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.

Council – April 8, 2024

Back at it after Spring Break and Easter and all of those things, we had a full agenda on Monday, but got through it pretty quickly, partly because we got through this many things On Consent:

Active Rehabilitation Lease Agreement at 65 E. Sixth Avenue (təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre)
Part of the new TACC is a lease space for a commercial physiotherapy business. This is not uncommon in community recreation centres, drives a bit of revenue for the City, and provides a service for the community. The City is regulated in its interactions with private business, so we did a public call for proposals, and staff selected a successful lessee for the spot. This is the real estate agreement, with rates aligned with industry (and a little bit higher than we anticipated in the early part of the term, indicating we had a motivated lessee), and the tenant paying for fitting out of the site. This is a 5 year lease with an option to extend for a second 5 year term. Getting excited about getting this place open!

Appointment of Corporate Officer
The Corporate Officer is a legislated position in the City that has some very strictly defined legal authorities. Our previous CO was “scooped” by another local government last year, and we spent some time doing a proper regional search during which time we had a couple of experienced Interim COs to cover off. We are now appointing a new CO with significant experience that we “scooped” form another local government, as is the nature of the industry right now. So you will note a new person sitting to my right during Council Meetings, and helping guide me through Roberts Rules and the Procedures Bylaw, along with doing many statutory duties that fall on the CO. Welcome, Hanieh!

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 230 Keary Street
The last building at the Brewery District is a hole in the ground, and they are going to put a tower in, which for traffic disturbance reasons is better to happen on the weekend in this location, which requires a Construction Noise Bylaw exemption.

Crises Response Pilot Project Update
This is an update on the implementation of the Crisis Response Pilot Project. I don’t need to delve too deep into what this is, you can read about when we approved it here, and get more details on the City website here. Staff are also doing outreach to the Downtown Residents Association and the downtown businesses about this, and I have had a few very good meetings of late with downtown businesses about their experiences, and ways we can assure this response makes visible change to their situation. The big take-away is that the community supports this approach and this work. I am still chagrinned that some on Council would rather make political hay about the challenges facing downtown businesses instead of voting to support the work to address these challenges, but that’s the situation we are in.

Part of the commitment we made to the community is to report out on this pilot on a regular basis, and this is that report. As this program is just being launched (we had to approve budget, then do some hiring and training to set the program up, so it will not be fully implemented until the summer) so this is more a report about the progress on setting up than on the results. We are also receiving great support from Fraser Health and other partner agencies. More to come!

Metro 2050 Amendment Application: City of Maple Ridge
This is inside baseball, but a Type 2 Amendment of the Regional Growth Strategy requires consent from the member municipalities of Metro Vancouver. This is a change in the configuration (usually an expansion) of the Urban Containment Boundary, a planning tool designed to limit sprawl into greenfields and ecological lands, and to concentrate growth in higher density for a variety of good regional planning reasons. Maple Ridge is asking to reconfigure the boundary in an area called Yennadon Lands (which to people like me only vaguely aware of Maple Ridge geography, falls under the category of “out there by the Black Sheep Pub”). This would move the UCB line, add about 18 hectares to job-generating land use (light industrial) where it is currently rural residential, and permanently protect 7.4 Hectares of ecologically sensitive land which is currently designated rural residential.

I serve on the Metro Vancouver Regional Planning Committee, and we had a good review of this proposal, and approved it going to consultation, and Metro Vancouver planning staff see this as an acceptable tradeoff. Therefore Metro is asking New West (and the other municipalities) to comment, and Council agrees unanimously that we don’t oppose.

Parcel Tax Roll Review Panel
This is one of those procedural things we do that almost fall under the category of ritual as the self-defined areas of the BIAs in the City are approved by Council so that the BIA levies can be assessed and we can collect money from the businesses to fund the BIAs. Here we appoint the panel (ourselves), next we sign the review.

Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment: 812 Twentieth Street – Bylaw for Three Readings
The property owner of a commercial building on 20th Street wants to shift to a liquor store. Our zoning bylaw only permits this use adjacent to a Liquor Primary location, and that is not the case here, so a zoning Amendment is required. They need a provincial Liquor Retail license, which they plan to relocate here from the Interior of BC because the Province hasn’t been handing out new licenses since the 1990s. Council agreed to give this Three Readings.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion.

