Heat Dome

We learned another new term this year. High-amplitude waves in the Jetstream, Rex Blocks, compressed high pressure zones: the details are complicated to us common folk, but well understood to atmospheric scientists. One thing is clear – this Heat Dome anomaly is one we are likely to see more often as anthropogenic climate change becomes anthropogenic climate disruption.

But I don’t want to talk about the causes, I want to talk about what happened, and what we do now.

Here in New Westminster, dozens of people died. We don’t have a complete accounting yet, and the coroner will no doubt report out in a few months when the horror of the situation has passed, but there may have been more than 40 “excess deaths” in New Westminster in the 4-day period of highest heat. Neighbours of ours, residents in our community. People who died in their home because it was too hot for their body to cope, and because they couldn’t get to help, or didn’t know they needed help. Or (alas) help was not available.

There were a few stories in the news, but aside from the horrific loss of Lytton, the news cycle around the Heat Dome has already begun to pass, which frightens me. More disasters are pushing it out of our mind. Is this the “New Normal” of living though COVID and an ongoing poisoned drug supply crisis – us becoming desensitized to mass death stories? With 900+ COVID deaths in our Health Region, 100+ opioid deaths in our community, does a few dozen avoidable heat-related deaths register? Do we even know how to get angry about this?

We talked about this in Council last week, and it come up in the UBCM executive meeting with the Minister of Municipal Affairs I attended on Friday. As we are contemplating the immediate impacts of wildfires, and the further-reaching effects of wildfire smoke, the conversation about what went wrong during the heat emergency is feeling lost in dealing in this week’s emergency, which will lose time to next week’s emergency. I lament that is what climate disruption looks like in practice.

We will get a report in Council on how we can update our emergency planning, and the Coroner will likely issue a report on provincial and regional responses, but I want to concentrate for now (and sorry, it has taken me some time to think about how to write this) on what happened here, in our community, especially in my neighbourhood of the Brow of the Hill, where many “sudden deaths” occurred.

New West Fire and Rescue and New Westminster Police responded to an unprecedented number of health emergencies and sudden death calls. We know the ambulance service failed – they simply could not dispatch people to calls fast enough, as there were not enough ambulances and crews available. This meant people at 911 couldn’t leave calls, and lines got backed up, causing E-Comm to fail. Firefighters were challenged to keep up, as they could not pass medical calls over the ambulances that were not arriving. As our fire trucks are not medical transports, Fire crews took the unprecedented step of calling taxis and having a member accompany patients to Hospital in that cab, so crews and equipment could move onto the next call, leaving our Firefighters under-staffed as many had to wait in the hospital for patients to be admitted, because the emergency room was slammed. Even as fire and police struggled to keep up and attend to “sudden death” calls, the coroner service phone lines were overwhelmed and at one point stopped responding.

It was a cascading failure, a demonstration we were simply not ready, as a City and as a Province. People died, leaving behind families and neighbours traumatized by the lack of response. I am afraid first responders were equally traumatized, as they had to operate in a broken and failing system that didn’t allow them to do the work they are trained for and dedicated to doing – protect and comfort the residents they serve. Instead, they spent three days in the stifling heat surrounded by the suffering and death of people they wanted to help. I cannot imagine, but once again, they deserve not just our recognition and gratitude, but a response  – a way to fix this so they don’t have to go through it again.

Like many of you, I heard anecdotes about people who were in dangerous situations, and people who helped them out. A community member encountering an elderly man on the street who was disoriented after shopping for himself and his house-bound wife, with no access to cooling centre support because information was not available in his native language. A neighbour who saw a hyperthermic woman sitting in the driver’s seat of a car parked in front of his house, and took her in to cool in his basement overnight because she didn’t know of anywhere else to go and her apartment was not sustainable. Every neighbour-helping-neighbour story reminds us of the importance of community and compassion, but overshadows the story of the many people who surely fell through the cracks and were not lucky enough to have a good Samaritan help them through.

The City has a Heat Emergency plan, and it was invoked. Cooling centres were opened, communications around how to recognize and address heat stress and hyperthermia were distributed in the traditional way, outreach to impacted communities was initiated. City staff in community centres and first responders were prepared to operationalize the plan, carried water and ice and expected to be helping people. It turned out to not be nearly enough. I can be critical of the 911, Ambulance, and Coroner service failures and ask the Province to get this shit figured out right away, but we need to recognize at the same time the failures here at the local level.

First off, we learned (much like the rest of the Lower Mainland) that a plan that works for 32 degrees does not work for 40 degrees. This Heat Dome event was exacerbated by the high overnight lows – for a couple of days, temps never got below 25 degrees at night, so there was no opportunity for apartments to cool down or for people to get a comfortable sleep and build resilience. Cooling Centres that operate from 10:00am- 8:00pm are simply not enough in this situation. We have to figure out how to provide 24 hour centres, and how to staff them. We can also expand the opportunity for outdoor cooling with fountains and misters and tents, and the logistics of making them safe and accessible.

We also were not as effective as we need to be at communicating the seriousness of the heat situation. This was not a “regular” heat emergency, it was something different, and we should have seen that coming and taking measures to tell the community that. There is a language barrier (several, actually) we need to overcome, but there is also the physical barriers to getting information to the front doors of people who live in apartments, to getting information to people in the Uptown and Downtown commercial areas, and encouraging people to connect with their neighbours and the people in their buildings. Indeed, we may even want to regulate that building managers check in with every tenant at least once a day during a heat emergency, and provide resources to residents. This may be as lifesaving as regulating fire alarms.

This is so much our climate chickens coming home to roost. Our Emergency Planning (and this is reflected in the Emergency Response exercises performed in the region, where these plans are tested and refined) has traditionally centred around floods and earthquakes. The SARS outbreak added pandemic planning to that suite (which we were fortunate to have as we began our response to COVID) and Lac-Mégantic caused us to update our rail hazardous incident planning. We have cold temperature and warm temperature response plans, but the current scale of climate disruption is clearly going to lead us to re-think what a regional emergency is. Heat Domes and smoke events like last summer are going to need a new approach.

It is hard for government to admit we failed, but there is no doubt we did here, as a City and as a Province. We should have been better prepared, and we need to be better prepared. We need to communicate better and differently, and we need to assure First Responders are resourced to do the job of supporting people in dangerous times. We have work to do.

Council – July 12, 2021

Last Council meeting before we take a bit of a summer break, and the agenda was long. We started with a Presentation from staff:

City of New Westminster Sanctuary City Policy: Access to City Facilities, Programs and Services for All Community Members, Regardless of Immigration Status
The City, through a recommendation by our Multicultural Advisory Committee, is moving towards Sanctuary City status. That basically means we won’t limit people’s access to City services based on their immigration status. On one hand, not a big deal, because as a City we are not in the role of regulating immigration, so functionally, it doesn’t change how we operate. However this may make a huge difference to residents in precarious immigration situations who may live in our City, pay rent and taxes, and raise families here, in their being assured they have access to basic community services like the Library or recreation programming. This is, on the face of it, really simple: Where we have no legal, fiduciary, or due diligence reason to ask about immigration status, we are making it policy that we don’t ask about immigration status.

There are similar programs like this across Canada, and we are learning from their experience. There is a very small internal cost to this, mostly training for our own staff and a bit of communications materials to let the broader community and immigrant support agencies know what we are doing, which is covered by our existing DEIAR framework budget.


We then discussed Development Variance Permits:

DVP00687 for Modification to Alternative Parking Area for 230 Keary Street (Brewery District Building 8) The Brewery District wants to build a little less parking in their Building 8 by applying over-capacity parking from Building 7 and connecting the parkades. With about 2,500 underground parking spots on site (much more than the Bylaw requires), this is a reasonable request that will reduce construction cost, concrete, the depth they need to dig. They need a Variance to do that.

We sent out notice, and got correspondence from a neighbouring business who wants the tower built smaller. Council voted to approve the variance.

DVP00693 for Modification to Parking Requirements for 65 East Sixth Avenue (təməsewt̓xʷ Aquatic and Community Centre)
As we start building and honing the design of the new Recreation Centre, the site layout is being adjusted, and we will have slightly fewer parking spots than previously expected – which was already a variance, so we need to give another variance to reduce the number slightly more. We sent out notice on this, go three pieces of correspondence (one opposed, one asking questions, one in support), and moved to adopt the variance.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Submission to the Department of Canadian Heritage Museum Assistance Program under the COVID-19 Reopening Fund
We were successful at getting some Federal emergency funding to support our Museum and Heritage program that was set back by COVID, and are applying for more in the second phase. Not as sexy as announcing SkyTrain funding, but a good thing for the Federal Government to support, and good news for our Museum and Archives.

Revised Attachment #7 for 2020 Statement of Financial Information
Attachment 7 of our SOFI released last meeting was wrong. A revised Attachment is attached. Please adjust your lifestyle accordingly.

Bylaw to Amend Delegation Bylaw No. 7176, 2015
A City can’t operate if Council and the CAO makes every decision – life comes at you fast in a $200Million operation. So there is a Bylaw that outlines the “Delegated Authority” in the City – who is allowed to make decisions on behalf Council and on behalf of Senior Management, and what type of decision can be delegated to what level. As roles in the City shift around through regular reorganization, we sometimes have to update this Bylaw. We are making three changes here. Now you know who to ask.

