Council – Nov 27, 2023

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.

Workshop – Nov 20, 2023

We didn’t have a regular Council meeting this Monday in New West, but we did have a Council Workshop. This represents a bit of a shift in how we will be doing Council business for the next year at least. The goals is to try out various strategies to make Council more efficient and effective, while assuring time for all of Council to have comprehensive discussions around important issues and initiatives (even get into the weeds a little, if needed). These workshops replace our earlier Task Force model where a sub-set of Council worked with staff on specific topics of priority before the results are brought to Council for decisions. Workshops are more like Committees of the Whole (but for legislative and procedures reasons different) that include everyone on Council, but provide more flexibility and less structure than Council. Ideally, we can work out details, address concerns raised by Council members, and give staff a heads-up about how Council will receive upcoming reports so recommendations to Council can be better informed by the “mood of the room”. These are not replacing Council meetings, but enhancing them. Yes, we will have more meetings, but maybe fewer of them will fo until midnight.

As it was my regular pattern here to only report on actual Council Meetings, I’m not sure how much I want to report out on the Blog about workshops, but this one had a few interesting topics, so from this point forward, we’ll see how it goes. You can see the agenda and watch the video here.

Budget 2024: Service Enhancements, Strategic Plan Implementation, and Revenue & Funding Projections
This report form senior staff in the City went through department-by-department on pressures being felt and their approach to addressing Council strategic priorities in order to inform any enhancement requests that will be coming forward in the Operational Budget discussion. This speaks a bit to how we do budgeting in the City and how it is different than your household budgeting, or even how a small business manages their budget. But that is longer blog post discussion.

One of the major drivers to the budget this year is the opening of təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre. It is not only the largest ever single investment in community infrastructure in New Westminster, it is also going to cost money to operate. Detailed study suggests it will cost $1.4Million a year more to operate as it is much larger and more complex than the facilities it replaces. It will also recover more revenue, as use is expected to be much higher than the facilities it replaces, resulting in up to $500,000 more in revenue every year. This still leaves an operating deficit on the order of $900,000 per year, and we need to budget for that.

Yes, a large pool and recreation centre costs money to operate, and we cannot recover all of those costs, Indeed, we don’t want to recover all of those costs, because like a library or a skating rink or a public playground or a fire department – these are services provided to the community based on community desires and need, not based on whether we can make money running them.

We also talked about some significant restructuring work we are doing inside City Hall. One example is bringing the Electrical Utility and our Climate Action staff together to form a single department, recognizing that the synergy that will be found in having an electrical provider involved in the electrification push that all jurisdictions will we encountering over the decade ahead. This brings our utility that is really good at keeping the lights on together with the strategic drivers of climate action, so everything from retrofits of buildings to EV charging strategy are addressed in a synchronized way. Another example is the staffing up of a Housing Division in our Planning and Development department, which will allow us to be more nimble in responding to funding opportunities in housing while assuring we have capacity to meet the various new changes in how housing is regulated in the province. We are also amalgamating several functions in the City into a new Community Services department, so we can be more streamlined in how these various outward-facing services operate, and can fulfill our Strat Plan mandate around Community Connections and Belonging.

There is also a good memo in here worth reading about how successful we have been at getting senior government funding for various initiatives in the City, and our strategy to keep on that path as both the Federal and Provincial governments are getting into their respective election cycles.

Appointment of Chief Election Officer for SD40 Trustee By-election
Under the Local Government Act, the City is responsible for organizing a By-election when one is needed, and if it is a School Board by-election, we send the bill to the School District. This report was about the hiring of the Chief Election Officer and their Deputy, and set out the legislated timelines for the election. Election Day is February 3rd, and everything counts back from there!

Code of Conduct Review
Council has been working on an update of our Code of Conduct for many months. We hired an external expert to guide us through constructing a robust Code, and agreed with the best practice of having and an external Ethics Commissioner to adjudicate the Code in the event it is invoked. This has been an iterative process in developing the Code, as there is are necessary nuances in balancing rights and responsibilities, and in the complex relationships between elected folks, staff, and the public. We want people aggrieved to be empowered to invoke the Code, but also want to avoid the Code being wielded as a partisan hammer or a tool for harassment. It is actually a complex piece of policy development that required careful consideration by Council and the insight of a consultant with practical experience in operating a Code of Conduct in a political realm.

Council voted to give the empowering Bylaw Second and Third Reading, meaning the drafting of the Bylaw is over, we just need to adopt it at a subsequent meeting to make it law.

Council – Nov 6, 2023

November 6th marks the 23rd meeting of the term and the last meeting of the first year. We had a relatively gentle agenda that got us out of there in time to watch the Canucks disassemble the Oilers in the third period. But we all know they will break our hearts soon enough. Before that, on to the Agenda, which started with the following items that were Moved on Consent

Appointment of Director of Finance/Chief Financial Officer
We have a new Director of our Finance Department and Chief Financial Officer. As this job has some specific regulatory roles under the Community Charter and some City Bylaws, Council has to formally make the appointment. Welcome Shehzad!

Approval of Growing Communities Fund Reserve Fund Bylaw No. 8415, 2023
We have not yet spent our $15.8 M Growing Communities Fund, but will be including it in our future Capital budgeting. In the meantime, it formally sits in a Reserve Fund that we need to create through Bylaw. This is that Bylaw.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 660 Quayside Drive (Bosa Developments)
One of the construction cranes on the Bosa waterfront development is coming down, which requires some traffic disruption and work outside of regular construction hours to accommodate this disruption.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation: 441 Fader Street – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owner of this house in Sapperton wants to build a second infill house on the lot, stratify the property, and restore and preserve the current house through a Heritage Designation. The total density on site will be a little above what is permitted, and the stratification requires Council approval. It saw some community consultation, but will also come to a Public Hearing (as is required for HRAs), so I’ll hold my comments until then.

Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8389, 2023 (810 Agnes St) – Bylaw for Three Readings
This is the agreement between the City and the developer that assure the new tower proposed at 810 Agnes be a rental property for 60 years or the life of the building, whichever is longer.

We then had a couple of items that were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Anvil Centre Engagement Objectives
The Anvil Centre is working towards its tenth anniversary, and Council wants to have a conversation with the community about how it serves the community, and how it could serve the community better. This report outlines the engagement process and frames the questions the City will be asking the community. Watch Be Heard New West for engagement opportunities if you care about the Anvil and making Downtown better.

Motion Response: Increasing Access to Fresh Drinking Water for Local Residents and Their Pets
There was an earlier motion to have staff look at installing temporary drinking fountains attached to fire hydrants like they piloted in Vancouver. This is the report back from staff, and I can sum it up as “Uh… no”.