2023 Filming Activity and Proposed Updates to Filming Policies and Procedures
New Westminster hosts a fair amount of filming for TV and movies. This drives a bit of revenue for the City (almost $300k in permits with about $50k surplus in 2023), and a bit of income for residents and businesses that host filming on their property. There are also hundreds of New West residents who work in the film industry. Tough the Hollywood Strikes of last year put a dent in this activity after a peak in 2022, it is back in force this year.

Staff are suggesting some minor changes in our procedures and Bylaws around filming to align better with regional and industry standards, mostly around special effects and safety.

Bill 28 – Property Tax Relief Legislation
This is an interesting development. 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 its value. This could be thought of as an incentive for property owners to maximize their property value, or conversely to not let property value degrade. That said, there is a bit of a disconnect in commercial properties, as the owner of the property doesn’t necessarily pay the property tax, but passes it on to the lessee through a Triple Net Lease. The Province brought in Bill 28 which allowed Municipalities to direct property tax relief to commercial properties that see a large increase in value due to “development potential” for up to 5 years. I will write up a follow-up on this, but we are going to get staff to investigate if this approach is helpful for New West.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 78 Jamieson Court (Metro Vancouver Glenbrook CSO Gate Replacement)
Metro Vancouver will be doing some important sewer maintenance work near the top of Glenbrook Ravine this summer. This application is for a Construction Noise exemption (granted) but the bigger story buried in here is that the top access to the Ravine will be closed for much of the summer. This will be pretty disappointing for much of the neighbourhood, as it is a valuable public space for residents. The City asked Metro Vancouver to do more analysis last year to see if this work could be done safely while maintaining access to the trail, or if an alternate trail could be built, but we were not able to engineer an acceptable solution. So closure is the only responsible path. Council approved this, but also asked to assure that Metro Vancouver let people know this was coming through appropriate signage prior to the work proceeding.

We then did some Bylaw Reading, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No.8429, 2024 and Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8434, 2024 (145-209 East Columbia Street)
These Bylaws to permit 6-storey building with at-grade commercial, second-story office use, and 99 secured market rental housing units was adopted by Council. New PBR for Sapperton!

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (1032 and 1036 St. Andrews Street) No. 8402, 2023
The Bylaw that rezones this assembly for a 12-unit townhouse development was adopted by Council. More Missing Middle for the West End!

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Miscellaneous Amendments) No.8436, 2024
This Bylaw that made a few “housekeeping” changes to language of our zoning bylaw to correct administrative errors, remove redundancy, and such was approved by Council.

We then had a single Motion from Council:

Ensuring that ground level retail spaces in new developments prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations
Submitted by Councillor Nakagawa

Whereas the City of New Westminster has developed a retail strategy; and
Whereas community-serving businesses are essential for meeting our climate goals
Therefore be it resolved that the City review and refresh current policies relating to ground level retail to ensure that they are responsive to current market forces; and
That the City develop a 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.

There is some chatter in the community around, and I cannot simplify this more: “why do we have so many dentist offices”? Lack of water fluoridation aside, there are complex economics around how service retail operates in the community, and it doesn’t seem the situation now is delivering the kind of streetscape uses that the community wants. I’ll write a longer post about this after, but for now, I’ll just say that there are two discussions to have: what can the city/council do about it, and what should the city/council do about it? This motion, which was endorsed by Council (though not unanimously, which is notable for notable reasons), will allow staff to guide us into those conservations and hopefully develop some useful policies.

And one late addition of New Business to the Agenda:

88 Tenth Street (Columbia Square)
Council read and approved the following resolution:

That Council direct staff to work with the applicant for 88 Tenth Street (Columbia Square) to
a) Revise their proposal for the 7.2acre site, as outlined in the Council Report of June 12, 2023, to include 20% secured market rental, a non-profit childcare, and 0% affordable rental units or related land dedication, in exchange for which the future density bonus charge would apply across the entire site, generally consistent with the City’s Interim Development Application Review Framework, and which Council could use to fund future affordable housing development in the City; and
b) Prepare a basic zoning bylaw to authorize that revised proposal for consideration of Council within 2024, and which secures requirements to complete a master planning process prior to construction.

There is quite a bit to unpack here, and if you love the details, you should look at our June 12, 2023 Workshop Agenda available here. or even watch the video there, and see what the proposal for Columbia Square was wat that time. There has obviously been some work since then, and the landscape has shifted a bit with the new Provincial housing regulation that both provides certain density by right at Transit Oriented Areas (which clearly applies to this site, being within 400m of New West SkyTrain Station) along with other restrictions on how cities charge development for amenities and other costs.