Recruitment 2021: Grant Committee Appointments
The City has three main Grant programs that give out a combined Million dollars every year. As we get many applications for these grants, we have committees of volunteers from the community sift through the applications and make recommendations to the Council about where the grant money should go. This report lists the volunteers who were selected from the public call for applicants to serve on those committees for 2021.

New Westminster Restart Plan – Council Meetings and Development Review Processes
The entire remote-via-Zoom-Council-Meeting thing has been under emergency orders from the Province, and in normal times we are supposed to meet in person both as Provincial guidance and due to our own Council Procedure Bylaw. As the State of Emergency has been lifted, we have 90 days to go back to the old ways. Except the Province has updated it regulations, and will provide the option for Council to meet in a virtual or hybrid manner at the end of that 90-day period. So we have to decide how we are going to meet, and update our Procedures Bylaw and our currently-Interim Development Application Review Process to be compliant.

We also reduced some review procedures during the Pandemic, having fewer applications go through LUPC and APC, which removed a step prior to them being publicly reviewed by Council. This meant 17 fewer Staff Report written, and weeks, or even months, of reduced review time for applicants.

For Council meetings, staff are recommending we move to a more Hybrid system that will have most (though not necessarily all) of Council present in the chambers, most staff present virtually, and allow the public to attend either in person or virtually. This is actually the most technically challenging approach, as “all virtual” or “all in person” are both easy, but technology challenges with the Hybrid system (including internet streaming lag issues and assuring we can all hear and see) will no doubt arise, but can be overcome.

We will also take this approach for Public Hearings, based on the success we had with virtual Public Hearings, but recognizing some Public want to attend in person, though we are going to keep a close eye on how crowd dynamics shake out in this model, and be willing to adapt as need be to assure Public Hearings remain respectful and inviting spaces.

It is interesting to think we should have been making these changes anyway, but the Pandemic response was the spark we needed to make the first rapid shift to virtual meeting, which opened staff and council up to considering why we have been doing things “the old way” for so long. We also needed the change in Provincial Regulation to allow it to happen. Thing is, we didn’t know we could do better and the regulations would not allow us to do better. There is a lesson in that.

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital Redevelopment Project): Request for Exemption to Construction Noise Bylaw
A big one-day concrete pour (4,000 cubic metres! That is equivalent to filing an entire Canadian football field to knee-depth) has to happen in August at RCH, and they may not get in under our Construction Noise Bylaw time limits, so are asking for a one-day exemption to start work at 7:00am and go as late as midnight.

22nd Street SkyTrain Station: Escalators Replacement Project – Request for Extension of the Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The previous noise exemption for escalator work at the 22nd Street SkyTrain Station didn’t get used, on account of delays, but they still have to do the work, so they are going to try again.

Columbia Street Project Metro Vancouver Sewer Interceptor Project): Request for Exemption to Construction Noise Bylaw
Video inspection of the sewer line under Columbia Street has to happen at night when it isn’t raining for reasons related to how much stuff is flowing through the sewer at the time. This work needs a noise exemption, though noise will be limited to a couple of idling trucks and a generator. Needs to be done of we want our poop to keep going away!

Provincial Housing Needs Report Program: Understanding Housing and Homelessness in New Westminster – A Housing Needs Report 2021 – 2031
As is a new Provincial Requirement, the City completed its prescribed Housing Needs Assessment (and in a refreshing change, the Provincial government actually provided funding for a local government to do something the province required a local government to do! More of this!). In summary, we (not surprisingly) need more non-market rental housing, and though we currently have sufficient market housing to meet demand, that is a result of a recent influx of new buildings, and we will again be short of demand by 2026 – even including the already-approved buildings under construction right now.

To put in perspective, the city recently approved a 95-unit affordable housing building on Sixth Street. To meet our current demand for this type of housing, we would need to immediately build 4 more similarly-sized buildings. To meet demand forecast for 2026, another 8 similar buildings. Market housing will have a new demand of almost 1,000 units by 2026. Lots more to say here, and how it relates to this Provincial report, but that will come later.

2035 London Street: Connaught Heights Small Sites Affordable Housing Project – Update
The City owns very few pieces of land appropriate for new housing, or that can be rapidly converted to new affordable housing through partnerships. We have a few recent successful projects in Queensborough and the Albert Crescent area, and have continued to identify opportunities. One potential project site in Connaught Heights was evaluated, and some preliminary design work was completed with a potential partner, but it simply didn’t math out. The space was not serviced, and is simply too small to economically develop with available funding supports, as completion for that funding has ramped up and building costs have skyrocketed.

There are a couple of other sites in the City currently being evaluated, but land is getting tight. That we cannot get anyone to build a 6-10 unit project on a piece of property the City is willing to give away puts into the context the challenge presented by the Housing Needs Report (above) that tells us we need other approached to find space for 1,500 units.

601 Sixth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Off-Street Parking and Loading
The office building in the Uptown wants to do some internal renovations that results in an increase in commercial floorspace, which triggers a development variance, which triggers an evaluation of parking need. Last time it came to council some concerns were raised about the accessible parking requirement so the owner modified their proposal to reduce the number of parking spots but increase the number of accessible spots as best they fit within the limited underground parking space. We will review the Variance in our next meeting. Let us know if you have opinions.

Active Heritage Revitalization Agreement Applications in the Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area
As a follow-up to the decision by Council to freeze new HRAs in Queens Park neighbourhood, this report outlines the applications already in progress (there are 7). Next we get a timeline to when the HRA policy will be updated. Sometime a few years from now. Again, I refer you to the Housing Needs Report (above).

Queen’s Park – Proposed Bike Skills Park
This is a good news story, and a testament to the service level of staff in our Parks and Recreation Department – really striving to Leslie Knope levels of enthusiasm. Some youth (and parents!) have been building ramps and obstacles in the forested area of Queens Park to practice their mountain bike/BMX skills. This raised concern around the impact on sensitive soils, tree root areas, and ecological protection offered by restored groundcover and shrubberies in the “old forest” part of the Park.

Staff met with the users and asked them – what can we build to serve your needs, while still protecting this area? Working with this ad-hoc user group, staff identified an appropriate area and worked with the riders to develop a “bike skills area”. Staff even put on a design charrette with the users, using clay and popsicle sticks to design a model park. They found a little money in the capital budget, and are going to start work right now on getting the first phase of the bike skills park up and running.

Telus PureFibre MOU
At least one irreverent Fifth Street tweeter will be happy to know Telus is planning to roll out increased “PureFibre” service to New West. This report just updates Council on progress on a Municipal Access Agreement update (the agreement they need to put things like switching kiosks on City lands) and a Joint Pole Agreement (the agreed terms in which Telus and our Electrical Utility share space on each other’s poles to reduce the overall number of poles in the City and save everyone money and hassles).

COVID-19 At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force Budget Reallocation Request for the Seniors Integrated Support Pilot Project and Enhanced Personal Identification Services
These are requests to fund two a small programs that came out of the COVID task force (reported above).

The first is a pilot program to help Seniors living in independent living residences, in order to address an identified deficit in emergency planning, emergency support services and social connectivity for folks living in that style of housing. A seniors residence in Glenbrook North was identified as a pilot location.

The second is establishing a “personal information back” – a place where people who are unhoused or in precarious living conditions can store important personal information materials (BC Care Card, Social Insurance Card, Etc.) that they sometimes require to connect to community services, but are hard for them to securely store and protect from loss or theft.

These are both small-cost items, come with matching funds, and are within the exiting budgets of our At-Risk and Vulnerable Persons support task force, but may add to the quality of life of some of our most vulnerable neighbours.


The following items were Removed from consent for discussion:

Public Engagement Policy
The City is introducing a Policy to guide our Public Engagement. We have had a Public Engagement Strategy since 2016, and though it is massively improved in consistency and effectiveness in the last few years, it is still at times uneven and arbitrary, especially as it relates to third-party applications (like big rezonings) where some proponents just do a better job than others at connecting with the public. There is also the small problem of over-engagement: there is so much going on the City, from new property development to parks facilities planning and transportation changes – even the most engaged citizen may have a hard time keeping up. Do we really need to engage on a relatively small change, or do we just need to inform?

So this policy should help us bring some consistency to our ramped-up engagement across City departments, and provide better and more timely feedback from the public on important projects in the City.

An important aspect of this is the formalized “Reporting Back” process. People who take time to engage in City process should expect to be heard, and have a chance to understand how their input was considered. Even if that answer is “we heard you, but we aren’t doing what you asked, because…”

In the meantime… beheardnewwest.ca

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update on the COVID task forces, where you can see what the City is doing to support vulnerable populations and businesses though this crisis. As a community, we should be really proud of the work City staff and partner agencies are doing behind the scenes here to keep people our community alive and cared for through this. We don’t brag enough about this, but once again New West is punching way above it weight.

Extension of Temporary Patio Program to Support Business Recovery
The Patios you have seen popping up around New West are, in part, only available because the Province loosened up their regulations on licencing these spaces as part of their COVID supports to the hospitality industry. Again, I’m proud of our staff for being nimble as the rules were changing and businesses were looking for help interpreting how to make these things work. With the Province extending this “temporary” program until next spring, it gives Cities and businesses a chance to figure out how and if they will make these things permanent.