Vancouver had the ability to fabricate these in-house for their pilot, and have decided after the pilot to scale this program back and move back towards permanent stand-alone fountains. There are a bunch of reasons for this, from chlorine and sediment flushing requirements at the “dead end” that are often used for hydrants, interference between the hydrants use as a drinking source and as a firefighting source (meaning they were only installed where there was another nearby hydrant), and other technical and maintenance challenges. But most importantly, the cost to make and install these is equal to or higher than the cost of purchasing and installing off-the-shelf stand-alone permanent fountains. The temporary items don’t work as well, are more hassle, and cost more than the alternative. No surprise staff did not recommend we follow this less effective and more expensive path.

That said, we are going to do an assessment of where we may be deficient in water fountains (look! open data!), and will come back with a plan to prioritize installations of new (permanent) fountains as Council releases budget to do so.

We then read a few bylaws including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Anvil Theatre Fees and Charges Amendments Bylaw No. 8426, 2023
Business License Amendment Bylaw (2024 Fee Schedule) No.8420, 2023
Climate Action, Planning and Development Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8428, 2023
Cultural Services Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No.8430, 2023
Electrical Utility 2024 Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8432, 2023
Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8423, 2023
Fire Protection Amendment Bylaw No. 8431, 2023
These Bylaws that set the fines and fees for the next budget year, including annual adjustments for inflation, were adopted by Council.

We also had some delegations, and some direction given to staff rising from those delegations, but I will report those out here when we get some actionable items back from staff and know where we are going with the items. As always, you can watch the delegations and all of the meeting by looking up the video here. As you will see, we have Council working like a finely honed machine, and had a pretty quiet end to year one, let’s go year two!

Council – October 30, 2023

We had a great Council meeting on Monday where I feel we really moved some things forward, some in the afternoon Workshop (which you can see on video here) but I only report here on the regular Agenda which started with a few Reports for Council:

2023 Point-in-Time Homeless Count: Key Findings and Messages
This is a local reporting out on the regional Homeless Count back on March, an event that occurs every three years. Several members of New Westminster Council took active part in the homeless count as volunteers, and this is a valuable experience in understanding the paths to homelessness, and the challenges faced every day by unhoused and precariously housed residents in our community. It is not just a “count” but an active survey that results in a long conversation, and once you meet folks, learn their names, and hear their stories, it can change how you view people who are without a home.

It is important to note that the “count” is almost certainly an undercount; even the most dedicated teams cannot reach everyone living without secure housing in our community in 24-hour period. New Westminster is small and dense, which means our undercount is likely smaller than in some larger and more sprawling communities.

Overall, this years’ count found 57 unsheltered people in New Westminster, which is an increase of 16 over the last count in 2020. There were also 146 sheltered homeless people counted (folks who have no secure or reliable home, but do have some access to emergency shelter or borrowed space) which is an increase of 64 people over the 2020 count. This totals 203 people, which is 65% more than just three years ago. This is equal to or lower than the increases in surrounding communities of Surrey (65%), Burnaby (69%), Tri-Cities (86%), and Richmond (91%). This report also includes a raft of demographic data, and is worth a read, and it helped inform some of the action in the next item on our agenda.

Responding to the Homelessness, Mental Health and Substance Use Crises: Proposed Two-Year Organizational Pilot Project and Implementation Strategy
Following on that earlier report, this is a report on a new phase of work proposed in New Westminster to address the myriad impacts of the three overlapping crises facing our community and our region. I say a new phase, because there has been a tonne of work done already. The City’s first responders, engineering and bylaws departments have been coordinating with local service agencies, Fraser Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC housing, and others to bring resources and tools to the community.

With the Downtown Livability Strategy and the ongoing work of the Unsheltered Task Force, conditions have measurably improving over the last few months, but staff are feeling strain from the ongoing workload of this atypical work. We also have some longer-term proactive measures to address the bigger challenges, including planning around better shelter and supportive housing measures, but these are going to take some time to bring on line, and both staff and the community want to see some more immediate responses.

Staff have been connecting with some cohort commutes facing similar challenges, and are bringing back some best practices. Primary among these is to separate operations and response from the policy development and advocacy function, while ensuring ongoing communication between both functions. The work involves a New Crises Response Team to better coordinate existing resources in the community, including provincially-funded response and care teams, a new Operations Support Team that is made up of existing staff, and some Policy and Advocacy resources. There is no doubt these new resources are going to cost us money to provide, and we are going to see this in our 2024 budget planning, but this is what the community is demanding of us, and we are going to continue to lobby senior governments to provide financial support.

This is a responsible and evidence-based approach to the challenges facing us, and structuring it as a two-year pilot allows us to set goals around likely timing for new shelter and transitional housing coming on-line, while it also allows us to budget responsibly and provide clear requests from senior government with measurable outcomes and timelines. I am really glad the majority of Council are listening to the community, and endorsed this plan.

Canada Games Pool Tank Leak Causation Investigation Results
This is the report on the known causes of the failure of the Canada Games Pool tank. In the end, there were a variety of causative factors, but differential settling of soils likely related to shifting groundwater levels caused a previous weakness in the tank (related to the 1990s repairs and the decision in the 1970s to build slab-on-grade in a landfill area instead of building on piles or stone columns like the new pool) came together at an inopportune time. We knew the pool was end of life, this is what taking a facility past end of life looks like.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Budget 2024: Fees and Rates Review, Amendment Bylaws for Three Readings
As discussed in our September 25 meeting, these are the bylaws staff was asked to prepare to support our annual changes in various fees and rates in the City.

Electric Vehicle Ready Requirements for New Non-Residential Buildings
The transition to EVs from internal combustion vehicles is inevitable, and will be driven faster by CleanBC provincial mandates about ending the sale of new non-electric vehicles by 2035. One pressure stalling the pace of adoption is the availability of charging infrastructure. A recent report at Metro Vancouver provided a detailed analysis of the need for public charging stations (up to 90,000 needed regionally by 2050!), and the imperative to assure charging is available in homes and where people work or shop.

Back in 2018, New West mandated all new residential builds have to accommodate charging in all parking spots (that is, be pre-wired for it so installation of physical chargers is possible). This proposal is to bring similar but less stringent requirements to non-residential parking such as new commercial, industrial and office buildings. There is a bit of technical detail here regarding the type of charging infrastructure (e.g. dedicated vs. load-shared), but the proposal here for 50% of all off-street parking have access to charging is aligned with and slightly exceeds the recommendations in that Metro Vancouver report. This will be run past the building and development industry before we implement it, but initial analysis finds this will be a minor increased cost (~$500 per spot) compared to the cost of providing parking in the first case ($20,000 – $50,000 per spot).

And the following item was Removed From Consent for discussion:

Report Back on Council Motion Regarding New Westminster Becoming a 15-Minute City
This is the staff follow-up to the motion that came to Council after advocacy by a youth group in town. When conversation about the “15 Minute City” idea came out here in New West, there were some who asked the obvious question: Aren’t we already? There are definitely some neighbourhoods in New West that approach this ideal, like Sapperton and Downtown, but there are also neighbourhoods that are still rather car-dependent and lacking in local services. Room for improvement.

