Earth Day 2022

In the zeitgeist of these times, one’s opinion about a day celebrating the intrinsic value of the planet that sustains us is probably influenced by the flavour of political leadership you prefer. But one thing that seems to bridge all political divides is the idea that trees are good things. That having more trees is better than having fewer trees. That we want to live near them and have them live near us.

So I want to mark Earth Day 2022 talking about trees.

We had a little event in Queens Park today, where Acting Mayor Nakagawa, the federal Minister of Natural Resources and the provincial Minister of Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation celebrated new trees in an established forest (more about why that is important below), and it gives me an excuse to talk about optimistic leadership.

The proverb is that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second best time is today. There is nothing more hopeful and optimistic than planting a tree. We know the benefits of the tree will not be enjoyed today, that the shade of the tree will not be provided for a decade or more. It takes years for the full noise-abatement, flood-prevention, air-cleaning, habitat-restoring, fruit-providing, carbon-sequestering values of a tree to be realized. The planning here is well outside of any election cycle. So it is an expression of hope to commit to, to fund, to plant a tree you may never sit in the shade of.

In New Westminster, we are planting trees like never before. Literally thousands of them. Our Urban Forest Management Strategy is in the rapidly-getting-trees-planted stage. Concentrating first on currently under-shaded neighbourhoods like the Brow of the Hill and Queensborough, the City is protecting established trees on public and private property, requiring new plantings on development lands, and (most importantly) planting new trees on City-owned lands, including parks and boulevards.

The reason we had Ministers in Queen’s Park on Earth Day in 2022 was around two great programs happening right now. Both are supporting our Urban Forest Management Strategy, and both are supported by valuable external grants we were able to secure to make New Westminster (literally) greener specifically because we have these clear strategies and goals.

The first is our program to restore natural areas in our parks with native plantings, supported by the Tree Canada National Greening Program. Through that program, we got assistance to support the restoration of the ground level of some of our established forests, such as in Hume, Glenbrook Ravine, and Queens Park. These are areas where the tree canopy is well established, but old. These “single generation” forests are majestic, but when the trees are not diverse and are all the same age, they become susceptible to disease, and are not buffered for natural secession. By changing the ground-level conditions and introducing both young trees and other ground-cover, we build a more robust and healthy forest. This makes the big trees healthier, and assures that we will have younger established trees to fill gaps when older trees naturally age out of the forest. This program will see 25,000 saplings and plant plugs put in the soil in 2022!

You may have noted the signage around Queens Park where these areas are being restored. The signage is there to help people understand why we are asking people to not walk or ride their bikes through these area, and to keep your dogs out of there, so the new plants and restored soil can do its thing:

The second program is a more city-wide Urban Reforestation and Biodiversity Enhancement Initiative. This is the result of a $1.7 Million grant from the (federal) Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program and (provincial) COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream (ICIP – CVRIS) grant programs. This is going to fund a huge amount of our target tree planting for 2022 and 2023, and allow us to establish a new 1-hectare pollinator pasture in the City.

We are on pace, thanks in part of these types of grants, to beat our target for 10,000 established new trees in the City by 2030. We know this is not the complete solution for climate disruption, but along with our ongoing efforts to reduce our corporate and community GHG emissions, we recognize that sequestration through trees will become an increasingly important part of reducing atmospheric GHG. At the same time, they make our community a more livable place. If we maintain the momentum of the last couple of years, we will exceed out Urban Forest Management Strategy target of 27% forest canopy cover by 2035, and this will be a completely transformed City by 2050.

There are ways you can help out! As important as they are to our long-term goals, new boulevard trees do not, unfortunately, have a 100% survival rate. The boulevard is a tough place to be a young tree. There often isn’t a lot of soil to hold water over dry summers, dogs pee on you, things bump into you, and there is little protection from wind, hard sun, and other indignities. We plan for some attrition with new plantings, but you can help reduce that rate and increase the chances that the lovely new tree near your home joins the ranks of the established. You can become a Tree Steward by signing up to Adopt a Street Tree! See the details here.

This can be your non-partisan Earth Day gift to the planet that sustains us, and to a generation you have not yet met who will enjoy the shade your tree provides in the decades ahead. Happy Earth Day.

Ask Pat: 1.5m

Liz asked—

What is the distance required from a residential driveway to a parked vehicle?

This is an easy one!

The City’s Street and Traffic Bylaw has an entire section about Parking – Section 4. There are 22 subsections and a couple of hundred clauses, but this is the part I think you are looking for:

So, I’m no lawyer, but I read from this that you cannot park within 1.5m of the edge of a driveway (Section 4.8.8). Even if you are more than 1.5m, though, you can’t park in a way that is “obstructing free movement” in and out of that driveway (see 4.8.5), or within 5m of a hydrant (4.8.2.) etc. etc. Oh, and there may also be a sign indicating a larger buffer for some reason (4.8.15), and you should be aware you can’t obstruct pedestrians (4.9.5). Actually, the Bylaw has a lot of bits saying where you can’t park. So this is not legal advice. Caveat Lector.

3 delegations

As I mentioned last blog, we had a few public delegations at Council on Monday that were notable. I don’t often write about public delegations here unless they result in direct Council action, in which case they make it into my regular Council Reports. But anyone can delegate on any topic in New West, so we often don’t know what is coming, and are not prepared to directly address the issue raised in the council meeting. It is also a weirdly pre-election political time, and as such, more of these delegations will be seen in context of October 15th. So with the benefit of a few days of reflection, I might like to look at the points raised.

First, a candidate for Mayor made his first appearance in Council chambers to ask Council to put the 2030 Olympic bid to a referendum of New Westminster residents. I, frankly, did not know how to respond to this request.

For context, there are four First Nations (Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Líl̓wat) putting together a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics, relying heavily on existing infrastructure built for the 2010 games. They have invited the municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler to enter MOUs to define how they can work together to achieve the bid goals. New Westminster is not a party to those MOUs, we have not (yet) been invited by the host nations to enter those discussions, nor are the details of the bid established enough for us to have an informed conversation about its viability.

So when one suggests residents of New West be engaged in a referendum on this, I am not sure how we would even phrase a question without sounding profoundly colonial and setting back relationships we are respectfully trying to build with those indigenous communities on whose land we live and work, and whose land on which the broader “we” were very comfortable holding our own Olympics a decade ago without (to my knowledge) doing a referendum of Indigenous Peoples. Further, I don’t know how we would operationalize any answer (yes or no) without violating core principles of reconciliation at a time when we are building relationships. So the request was not timely, and was not something I can imagine us putting resources towards right now.


The second delegation was from a long-time Council Watcher reminding us that the Community Charter (Section 118) says a City over 50,000 people should have eight councilors, unless we have a Bylaw saying otherwise. Back in the early 2000’s New West made a decision when the population went over 50K to not add two new councilors. In 2005, the City Council of the time put a non-binding plebiscite question on the ballot, and 70% voted against an increase in council. We have not, in my time at least, had any conversation about revisiting that decision. That was 17 years ago, and now that we are over 80,000 residents, it seems reasonable for a resident to ask whether we should review that decision.

