We had a significant agenda for our regular New West Council meeting this week, and it all started with a Public Hearing:
Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 8406, 2023 and Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 8407, 2023 for 441 Fader Street
The owner of this property in Lower Sapperton wants to build a second infill house on the corner lot, while restoring and preserving for posterity the existing 1930 heritage house. Heritage Restoration Agreements require a Public Hearing, and here we are. The request here in exchange for the HRA is a slight increase in allowed density (FSR 0.662 instead of 0.61 permitted) and permission to stratify so the houses can operate like a duplex instead of one being rental. Overall, there will be three units here, as one of the Strata units will have a rental suite.
The Community Heritage Commission supported the application, and the applicant-led public consultation was pretty mixed, with a lot of people feeling that this was too much density for lower Sapperton (I might counter by saying these is more density coming with the upcoming change in Provincial Legislation, but that’s a blog to come) and expressing concerns about parking (though the existing house has zero off-street parking spaces, and the resultant three homes will have three off-street parking spots), and some pretty mixed feelings about whether heritage preservation is a good or bad thing (there is room to disagree on this).
We had four written pieces of correspondence, mostly expressing the concerns raised above, and a few public delegations, including the proponent, and neighbours both concerned and supportive. In the end, Council unanimously to support this HRA, and gave the empowering Bylaws three readings in the subsequent Council Meeting.
We then got to our regular meeting with a Report for Information pulled from a previous meeting for discussion:
Report Back on Motion Regarding Speed Limits for Motorized Devices Operating on Sidewalks
This is the report back form staff on a motion brought to Council in September asking them to look into putting speed limits on Sidewalks. There is little surprise in here to anyone who had read the City’s eMobility Strategy, the 2022 updates to our Master Transportation Plan that addressed this directly, or was aware of the ongoing provincial pilot program related to e-mobility. As I wrote back when this motion came to Council, “…these are action items already in staff workplans as part of the eMobility Strategy adopted back in June of last year”, and this report confirmed that. It also confirmed that this work really need to wait until the Provincial regulation is amended (presumably before the Pilot Program ends in April) so we can align any local regulatory change with the provincial one.
The following items were then Moved on Consent:
2024 Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw 8438, 2023
The regulations around how the City can borrow money are pretty strict – we can’t borrow without explicit Council support for that borrowing, even for the very short term. The nature of our business is that we spend money year-round, but get most of our revenue at tax time, which means every year we run a slight risk of not having enough cash on hand to pay our bills in the few weeks before those tax dollars arrive en masse. So we get a line of credit to cover us off for those few weeks, which means we need a Bylaw that allows that temporary borrowing, and it needs to be approved by Council every year. This is that approval.
Acting Mayor Appointments for November 2023 through October 2024
We always have to have an Acting Mayor designated in case I can’t do one of my functions as Mayor because I am out of town or under a bus. As I had heard no complaints about how we did it the first time, we are continuing the practice of rotating all 6 Councillors for 2-months stints, and because I find alphabetical order to be boring, I suggested we do it in order of poll results from the 2022 election. Everyone gets two months, so don’t read too much into it.
Approval of Parks Reserve Fund Bylaw No. 8439, 2023
When we have money ear-marked for a specific purpose, it sits in a reserve fund. Those reserve funds are empowered by a Bylaw that sets out how we spend it – the Bylaw is the figurative ear-mark. The insurance settlement for the Pier Park fire site is an example, and this Bylaw sets up the reserve fund so that money is transparently reserved. We report on the state of all Reserve Funds in our annual financial documents (see Page 24 of our 2022 Financial Statements here)
The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
Building Amendment Bylaw No. 8433, 2023: New Energy Step Code and Zero Carbon Step Code requirements beginning Jan 1 of 2024, 2025 and 2027 – Bylaw for Three Readings
We are moving to a Province where fossil “natural” gas will no longer be a tool for heating our buildings or cooking our food. That is explicit in federal climate targets, in Provincial Law, and in our own Climate Action plans. One tool to move us toward this transition is the Zero Carbon Step Code – a gradual change in the building code that removes fossil gas as a permitted energy source in new buildings. Much like the existing Energy Step Code, which gradually increases the energy efficiency rating of new builds, the ZCSC allows local governments to choose to move faster than the code requires by moving up “steps” faster than Provincial Regulation requires – “Opting In” to exceed minimum standards.