Importantly, and outlined in this report, there are already many City plans and policies that move us toward a15-Minute City model, including much of our Official Community Plan. Reflecting this alignment, the suggested direction from staff is to incorporate the clearly indicated 15-Minute City principles into existing work and upcoming planning processes, as opposed to developing a standalone 15-Minute City plan. This was adopted by Council.

We then read a bunch of Bylaws, including the following Bylaw for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (902 First Street) No. 8418, 2023
This Bylaw to rezone 902 First Street to allow construction of a duplex was adopted by Council. Notably, this may be a type of bylaw adoption that is going away with the new announcement of housing changes by the provincial Government!

Finally, we had a single Motion from Council:

Amending the City’s separation allowance policy to eliminate possibility of ‘double dipping’ by former Mayors and Councillors
Councillor Fontaine

WHEREAS the City of New Westminster compensation package for elected officials includes the payment of a separation allowance upon completion of their term(s) in office equivalent to ten percent of their highest annual remuneration for each year of service commencing after December 1st, 2008 (with a twelve year cap); and

WHEREAS there is no impediment for Council members to receive a separation allowance from New Westminster taxpayers even if they transition successfully into new employment within a short period of time;

WHEREAS the intent of the separation allowance ought to be limited to bridging the employment gap after a member has ceased to serve on Council;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council request legal counsel to draft an amendment to the Council Remuneration Policy such that the separation allowance be set up as a salary continuance for a maximum of 12 months that can be terminated upon a former Council member becoming gainfully employed full-time within the first year after ceasing to serve on Council, rather than as a lump sum payment at the time of separation.

I fundamentally disagree on the third whereas clause is here, and don’t know what the foundation of the assumption is. The Separation Allowance is a benefit elected officials receive at least in part to address the fact that they are not provided any pension access or ability to participate in the Municipal Pension Plan. Many people (including myself) give up some portion or all of their pensionable work to do this job. If we want younger early- or mid-career people to take on this work instead of reserving it for retired and independently wealthy people who can afford the privilege of doing this “as a public service” without fair compensation, we need to recognize that for many it means putting some other career aspirations aside. We live in a society where access to pensions are (or at least should be, but don’t get me started on the erosion of worker benefits) an important part of every compensation package. The separation allowance provides to people doing this work the opportunity to invest in an RRSP and achieve some “pension-like” benefit that makes up for the loss in pension access that may come with the job. Or they can use it to bridge their income to a post-council job. Neither is wrong.

However, the underlying assumption in this motion is not one I agree with, and I could not support the motion, nor could the majority of Council.

As an aside, it is important to remember the Mayor job is full time (plus!), but Council is not. Many (most) Council members do work aside from their Council jobs, because they have to pay a mortgage and support a household. This is not “double dipping”, this is having two jobs, each with their own independent compensation arrangements. I frankly found using a pejorative term like “double dipping” to describe this to be disrespectful to members of Council, current and past.

And that was it for a pre-Halloween edition of New West City Council. Tune in next week for more scary content!

Council – October 15, 2023

We had relatively quick and strangely uplifting Council meeting on Monday. Not sure what changed the energy in the room, but it went well and we had a full agenda that started with a couple of Information Reports pulled for discussion:

Train Whistle Cessation – Q3 Update
This is our regular quarterly report for information on train whistle cessation programs in the City. Though the technical group continues to advance work, the only real update is some identified challenges on the Spruce Street crossing that staff are working on.

Correspondence dated September 18, 2023 regarding Burnaby New Westminster Task Force on Sexually Exploited and At-Risk Youth – Invitation for Council member to join the Task Force
We have been invited by Burnaby to join a taskforce to address this risk in our community, with a suggestion that one member of our Council join. Councillor Henderson has experience working in this field, an interest in helping vulnerable youth, and a positive working relationship with Councillor Santiago (who sent the invite from Burnaby) and was nominated by Council to represent us on that task force.

We had one Report for Action:

ON TABLE Council Code of Conduct Bylaw No. 8408, 2023
This was a presentation on the work done for the Code of Conduct, and a proposal to bring next readings to the empowering Bylaw, but a clerical error meant the heading was not included in the Council Agenda that went out on the City’s website (though, notably, all of Council were provided the report last week). To be real sticklers, adding it to the agenda after the Agenda has been Adopted needed a unanimous motion of Council, but unfortunately some on Council chose to not approve its addition for reasons that were not really made clear. So this important work to improve accountability for our Council will be delayed until we can arrange another Council meeting where external legal counsel will be available.

We then moved the following items On Consent

Amendments to 2023 Schedule and Proposed 2024 Schedule of Council Meetings
As previously discussed, we are looking at a new Workshop model to replace some Council Task Forces we had over the previous couple of terms. This hopes to provide more opportunities for deeper discussions of topics aligned with the Strategic Priority Plan, and to make for more efficient Council Meetings as more longer-form deliberation and discussion can occur in workshop with staff present. This does mean more meetings for most of Council. It looks worse than it is, as many of these new meetings are replacing task force meetings that did not have the power of Council, but it is still a more full calendar. So update your schedules folks!

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 1031 Quebec Street, New Westminster – Metro Vancouver Annacis Water Supply Tunnel, Fraser River Crossing
You may have noticed a construction site in the Lower 12th area at the foot of the hill. Metro Vancouver is burrowing tunnel from Surrey to New West into which will be placed a significant new water supply pipeline to serve expanding communities South of the Fraser. This work started late and is behind schedule, so the Construction Noise Bylaw extension needs to be extended. Most of the heavy work is happening on the surrey side and by the Tunnel Boring Machine underground, and we have not had a spate of complaints related to the work so far, so Council is permitting this extension.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Columbia Street at 8th Street (New Westminster SkyTrain Station)
I expect this application is going to result in more complaints, but it is hard to determine an alternative than to allow this work to occur outside of permitted hours. The Columbia Street Skytrain platforms need to be expanded to accommodate longer trains and to assure the safety of passenger on what has become one of the busiest platforms on the original Expo Line. Much of this work cannot occur during operational hours of Skytrain for a variety of safety and function reasons.

Response to February 6, 2023 Special City Council Motion for Utilities Commission Open Minutes Extracts regarding the Advance Metering Infrastructure Project
This is a report for information based on a request made at Council to collate older minutes of the Electrical Utility Commission about the AMI program. Share and enjoy.