My reflex response is that I just don’t feel the public is in a place today where a strong majority sees “more elected people” as the solution to any problem. Maybe that is cynical, and I could hear an argument that more elected officials results in better and potentially more diverse representation. So am going to stay agnostic on this for now, and just look at the numbers.

There are 19 Municipalities in BC with population over 50,000. Of those, seven have 6 Councilors (37%), twelve have 8 Councilors (63%), and one has 10 Councilors (Vancouver, which has its own Charter, so it doesn’t count here). Here is how they plot in population vs. council count:

Of the seven municipalities in BC with a population larger than 50,000 and six Councilors, four have a larger population than New West (Delta, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, and the District of North Vancouver) and two are smaller than New West (Port Coquitlam and North Vancouver City). There is one municipality with population smaller than New West with eight Councilors, and that is Prince George (which despite a current spurt in growth, has effectively the same population as it did in the 1990s).

So what I take from this is that New West in not currently anomalous in its number of councilors, but would be one of the smallest municipalities with eight if we made the shift. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the number is perfect, or that the rules the way they are set up is optimal, only that New West seems to be within the category of nominal in regards to Council count. Let the conversation in he community ensue…


Finally, we had a presentation from a representative of the Uptown BIA expressing concern about the proposed Uptown Active Transportation improvements. This followed up on a letter sent to Council by the BIA.

The current plan is the result of lengthy public and user group consultation, and addresses the point that a new High School and major park destination is not well connected to our local or regional active transportation network. Direct-as-possible routes from the Crosstown Greenway on the west (through Moody Park, already built) and east (along 200m/2 blocks of 6th street) were identified as active transportation priorities.

There are some businesses on that block of 6th Street that are concerned about the change, because there will be a reduction in street parking. This is not surprising, as separated safe cycling infrastructure is often anticipated to bring a negative impact to retail areas. This despite there being extensive evidence from around North America and the rest of the world that merchants vastly overestimate the importance of cars as the mode their shoppers use, and that safe cycling infrastructure that displaces curbside parking does not hurt adjacent businesses, and may actually be a positive.*

That said, the updates on 6th Street are going to initially be installed using temporary hardware, similar to the Room to Move installations that occurred primarily Uptown during the Pandemic summers to test out where the balance between pedestrian and car space can be adjusted. Those informed some of the more permanent installations you see now on Sixth Ave where sidewalks are being expanded. The mobility lanes will be separated by more than paint (which is required to make them safe), but in a way that we can make inexpensive changes to iterate the design to make it work better. Part of that evaluation should include impacts on the local businesses, and I hope to continue that conversation with the BIA.

* References from:
New Zealand
Ireland
Toronto
Seattle
New York
Toronto, again
Portland
Los Angeles

Council – April 11 2022

We had a real pre-COVID feeling Council meeting on Monday. Not because COVID is over (I know a few people getting hit by the new variant right now), but because most of Council was back in chambers, and we had and audience and several public delegations in person and everything. This, of course, came with masks and social distancing and the other procedures our 2019 cohorts would not understand to make the room as safe as possible for everyone. If you love reading this stuff (Hi Mom!) you should join us some Monday night. Our Agenda on Monday was not long, and it started with a report I had to leave the room for:

Rezoning and Development Permit Applications for Market Rental Building Renovation: 222 Ash Street
This is a project I recused myself from discussing, because this building is less than 50m from my home. By a strict reading, regulations say that a member of Council must recuse from topics in which they have a direct fiduciary interest, but we have a practice in New West of interpreting this very broadly. If I owned property in this building, I would clearly be in conflict. If I owned a house right next door, it is probably safe to say my property value may be impacted by changes, so I would want to recuse. In this case, I am close enough that some may argue my fiduciary interest in my own property may be impacted by changes in this property due to proximity, so it is safer for everyone (the property owner, the City, and myself as a Councillor) if I recuse myself to avoid even the perception of undue influence.

So that aside, this is a project where an existing rental building wants to expand the number of units on site by building in top of the existing building. This is a preliminary application to gauge council opinion, so public consultation and other review yet to come. If you want to know what council discussed, watch the video!


We then moved the following items On Consent:

2022 Earth Day Programs
The City is doing three things to mark Earth Day this year. We are launching an Adopt-a-Tree program to let people take a more active part in our Urban Forest Management Program, and Adopt-a-Catch-Basin Program to get folks more linked to the exciting world of storm water drainage, and a Datathon program. More details to come!

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: (81 Braid Street – Braid SkyTrain Station)
A water main upgrade project at Braid Station was delayed by some supply chain issues, so the noise bylaw exemption we previously gave them needs to be extended.

Housing Agreement Bylaw and Development Variance Permit to Vary Residential and Visitor Parking Requirements: 508 Eighth Street – Bylaw for Three Readings
This Rental apartment building in the Brow of the Hill wants to add a few studio suites at ground level, where there is currently parking spots. The existing parking on the site is underutilized (>60% unused), but this change requires a Development Variance Permit because the building will not, as envisioned, meet the existing parking guidelines for a building this size. So they are requesting a parking variance, in an exchange we will get a Housing Agreement securing rental tenure for the life of the building. And 4 new relatively affordable rental suites added ot the existing 32 in the building.

There is a bit more going on here around bicycle parking and housing agreements, but mostly we are letting the public know we are going to consider the DVP. If you have opinions, let us know!

Public Art Program Update
This report is an update on our Public Art program. But that’s right there in the title. There is some good stuff in here about our ongoing program – Public Art related to various City-owned construction projects (from təməsew̓txʷ to the Boundary Road pump station) and the Artist Roster program. This all great stuff, making our public spaces (or “Public Realm” as we like to say in Jargonworld) better!

Rezoning and Development Permit Applications for Secured Market Rental High-rise: 616-640 Sixth Street – Preliminary Report
This development project had a pretty high profile when approved by Council through a Public Hearing four years ago, and four years later there has been no breaking of ground on the project. It is now more than decade since we had a significant project adding to the tower-form housing in the Uptown area, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Perhaps not surprising, the economics of development changes over time, and through the City’s incentive programs, support from senior governments, and the desires of those who finance major projects, there seems to be a drift from Strata to Purpose Built Rental, which is probably a good thing as regional vacancy rates are still in the 1% range. So this project has shifted from part-Strata part-rental to 100% rental, and they are now requesting an increase in density and unit count to support a more efficient and viable all-rental building design.

This is a preliminary report, so the proposal will need to see some public consultation, and will likely have a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then. If you have feelings, let us know!

Update on Mayor’s 50 Ideas Parks & Recreation Initiatives #3 & #18
This is an update on a couple of public amenity programs. One was to increase the amount of public seating in the community (we have added chairs, benches and picnic tables all around the City –and they are getting used as fast as we can put them out) and a program to provide a low-cost “try it out” option for a variety of recreational programs (slightly set back by COVID, but back on).


