Council – May 6, 2024

Monday’s meeting was long. Much longer than it had to be, frankly, considering the short length of the Agenda, but again we got the work done. We went a little off schedule as far as which items were covered when trying to accommodate the public and staff time as best we could, so the list below may not be in order, but you can always watch the video here and select the agenda item on the left that you are interested in, and the video should skip right to that item. Pretty slick.

It started with three Reports to Council:

2023 Consolidated Financial Statements
These are the annual financial reports detailing the financial results of the previous year (as opposed to forecasting the next year, which is the budget). It is also when we received the Audit Report based on the Audit Plan we approved back in January. The audit report is pretty simple: “no problems found”.

The Financial Statements show we are in solid financial shape. We are in a period of significant investment in the city, both in getting infrastructure built (our $78 Million capital spending in 2023 included $33 Million towards təməsew̓txʷ , $5 Million in sewer separation work, $5 Million in pavement management, aka. “filling potholes”, $4 Million toward our on-time-and-under budget Q’boro substation, $3 Million toward waterman replacement, and more) and in solidifying our capital reserves to assure we can continue to maintain what we build.

We also did pretty well at getting senior government investment in the City – more than $25 Million between the feds and Province, to help pay for that work. With that support, we had a an “operational surplus” of $105 Million, which is how we finance that capital plan, and is key to our meeting our longer-term Asset Management plans.

We are also taking in debt to pay for some larger items, including təməsew̓txʷ and the Substation. This is purposeful, and we can get into debates about how local governments finance infrastructure like this (as I have in the past – wow – reading that now, I used to be so wordy!). Our debt payments are in the order of $8 Million a year, of which about $6.7 Million is interest (representing a very manageable 2% of our revenue). At the same time, we had a significant increase in the interest earned on our reserves (up to $13 Million), which is due to some great treasury management work by our finance staff.

Council approved the Financial Statements, which allows staff to submit them to the province by the statutory deadline of May 15th.

Train Whistle Cessation – 2024 – Q1 Update
This is just the quarterly report on whistle cessation. It looks like one of the most prominent intersections in Q’Boro is very close to completion, and we are continuing to be challenged by CN on the key crossings in Sapperton. Not a lot to update here.

Recommendations for Council on Belonging and Connecting from the Community Advisory Assembly
This was the first presentation from the Assembly, and it could not have gone better. The first item they were asked to look into is our perhaps vague Strategic Plan pillar around “Community Belonging and Connecting”. The Assembly members provided a report with a lot of ideas around making better spaces for public participation in art and performance, the need for outdoor weather-adaptable gathering spaces, and public toilets. They highlighted the need for sports facilities in Queensborough, in updating our Renter Protection bylaws, and had an idea around a different kind of Community Ambassador program.

There was a lot there, and I appreciated they way they were open about recognizing this is a lot. They balanced well the desire to tell us what they want with leaving it to us as Council to determine what is feasible and what is not, and to set the budget and timelines. Most importantly, I liked how they spoke of the deliberative and consensus-building model they used. I am absolutely enthused about how this report came, and am even more excited about what is to come next.

The following item was Moved on Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 220 Salter Street
Inspection of major sewer conduits under the Fraser has to happen at night when flows are lowest, and a bit of noise is generated at the ends of the inspection routes meaning we need to issue a Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption. Gotta keep the poop flowing!

We then adopted a LOT of Bylaws:

Tax Rates Bylaw 8445, 2024
The Bylaw that sets the property tax rates for 2024 was Adopted by Council.

Code of Conduct for Council Members Amendment Bylaw No.8457, 2024
This bylaw that amends our recently-adopted Code of Conduct to facilitate the hiring of an Ethics Commissioner was adopted by Council.

Riparian Areas Protection Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No 8413, 2024
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No 8421, 2024
Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No 8422, 2024
These three Bylaws that update our RAPR Bylaw to align with provincial changes was adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (812 Twentieth Street) No. 8443,2024
This rezoning bylaw to permit a liquor store on Twentieth Street was adopted by Council.

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
These Bylaws that support the building of a 40-unit residential building on Twelfth Street was adopted by Council.

Then we had a couple of Motions from Council:
Supporting increased openness and transparency at City Hall
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine and Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council commit to publicly releasing all in-camera minutes on the City’s website as soon as practicable and once a decision or discussion is no longer required to be secured as confidential.

This motion is asking us to commit to doing something we already do, in that decisions Council makes in closed under Section 90 are effectively released to the public once we those decisions result in public expenditure or new Bylaws. We may discuss a property purchase of sale in Closed under section 90(1)e – because it would be terrible for our ability to get a good deal with public money if we negotiated in public – but we cannot actually close the purchase or sell a property without publicly disclosing we did it. We may discuss HR issues in closed under Section 90(1)a to protect people’s privacy, but cannot hire or fire people without disclosing this publicly. Excepting legal issues that require client-solicitor privilege covered by Section 90(1)g, everything we discuss in closed either goes nowhere, or if it goes somewhere, ends up in an open meeting.

I look at the City of Vancouver’s releases over the last few months, and what do I see? A decision made three years ago about a lease of public land that was already public, an agreement to a collective bargaining agreement made a year previously, a Corporate Officer hiring from a year ago that was already announced on the City webpage. There is nothing here that wasn’t public information already, so the level of transparency this offers is questionable.

Of course increased transparency is a good thing (I mean, I’ve written hundreds of these blog posts now), but I have a bit of a concern about the extra bureaucracy required to track and process item-by-item closed decisions over several years so they can be released in a systemic way. Is this a good use of staff time, considering the item has already, by definition, become public? So in Council approving this motion (with the minor edit of changing “minutes” to “decisions”), we also asked staff to report back on the resources needed before we make the change.

Appointment of new Chair of the Arts Culture and Economic Development Advisory Committee
Submitted by Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council recommend to the Mayor that Councillor Daniel Fontaine be appointed as the new Chair for the Arts, Culture and Economic Development Committee

This is, frankly, a bizarre political attack at one of our hardest-working City Councillors. There is currently a Chair of the ACEDAC, and it is Councillor Campbell. Councillor Minhas also serves on that committee, but has (according to the publicly available minutes) failed to appear at a meeting. Why I would take the recommendation of a non-participant to replace the one Council member who is actively doing the work on that committee is… not clear to me. Council did not vote to replace the Chair.

Then we had one item of New Business:

Community Vancouver Canucks Viewing Feasibility
This arose out of a suggestion made by Councillors Fontaine and Minhas that we find ways to support viewing opportunities for the Canucks playoff run. We are starting a bit late at this, but over the last two weeks, staff have burned a bit of midnight oil and come up with a bit of a menu of options for us, but we have to move fast.

I have been told “all this takes is political will”, and nothing could be further from the truth. I hate to break it to you, but politicians don’t do the work of making things like this happen, staff do, and our staff already have full work plans. We say “we should have a public viewing party”, and staff have to scramble to find screens, broadcasting rights, facilities, security, staff, public bathrooms, etc. There is work to do here, and real costs.

That said, Council was generally supportive, and staff did a good job bringing us a scale of options, giving us the opportunity to start with round two, ramp it up for round three, and ramp it up again for the finals (because Vancouver has never lost in the third round). Of course, we want to do this in a way that supports our businesses, not taking away from them, and in a way that our police are confident will result in a safe time for families. So it is happening, and you can get info here.

Go Canucks.

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