Council – June 10, 2024

Our Monday Council meeting was another long one with a fairly short agenda, but aside from a full list of public delegates, there were also quite a few speeches that needed to be made, so there we are. We started with a Development Variance Permit for consideration:

Development Variance Permit No. DVP00697 for 114-118 Sprice Street
The owner of these properties in Queensborough is rezoning to build 10 compact lot detached homes. Nothing unusual here, in fact when it came to Council for a comprehensive review almost a year ago, Council approved it on Consent without comment. The Bylaw also saw three readings by Council and adoption this year, all without comment. So I was a little surprised when this DVP (required only because the lot dimensions are such that that the frontage is less than 10% of the total lot circumference, which the Local Government Act says staff can’t approve without a Development Variance Permit) resulted in numerous questions from a single member of Council that were more related to the previous-approved rezoning than the DVP, but here we are. Nonetheless, Council approved the DVP.

We then had the following items Removed form Consent for discussion:

Building Safer Communities Fund Program Update February 2023 to March 2024
The City received BSCF funding (up to $1.7 million) from the federal government to implement a plan to address youth being at risk for gang involvement of violent crime. The working group established by the City to implement the plan, and incredible partnerships in our community – NWPD, the Lower Mainland Purpose Society, Dan’s Legacy, the School District and many others. Between the Situation Table model that is aligning agencies to address very specific and emergent needs to the Youth Hub at Purpose, we are building resiliency in our community here. This report is long, because there is a lot happening. I’m really proud of our community for doing this work, but it was effectively just an update for our consideration, not an action item for Council.

Development Variance Permit for Works & Services Security – 602 Agnes Street (68 Sixth Street) Affordable Housing Project – Notice of Consideration of Issuance
68 sixth street is moving forward, now addressed as 602 Agnes. This is a bit of government sausage-making, but the short version is we need a services agreement to connect any new building to City services (electrical, water, sewer) and usually collect a Letter of Credit to secure any unexpected costs the City may suffer from this connection. With a regular developer that is an important piece of security in case the development goes insolvent so the city (taxpayers) doesn’t get caught holding the bag. With BC Housing, we are pretty sure they are not going to go bankrupt, so we are asking for a letter of indemnity (a promise to pay, effectively) instead of freezing up their capital. This needs Council approval, which we are doing, because we want affordable housing built.

We then address several Motions from Council:

Tenant Protections
Submitted by Councillor Campbell and Councillor Nakagawa

WHEREAS new provincial legislation is creating a path for increased development density around transit areas which will impact many more affordable New Westminster neighbourhoods due to our abundant transit services; and
WHEREAS Bill 16 (Housing Statutes Amendment Act) allows municipalities to enact tenant protection bylaws related to redevelopment, including within transit-oriented areas; and
WHEREAS tenants—especially those in older and more affordable rental housing— may be disproportionately impacted due to this new development; and
WHEREAS New Westminster has previously shown leadership in protecting vulnerable renters with strong actions to curtail demoviction and renoviction; and
WHEREAS the regional housing market is reaching new levels of crisis, increasing the risk that existing tenants will lose access to adequate housing through displacement related to redevelopment;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster update our tenant protection and relocation policies, using Burnaby’s as a model to provide support for tenants who may be displaced from their homes, including by redevelopment.

We had several people, including folks from the New West Tenants union delegate to Council about this issue, all in support of the motion. There is significant concern that the unanticipated impacts of the new Transit Oriented Development regulations from the province may impact our ability to enforce demoviction protections in the same way we have previously at the same time as it puts increased pressure on redevelopment near transit centers. Time for a review. This was also timely as Tasha and I had returned from FCM, where we both saw protesters calling for basic rental protections for Alberta (where there is almost none) and met with Councillors from Ontario that were using New Westminster anti-rennoviction bylaws as a model for their own similar regulatory approach to protecting the most affordable homes in their community. The contrast was shocking and reminded me of what side of this fight I want New Westminster Council to be on. Council voted to support this motion.

Making the Annual State of the City Address More Inclusive to Our Youth
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine

Whereas a recent series of State of the City addresses by the current and past Mayor have taken place at a private venue that restricts entry only to those 19 years and older; and
Whereas the most recent State of the City address held on May 7th, 2024 was a ticketed event which also required people show government issued identification to enter the premises; and
Whereas the City of New Westminster is committed to supporting our youth and embracing inclusivity; and Whereas other Mayors within our region ensure their State of the City address is held in an open, no-cost, low-barrier venue such as at City Hall;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council prohibit the Mayor from hosting future State of the City events that are not fully accessible to all members of the public free of charge.

I cringe whenever we use possessives to describe a group of people, but we don’t debate the titles of these motions.

This motion seemed to be based on a strange idea about what the State of the City is, as an event. The word “official” kept getting applied to it by the mover for unknown reasons. There is nothing “official” about it. It isn’t in the Local Government Act or any other legislation in the City. This is not the Annual Report of the City (which is “official”, prepared by staff and delivered by the CAO of the City in Council Chambers).

Instead, the State of the City in New Westminster (like in almost every other City in BC where such a thing takes place, including Surrey, Vancouver, Delta, White Rock, Langley, North Vancouver, Burnaby, etc…) is a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce in the form of a ticketed business luncheon sponsored by valued local businesses. I think the participation by the Mayor in a Board of Trade or Chamber event of this nature is a win-win.

There are many events that I am asked to take part in where I talk to select groups of the community about the City. That’s one of the roles of Mayor. Last week I gave a (shortened and looser) version of the STOC to seniors at a registration-required event at təməsew̓txʷ, I have also met recently with several elementary and middle school classes to talk about local government and the City. Net month, I will be talking to the (Members only!) Rotary Club and next week providing a Keynote to the (registration required!) Active Transportation Summit. None of these were open and accessible to all for a variety of reasons, but are facilitated to address a specific group. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the Mayor taking part in these types of events, and I can only speculate why some members of Council want to limit my ability to talk to different groups of the public.

Anyway, Council defeated this motion. And for those curious, the State of the City is recorded and streamed on the City’s website, anyone can watch it any time they want, which I think is a nice benefit for every one of the Chamber providing their partnership for this event.

Undertaking a review of the City’s outdoor events policies, procedures and permit fees
Submitted by Councillor Minhas

Whereas the process, procedures and policies linked to the establishment of outdoor events in New Westminster has been described at complex, costly and a challenge to overcome; and
Whereas there is a desire on the part of the City to encourage more outdoor events on a regular basis throughout the year; and
Whereas it is good practice to regularly seek feedback from the community regarding whether there are opportunities to streamline our processes in order to reduce red tape;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council establish a citizen-based taskforce to review our policies, procedures and permit fees regarding how they may be impeding the development of new and/or putting into jeopardy existing outdoor events; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the taskforce make recommendations to Council regarding how we can streamline our processes and reduce red tape to help facilitate more outdoor events on a regular basis.