Uptown Business Association Business Improvement Association Renewal: 2024 – 2028
BIAs exist under Provincial legislation, specifically Section 215 of the Community Charter. In short, the City collects extra tax from businesses within the BIA area, and turns that tax revenue over to the BIA to do BIA things – mostly street and public space improvements, events and promotion of the commercial neighbourhood for the benefit of their members. The agreement that empowers this needs to be updated every five years, and a new tax rate set based on what the BIA members want to charge themselves. We are starting that process for the Uptown BIA as their existing agreement ends at the end of the year.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Arts, Culture and Economic Development Advisory Committee – Draft Terms of Reference
The Economic Development Committee is being somewhat updated, partly as the Retail Strategy and Arts Strategy recognized the economic development impacts of investment in the Arts and Culture, and many of the organizations involved in Arts and Culture and Economic development in the city overlap. This is the updated Terms of Reference to reflect that change, and we will start recruiting community members and representatives from partner organizations. Council has a good discussion with staff around how this new Committee will be structured.

Support for TransLink’s Bus Rapid Transit Action Plan
The Access for Everyone plan from the Mayor’s Council for the future growth of TransLink transit service leans heavily on new bus infrastructure, including Bus Rapid Transit. BRT is a hybrid between light rail which uses roads and tires instead of rails, but moves near the same capacity of people though dedicated lanes, station-type boarding, and limited stop routes. This service serves as backbone transit service in many jurisdictions, form Asia to Europe and Latin America, but is relatively uncommon in North America (though several faux-BRT systems are touted in places like Boston and New York that are really just TransLink B-Line type service).

Though all mayors at Mayors Council have fully endorsed this plan, staff are now working through prioritization of routes for earlier implementation, and one of the factors will be the willingness of municipalities to endorse BRT on their roads. We don’t want to end up in a West Vancouver B-Line situation where advanced transit service is turned down by a local government, stalling implementation for other municipalities, so TransLink is asking for statements like this for endorsement of the lines that impact communities.

This doesn’t mean the 22nd-to-Marine BRT will be first. There are other factors such as buildability, cost, integration with the existing system, and projected ridership needs that will go in to the mix of prioritizing routes. I also note that TransLink currently has no money to deliver even the first BRT line, and conversations with senior government continue. Let your MLA and MP know!

Update on Council Motion Regarding “The Right Person, the Right Time, The Right Place”
Back in June, a group of representatives from Century House delegated to Council asking for the City to implement and advocate towards the recommendations of a report arising from work that the CHA and United Way had previously done. Council moved to support this call, and this report outlines what progress we have already made on the recommendations directed at Local Government, and speaks to a plan to evaluate and potentially address, the others, including senior government advocacy towards the things that are not in our jurisdiction.

Some of these actions will require partnerships and longer-term planning, and there may be some significant work plan and cost implications if we go it alone, so this proposal is to take those items back to the Century House Association, and determine priority and partnership potentials before we commit.

Westminster Pier Park Fire Site – Next Steps
Alas, most of us can remember the Pier Park fire of 2020, when we lost 2 acres of public park space. The clean up after was very complicated – old asphalt and creosote treated wood burned over sensitive river habitat, meaning the environmental remediation of those soils and sediments cost the City millions. Fortunately, we were insured, though “replacement value” is a difficult thing to determine with a 100-year-old pier built of materials that are no longer available, and not exactly replaceable under current environmental, seismic, and building codes. This required a marine engineer and negotiations with our insurer.

We have settled on $30M, including $10M that has already been provided and was mostly used to fund the cleanup and remediation work. When all is said and done, the City will have about $22M to start working on the replacement plan. Now we need to start planning what the community wants to put in the place, because exactly what was there is probably not what the community wants, and the Park will be very different when the (coincidentally) 2 acres of new space opens next year on the west side of Pier Park as the Bosa project is completed.

This report outlines the next steps in envisioning the replacement. As any site on the shore of the Fraser River is of incredible historic importance to First Nations, we are going to first connect with host nations and discuss what they would envision for this space. We are also going to go out to the community to engage on their vision or dreams for this place. We are also going to start developing a funding strategy in anticipation that we will need more than $22M to build the community’s vision, and senior government partners will want to participate in a city- and region-defining project.

This is going to be a big thing, an important conversation in the community, so stay tuned

We then read some Bylaws, including adoption of the following:

Permissive Tax Exemption Bylaw No. 8419, 2023
Certain properties within New Westminster such as places of worship, hospitals, and those with charitable/ philanthropic uses are eligible for an exemption from property taxes. This bylaw lists the properties exempted in 2024, and it was Adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (376 Keary Street) No. 8404, 2023
This bylaw that rezones a property in Sapperton to permit a duplex was adopted by Council.

And that was about it for business. Except that we also had an afternoon Workshop on the 2024 Capital Budget that is worth watching here, and a great presentation in the evening meeting from the Canadian Mental Health Association on the PACT program first year success. Maybe this is what lifted our spirits.

Council – Sept 25, 2023

We had a relatively quick Council Meeting on Monday, everyone probably nursing UBCM exhaustion, but we nonetheless got quite a bit done. The Agenda started with a Public Hearing:

Official Community Plan Amendment No. 8399, 2023 and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8400, 2023 for 909-915 Twelfth Street
The owner of these three properties on Twelfth Street want to bring more medium-density housing to the commercial strip. This is consistent with the OCP and neighbourhood plans, but there is a bit of a complication. To develop the property, they are looking to purchase a small strip of City owned land around the back of the property. It is a short laneway that belongs to the City, but only accesses these properties. This is not atypical, and the owner will have to pay the City the fair market value of that land, but the situation here is that the 5m wide laneway falls under a different OCP designation, so we would need to do an OCP amendment on just that small strip to bring it into the same land use category as the rest of the properties. So we go to Public Hearing.

The project itself is for a 5-story residential building with 40 units. The OCP would allow up to 6 stories here, but the zoning does not, so it needs a rezoning. The current buildings are older commercial with some upstairs suites, and a used car lot. 9 units are “ground oriented”, meaning they are townhouse-style with individual openings to the street to improve the vitality of the streetscape along that stretch, and half of all units meet our family friendly criteria with 2 or three bedrooms. The building will be highly efficient as it is built to Step 4 of the Energy Step Code, and yet will have 62 off-street parking spots. The City’s tenant relocation policies do not apply to properties with fewer than 6 rental units, nor to commercial units, however the applicant has agreed to and the City has secured relocation standards for both.

The project saw separate City-led and Applicant-led public consultation, including First Nations consultation appropriate for the OCP amendment, with a few people in the neighbourhood raising concerns about traffic impacts for the most part. The project was approved by the Design Panel, the Heritage Commission approved the demo of the existing buildings that have no significant heritage merits. We had six written submissions and about the same number of delegates at the Public Hearing. Concerns were related to increased density and traffic impacts.