Though we have only seen a preliminary application, and will have to consider rezoning once more work has occurred and zoning bylaws are developed, we are sending a signal about expectations around major amenity contributions. I don’t want to go too deep into this, as there will be details worked out as we move forward and I don’t want to pre-empt or fetter the rezoning conversation, but this clearly falls short of our Inclusionary Zoning policy when it comes to Affordable Housing, though time will tell how we can leverage affordable housing development out of the density bonus structure. A few on Council were not happy with that approach, and (though I should not speak on their behalf, so this is only my read) felt we should be getting more commitment for affordable housing out of this site.

All that to say, much more to come here, and I look forward to seeing how this moves forward.

With that, and perhaps the worst rendering of Happy Birthday ever committed to tape for one of our members, we were done for the night.

Budget 2024 – Enhancements

The 2024-2028 5 year Financial Plan was formally adopted by Council on March 11. This is the last step of the annual budget process for Council, though Staff have a lot of work to do yet in submitting documents to the province and getting those tax notices out.

I have written about different parts of the budget here: Operations, Capital, and Utilities. But the news story on the budget usually get boiled down to one number, the annual tax increase. This year’s number is higher than we are used to (though not anything near a “record” increase, as offered a few times by those who dabble in misinformation) at 7.7%. This puts us firmly in the middle of regional tax increases announced so far, which range from 4.5% in Burnaby to 10% in Langley, though the final number in Surrey has yet to be announced, but will likely exceed Langley’s.

The reasons for these higher increases everywhere are essentially the same – inflation and wage increases related to new collective agreements across the region with CUPE, Police and Fire unions, themselves being pressured upward to match regional inflation and housing costs. The biggest differences within the region are related to varying levels of service enhancements, from Surrey needing to invest in a new Police service to New Westminster needing to staff up a new $114M recreation centre. So this post I’m going to break down the increase in New West, hopefully answering a bit of what are you buying for your extra $300 this year (if you own a $1.6M house), or extra $125 if you live in the “typical” $640,000 apartment.

Again, the best way for you to dig into these numbers, if you are so inclined is to go to the January 22 Council workshop where we discussed this after giving staff some direction during the December 11 workshop, where staff proposed a 6.8% tax increase, and Council brought requests for enhancements that pushed this up by almost 1%.

“Enhancements” is one of those jargon words we use in municipal budgeting, and to talk about it is to talk about how staff approach annual budgeting. The first step is to look at everything we did last year, and hang a baseline on that. They then go through and find “efficiencies” (things we don’t need to do anymore, or cost us less to do now than they used to), and inflation/salary increases and calculate a new baseline based on those. They then look at the many, many things that Council or the Public has asked them to do beyond what they did last year. These are “enhancements” – things we didn’t do last year, but the community has asked us to offer or we need to do now because of functional or legislative changes. Staff determine what they can practically deliver, and propose what enhancements Council might consider for the coming year. Depending on the city, these are offered as service level measures, or a job positions for the people expected to deliver the job. In New West we generally do the latter, and there are strengths and weaknesses of each approach, but I’ve already gone too far down this rabbit hole.

A reasonable question I hear often is “with all these new buildings, how come my taxes still go up?” If we compare the revenue side of the 2024 Operational Budget to 2023 (the numbers are in thousands):

we see that we are planning to collect 8.7% more tax revenue than last year, or an extra $9 million. The 7.7% tax increase provides about 89%, or $8 million of this, while little more than 11% or $1 million in new tax revenue will come from charging taxes to property that didn’t exist last year – directly from growth. But remember a large portion of those other revenue sources are from things new growth pays for: building permit revenue, amenity charges and such. Look at the Sale of Services line, which is anticipated to go up by $4.4 million. Part of this is the opening of TACC, but also through increased service delivery across the City we draw more revenue from more people.

