Council – March 1, 2021

Almost a year after our last full meeting of City Council before the Pandemic shut us down, we seem to have this virtual meeting things sussed. We even had smooth public delegation, though it just doesn’t carry the weight of having people in the room. In the meantime, we had a full agenda, starting with two Development Variance Permits:

DVP00674 for 34 South Dyke Road
There is a 16-unit townhouse project on an empty lot in Queensborough that was given rezoning approval last year. Unfortunately, in spite of the project having tandem-style parking, there was an error and the rezoning failed to include that in the language, so we now need to do a DVP now to correct that. We gave notice a month ago, and received two pieces of correspondence from a neighbor asking about unrelated aspects of the already-approved development. Council voted to approve the DVP.

DVP00683 for 805 Boyd Street (Walmart)
Walmart in Queensborough wants to put some directional signage up on their building that is not aligned with the sign bylaw, which requires a variance. We gave notice last month, no-one wrote us any correspondence about this, and Council voted to approve the DVP.

We then had a Report for Action:

Police Reform Framework – Input from the Reconciliation, Inclusion and Engagement Task Force
The provincial government is looking into updating and/or reforming the Police Act, and New West wants to take part in this. We have a Reconciliation, Inclusion and Engagement Task Force that is digging deeper into this, but they wanted to bring this part of the discussion to the larger Council.

There is a whole lot going on here, and I can’t possibly summarize here. The provincial Special Committee is looking at not just the Police Act, but also the Mental Health Act, the way the RCMP work in the province, and how all of the above relate to UNDRIP. Alas, the “key drivers” for this deep dive into police operations do not directly include addressing systemic racism in policing, but instead dances somewhat around the edge of that. Perhaps more concerning, the UBCM advocacy paper submitted seems directed towards various ways to increase policing spending (though asking for the Province to contribute more to that funding, of course). Read the room, dudes.

There is more coming here, but in the short term, we are going to strike a small working group including members of Council, staff, and likely a few key community stakeholders to provide feedback to the Province on the tight timelines.

We moved the following items On Consent:

Local Government Election Candidates: Access to Multifamily Dwellings during the Campaign Period
Door-knocking has always been an important part of electioneering in New Westminster, and a part of the campaign I really enjoy. A few of my council colleagues and I have even (before COVID, of course) gone door-knocking outside of election period to get the pulse of neighbourhoods on specific issues. But more than half of New West residents live in apartments, and door-knocking in apartments is difficult. There are federal and provincial law that say stratas and building managers cannot restrict access to campaigners who want to knock on apartment doors in multi-family buildings for elections at that level. For local elections, the Residential Tenancy Act gives renters the same access, but the Strata Act does not. As a result, people who live in single family homes get better access at elections than those who live in multi-family.

The City is proposing some steps to improve this access in time for the 2022 election, and are going to take a resolution to the Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM asking that Local Election candidates have the same right to access as Federal and Provincial candidates to strata properties.

City Consistency with Ministerial Order No. M192/2020 and the Provincial Health Officer Gatherings and Events Order
This is an update on the process for Council and Public Hearing meetings as the Pandemic and resultant Provincial State of Emergency is ongoing. Nothing particularly new here, just an update to clarify the legal orders under which we have been operating and an endorsement to continue in this mode until we are confident the public health emergency is over. A year, in folks…

733 Thirteenth Street: Rezoning Application for Child Care – Preliminary Report
A childcare operator in the West End wants to move their operations to a house around the corner. This requires a rezoning of the current large single family house on the lot and minor changes to the building. This is a preliminary report that will go to public consultation.

759 Carnarvon Street (The Metro): Zoning Amendment Bylaw to Allow a Liquor Primary Licensed Establishment – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
A downtown events hall wants to formalize their Liquor License situation with a stand alone liquor primary instead of the special events licenses they have relied on for more than a decade of operation. This will require (by Provincial Law) a Zoning Amendment, and we will take that to Public Hearing, likely on March 22. Call us up and let us know what you think!

221 Townsend Place: Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The owner of a house in Queens Park wants to restore and preserve at 1907 house permanently in exchange for a subdivision and building an infill house on their side yard. This will go to a Public Hearing, not yet scheduled, so let us know if you have feedback.

Regional Growth Strategy Amendment: Metro 2050
Metro Vancouver is working on an update to the Regional Growth Strategy, currently called Metro 2040. As a signatory Municipality, we are required by law to have a Context Statement in our OCP that addresses the regional plan, but have until 2023 to make that change (though I suspect out current context statement will still fit pretty well). This report is just for information on the process Metro is undergoing. There is a lot of emphasis on industrial land agricultural land protection more than major changes in housing policy, some increased emphasis on ecosystem services and social equity, and though there isn’t a specific emphasis on it, Climate Action is a thread running through the rest of the document. Good reading here if you want to know about the future of the region.

Single-Use Item Regional Regulation Resolution for UBCM
The Province has given local governments some increased authority to introduce ban on the sale or use of single-use plastic items in an effort to reduce plastic waste and burdening our solid waste systems with a complex mix of hard-to-recycle materials. In a previous discussion, Council asked that this authority be given to regional governments, as having a Metro Vancouver region with 21 different sets of regulations is a ridiculous approach for consumers, businesses, and suppliers. Staff have drafted a resolution that we will take to the UBCM conference to reflect that request.

Canada Healthy Communities Initiative Grant Application Approval
We are applying for a Federal Government grant to help pay for an outdoor seating intuitive in the City. I’m all for it!

819 Milton Street: Rezoning Application for a Duplex – Preliminary Report
The owner of a largish lot in the Brow of the hill with an older house on it wants to replace that house with a pretty funky looking duplex that is “suite ready”. This requires a rezoning, and will have some public consultation coming, and there may or may not be a Public Hearing (this one might get waived). If you have opinions, let us know!

723 Fourth Street: Demolition and Temporary Protection Order
The owner of this house in Glenbrooke North wants to knock it down and replace it. There is no other application, so I presume they are planning to replace with a new single family detached, but it is only coming to council because the existing house is more than 100 years old, and our policy is to circulate the application to committees and council and the applicant if they really, really, want to demolish it before we give them a permit. Council moved to allow them to have a permit.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Naming of City Asset in Commemoration of the Komagata Maru
There has been some interest locally and regionally in commemorating the Komagata Maru incident. We had a request a year ago to consider the New Westminster context, and our Museums and Heritage staff doing some research into both the locals in the South Asian community who supported the passengers of the Komagata Maru, and local elected people of the time who took actions to support those who would prevent the passengers from having safe harbor here in British Columbia. There was even a special community meeting in New Westminster, led by Mayor and Council, asking for the “total exclusion of Asiatics from this country”.

One request from the local South Asian community has been to find a City asset that could appropriately be re-named in commemoration of the Komagata Maru, with the Facilities, Infrastructure and Public Realm Task Force recommending something on the Q’boro water front, but also on the “mainland”. Staff have suggested the QtoQ dock infrastructure and the adjacent walkway (we have taken to calling “the dock and walk”) on the Queensborough waterfront, as it could be seen a symbolic to the action to prevent the passengers from being able to dock and walk on Canadian soil, is appropriately located, and also provides an opportunity for interpretive signage. ( I note with some irony that the MV Sun Sea was docked across Annacis Channel there for a decade)

In light of the research our staff uncovered, and recognizing the harmful impact that the actions and words of the 1914 City Council had on so many residents of our community, Council also moved that we draft a formal apology to the community, families, and descendants of those impacted negatively by those actions and words.