This resolution seemed to be a solution looking for a problem. Rather like some recent discussions about businesses abandoning New Westminster while our business license count shows we are growing new businesses faster than ever, this motion seems to be about a nostalgia for events that no-one in the community was interested in running (Show and Shine) without recognizing that we have organizations running literally dozens of events in the City, from well-established events with long history like the Hyack Parade and Nagar Kirtan, to the new traditions of Uptown Live, Pride Week, and Recovery Day, to emergent new events like On Your Block, National Indigenous Peoples Day, and Blocktober Fest. The best part is to see the recovery after COVID and how people in the community show up for these events.

It seems the mover didn’t speak to the organizers of these events putting this together, or otherwise did not recall the work the City is doing in this space, endorsed by Council in February. The mover is a member of the Arts, Culture and Economic Development Advisory Committee, where much of this work is being coordinated (as Festivals are the perfect interaction od Arts, Culture, and Economic Development), and would have benefited from getting caught up on what’s happening at that committee.
Staff have created a FEST team to coordinate though a one-stop-shop the fire, police, engineering, traffic and Fraser Health requirements that are often the biggest logistical step for festivals. There are other concerns related to policing and safety costs, which is where the City’s current work on updating our Grants process has a role. We are also building back our volunteer coordination resources after COVID, as volunteer support is one of the areas where many festival organizers are feeling pinched. I don’t want us to take people off of those work areas to coordinate another task force. It seems that adds to instead of reducing complication and bureaucracy.

Council did not support this motion.

Requesting that Metro Vancouver conduct an independent review of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plan cost overruns
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine

Whereas Metro Vancouver’s North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project is now estimated to cost nearly $4 billion dollars, a massive cost overrun compared to the original $500 million dollar budget; and
Whereas the specific circumstances that led to one of the largest cost overruns of any public infrastructure project (on a percentage basis) are still mainly unknown; and
Whereby given Metro Vancouver is about to undertake several other mega projects that will cost Metro Vancouver taxpayers billions of dollars;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Mayor Patrick Johnstone, as our representative on Metro Vancouver, be asked to submit a motion to that governing body calling for a full, independent public inquiry into the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant cost overruns.

This motion may have benefitted from the mover talking to their colleagues on Council or on the Metro Vancouver Board instead of spending all their time talking into various TV cameras. And the conversation about it in Council was equally frustrating, because it never seemed to get through that the motion (if approved) was not going to deliver what the mover seemed to insist would be the result. On that failure to understand the situation, I prefer to invoke Hanlon’s Razor.

Like the mover, I also have significant questions about how the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plan was approved at just over $700 million, and the conditions that led to the firing of the main contractor in 2021 – events that presaged the current budget on the order of $3.8 Billion – because I was not on the Board when those events occurred. But I do know (and it has been widely reported) that we are currently in the middle of a legal fight with that contractor – suit and countersuits that will no doubt preclude any full public disclosure of the conditions that led to those lawsuits until people get their day in court, because that is how legal processes work. One would expect Metro Vancouver, having several hundred million public dollars at stake in those legal proceedings, do not want to do anything that might jeopardize them. So, calls for a public inquiry at this time will not be heard by anyone in a position of responsible governance.

I know that isn’t a satisfying answer to anyone, it isn’t a satisfying answer to me. But that is where we are, and when I serve on the Board of Metro Vancouver, I have a legal duty of fidelity to that organization, and cannot ask for things that would threaten that.

What I can say is that this situation is not representative of how Metro Vancouver delivers large infrastructure projects. Metro is commonly delivering numerous large and complex infrastructure projects in the hundreds-of-millions scale, from water treatment to major region-spanning pipelines, and has a strong record of delivering on time and on budget. The Metro board has also committed to internal review and addressing concerns that led here so they don’t end up in the same boat on future major capital projects. There is no reason to believe that this is a new normal, or a situation that will be repeated in future capital investments.

In the end, Council did not support this motion, as it would not deliver what the mover wanted to insist it would deliver. However, this is not the last we will be talking about this project.

Supporting families, people with mobility challenges and/or a disability to access New Westminster’s waterfront
Submitted by Councillor Minhas

Whereas access to our City’s waterfront should be something accessible to all residents, regardless if they have mobility challenges or not; and
Whereas there are several City owned-operated elevators that connect our downtown to the waterfront which have been out of service for periods of several months at a time; and
Whereas a lack of elevator access can prove challenging for people with mobility difficulties to access our waterfront
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council regarding the status of our City owned-operated elevators (connecting our downtown to the waterfront) over the past year including how many days they have been out of service; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT staff report back with an action plan to ensure that at least one City owned elevator always remains operable to ensure a minimum level of access to our waterfront.

This is an email, not a resolution. In fact, this comes on the heels of an email provided to Council on the status of the McInnes elevator (repaired and still under warranty). We don’t need an “Action Plan” developed on elevator maintenance for two elevators, this is an operational item that is not something Council needs to meddle in. We are a policy body, not managers. Our goal as a City is to maintain assets in a way that best applies our limited resources, and our goal is to have all of the elevators operational at all times. Recognizing that, maintenance of elevators is complex and outdoor elevators do occasionally break down, and as anyone who lives in a high-rise knows, when things go wrong, there is sometimes a wait for parts and people who can fix them. I have confidence that staff take this work seriously, and are doing all they can to be responsive to maintenance challenges.

That saying, we also recognize that broken elevators are problematic for access, and this is why we made the decision to not rely on an elevator for the west Pier Park access built for the City by Bosa, but invested instead in the bigger, more expensive, and maximally accessible ramp. It is also why we put so much emphasis on assuring the new access across the tracks at Begbie will be fully accessible.

This resolution was amended to change from a report to an email (saving staff time and energy) and asked that other issues regarding accessibility to the waterfront be referred to the Accessibility Committee. The Amended motion was approved by Council.

And to wrap we had one piece of New Business:

EComm AGM representative
New Westminster is member of the EComm “syndicate” and we need to assign a member to attend the AGM and vote on our behalf. Council appointed Councillor Fontaine to be this representative.

This Happened (in Calgary)

Last week was mostly spent in Calgary, attending the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting. This is the annual get-together of local governments from all across Canada to network, share, learn, and advocate. It is not my favourite conference (I find UBCM more relevant) and I have not attended in a few years, but this year brought the opportunity to have some meetings about some specific issues important to New West (more on that later), so packed the bags and booked the flight.