So we are going to review the program, and make some decisions in consultation with the business community.

Recommended Climate Key Performance Indicators for Annual Seven Bold Steps Report Card
The City committed to Climate Action last year, and have created a framework for that action around “Seven Bold Steps” – moves we will make to get to our 2050 zero carbon future. As an important part of that, we also created 2030 goals for each of the Steps, because we didn’t want to kick the responsibility down the road, but wanted action today concomitant with the actual crisis we see. 2030 goals mean we need to start putting things in our budget today, start changing how we operate today. No more futzing around.

This also means we need to have concrete measures of what we are doing, to hold ourselves and our community responsible for getting us to 2030. In the parlance of the day, that means “KPI”s – Key Performance Indicators. This report outlines the KPI data we will collect and publicly report on as we take climate action. Because measuring just our GHG output is important, but the complexity of shifting our corporate practice and how the community operates will take more than just that number – and we need to know where we are ahead and behind the curve to make the appropriate policy shifts along this route.

This is actually a bit of a complex piece of work, because some data that would be really useful to us (GHG from cars exhaust generated by residents of the City) is actually a hard thing to measure as a local government, though proxy estimates and senior government stats are available to us.

Waste Reduction and Recycling Community Engagement Results and Options for City Residential Recycling Collection Program

“The Provincial Recycling Regulation under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program assigns the fiscal responsibility associated with the collection and processing of residential recyclable materials back to producers and manufacturers of those products rather than to residents through local utility fees. Consumers pay for the collection and management of recyclable materials through the products they choose to purchase”

That is a funny paragraph to include in a report that is asking us to commit City money to the collection and processing of residential recyclable materials.

It’s possible we made a mistake a decade ago (who could have foreseen?) when we went to co-mingled recyclables at the curbside, because single family homeowners have lost the ability to sort their recyclables. We now have a situation where our contamination rate – mostly glass – is 3x what we anticipated when the program was rolled out. Staff are now suggesting a parallel glass recycling program at the curbside, because Recycle BC is going to fine us for our unacceptable contamination rate. And, no, that contamination rate did not spike when the Canada Games Pool recycling centre was closed.

In short, staff are going to scope out and price a curbside glass collection program, and bring a report to Council to consider in a future meeting. I also asked the staff concurrently assess the value of an education-and-enforcement approach to addressing the contamination issue.

219 Second Street: Demolition and Heritage Protection
There is a 1941 house in Queens Park that the owner wants to knock down and replace. It is not a Protected house in the Queens Park HRA (those are 1940 and older), but its Queens Park, and has some heritage value, so the demo permit has to come to Council to give the thumbs up or thumbs down. Staff explored several preservation options with the owner, who declined. The Community Heritage Commission wants the City to protect it through involuntary designation, which would require the City compensate the owner, and I’m afraid this is not a priority for the City right now.


We had four (4!) New Business late additions to the Agenda:

Tourism New West Office Space Lease
Tourism New West has leased a small office space in the Anvil Centre pretty much since the centre opened. It was time to update their lease, which requires Public Notice. Let us know if you have opinions, because it seems it has been a pretty positive relationship for everyone.

Chief ?Ahan Memorial Budget
There will be a small commemoration event on July 18 held in New Westminster that has a small cost, drawn from our reconciliation and Inclusion budget.

Councillor Nakagawa and FCM Committee
Councillor Nakagawa has been asked to serve on a Federation of Canadian Municipalities committee, and this requires a formal endorsement from Council. Done.

City’s Heat Plan
We are going to be having some pretty difficult discussions about our Heat Emergency plan and the Provincial approach to this “Heat Dome” phenomenon, because clearly neither were sufficient to keep our most vulnerable residents alive. I’ll have to write a follow-up on this, because it deserves more than passing mention in a Council report.


And with that we were done until August. Stay safe, take care of each other.

Ask Pat: Ferry & Fixed Link

John asked—

Hi, Pat. I have read everything on your blog over the years, and support all of your ideas for a more equitable/human distribution of public spaces. Now that the pandemic has shown how fragile the Q2Q link is, I must ask if the idea of a fixed pedestrian bridge has been re-opened. I know that there were legal concerns regarding use of the existing rail link as an affordable solution, but, is it just possible that there may be a change of heart in that direction?

It’s not really a change in heart, because it wasn’t heart that prevented the bridge from being built.

I agree that the COVID situation caused us reflect over what the QtoQ ferry is meant to be, and how we value its operation. This conversation was a frequent one during the use restrictions, and is an ongoing source of angst in the Queensborough community. Recently, I was part of a Queensborough Residents association meeting with MP Julian, MLA Singh and School Board Chair Dhaliwal where this discussion came up again, and I thought to myself “Self, you have that Ask Pat just sitting there, you ever going to write an answer?”
Sorry it took so long.

The story of the fixed pedestrian bridge has not changed much since I wrote this long explanation of the pitfalls of the project, and the same problems remain. There is still some unspent DAC funding (although the Casino being closed for two years may impact that), but nowhere near enough to build the project. The engineering challenge of building it high enough for the Port Authority to permit it, yet keeping it accessible (i.e. less than 5% grades) remain problematic. The use of a swing or bascule bridge significantly increases build and operational cost (including, most likely, full time staffing).

The issues with using the existing train bridge are not just legal. Naturally, the Houston-based owner of the railway is reluctant to take on the liability of having a large piece of pedestrian infrastructure they don’t own attached to their bridge, but that could be overcome with insurance and agreements. There is a question of how to attach a pedestrian sidewalk to a 105-year-old bridge, but I think engineers could come up with something that works. The real problem is that the existing train bridge, with only a few metres of clearance over the river, has a default setting of “open” for boats to pass through, and only “closed” when a train passes, which is on the order of once a day. This would not work for a pedestrian link, for obvious reasons. The Port will not permit the change of operation of the bridge to default “closed” (permitting pedestrian crossings) with limited “openings” when a boat passes, for a number of reasons, including the increased collision risk on the river.

A pedestrian bridge can’t work like the existing train bridge – it must be much higher above the river, unless the Port and Marine Carriers can be convinced to change their regulatory requirements. There is nothing in it for the federally-regulated Port or Marine Carriers to agree to this. Our problems are not their problems, and they have authority.

That said, this still needs to be our medium- or long-term vision. Increasingly, our communities (not just New West, but every community on the River and marine coast) is seeing the waterfront as a place for people, not just a place for industrial activity. And as I have lamented in the past, too much of this prime riverfront industrial land us being used for industrial activities that in no way connect to the river. So building a fixed crossing is going to take more than money and vision, it is going to take partnerships across the region to help pay for it, and to shift the mindset about the River as a transportation challenge.

So, in the meantime we have the QtoQ Ferry.

Which brought us to the conversation through COVID times about how far the City was willing to go to support this service. The early response was to suspend the service for two reasons. Much like the Library, we did not know if we could operate safely and within unclear provincial health restrictions. And much like the Canada Games Pool, we simply couldn’t justify spending money on running it with the very low number of people who were going to show up to use it, as other transportation modes (transit and cars) shut down suddenly. Eventually, the health restriction issues were worked out (with protocols and reduced capacity), but the ridership was slow to come back, which led to, what I think, was a really healthy discussion at Council.

The essence of the discussion was (to me, at least, I shouldn’t talk for all of Council) whether the QtoQ was a vital transportation link or a nice to have community amenity. In my mind, if it was the latter, then I was not interested in us funding it at a time when our finances were so uncertain and the priorities were piling up in COVID response. However, as I was convinced we needed to see it as the former, it only became a discussion of how much we can afford to fund. A few adjustments of schedule were made, as people’s commuting patterns were shifted by the pandemic, and the service that worked best before was probably not the service we needed after.

The QtoQ is never going to pay for itself in its current format. The small ($2) fee to ride it does recover some money, but much like the Canada Games Pool or the Queens Park Arena (or Public Transit, for a regional comparator), the QtoQ is a community benefit we have decided to invest in, and we spend some of your property taxes running it.

If you value it, the second best thing you can do is let Council know. The best thing you can do is take the Ferry as often as you can and put your $2 down to show this transportation link is valuable. Demonstrating to partners (TransLink, Metro Vancouver, Port of Vancouver, senior Governments) that a link here is valued by the residents and helps with regional active transport network is the best way to build on the service to make it more financially secure, and to demonstrate that the fixed link deserves to be built.

ASK PAT: bikes, etc.

Alvin asked—

We were looking to get clarity on the bylaw for riding bikes on trails specifically glen brook Ravine. My 5 year old son (regular bike) and I were attempting to ride down as we have for years down Glenbrook Ravine and we were accosted by a woman who flipped out at my pedal assisted bike. It is an ebike but We are riding safely, going down hill and the power wasn’t even on. We were riding walking speed, literally 5km or slower. I understand the bylaw is riding max 20km or slower.

I was unable to find any info on the acceptability of riding bikes in general on trails. If not I will avoid this in the future but I always see people riding here that it never crossed my mind that it could be illegal. Just wanted guidance on the bylaw as I want to follow the proper rules.