Proposed Retail Strategy Workplan
Our Economic Development staff are working on a strategy to guide the City to better supporting local-serving retail at a time of rapid transition in how people shop. This work will occur over 2021, with a report back to Council in early 2022.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our regular update from the Pandemic Response Task forces, including work to support vulnerable and at risk people, where we recently introduced some hygiene services to make it easier for under-sheltered people to have a shower, do laundry, and get basic hygiene supplies through the Reaching Home Program. We also had a bit of a longer discussion on efforts to increase the amount of emergency shelter space in the city.

108 – 118 Royal Avenue and 74 – 82 First Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Special Development Permit Applications – Preliminary Report
This project would see some older houses on the south side of Royal Avenue replaced with a 6-story strata apartment building, with the preservation of two heritage homes on the site. Although I had a few technical questions about the process, this is a preliminary application that would see a Public Hearing before approval, so I will hold my comments until then.

40 Begbie Street (Lower Mainland Purpose Society): Temporary Use Permit for a Health Contact Centre (Overdose Prevention Site) – Notice of Issuance
Purpose Society and Fraser Health are proposing a Health Contact Centre in this property downtown, where Purpose has been operating various services for several years. This will include various overdose prevention services (observed consumption, drug testing, harm reduction supplies, and access to peer counseling, education and referral to treatment services). The City is considering a Temporary Use Permit as opposed to full rezoning to accommodate this for a three-year trial period.

There has been some community engagement on this proposal, including with the Residents Association and downtown businesses. We will consider the TUP at out March 29th meeting, if you have questions concerns or feedback, provide it before then!

We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (404 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8235, 2020 and
Heritage Designation Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8236, 2020
These two bylaws that support the renovation and preservation the butcher shop in Queens Park were Adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (837 – 841 Twelfth Street) No. 8139, 2019
This Bylaw that permits the construction of a 5-story 29-unit apartment building on an empty lot at 12th and Dublin which was given a Public Hearing back in October of 2019(!) is now ready to be adopted by Council.

Finally, we had these resolutions as New Business, and it being a long agenda, I will only report the motions and let you write the authors or watch the council video if you want to understand more about these issues:

Motion: Support for Farmers in India Councillor Puchmayr
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the New Westminster City Council stands with the Indian farmers, and asks the federal government to continue to speak out against these regressive laws, and to accelerate the message of concern to the Indian government up to and including imposing economic sanctions against India.

Motion: Poisoned Drug Supply Crisis Councillors McEvoy and Nakagawa
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster calls upon the Government of Canada to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency so that it is taken seriously and funded appropriately as well as to immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan, which includes comprehensive supports and full consideration of reforms that other countries have used to significantly reduce drug-related fatalities and stigma, such as legal regulation of illicit drugs to ensure safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs, and decriminalization for personal use.

Motion: Lifting Restrictions on Farmers Market Vendors Councillor Johnstone
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Mayor and Council write to the Minister of Health and Public Health Officer requesting that the arbitrary restriction of non-food vendors at Farmers Markets be lifted in time for the 2021 summer Farmers Market season, and that the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, the Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation, and the MLA for New Westminster receive copies of that correspondence.

Motion: Support for Laid-off Hotel and Tourism Industry Workers Councillor Nakagawa
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster affirms that people should not lose their livelihoods due to the pandemic; and
THAT the City of New Westminster write to the Ministers of Labour and Tourism expressing our support for the right for laid off workers to return to their jobs when the pandemic eases; and
THAT this letter be forwarded to all BC municipalities asking to write their support; and
THAT the City of New Westminster writes to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association and Union of BC Municipalities encouraging them to host future conferences and events in venues that respect worker rights and pay at least a living wage.

Council – Feb 22, 2021

We had a bit of a lengthy Council Meeting on Monday; an Agenda heavy with Public Hearing and Opportunities to be Heard. It is telling about the unpredictability of City Council that we had two really big topics – the annual budget and a change to the Secondary Suites program that effectively impacts every single family detached home in the City – and no-one came to speak to those, but we had three hours of delegations on the renovation of a butcher shop. This job is strange.

Financial Plan, 2021 – 2025
The 5 year financial plan bylaws have been sketched up, and we had an Opportunity to be Heard on the Bylaws. We received two pieces of correspondence asking questions, but nobody came to delegate or clarify on points in the plan. I have a follow up blog to go into a bit more detail about the feedback we received in the last month or so as the annual budget was finalized, but for now I just want to note it was a challenging year to do this work, and I have to send kudos to our staff for getting this work done swiftly, fur the extraordinary efforts they took to engage the public in the budget process, and the quality of the presentations that Council has received that allow us to understand the finances well enough to not just vote on it, but to explain to our constituents about how and why we made the decisions we did.

Council gave the Bylaw three readings and adopted it. On to 2021!

We then had three Public Hearings:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Secondary Suite Requirements) No. 8154, 2021
We are updating and streamlining our Secondary Suite program. There are currently more than 800 authorized secondary suites in ostensibly “single family homes” in the City (likely more, as there are undoubtedly many unauthorized units in the City). Most new houses are built with a secondary suite, or to accommodate a secondary suite if the owner so decides. With changes in the BC building Code on 2019, staff saw a need to revise our Zoning Bylaw to make it easier for compliance and approval. In short, these changes streamline and simplify approvals of secondary suites.

There are slightly different standards for secondary suites in buildings that already exist and for new secondary suites to be built after September, 2021. Base-line life safety standards exist for both, but as we can be more prescriptive on new builds we are adding further livability requirements, such as limiting ventilation between the main and secondary living units, assuring tenants have control of their own utilities and heating.
In the end, this a Zoning Bylaw amendment will replace more complicated documents and processes while assuring life safety and livability standards are met and avoid some redundancy with the BC Building Code. This also requires amendments to our enforcement bylaws.

We received a couple of pieces of correspondence about this, more inquiries about details than opposition or support, and no-one came to speak to the issue. Council voted to support the changes.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (1135 Tanaka Court) No. 8250, 2021
There is a business that would like to start manufacturing food products that include cannabis ingredients in a Light Industrial property in Queensborough. If there wasn’t cannabis involved, this kind of use would be within zoning and no public hearing would occur, but Provincial Regulations and our own Bylaws around the devil’s cabbage are still peri-prohibitionist. So a zoning language amendment is required to permit this use.

There is no growing of cannabis, or retail sales of the product anticipated at the site. There shouldn’t be any specific odour or security concerns apart from any other light industrial manufacturing site, and their operations will be licensed by Health Canada.

We received one piece correspondence (the applicant, in favour), and we had no-one come to speak to us on this application. Council voted to support it.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8235, 2020 and
Heritage Designation Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8236, 2020
The owner of the little butcher shop that has been (in various forms) on the corner of Second Street and Fourth Ave in the middle of Queens Park for more than 100 years is looking to do some building improvements and expansion to make her business operate better. This includes a small expansion on the Fourth Ave side, the completion of a full basement, and some building restoration and rejuvenation to bring it back to its Mid-Century glory (but not its original 1920’s form). As the current use is non-conforming with the zoning bylaw (because the current use is decades older than the zoning bylaw itself), this expansion either required rezoning for formalize that use, or a Heritage Restoration Agreement which provides essentially the same function as a rezoning, but adds permanent protection of the historic building. The application was for the latter.