These two lines combine for ~$13 million in increased revenue. This aligns (not perfectly, but there are complicated reasons for this) with the “Proposed to Fund from Tax and Other Revenue” column at the end of the table that provides the long list of enhancements proposed for 2024 that you can see starting on page 53 of this report. This table (with a bunch of caveats) is the detailed answer to “what you are buying with the 2024 tax (and sale of service) increase?” So I am going to break the $13 million from that table down to categories to give an order-of-magnitude answer. There are lots of ways to break these down, and much overlap between each, so here come the pies.First off, two-thirds of this increase is fixed cost increases, increased costs to deliver the same services we provided in the previous year and things that we are legally or contractually obligated to pay for. About 21% are “discretionary” increases recommended by staff, things we are not legally committed to, but are required to keep service commitments we made to the community. The last 12% are things Council has directed to staff that we want to see happen in the upcoming year. Each of those three can be broken down further:

On the fixed increases, the largest part of the pie is $7.2 million in annual salary increases and increases related to the new collective agreements signed with our CUPE, Fire, and Police unions. This big piece of the biggest pie represents more than half the cost increase this year. The “new staff” section here is mostly new Emergency Management Office and Fire Prevention staff required due to new provincial regulations. The biggest fixed cost increases outside of this are an extra half a million for eCOMM (the service that provides 911 service and emergency dispatch for the region) and a big increase in insurance rates (something many in the community will recognize in their own lives).

The “discretionary” increases are dominated by the opening of təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre, which speaks a lot about how discretionary much of this actually is. These are the costs (above and beyond what it cost to run the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre) related to opening a much larger building with many more programs. I divided it up here into annual increased staff cost (about a dozen new people between regular and auxiliary) and stuff cost (increased supply, utility, equipment, and such cost). In theory, we could open the new pool without staffing and equipping it up fully, but that is probably not a good idea. There are also two new firefighters, a new HR staff position in Police, some increased Parks staff to run programs and care for trees, and some Admin folks in HR, IT, Finance, along with a new Director position to support our re-organization of Community Services into its own department.

The Council-driven increases are things Council directed to be added to the base budget, mostly in that December workshop. Most of this is in Public Safety, with increased Fire Department staff and new staff for front-line Police to address backfill (that is, we are not increasing the compliment of sworn officers, we are hiring more to provide better coverage for vacancies, sick and parental leave, etc.). Our new Code of Conduct requires budget for an Ethics commissioner, we are augmenting some staff positions to support youth and seniors programming, and the Massey Theatre utility costs are higher than anticipated.

So overall, 54% of the increase this year is related directly to salary inflation, which was high last year (~5%) because new collective agreements included backpay to the expiration of the previous agreement a year before. The other 46% of the increase this year can be broken down like this, which is probably the simplest answer to that first question “What did I but with my tax increase this year?” if you don’t want to read that multi-page spreadsheet I linked to above.

Council – March 11, 2024

We had a pretty light agenda on Monday, and even with a good collection of public delegations we had a fairly short night by recent standards. Not that it wasn’t packed with quality content!

We started with approving the following items On Consent:

City of New Westminster and Fraser Health Authority Second Responder Program (Post-opioid overdose follow-up program)
This is yet another example of New Westminster leading from the front. This innovative program in partnership with Fraser Health will allow our First Responders to do more than just help a person survive an overdose, but to follow up with them and find out if they are OK, and whether this is the right time for them to seek help so they don’t OD again.

New Westminster has a robust Victims Services program. People who are victims of crime or survivors of a traumatic event are connected with Victim Services to assure they have the supports they need to recover from trauma. As someone who once got the phone call after I was the witness and first aid responder to a traumatic traffic incident a couple of years ago, I remember not being able to sleep that night, and getting the phone call the next day from Victim Services just asking “Hey, that was bad. Are you feeling OK?” meant something. It let me reflect on whether I was OK (I have a great support network!), reminded me that it was OK if I wasn’t OK, and assured me there were people who could help if I needed it.

Being brought back from an overdose is a traumatic event. There is a time in the days after for self-reflection, but right now there are not a lot of clear paths from being resuscitated to connection to services that might prevent future overdoses. This may provide a new path, and may help save lives. Fraser Health and the Public Safety Division of NWFR have worked out a data sharing and partnership agreement to try this pilot out, and will be reporting out on results,

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 32 Eighth Street (New Westminster SkyTrain Station) and 2126 Seventh Avenue (22nd Street SkyTrain Station)
TransLink is doing work on both “outdoor” Expo Line stations to increase capacity and safety, and much of this work cannot happen when the trains are running for safety reasons. So we are granting a Construction Noise Exemption. TransLink will be responsible for informing the neighbourhood ahead of time.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 2126 Seventh Avenue (22nd Street SkyTrain Station)
TransLink is also going to paint the 22nd Street Station, and this cannot happen when the trains are running for safety reasons. So we are granting a Construction Noise Exemption.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Metro Vancouver Valve Replacements (660 East Columbia Street)
Metro Vancouver needs to do some water valve replacements on East Columbia by the entrance to Lower Hume. This requires isolation of a part of the water network, and one happens to be coming up to connect the TransLink property on the Coquitlam side to the main, so two bird one stone means sensitive timing, which means they need a Construction Noise Exemption.