Shane asks—

Bit of an odd question, but as the owner of sole Velomobile in NW. I’m always curious to what people think of it. When I first got it, I showed up to the Hyack Parade with Cap’s Sapperton to show it off. Even today I often over hear people arguing if its a bicycle or a car. Has there been lots of chatter in city hall about my different type of vehicle for commuting? I had heard horror stories from other Velo owners about cops stopping them, but so far ours have been great.

For those who haven’t chased me down, its a tricycle with a fiberglass body for aerodynamics and weather protection. Weighing about 90 lbs, my long-bike is much heavier.

These two questions both bounce around the same theme, which is bicycles as regulated vehicles. I’m seen as a bit of the “bike guy” on Council, though I’m not the only one who rides a bike regularly, and one even has one of them fancy new e-scooters (you won’t believe which one, but we’ll get to those later). I do feel the need to caveat everything below by saying: I’m not a lawyer or legal professional, I’m just a lowly geologist trying to understand these regulations as best I can You should NOT take this as any kind of definitive legal advice or get in to an argument with a police officer or, Gord forbid, a judge, based on what I wrote here. You’ve been warned.

I have several versions of the same rant in the archives in this blog that touch on how poorly governments at all levels are doing at adapting to the new reality of how people get around in urban areas, on the roads, trails and parks, so this looks like a good opportunity to unpack that a bit.

For the most part, bicycle use on roads is regulated by the provincial Motor Vehicle Act. The MVA applies on most roads in cities, and though local governments can create Bylaws regulating cycle use, we are generally able to add regulations to the MVA, not supersede or reduce the MVA regulations. Bylaws also tend to regulate things like trails and sidewalks more than roads. For example, the Motor Vehicle Act makes it mandatory to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle on a roadway, but if there is a pathway through a park in the City, it is up to the City to make a Bylaw to require helmets there.

“Cycles” are defined in Section 119 of the MVA as “a device having any number of wheels that is propelled by human power and on which a person may ride and includes a motor assisted cycle, but does not include a human-powered wheelchair, skate board, roller skates, in-line roller skates or regulated motorized personal mobility device.” Put all those qualifiers aside for a few paragraphs, and the simplest interpretation is that a human-powered pedal device that has a recumbent seat and a plastic shell that covers the rider like Shane’s Velomobile is clearly a “cycle”, and regulated as such.

You have probably heard some version of “bicycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as cars” under the MVA, or “bicycles are vehicles under the law”. Both of these are wrong, perhaps already surmised by the fact that no-one in BC is required by law to wear a helmet while driving a car (though automobiles are the #1 cause of traumatic head injuries… ugh, I am trying to avoid digressions like that…). More precisely, Section 183 of the MVA starts with “In addition to the duties imposed by this section, a person operating a cycle on a highway has the same rights and duties as a driver of a vehicle” then lists in a few dozen clauses and sub-clauses the many duties people on cycles have above and beyond that of drivers, like requiring you keep a hand on the handlebars, have a light at night, etc.

The MVA also has regulations around what is defined as a “motor assisted cycle”, that being a device to which pedals or hand cranks are attached that will allow for the cycle to be propelled by human power, to which is attached a motor of a prescribed type that has an output not exceeding the prescribed output. The MVA basically says you need to be 16 years or older to use one on the road, but other than that, its a cycle. “Prescribed” in this definition mean there is somewhere else in regulation that puts limits on the device, so if you have a e-bike, you need to worry about the Motor Assisted Cycle Regulation.

That regulation says any e-bike in BC must be electric (not gas), is limited to 500watts power and 32km/h speed. It also requires that the electric motor not be active unless the person is also pedaling – it cannot be “engine only”. This is probably surprising to anyone who has watched the recent ubiquity of electric motorcycles on bike paths. They are illegal on the road, but not illegal on many bike paths unless the Municipality has a specific Bylaw preventing them, because of that whole part above about the overlap between MVA and City Bylaws.

This may leave you asking, what about electric kick-scooters, electric skateboards, or those one-wheel electric TRON-thingies you see whipping around town? There are some references in the MVA to “skates, skate boards, sleighs”, but only to say they aren’t cycles (so their users do not have the rights or responsibilities of cyclists), and that Local Governments can regulate them as they see fit, but there does not appear to be a strict prohibition of them either. However, there is another category of device called “regulated motorized personal mobility devices”, and this is where most rational people stop trying to understand the law, because section 210(3.2) of the MVA says “the Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations in respect of regulated motorized personal mobility devices,” then goes on to list the kinds of things the LG could regulate, if they so felt like doing so, but leaves you to hunt for said regulations. Aside from something called the “Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Project Regulation”, I cannot find any provincial regulation that exists to manage these devices. Please review the “I’m not a Lawyer” part above.

So this brings us to Municipal Bylaws. In New Westminster, we have the Street and Traffic Bylaw, which regulates our roads and trails and sidewalks above and beyond the Motor Vehicle Act. In it, cycles are defined pretty much like in the MVA:

As an aside, I love this restriction:

Anyhow, the City’s Bylaw regulates cycling about the same as the MVA, which in effect means on City streets regulated by the MVA, the MVA limits apply, and on bike paths and trails in the City, the Bylaw applies the same restrictions as the MVA. The Bylaw further restricts skateboards and skis and scooters and the lot:

The way I read this, you cannot do any of the above on a Street, but you can on trails, most sidewalks, and multi-use paths as long as you follow traffic rules and exercise appropriate care and attention. Nothing on here says anything about motorized devices, (which is probably a gap we should be concerned about). Here is the list of Sidewalks where you are NOT allowed to cycle or skate:

Notably, nowhere in this Bylaw are speed limits imposed. Our Parks Regulation limits the speed of all Motor Vehicles (as defined by the Motor Vehicle Act – so not cycles, not scooters, etc.) to 20km/h, but that is really directed to regulating the limited roads and parking lots in our parks, not trials like in Glenbrook Ravine, where there shouldn’t be any vehicles at all.

So to answer Alvin’s question, unless there is a sign that says “no cycling”, you and your son are good to go. Though there is no strict speed limit I can find, I think reasonable and safe operation on a multi-use path like in Glenbrook Ravine would be something in the 20km/h range, and closer to 10km/h when near pedestrians. However, everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to interacting between bikes and pedestrians, so the best rule to keep in mind is to give other people lots of room, go a little slower than you think you probably should, and don’t be a jerk, even if they are a jerk to you. But it is hard to write that into a Bylaw, like “No Stunting”.

Council – June 28, 2021

Council met on Monday, with a few of us taking refuge in City Hall to escape the heat, which was a good feeling for the worst reasons. The pandemic is appearing more and more to be in our rear-view, but we were brutally reminded that the Climate Crisis is still here, and not going away in our lifetimes. And we have work to do.

The first item on our fairly short Agenda was a report from our CAO:

2020 Annual Report Presentation
Its annual report time! And 2020 was unlike any other year, as much work shifted to COVID-19 response, but we still moved forward on many of our Strategic Plan goals. This is a testament to the professionalism of our staff, as they were able to pivot in so many areas, keep the vital services in the City running, while discovering new ways to be responsive to emergent needs, and make more happen with less as revenue challenges mounted. Highlights for me: we approved affordable housing and purpose built rental, we got the ground broken on a keystone piece of community infrastructure, we planted 800 new trees, and we made significant moves on Climate Action.


We then had two Development Variance Permits for consideration:

DVP00689 to Vary Driveway Width at 230 Princess Street
The owner of this home wants to build a Carriage House, but the current driveway accessing their back yard is 8 inches narrower than permitted. Moving the existing house 8 inches to the left seems unreasonable, so they would require a variance. We received on piece of correspondence that is somewhat peripheral to the actual request, and Council moved to approve the DVP.

DVP00667 to Vary Side Yard Projection at 416 Tenth Street
This house in the Brow of the Hill has a covered deck that extends a few feet into the neighbouring property, and apparently everyone agreed to this encroachment a few decades ago. Now the deck needs to be repaired/replaced, which will slightly decrease the encroachment, but we still need to permit the variance for the new construction occurring in the encroachment space. We received correspondence form the neighbour who is encroached, expressing support. Council moved to approve the DVP.


We had a single item moved On Consent

Q to Q Ferry Operations – Update
This is an update on QtoQ operations as they adapt to the post-COVID world. I was at the recent Queensborough Residents Association meeting where transportation was a major topic. There is still a lot of interest in a fixed active transportation crossing and anxiety about the future of the QtoQ on the Q’boro community. Council voted to support its operation through the last year despite low ridership in part because there are still residents that rely on the service, and in part because we want to demonstrate that an active transportation link between Port Royal and Quay is viable and valuable. If you like the QtoQ, or even if you are just a supporter of Active Transportation, take the ferry ride. Let’s prove his service by using it.


We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Housing Agreement (100 Braid Street) Bylaw No. 8221, 2021
The housing agreement that secures the rental tenure of the building under construction at 100 Braid Street was adopted by Council. Remember when LandlordBC said no-one would agree to new rental in New West if we passed renter protection Bylaws? Bullshit.

Parks and Recreation Fees Amendment Bylaw No. 8267, 2021
This Bylaw sets Parks and Recreation fees for next year at the same rate as they were last year.