There is some technical stuff in these reports, with “Part 9 buildings” (houses and townhouses) and “Part 3 buildings (most multifamily homes), and about the balance between the Energy Step Code and the Zero Carbon Step Code. We want to incent people to move faster, we need to assure that there is a building sector that can meet specific standards and that we don’t price that building out of the market as we are in the throes of a housing crisis. For this reason, the city engaged a technical review and industry consultation that is included in this report. This bylaw outlines a stepped pathway to all new buildings in the city being Zero Carbon by 2027, which is three years ahead of the Provincial target, while at the same time incentivizing the immediate adoption of zero carbon by relaxing the energy step code requirements, which means it should be a little cheaper to build your building if you don’t use gas, while allowing the industry to catch up a bit on both codes. According to a recent Community Energy Association survey, this puts us on track with or ahead of every jurisdiction in BC, while meeting our Seven Bold Steps target for buildings. This is good work, and a huge part of our Community Energy and Emission plan.
City of New Westminster Guidelines to Promote Sex Worker Safety
Part of being a just society is recognizing people who are most at risk in that society, and addressing that risk in way that centres the experience of those facing it. The work to identify and address the risk sex workers face in New Westminster was perhaps overdue after several instances of appalling violence in the City, and several changes in Federal legislation following the Bedford decision. With sex work moving on-line and into hidden place, the risk has only increased.
The City’s response has been to look at what other jurisdictions are doing, and have peer-informed consultant determine the most evidence-driven approach for us to adopt. This includes a working group of peer-driven organizations, local non-profits, and City staff in Social Planning. They will keep communications with the NWPD open, though the NWPD is not explicitly a member of the working group based on the recommendation of the participants with lived experience. This will guide further internal staff straining to members of the City staff who may interact with sex work though their duties – predominantly Bylaws, Business Licensing, and First Responders.
Fair Wage Policy at the City of New Westminster
Back in September, Council endorsed a motion to determine if a Fair Wage Policy is right for New Westminster. This would follow the lead of municipalities like Burnaby and North Vancouver, and would be an important augmentation to our Living Wage Policy. This is not the decision point, but a report back to Council on the work the City’s HR and Legal folks would need to do to allow us to make an informed decision. We are agreeing to tell staff to do that work, and we expect a report back in mid-2024.
Food Security Programs: Update and Proposed Next Steps
The Greater Vancouver Food Bank has been operating out of a church in New Westminster, serving hundreds of families every week. For a series of logistical reasons, they are no longer able to operate out of that location, and are asking those clients to shift to their warehouse location near the Production Way Skytrain station in Burnaby. The service at the door will be better as they will be able to provide a more diverse food supply, but there will clearly be transportation problems for many New Westminster families who rely on this service. City staff and the GVFB folks have been working to find an alternative location in New West that meets their operation needs, to no avail.
The Don’t Go Hungry food hamper program is a newer offering in New Westminster, operating out of three locations, including the Queensborough Community Centre, and also serves hundreds of people every week. They are feeling increased pressure to fulfill community need, and are challenged with fundraising capacity. Along with providing space in the QCC, the City has provided tens of thousands of dollars of grant money over the last couple of years to keep the DGH operation afloat.
There is a third food hamper program operating in the city and serving hundreds of people, with an emphasis on newcomers to Canada. Hope Omid is operated by Roqiya Ahmadi (recently named New Westminster’s Citizen of the Year) and is similarly dealing with increased need and limited fundraising ability. I think it is important that they are included in this discussion
Between the three of them, there may be thousands of people in this City whose food security and nutrition needs are linked to their services. With grocery prices (and profits!) increasing at unsustainable rates, this is not a problem that is going away. So the City’s Social Planning staff are going to work with the three providers to determine how best the City can support the work they do to improve food security in New Westminster. We are diving into work here that is not strictly “local government”, but food security is yet another area where jurisdictional battles do no-one any good, and the public expects all levels of government to step in where they can, as it is such an important part of community sustainability.
Pavement Restoration Policy
You know what pavement cuts are. Those strips of uneven pavement that crisscross roads across the city, connecting homes to water, sewer, or other utility services. They are necessary, but can quickly degrade the asphalt and reduce the life of the pavement, leading to increased paving costs. You would not believe how much pavement costs, and it is increasing in cost much faster than “CPI” inflation.
When a cut is made, the contractor has to restore the road to a Municipal Access Agreement standard, but this standard is a bit inconsistent, and does not reflect the true cost to the City related to cumulative degradation of the roads because of lower-quality cut and fills. We need to standardize this, and update our standards and costs related to this.
Staff Recommendations Related to the Council Motion Regarding the Chinatown Community Stewards Program
This is a follow-up from a resolution earlier this year that actually arose from some Strategic Planning discussions around alternate approaches to address some challenges in the downtown. The Chinatown Stewards program in Vancouver has been successful, so Council inquired whether something similar would work here, and asked how the City could support it.
The current I’s On the Street Program coordinated by the New Westminster Homelessness Coalition has significant overlap with the Chinatown Stewards, in that they provide employment for people with lived or living experience in homelessness and pay them to be stewards of public Urban space in Downtown, Sapperton and Uptown, assisting with litter management and sharps disposal, disseminated resource info to people living downtown, and being, as inferred, “eyes on the street”. Staff is recommending instead of a new program, enhancing I’s on the Street to fill more of the functions of the Stewards. This also means committing or finding funding, as the I’s on the Street program funding is coming to a close at the end of the year.