Memo re: Bylaw Number Correction
We made a clerical error in numbering a Bylaw. We are fixing this. Heads up in case you followed the wrong bylaw by mistake.

We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Development Cost Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8444, 2024
This Bylaw that makes an inflationary adjustment to what we change for Development Cost Charges was adopted by Council.

Five-Year Financial Plan (2024-2028) Bylaw No. 8442, 2024
This is the final adoption of our annual budget. I have been writing posts outlining the various parts of the budget: the general fund, how we manage utilities, and the capital plan. One more to come! Watch this space!

Then we had three Motions form Council:

Supporting childcare development across the City
Submitted by Councillor Henderson

WHEREAS the City of New Westminster recognizes a shortage in childcare spaces across the region and is committed to supporting the development of additional local childcare spaces; and
WHEREAS the City will be updating current residential zoning bylaws as part of the work to reflect the Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing Provincial legislation;
BE IT RESOLVED that staff explore opportunities to amend the City’s current zoning bylaws to increase the allowable maximum of childcare spaces in residential areas.

There have been a couple of recent regional news stories about Zoning and Childcare. In PoCo a vitally needed childcare ran into a hiccup at rezoning that took a bit of work to fix. In Delta, they brought in a sweeping change to their residential zoning to allow home-based childcare (up to 8 children) in all residential zones, which is something New Westminster already permits.

Considering some significant changes are coming with new Provincial regulations, and childcare spaces are still a pressing need in our community as we have become a community of choice for young families, it is a good time to ask if there are way for us to remove obstacles to setting up more childcares across the City. This motion is preliminary, asking staff to do the work to determine what is viable given our staff capacity constraints and the pretty strict provincial regulations around childcare capacity, but I look forward to hearing back from staff. Council moved to approve this.

Closing possible loopholes in BC’s Elections Act as they pertain to municipal elections
Submitted by Councillors Fontaine and Minhas

Whereas to ensure a level playing field the Government of BC banned municipal candidates and elector organizations from accepting any direct financial donations from corporations, unions and non-for-profit entities; and
Whereas the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act continues to allow corporations, unions and not-for-profit entities to actively spend unlimited funds and reallocate internal resources to promote a particular municipal candidate and/or elector organization with their members or staff without any requirements for open and transparent public reporting
BE IT RESOLVED THAT a letter be drafted to the BC Minister of Municipal Affairs requesting that the following changes be made to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act in time for the 2026 municipal election;
a. Any corporation, labour union or not-for-profit entity actively utilizing internal resources to promote an individual candidate or municipal elector organization within six months prior to the municipal election is required to publicly record and report to Elections BC the total funds expended;
b. Public reporting by the respective corporation, labour union or not-for-profit entity would include items such as the estimated use of staff time, overhead costs and marketing/promotion activities including those accessible to the broader public through social media;
c. A maximum of $500 of resources can be expended by a corporation, labour union or BC-based not-for-profit for the purposes of promoting municipal candidates or elector organizations in British Columbia with their members or staff during an election year;
d. Corporations, labour unions and not-for-profit entities are banned from pooling their resources so as to
effectively increase the maximum limit they can utilize to promote and market a municipal candidate or an elector organization
e. Only BC-based corporations, labour unions and not-for profit entities are permitted to undertake the election related activities listed above with all non-BC-based entities strictly prohibited from actively promoting a municipal candidate or elector organization
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT a copy of this motion be distributed to the Union of BC Municipalities and the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for their information

This motion got a rougher ride. There were a few attempts to amend it, but it was challenged by it being both vague in its intent but queerly prescriptive in its affect. That said, no matter how it is diced up, it seems to be asking the Province to change legislation in a way that would almost certainly face a challenge under the Charter of Rights.

To be clear, the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act already requires organizations who want to promote candidates or issues in local elections to register as Third Party Sponsors and report spending they do in support of promotion during elections. To claim otherwise is a falsehood. But this motion goes much further, in that is seeks to limit how any organization speaks to its own members about elections, and by extension about advocacy issues important to their members. This is not just a chill on free expression (protected undersection 2b of the Charter) but a chill on the fundamental right to organize, which is not only protected under Section 2d, but is a foundation of our democracy. I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but on the face of it, this motion would seem to challenge those protections in a way that is fundamentally undemocratic.