Finally, we had one piece of New Business

Motion in Support of Motion M-84 Anti-Hate Crimes and Incidents and Private Member’s Bill C-313 Banning Symbols of Hate Act
On behalf of 71,000 residents of the City of New Westminster, Council approves
the Mayor sending a letter of endorsement of MP Peter Julian’s private member’s
motion, Motion M-84 Anti-Hate Crimes and Incidents and his private member’s
bill, Bill C-313 Banning Symbols of Hate Act.


And that was it until next month. Take care of each other, folks, stay cool and connected.

Council – Solstice 2020

We had a pretty long agenda in the June 21st Council meeting, commensurate with the longest day of the year. After writing more than 250 of these damn reports, I’m running out of small talk to open with, so without any pleasantries, let’s get right to it.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

2020 Statement of Financial Information
This report is the final step in our budgeting process, when our audited financial statements and regulated reporting to the Province (and the public) are complete. The City is in good financial shape. Though we just went through a period of uncertainty, we are set up to deal with significant capital costs coming up in the next few years, mostly the new recreation complex which found a name this week.

A few highlights. We ended fiscal 2020 with about $258M in financial assets, but about $181M in liabilities, so a net of about $78M in the black. This is apart from the $721M in accumulated capital assets (buildings, trucks, pencils, pipes and traffic cones). We have about $137M in reserves, and our long-term debt level is $62M. It is worth noting the $6M we got from the Provincial Government as part of the “Safe Restart Grant” was meaningful in addressing our unexpected costs and revenue loss during COVID.

There is also a cool list of everyone from whom the City bought good and services (above $25K). The $100K we pay the New West Record for the City Pages, the $525K we pay Suncor for fuel, the $250K we pay Bill Gates for software and the $27K we pay a nursery for new tree stock. It’s all there, read into it what you will.

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act Report for 2020
Every year we also report out on the FOIPPA files generated, and how they were replied to. We had about the same number of requests as the last year (just under 90) releasing 4,000+ pages of documents, and two of those requests were elevated to the provincial Privacy Commissioner. It is important to note that Council is not involved in this stuff at all (unless our correspondence is involved in a request, then our only role is to provide any such correspondence – we never know who the request came from and what information eventually goes to the requestor), we have professional staff who use guidance from the legislation to determine how to address requests. The only time I see this stuff is when we get the year-end report you are reading here.

Public Solicitation Request by HOPE International
I honestly had no idea the City has a permit process and policy (dated 1989, updated in 1994!) regulating door-to-door and other public charity canvassing. But I guess we do, and this Charity wants to knock on your door to ask for support. Weird how the United Way gets special oversight to this process…

230 Keary Street (Brewery District Building 8): Development Variance Permit for Modification to Alternative Parking Area – Consideration of Notification
The builders of the Brewery District want to build fewer than bylaw-required parking spaces in their proposed “Building 8” by instead allocating surplus parking spaces form the adjacent “Building 7” to Building 8 users, and connecting the two parkades. Frankly, we are building way too much parking in this project in the first place so I have no problem with not requiring they dig deeper for a 6th level of underground parking to add to that surplus. But this is just notice that we will consider a variance at a future meeting. If you have opinions (especially if they are different than mine) drop us a line and let us know.

65 East Sixth Avenue (New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre): Development Variance Permit for Modification to Parking Requirements – Consideration of Notification
The City generally has to follow its own bylaws. So we need a development permit for the Canada Games Pool replacement just like anyone else would in building on that site. We also have the ability to grant variances to ourselves, if we follow the same procedures as we would for other development. There is some adjustment of the site for the new complex, and it means we will build 27 fewer parking spaces than previously approved. Which means we need a variance. Which we will consider in a future meeting. If you have opinions, let us know.

9 East Columbia Street (Woodlands Wall/Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project): Heritage Alteration Permit – Preliminary Report
One of the benefits of the Pattullo Replacement project for New West will be the re-alignment of the Central Valley Greenway crossing at the foot of McBride, which has been a point of contention since long before I was elected. There is a fundamental geometry problem at this corner that is hard to solve in such a way that drivers will not stop illegally running the corner and endangering pedestrians and cyclists. Part of it (but only part – the persistent law-breaking by drivers in a way that endangers other road users is the real problem here) is a visibility issue with the Heritage Wall, and another part (also secondary to the point that drivers being relied on to follow simple rules of the road is ineffective as a way of preventing the death of vulnerable road users) is the grades of the site that make it really difficult to design a crosswalk and sidewalk that isn’t perilously steep while putting pedestrians, cyclists, and those with mobility aids in a place where inattentive drivers have better chance of seeing them before they plow them over.

So the Heritage Wall has to move. The project team working on re-alignment of the roads around the Pattullo Project have a proposal to relocate a portion of the wall to address the visibility and grade issues, and hopefully usher in a new era of motorist law abidance and safe active transportation. This will require a Heritage Alteration Permit, which requires a few consultation steps. This is a preliminary report, and we will consider the HAP after that consultation.

100 Braid Street (Market and Affordable Rental Housing) Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8221, 2021- Bylaw for Three Readings
The new apartment building approved for 100 Braid Street was approved understanding it would be Purpose Built Rental, and a portion of those rentals having rents designated as Affordable according to CMHC standards (rent fixed to 30% of median incomes) if CMHC support could be secured. It looks like that CMHC support was received, so we are putting together a Housing Agreement securing Affordable Housing for at least 16 years for 96 of the units, and market-priced rental tenure for the remaining 327 units. All 423 units will be secured as rental for 60 years or the life of the building – whichever is longer.

MOTION regarding Manufacturer Licence for 1319 Third Avenue
Last meeting, we approved zoning amendment to allow 100 seats at this local brewery. The province requires we pass a motion endorsing this with specific language so the provincial liquor license can be adapted to suit.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: that New Westminster City Council recommends the approval of the application by Steel & Oak Brewing Company Ltd. to operate a 100 person Manufacturer lounge, with indoor seating not exceeding 89, located at 1319 Third
Avenue with liquor service hours from 9:00 AM to 11:00 PM Monday through Sundays.

Environmental Strategy and Action Plan Progress (Update) Report
This is a report updating Council on progress of the Environmental Strategy adopted in 2018, and letting us know what’s been done, what is in progress, and what is yet to come. Lots of good stuff in here, but we are going to have a more detailed Council Workshop to make sure the work ahead is being prioritized in alignment with Council’s priorities, especially in relation to the Seven Bold Steps we have identified for Climate Action – not to say they aren’t aligned, but it’s always good to have a check-in and it is easier to do that in a workshop than a council meeting, like the workshop we had earlier today on Asset Management.

2021 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
Looks like the snow is melting at a moderate rate, and the snowmelt freshet flood risk for the Fraser has past, with a peak in early June, and flows not expected to peak again.

Albert Crescent Park Maintenance Update
A neighbourhood group raised some concerns about maintenance at Albert Crescent Park, and staff connected with them and took up some of their suggestions to improve the condition of the park. The area is seeing some transition as the Pattullo Bridge Project is going to result in tree removals, grade changes, and new pathways, but in the meantime it is still an important green space for many Downtown residents.

2022 Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw Amendment
Every year, we update our Parks and Recreation fees through Bylaw. For the most part this means doing a scan of fees being charged around the region to make sure we are not out of touch with industry standard (in reality, New West is often quite a bit more affordable than our comparator municipalities) and applying a ~2% or so inflationary increase. But this year, Staff are recommending we delay any increase in light of COVID limitations and to encourage folks to get back out to rec programs as they are starting to get rolled out.

Environment and Climate Advisory Committee: Improvements to Energy Save New West
The Committee also wants us to further promote ESNW, and we will refer this request to the 2022 budget process, because it would really mean hiring new resources or redirecting resources. In the meantime, here is their website where you can learn about their many programs to make your home more energy efficient.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Increasing Equity in Voting: Mail Ballot Voting for Local Government Elections
One idea that cropped up last Municipal Election was the lack of a mail-in-voting option. In general, it was previously seen as expensive, a bit of a hassle, and of questionable value considering fewer than 1% of ballots are typically mailed in where the option is introduced. But our post-election survey suggested there was high interest in the community to introduce this, and it so happens that the Provincial Legislation was changed just this month to remove some of the restrictions on local government mail-in voting.

Remember, local elections are run by City Staff, and paid for by local taxes while being strictly regulated by the province (all for good reasons!). And although we know they are coming years in advance, there is a lot that has to happen in a very tight timeline. For example, the time between when the City actually knows who the certified candidates are and voting day is only about two weeks, making the production and distribution of mail-in ballots a challenge when staff are already busy setting up voting booths and otherwise preparing for voting day counting and accountability procedures. Staff note that mail-in voting for the provincial election has fewer restrictions, has more time, and has more resources. All that to say, adding mail-in voting is not simple or inexpensive. There is also a risk that a large number of mail-in ballots means we don’t know the results of the election until after election day, as those ballots cannot be counted until after polls close.