We received 79 pieces of correspondence on this (about 55% in favour and 45% against) and had 24 speakers (about evenly split between for and against), with significant overlap between the two. I cannot go through all of the comments (you can watch the hearing if you really want to dig in), but do want to paraphrase some of the major concern I heard, with my own (editorializing?) responses.

This is a violation of the rules (OCP, zoning, HRA), or of the spirit of the rules: This application complies with the language and spirit of the Official Community Plan. It is indeed non-conforming with the Zoning Bylaw, but the Heritage Restoration Agreement is a tool to bring this into compliance. This is the exact purpose of HRAs, and it is being used appropriate, both within the Local government Act and out local Bylaws.

Tripling the FSR is too much: The current FSR is 35%, and with the expansion planned the FSR above grade will be 50%. This is in line with form common in the neighbourhood. The full FSR will be 100% only when a full basement is added, and the FSR below grade will have no impact on the street expression or massing of the building. Allowing a full basement for storage and preparation is a reasonable request to me considering it has no impact whatsoever on the neighbourhood or form of the building.

Parking is insufficient: Yep, we are giving a parking relaxation, recognizing this business has operated at this site for almost 100 years, and in its current setting for about 70 years, and is not noted for creating parking chaos. Second Street is a quiet street with curbside parking almost always available, and this is a local small business that mostly serves local customers in a cycling- and walking-friendly neighbourhood. Parking can’t stop us having good things, or all we will ever have is parking.

Too many alternate uses possible: The current non-conforming retail use of the site is being formalized through the HRA, but the HRA does not fundamentally change the possible uses. As the current non-conforming use predates the zoning bylaw, another form of retail/commercial would be able to operate in the site (pending compliance with business bylaws, health code, etc.) if the butcher shut down even before the HRA. Notably, many people from the neighbourhood suggested a café or expanded retail might not be a bad thing for the community, but a welcome addition. That said, the owner has indicated they plan to operate a butcher and deli similar to the current operation for the foreseeable future.

Why 1950s and not 1920s: Many Heritage advocates would prefer if this building was re-shaped to better reflect the pre-1940 fashion of the bulk of the preserved residential houses in the neighbourhood. The problem with this is that most of the building is not from the original 1920s structure, but was added in the extensive 1951 renovation, that is the form that exists to be preserved. I was also compelled by some correspondence and the heritage statement that talks about architectural diversity, 1950s examples being an important compliment to the pre-war heritage of the neighbourhood, and speaking to the importance of the retail strip that used to exist along this block of Second Street before the others were torn down to build modern residential houses. There is a mid-century story being told by this building that is as important from a heritage point of view as the aesthetics of the pre-war period.

What is heritage win?: Some neighbours feel there was a lot given the landowner here (essentially FSR and reduced setbacks on two sides) for little community benefit. Aside from the community benefit of having this business operating in the community (the value of which many neighbours came to speak to), the HRA will assure permanent preservation of a mid-century small retail space, the last of its type after similar businesses were demolished along this block. Fundamentally, preservation of a building of demonstrated heritage value is the “heritage win” of any HRA.

There were other concerns raised, and indeed many came to speak in support of the project. The discussion even got a little philosophical at times as we delved into the balance between heritage as physical objects and heritage and intangibles (it is, most would agree, both). This was put into context by the final delegate whose father used to operate the butcher in question, and who actually grew up in the attached residential unit.

In the end, I supported the land use question put before us. And was comfortable that the HRA was an appropriate tool appropriately applied in this case. I hope the butcher can continue to provide a valued local service in Queens Park. Council voted unanimously to support the application and gave Third Reading to the Bylaws.

Dangerous, indeed

I’m going to go on a rant here, and yes it is about Motordom. Some people don’t like when I rant about this, because most of us have cars, many of us are dependent on cars, and any questioning of the role of automobiles in our society is seen as an attack on individuals. Soon someone un-ironically mentions the War on Cars. But Motordom is not about personal choice or behavior, it is a societal structure that steals choice from us. And Motordom is so threaded through the fabric of North American society that it is invisible. Until you recognize it, then you see it everywhere.

This rant was caused by a segment about Dangerous Driving on the CBC television program Marketplace. For those not familiar with the program, it has been Canada’s premier (sorry Street Cent$) consumer protection news program for almost 5 decades.  They call themselves “Canada’s Consumer Watchdog”.

Last week I saw they were looking to be taking on dangerous cars, so I thought I would tune in, this being an interest of mine. What a great target – a product category that is directly responsible for at least 2,000 Canadian deaths and untold suffering every year. Alas, it was clear from the beginning that they paradoxically missed the consumer protection approach, and are instead emphasizing “Dangerous Drivers”.

From this framing forward, the story sequence is predictable, I guess. COVID streets are emptier, and this is opening them up for bad behaviour by faceless Dangerous Drivers. Or so say the various police agencies that the reporters interview. There are many nods here to various pieces of incredibly expensive police equipment (high-speed SUVs, thermal imaging cameras, helicopters) that they are throwing at this problem, apparently to no avail. What can be done?

This was followed by the human interest side – the interview with the families of victims killed by this product behaviour, and their Lawyers. Much anger is directed at Dangerous Drivers, but this being a consumer interest show, Marketplace must hold someone’s feet to the fire. In this case, those faceless feet are the seemingly unaccountable Courts, for making it nearly impossible to throw Dangerous Drivers into jail or take their car away. Maslow’s Hammer is applied judiciously.

Politicians need to pass meaningful laws” is a great call. But what are they asking for here? Stiffer fines and sentences for unlawful drivers? Or are they suggesting laws that address the safety of the consumer products in the middle of this? Remember, you are “Canada’s Consumer Watchdog”. We won’t know because they break for commercial.

In my CBC Gem stream, that commercial break includes a video ad for a new 300hp two-ton SUV capable of 230km/h, being marketed with images of different cars shifting and drifting at high speeds while Freddy Mercury implores us to “Tear it up! Shake it up! Break it up! Bayybeee!”Professional Driver. Closed Course. Do not attempt. Wink Wink.

When they get back, they take us – I kid you not – to a stunt driving school. There is some concern raised by Police that Dangerous Drivers are “making money off this” by shooting YouTube Videos of their dangerous exploits (kids today!) then they take us to a freaking stunt driving school:Wink wink.

Only Motordom can explain how “Canada’s Consumer Watchdog” can spend 16 minutes talking about this public hazard, and not even mention the product, instead emphasizing the irresponsibility of some of the consumers.

Imagine a company sold a coffee maker that, when used irresponsibly by a significant portion of its users, resulted hundreds or thousands of deaths. Would Marketplace dedicate an episode to chastising the people who used the coffee maker incorrectly? What if the deadly, irresponsible use of that coffee maker was what the manufacturer advertised when selling the coffee maker, even during an episode of Marketplace? What if features emphasizing this irresponsible use were designed right into the coffee maker as a selling feature? I’d like to think Marketplace would call for the coffee maker to be modified to make it less deadly or taken off the market. Or would they suggest stiffer penalties for irresponsible coffee maker consumers?

Only automobiles get this pass. That is Motordom.

Of course, this isn’t just the CBC. Even the Police whose job it is to enforce traffic safety, and who have the grim task of investigating those thousands of deaths, seem to be unable to get off the personal-responsibility narrative. There is a weird quote part way through the show by a featured traffic enforcement officer that I had to listen to a few times and transcribe to understand what the hell he was saying:

…its fine line from exceeding the speed limit to then, almost, bordering on the line of dangerous driving, if you will. Speed kills

What is this “fine line” he is talking about? Is he trying to separate what we all do (they just told us that 1 in 3 Canadians admit to speeding) and those actions of Dangerous Drivers, as if only the latter is actually doing something wrong? This is a traffic cop! Is it really that fine a line, or a line made fuzzy by Motordom?