The following items were Removed from Consent,/u> for discussion.

Council Resolution in Support of the City of New Westminster’s Application under the COVID-19 Restart Funding for Local Governments, Strengthening Communities’ Services Program
There is a UBCM program we are applying for to get some senior government money ($624K) to help finance some programs to help those impacted the most by COVID. This funding will be spread out across a variety of programs, including sanitation trailers for the proposed 24/7 shelter at the Army & Navy (the current building does not have adequate washroom/shower facilities to fulfill the need, trailers like at movie sets will allow the shelter to operate until the more permanent shelter options already approved are ready). Another is a freestanding public toilet downtown to replace the very-much-less-than-ideal port-a-potties. This funding will also help reinforce programs from the Maida Duncan drop-in to the I’s On the Street program. We are applying, cross your fingers!

Port Authority Referral: 820 Dock Road, City of Delta, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions, Annacis Auto Terminal Optimization – Information Report
The east end of Annacis Island is the biggest parking lot in the Lower Mainland, and it is going to get bigger. This is because it is the location where most of the cars arriving in Canada from Asia are unloaded from those big blocky ships, and are (mostly) loaded on to rail cars for shipment across Canada. The owner wants to expand, and are applying to the Port for permission. This is Federal land, so the Port asks nearby Municipalities what they think, but they don’t necessarily need to ask us for permission.

This is a bit unusual, because the project isn’t in New West, but is in Delta. So they pay their PILT (“Payment in Lieu of Taxes”) to Delta, not to New West, and they get their utility servicing from Delta. But we in New West get a lot of the impact of the operations – the noise and light and emission impact our residents more than Delta residents. We also have the impacts of increase rail traffic through Q’boro and (potentially) the Quayside. But such is the inter-jurisdictional reality, and we can curse the civic leaders of decades ago who decided Anncis Island should be given to Delta instead of New West.

However, if we are going to raise issues to the Port, I am suggesting we ask about increased rail traffic, and the impacts on Queensborough and Quayside neighbourhoods. The cargo capacity of the port will increase about 40%, so we may infer this means 40% more trains through Q’Boro and over the rail bridge. It would be good to know the Port is aware of local concerns and efforts towards whistle cessation in at the key crossings on Port Royal. Similarly, many of the vehicles leave the Port on trucks, and It would be good to know if we expect increased truck traffic on Derwent Way. Finally, I don’t know if the ships they use for this type of cargo are the type where shore power can reduce impacts on our local air shed related to them running their boilers, but this is the time to ask. So we will send the Port these questions and let you know what they say.

The Poet Laureate Digital Poetry Project
We have a Poet Laureate, and he has found a creative way to connect poetry with our everyday lives during National Poetry Month. And while he was at Council to talk about it, he gave us a quick reading of some new words he put together about community. I feel really honoured to have him telling the stories of our community.


We then Adopted the following Bylaws

Heritage Designation Bylaw (1324 Nanaimo Street) No. 8291,2022
Council adopted this Bylaw that officially designates this house in the West End as a protected heritage property.

Heritage Designation (102 Seventh Avenue) Bylaw No. 8313,2022
Council adopted this Bylaw that officially designates this house in Glenbrook North as a protected heritage property.

Water Shortage Response Amendment Bylaw No. 8314, 2022
Council adopted this Bylaw that updates our water shortage restrictions to bring them in alignment with Metro Vancouver’s new rules. Gold is the new green!

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Parking Reductions for Patios) No.8317, 2022</>B
Council adopted this Bylaw that makes permanent the temporary changes we made to allow expanded patio options for restaurants and bars with parking lots.


And we had this Motion from Council:

Climate Crisis Readiness, Councillor Nakagawa

THAT staff report back to Council on city readiness for extreme climate related events this summer including, but not limited to heat waves and flooding; and
THAT this report includes communications and engagement considerations, including opportunities to facilitate dialogue and planning for a community-based response to climate emergencies; and
THAT staff report on opportunities to enhance Emergency Preparedness Week events with a specific focus on equity-based climate response measures.

It is 10 months since the Heat Dome event devastated this community. Staff have been working on how to better address the risk of this type of heat event and other imminent impacts of climate disruption, not just in New West but around the region. We have two panels at the upcoming Lower Mainland LGA conference talking about this topic, including the importance of community organizing when disasters are simply too big for local government to provide adequate response.

This reporting back will not only inform Council, it will give us another opportunity to inform the public and talk about the importance of community in addressing emergencies.


And on top of this, we had a couple of other public delegations, which are not normally things I report on here, but the range of topics were pretty interesting, so I will probably follow this up with a bit more detail about them. But that’s another blog post when I have time.

Council – March 28, 2022

The Mayor was not able to make our evening Council Meeting this week, and as I was the Acting Mayor for March, I got my first (only?) chance to sit in the Big Chair** for a Public Hearing. Much gratitude to my colleagues and the Clerk and the public delegates who attended for taking it easy on me, as there is a lot going on with a hybrid (Live!& on Zoom!) Public Hearing to pay attention to aside from the Agenda. But we got through. Let’s start with the Bylaws referred from Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1324 Nanaimo Street) Bylaw No. 8290, 2022 and
Heritage Designation (1324 Nanaimo Street) Bylaw No. 8291, 2022
This Resident wants to subdivide largish corner lot in West End, build an infill house on the subdivided lot, and permanently protect the existing 1944 house. Both houses would have a legal secondary suite (meaning 4 total units, 3 currently permitted on the lot). This application was approved by the Community Heritage Commission, is consistent with the Official Community Plan vision for the neighbourhood, but would require several zoning relaxations (Small lots, FSR exceedance, minor setbacks and a parking relaxation of one spot), which are being managed through the HRA process.

We received two written submissions on this, both in support. No-one came to address City Council in regards to this application. Council moved to give the HRA Bylaws Third Reading and Adoption, and Third Reading to the Designation Bylaw, approving the project.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (102 Seventh Avenue) Bylaw No. 8312, 2022 and
Heritage Designation (102 Seventh Avenue) Bylaw No. 8313, 2022
This Resident wants to subdivide a largish corner lot in Glenbrook North, build a duplex of two townhouse-style (~1,000sqft) homes on the subdivided lot, and permanently protect the existing 1941 house. The heritage house would have a legal secondary suite (meaning 4 total units, 3 currently permitted on the lot). This application was approved by the Community Heritage Commission, is consistent with the Official Community Plan vision for the neighbourhood, but would require several zoning relaxations (Small lots, FSR exceedance, minor setbacks, and the duplex form), which are being managed through the HRA process.

We received 18 written submissions (66% opposed) and we had 22 people come and present to Council (66% opposed), with significant overlap between those two media. With several second-time and a few three-time speakers, the Public hearing lasted aobut 3 hours, so you will forgive if I abbreviate a bit the concerns I heard.