So staff are going to give it a shot

Accessibility and Disability Justice in the Built Environment – Update
The City has prioritized accessibility in its transportation work in the last few years. Some of this is easy to see (we are the only City in the Lower Mainland to achieve 100% curb cuts) some less outwardly visible (Accessibility training for all transportation staff to better understand barriers we create and best practices to avoid them). This report gives a bit of an update on the work being done, and work yet to come.

We do this because it is the right thing to do, because truly accessible infrastructure works for everyone, not just people facing barriers, and because there is a significant justice and equity aspect to how we provide services in the City. We also have a few very vocal and passionate accessibility advocates in this City who keep Council and staff honest about doing this work. Thanks to their advocacy and the good work of staff, we are in perhaps a better situation than most Municipalities in meeting what are looking to be upcoming from the Provincial Government with the new Accessible British Columbia Act.

Canada Day 2021 Update
Canada Day is going to be different in 2021. For many people in the community, it will still be a day of celebration, and people will want to put on red and white and wave flags. Others are going to want to have a more reflective marking of 154 years since Confederation, especially in light of recent events that challenge some of the myths about Canada. Like many Canadians, I am both proud of where we are, and challenged by the work we have yet to do.

I don’t think there is a wrong way to mark this day (or not mark it). However, as a City we want to be sensitive to the differences in our community and try to accommodate and support those difference through our programs and events, and with the partners we work with to make events happen in the City. So with large public gatherings still under some restriction, we are fortunate to have partners across the community who have put together various programs from reflective to celebratory, and you and your family can make their choice. Check it out here.

Multiculturalism Advisory Committee: Black History Month Recognition and Promotion
The committee is recommending to Council that the City explore opportunities to better mark Black History Month in the City, as part of our larger Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIAR) Framework. This work will be referred through the Reconciliation, Social Inclusion and Engagement Task Force.

Environment and Climate Advisory Committee: Air Quality Monitoring in New Westminster
Air Quality is regulated by the Province under the Environmental Management Act. As a local government we cannot create regulations that limit or otherwise manage the creation of air pollution (outside of some limited nuisance bylaw power). However, in the GVRD, this power has been delegated to Metro Vancouver. Metro has staff that hand out air pollution permits to emitters like industries that might make smoke or smells (paper mills, breweries, compost facilities) and do some regional air quality tracking.

The Environment Advisory committee is asking that the City take a more proactive role at collecting air quality data collected by Metro Vancouver and disseminating that information. Staff is recommending instead we encourage a more citizen-activating program with the support of Metro Vancouver.

I am a little concerned, based on my professional experience in dealing with air quality aspects of the Environmental Management Act that air quality sampling and data reporting is way, way more complicated than most people think, and that decontextualized and unsystematic data collection actually creates more problems than it solves. If we want better reporting of air quality, we should be advocating to Metro Vancouver (and their empowering jurisdiction, the Ministry of Environment) to do that work, to assure it is done professionally and with the rigour required to give reliable data.


We then had a single Bylaw for adoption:

Housing Agreement (322 Seventh Street) Bylaw No. 8258, 2021
This Housing Agreement that secures rental tenure for his property in the Brow of the hill for the life of the building or 60 years was adopted.


Then the fun part of the meeting started as we dove in to some New Business:

Motion: Heritage Revitalization Agreement Applications in the Queen’s
Park Heritage Conservation Area

THAT Council support a temporary suspension in the processing of heritage revitalization agreement applications in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area as of June 21, 2021 and until a revised HRA policy is in place, excepting those applications or pre-application reviews received prior to that date;
THAT Council direct staff to report back on the number and status of heritage revitalization agreement applications and pre-application reviews in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area received on or before June 21, 2021, with the general expectation that they would continue to be processed;
THAT Council direct staff to finalize a work plan for an update to the 2011 policy for the use of heritage revitalization agreements, which would integrate the development of the 2017 Official Community Plan and the heritage conservation area.

This motion arose from some concern raised by advocates in the Queens Park neighbourhood that the Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) process within the Heritage Conservation Area (HCA) is not working as they would like. The HRA process is due for an update, and it is on staff workplans, but some heritage advocates do not like that HRAs are continuing to be evaluated without that update.

I could only support the third part of the resolution where a workplan for the update of the HRA policy is brought to Council. I cannot support a suspension of HRA applications in Queens Park, because I think that is at odds with the principles we negotiated with the community when we agreed to implement the HCA.

I was clear when I supported the HCS, and I will quote myself from the blog I wrote at the time: “the HCA policy cannot stop all development, infill density, or other ways of increasing housing choice in the Queens Park neighbourhood. We need to accelerate our work towards increasing laneway and carriage house infill, stratification of large houses if they wish to re-configure into multi-family buildings, and protecting the multi-family housing stock that already exists in Queens Park. The HCA as adopted will not prevent that progress”

Frankly, I am a little disappointed that four years later, we have people who have been actively engaged in this process for most of a decade still choosing to misinterpret or misunderstand what the HCA actually is, and that every project that comes up for consideration of an HRA, we have to once again address the same list of mischaracterizations about the processes and accusations of nefarious activity on the part of property owners, staff or council.

Support for the HCA was not unanimous, but was opposed by a number of residents of Queens Park, and it was through consultation and compromise that we got to a place where Council could support this HCA. The perception that the HCA will now include a freeze on all new changes in the neighbourhood for an indeterminate amount of time does not reflect the principles with which we negotiated the HCA with the community, is at odds with many of the City’s broader goals, from encouraging housing diversity and affordability to supporting equity and procedural fairness. Further, I just don’t see the current process as some sort of existential threat to the heritage homes or heritage character of the HCA, I am not sure what crisis exists that warrants this type of emergency measure to stop people applying for HRAs.

Council supported the motion in a split vote.

Motion: Pilot Project to Address the Mental Health Crisis and Issues Relating to Poverty and Homelessness

THAT the City of New Westminster convenes a time-limited task force to lead City efforts to build partnerships with senior levels of government and service providers in order to bring the pilot model to reality; and
THAT the City of New Westminster hires a consultant to lead community outreach to understand community needs and refine the specifics of the pilot model; and
THAT both the consultant and task force work with a focus on anti-racism, decolonization, anti-oppression, and non-carceral perspectives.

This motion is very consistent with the direction that New West presented in our submission to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, reported on here.

Council unanimously supported it, and I just wanted to note that we should be seeking funding from the Provincial Government to fund this important development work, recognizing the important role this plays in achieving provincial goals in health care, homelessness, addiction, mental health, and police reform. I am happy we are doing this work (instead of making hollow gestures in calling for reform, as we are oft accused of doing), and hope others will partner with us.

Motion: Sex Worker Safety Workshop and Policies

THAT the City of New Westminster holds a workshop for city council and senior staff to learn about sex work and safety. The workshop should be provided by a peer-driven organization that works directly with sex workers; and
THAT staff are directed to report back to Council with sex worker safety policies, including staff training, from other municipalities including policies relating to bylaws and policing.

This is policy work consistent with the above, and though I have concerns we are running our staff a little thin in the social planning response to overlapping crises, Council voted to support this work getting done.

Motion: Support for Inclusion of Allied Health Workers in Public Health Care

THAT UBCM request that the Province expand access to and funding for allied health professionals, particularly mental health counselling specialties, and physical/ occupational therapy related specialties, through expansion of team based care through not-for-profit delivery including community health centres, available to all BC residents regardless of income, throughout the province; and
THAT the Province of BC increase supports and funding for Peer Navigators as part of the BC Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.

This is a resolution to go to the UBCM conference in September that was unanimously supported by Council.

Ask Pat: Vacant Land Tax

Boy, its been a while since I did one of these, and there are a few in the queue. Sorry, folks, I really mean to be more timely with these, but to paraphrase Pascal, I don’t have enough time to write shorter notes. No Council meeting this week, so maybe I’ll try to knock a couple off. This was a fun one:

T J asks—

Has anyone proposed some kind of empty lot tax to encourage developers or property holders to activate the properties into some kind of use? Prime example corner of 5th Ave & 12th St but many others throughout downtown we noticed over a weekend walk.

Yes, people have proposed it, but it currently isn’t legal.

Municipalities in BC are pretty limited in how they can apply property taxes. For the most part, we are permitted to create tax rates for each of the 8 property classes assessed by the BC Assessment Authority (Residential, Industrial, Commercial, Farm, etc.), and all properties that fall within a class are assessed the same rate. That means Condos, rental apartments, townhouses and houses pay the same mill rate because they all fall under Residential Class, and big box multinational retailers pay the same mill rate as your favourite mom & pop haberdashery. Local Governments aren’t permitted to pick and choose preferential tax rates within those categories to, say, favour Mom & Pop over the Waltons, or favour Rentals over Condos, or favour improved lands over vacant lands.

Since the tax you pay is based on the assessed value, owners actually pay less tax on vacant land than on “improved” land, because the assessed value of the land is a combination of the value of the land and the value of the buildings upon it. Playing around in the BC assessment website, you can see sometimes the building is worth as much as the land, in some cases the building value is close enough to zero that tax essentially only relates to bare land value. Therefore, investing in land improvement on vacant or derelict properties increases the assessed value, and increases property taxes. In a sense, the current property tax system incentivizes keeping an investment property unimproved.