We can infer what legislation like proposed would mean for groups in our community. Would HUB need to register and track staff time spent talking to their own members about how candidates responded to the survey on active transportation issues? Would an LGBTQ or Trans Rights advocacy group being restricted from communicating to their own members their preference for an ally candidate over a bigoted one? Would a candidate who was running for office and happened to own a restaurant be able to hand a staff member a campaign pin without registering that transaction? Besides the policing challenge, the implications set up some pretty absurd scenarios where speech is curtailed during elections.

With turnout less than 30% during the last general election, we need measures that encourage more participation in democracy, not less. And we certainly don’t need legislation that restricts democratic association and expression protected in a free society. Council did not support this motion.

Participating in the Provincial Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Program
Submitted by Councillor Campbell

Whereas Active Transportation and the safety of vulnerable road users are priorities for New Westminster; and
Whereas the Walkers Caucus, HUB New Westminster, and the New Westminster community have expressed concerns around user group conflict between pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and eMicromobility users as we work to build out our Active Transportation Network Plan; and
Whereas the City’s E-Mobility strategy includes actions to incorporate eMicromobility into City planning and outreach and to advance supportive eMicromobility policy; and
Whereas the Province of British Columbia has extended the Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Project for up to four more years and is inviting new communities to join the program with updated terms;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to evaluate the opportunity for the City of New Westminster to join the Provincial Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Program, and report back to Council with a recommendation on participation.

The Province has extended its kick scooter program, where they are asking cities to evaluate bylaws that permit the use of new mobility devices. This motion is asking for us to evaluate joining the program, as it will take a bit of staff time to write and integrate some appropriate Bylaws, it’s best if we ask staff to report back on the resources and opportunity.

And that ended the Council work for the week, though we also had a poem and other fun in Public Delegation, which you can see on video if that’s your wont.

Budget 2024 – Capital Plan

The fun part of the annual budget is the capital budget, because this is the part that pays for the things that we need to have a functional and fun city.

Like the rest of the budget, our Capital Plan spending is estimated out over 5 years. We have a plan for the amount we will spend in 2024, and a plan for the entire 2024-2028 period. There is a bit of flexibility built into this, and it is necessarily front-loaded. This is because staff cannot start the procurement process for capital goods and works until it is approved by Council, but commonly the time period between getting the approval, going to procurement, buying or building the thing, and paying the invoice takes more than one year. This means that every year a large number of things planned for year 1 actually get done in year 2, or maybe year 3, so the budget line item “carries over” to those years.

Here is the briefest breakdown of our 2024-2028 capital plan (the full plan, in all its 3 page 133-line spreadsheet form can be seen starting on page 212 of this report. The longer plan, in its 33-page 433-line spreadsheet glory can be seen in this council report from January):

Note we are currently putting the final touches on təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre, the single biggest capital investment the City has ever made, and it is not represented in these numbers. We still plan to spend up to $152 Million on buildings, roads, pipes, and equipment this year. We will almost certainly spend less, due to the “carry over” effect described above. In my pervious post I wrote about the utility investments (sewer separation, accelerated water upgrades, advanced meter infrastructure for electrical, etc.), so I will use this space to talk about some of the highlights from the General Fund.

Massey Theatre ($19 million)
When the Massey Theatre was no longer part of the School District’s plans for a new NWSS, there was no way they could justify taking money from education programs to cover its ongoing operation and upkeep costs, so decided it had to be demolished. Driven by community demand, the City Council at the time decided to take on the theatre and protect it for future generations. At the time, an engineer report suggested it would cost $18 Million to bring the theatre up to a condition where it will last generations. Those costs are now coming due. The City is currently investing in essential repairs and upgrades to keep the building safe and address some envelope issues, and to do some internal upgrades to improve accessibility and functionality. This is not the end of the work, but the beginning.

Pavement Management ($4.15 M in 2024, $19.4 million over 5 years)
Roads are expensive to maintain. When I was first elected to Council in 2014, we spent about $2.5 Million on “pavement management”. Even this was an improvement over the $1.5 Million we spent only 5 years before. This amount has ramped up significantly over the last few years, and we are now looking at $4 Million a year on average. Note, we have not added to the number of roads, nor is there a significant increase the number of cars (though cars have gotten heavier). This increase is partly due to inflation, and partly due to us ramping up our work to get caught up and improve the overall condition. Yes, we are doing a lot of different things in the City, but rest assured New Westminster is spending more than ever before on fixing the potholes.