Opponents felt the duplex was too much density on one lot, and concerns were raised regarding the impact on traffic safety, in the alley where the parking will be and on adjacent First Street, with specific concern was related to the many pedestrians and kids walking to the nearby school and parks. There were questions about the livability of the units for families, the loss of green space, and about the impact on adjacent homes. A few people raised questions regarding the HRA process and heritage value of the existing house.

I voted to support this project, because it provides, in my mind, an important form of “missing middle” housing that meets the stated goals of the Official Community Plan for this neighbourhood. This is exactly the kind of ground-oriented modestly sized housing that young families are asking me about when we talk about New Westminster’s housing mix and variety. It seems preferable to other infill options available to the owner. This is a unique lot, as the front garden (facing Seventh Ave) is integral to the heritage form of the original house, and moving the house is not possible, which results in setback variances being needed.

I do hear concerns about traffic safety near schools, but am not able to relate those concerns to having 4 living units on this lot instead of the three currently permitted. Indeed, more modestly-sized family-friendly housing near schools and parks and greenways that connect to other amenities is part of the mitigation of increasing traffic stress.

Council moved unanimously to give the HRA Bylaws Third Reading and Adoption, and Third Reading to the Designation Bylaw, approving the project.


We then moved the following items On Consent:

2022 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
We get these reports every month in the Spring to help assess the freshet flood risk, and put plans in place in the case of elevated risk. Looks like the snowpack is a little above average (105%) but nothing too worrisome yet.

Amendment to the Water Shortage Response Bylaw No. 6948, 2004 – Revision of Lawn Sprinkling Regulations
We are looking at adjusting our Bylaw that regulates water shortage measures, such as lawn watering regulations. In short, we are reducing the times when you can sprinkle your lawn to be in compliance with updated Metro Vancouver guidelines on this, as it is ultimately Metro Vancouver who provides the water and knows what is and is not sustainable use based on their system capacity.

Arts Council of New Westminster License Agreement Renewal
The Arts Council leases gallery space in Queens Park, and has an agreement with the City to program the adjacent lodge space when the City is not otherwise using it. This has been a good deal for the Arts Council (they get a stable home to do their work for a pretty nominal costs( and the for the City (we have an art gallery and Arts Council programming adding to the richness of Queens Park and the entire community). So the lease is being renewed.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 330 E. Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital Development)
The RCH project is moving along. As is becoming common in major construction, single large concrete pours are sometimes needed, and they cannot be completed in one pour within regular construction hours, so they ask for an exception to the Bylaw to allow those pours to happen. They are going to try to do this pour on April 22, and are reserving the week after just in case the weather does not agree on the 22nd. Residents in the neighbourhood will be informed.

Designation of an Acting Chief Licence Inspector
This is a regulatory role in the City – someone has to have the authority to sign off on business licenses. Our previous Manager of Integrated Services is retiring after a great career with the City, and until we can fill that important spot, we need to designate someone else to sign off on those licenses in the interim. We are designating the Manager of Economic Development, whose staff has a good relationship with the business community.

European Chafer Management Program Update
The City had a subsidized program to provide nematodes to residents to reduce the impact of European chafer beetles on their lawns. The last few years, alternate approaches have become more common, easy to access and often cheaper than the City’s nematode program. So we are suspending the program for 2022, and staff will track any impacts of that suspension.

Local Government Act Updates (Bill 26) and Proposed Delegation of Small Development Variance Permits
The Province has made changes to the Local Government Act (LGA), and Council can now delegate small development variance permits to staff, instead of them coming to Council. There does need to be a Bylaw that sets out criteria for what is a “minor” variance, and what criteria staff will apply to evaluate whether the variance should be considered.

We deal with about 4 DVPs per year on average, plus an additional 2 Sign Bylaw variances. Not bringing these to Council makes the process simpler and cheaper for the applicant, and saves a bunch of staff time in preparing a Council report that can be better used at moving other projects along. I guess this is where somebody other than me talks about “Red Tape Reduction”.

The report lists what types of variances we are going to delegate (siting/dimensions that don’t include density variances, parking for smaller projects, some landscaping) and some conditions staff will apply. It is worth noting, if your request for a variance is turned down by Staff, you will still have the opportunity to bring the request to Council. Staff will now draft a bylaw to make this happen.

Sex Worker Safety Proposed Work Plan
This report outlines a proposed work plan an information on an upcoming workshop with Council and senior staff related to sex worker safety and how we can integrate that knowledge into the work we do as a City, following the Councillor Nakagawa motion supported by Council last June.

Temporary Use Permit Renewal: 488 Furness Street – for Presentation Centre
This development project in Q’Boro uses one of its buildings as a sales centre, which is not compliant with the end use intended, so we grant Temporary Use Permits in this case. Temporary means they expire, and this developer wishes to extend their permit to keep the presentation centre going a bit longer. We can (and are) grant one TUP extension, to April 2024.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Rezoning and Development Permit Applications for a 15-unit Rental Project: 1321 Cariboo Street – For Information
This is a preliminary report on a plan to replace a derelict site on the edge of the Brow neighbourhood with a compact 5-storey building with 15 secured purpose-built rental suites. It needs a rezoning and Development Permit to deal with massing and reduced parking (both supported by the LUPC). It has shrunk a bit as it went through review from the originally-proposed 19 unit building, but still meets the Family-Friendly Housing requirements. It will go to Public Consultation and likely a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit (815 – 821 Victoria Street and 810 Agnes Street) – Project Update
This report updates us on another project that has seen some changes since the last time it was brought to Council. The new owner of the property has shifted the proposal from Strata to Purpose Built Rental. This would include an increase in height (by three stories), of FSR (7.2 to 8.8), and unit count (222 to 327). This is a pretty big change, mostly in the size of the tower floorplate. This was the project that was going to finance the development of a new downtown park space on the location of the historic Chinese Benevolent Association property, and that is still part of the plan.

This would go to Public Consultation, and likely a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

Ukrainian Crisis – Government and Community Response
This is an update on many things happening locally to nationally in support of the Ukrainian community, including work being done to prepare for and support refugees escaping the violence. Much of this is concentrated on the Holy Eucharist Cathedral here in New West, and is being supported by the Welcoming and Inclusive New Westminster Local Immigration Partnership Council. More info here about how you can help, or connect people who need help to services.


We then finished up our night by adopting the following Bylaws:

Corporate Records Management Program Amendment Bylaw No. 8322, 2022
This Bylaw that changes which official signatures may be recorded digitally was adopted by Council. So, less Red Tape again?

Street and Sidewalk Patio Bylaw No. 8318 2022
This bylaw that responds to the expiration of the temporary provincial patio licensing rules by making the changes we adopted during COVID permanent was adopted by Council, just in time for the sun to come out.