Best I can tell, the Provincial Speculation and Vacancy Tax does not apply to vacant or derelict properties – but don’t take that as legal advice (this is a blog post, not official communications from a tax professional), though the BC gov’t website is a little vague on this specific point. Maybe you will have more luck than me getting clarity from the legalese.

Interestingly, the City of Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax does apply to vacant properties that are designated for residential use. Vancouver was given that ability through an amendment to the Vancouver Charter, so it is not applicable to municipalities regulated by the Community Charter like New West, and the province doesn’t seem interested in expanding it to other cities (see below). Regardless, as this tax is designed to incent owners to bring vacant residential property in to use, it would also not work to encourage the activation of the commercial properties like you mention in Downtown New West.

But your question was whether anyone has proposed this? The way Local Government leaders would propose this is to send a resolution to the UBCM meeting asking the Provincial government to change the legislation to make it possible. If the majority of Local Gov’t elected types at the UBCM convention vote to endorse this resolution, it becomes an endorsed resolution – an “official ask” of government. My quick review of just some recent UBCM resolution sessions turns up resolutions in 2016 (“B3- Vacant Land Taxation”), 2017 (”B91 Tax on Vacant & Derelict Residential Properties”), 2018 (“A3 Modify Speculation Tax: Local Government Vacancy Levy”), and 2019 ( “B19 Extension of Vacancy Taxation Authority to Local Governments”) all asking for some form of taxation power for vacant land, all endorsed by the membership of the UBCM.

Every year, the Provincial government responds to these resolutions, usually with some form of “we’ll think about it”. This excerpt is from their response to the 2019 resolution:

So, yeah, don’t hold your breath.

That said, as the Provincial Government notes, Local Governments do have some ability to fine derelict or unsightly property owners, though it is a somewhat onerous and staff-time-consuming process to demonstrate nuisance, and the Bylaw does not extend to our ability to say one must build a building on a lot. You are entitled to own an empty grass field or an empty gravel parking lot, as long as it doesn’t constitute a nuisance. Any attempt to use this Bylaw authority as a de facto tax would surely not survive a court challenge.

New Westminster does have one special power, though, and it is found in a unique piece of Provincial Legislation called the New Westminster Redevelopment Act, 1989. I would call your attention to Section 3 of the Act, as it is a bit of a Mjolnir-like piece of legislation. But that is probably best saved for a follow-up blog post as we talk about the current situation in Downtown New Westminster.

Council – June 7, 2021

Another Monday, another Council meeting. Topics went from heavy to whimsical with a lot on the Agenda. We started with a Development Variance Permit:

Housing Agreement Bylaw (322 Seventh Street) No. 8258, 2021: Bylaw for Three Readings and
Development Variance Permit DVP00688 to Vary Off-Street Parking at 322 Seventh Street
These two go together, because the first gives something to the City, the second is something the City gives.

This older apartment building in the Brow of the hill wants to build some new ground-level studio-style suites where there is currently covered parking. This requires that we vary the required off-street parking in the zoning. In exchange, we are getting a Housing Agreement that guarantees purpose-built rental for the life of the building or 60 years (i.e. that the property will not be converted to strata ownership). This assures they will fall under our Business Licensing provisions that further increase tenant protections.

After sending out notice to the neighbourhood, we got a few responses, mostly concerned that there is inadequate parking in the area. However, both informal and formal surveys of the area of the Brow show that off-street parking is underutilized, including in this building. Just as our parking minimums for new development are seemingly arbitrary and increase the cost of new housing, I think the balance between places-for-people and places-for-cars during our ongoing housing affordability and vacancy crises can afford to be adjusted a bit.

Council voted to grant the Variance and give the Housing Agreement Bylaw three readings.


The Following items were Moved on Consent:

Appointment – Poet Laureate 2021-2024
We have a new Poet Laureate! Alan Hill has done a great job telling the stories of our City for the last couple of years, but his term is up. The City had selection committee made up of members of the Arts Commission and subject matter experts, and they have made a recommendation to Council. Elliot Slinn is a poet, a musician, a philosopher, a Douglas College alumnus, and our new Poet Laureate. Welcome!

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our regular update on COVID task forces. We are reaching the closing stages here, folks, get your vaccine, stay vigilant!

22nd Street SkyTrain Station: Escalators Replacement Project – request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The escalators in the 22nd Street Station need to be replaced, and some of this work needs to happen when the station is not operational, which means at night, which means the contractor needs Construction Noise Bylaw exemption to do construction work at night. They will notify the neighbours.

Action Planning the Implementation of the Green Fleet Roadmap
The City’s fleet (engineering and parks trucks, police cars, fire trucks, etc.) make up about 40% of the city’s greenhouse Gas emissions. If we are going to meet out Climate Action goals, we have ~10 years to make a fundamental shift on how that fleet works. We have made some progress on this over the last few years, but have a big jump to make.

This will involve three actions. The most obvious is phasing out hydrocarbon-powered vehicles as they age out with EVs or other zero-emission vehicles (or low-emission ones where that is the best available tech). The second is making sure we have the infrastructure to support this shift – it’s not useful shifting to electric vehicles (or hydrogen, or whatever tech) if we don’t have somewhere to power/fuel them and the mechanical expertise to maintain and operate them. Finally, we can make some significant reduction by changing how we use fleet vehicles, such as reducing reliance on them or increasing the efficiency of their use.

This report mostly deals with the middle approach – the infrastructure investment we need to make right now to assure we are ready to switch to EVs as our gas fleet ages and new electric medium-duty vehicles enter the market. There is lots of detail in here (this is a great report for geeks like me!), but in short: we are on it!

416 Tenth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Side Yard Projection
This house in the Brow neighbourhood has a covered deck that extends a few feet into the neighbouring property, and apparently everyone agreed to this encroachment a few decades ago. Now the deck needs to be repaired/replaced, which will slightly decrease the encroachment, but we still need to permit the variance for the new construction occurring in the encroachment space.

We will consider a DVP in a future meeting. If you have opinions, let us know!

230 Princess Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Driveway Width
The owner of this house in Glenbrook North wants to build a Carriage House, but the access room they have for a driveway is 8” narrower than required by the zoning Bylaw, so they are asking for a variance.

We will consider this DVP in a future meeting, if you have opinion, let us know!

618 Carnarvon Street: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw exemption
There is a complicated concrete pour happening near the Skytrain tracks in this project in a couple of weeks, and the proponent is being proactive in asking for a construction noise exemption to go a little past the permitted 7:00pm finish in case it is needed (they hope it won’t). They will let the neighbours know.

2020 Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report
The City samples our water system every week at a variety of locations to make sure it is safe and potable. We sample for signs of bacteria, for chlorine lever (which you don’t want to be too low or too high) and for turbidity, and collect about 1,000 samples a year. This is the report. Tl;dnr: the water is good.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Engagement for the 2022 Budget Process
Last year was the most intense Budget engagement the City has ever done, and we are going to keep that momentum going in 2022. It will start in June and July with workshopping members of the City’s Advisory committees and Task Forces. Then as staff spend the summer putting their 2022 plans together based on that workshop info, we will re-launch BeHeardNewWest platform surveys in September, and another Budget 1010 Webinar with Q&A to help people understand the complexity of municipal finance.

This report also reports out on the 2021 engagement process, and what we heard from the public during that work – including the result of the survey that had more than 1,000 responses. Again, lots of good data in there if you are into that kind of thing.

601 Sixth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Parking Requirements
The owner of this 4-storey office building in Uptown wants to do some internal and external renovations that increase its floorspace and make the commercial space more viable. This will result in an effective increase in FSR, but not the size or shape of the outside of the building. Though they currently meet the minimum parking space requirements, they will not meet that with the higher FSR and with the way our Parking Minimums have changed since the building was built, so they are asking for a variance to allow an FSR increase without an increase in parking spaces. Council had a bit of feedback, mostly concerns about not meeting the (updated) minimums for accessible parking, and asked staff to go back and have another look at the options.

We will consider this DVP in a future meeting, if you have opinion, let us know!

Cancellation of the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program
This is perhaps too “inside baseball”, but the Province surprised municipal governments by mentioning in passing that they were ending a funding program through which local governments get their Carbon Tax refunded to them if they demonstrate commitment and tracking of their GHG emissions. This was disappointing for a variety of reasons. The CARIP funding is not a lot of money (New West received about $115,000 per year in recent years of the program), but it was predictable base-line funding that local governments could use to leverage other funding sources for climate actions. It also created both an incentive for climate action for local governments (187 of 190 local governments have signed up) and a requirement for local government reporting of corporate GHG emissions, allowing us to track how we are doing as a province at addressing our goals.

The program is not perfect, and indeed as we work to reduce our emissions, it will become a less effective funding source (because our Carbon Taxes will go down), but unilaterally ending such a collaborative program without consulting local governments was not a great move – especially as we signed a Charter agreement to facilitate the program. But besides the bad form, we need to know if and how this program will be replaced. We are told it will be, but we need to know how and by what as we are busy doing the work of climate action, and were counting on this program to be there. So we are writing a letter to the relevant Ministers.