As usual (see here and here for example), I will provide a more detailed report on my FCM take-aways in a follow-up post here. In my Wednesday newsletter (link here to sign up and get the juice into your mailbox), I’ll write a little more about my thought on the political part of the conference, where we had very different addresses from the Prime Minister, the shadow minister from the Conservatives, and the leader of the NDP. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the Calgary FCM experience:

Tasha showed up with a specific message for any Federal Government types we met at the conference!
This emergency alert arrived in our inbox as 1000s of local government delegates arrived in Calgary. Infrastructure Funding Anyone?
The Mayor of Edmonton and I had a significant difference of opinion on the value of bandwagons, but all in good fun!
The challenging regulatory environment in Alberta has not prevented the City of Calgary form investing in solar infrastructure at various scales.
Wherever you go, there you are! With Councillor Dominique O’Rourke of Guelph, Ontario.
In Calgary, the ultimate virtue signal is a cowboy hat in a convention centre.
I had a lunch discussion with Sam Trosow, a Councillor from London Ontario who sought me out at the event, because his City has studied New Westminster’s anti-demoviction regulations, and wanted to chat about challenges and successes.
My view for most of FCM was some version of this. The weather was always fine inside the conference sessions.
Streetscapes in Calgary are a study in contrast. Some nice public spaces, some serious car sewers.
Being a geologist, I know a few people who work in Calgary. I had a chance to catch up with a couple of old University friends I had not seen in something like 25 years! Good times. And yes, Calgary has craft beer.

Council – May 27, 2024

As Mayvember moves in Juneuary, we spent Monday cozy and warm in Council Chambers with a regular agenda we moved through relatively quickly.

We started with moving the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital Redevelopment Project)
The RCH project has been operating at extended hours on Saturdays for some time, and it has only resulted in two noise complaints, both resolved. They are entering a phase where deliveries may need to occur as early as 7:00am on Saturdays to keep things moving, and council is granting them a construction noise exemption to permit this.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 612 Seventh Avenue – Marcon Construction
A large slab pour is required for the new mixed use tower being built Uptown. This work site had a few early noise complaints where the operator paid fines, but not complaints have been received in some time. Council is granting them a one-time expansion of work hours to facilitate a single large pour.

Development Cost Charge Bylaw – Inflationary Amendment Resubmission
DCCs are funds we collect from developers to help cover the cost of supplying infrastructure related to growth resulting from their developments. They are strictly regulated by the Province, and the money must pay for the specific infrastructure we identify as being needed to support that growth. As the cost of building that infrastructure goes up, we are able to do inflationary increases to our DCC rates. This Bylaw does that. We passed a similar one back in March, but the Provincial inspector of these things didn’t like the language we used around the date the change becomes effective, so staff have redrafted a version to the inspector’s liking, and we are moving it again.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw for 310 Blackley Street: Bylaw for First, Second, and Third Readings
The “Eastern Node” is a long-coming and slow –developing project in Queensborough. There is a master plan for townhouses, apartments, and commercial spaces in the area just west of Port Royal, and this single lot is part of “Phase 3”. The property is included n the land assembly, and is now coming to us for rezoning to match the masterplan.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw for 1005 Ewen Avenue: Bylaw for First, Second and Third Readings
This 23- unit townhouse project in Queensborough came to council for three readings back in 2019, but has been somewhat redesigned to better fit the site, so those three readings are being discarded, and a new bylaw to reflect the new alignment of the property is being brought to council for three readings.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Queensborough Transportation Plan
Transportation staff have been engaging the Q’boro neighbourhood on the first transportation plan specific to that neighbourhood, recognizing it has unique transportation challenges. The first being that there are no plans to replace or expand the (provincial) Queensborough Bridge any time soon, and much like the adjacent Hamilton neighbourhood of Richmond (and downtown, for that matter), moving around within the community is challenged by twice-a-day through-commuters. The new Plan includes priorities to address some of those unique challenges of Q’Boro, and identifies some of the pains of growth in the community.

The depth of consultation here is something to behold: lots of info on the Be Heard New West project page, direct outreach to 25 identified interest groups, community pop-ups, social media, advertising in the record, on the digital billboards and at community bulletin boards, and 4,000 direct mailings. The resulting report is a really good read, and identifies strategies to address the walkability and transit access on Lulu Island.

One of the key issues in Queensborough is the intersection of Howes and Highway 91A, which is statistically one of the most accident-prone intersections, is a comfort and safety barrier to pedestrians walking to Queensborough Landing from south of the freeway, and has abhorrently bad bus stop conditions for such a key bus stop location. The City has little more than advocacy power on the intersection, because it belongs to the Ministry of Transportation, but we need to be taking that advocacy to a new level to get this gap fixed.

One other key topic in Queensborough is the general lack of sidewalks in many of the residential neighbourhoods. This is a long-standing grievance, and though the City has had preiovus plans and policies ot address this gap (mostly waiting for redevelopment of older neighbourhoods, or doing a special assessment to share costs with homeowners), it is complicated by Lulu Island’s special conditions – soft soils and open ditches. Very long story made much shorter it costs a LOT to cover ditches, and it is simply not possible in some areas, and traditional road-curb-sidewalk structures would need enclosed storm drainage, meaning $500/m sidewalks become $10,000/m infrastructure programs.

We asked staff to come back to Council with some updates on how we might prioritize some of this work. “It’s expensive” is a good argument against making a quick commitment to just do it, but I think folks in the ‘Boro have reasonable expectations that at least one side of a road has a sidewalk of we expect the neighbourhood to be walkable and safe for everyone.

This report also talks about a commitment the City is making to the QtoQ ferry, and though it’s cost is increasing (diesel and staff costs are not going down!), its ridership is rebounding a bit after COVID. Some folks rely on this service, but we are going to have to continue to keep an eye on costs. The provider contract is running out this year, and we will have to go to RFP for a new contract, and that process should give us some clarity on the future of the service.

Report Back on Provincial Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Program
Electric kickscooters and other forms of new electric mobility are, for the most part, illegal in BC. This is because the provincial Motor Vehicle Act has not been updated to recognize them, and the City can’t really overrule provincial rules. The Province is running a Pilot Program in some communities to legalize them, with the local government committing to amending its local street and traffic bylaws, and aligning requirements with the MVA. Essentially, the scooters have the same rights and responsibilities as cyclists, except the rider must be 16 years old, and cannot exceed 25km/h.

The recommendation that New West join the Pilot is one I nominally support, but some good questions were raised around how enforcement works now, and how it will change if we enter the Pilot Program that could not be answered in the meeting, so we referred the decision here to allow more consultaiton with NWPD.

Response to Council Motion: Ensuring that ground level retail spaces in new developments prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations
This is a follow-up to the discussion Council had regarding (ugh) dentist offices at retail grade. Staff are reporting back that they are prioritizing this component of the Retail Strategy, and will come back with some policy options in later June. There was a bit more instruction provided to staff from Council to not just report back on the Retail strategy components, but our planning and development policies and bylaws.