** the chairs are all the same size.

Ask Pat: Transport 2050 & New West

jectoons asks—

With the new Transport 2050 plan out and the goal of lowering speed limits in urban areas to 30km/h, what is the expected timeline for those changes to take effect in major New West arteries? (Royal, for example).
Also, regarding the 850 km of protected bike lanes, is there an estimation of how much of that will be devoted to our city? Is there a timeline and map in the works? The official plan for the city reimagines Columbia street beautifully, but I wonder when will we actually see those changes applied. (Not a complaint, I know it takes time for these things to be approved and worked on). Thanks for all you do, Pat.

Indeed TransLink has adopted a new long-range plan that creates inspiration for the region’s transportation in the decade ahead. And there is a lot in there:

The theme is “access for everyone”, and there are laudable goals:

And there are 350 pages of this. If I can get my minor complaints out of the way, it leans a bit too much into unproven tech solutions and benefits of unlikely automated vehicle adoption. My slightly bigger complaint is that it leans much more on other orders of government doing their bit to see the plan succeed, with not enough emphasis about what TransLink can do and should do with the power it holds. But I want to get those gripes out of the way, because it is overall a good and forward-looking plan that draws a positive vision for regional mobility. So I encourage you to thumb through it, because here I’m going to only talk about your questions.

The proposal for reducing urban speed limits is outlined under a section where the plan looks toward a Vision Zero approach to reducing fatalities and deaths in our transportation system. The plan calls for:There is a good defense for going in this direction in the plan, and to Active Transportation advocates, there is nothing surprising there. 30km/h saves lives, and makes shared spaces on our City streets much more comfortable for all users. It also allows us to start re-thinking how we design our streets. I talked a bit about that back here when it came up in Council, and New Westminster is one of a group of Municipalities advocating for the Provincial Government to make the change to 30km/h default speed for neighbourhood streets. We have also started to transition roads in select areas around town to 30km/h, and there are promising signs the Province is looking to make it easier for Municipalities to do this.

Which all raises the point that TransLink can advocate for this, but has no power to legislate speed limits. It will be up to the Provincial Government to loosen up the regulatory control on speed limits in the Motor Vehicle Act, and individual Local Governments to adopt these new relaxations.

That doesn’t mean that TransLink adopting this as a policy direction is meaningless, though, as one limit on Local Governments more widely adopting reduced limits is the Major Road Network. These are roads across the Lower Mainland that are shared jurisdiction between Local Governments and TransLink. In practice, that means TransLink gives local governments some maintenance money for them in exchange for some regulatory control over them. If we want to add a new intersection with traffic lights or add a left-turn bay or reduce lane widths or speed limits, we need approval from TransLink to make those changes. The Major Road Network includes the blue lines on this map:

So, if we want to make (your example, not mine) Royal Ave 30km/h, we would need permission from TransLink, and if 30km/h meets their strategy goals, that should make it easier to get that permission. But to be honest, I don’t think Royal will be a priority for that change. At this point, the push for 30km/h is concentrating on neighbourhood roads, collectors, greenways, and pedestrian-dense commercial streets – a work in progress that will advance greatly in the next year or two I hope. The regional arteries like this are not likely to see any change until we actually adopt a Vision Zero strategy, instead of just talking about as something we aspire towards. More on that later.

On the 850km of bike lanes, there is a map in the TransLink plan:

…and my back-of-envelope calculation of this puts it at about 24km of New Westminster, mostly the existing Central Valley Greenway, Crosstown Greenway, and BC Parkway, but with some notable “gaps” in the existing system patched. There is no timeline (except “2050”), and there is no established budget for any of it. But it is an aspirational target, and with senior governments getting into the funding-active-transportation game and municipalities ramping up their work, it is good to have a regional framework to hang our efforts on.

If you are looking at what New West is going to look like in coming years, I put forward a motion passed unanimously by Council in October to start the work on planning a AAA network in New West, which I wrote about here. Staff and the Sustainable Transportation Task Force are engaged in doing the preliminary work of designing what that local network should ideally look like – because the sketches in my blog are just sketches on a blog, and designing these routes requires more thorough analysis by actual experts. You should expect the City to be coming out to the public with some consultation on this in the months ahead. I would suggest the TransLink network will be a major part of our core network, but not all of it. Like speed limits, it’s good to know they are on side.

As for Columbia Street, There are some fresh ideas for the area around New West station and a few key traffic management and public realm improvements on paper, but I can’t tell you the timeline for those. There is some money in the 2022 Capital Plan for some works at the foot of Eighth to improve the pedestrian realm, but the rest will compete on the priority list with improvements in other area. Our capital plan is aggressive, because there is a lot going on.

Finally, I don’t want to get back to complaining, so I’ll try to frame this as an observation triggered by my re-reading the Transport 2050 Plan in preparing this post, because this isn’t a TransLink problem so much as a North America problem. We are much better at talking about Vision Zero than we are at actually understanding it. You can read more about it here, but I am afraid we are starting to use it as a slogan, when it needs to be a change in mindset.

As an example, the Translink plan is to reduce traffic-related fatalities by 5% a year and to zero by 2050. Currently, about 100 people die in traffic fatalities in the region every year, and 40 of those are vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, or people just standing in a bus stop when a car plows them down). The cynical part of me sees this as planning for 95 deaths next year, and planning for 60 deaths in 2030, etc. This looks particularly unambitious (and slightly macabre), and unambitious considering there are true Vision Zero jurisdictions about the size of Greater Vancouver that have *zero* Pedestrian deaths in the typical year. Yes, they exist.

This is not on TransLink to fix – it will take coordination between all levels of government, a pretty fundamental shift in the Motor Vehicle Act, a shift in how we enforce traffic safety, a new approach to managing investigation of traffic deaths to better understand the causes, and re-engineering parts of our transportation system based on those results. But it is that coordinated effort that defines a Vision Zero approach. The vision is for zero deaths right away, not 30 years from now. 30km/h is part of it. Safe AAA bike networks are part of it. But unless we lose the attitude that people dying from car “accidents” is an unavoidable part of our society, they are going to continue to die at increasing rates. I want us to do better, and I’m afraid the provincial government’s emphasis on reducing the cost of driving is working against this.

Council – March 7, 2022

This is the part of my regular blogging out of what happened in Council this week where I apologize for not getting this out sooner. However, my actual-paid-work schedule was busy this week and I have a couple of other meetings related to another project in the evenings that made my week go away remarkable quickly, and I woke up Sunday  Morning after losing an hour of sleep realizing I haven’t done this yet. So here we go. The Agenda was not very long, but we had a lengthy discussion related to our guest:

Presentation: New Westminster Interceptor – Columbia Sewer Rehabilitation UpdateConstruction Noise Bylaw Exemption Extension Request: New Westminster Interceptor – Columbia Sewer Rehabilitation
The major sewer renewal project Metro Vancouver is running in Downtown has been going on longer than anyone wanted, and it is a disappointing situation. A representative from Metro Vancouver came to our meeting to outline some of the reasons why the project is still lagging on.