If we agree speed kills, why are we allowed to sell cars that speed? Why is Acura advertising during this program a 6-passenger SUV that can travel more than twice the legal speed limit of any road in Canada? Why are there no automobile safety standards in Canada that serve to protect people who are not inside the automobile? These are easy problems to fix, and questions a consumer protection program should be asking the makers of these products and the people who regulate them.

We need cars, just like we need coffee makers. Not everyone needs them, of course, many live happily without them. However, we have built our communities around automobiles in the same way many of us have structured our brain chemistry around caffeine. The problem is, we are too shy to have a serious discussion about what cars actually are. Even our flagship “consumer protection” program seems to pretend that we cannot regulate the makers of cars to make Dangerous Drivers less deadly, by making the consumer product they are using less deadly.

And yeah, “Politicians need to pass meaningful laws”. I absolutely 100% agree with this. We need to replace the archaic Motor Vehicle Act here in BC and in most jurisdictions. We need to make it illegal to sell a car that travels twice the speed legal anywhere in the country. We need to make road hazards like this illegal. These are all much, much more important than saving drivers a couple hundred bucks on their annual car insurance.

But we won’t do any of those things. Because the marketers own the marketplace, and because of Motordom.

Council – Feb 8, 2021

It seems we are meeting a lot these days, but we also have relatively short open agendas, amazing how that works out. This week’s meeting started out with a great staff presentation on the draft budget:

Draft 2021 – 2025 Financial Plan
There is a report here, and a power point presentation with some great diagrams about the 5-year financial plan. Staff will now put this plan together into the appropriate empowering bylaws.

We have been through several workshops, and have done the most comprehensive consultation with the community of any budget process I have been through in 6 years on Council. We have spent a lot of time working on the Capital Plan especially, as it is especially significant this year. All of this discussion and compromise and debate is going to, inevitably, to be distilled down to one number. And this year that number looks to be 4.9%.

The proposed property tax increase is made up of a 2.3% increase that is a result of inflationary pressure on the existing program (both inflation for fixed costs and bargained wage increases), 2.0% to go directly to financing the debt on the NWACC project, which we are going to have to start paying for in 2021, and another 0.6% increase that represents new services. Utility rates are also going up, mostly due to increased fees being charged by the regional suppliers, though we are also continuing to invest locally to assure our long-term reserves are healthy.

We will read and potentially adopt the Bylaw on February 22nd, so if you have opinions, please let us know here! But please at least read the report first or watch the Power Point in the Video to get a sense of where this is coming from.

We then had a DVP for Approval:

Development Variance Permit DVP00686 for 632 Carnarvon Street
An operator wants to open a much-needed-in-downtown childcare space in the old Fisheries Building downtown, but needs to repurpose some outdoor space to play space to meet Fraser Health requirements, which will erode their ability to provide off-street parking for their staff to meet our zoning minimums for the use. This requires a DVP, which we put notice out about last month. We received a single piece of correspondence concerned about traffic impacts on the Court building. Council moved to approve the DVP, and I can’t speak for everyone, but my only thinking was that childcare space is in much greater need in downtown than parking space.

We had three items on the Consent Agenda, two of which we removed from consent to talk about, but you’ll have to watch the video to see which ones! Ha!

Recruitment 2021: Appointments to Board of Variance (BOV)
The Board of Variance is a provincially-mandated committee the City has to review variances if the person who is requesting the variance would rather appeal to someone other than Council. Ours does not meet very often, but we assign people to it, because that’s the law!

Landscaping Guidelines for Laneway Houses in Queen’s Park
We had a delegation a few weeks ago concerned about a chain link fence in the Queens Park neighbourhood. Seriously.

Indeed, chain link is not a preferred material in the design guidelines (which are guidelines, not laws), and as fences are typically not subject to permits or inspections (aside from having limited heights), fencing materials may be included in guidelines applied for new construction in the HCA… I honestly cannot believe we spent staff and Council time digging into this when there are an almost infinite number of more important things going on but…

Turns out we got an e-mail from a neighbour, and there are some weird details here around how the existing fence was removed that fall under that nebulous world of Fence Law which is actually a fascinating body of jurisprudence that doesn’t really involve the City directly unless there are building permits. Anyway, we are going to ask staff to go back and help the neighbours work this thing out if they can.

Westminster Pier Park Management Oversight Committee: Westminster Pier Park – Fire Recovery Update
The good news: the playground inside the loop of the new ramp entrance is being built as we speak, and will be ready this spring. The bad news: the entire damn park is still closed, and it may take until April to get it opened again. The reasoning here is a need for a level crossing access for vehicles for public safety reasons.

We had a bit of discussion here, and I am frankly disappointed where we are. The Fire department feels we need to be able to drive a vehicle into the Park for emergency response before we open it. This seemed strange to me, as there are two foot accesses to the park, one at each end, and there are many places in the City where you cannot drive a vehicle that are nonetheless accessible for park use. The middle of Hume Park, the “beach” in Queensborough, areas of Glenbrook Ravine. I am not a first responder, but it was not really made clear to me what the operational restrictions are, or if efforts were found to address those restrictions that didn’t involve months of negotiation with the railways, procuring road building, etc.

My point for pushing here is that I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency, or an understanding of how important this par space is for the many people who live in Downtown New West. This is an area of the community where density is, where many residents are renters, and many don’t have access to outdoor private space. The Pier Park is literally their back yard, and vital to the livability of the community for them. During COVID we have lost so much of our social and collective space – people are feeling trapped in their homes – they need this space, and it has been closed for almost 5 months now, with another couple of months of closure on the horizon.

It is a diminished space, and yes I know it is winter, but to have a sunny day like last Saturday and for the thousands of people downtown to have no access to their premier park space – that is not the level of service our residents should expect. We need to do better, find a creative solution, and get this park space back into the hands and under the butts of our residents.

Finally, we had a Bylaw and related Motion:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (457 East Columbia Street) No. 8227, 2020
The operator of the Arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor primary license. We adopted the Rezoning Bylaw that made that happen, and moved the resolution the province needs from us to get the Liquor Primary licence approved.

The operator of the Arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor primary license. We adopted the Rezoning Bylaw, and moved the resolution the Province needs from us to get the licence approved.

And look at me getting my Council Report out the morning after the meeting!

Council – Feb 1, 2021

Yep, Council met last week, and we had more than just that one item on the agenda. I’m late getting this out (and have another Council Package to read this weekend!) so here is a quick summary, that started with a Presentation:

ReDiscover New West Campaign Presentation,
The City is working with our BIAs and Tourism New West to promote locals helping our local business community to help reframe 2021 after a slightly dismal 2020. There is a great video with familiar (masked!) faces and places, promotions of local businesses, and a contest you can take part in to support out local business community right now. See it all here.

We are really fortunate in NewWest that our BIAs (formal and informal) are really effective advocates and great partners to the City. Send your local favourites some love in February – it is always a bad month for the restaurant business especially, so let’s help them out so they will be here for us when we emerge from our mandated slumber.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update on the work of the City’s COVID taskforces. We got Federal funding for part of our Food Security work, are working on providing better access to showers for unhoused people in the City, continue to work on the Health Outreach Centre, and continue to work with the business community to keep them connected and find out what types of supports we can provide.