Response to Council Motion Regarding “Supporting Child Care Development Across the City”
This is also a follow up to an earlier motion from Council asking about opportunities to expand the range of properties in the City where childcare will be permitted without rezoning. It is noted here that New Westminster is already a regional leader in childcare-supporting policy, and as a result has one of the highest levels of childcare availability per capita in the Metro region (34.4 per 100 children, compared to a regional average of 25). The last time we expanded childcare zoning was 2011, and a re-look seems timely, especially as we are the fastest growing Metro Vancouver City in the “having kids” demographic of 25-44 years old.

Staff are going to review permitted childcare spaces as they implement the new Provincial housing regulations, as the pretty substantial zoning rewrite resulting from that regulation is a great opportunity to get it right at the same time. There are, notably, some (provincial) building code barriers to larger childcare facilities in typical residential buildings, but we want to make sure there aren’t municipal barriers if people want to make that investment.

Rezoning: 88 Tenth Street (Columbia Square) – Introductory Report
The owner of Columbia Square wants to redevelop the site to provide a significant number or residential homes, while maintaining the existing volume of retail and commercial spaces. We had a preliminary look at this back in April, and now staff want to work with the applicant to go to public consultation and move a more detailed design forward, so that rezoning can be considered by Council within this year.

This is a slightly different process, in that rezoning (which defines landuse, density, heights, and amenities) would be read three times, and if approved, some of the more detailed Development Planning part would come after. This two-phase process is more common in some other cities, but not as common here.

The challenge on this site is that the retail preservation and redevelopment and cost of building on the site do not provide economic viability if a significant below-market housing component is included. It being within the Province’s Transit Oriented Development Area defines in Bill 47 also complicates our ability to require affordable housing on the Site. We can receive Density Bonusing, which is money the developer pays the city to exceed the maximum density granted as right on the site, and the City can invest that DB into amenities.

The request from staff here is to work with the applicant to proceed with public consultation and the work needed to frame a rezoning Bylaw, which council will in turn be asked to consider some time later in the year.

Train Whistle Cessation Resolution at the Furness Street Rail Crossing
Whistle Cessation is complicated process. Once the engineering is done to make the crossing safe enough for the Railway and Technical Safety BC to agree whistles are not necessary, Council must pass a resolution deeming that whistles are not sounded. After significant engineering work (funded by an adjacent developer), and the City’s commitment to maintaining the engineering controls, we are ready to pass this resolution for a high-profile crossing in Port Royal. The train operator can still sound a whistle if they see a track intrusion or other hazard, but won’t sound it every time they cross, which should slightly improve the quality of sleep for a few folks in Port Royal.

We then read some bylaws including the one Bylaw for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (114-118 Sprice Street) No. 8387, 2023
This zoning amendment to permit 10 new houses on compact lots in Queensborough was adopted by Council.

We then addressed a single Motion from Council:
Encouraging the BC Government to Terminate the Failed Decriminalization Experiment
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Mayor write a letter to the Premier and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions requesting they immediately halt the failed decriminalization experiment pilot project in BC.

This motion was, for anyone paying attention to the news, redundant when it landed, but the mover decided not to withdraw it, but to instead take some Council time to have their say on the topic. Because of this, we were treated to several well-worn BC United fearmongering speaking points, and an argument that instead of harm reduction, we need to equally fund all pillars in a “four-pillar approach”, which demonstrates a stunning ignorance about the very “Four Pillars” the mover is advocating towards.

This is not just because harm reduction (every aspect of which the mover steadfastly argued against for five minutes) is not only one of the four pillars – it is consistently the least funded of the four pillars. Don’t take my word for this, the Government of Canada tracks these things. So how do we unpack what the mover is actually arguing for? Clearly he is not asking that we increase by 7 times the funding we put into Harm Reduction (safe consumption, safe supply, etc.) to bring it up to the amount we spend on enforcement, so I have to read it as a radical Defund-the-Police motion advocating to cut by 80% our drug enforcement budget in order to bring it down to where harm reduction spending is. I’ll have to remember to ask the mover about that.

I have more to say about this entire debacle of a motion, and will perhaps follow up in another post if I can stomach it, because not only were people stigmatized by the comments in council, there was a woefully unfirmed argument in favour of stigmatization. Ugh. I’ll just wrap this report by saying Council wisely voted against supporting this redundant and ill-considered motion.

This Happened

Every week or so I put out a newsletter to subscribers. Usually Wednesday afternoon/evening. It’s generally shorter-form than my posts here, provides updates on what I’ve been up to, with occasional opinion and politics that can get spicy. It’s free, no hassle to subscribe, just hit that “newsletter” link up at the top of the page.

And every once in a while I provide a reminder here, with a hint of what is in last week’s newsletter, where I wrote a bit more about these things:

ReDress day at Hyack Square to mark the annual National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit People.
Attending the New Westminster Hospice Society annual River Walk for Hospice.
Standing at the Dias speaking during the Mayor’s State of the City address.
New Westminster won the Walk30 Challenge, and a class from QayQayt Elementary went the extra mile.
Taking part in the S&O Beer Run with a couple of council colleagues.

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.

LMLGA 2024

Last week was the Lower Mainland LGA annual conference and AGM. This is the annual convention of local government elected folks from all of the municipalities and regional districts from Pemberton to White Rock and Hope to Bowen Island.  As I have done in previous years (here, here, here, etc…), I like to provide a bit of a summary of what happened at the conference. Over in my Newsletter I provided a bit more behind-the-curtain stuff for those who want to read that kind of stuff, all you need to do is register here to get the juice directly into your mailbox every Wednesday.

The LMLGA has three main public-might-be-interested parts. We have a Resolutions Session where we agree as a group on areas of senior government advocacy, Panels/workshops where we share strategies and challenges around emergent local government issues, and political speeches from provincial folks. Maybe I’ll talk them in reverse order here.

Unlike previous years, the Senior Government sessions were structured as Q&A sessions moderated by members of the LMLGA Executive, instead of stand-alone speeches. I appreciated this change, especially as it is an election year, and we didn’t want to hear stump speeches, we wanted to hear their party’s approach to issues that matter to our members.

Like previous years, Sonia Furstenau seemed to connect best to the audience. She worked in Local Government, but also has that third-party opportunity to speak truth about power (something I frankly think the Federal NDP could do more of). One favourite (paraphrased) quote: “You don’t run for MLA with the greens if power is your motivating goal.” A policy wonk after my own heart, she spoke to the flaws in the current Carbon Tax regime, issues with the Water Sustainability Act, and the dismal state of the current political discourse, which is eroding much of the ability to get the actual work of governing done.

Also like previous years, Kevin Falcon sometimes missed the mark in ingratiating himself to the crowd in the room. Local government elected trying to get housing built don’t need to be told “bureaucrats” are the problem, or that his experience as a for-profit developer is all BC Housing needs to fulfill our affordable housing needs while suggesting taxes are the reason the $400k townhouses he built in Surrey are now selling for $1M. He also, unknowingly I suspect, countered Fursteneau’s message around public discourse by suggesting “Decorum is great when you are in government, not great when you are in opposition”, following up with a passionate defense of fearmongering as political rhetoric. Meanwhile, there was no representative from the BC Conservative Party at the conference, so I guess he owned that space.