New Normal Staff Committee: COVID-19 Update: BC’s Restart Plan and New Westminster’s Restart Planning Matrix
The Province’s Restart Plan (v.2) is out, and that means new marching orders for everyone at the City. A slightly complex set of marching orders, though, as staff have to compare the stages of the restart plan to their operational areas and figure out how to maintain compliance, where our regulatory role is, and how to pay for any restarted programs in light of our budget and the anticipated restart schedule baked in to that budget. We also have to anticipate when the various steps will be met, and be prepared for a step backward in case. It’s a complicated piece of work. We can’t just flip a switch and start (for example) swim lessons again, we need to position staff, make sure facilities are ready, get the word out to residents, and pay for it all. This is probably no surprise to the many small businesses that have had to make similar adjustments, except that the scale of the City staff and breadth of programs is much more than any small business.

This report outlines timelines and plans for the various City departments. Some big-picture aspects: Expect more than 50% of staff back in offices (that is, still 50% remote working) by July when we hit step 3, and pretty much 100% back to traditional City Hall function by September (Step 4). Similarly, gradual increases in swim capacity and sport programming with pretty much back to normal in September, though there will be increased safety protocols for quite a while.

As this report is very in-ward-looking at City operations, we had a bit of a discussion after among Council about looking out at the community, and what we think the community is going to need to transition to a post-Pandemic world. We talked about how we can make that transition easier, what we can do (with our community partners) to bring some joy back to public spaces and create opportunities for us to get together and say hello to each other again. There will be more to come here, but if you have ideas, reach out to us and let us know!

In the meantime, let’s get our vaccines, folks, and be measured in keeping your vigilance up. Let’s work our way gradually into the return to normal human interaction, but know the worst is behind us.


Finally, we adopted these two Bylaws:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Retail Location – 416 East Columbia Street) No. 8256, 2021
As discussed in a Public Hearing back in April, This Bylaw permits the fourth Cannabis Retail operation in the City, this one in the Sapperton neighbourhood.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (100 Braid Street) No. 8245, 2020
A discussed in Public Hearing back in December, this Zoning Bylaw that permits a Purpose Built Rental building at the foot of Braid was Adopted by Council.

Council – May 31, 2021

Our Council Meeting on Monday was limited to two Public Hearings, one relatively uncontroversial, one with a somewhat higher profile. The Agendas for both are long, but I’ll try to keep this short.

Zoning Amendment (1319 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8257, 2021
The owners of Steel & Oak have requested that their lounge endorsement be expanded from 50 patrons to 100. They are doing some internal renovation to expand to up to 89 seats indoors, and are including 11 outdoor seats in their slim patio area for a total of 100.

We have received a few pieces of correspondence on this, all in support, and had one person speak to the Public Hearing, also in support. Council voted unanimously to support giving the rezoning Bylaw Third Reading and Adoption.

Official Community Plan Amendment (823 – 841 Sixth Street) Bylaw No. 8261, 2021 and
Zoning Amendment (823 – 841 Sixth Street) Bylaw No. 8260, 2021
The longer discussion of the night was on an application from the Aboriginal Land Trust, Lu’ma Native Housing Society and the Swahili Vision International Association to build a 6-storey 96-unit residential building on Sixth Street directly across from the new high school.

The project would have 96 units, with a combination of one- two- and three-bedroom units that exceed the City’s Family Friendly Housing minimums. All of the units would be accessible or adaptable, and the building would be highly energy efficient by meeting or exceeding Step 4 in the BC Step Code. The building would be Purpose Built Rental for the design life of the building (60 years). The building would be truly affordable housing, with 20% of the units having a “deep subsidy”, meaning they would be within reach of people living on government shelter rates, 50% of the units would be “rent geared to income”, and 30% with moderate income affordable rates. That means rents for a one-bedroom unit would range from $375 to $1,195, depending on the residents ability to pay.

The Public Hearing is being held because we need an amendment to the Land Use Designation map in the OCP, and a rezoning to create a specific zone for this site (which allows us to specify things like unit mix, parking relaxation, and such to make the project work).

There was a lot of discussion in the community about the project, both in support and in opposition. We received something north of 350 pieces of correspondence from the public (by my rough count, about 75% in support), and both a petition and two organized letter writing campaigns were started. There were opinion pieces in the Record, lawn signs, small grassroots “rallies” on both sides of the issue, and a lot of social media chatter, not all of it friendly or community oriented. By my count (and my notes are messy) we had 74 people address Council with about 2/3 of those in support. In the end, Council voted to support the project.

The application before Council was for an OCP amendment and rezoning, and it is worth while talking about what an OCP Amendment is, as that seemed to be the focus of much of the discussion. Indeed, the density and building type does not fit the land use plan in the OCP, but as was covered in some detail in the Public Hearing, the application met a number of goals set out in the OCP around affordable housing, partnerships with not-for-profits & senior governments, and inclusionary housing.

This is not the first OCP amendment sought since the OCP was adopted in 2017. The Queens Park Heritage conservation Area, the preservation of the Slovak Hall, the addition of Childcare spaces to buildings in Moody park and Queensborough, the implementation of EV charging readiness for new multi-family housing, these all required OCP amendments in the last couple of years, and were approved because they met the larger goals of the OCP while not being complaint with specific land use plans or other portions of the OCP.

Respecting the OCP means understanding that it is a living document, and that some goals within can only be achieved by amendment. It means understanding that amending the OCP is an open, transparent, and public process, one where the Pros and Cons of amendment are discussed in the public record, and with public input. Ultimately, the job of Council is to weigh that input, the goals of the project, and the priorities of the City to determine if an amendment is appropriate.

There are always a few moments in a long public hearing like this that stand out to me. This meeting it was someone (sorry, I am paraphrasing and should give credit, but have I mentioned my messy notes?) asked to consider what an amendment of the OCP would say about our vision for the City. This led me to look up the vision statement in our OCP, which is long:

New Westminster is a healthy, inclusive and thriving community where people feel connected with each other. This sustainable city showcases a spectacular natural environment, public spaces and unique neighbourhoods that are well-integrated and accessible. Superior urban design integrates its distinctive character, heritage assets and cultural identity. Growth and development provide a variety of services and employment opportunities that contribute to a high quality of life for all.

I then looked up the Vision Statement that the current Council agreed to shortly after the last election, as we were preparing the Strategic Plan for the council term, which is shorter:

A vibrant, compassionate, sustainable city that includes everyone.

We also placed Affordable Housing at the top of our strategic goals. I look at those vision statements, and see this project as fitting well within them. Especially as we recognize the City has changed even since the development and adoption of the OCP. Affordable housing was certainly among the concerns in 2017, but it is now clearly the top local and regional concern for local governments. The $1M detached house price swept across new West in 2017, and the $500K apartment was soon to follow, and it wasn’t only New West. As prices continued to stretch out of reach, this term of Council (even before COVID) was being defined by actions to defend renters, a significant shift from condo development to purpose built rental, and now taking opportunities to leverage senior government funding to get non-market housing built.

But ultimately, this was a Land Use question, and I agreed that this was an appropriate land use for the site. The location near services, schools, and transit made sense. The building is situated on the available lots in a way that shifted the bulk of it away from back-alley neighbours. The low parking count is appropriate for the needs of the projected residents, and though the alley is limited, there is not anticipated to be a significant traffic impact (10 cars an hour for peak traffic addition will not meaningfully change how the laneway works). With the planned off-site and site works, this should be an attractive addition to the streetscape, both on the Sixth Street and laneway sides.

This was the right project at the right time. Council is committing to supporting some offsite-works as a financial contribution to the project, and we are hopeful that senior government funding will come through to get it built.

Heavy

Hey folks. This is a difficult time for many in our community, but I wanted to say a very few words here. I don’t have much to add to the conversation going on, there are more powerful and important voices than mine right now – you and I are both better off listening to them and taking this time to learn and reflect on what those voices are telling us.

The City of New Westminster has moved our flags to half-mast for 215 hours to show respect to those lost and those grieving, and to raise community awareness. As a municipal government, we also need to listen and learn at this time.

I have heard there are couple of grassroots memorial sites being set up in New West, as in other communities across Canada. Children’s shoes are being placed at the Cenotaph at City Hall, and teddy bears at Hyack Square. Please respect these memorials and add to them if you feel inclined.

What we know for certain is that the Kamloops gravesite is not an isolated event or location. These schools crossed the nation, and the number of children who didn’t come home is uncounted, but certainly in the thousands. Our own City has a unique history in the colonization of Western Canada, and the horrific impacts of this are not only historic, they continue in real tangible ways today. This is here and now, not ancient history.

The City of New Westminster is committed to our reconciliation journey. If progress is slow, or not as visible to the public, it is because we are mindful of the relationship building we must do first, the preliminary steps in our framework are to assure we include and engage with indigenous people and organizations in honest and respectful ways. We are also doing a significant amount of learning, as Council members and as Staff, so we can be more truthful and direct in our actions as they roll out. Like many things, the meetings are delayed by COVID, but the work is happening, at the Task Force level and with all of Council.

We will not just remember and mark this event, we will act and are acting. I sincerely hope the community will come along with us, and that they will push us when we need a push, so we can face the challenge ahead. We will be such a stronger, more just, and more resilient community for having done this work.

In the meantime, listen, learn, and open your mind and heart to the difficult ideas and emotions ahead. This story by the Record has a really great list of resources if you want to learn more, or want to know how you can do more.