COVID-19 At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force: New Westminster Digital Inclusion Project Update and Potential City Contribution to Project
One of the goals of our Intelligent City Action Plan is to make digital connection more inclusive – so people who cannot necessarily afford a phone or home computer can be connected to some internet services – as so much of our public services are oriented around internes connectivity. Partnering with Douglas College, Purpose, and other community organizations, with a SPARC grant, we can get phones to people. We can also provide WiFi hotspots and connectivity hubs in the City to access the internet with those devices. The City is also providing older devices (iPhone 7s) to the cause.

34 South Dyke Road: Development Variance Permit Application to Vary Access to Tandem Parking
This 16-unit Townhouse development in Queensborough was approved by Council last year, but we overlooked the need for a DVP to allow the parking to be tandem-style instead of side-by-side. So we are giving notice that we will consider this DVP, likely at the March 1st meeting. If you have opinions, let us know!

Sapperton Green: Official Community Plan Amendment Section 475 and 476 Consultation Report
Sapperton Green are working through their revised Master Plan to accommodate increased affordable housing, as was presented in a preliminary way to City Council a year ago (yes, this stuff takes time). As this increases the residential density beyond the current OCP, we are required by law to do formal consultation regionally before it comes back to Council for eventual Public Hearing. This report outlines who will be consulted. Yes, it includes the Board of Education for School District 40.

759 Carnarvon Street (The Metro): Rezoning and Liquor Primary Applications – Preliminary Report
The Metro is a banquet hall Downtown where people have been holding events without any trouble for something like 13 years. They have operated on Special Event licenses when those events included alcohol sales (something like 100 nights a year!) and they want to get a Liquor Primary license. They are not planning on changing their business – it’s not becoming a pub, for example – but trying to simplify their operations and align better with changes in the Provincial licensing regime. An LP license requires a change in the language of the Zoning Bylaw. We are doing an expedited process here, but will likely go to Public Hearing in March, so I’ll hold further comment until then.

2020 Filming Activity Overview
This is the annual report on filming activity in the City. The City has a Film Coordinator on staff who manages the myriad of ways film operations interact with the City’s operations – road closures, policing, use of City buildings, permits, etc. We also charge permit fees to recover these costs, to the tune of more than $700,000 a year. This is a bit down from the peak of 2017, but still a significant budget item. This is just City revenues, and does not include the salaries paid to the nearly 1,000 New Westminster residents who work in the film industry, or the money paid to home and business owners to lease their spaces for filming.

There was also a story on the TeeVee News that was ostensibly about Vancouver as Hollywood North, but ended up having a bunch of New West content.

Youth Advisory Committee Recommendation re Indigenous Workshop for City Committee Members
The Youth Advisory Committee sent a recommendation to Council (as is their job!) asking that include training for Advisory Committee members on Indigenous issues and reconciliation. It is actually a good idea to expand the scope of the training we are undergoing with staff to include Advisory committee members, I think it will result in better informed advice coming to Council and it will be a value add for the members who volunteer their time to help the city.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

E-Comm nominations for 2020-2021
As one of the cities that receives 911 service from E-Comm, we get a part vote – shared with the Tri Cities – on two seats on the Board that governs the organization. The last time a New Westminster had a representative was Councillor Trentadue few years ago. We recently ran into some challenges in filling recent vacancies, with New West a bit of a hold-out as we are trying to encourage our partners to consider gender and diversity in their nominations. And it has been, unfortunately, a challenge. So a vacancy remains.

We are escalating a bit here on an issue that has been going on somewhat in the background for a couple of years. The report lays out how hard we have tried to make our case to our neighbouring communities, and the various steps forward and backward along the way. We have now asked staff to prepare formal correspondence to the entire EComm board asking that they take some responsibility and commit to improving the diversity of their board, and asking that our partner Cities commit to gender diversity immediately by assuring all future nomination include at least 50% women or non-binary representatives. We are also going to elevate this to the Lower Mainland LGA. More to come here.

805 Boyd Street (Walmart): Development Variance Permit Application to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements for Directional Signage
Walmart in Queensborough wants to add some signage to point people to their new pick up area, that doesn’t strictly meet our Sign Bylaw limitations, but they are pretty small and on the side of a Walmart, so the impact on neighbourhood aesthetics seems pretty limited. Regardless, we are giving notice that we will consider this DVP, likely at the March 1st meeting. If you have opinions, let us know. “I hate Walmart” is, frankly, not really useful input here, this is about wayfinding signage, not global capitalism.

Single-Use Item Reduction Advocacy for Consistent Regional Regulation
Following up on our talk about single-use plastics two meetings ago, Staff have provided some guidance on a path forward for regional and senior government advocacy.

Finally, we had a bit of New Business:

Bill C-213, an Act to enact the Canada Pharmacare Act
Councillor McEvoy brought this motion, similar to what numerous municipalities across the Country are asking for right now:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT New Westminster City Council support Bill C-213, An Act to enact the Canada Pharmacare Act.

It helps that the Bill was introduced by our own Member of Parliament, but this is a long-overdue promise made by several Liberal Governments, and it is well past time to hold them to their promise. As the ancient proverb says, the best time to introduce Universal Pharmacare is 20 years ago when the Liberals first promised it; the second best time is now.

And that was it, see you again Monday!

Police Budget redux

We had a full Council meeting on Monday, with several important topics on the agenda, But I am really busy his week, and I want to write about this one first and separately, because it seems to have caught a little media attention, and wouldn’t hurt from a more detailed discussion.

Before I start, I want to do one of my regular reminders that this blog is, as always, my personal opinion, and not official City communications. There are a spectrum of opinions on Council about this, and we have had a few split votes, so I don’t want anyone to think I am providing an official position of council, or that I am speaking for my Council colleagues. I respect where my colleagues are coming from here, this is a difficult topic, and will try really hard to avoid putting word in their mouths. There is a video available if you want to hear the full discussion.

New Westminster Municipal Police Board letter dated January 25, 2021 regarding New Westminster Police Department 2021 Budget
The Police Board has replied to Council’s previous request that they review their enhancement requests and revise the budget increase requested for 2021. They have replied with the assertion that the requested 2.9% increase is inflationary and does not support increasing police services, but maintains the status quo as far as service levels. That is an unfortunate turn of phrase, because the entire point of this discussion is that status quo needs to be challenged, but I don’t want to get mired in pedantry.

I’ve written previously in this post and this post about the jurisdictional challenges here. In short, Council has no authority to direct how police do their work, or even how they allocate their budget, that is the job of the Police Board. Council are required by law to approve a budget. If we do not approve the one offered by the Police Board, then the Minister of Public Safety is asked to adjudicate. In the past when Councils have not agreed with Police Board requests, the Minister has always sided with the Police Board. We know where this was going.

I had honestly hoped that the Police Board would come back to us with an adjusted budget, or a more detailed explanation of where their specific budget pressures are. They did not really do that. They did make it clear, however, that this was the budget they were offering. It did not include all of the enhancements (which is the term we use in municipal budgeting for “things we want to do/pay for this year that we didn’t do/pay for last year”) they were originally looking for when the budget process began, but it similarly did not represent an increase in service levels. It effectively equaled an inflation adjustment over last year. It is hard for me to challenge this, as one of the uncertainties I feel on Council is that the scale and nature of the Police budget is not as transparent to us or the voting public as most the rest of the City budget. This is by design of the Police Act, and it is troubling.