Sidewalks ($690K in 2024, $4.95M over 5 years)
Between replacement of sidewalks and our enhanced new sidewalk program to fill gaps and make accessibility improvements, we are investing almost $5 million in sidewalks in this plan. This does not include the $1.4 million in pedestrian crossing improvements or special projects like the $2.2 million improvements to the McInnes Overpass.

Rail crossing Upgrades ($3.6 Million)
We have money in the budget for the upgrades that will lead to whistle cessation, with Sapperton being the priority area and safety improvements in Queensborough.

Street Light improvements ($2.4 million in 2024, $4.6 million over 5 years)
Street lights are an important part of building a safe active transportation system. As we upgrade and move to LED technology, the operational cost will go down, but a significant investment is needed to upgrade aging standards, especially in the Massey Victory Height neighbourhood.

Artificial Turf Fields ($3.2 million)
Yes, we are building a new artificial turf field, once we do the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan and work with community to determine the best location. We are also replacing the end-of-life turf at the Queens Park all-weather field.

QP Farm upgrades ($500k)
This project will see amendment of existing structures to facilitate new year-round community programs including retrofit of the long narrow building with new plumbing and electrical, and both gazebo structures, new picnic tables, small huts, a new wetland area and drainage infrastructure, food trees, pollinator meadow, and more. The result will be a refreshed public space for education programs around food systems, youth programming, and fun space for kids. There might even be a mushroom wall included.

Trees ($1.2 million in 2024, $2.9 million over 5 years)
We are planting a lot of trees in New West as part of our Urban Forest Management Strategy, and have been successful at getting millions of dollars from senior governments to support this program. This means more street trees, with a new emphasis on Queensborough, and a few big projects like the front lawn of City Hall.

These highlights only make up 20% of our capital plan, there is a lot there in supporting affordable housing, IT upgrades, measures to implement our community and corporate climate plans, equipment upgrades for Fire and Rescue, and boring things like backhoes and sand spreaders and roof repairs. These are investments in the things that keep a city operating.

Budget 2024 – Utilities

This is the second in a series of posts about the 2024 Budget. I wrote recently about the general operating fund, and now am diving in to the utility funds.

The City of New Westminster has four utility funds. The financing of utilities are regulated by the Province and Public Service Accounting Board standards. As such, the money you pay in utility fees for your water, sewer, trash, and electricity are not “taxes” that feed general revenues, but can only be used to finance and run the utility. They must be accounted separately than general operational funds of the City and general taxation.

The Electrical Utility makes us different than other municipalities in the Lower Mainland (though there are municipal electrical utilities in Nelson, Kelowna, and a few other small communities in BC). That utility also has the unique feature that it pays a dividend to the City (it makes a profit), and because it is generally counted along with other utilities in comparisons between New West and other cities, it is also the source of some tired misinformation about our comparative taxes. But I’m tired of beating that drum.

All of our utilities have one thing in common – much of their budget is a result of costs passed down to us by larger entities. Water, sewer, and solid waste utilities pay Metro Vancouver to supply us clean water, treat our dirty water, and manage disposal of our wastes. The balance of the costs are operations of the utility (we need people to run and maintain the systems, test water, process payments, etc.) and capital costs (we need to build and replace pipes and pumps and vehicles). As such, the budgets are easiest to understand through a Lawrence Livermore style flow chart. So I’ll draw some of those, and talk about them.

The way these work is the vertical bars are (approximately) to scale, on the left are our sources of income and on the right are where that money ends up getting spent. Green are revenue sources, blue are operational expenses, pink are transfers internal to the city, and orange is interactions with our Reserves and the things we build through our Capital Budget. Each utility has a reserve, we put “surplus” every year into the reserve, and take money out of reserves to pay for and build things like pipes and pumps and trucks to keep the place running. Note all numbers here are rounded, and in the 000’s, and please recognize this is a bit of a simplification done to try to make the big systems more understandable. (I’d love to hear feedback about how this presentation works for you!)

Sewer Utility

Our main source of revenue is utility rates, though we also take in DCCs and other contributions to support our capital plan. Of the ~$31 million we take in, about 45% goes directly to Metro Vancouver to pay for the treatment of wastewater. This cost has gone up 14% in the last year, and is the primary driver behind our utility rates going up 8% this year. As you can see, the operational cost for us to run the utility (salaries, contractors, supplies) only equal about 10% of our revenues, so there is not a lot of cost savings to be found there.