I supported this project, as I think it strikes the right balance of density, family-friendliness, and a refresh of a streetscape that could use one. It not only complies with the OCP and community plans (including the Retail Strategy), but was shaped by those policies and plans. Which brings us to the regular council meeting, where we started by addressing the Bylaws form the Public Hearing:

Official Community Plan Amendment (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No.8399, 2023
Zoning Amendment (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No. 8400, 2023
Road Closure, Dedication Removal, and Disposition (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No. 8401, 2023</b.
Council unanimously supported giving these Bylaws Third reading.

We then had a Development Variance Permit to consider:

Development Variance Permit DVP00701 for 311 Ash Street
I recused myself from this discussion, as I live right across the street from the subject property, and there is a perceived conflict of interest (if not a direct pecuniary interest). We generally use the 100m rule to say if you live within 100m of a rezoning of development project, you probably have the perception of interest, but it is up to members of Council to make that determination under advice of the Corporate Office and City Solicitor.

So I don’t know what happened here and to find out, you will have to watch the video or read someone else’s blog.

We had this Report for Information:

2023 New Westminster Intersection Safety Study
The City has thousands of intersections used by cars, and all of them are dangerous, because cars are dangerous, and getting more dangerous. We have to ask the Feds and the Province to deal with the vehicles, but one of the jobs of our Engineering department (in cooperation with ICBC, the Police, MOTI, and others) is to make the intersections less dangerous. Of all these intersections in the City, at 1,089 of them had at least one ICBC-claim-generating collision over the 5-year period from 2015 to 2019. Doing engineering safety assessments and improvements for a single intersection can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, and we don’t have billions of dollars to spend locally, so how do we prioritize that work? This report answers that question.

Staff have combed through the data to infer what the most dangerous intersections are based on that ICBC data. They have prioritized 51 locations with the highest collision risk, and further filtered out locations that have already seen significant change since 2019, or are under work. From this they prioritized 25 intersections for detailed analysis of traffic operations and potential design changes. Demonstrating the difference between anecdote and data, the first intersection I always think of as crash-prone is right near my home, and it didn’t even make the top 50 list.

A traffic engineering consultant was then engaged to make safety recommendations for each of the 25. Common issues like traffic volume or gradient changes are hard to address, others like poor visibility because of parking near the intersection or inadequate lighting are easier. So interventions can be similarly prioritized, with some near-immediate changes like signage, line work, light signal timing that can be incorporated into our existing budgets as part of regular maintenance. Medium-term changes will require a capital budget to be developed and approved, while longer-term major projects require land acquisition, agreement with outside stakeholders (like TransLink or MOTI) and longer-term capital planning.

This report is a good read for transportation safety geeks, but one interesting data point I was able to pull out of it: Rear-enders are the majority collision type in all of our highest-risk intersections, ranging from 55% to 66% of all collisions. To me, this demonstrates we can’t engineer our way out of all bad driving practices. Slow down out there folks.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Decriminalization – Update to the exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
The province and federal government are taking preliminary tentative steps into drug decriminalization, as you may have read in the news. There was a lot of conversation at UBCM last week around this, and a lot of common understanding between Local Governments and the Provincial Government on reducing harms for all residents. A few months ago, New West put forward a resolution to UBCM asking for a small change – that playgrounds and park spaces be included in the “exemption” to decriminalized spaces (meaning, possession of small amounts of these harmful drugs is still illegal in those place). On Thursday I was able to withdraw that resolution as the Province and Feds had recently come through and made the change. It was unusual to hear the UBCM delegates cheer when a City withdrew a resolution, but that’s the weirdness of where we are.

Permissive Property Tax: Exempt Properties – Review of Application Result
Some properties don’t pay property tax in the City. Churches and a few other specific uses have a “statutory” exemption under provincial law, some other users can get a “permissive” exemption at the grace of local city councils. Since my time on Council (and for some time before that) we have continued legacy exemptions, but have been very reluctant to hand out new permissive exemptions, as they represent a significant subsidy to groups that operate in the City. Many of these orgs are doing good things in the community (including providing some services that should be funded by senior governments), we have taken the position that organizations doing good works in the city should avail themselves of our generous community partner grant process, not the permissive tax exemption process. This report asks Council to review new applications and continue this practice.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 902 First Street – Comprehensive Report
The owner of this lot in Glenbrooke North wants to build a duplex; that is two residential units where the current zoning would permit three (a main residence, a secondary suite, and a carriage home). It is the duplex form itself (two front doors, strata title) that does not currently fit zoning, though there are no other variances in regards to FSR, setback, height, or other regulations, and it is consistent with the OCP. Three pretty beat-up trees on site would be replaced with 7 new trees. There was City-led and applicant-led Public Consultation with not a lot of feedback, and Council moved to approve the application going to Bylaw readings.

Update on Council Motion Regarding the Chinatown Community Stewards Program
The City is going to work with Partners to see if the Is on the Street Program can be expanded to provide some of the enhanced ambassador-type services that the Chinatown Stewards, but this report also highlights that the Is on the Street program itself is not funded for the long-term. This report was asking if we want Staff to do the work to find a longer-term solution here.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Budget 2024: Fees and Rates Review
Every year as part of our Budget process, we review rates of various fees in the city, because those rates impact our revenue that impact our tax rates that are always centred in our budget deliberations. This report asks our endorsement for rate changes so Bylaws can be drawn up in time for budgeting.

Most rates are increased to keep pace with inflation (based on CPI). There some that have different forces on them, such as towing fees being based on ICBC rates and therefore no going up in 2024. There is a suggestion to change Street Occupancy Permit fees to better reflect the framework used by MOTI, and to increase some higher-impact SOPs related to heavy construction impacts to better match adjacent communities, n dot reduce fees for projects that provide enhanced pedestrian access through sites. We are also continuing the “Five Year Approach to On-Street Parking Fees and Rates” from 2019. There are also a number of inspection and permitting fees we try to align with other cities and reflect as best as possible the cost of delivering the service the fee is paying for. Finally, some fees have not gone up in several years, and we have some catching up to do, like increasing the cost of a replacement garbage bin or Development Permit application fees.

Overall, the average rate increase is equal to about 3% (which is CPI inflation for the last year), and will bring an extra $700,000 into the City in increased revenue.

Massey Theatre Working Group
We are working through developing a new relationship with the Massey Theatre Society as they are going to be operating a major asset that the City owns, and the City is committing Millions to capital improvement of that building that will be disruptive to the operations of the theatre and arts spaces at 8&8. A working group is being established to help keep communication between the two entities functional and positive during this time of transition. Council moved to approve the terms, and appointed Councillor McEvoy (for consistency, as he was on the working group during the ownership transition) and Councillor Campbell (as Chair of the Arts Culture and Act Dev Advisory Committee) to the committee.