Anne Kang spoke of the work she did over the last year-and-a-bit as Minister of Local Government, including extensive touring around the province to meet with as many leaders of local governments as possible, and her championing for the turning over $1 Billion of infrastructure money directly to Local Governments through the Growing Communities Fund. She also emphasized the increased support her government is providing to Libraries across the Province. She spoke to challenges she hears from local government on the overlapping homelessness, poisoned drug, and mental health crises, though didn’t really get into the discussion about new legislation coming from the Ministry of Housing that is challenging many communities. She was light on new promises (with two more weeks in this session and an election pending), but was clearly very engaged and informed about the issues Local Governments are facing.

There were several Panels this year, but I found the first one the most interesting. The topic was “Public Safety Challenges in Public Spaces”, and I can imagine the direction of the panels shifted several times over the last few weeks, as the conversation province-wide around decriminalization has evolved. The panels was deftly (and very entertainingly) moderated by Andrea Derban from the Community Action Initiative. Her framing of the challenge really set the discussion up: we are at the Moral Panic phase and need leaders to push past that; This is not an OD crisis, it is a toxic drug supply crisis and there are material differences; the data is crystal clear that safe supply is not causing deaths; the people who are dying are not who you first think, and that flawed assumption is in the way of us saving lives.

The panelists included a police member from Abbotsford talking about their revised approaches to addressing mental health and addictions issues as health issues, not criminal ones, and collaboration with businesses being impacted by people seeking shelter. A Fire Chief from Surrey talked about their Second Responder program (which I wrote about New West adopting here) and signs of its success. Councillor Nadine Nakagawa spoke of our Three Crises Response Pilot and other work the City of New Westminster is doing. My phone lit up when she was speaking about it with texted questions from our colleagues about the Pilot, from how we paid for it to how we are measuring outcomes.

There were some take-aways around the need to collect data on measures we are taking – New West again providing the example of our Second Responder and Pilot Project both include collaboration with academics to measure outcomes). But it was Andrea who told us we need to tell better stories (“compassionate, evidence based, action-oriented”) about who is being impacted, and what success looks like.

The resolutions session is where resolutions from member jurisdictions are put before the membership for support. If endorsed, they effectively call on senior government for anything from policy changes to financial support for various causes. This year there were 60 Resolutions considered (you can read them all here), including the following 6 submitted by New Westminster:

R3- Additional Funding for Overdose Prevention Sites:“…be it resolved that UBCM ask the Province of British Columbia to increase funding for Health Authorities to augment existing, and to open new, supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites, including related inhalation services, across British Columbia and including local governments which do not currently offer this service to residents”.

This was endorsed by the LMLGA executive, and then endorsed by the membership On Consent. This is actually a pretty significant and clear message to the province that the municipalities of the Lower Mainland want to see harm reduction in every community.

R4 – Eliminating Barriers to Publicly-Owned and -Operated Home Care Services and Long-Term Care: “…be it resolved that UBCM ask the Province to eliminate financial and accessibility barriers by investing in more publicly owned and operated and not-for-profit home care services and social supports required to age in place, and by further investing in publicly owned and operated and not-for-profit long-term care to ensure seniors are well supported in the continuum of care.”

This resolution was endorsed by the executive, but was pulled from consent to facilitate an attempt by some members to amend it to also call for more public funding for for-profit care providers, which was wisely defeated when folks argued effectively that the intent of the motion was to build capacity in the public provision of seniors care, as the Seniors Advocate is asking for. The main motion was then supported by membership.

R11- EComm Governance Review: “…be it resolved that UBCM ask the provincial government to engage local governments in a comprehensive review of the governance structure and delivery model of 911 emergency call taking, related non-emergency call taking, and emergency dispatch services across BC with a goal to assure reliable, affordable, and sustainable services for all communities”.

This was also endorsed by the LMLGA executive, and then endorsed by the membership On Consent. It’s clear that much of the province is frustrated by escalating EComm costs and continued failure to meet the expectations of the community. The clear support for this motion is perhaps a bit surprising because EComm currently belongs to Local Governments, and this could be interpreted as us asking the Province to step in and take the management of it over – to upload the problem.

R34 – Creating Safer Streets for Everyone with Intersection Safety Cameras:…be it resolved that LMLGA and UBCM call on the provincial government to expand the implementation of speed and red light intersection safety cameras in local governments across BC, prioritizing intersections near schools and those with a high rate of crashes that result in injuries or fatalities as identified by ICBC, and that the provincial government provide all revenue from additional speed and red light cameras to local governments as grants to be invested in implementing local and safety improvements;
And be it further resolved that the LMLGA and UBCM request that the provincial government allow BC local governments to install speed and red light cameras at their own cost and set and collect fees directly to be earmarked for road safety improvements”.

This motion was debated well by the members, as was a similar one from the City of North Vancouver that didn’t include the mention of school areas. It was supported by a healthy majority of the members, which reflects the current public opinion about speed and intersection cameras – the majority support them.

R48 – Allowing Local Governments to Apply Commercial Rent Controls: “…be it resolved that UBCM ask the Province of British Columbia to provide local governments with the legislative authority to enable special economic zones where commercial rent control and demo/renoviction policies could be applied to ensure predictability in commercial lease costs, so local small businesses and community-serving commercial tenants can continue to serve their communities”.

This motion was also well debated by members, after being motivated by Councillor Henderson. In the end it was supported by a thin majority of the members. I might expect this one will not do as well at UBCM, but that is some advocacy work we need to do.

R56 – Creating a Ministry of Hospitality: “…be it resolved that UBCM ask the Province to create a Ministry of Hospitality to support and engage restaurants, food service vendors and the hospitality sector generally by acting as advocates within government for policy development and reform”

This motion arose out of advocacy from the BC Food Service Association’s “Save BC Restaurants” campaign, and lead to an interesting debate, but was ultimately defeated by a slim majority.

One more bit of voting news was that Ruby Campbell was elected as a Director at Large of the Lower Mainland LGA. This continues the tradition of Lorrie Williams, Chuck Puchmayr, and myself in representing New Westminster on that executive.

Finally a major part of this, like any conference, is the opportunity to network with leaders from around the region. We can laugh about our horror stories with the only cohort who really understands, learn from each other by sharing successes and challenges, and remind each other that we aren’t alone in this work. As it seems the media is filled by stories indicating (to quote my friend Mary) “we are not always sending our best”, it is great to connect with some of the most dedicated, serious, and accomplished people doing this work for all the right reasons.


Wow. It’s really happening. After more than a decade of planning, we are finally opening the doors on təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre.