We are planning for a $12.5 million surplus in 2024, which will all go into our Sewer Reserve, as will the $5.2 million we got from developers and senior government grants to support our capital program, which adds $17.7 million to the reserve. However, we are planning to spend $19.6 million on new infrastructure (pipes and pumps) and vehicles, which means we are planning to draw our reserves down by $1.8m, or about 5%.

Water UtilityAgain, our main source of revenue is utility rates, and the DCC/contribution part is much smaller in water this year. That has mostly to do with the timing of capital projects and our success at getting senior government grants for sewer work more than water work. Of the $18.5 million we take in, about 44% goes directly to Metro Vancouver to pay for the water. We spend less than 10% of our budget on operations, though with internal charges (the money other city departments charge the water utility for services), this cost is a bit higher than in sewers.

Our surplus in 2024 will be about $7.2 million, but we are planning to spend just over $12 million in new infrastructure and capital equipment in the utility in 2024. This means we will be drawing down the reserve by about $4.5 million, which represents about 20% of the reserve value. This is more than ideal, but with major sewer work being advanced by Metro Vancouver in Sapperton and West End, it is a good idea for us to do water upgrades at the same time, so you only have to tear the roads up once. Having a healthy reserve permits us to advance this work without borrowing money. I am asked often what the City is doing to find efficiencies and save money, this is a good example of one thing we are doing in the water utility – spending a bit now to save more money later. Our 5-year plan sees us getting back to 2023 reserve levels in the water utility by 2026 or 2027, so eroding reserves in the short term isn’t a structural budget issue, but a strategy.

Solid Waste Garbage and recycling are bit different than the other utilities, as the level of service provided to different parts of the community (house vs. strata, home vs. business, etc.) varies quite a bit, and although disposal charges handed down (mostly from Metro Vancouver) for taking in our waste still eat up almost 40% of all of our revenues, there is a much larger operational cost to solid waste. We need staff to drive those trucks and fuel for the trucks, because you can’t put your trash in a pipeline.

We have been running low reserves in the Solid Waste utility for quite some time, and are looking to build them up through this 5-year financial plan. As the “capital” is mostly trucks and bins, there is a shorter lifecycle than the pipes Water and Sewer put in the ground, so our annual Capital spend is perhaps proportionally higher than in the other utilities. However, over all the budget for Solid Waste is much smaller than the other utilities.

ElectricalOur Electrical Utility has a few unique aspects, but it functions like the other utilities we have. The electricity we purchase at wholesale from BC Hydro costs us just over half of our overall revenues, and the cost of day-to-day running of the utility costs about another 17% (or a little over $11 million). This leaves us with about a third of income that goes into our Capital Reserves or directly to the City as transfers. The transfer number here is large because it includes the dividend the City takes every year from electrical utility operational surplus and puts it in the general operational fund. This amounts to about $6 million that the City uses to offset property taxes in providing services that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to deliver.

The utility is spending a *lot* right now on a major capital upgrades. We just built a $30 Million substation in Queensborough, and are now rolling out Advanced Metering Infrastructure, which means 60,000+ new digital electrical meters and the hardware and software to integrate them into our IT network. This is a big, generational investment, and as a result we are drawing down reserves that were intentionally built up a bit to help support this work. Our 5-year Capital Plan has us building these reserves back up to the ~$37 million level by 2028, but at the same time, we are budgeting for a cumulative spend of more than $150 million in upgrading our critical electrical grid over the next 5 years. It’s a good time to be selling electricity, but it is also a challenging time to keep up with the demand for more service.

There is not a lot of change in these budgets compared to recent years, except maybe some increased capital expenditure. The annual increases are essentially the same as the last 5 or so years (sewer increase a bit higher this year, solid waste and water increases a bit smaller, both way lower than Port Coquitlam’s increases this year, but its not a competition!), and the budget drivers really don’t change – Metro Rates are going up to support their aggressive capital investments, and we pass that on. Compared to the region, our water and solid waste rates are about average (though it is hard to do apples-to-apples comparisons because all cities provide different services and rate schedules). Our sewer rates are still at the higher end regionally, because we still have a lot of older combined flow sewers. This has the double whammy of us sending more water to the plant than we should, and requiring higher capital investment to replace and upgrade those systems. Fortunately, we have been pretty successful at getting senior government grants to help offset some of those costs.

Which brings us into the discussion about the Capital Budget, which I will dive into next post.