We then read a bunch of Bylaws (but for brevity sake, I only report the Adopted ones here, of which we had none this week), before addressing a couple of Motions form Council:

Implementing speed limits for motorized vehicles operating on sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council regarding the operational and budget considerations pertaining to the implementation of a by-law that would impose speed limits on our sidewalks to help reduce the risk of pedestrian injuries

This was an interesting conversation at Council, and I think I am going to have to write up a follow-up post about it, and by “it”, I mean about the conversation at Council, not the motion. Council moved to agree to have staff do this preliminary work, and added a part about discussing better education programs around new mobility. The fact both of these are action items already in staff workplans as part of the eMobility Strategy adopted back in June of last year, it was a bit of a strange thing to bring forward in this form, but that speaks to the conversation that occurred and a biit about how Council is working these days, hence the follow up to come.

Increasing trust and accountability for civic officials in New Westminster
Submitted by Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council call upon all elected officials to engender public trust by abiding to such key principles; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the City’s Chief Electoral Officer report back to Council on the City’s state of readiness for and budget impacts pertaining to a possible school trustee byelection.

This motion was weirdly phrased, though I leave the political dogwhistle aspects of it to the reader’s interpretation. Asking elected officials to abide by a Code of Conduct is rather unassailable, as Council has been working on updating our Code of Conduct and introducing proper accountability measures including an independent Integrity Commissioner. It is perhaps ironic that the mover need to be reminded about the Code of Conduct and proper procedure during their motivation of the motion.

The second part is (in my opinion) an email, not a motion requiring Council deliberation. The simple answer to the question, which was asked and answered Council (therefore the second motion was defeated as now being moot), was there are no budget impacts on the City of a School Board by-election.

Finally, we had one piece of New business:

Extension of the Terms of Reference of Economic Development Advisory Committee
We are extending the term of the EDAC so we can develop new terms for the newly-proposed integration of Arts and Culture into the EDAC scope of work.

HRAs and HCAs and Housing Priorities

There were two items I promised follow-up from last council meeting. This one deserves a deeper dive because it was a complicated conversation that resulted in a complex discussion at Council with several amendments and re-directions, all because the public policy and eventual outcomes were not obvious.

This is a result of a decision back in 2021 by Council to put a “freeze” on HRA applications in the Queens Park HCA, and a staff recommendation that we now lift that freeze.  And yeah, those acronyms are confusing. So I’ll try to unpack.

The residential neighbourhood of Queens Park has been designated a Heritage Conservation Area (“HCA”); one of the largest in the province. Because of the unique and provincially-significant collection of pre-1941 single family homes that meet the standard of having “heritage” merit, the neighbourhood and the Community Heritage Commission recommended the City put in an HCA a few years ago to provide extra protection to those homes. If you really want the background, here is my blog post from when it occurred.

Heritage Restoration Agreements (“HRAs”) are a planning tool that can be (and are) applied anywhere in the City. They are rather like a rezoning, in which a property owner asks to do something that is not permitted in the current zoning (i.e. build a duplex on a single family lot) in exchange for providing some value to the community or meeting some City policy goal. In the case of HRAs, it is essentially a rezoning where the “value” being exchanged is the permanent preservation of a heritage asset.

It is important to note that “designation” of a preserved heritage asset under an HRA is the highest level of heritage protection available to local governments in BC, and a much stronger level of heritage protection than is offered to the pre-1940 “protected” houses in the HCA. For this reason, alterations of heritage properties in the HCA usually come about through an HRA. If the owner of a pre-1940 HCA-protected house in Queens Park wants to make an exterior alteration, add a carriage or laneway house, lift the building to put in a full basement or put in dormers that increase the livable square footage of the home, they come to the City to ask for an HRA. Through an extensive review to assure the heritage merit is protected, and through a  (by regulation) Public Hearing, the Council either permits the change in exchange for “designation”, or does not. HRAs are also used outside Queens Park, but within Queens Park HCA they are essentially the only tool to allow alterations of pre-1940 homes, so they are more common there while other neighbourhoods are more familiar with other rezoning tools.

Since the adoption of the HCA, some members of the Queens Park community felt that HRAs were being applied in a way that was not complimentary to the HCA principles. I’ve heard criticism that HRAs were being granted with no benefit to the community, that they were an “end around” of the regular rezoning process. I don’t agree with these assertions, but they did lead to a few fractious HRA Public Hearings, and staff suggested we “pause” the processing of HRAs in Queens Park for a bit of time to let some policy work be done to update HRA principles across the City.

Unfortunately, this HRA process work has been repeatedly delayed by staff shortages and Council’s decision to prioritize other housing work – putting together affordable housing applications, an inclusionary housing policy, 22nd Street Area master planning, and applications coming that will help us meaningfully address the critical housing needs identified in our Housing Needs Assessment. Frankly, the HRA work was going to take up too much staff time and consultation energy for the value (and number of housing units) they provide the community during a housing crisis. Because of this, the “freeze” on new HRAs in Queens Park has dragged on for two years. Staff brought this report to us recommending we lift the freeze, because the work to update the HRA system (now wrapped into a more comprehensive Infill Density Policy Review) is not resourced to happen until 2025.

This is a question of balancing procedural fairness (people should be able to apply for rezoning or HRAs and understand the process that is available for them) with the common-good and heritage protection principles of the HCA.

During the conversation at Council there was a proposal to refer this question to the Community Heritage Commission – an advisory commission the city has to bring subject matter expertise to exactly this question: how to best evaluate heritage merit and balance its protection against other City policy and priorities? There was also a suggestion that applicants caught up in the “freeze” in 2021 be unfrozen to allow them to proceed with HRAs if they are still so inclined, but to maintain the freeze otherwise until the policy work is completed. Finally, the recommendation from staff to lift the freeze was put on the table, with the proviso that HRA applications not be prioritized over more critical housing work reflected in our Housing Needs assessment and overall housing policy direction.

This was a lengthy conversation, and I don’t want to speak for others at Council here, because the votes were split in different ways as we moved through the amendments, and everyone clearly had different comfort levels on this balance we were trying to strike. Instead, I will speak to my motivations for voting as I did.

When the HCA was introduced back in 2017, I supported in on the strict proviso that it would not stop all housing change in Queens Park – that the HCA should work to facilitate heritage-informed development of more housing diversity in Queens Park, and not act as a tool to prevent housing diversity in the neighbourhood. In the blog post I linked to above, I said it this way:

“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,”

On a similar vein, I voted against the HRA freeze in 2021 because I felt it shifted the balance too far towards stopping the evolution of Queens Park by not even allowing change if it worked to improve heritage asset protection.

My position has not changed much here, and I voted with the slim majority of Council to lift the freeze, as recommended by Staff. I was not opposed to referring to the CHC for feedback prior to the lifting of the freeze, but that was defeated by another slim majority of Council. I also support the general direction to staff that we don’t need to prioritize this type of low-density infill at this time, and that is NOT consistent with my previous feelings and votes at Council.