I don’t want to write too much here, I want the images to tell the story. Even more, I want you to go down to təməsew̓txʷ and see for yourself what an incredible facility the community has built.

The Grand Opening is June 1st, but as we slowly open the doors and bring programming to the new facility we have had a couple of opening events.

The first was a thank you to the teams that made this happen. This included Mayor Cote, who lead the Council through some of the most challenging consultation, design, and decision-making that led us to this day. It was wonderful to be able to celebrate with Councillors Puchmayr, Harper, Das and Trentadue, who each had a role in the development of this project. From the first decision that a new facility was needed, through public consultation, initial design, more public consultation, procurement, and the final go-ahead in 2020, these leaders were there to help guide us to today, and deserve a victory lap of the pool, and the gratitude of the community.

We also got to thank the team that made the vision a reality. The architects at HCMA, the project managers at Turnbull Construction, and the builders at Heatherbrae. They worked with our stellar project delivery team at the City to deliver this project within weeks of the planned opening and within 5% of the original budget.

If that sounds like I’m hedging “On Time and On Budget”, I want to walk you through the headwinds this project faced. Council had to make a procurement decision at the peak of the 2020 COVID pandemic – a time of unprecedented global economic uncertainty. We were guided with expert advice and (it turns out) incredible foresight to procure then the market conditions could not have been better. Since then, the news tells us of a protected regional labour action affecting the concrete industry, a global supply chain crisis, unprecedented regional construction labor shortages, and the highest construction inflation rates of a generation. Through all that, this incredible team brought this project home – an absolute gold medal performance.

And it is a beautiful building. An integrated and connected aquatic, fitness and community complex, physically and demographically accessible to all, and a new social hub and community destination. Two pools, one ready to support inter-regional competition, one more fun and accessible for a broader community of users. Two hot tubs sauna space, all accessible change rooms. Two gymnasia, dance rooms, meetings rooms, fitness area twice the size of the previous buildings, and a community living room connecting them all.

The first aquatic centre in Canada to achieve the Canada Green Building Council Zero Carbon Building-Design Standard, and designed to follow the Rick Hansen Foundation Gold Accessibility certification which considers people of differing levels of physical mobility, as well as addresses gender and cultural sensitivities.

The City’s largest ever capital investment, now having the keys turned over to an operation team who have already spent months staffing up, training up, and learning how to work in this new space. All of this required coordinated efforts across city departments, from Finance, to engineering to Parks and Recreation. There are a lot of kudos to hand out here.

The community has a new heart. I hope you head over there and check it out, because it belongs to you. The “dry side” is open now, the aquatic centre side will soft open on May 14, and there will be a Grand Opening celebration on June 1. All the info you need is available here.

Council – April 22, 2024

We had a long meeting this week, but it is a busy time in the City, so nothing to surprising there. We started with a somewhat uncommon thing, the Parcel Tax Roll:

Parcel Tax Roll Review Panel: Confirm and Authenticate Local Area Service Parcel Tax Roll
This is a bit of a ritual we go through with the Business Improvement Areas Bylaw. BIAs are not your regular business organization, they are constituted under Section 215 of the Community Charter, which permits the City to charge building owners in the designated area a special parcel tax (a tax based on the size of the parcel, not on the assessed value), then return that tax revenue to the organization to spend on business-benefitting activities. Because the parcel tax is based on measurement of area or length of street frontage, we need some sort of process to assure those numbers are accurate, and for folks to appeal if they feel they are being over or undercharged (like the service BC Assessment offers for normal property tax). Once we have provided the opportunity to appeal, the Council needs to sign off on the Parcel Tax Roll. We do this every 5 years for each BIA, and this was us closing off that work for the Uptown BIA.

Our Regular agenda was mixed up a bit by moving items around so public delegates who signed up to speak to items were able to prior to us considering them, so I’m going by original agenda order here, not the actual order we did things at. As always, this starts with items Moved on Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 81 Braid Street (Braid Street SkyTrain Station)
They are doing maintenance at the Braid SkyTrain station, parts of which needs to occur when the trains aren’t running, so they need a bylaw exemption to do that work. ELMTOTS don’t believe this.

Riparian Areas Protection Amendment Bylaw No. 8413, 2024
There is a provincial law called the Riparian Areas Protection Regulation. It is meant to protect riparian areas (areas adjacent to fish-bearing streams, like the Brunette River) form encroachment from development. It requires setbacks from streams be incorporated in new development, though older developments from before the 2005 adoption of the RAPR are generally exempt. The language and regulations change over time, and the City is required to update its bylaws to reflect these changes.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2024 Tax Rate Bylaw No. 8445, 2024
The City’s budget and 5-year financial plan prepared, we now need to approve a Bylaw that reflects the needed taxation revenue to get that work done. This is procedural, but there is some good data in here about how land values impact taxation. I’ll maybe write a follow-up, but with the 7.7% increase in taxes this year, your residential mill rate (the amount you pay per $1,000 of home value) went from 2.50046 to 2.262767. Yes, it went down 9.5%. This is because property values are increasing at a much faster rate than taxes.

Community Advisory Assembly Terms of Reference and Membership Update
The Community Advisory Assembly has had several meeting, and are already working on their first reports for Council. Their first task was to agree to a Term of Reference (which we are approving here). And as is typical with Community Committees there is a bit of attrition as some members have life circumstances that change and don’t allow them to commit their volunteer time to this kind of thing. We have had three members drop off, but have a quiver of applicants from the first call for volunteers. Staff used the same selection process as used originally to assure we are as closely as practicably matching the demographics of the City, and are providing a proper supportive environment for all volunteers.

4.4 Council Code of Conduct Amendment Bylaw No. 8457, 2024
We have adopted a Code of Conduct, and hiring an Ethics Commissioner is fundamental to making the Code of Conduct operable. He position remains vacant, and this amendment will hopefully allow us to resolve the vacancy.

Zoning Amendment and Housing Agreement (51 Elliot Street) – Bylaws for First, Second and Third Readings
This project has been working through approvals for some time, slightly delayed by COVID, by some extensive revisions since initial application, and work to secure operators for the non-profit part of the project. This is a new 37-storey residential tower on a vacant property downtown. It will include 13 non-market homes to be operated by Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation and a childcare to accommodate both toddler and pre-school ages to be turned over to the City to be operated by a non-profit.

It meets all city requirements regarding parking and active transportation measures, is consistent with our OCP and other city policies including meeting Step 4 in the Zero Carbon Step Code (fully electric), though the number of non-market units is lower than we aspire towards with our Inclusionary Zoning policy. The non-market unit count is lower than ideal, as there was a desire to provide larger (more family-friendly) units and to achieve the deep subsidy level of affordability. Having done the economic analysis here, it’s clear the IZ policy cannot be fully applied at this site and still have a viable project. Metro Vancouver Housing knows the affordable housing market, and backs us up on this assessment. There has been consultation on the project, and many of the residents of the adjacent condo tower (built in 2017) about proximity to the tower, shadows and views. The Design Panel support the project.