The Right Person, the Right Time, the Right Place: Council Motion Update
Earlier this year, we had a delegation from Century House present a report to Council on how we could better support seniors in the community through programs that better support aging in place and public health care for seniors, especially in light of the massive failures of Privatized Seniors Care during the Pandemic. As we see Alberta doubling down on the privatization route, the need for evidence-based policy that centres Seniors’ quality of life, not the profit model is as acute as ever.
Working with the Century House group, City staff have looked at a new Age-Friendly Community Strategy, with initial work to be launched to coincide with Seniors Week in 2024. At every step, the City will include the seniors who advocated for this work in the conversation, and will be looking to engage senior government to help with inevitable legislative change and resource needs.
Uptown Business Association and Downtown New Westminster BIA – 2024 Business Promotion Scheme Budget Approvals
The Uptown and Downtown BIAs both operate through the Community Charter model: the City collects a tax from their members (about $150,000/year for Uptown, $300,000/year for Downtown) and turn that money over to the respective BIAs to do programming that supports the needs of the BIA as identified by the members. Their spending is made transparent to the community through their “Business Promotion Scheme” budgets, which this report outlines. Council is asked to approve this spending, though it is a bit unclear in the Charter what it would mean if we chose to NOT approve it, as it is their money, we are just administrators. That said, supporting the BIA process is one of the ways the City partners with the Business Community for the betterment of the entire community.
We then read a bunch of Bylaws, with the following Bylaws for Adoption
Growing Communities Fund Reserve Fund Bylaw No. 8415,2023
This Bylaw creates a reserve fund to segregate the Growing Communities Fund proceeds provided by the Provincial government from other existing reserve funds, and it was Adopted by Council.
Code of Conduct Bylaw No. 8408, 2023
This is the Bylaw that formalizes our updated Code of Conduct for all Council Members. It took a lot of work with Council, staff, and our external counsel to put this together, and it will make us a stronger organization going forward. I’m really happy Council endorsed this, and am disappointed it wasn’t unanimously supported.
Finally, we had a single Motion form Council to consider:
Providing equitable funding to cities with municipal police forces impacted by the Surrey Police Service transition
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine
Whereas the Province of BC has committed up to $150M to the City of Surrey to cover part of the transition costs related to the transition from the RCMP to the Surrey Police Service; and
Whereas the City of New Westminster and other jurisdictions with their own municipal police force have been impacted by the Surrey police transition as it pertains to the recruitment and retention of staff;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council request a memo from the NWPD Chief regarding the current and anticipated future impacts of the Surrey Police Service transition on our NWPD staffing retention and recruitment strategies; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Mayor be asked to write a letter to the Solicitor General asking the Province of BC to provide additional funding to municipal police forces that have been or may be impacted by the Surrey Police Service transition.
I had to be careful to speak only as Mayor and not as the Chair of the Police Board here, but I was opposed to this motion simply because it is 100% a Police Board matter. Council does not direct the Police Chief, and the Police Act draws a strict firewall between the civilian Police Board and the elected City Council for exactly this reason – intentionally to keep political interference and partisan politics out of the operation of police.
The Police Board understands this division, and its duty. It also understands the value of working collaboratively with Council to assure the community’s interests are represented and understood. The Board and Council have started having formal meetings (we had one just last week) where we had a fulsome and meaningful exchange of ideas, but people stayed in their own lane. I suggest that as the appropriate venue for an elected member of this Council to engage with what are strictly Police Board items.
I also need to address some of the information being shared around this motion, as it did not (in my opinion) reflect the reality of the NWPD recruiting situation as reported to Council at that meeting last week. It is true that 15 members of the NWPD changed jobs to join the SPS in 2021 and 2022. However, none made the move in 2023, and over the same three year period, NWPD has successfully recruited 21 members from other police forces. Officers moving between services is a regular part of the business, but our Chief is clear in communicating that morale in our department is high, and we have become a service of choice for police officers.
In the end, Council decided to defeat the first resolution, and to refer the second half of this motion to Police Board, where advocacy about Police Funding really need to reside. That is not to say the City doesn’t have a role, indeed, in the Council / Police Board meeting last week, both organizations agreed that “joint advocacy” should be an area we work together on. Going around the Police Board to advocate directly to the Minister on police matters does not seem to be in the spirit of that agreement.
And that brought the meeting to an end. It was a meaty agenda with lots of important work on it, but we managed to get through it all fairly efficiently, while giving lots of space for discussion and dialogue. I think we are getting the hang of this council thing, one year in.