Simply put, we are not in the same place now as we were in 2017 when we approved the current Official Community Plan. At the time, infill density was seen as an important part of our housing strategy, to bring more affordable but still market “family friendly” housing diversity in the community. In the last few years, land values in New West have grown to the point where infill is going to play less of a role in meeting our housing needs in the next few years, as higher-density forms re going to be needed to hit that lower-end-of-market and family-friendly sweet spot.

Council – Sept 11, 2023

Once a year, we hold a City Council meeting in the Queensborough Community Centre. We had a full house at the start of the meeting, which waned down to a few fans after a 5+ hour meeting. But at least we got a good two hours’ worth of work done during the time. Here is the Agenda, and as always you can watch the Video here to see how the conversation actually went.

We started with one piece of Unfinished Business from our previous long meeting:

Hydro Rates
Submitted by Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED that the City of New Westminster requests that the Electrical Commission explores piloting a program to provide rates geared to income for low income community members and engage with City Council to discuss implementation and targeting.

The City’s Electrical Utility is a bit unique in the region, and is governed by an Electrical Commission that makes recommendations to Council on rates and other strategic plans. There has been some discussion of providing rebates or discount rates to people of low income individuals this year, but this is the first time we have sent such a discussion to the Commission to test the waters. I am happy to refer this to the Commission, and am interested in how they provide feedback. This speaks a bit to the mandate the City has given the Commission, and some discussion we have had at that table about updating their governance and long term strategic planning.

There was an amendment that we ask the Commission to also look at “two tier” pricing like BC Hydro has, which charges less for the first 1376kWh per billing period and more for use above this level. This is something BC Hydro has been suggesting they are moving away from, but we don’t know where those talks are with the BCUC, so we should be able to get a report back from the Commission on this.

We then had this Report for Discussion:

TACC Project Update
The təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre is a bit delayed and almost on budget. This report gives us the first update on TACC since February, when we were anticipating an early spring 2024 opening, and that still looks like the plan, but later spring than we initially hoped. This is for “Phase 1” completion (when people are going to be able to get into the pool as opposed to “Phase 2” completion – which is when all of the external parking lot and landscaping stuff will be done, which is still on tap for summer 2024, but less important to most folks). The project is coming in very close it its adjusted budget of $114.6M, though the transition delays will have some operational budget impacts.

Right now, the building is watertight, and tiling is going on. There are a LOT of tiles in this building, with the hot tubs already sealed and tested, and the other pools to follow. Interior finishing is a huge undertaking, and supply chain issues still pose some risk to timelines, even with construction teams now double-shifting to keep us on timelines. The granting of Occupancy in (hopefully early April) leads to staffing, training, and bringing a bunch of systems on line. This is actually a daunting task – something of the scale City has not undertaken in a very long time, if ever. This will lead to a soft opening in May, if all goes by plan.

There is also going to be a transition period where programs migrate from Centennial Community Centre to TACC, and as the CCC needs to close before the TACC can be opened, there will be disruptions to some programs, though staff will work to mitigate these as best as possible, including moving programs to third locations for a transition period.

We are not finished yet here, but I am impressed that we got this project across the finish line within 10% of the original budget, and only a few months after planned. This with an initial 6-month delay caused by COVID uncertainty, unexpected geotechnical challenges, global supply chain crises, a regional concrete strike, and unpredicted inflationary pressures facing the entire construction industry. This is a major success on the part of City project management staff, and proves we can get things done here in New West. It’s not a contest, but I compare our experience in some other Lower Mainland municipalities with new major recreation centers, that are running into delay and budget challenges, and I feel really fortunate that we got this project started when we did, and our staff brought it through.

We moved the following items On Consent:

Just kidding. We moved nothing on consent because every item was pulled for discussion.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2023 Capital and Operating Quarterly Performance Report
This is our now-regular quarterly update on the Capital and Operational budgets. As expected ,there are a few minor adjustments, with a Capital Budget increase equaling about 0.6% of the existing budget, though most of this will be covered by offsets and efficiencies in the existing capital plan. Operational revenues exceed projections by about 1%, while expenses exceeding budget by 0.02%, so we net out a bit on the positive as far as operational numbers.

Accelerating Climate Action to Meet Targets and Address Extreme Heat: Staffing and Financial Considerations
The City has a Climate Action plan, and clear targets to meet by 2030 and the decades ahead. Staff have created a work plan of tasks that will need to be completed if we plan to actually meet those targets, which we reviewed and approved last meeting. This report outlines in detail the staffing required to complete those plans. This was originally driven by us moving some resources over the Heat Dome response work, and staff warning us that climate action work may suffer as a consequence, leading Council to ask staff what resources we would need to mount a serious climate disruption defense while keeping on our existing mitigation plan.

The report outlines about four new staff in the next year, and up to three more in subsequent years. There is also a suggestion that Climate Action Levy funds could be used to support this new staff compliment to reducing the direct impact on property tax rates. Council is being asked to support this model, and staff will then incorporate the changes in to the 2024 budget deliberations starting this fall.

In short – this is what it means to take Climate Action and meet our stated goals for 2030, as our part of both Provincial and Federal GHG emission reduction goals. This is an obvious yes from me, funding the plans we have already on to meet targets we have already agreed on, from a fund collected to help us get to those targets. Fortunately, the majority of Council takes our climate goals seriously, and supported this.

22nd Street Station Area Visioning Update
The 22nd Street area visioning project is moving along, after being delayed by a global pandemic. There will be a public engagement process starting soon, including public meetings and on-line components. There has also been a positive initial connection with First Nations on the idea of collaborative visioning of the site. There is also an intent to bring in academic and design expertise through an Ideas Challenge.

One of the big questions around urban development of the Lower Mainland is what some SkyTrain Stations foster successful mixed-use development (New Westminster, Surrey Centre, Lougheed) while others look fairly unchanged decades after SkyTrain arrives (Nanaimo, 29th Ave, Sperling). 22nd Street definitely falls in that latter category. Why is a site with great transportation connections, in a city willing to support densification and growth, in a central urban location linked to three communities during a time of desperate housing need not seeing development? There are certainly a variety of factors, but perhaps this design and visioning work can create the spark that has so far missed at this site.

Heritage Revitalization Agreements in Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area
This was a big, complicated discussion at Council with several split votes, so I am going to punch the longer discussion to a follow-up blog post. But the short notes are that back in 2021 Council put a “freeze” on Heritage Restoration Agreement applications in Queens Park as we were trying to work out some details of an HRA policy refresh driven by members of the Queens Park community feeling that HRAs were being applied in a way that was not complimentary to the Heritage Conservation Area principles. Since that time, the HCA incentives and policy work has been completed, but the HRA Refresh has been de-prioritized due to staff shortages and other higher-priority housing work. Staff recommended we stop the freeze, and Council moved to do this, but more detail to come…

Housing Agreement Bylaw and Development Variance Permit to Vary Parking Requirements: 311 Ash Street
I have recused myself from this item, as I live immediately across the street from the project address and there may be a perception of conflict of interest. You will have to watch the video or read someone else’s blog to get the details.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit – 808 Royal Avenue: Application Consideration
Douglas College wishes to build student housing and expanded academic space on a vacant lot across the street from the New Westminster campus. This requires rezoning and a SDP, but it is consistent with the OCP, and therefore does not require a Public Hearing. The application is also generally consistent with the Downtown Community Plan, our Economic Development Plan, Downtown Building and Public Realm Design Guidelines and Master Plan, and the Downtown Transportation Plan. And the public engagement was generally positive.