For those so interested, there is more information about the budget available in the Police Board agenda, which you can read here: (the “package” is the agenda with the attached reports and police budget tables).

If you read the correspondence between the Police Board and Council here, it seems we agree on a few principles. The Police Board acknowledges that aspects of the services they currently provide may be better provided by a non-policing model, and if you draw a Venn diagram of how this overlaps with “Police Reform”, it certainly wouldn’t be a circle. However, The Police Board strongly feels that until those alternative delivery models are in place, they cannot responsibly suspend, or in any way reduce, the current delivery model. This puts us in a chicken-and-egg quandary, as there is currently no one with the jurisdiction, resources, and willingness to bring those delivery models into place. So it could seem we are stuck.

Ultimately, change is going to require the Police Board to resource some review of their internal operations. It is going to require Local Governments to identify how their residents want services delivered, and potentially to see what services the Local Government can deliver and fund though alternative models. Mostly, it is going to require the Provincial Government to reform the Police Act, and to resource the Health Authorities, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and potentially other agencies to deliver their resources differently. This is going to take coordination, and cooperation.

The good news is that everyone is signaling that they want to do this. The New West Police Board has sent us some more details about their plan to begin addressing this process. It isn’t perfect, but it is clear in its intent. The Provincial Government has also begun to work on a Police Act reform consultation, and the City of New Westminster has made it clear to them that we want in at the ground floor on those discussions – we are the right City to be in the center of this, with our own Police Force, a very proactive group of community service agencies, and all partners willing to see change.

So, to get back to the decision before Council, the options now were to approve the budget presented by the Police Board or not. There is no mandate for negotiation. As much as I want to push for systemic changes that the Board is alluding to, that Council and the public have asked for, and that may arise from the provincial Police Act review, I am not sure these ends are served by the Police Board spending the next few months engaging in a Provincial Government appeal process to get their budget approved. This feels like time wasted when it seems certain the Province will deliver the budget the Police Board requests. There may be a message to be sent by forcing the Public Safety Minister to issue that order, but I think we have other pathways to send that message, including two new MLAs who are in a caucus with that Minister and are itching to represent New Westminster in Victoria.

So I voted to support the budget as proposed, and supported Councillor McEvoy’s follow-up motion to call on the Police Board to be more proactive in engaging with Council and the Community in the work we all agree needs to be done. I hope we can use our time more effectively rowing in the same direction, and I expect the Police Board to be accountable to the community they serve for the commitments they have made to the community along with asking for this maintaining budget.

Council – Jan 25, 2021

We had a surprisingly short Council Meeting on Monday. We were anticipating a couple of longer Public Hearings, but staff became aware late in the afternoon that the Zoom invite sent out did not point participants to the right place for the Zoom meeting, for obscure Zoom-related technical reasons. The legislative requirements for clear public access to a Public Meeting are already strained a bit operating under our remote work COVID Ministerial Orders, so our staff made the prudent last-minute decision that the Public Hearings should be re-scheduled. It’s a bit unfortunate, but mistakes happen when everyone is working with new processes, and we are always better served to err on the side of assuring legislative requirements are met. I understand now the delayed Public Hearings will occur on February 22nd, but best check with City Page updates and not rely on my Blog to schedule your participation (have I mentioned recently that this Blog is not official communications from the City?)

The delays left us with a single item on the Agenda:

40 Begbie Street (Lower Mainland Purpose Society): Temporary Use Permit for a Health Contact Centre (Overdose Prevention Site) – preliminary Report
Council has been advocating to Fraser Health to help bring more support to people impacted by the poisoned drug supply crisis. One of the approaches we have asked the Health Authority to support is an overdose prevention site – a place where people using drugs can do so with health supervision, and where users can access the kind of health services they need, including referral to treatment and other services. The New West Overdose Community Action Team has been working with Purpose (large P and small p) to bring these services to New West.

Overdose Prevention Sites save lives. They are not the solution to the opioid crisis, but they demonstrably reduce deaths, and improve health outcomes for a cohort of drug users. They are one piece of a big, complicated puzzle, but an important one.

For this to operate in the location made available by Purpose, we need to adjust the zoning language. Staff are recommending a Temporary Use Permit to do this, and have outlined a community consultation and approval process that is typical for a TUP in COVID times. Council raised concerns about the potential delay of our process. This is a Public Health Emergency – it is not hyperbole to say people may die waiting for this centre to open. There is still some work to do by Purpose, Fraser Health, and the City to get it up and running, but the message sent by Council was that we don’t want to be the ones slowing things down.

I also wanted to say a few things about the consultation around this proposal, but first I need to talk a bit about the word “consultation”. The organization for professionals who do community engagement work for a living have identified a spectrum of consultation that informs the City’s Public Engagement Strategy:

When Cities (or anyone, really) do public engagement, it is good to know where on the spectrum your engagement lands. At one end, you are just informing people about a decision that was made by the City (“we have hired a new Chief Financial Officer”), at the other end you empower the public make the decision (“And the winner of the online poll is, Boaty McBoatface!”). When it comes to the engagement about this project, we are going to land around the consult part of the spectrum.

Council, in a public motion several months ago, asked Fraser Health to provide this service in New Westminster. The Health Authority has agreed, provided a funding model, and found a partner to provide the service though a procurement process. The location meets the provider’s needs, the Health Authority’s needs, and the client’s needs. What we intend to consult with stakeholders in the community on now are parameters around how the Health Contact Centre will operate. How we will ensure compliance with the City’s good Neighbour Policy, which partners are responsible for any mitigation efforts for negative community impacts if they occur, and how communications with the community should work. The City has set up an engagement site where some questions may already be answered, and you can provide feedback.

And that was all we had on the agenda. See you all next week!

Pros & Cons

The first phase of the Agnes Greenway project has been installed, and is getting a bit of feedback online. That’s good – the City hoped to receive feedback on this important piece of infrastructure as a part of how it is being rolled out. I will write another blog post about that as soon as I get time, but before I do, I want address this niche-popular meme created by Tom Flood that appeared in my twitter feed, and excuse me for feeling attacked:

…and add a bit of a retort from the viewpoint of a City Councillor oft criticized because I like the idea of installing protected bike lanes, and agree with almost all of the “Pros”.

Right off the top, I need to say, protected bike lanes are expensive, and cities are struggling right now with so many overlapping challenges and priorities. Yes, I hear, understand, and accept the argument that an integrated bike network will save us money in the long run and improve livability to far outweigh the costs, but that takes nothing away from the current challenge of the immediate capital costs required for a safe network. Proper bike lanes are not a few planters and green paint (the latter of which is inconceivably expensive – it would be cheaper by the square foot to make bike lanes of engineered wood flooring, but I digress). If we want them to be safe for all users, we need to install new signage and/or signals at all intersections. This can mean moving street lights and telephone poles and power conduit. Installing grade separations often means redesigning storm sewer infrastructure. We may need to move or re-engineer bus stops, curb cuts, pedestrian islands, street trees, and, yes, parking. When you expand this out to kilometres of bike route and scores of intersections, these changes are not cheap.