In the end, Council supported this project going to Third Reading, and made a further request that staff work to enhance the width and comfort of the public walkway on the north side of the building to make for a better connection to Albert Crescent Park.

Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment: 408 East Columbia Street – Bylaw for Three Readings
This application was previously discussed at Council, now it is time for Council to make a decision, and it speaks directly to my previous post where I wrote about the desire to find balance between office/service and active spaces on our retail streetscapes. The new 6-storey mutli-use building in Sapperton has residential above commercial and office space. The original intent was for 30% office at grade, perhaps with a restaurant, but a tenant has not been found, and a dentist wants to open up moving that office ration to 50%. I don’t want to go over my other post too much, but Council had a good discussion about this. Dentists do actually drive foot traffic, but don’t generate the kind of space “stickiness” that experiential retail does. In the end Council unanimously decide to NOT support this change, perhaps reflecting that the zeitgeist of the times has got ahead of our ability to bring in policy changes. No surprise here.

We then read a bunch of Bylaws, though none were for Adoption, so no need to belabor those readings here. We then moved on to Motions from Council:

2026 FIFA World Cup
Submitted by Mayor Johnstone

Whereas the FIFA World Cup is the most widely viewed and followed single sporting event in the world, and for the first time ever Vancouver will be a host city for seven games in the 2026 event; and
Whereas association football is a truly international sport, with 48 nations from 6 continents participating in the 2026 World Cup, and represents a unique opportunity for a community like New Westminster with its rich diversity of cultures and nations of origin to bring community together and celebrate our diversity through sport and cultural exchange; and
Whereas there are economic and other barriers to direct participation in FIFA events related with the World Cup for many members of the New Westminster community; and
Whereas New Westminster Council has identified Community Connecting and Belonging as a Strategic Priority, including community-building activities that bring the diverse community together for shared events and experiences;
Therefore Be It Resolved that Staff report back to Council with opportunities to activate public spaces across New Westminster, to apply for external funding, and engage local cultural, youth, sports, and business organizations for free and low-barrier public gathering, public viewing, and community celebration to coincide with the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The World Cup is going to be a big event for the region, and for a City like New Westminster where there is a huge cultural diversity and many first- and second-generation Canadians who still carry a cultural torch for their homelands, it is an exciting time to celebrate and share culture. With all respect to the Olympics, it might be the greatest international multicultural festival on earth. So let’s celebrate.

I intentionally didn’t want to prescribe too much about what we can do here in New West, and I want to start the conversation now, 781 days prior to kick-off, so we can engage our community (such as representatives from the Latina American and African Communities who delegated to Council on this), and give staff the time to plan and budget for an appropriate suite of events. Of course, we also need to engage out BIAs, Chamber, Tourism, and other organizations in the City, to see if and how they want to partner with us. New West is uniquely placed to be a “second hub” of World Cup activity after Downtown Vancouver where the local gems will be held. I want to see us grab this opportunity, and consistent with our Council Strategic Priority Plan, find the opportunity to bring community together in celebration of our diversity and our common spirit of fun.

Council supported this motion.

Improving the public’s access to trees during the City’s biannual tree sale
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine

Whereas the City has a goal of a 27% canopy coverage within New Westminster by 2030; and
Whereas by partnering with residents, the City aims to reach its goal of planting 3,300 trees on private land, and a further 8,500 on public land by 2030; and
Whereas the total trees available for purchase as part of our biannual tree sale regularly falls well short of demand from local residents
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed to assess whether the Climate Action Reserve Fund decision-making framework can support the purchase of up to an additional 3000 trees over the next three years (2025-2027) to be sold as part of the City’s bi-annual tree sale

The City does two tree sales a year. We buy in bulk and sell at a deeply discounted price of $10. We do this because the our Urban Forest Management Strategy includes an increase of 3,300 trees on private property over 10 years. By selling 300 trees a year for 10 years this solves 90% of our problem, with other strategies (like replacement policies under our Tree Protection bylaw) providing the balance.

Of course, the cost isn’t just buying the trees and selling at a deeply subsidized cost (after all, anyone can go down to the Nursery and buy a tree if they want, we are just giving them a cheaper option). There is also a significant logistics and staffing cost to getting 150 trees together to distribute on the distribution day. I don’t know the total cost of the program but it is tens of thousands of dollars a year.

I actually like that this motion is asking to apply the CARF decision-making framework to determine if increasing the number of trees is an appropriate way to spend CARF money. Council supported this motion.

Then we had two items of New Business

Programs to Serve Isolated Seniors Funded by the United Way British Columbia
This is an announcement (and Council endorsement) of three externally-funded programs to be delivered in the City to support vulnerable and isolate seniors. There are three programs being rolled out – one to coordinate free community meals – three per month in three City facilities in different neighbourhoods, which will not only help with food security, but will also help isolated seniors to build social connections in their community. He second is enhances volunteer coordination staff to improve Century House and Seniors Services Society’s ability to deliver their services in community. The third is a Community Connections coordinator to connect older adults to supports and services through referral. This is all possible though $225,000 in grants from the United Way, and is coordinated by our incredible staff at Century House. External funding leveraged to activate the community on an identified priority topic. This is good news

New Westminster Grant Funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies Youth Climate Action Fund Program
This is another announcement (and Council endorsement) of an externally-funded program to be delivered in the City to support Youth in taking Climate Action. This will provide between $70,000 and $206,000 (depending on program success and need) to activate local youth, provide them resources to engage their community in actions that make a difference, while learning skills and building capacity. New West was selected along with 100 cities across the world who all attended the Local Climate Action Summit to be part of this new program to activate the energy and ideas of youth to move local climate solutions. External funding leveraged to activate the community on an identified priority topic. This is good news

And with all that good news in our back pockets, we called it a night.

This happened

Every week or so I put out a newsletter to subscribers. Usually Wednesday. It’s generally shorter-form than my posts here, provides updates on what I’ve been up to, with occasional opinion and politics. It’s free, no hassle to subscribe, just hit that “newsletter” link up at the top of the page.

Here’s a hint in what was in last week’s newsletter, where I wrote a bit more about these things:

Opening of an affordable housing project in the Downtown.
Business Roundtable with the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions on the City’s Three Crises Response Pilot.
Vaisakhi events, including a tour of Queensborough Gurdwara.
…and a walk in the Park that passed a baseball game.

Sign up here to find out more, and to keep track of what’s happening.

Mixing Business

As a follow-up to my Council report from last week, there were two items I promised to circle back to, like how I circled back to the preposition at the end of that sentence.

English teachers will find that last sentence fun. Hi Mom!