It is worth noting that this is a difficult piece of engineering. Slip-lining new pipes into a very old existing sewer that is in terrible condition is not without risk or challenge. However this option was chosen over a complete excavation over the entire project length, which would have been massively more disruptive to Columbia Street. The project ran into supply chain issues, Omicron apparently set them back a bit, and equipment got stuck in the Atmospheric River road closures last winter. Hopefully to worse is behind, but Council was able to express the frustration we have heard from the community, and the Downtown BIA were able to attend to express their own concerns directly to Metro.

As it stands, the strategy for the slip-lining is going to change, and instead of installing the bulk of new pipe at the current location near the foot of Eighth, they are going to move a bunch of it up to Blackwood and do a secondary install there. This means moving most of that pipe up there (which is a significantly disruptive activity, as heavy equipment is needed and traffic needs to be re-routed), waiting for an appropriate weather window, and getting the work done. Once the pipe is in the ground, there will be several weeks of follow-up work where new manhole and connections will be installed. If all goes well, they hope to be off the street completely by the May long weekend.

Hope. There is no certainty in this work, and little rending of garments will get accelerate it. Metro has added some senior oversight staff to assure the contractor is doing their upmost to get along with it, but uncertainty is the only certainty any time you dig a hole in a 150 year old city. Council granted another extension to the construction noise exemption so that they can (if needed) work through the night to get this done.

Metro also made some commitments to improved communications with the business community as the project proceeds. This is increasingly important as the Downtown BIA are already planning some summer events on Columbia Street, and Pride is starting to plan for a triumphant return to their street fest – and plans now cannot be subject to uncertain availability of space in June or July. Yelling at the pipe won’t make it install faster, but communication to stakeholders is becoming more vital as summer approaches.


We then moved the following items On Consent:

Amendment to the Corporate Records Management Program Bylaw 2022: Electronic Signature Policy
Last meeting we approved in principle these changes to allow digital signatures on some official city records. This is the Bylaw that empowers that. You can read through the report and see when a digital signature suffices, and when a wet signature (ew!) is required.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 81 Braid Street (Braid SkyTrain Station)
TransLink is updating the water line to the alleged Braid Station. Some of this work has to happen at night to not disrupt transit services, requiring a Construction Noise Bylaw exemption.

Covid-19 Task Forces: Update
These updates we have been getting through the pandemic response are getting shorter. There are still important supports being provided, but it is starting to look more and more like the pandemic-specific responses are morphing into the kind of supports vulnerable populations require regardless of pandemic state.

Fraser Health Authority Community Health Specialist: Proposed New Role
The City, School District and Fraser Health have a partnership through which we try to embed a “healthier community” lens into the work our planning department does. This has mostly been through a joint committee that met quarterly and brought a Fraser Health public health professional into our planning process for new policies and programs. This proposal is to take the next step and embed that Fraser Health employee into our planning department to serve as a resource for all City employees on the public health implications of policies and programs. We get a lot of examples of “downloading” public health costs to local governments, this is an example of Fraser Health investing in making the City more effective at improving Public health, which is a really positive thing to see.

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act Report for 2021
The City is subject to the Provincial FOIPPA, and must adhere to the regulation in how we address FOI requests and protect the privacy of people whose information we may store or distribute. Provincial changes to the FOIPPA this year impact how we do our compliance.

The City generally gets about 80 FOI requests a year, mostly from insurance companies or lawyers doing their due diligence on various claims or cases that may or may not include the City. This is not a huge number, but does take quite a bit of staff time to be compliant. One change to the provincial FOIPPA this year was to allow us to charge for the request. We are not going to implement a fee, as the number of requests we get is small and manageable, and the perceived barrier of the non-refundable fee outweighs any benefit in the efficiency of running the system at the current rate of requests.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1324 Nanaimo Street) Bylaw No. 8290, 2022 and Heritage Designation (1324 Nanaimo Street) Bylaw No. 8291, 2022 for First and Second Readings
The owner of this house in the West End wants to subdivide and build a small infill house on the new lot created, in exchange for heritage protection of the existing 1944 house on the site. This proposal will got to a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then,

Patio Program Update
New West, like some other cities, created more flexible programs to facilitate patios on public land (the sidewalk or parking lot in front of a business) and private land (private parking lots adjacent to existing restaurants) as the Pandemic hit the service industries, and as Provincial legislation around permitting liquor licenses was similarly relaxed. This was mostly well received by the public and businesses, partly because the City already had a pretty flexible and inviting program, the provincial relaxations just made it work easier. The Province has noe replaced their temporary changes with a clearer long-term licensing framework, and the city is adapting its program to align with that, and to assure longer-term concerns (building standards to assure spaces remain accessible and people don’t get hurt), while keeping fees really low and the process simple and familiar. Kudos to the Engineering, Economic Development, and Planning folks for making this happen quickly and smoothly. Summer is approaching…


The following item was Removed form Consent for discussion:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (102 Seventh Avenue) Bylaw No.8312, 2022 and Heritage Designation (102 Seventh Avenue) Bylaw No. 8313, 2022 Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owner of this house in Glenbrook North wants to subdivide and build a small duplex on the new lot created, in exchange for heritage protection of the existing 1941 house on the site. This proposal will got to a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.


Then we had the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Local Government Elections Procedures Amendment Bylaw No. 8311, 2022
This bylaw to allow for mail ballot voting and elector registration by mail and to introduce changes to the definition of special voting, was Adopted by Council. I guess there is an election coming. Better start thinking about that…

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8319, 2022
This Bylaw that makes minor changes to our 2022 Parks and Rec fees was Adopted by Council. Spring outdoor pool season is starting soon!

And that was the work for Early March. Sorry it took so long to get here. Have a good Spring Break!

Ask Pat: Sticks & Carrots

Allen asks—

What do you think of the news that B.C. prepares to remove some housing approval powers from local governments? There are no denying that getting permits from a city is slow and difficult. I’m not sure whether take powers away from local government is good or bad, but in your opinion, how New Westminster can do better on issuing new permits?

I have been thinking a lot about it, but I don’t yet have any answers. This is mostly because Minister Eby has been rather vague about what types of changes he is looking to implement, and the target needs to be well understood to avoid unintended effects. I’ll try to unpack what doesn’t fit in the headlines.

First, I need to note my comments are from the point of view of a member of a City Councils that is meeting our regionally-agreed-upon commitments to building new housing. We have leadership and staff that have weathered the challenges of meeting our Regional Growth Strategy obligations in approving new Purpose Built Rental, market housing, and family friendly housing, while we are finally cracking the nut on new “missing middle”. We have not just approved new non-market affordable housing, but have made City lands available and fast-tracked approvals to assure that when funding arrives for non-market housing, we are inviting it in, and we have made clear we want more funded in our own back yard. We did this without massive expansion into greenfield (because as a 150+ year old City, we don’t have much greenfield) and without massive displacement of vulnerable residents from the older, most affordable housing in the City.