The retort to this, of course, is they are cheaper than road expansions. Which is kinda true, but not really helpful. This infrastructure is almost always built in urban areas like Downtown New Westminster: a built-out City that is essentially out of the building-new-roads business. I don’t mean that rhetorically; we have a policy goal to reduce road space in the City and convert it to active transportation and other uses, therefore we don’t really have a “road building” budget line. This means we can’t just re-allocate from there to a “Separated Bike Lane” budget line. It doesn’t work that way. Yes, we spend millions every year on road maintenance and upkeep, but taking away from that in a significant way will widen an infrastructure deficit (unmaintained roads get much more expensive to fix when the road base fails and safety is impacted when signal lights and road markings are not kept in good working order) and so much of the spending is on infrastructure that supports transit users, cyclists, pedestrians (including those with accessibility barriers) that it is difficult to argue for where cost cutting here can occur without impacting everyone – not just the car users we usually associate with “roads”.

The presumption in the Pro list above that bike lanes make sidewalks safer is a presumption reliant on very well designed bike lanes. Integrating safer cycling infrastructure with safer pedestrian infrastructure is a serious challenge, as the number of “conflict” zones increases. Cycling advocates will recognize how pedestrian bulge design often makes cycling feel less safe on some arterial roads, but are less likely to recognize how important those bulges are to improving the safety of other vulnerable road users. Conflicts inevitably arise between what cyclists need to feel safe and what other users (especially those with mobility or vision impairments) need to feel safe in the pedestrian space.

Emergent technologies are making this more difficult. At the same time E-bikes are opening up the freedom of cycling to many more people, modified scooters and e-bikes travelling at speeds wholly inappropriate for sharing space with those for whom we are trying to build AAA “All Ages and Abilities” space create uncertainty. I think most people are comfortable sharing safe bike lane space with most traditional cargo bikes (left), but not with electric powered cube vans disguised as tricycles that are starting to appear (right):

I’m not sure how we design for all of the variations on the spectrum, or even if we should. I have harped before about the need for a Motor Vehicle Act that reflects emergent technology, but we have a lot of work to do here. Public perception of safety, and resultant political support for separated bike lanes, are going to be influenced by how we do that job.

There are really good reasons to put the backbone of a safe cycling network in the same place your transit network already is. That is because your community and transit network have (hopefully) developed over time in a symbiotic way. Ideally, transit takes people from where they live to where they work, shop and go to school along as simple a route as possible to provide best service the most people. All good reasons to put cycling infrastructure exactly there. This complicates things, as transit and cycling routes are really challenging to integrate. Lane widths and turning radii that accommodate efficient bus movement don’t make the lanes safer for cyclists. Line of sight and signal challenges abound. Bus pull-ins create conflicts, floating bus stops create accessibility concerns and rely on sometimes expensive grade-separation. Do we move or adjust bus routes to accommodate this other mode, or choose less optimum routes to avoid transit conflict? I think the answer is a little from each column, but the Transit Authority and transit-reliant residents may not agree.

Which brings us to one of the least discussed issues or urban transportation: curb allocation. There are so many competing priorities for this precious resource in urban areas: the limited space on each block face where road meets boulevard. It is fine for cycling advocates to say, uh, “forget parking” (as I have myself on more than one occasion), but you can’t scoff off that this space is needed for everything from the aforementioned bus stops to loading zones for your Uber driver to assuring accessibility for Handi-Dart to having a place for the becoming-more-ubiquitous delivery trucks to stop while they offload your Amazon consumables. Bike lanes want to be on that curb space, and designing for these conflicts is not easy or without political cost.

There is no way around it, building bike lanes in a built-out urban area like New Westminster means taking something away. We simply don’t have the space to seamlessly slot functional, safe, AAA bike routes in without impacting the status quo of how that public space is used. Cycling advocates will usually reply that parking and driving lanes can be taken away, and in many cases, that is true. But when that means shifting a bus route that a senior relies on for their daily trips, or it means a disabled person no longer has the safe access to their Handi-Dart that they have relied upon, it’s really hard to be smug and tell people to just lump it.

I say all of this as someone who is feeling the burn of failure in my 6 years on a City Council because my community has not built the bicycle infrastructure I would like to see. The varying reasons for that are probably fodder for another too-long blog post. I also write as someone who is receiving the e-mails from people who are not happy to see the arrival of a new bike lane that has been in the plans for years, because it has disrupted their lives in ways perhaps not anticipated. I also get to enjoy the less sympathetic e-mails from people who seem empowered by the latest Bruce Allen rant about an alleged War on his Corvette – but those are easy for me to ignore, because I have been advocating for safe cycling infrastructure for a couple of decades and there is nothing new to be learned from those hackneyed arguments.

Unfortunately, there is also little to be learned from the increasingly hackneyed arguments of some cycling advocates (being a good “progressive”, I know how to hold my strongest criticism for my allies). Building safe cycling infrastructure is important, it is a good thing to do, and I lament we are not moving faster on it. But the political will to do so is not strengthened by pretending it is super easy to do, or that it is a cheap, easy silver bullet to fixing all of our urban challenges. It needs to be balanced with the many challenging needs local governments are dealing with right now. Bike lanes will help with some and will demonstrable make others harder. That’s the job of Governance, I guess.

So instead of throwing nameless Councilors under the proverbial bus by assuming their craven motivations, find those that are trying to move our urban areas in the right direction, and ask them how you can help them build the political will in your community to move bike lanes up the spending priority list. Because, trust me, there are many people reaching out to them every day telling them to do the opposite.

Council – Jan 18, 2021

Our Council meeting this week was efficient, helped along by a fairly short agenda with not a lot of meat on it (that will, apparently, be next week). The following items were Moved on consent without discussion:

Poet Laureate Program 2021-2023
New Westminster has a Poet Laureate, an honorary role where a local artist is provided a small honorarium and support to bring voice through literary arts to our community. If you have been at a major community event over the last three year, you may have heard Alan Hill reciting verse and telling story of the event. Alan is the 4th Poet Laureate, and his 3-year term came to an end in 2020, so after a bit of a COVID delay, we are starting a search for a new artist.

Major Purchases September 1st to December 31st, 2020
Every 4 months we publicly report out on from whom we bought majors items or services from as part of our transparent procurement process. Here’s how we spent the money.

Recruitment 2021: Appointments to Advisory Committees, Commissions, Boards and Panels
Here is where we report out on who has been chosen to serve on City Advisory Committees, Boards, and Panels. It is a bit of a strange year with COVID, and some terms were extended due to the inability to have full meetings last year, but there is also a bit of a refreshment on most committees. Alas, we were also not able to have a Volunteer Appreciation dinner, so we will have to ramp it up next year after everyone has their shots. It’s been a long time since we go the community together to celebrate our community.

Amendments to the City’s Secondary Suite Requirements: Amendment Bylaws for Consideration of Readings
The City has a pretty progressive secondary suite policy. That’s no feather in my cap, it has been that way since the late 1990s, and has provided a significant contribution to our more-affordable housing stock. With the building code changing in 2019, we need to update our requirements to match these changes, and in the meantime staff hope to streamline and simplify the process in City Hall a bit to formalize a secondary suite.

Essentially, this limits code enforcement to life safety and livability issues for exiting secondary suites, and removes from our local rules those that are regulated by the BC Building Code. At the same time, regulations to improve livability (such as separation of heat systems, providing separated outdoor space, etc.) will be applied to new builds.

As these changes impact the City-wide Zoning Bylaw, these changes will go to a Public Hearing. If you have an opinion, let us know!

632 Carnarvon Street: Development Variance Permit Application to Vary Off-Street Parking Requirements
A Childcare operator wants to operate in the “Fisheries Building” across from the Law Courts on Carnarvon, but there isn’t sufficient off-street parking space for that use based on the zoning bylaw. Well, there may be, but the operator also needs an on-site outdoor play space according to Fraser Health.

