or borrowed space) which is an increase of 64 people over the 2020 count. This totals 203 people, which is 65% more than just three years ago. This is equal to or lower than the increases in surrounding communities of Surrey (65%), Burnaby (69%), Tri-Cities (86%), and Richmond (91%). This report also includes a raft of demographic data, and is worth a read, and it helped inform some of the action in the next item on our agenda.

Responding to the Homelessness, Mental Health and Substance Use Crises: Proposed Two-Year Organizational Pilot Project and Implementation Strategy
Following on that earlier report, this is a report on a new phase of work proposed in New Westminster to address the myriad impacts of the three overlapping crises facing our community and our region. I say a new phase, because there has been a tonne of work done already. The City’s first responders, engineering and bylaws departments have been coordinating with local service agencies, Fraser Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC housing, and others to bring resources and tools to the community.

With the Downtown Livability Strategy and the ongoing work of the Unsheltered Task Force, conditions have measurably improving over the last few months, but staff are feeling strain from the ongoing workload of this atypical work. We also have some longer-term proactive measures to address the bigger challenges, including planning around better shelter and supportive housing measures, but these are going to take some time to bring on line, and both staff and the community want to see some more immediate responses.

Staff have been connecting with some cohort commutes facing similar challenges, and are bringing back some best practices. Primary among these is to separate operations and response from the policy development and advocacy function, while ensuring ongoing communication between both functions. The work involves a New Crises Response Team to better coordinate existing resources in the community, including provincially-funded response and care teams, a new Operations Support Team that is made up of existing staff, and some Policy and Advocacy resources. There is no doubt these new resources are going to cost us money to provide, and we are going to see this in our 2024 budget planning, but this is what the community is demanding of us, and we are going to continue to lobby senior governments to provide financial support.

This is a responsible and evidence-based approach to the challenges facing us, and structuring it as a two-year pilot allows us to set goals around likely timing for new shelter and transitional housing coming on-line, while it also allows us to budget responsibly and provide clear requests from senior government with measurable outcomes and timelines. I am really glad the majority of Council are listening to the community, and endorsed this plan.

Canada Games Pool Tank Leak Causation Investigation Results
This is the report on the known causes of the failure of the Canada Games Pool tank. In the end, there were a variety of causative factors, but differential settling of soils likely related to shifting groundwater levels caused a previous weakness in the tank (related to the 1990s repairs and the decision in the 1970s to build slab-on-grade in a landfill area instead of building on piles or stone columns like the new pool) came together at an inopportune time. We knew the pool was end of life, this is what taking a facility past end of life looks like.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Budget 2024: Fees and Rates Review, Amendment Bylaws for Three Readings
As discussed in our September 25 meeting, these are the bylaws staff was asked to prepare to support our annual changes in various fees and rates in the City.

Electric Vehicle Ready Requirements for New Non-Residential Buildings
The transition to EVs from internal combustion vehicles is inevitable, and will be driven faster by CleanBC provincial mandates about ending the sale of new non-electric vehicles by 2035. One pressure stalling the pace of adoption is the availability of charging infrastructure. A recent report at Metro Vancouver provided a detailed analysis of the need for public charging stations (up to 90,000 needed regionally by 2050!), and the imperative to assure charging is available in homes and where people work or shop.

Back in 2018, New West mandated all new residential builds have to accommodate charging in all parking spots (that is, be pre-wired for it so installation of physical chargers is possible). This proposal is to bring similar but less stringent requirements to non-residential parking such as new commercial, industrial and office buildings. There is a bit of technical detail here regarding the type of charging infrastructure (e.g. dedicated vs. load-shared), but the proposal here for 50% of all off-street parking have access to charging is aligned with and slightly exceeds the recommendations in that Metro Vancouver report. This will be run past the building and development industry before we implement it, but initial analysis finds this will be a minor increased cost (~$500 per spot) compared to the cost of providing parking in the first case ($20,000 – $50,000 per spot).

And the following item was Removed From Consent for discussion:

Report Back on Council Motion Regarding New Westminster Becoming a 15-Minute City
This is the staff follow-up to the motion that came to Council after advocacy by a youth group in town. When conversation about the “15 Minute City” idea came out here in New West, there were some who asked the obvious question: Aren’t we already? There are definitely some neighbourhoods in New West that approach this ideal, like Sapperton and Downtown, but there are also neighbourhoods that are still rather car-dependent and lacking in local services. Room for improvement.

Importantly, and outlined in this report, there are already many City plans and policies that move us toward a15-Minute City model, including much of our Official Community Plan. Reflecting this alignment, the suggested direction from staff is to incorporate the clearly indicated 15-Minute City principles into existing work and upcoming planning processes, as opposed to developing a standalone 15-Minute City plan. This was adopted by Council.

We then read a bunch of Bylaws, including the following Bylaw for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (902 First Street) No. 8418, 2023
This Bylaw to rezone 902 First Street to allow construction of a duplex was adopted by Council. Notably, this may be a type of bylaw adoption that is going away with the new announcement of housing changes by the provincial Government!

Finally, we had a single Motion from Council:

Amending the City’s separation allowance policy to eliminate possibility of ‘double dipping’ by former Mayors and Councillors
Councillor Fontaine

WHEREAS the City of New Westminster compensation package for elected officials includes the payment of a separation allowance upon completion of their term(s) in office equivalent to ten percent of their highest annual remuneration for each year of service commencing after December 1st, 2008 (with a twelve year cap); and

WHEREAS there is no impediment for Council members to receive a separation allowance from New Westminster taxpayers even if they transition successfully into new employment within a short period of time;

WHEREAS the intent of the separation allowance ought to be limited to bridging the employment gap after a member has ceased to serve on Council;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council request legal counsel to draft an amendment to the Council Remuneration Policy such that the separation allowance be set up as a salary continuance for a maximum of 12 months that can be terminated upon a former Council member becoming gainfully employed full-time within the first year after ceasing to serve on Council, rather than as a lump sum payment at the time of separation.

I fundamentally disagree on the third whereas clause is here, and don’t know what the foundation of the assumption is. The Separation Allowance is a benefit elected officials receive at least in part to address the fact that they are not provided any pension access or ability to participate in the Municipal Pension Plan. Many people (including myself) give up some portion or all of their pensionable work to do this job. If we want younger early- or mid-career people to take on this work instead of reserving it for retired and independently wealthy people who can afford the privilege of doing this “as a public service” without fair compensation, we need to recognize that for many it means putting some other career aspirations aside. We live in a society where access to pensions are (or at least should be, but don’t get me started on the erosion of worker benefits) an important part of every compensation package. The separation allowance provides to people doing this work the opportunity to invest in an RRSP and achieve some “pension-like” benefit that makes up for the loss in pension access that may come with the job. Or they can use it to bridge their income to a post-council job. Neither is wrong.

However, the underlying assumption in this motion is not one I agree with, and I could not support the motion, nor could the majority of Council.

As an aside, it is important to remember the Mayor job is full time (plus!), but Council is not. Many (most) Council members do work aside from their Council jobs, because they have to pay a mortgage and support a household. This is not “double dipping”, this is having two jobs, each with their own independent compensation arrangements. I frankly found using a pejorative term like “double dipping” to describe this to be disrespectful to members of Council, current and past.

And that was it for a pre-Halloween edition of New West City Council. Tune in next week for more scary content!

Leave a Reply