That is not to say New Westminster doesn’t have more work to do, or that the crises are over, only to note that the work we have done in the last decade is region-leading (if the City of North Van will share the podium). This work has not been without push-back from some of the community. Every day we hear as much from people telling us we are going too far, too fast, as we do from people asking us what we are doing to address housing. Have you looked at Facebook recently?

At the same time, we are a City of just under 80,000 people in a region headed towards 3 Million. With only 3% of the region’s population, less than 3% of its tax revenue,  and much less than 1% of its land area, New Westminster is not going to fix the regional housing crisis.  The region is thousands of units a year short of approving what is needed to start to stabilize the market, and are thousands of non-market units short of what we need to provide stability to the most vulnerable populations. So when facing push back or predatory delay, I can see why the Minister responsible for Housing is getting hot under the collar, and is ready to start swinging a big stick to get municipalities to do their job.

Without the benefit of more detail about what that stick looks like, I am concerned that the perception being created (as it may not be what he intends, only the way he is being interpreted in the media) is that of threats, and I can only hope from the New West perspective that Minister Eby will find carrots to compliment that stick.

People in New West know what we need to help the new housing find broader public support in the community; we know what those carrots are. Clear financing for new school locations; support for transit and funding for active transportation to reduce the traffic loads new growth would bring without those investments; prioritizing existing infrastructure funds supporting everything from sewer upgrades to library expansions to new park space, so communities meeting their regional commitments have the upper hand in grant applications. And, yeah, legislative tools to give well-meaning Municipal Councils and staff the flexibility to approve good projects faster.

How can we do better on issuing new permits? The question is really wide-reaching, so the best answer is equally far-reaching. If the conceit of your question is that New West is not building fast enough (and I’m not convinced your entire community agrees with you there) then there is work we can do to accelerate the process. I have had long conversations with architects designing new apartment buildings to homeowners doing relatively small infill projects, and there is no doubt they feel there are approval steps or consultation standards that are not obvious in why they are needed. Developers will tell you this extra time costs them money and pushes up prices, but accelerating the process may cost the City money (as we would need more staff), or compromise important policy goals, so there is clearly a balance to be found. I think the best shorter-term improvement is in creating more certainty about the time for approvals. But again, Development is complex, and we have a culture of public engagement in New West that is difficult to rush.

The one assumption to put aside, however, is that the Province can meaningfully force an acceleration of these processes. Unless the province removes from Municipalities the one ultimate authority they hold – zoning – it will be wielded by different Municipalities to achieve the policy and political goals of the community. And, alas, constructive delay of change is a policy goal of some local governments. As a Lawyer, Minister Eby certainly understands that removing zoning power opens a Pandora’s Box of problems, because zoning authority is interwoven with local government and provincial government regulations. A single example I am professionally very familiar with: without local government zoning control, the entire provincial contaminated sites identification and management system will have to be redesigned. There are scores of other Provincial and Municipal regulatory systems that are similarly buttressed by zoning. Unpacking that would be a very difficult process.

That is not to say the Province is powerless, far from it. I think that Minister Eby will need to be surgical and strategic about the sticks he wields, though I would not begrudge him wielding it to get our region back on track to addressing our overlapping housing crises. I only hope he also brings those carrots, because local governments need community support to do good work, and long-term benefits of meeting our regional commitments to housing are becoming a harder sell to the comfortably housed who vote.

Council – February 28, 2022

We had pretty short Council meeting on Monday, were out of there in under an hour. All that was on the Agenda was for us to approve hundreds of affordable housing units, accelerate the process to approve more, empower the Downtown BIA, expand opportunities to vote in local elections, and a few other things. With all that, we didn’t have anyone come to delegate at open delegations.

We started by moving the following items on Consent:

Downtown New Westminster BIA – 2022 Business Promotion Scheme Budget Approvals
The BIAs are a creature of provincial regulation. They are self-organized and self-identified groups of commercial property owners with a distinct geographic boundary that charge themselves a tax and use the revenue of that tax to promote themselves though street improvement, events, promotions, etc., collectively a “Business Promotion Scheme”. The role of the City is to collect that tax on behalf of the BIA though an empowering Bylaw and give it to them. The Community Charter also says the Council must approve their business Promotion Scheme.

The Downtown New West BIA has a strong organization, and has always been a great partner to the City, and our values and vision are clearly aligned. Even as COVID set a bunch of their well-laid plans back a bit, their new Strategic Plan looks forward to a more prosperous next few years.

Renewal of Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Areas – Results from Notification of Affected Property Owners
As we just covered, the BIA is a creature of provincial regulation (the Community Charter) and our role as a City is to collect their tax and turn it over to them. As they are doing their once-every-4-years renewal of their mandate, we need to update the Bylaw that allows us to collect that tax in the manner and of the amount that the BIA members request. We are also required to assure the BIA organization is supported by the membership in this tax structure, so we mailed notice to every member and put an ad in the newspaper to request their consent. 251 Members were notified, 2 members were in opposition to the Bylaws, representing 2% of the tax assessment value. This meets the threshold for approval of the Bylaw.

Electronic Signature Policy
In the City we need to sign things sometimes to make them official. Our existing policy needs to be changed to allow digital signatures to suffice, and the policy needs to outline what constitutes a sufficient digital signature. Details, details you may say, but a City is a regulatory organization, and details like this end up with a lot of wasted time in courts if not followed through. Also, “wet signature” is such a weird expression.

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw Amendment for 2022
We had recent reports on filming in the City and expanded aquatic offerings in light of the failure of the Canada Games Pool. In both of those reports, we discussed and supported changes in fee structures. Those changes require an amendment of our Fees and Charges Bylaw, which are offered now.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2022 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
About this time of the year we start to get monthly snowpack reports to inform our flood planning. Looks like the snowpack for the wider Fraser basin is a bit above average (108%), but well within the range of normal. Freshet flood risk as complex math of snowpack and pace of melt related to spring weather, so not much to report now except nothing exceptional.

Amendments to the Election Procedures Bylaw 2022: Mail Ballot Voting and Special Voting Opportunities
When it comes to local government elections, the rules are made locally within the standards set out by the province. Soon after the last election, we asked staff to review what went well, and where we may improve voter engagement and voting opportunities. This included surveying all of the candidates in the last election who were not successful.

The idea of being able to vote by mail was raised by the public and some candidates. Recent changes in the Local Government Act related to COVID make it easier for a local government to permit Vote by Mail. Back in 2021, Council asked staff to bring a report to outline the required bylaw changes and resources to make it happen. The bylaw changes to allow mail-in ballots are actually pretty simple in comparison, but voting by mail is actually a complicated and staff-intensive process that must happen on very tight deadlines. There are security issues to deal with, it is possible we won’t know the result of the election on election day (as the mail-in ballots cannot be opened until polls close), but these are surmountable.