The two items spoke to supporting local businesses and streetscapes. We had a report on Bill 28, and the opportunity for us to explore whether Bill 28-style property tax relief might be a useful tool for our community, and we had a motion from Councillor Nakagawa to review our development and zoning policies to better support local community-serving small businesses. Both of these linked back to some recent chatter in the community around street-level commercial spaces, with people wanting to see more experiential retail and entertainment, and less service and office, to “liven up” the street (I got through all of that without mentioning dentists once). So I want to unpack each item a bit and discuss not just what a city/council can do, but more about the varying ideas about what a city/council should do.

Bill 28 – Property Tax Relief Legislation
I have written quite a bit over the last 9 years about how property tax works (examples here, here, and here). This new legislation changes this a bit for one category of properties, allowing us to provide some short term (5 year) property tax relief for some commercial property owners.

To review, the City sets tax rates, but the tax paid on property is based on BC Assessment Value, determined by “Highest and Best Use” – not necessarily the current value of the property, but the value the property would have if the owner sought to maximize that value. The change with Bill 28 is pretty specific, limited to properties where the “Land-value ratio” greater than 0.95, which means the value of improvements on the land (the existing building) is less than 5% of the total assessed value of the property. Where it is flexible is in how the local government can apply tax relief, and how much.

Some folks would suggest any tax relief for business is good, but we need to be clear this tool provides us a potential tax shift – giving one type of taxpayer some relief transfers that taxation to other taxpayers – not an overall decrease in the revenue on the part of the City. We are taking a more cautious approach here, because not only are there more devils in details, there are likely perverse incentives in there as well.

There is a general feeling that high lease rates and tax rates make it harder from small neighbourhood-serving business to set up shop, and that is surely a factor. The diversity of business types on Twelfth Street is almost certainly a product of low per-foot lease rates. So one part of the thinking here is that if the lease cost (including taxes) was lower, we would more likely get smaller, more diverse, and more interesting business types setting up. Instead of dentists (there, I said it).

One potential challenge with the Bill 28 approach is the recognition that property owners pay taxes, not business owners. Sometimes a business also owns the property they operate out of, but for most small neighbourhood businesses in New West a lease is paid to a landlord. It is the common practice for the landlord to pass the property tax bill directly to the tenant (through “triple net leases”), but there is nothing in Bill 28 or elsewhere that forces a landlord to pass any tax relief savings down to the small business person, so a tax incentive may not get to the small business types we are trying to support, and might actually make the situation worse for the business owner, but better for the Landlord. It may also be a disincentive to upgrading, repair, or improvement of marginal buildings, reducing the attractiveness and safety of commercial spaces.

The City of Vancouver is the only City that has taken on a Bill 28 approach, and we are going to hope to learn from their example as staff bring some data and analysis back to council to see if this approach can be made to help. It may be a useful tool, if we can wield it creatively enough.

Ensuring that ground level retail spaces in new developments prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations
This motion from Councillor Nakagawa was a bit more all-encompassing, and completely within our jurisdiction. It was asking that the City “review and refresh current policies relating to ground level retail” and “develop policy to ensure that future ground level retail spaces in new development are built to prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations in alignment with the retail strategy.”

When people ask what Council can do to assure a (insert type of business you want to see) opens in a specific location instead of a (insert type of business you don’t want to see), I often retort with the question: are you sure you want to give me the power to do that?  Council has some power to restrict different business types through zoning, but do you really want 7 elected people picking and choosing the businesses in your downtown? Are we the wisest ones to choose this, or is this somewhere we need to ask “the market” to address? Clearly there is a huge spectrum between completely hands-off and being so prescriptive that we end up with streets full of unleased spaces because Council of the day fails to understand the market. Personally, I would love to see a small hardware store downtown. But we had one for a few years, and it was really great, but it was not supported enough to stay open and now you can buy discount shoes in that spot. The reasons for that specific store closing may be complex and global (as they were part of a nation-wide chain that changed its focus and has now closing many Big Box offerings across Canada as well). The City saying “only hardware stores here” would not change those global forces, and we would likely have an empty space in its place, and angry landlord, and a decaying business district. That said, we do exercise limited powers to restrict uses like cannabis or liquor stores (for example) to address perceived or suspected risks.

Nothing against dentists, but mine is Uptown and on the second floor, which is probably a better space for the kind of use that doesn’t really “activate” the street or lead to good walking-around experiences. One thing we can all agree is that a street is more fun to live near and shop on if we have a variety of interesting retail and service experiences along it. As part of our Council Strategic Priority Plan, we talked about supporting a people-centered economy, supporting retail areas that address the needs of the local community.

When Starbucks made a global decision to close thousands of stores including Columbia and 6th, people lamented this loss. Since that time, three new coffee shops have opened downtown, and the old Starbucks location is a popular Italian deli. There are literally dozens of businesses Downtown that were not there at the beginning of the Pandemic, and there is not a lot of lease vacancy. By many measures, the business environment Downtown is pretty healthy. Still, the community is engaged in a conversation about retail mix, though it’s not clear how the community wants to get there.

There are two policy areas inherent in this motion we can look at. We can look at how we approve new street-facing spaces in new mixed use developments like 618 Carnarvon, where a brand new dentist office is opening in a space where folks might have wanted to see a coffee shop, or boutique, or other more experiential use. The other is to look at policies that rezone existing spaces to limit the variety of uses possible when businesses turn over, much like we do with liquor stores. To traditional businesses this sounds like a lot of “red tape”, and may result in an incredibly complex zoning bylaw that makes it harder for any business to find the right space. One can imagine this resulting in any new and innovative business types wanting to set up in town having to come to Council to ask permission, because their specific type that doesn’t fit the Bylaw. We went down that path with a video-game arcade that wanted to serve alcohol – and it was a massive pain in the ass for staff, a difficult challenge for the business owner who felt unsupported, and left everyone feeling soured. And that was for a business idea that that everyone on Council liked!

There is a guy I have had lunch with (Hi John!) who suggests the City should simply open more restaurants downtown. I don’t think it is that simple, because I don’t know what the role of the City is in doing that. Restaurants are permitted in almost every business storefont on Columbia Street, there are no rules or regulations preventing them from opening now. At the same time, we cannot force the landlord to kick out the current tenant and put in a restaurant. Reducing taxes of set-up costs will not have any positive effect on a restaurant business model that it doesn’t equally have on a nail salon or dog grooming business model. Further, we are limited by Section 25 of the Community Charter (the part that says it is illegal for a City to “provide a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance to a business”) from directly incenting a specific business owner to do a specific thing. We could, I guess, buy up the land and start leasing it to the business types and business owners we like, but I’m not sure that is the best role of a City government.

All this to say, there is an interesting bit of policy work we can do here, but we are also limited in our powers by legislation and common sense. This also speaks to and augments existing work we are doing around the recently-adopted Retail Strategy.