This requires a Development Variance Permit, which we will consider at our February 8th meeting. If you have opinions about childcare spaces and parking downtown, let us know!

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular report of what our internal task forces are doing in regards to the COVID pandemic response.

Many things reported out here are happening a bit in the background (until there is enough detail worked out to provide a full Council report) including ongoing work with BC Housing to try to find a viable location for an Emergency Response Centre for up to 50 temporary supported homes with applications for additional funding underway with CMHC, and some progress has been made on a Health Contact Centre to house harm reduction services for people living with opioid addictions. More to come on these programs. There was some discussion about how we will manage Childcare programs over the Spring Break, as regular parks and rec programs are still COVID-limited, and staff is working on it!

BC Building Code Update: Tall Wood Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction
The BC Building Code is being modified to allow larger mass timber buildings, up to 12 stories, and a few Cities have already opted into this. There are some sustainability advantages to mass timber construction, some that may not have been realized yet as the technology is evolving. Up to now, our process to approve this technique is a bit complicated, where if we opt into the approval process, it adds this to the options for developers in town to fill the 6-to-12-storey gap where current construction methods are not particularly economical.

Council supported us moving in the direction of opting into this, but wanted a bit more info about potential costs. As it will involve different permitting and inspections than existing established building techniques, there may be some staff training cost (especially in Fire Inspections), but in general practice inspection and permitting costs are meant to be covered by fees on the builder, not general tax revenue, so this creates a bit of uncertainty for Council. So we decided to support opting in in principle and asked for better reporting on potential costs before we add staffing costs to a financial plan.

Single-Use Item Reduction Update
Council asked staff to develop a strategy around the reduction in single-use plastics, and it appears senior governments are working on similar strategies, so we want to align, and not waste resources on redundancy. There have been nascent attempts in other municipalities to bad plastic bags or straws, and these have not been problem free (legal challenges in Victoria, questions about ableism and the role plastic straws play for people with some disabilities are two off the top of my head).

This work has been delayed by COVID, and at the same time we have changed our shopping and eating patterns which have likely exacerbated the issue, as we are using more single use plastic than ever.

The provincial government announced late last year that they will change the Community Charter to support a local-government approach to single use produce bans, unfortunately at the same time the industry is telling governments they want a synchronized senior government approach. They also suggest expanding the existing EPR program to include these plastics, effectively putting the plastics industry in charge of plastics, and in the face of clear evidence that recycling is not a sustainable solution to this problem. At the same time, the Prime Minister assures us the federal government takes this issue very seriously, so we can count on them not doing anything.

The report did not go into Metro Vancouver’s role. They are ultimately responsible for solid waste in the region, but their role has traditionally been about managing where waste goes (recycling, incineration, landfilling) and not about reducing at the front end. They put together a Single Use Item Reduction Toolkit that suggests ways 21 local governments could set up their own bylaws to ban or put fees on items and take on the expensive and cumbersome enforcement role. This is contrary to the results of every consultation that has been done, where businesses and consumers have made clear they want a region-wide consistent approach.

New Westminster does not have a representative on the Zero Waste Committee at Metro Vancouver, so I moved that we ask staff to put together correspondence to the Metro Vancouver Board and Zero Waste Committee asking them to take a more active role and develop a region-wide single use plastics reduction strategy that takes the Principles of the Single-Use Item Toolkit and integrates them into a regional regulatory regime.

And after reading a few Bylaws, that was the work for the evening. See you next week!

Assessments 2021

Assessments are here. For those who own homes, this means a letter arrived in the mail telling you what the assessed value of your property was on July 1, 2019. It also tells you what the assessed value was over the previous three years. Some people are very upset to find their property has gone up in value, which means their property taxes are going up. Others are very upset that their assessed value has gone down, and their investment is losing value. At least, that is what I glean from Social Media, but maybe I need to get out more.

I have written before about the relationship between property assessment and property taxes, and about how the assessment process works, so this will be a bit of an update/summary of those posts. A bit of redundancy, but with new numbers.

First off, your assessment does impact your property taxes, but not as directly as you may think. The City has not passed a 2021 budget, so I do not yet know what the 2021 Property Tax rates will be, but in our last discussions, we seemed to be settling towards something like a 4.9% increase over 2020. I will round that up to 5.0% for the purposes of this discussion as long as we can all agree that is speculative and the numbers may change between now and when you get the bill.

That 5% means the amount of revenue the City will receive in property taxes from existing taxpayers will go up 5%, but it does not mean the cheque you write in July will necessarily be 5% higher than the one you wrote in 2020. First off, it only impacts the portion of property taxes that the City gets to keep. Last year, your residential Property Tax Bill looked like this:

So 58% of your property tax goes to the City, 35% to the provincial government through the School Tax, and about 7% to other agencies regulated by the provincial government. Everything else I talk about below here relates only to that to-the-City portion of the tax bill. To find out how the School Tax is set or how the BC Assessment Authority spends it’s 1%, you need to go to someone else’s blog. All this to say if the City put your municipal property taxes up by 5%, the amount of money you pay only goes up about 2.9% (that is, 5% of 58%).

If you look at your Property Assessment letter, you will note that the average change in property values in the City of New Westminster was a 3% increase. Because the City calculates its property tax rate based on this average value, a 5% increase will be based on this value. If your house went up in value by the average, then a 5% tax increase means the municipal portion of your property tax bill will go up 5%. The relationship between these two numbers is linear, so to calculate your potential increase, subtract the average value increase from your own value increase, and add the 5% increase the City is proposing:

My assessment (1940 SFD on a 5,300sqft lot in the Brow) actually went down by 11% since last year. So my Municipal taxes would go down by (-11)-(3)+5=  –9%.

My friend in Sapperton (1920 SFD on a 4,000sqft lot) saw her assessment go up by 20% over last year, so her Municipal taxes would go up by (20)-(3)+5= 22%.  Yikes.

Assessment is a dark science, and every year there are weird local effects of property values in one neighbourhood going up or down relative to others, and it is not always clear what the causes of these changes are. A recent example is the Heritage Conservation Area in Queens Park which was either going to cause housing prices to go through the roof and make the neighbourhood forever inaccessible to young families, or was going to crater the value of the houses dooming young families to inescapable debt, again depending on which Social Media account you followed. The reality is, it had little perceptible effect when compared to similar properties in Glenbrook North or the West End over the last 5 years. The market is bigger than one neighbourhood.

Properties actually sell “above assessed value” or “below assessed value”, a metric that is often used as an indicator of a market trend, since assessments are always at least 6 months old. However, it is important to remember that, in aggregate, things just don’t shift as much as they do in one-off conditions. If the person up your street who spent $50,000 on a new kitchen sells their house, they are likely to get more than the neighbour who has a black mold farm in the basement, even though both houses may look the same from the outside. Assessments are approximations of how the “typical” or median house of the size, age, and lot dimensions in your neighbourhood should be valued, not an evaluation of your wainscoting. Individual results may vary.

If you think your increase or decrease this year is unfair, there is a process to appeal your assessment, but you can’t dawdle. Local governments have to know the official assessed values by April so we can set our tax rates and get those cheery bills into the mail, so the Assessment Authority has to provide official numbers by the end of March. Therefore you only have until February 1st to file an appeal, but if you think you might want to do so, you should contact BC Assessment immediately and get the details about what you need in order to make that appeal. The important part is that the onus is on you to provide evidence that the appeal is wrong, not vice versa.