Staff is also suggesting changing the wording for our Special Voting Opportunities Bylaw. As it stands, we set up SVOs at seniors homes and hospitals where the residents would not reasonably have an opportunity to get to a voting booth because of their living situation. The language reframes the SVO from being limited to hospital-like settings, and opens the opportunity to anyone who has a special barrier to the regular voting process. As the elections are run by the Chief Electoral Officer and not Council (for obvious reasons) it will be interesting to see how this is operationalized.

Both of these changes I am happy to support, though there are cost and staffing implications. Democracy ain’t free.


We then Adopted the following Bylaws:

Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Area (Primary Area) Bylaw No. 8288, 2021 and
Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Area (Secondary Area) Bylaw No. 8289, 2021
As discussed above, the Bylaws that empower the continued existence of the Downtown BIA were adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Miscellaneous Amendments) No. 8287, 2021
This amending Bylaw that makes a variety of small clean-up changes to our Zoning Bylaw as discussed back in November, was adopted by Council.

Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw (City-wide Crisis Response) No. 8285, 2021 and
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (City-wide Crisis Response) No. 8286, 2021
The amendments to the OCP and Zoning Bylaw to provide a more rapid response to address homelessness in the City, as given a Public Hearing on December 6th, were adopted by Council.

Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw (350-366 Fenton Street) No. 8281, 2021 and
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (350-366 Fenton Street) No. 8282, 2021
The amendments to the OCP and the Zoning Bylaw to provide for Affordable Housing on City-owned land in Queensborough, as given a Public Hearing on December 6th, were adopted by Council.

Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw (60-68 Sixth Street) No. 8283, 2021 and
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (60-68 Sixth Street) No. 8284, 2021
The amendments to the OCP and the Zoning Bylaw to provide for Affordable Housing on Provincially-owned land in Downtown, as given a Public Hearing on December 6th, were adopted by Council.


So a quick meeting with some important process made.

Ask Pat: War on Gas?

Happy Family Day Weekend. It gave be a chance to catch some breathe and look at my Ask Pat queue. The first one I found is pretty long, so I edited it back a bit and will break it into three parts:

FossilFool asks—

Hi Pat, I’ve been inspired and challenged lately by the book, A Good War, by Seth Klein, about how we can look to how Canada responded to WWII as an example of how we could mobilize the country to respond to the climate emergency like an actual emergency.

Not a question yet, but let me interject to say: Me too! I have not only read it, I have marked up, flagged, and taken extensive notes about it:

I did this because I had the challenging job of interviewing Klein as part of the 2021 Lower Mainland LGA conference. The book is incredibly well researched, and so full of both historical facts and compelling ideas that engaging the author in a conversation about it is a bit intimidating to a lowly Earth Scientist. But it definitely tells a different story that we usually read about WW2. Not of the soldiers that put on uniforms, but of the leaders in government and in industry that saw an existential threat and – in less than a year –  completely restructured the Canadian economy to address that threat. Perhaps as amazing (and I’d suggest a better comparable to the Climate Emergency as we come out of a global pandemic) how once the threat was abated, the country immediately and completely restructured its economy once again to stop making so many weapons, and to instead assure people had education, jobs, homes and pensions in the post-year period.

The historical record is amazing, and Klein does a good job drawing parallels (and addressing contrasts) to the current existential threat, and does not leave the question of why we are unable to respond as we did then unexplored. Perhaps surprisingly non-partisan and clear on the positive role capitalism can play in driving change (though he spares little empathy for neo-Liberalism), he nonetheless makes a clear case that it is only bold leadership that is missing. It’s a good read, and a good message.


It seems clear that we need to get off of fossil fuels FAST to really make any significant impact in slowing/limiting climate change. The City of Vancouver has some ambitious goals to get homes to switch entirely away from natural gas, and I’m wondering if other municipalities like New West will soon follow?

Some municipalities like New West are signaling that goal (see Bold Step 3: Carbon Free Homes and Buildings), but Vancouver is in a unique situation, which is why this is an area they are able to take real leadership. Because of their unique enabling legislation, the Vancouver Charter, that City has the ability to regulate its own building code. That means they have the authority to say “we will not permit gas appliances in new builds”. New West and other Municipalities do not have that power. We would need the province to grant us this ability.

Lacking this stick, we still have access to some carrots. This means local government programs to coordinate or add to senior government and industry incentives to switch to electricity. We can also use the greater flexibility in the Step Code to incent change to carbon-free energy. The Step Code is a provincial energy efficiency standard applied to new buildings. Local Governments have the authority to choose which “step” new buildings have to meet, each higher step meaning higher efficiency of the building, but also meaning higher building cost and possibly other compromises in the design of the building. A creative use of the Step Code would allow builders to build a less efficient building (therefore saving money) if they choose only non-carbon appliances for the building. The resultant building may use a bit more energy over its lifetime, but with New West’s electricity effectively zero-carbon, this might be a good bridge to accelerate the transition off fossil gas. This is the path New West is following, starting with “Part 3” buildings, and (knock on wood) coming to other building types soon:


I checked out the EnergySave New West page and can see that there are a bunch of rebates being offered for energy efficiency upgrades, but I was surprised to see that many of them are actually incentivizing changes that still rely on natural gas. If we need to get off of burning fossil fuels period to address climate change, why are we still talking about energy efficiency upgrades that don’t actually achieve that? I’d love to get your thoughts on this. Thanks for your time and for your great blog!

Yes, there are still incentives for people who want to get more efficient gas appliances such as modern furnaces and instant-water heaters to replace hot water tanks. Energy Save New West points people at incentives offered by the City and those offered by the Province, BC Hydro, and Fortis. Though the City does not specifically incentivize gas appliances, we do point people to incentives that exist to encourage them to install more efficient gas appliances.

The debate about whether “more efficient fossil gas appliance” is an appropriate idea right now in light of the climate emergency is definitely a live debate. I know where Seth Klein would fall on this, and I might lean that direction myself. But there are specific and financial barriers to some people going full electric right now, and the gap is not filled by available incentives. For someone with a gas instant water heater and gas stove, switching to electric may require significant upgrades to the electrical system in the house to accommodate the high amperage demands of those appliance types, and a new line and transformer connection for the house at a cost much higher than the appliances themselves. Providing incentive to reduce overall gas use still pays GHD reduction dividends, but I hear you about the incrementalism.

We need to get off fossil gas, and I’m afraid programs like 30by30 are at best stop-gaps until we get to that point, at worst speedbumps slowing that transition. Through my work as the Chair of the Community Energy Association, I have seen first hand how Fortis (who is one of our members) has tried to define and redefine what its role is in this seemingly inevitable transition. They are indeed pushing the envelope on the efficiency of gas for buildings, including a pretty remarkable Deep Energy Retrofit program with serious resources behind it. But I sense a more fundamental shift in their business model is going to be needed if they want to prosper through this time.

That said, I have also noted how BC Hydro has adopted a bit of a cheeky attitude when discussing the need to transition from gas to electricity:

As we have all learned by now, by the time any public debate gets to the TwitterSnark stage, the solutions will soon be in hand. Right?