This comprehensive report presages Staff developing Bylaws for Council Approval at our next Council meeting. If you have opinions, you can still let us know!

Official Community Plan Amendment, Rezoning, Road Closure, and Land Sale: 909-915 Twelfth Street – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owners of these lots in the Moody Park neighbourhood want to build a 5-story 40-unit residential building. This would also require purchasing a strip of unused City-owned lane to complete the lot dimensions. It is this small piece of lane land that requires the OCP amendment, as the rest of the project is consistent with the OCP. It would also require a rezoning.

This project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my opinions until then. If you have opinions, let us know!

Application for Grant Funding to the 2023 UBCM Asset Management Planning Program
As the City works through its Asset Management modernization, we are applying to a special UBCM fund to help pay for some of that work. The application requires a resolution from Council, which is this.

Authorization to Enter Into License Agreements for 68 Sixth Street and 824 Agnes Street
As previously discussed, we are moving a temporary dog park to 68 Sixth Street. We don’t own the land, so this is the license agreement that allows us to use the land for $10/year. A bargain!
The existing dog park at 824 Agnes will be licensed to the developer for them to stage and do construction of the public park before they turn it back over to the City as a completed public park. This is the license agreement to allow them to do that on City owned land. They pay fair market value for the use, which is $3,625 a month. Also a bargain.

We then read several Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Subdivision and Development Control Miscellaneous Amendment Bylaw No. 8412, 2023
This bylaw that updates the language in our Subdivision and Development Control Bylaw was Adopted by Council.

Public Notice Bylaw No. 8417, 2023
This bylaw that updated our Public Notice bylaw to reflect that fact that we no longer have a print newspaper ion New Westminster was adopted by Council.

We then had some Motions from Council:

Fair Wage and Living Wage Policies
Mayor Johnstone

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff bring a report to Council outlining a process to adoption of a Fair Wage Policy similar to that of Burnaby or the City of North Vancouver to complement New Westminster’s successful Living Wage Policy; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Mayor Johnstone take a motion to the Board of Metro Vancouver on behalf of New Westminster Council requesting that Fair Wage and Living Wage policies be developed and adopted by the Regional Government.

New Westminster was a leader in Living Wage Policy, being the first municipality to adopt it, with most others following suit in subsequent years. This policy assures the Minimum wage paid to anyone one working for the City, directly or indirectly through a contractor or consultant, is paid a fair living wage for the region (Currently $24.08/hr). Fair Wage policies, in contrast, assure that all workers are paid wages equal to a fair wage for their skill set in the labour market. This policy has been in place for some time in Burnaby and North Vancouver, and I have had conversations with Mayors Hurley and Buchannan who both fully support the Fair Wage policy in their respective jurisdictions, and say their experience is that it makes for a more competitive procurement process, has not noticeably increased costs, and has resulted in better procurement results.

I also think that Living wage and Fair Wage policies re under attack in some jurisdictions at a time when working people are feeling the effects of increased cost of living. Assuring that people who work for the City are paid a fair and living wage allowing them to live and prosper in this city is the least we can do. As members of Metro Vancouver, I hope we can use our position at that board to bring Living and Fair Wages to that bigger body.

Council unanimously supported this motion.

Conducting a Review Regarding the Cause and Cost Pertaining to the City of New Westminster Oil Spill in the Fraser River
Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed to produce a public report regarding the July 2023 oil spill which emanated from the Samson V Museum; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED this oil spill public report include the following core components:
• An overview of the negative environmental impacts caused by the Samson V oil spill to the Fraser River and surrounding communities;
• The full list of government agencies, regulators, community partners, environmental non-governmental organization involved in responding to the Samson V oil spill;
• Full costing of the environmental cleanup including an estimate of staff time;
• An estimate of any fines that may be levied by regulators and senior orders of government;
• Analysis as to circumstances which triggered the Samson V oil spill released into the Fraser River;
• Cost analysis of moving the Samson V into drydock for a period of up to 12 months for necessary repairs, safety and cosmetic upgrades/refurbishment

The spill of some oily bilgewater from the Samson V was already reported out on quite a bit. But as per the Provincial Spill Reporting Regulation, an End-of-Spill Report is a public document and will be shared with Council. As such, most of what is being asked for here has a reporting path to make it public, so this motion is really more of an email to staff than a motion required of Council, but no problem moving it.

The final bullet point, however, is different, and I asked that this could be severed so I could vote against it. In discussions with staff, it was made clear that there are no “necessary repairs” to the boat that require dry-docking, for 12 months or any other time period. The hull and decking have been inspected recently by a marine engineer, and were found to be sound and water tight, with no structural concerns. There is ongoing roofing work, and some paint and path repair on the deck is being planned out, but there is simply no reason to spend the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that would be required to pull the boat from the water. Council voted to support most of this motion except this final bullet.

Increasing access to fresh drinking water for local residents and their pets
Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council regarding the cost and operational requirements of installing temporary water fountains connected to a fire hydrant in time for summer 2024; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT staff reach out to the City of Vancouver who have successfully implemented fire hydrant water fountains to determine if there are learnings that can be applied in New Westminster.

This motion was supported by Council unanimously. I am afraid we may be repeating work previously done, and staff sounded pretty skeptical, as their preliminary evaluation was that this would be not only expensive, but challenging to fire operations as our fire suppression water pipe systems Is functionally quite different than Vancouver’s. But aside from some staff time, there is not too much harm in having another look at the possibilities or barriers so we can report back to public one way or the other.

Supporting our seniors by increasing hours of operation for Century House during the summer
Councillor Fontaine

Whereas other Metro Vancouver cities have ensured their seniors centers are more accessible throughout the year by keeping them open in the evening during summer; and
Whereas Century House is a critical gathering place for our seniors in New Westminster and it currently closes at 4:00 pm during the summer; and
Whereas Century House can serve as a cooling center during the hot summer months.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed as part of Budget 2024 to provide Council with the costs and operational requirements to extend the hours of operation at Century House to 9:00 pm on weekdays during the summer; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the membership of Century House be surveyed regarding their level of interest in expanding the service hours during the summer and that the results of this survey be provided to Council for further consultation and evaluation.

This was, frankly, a bit of a confusing motion and conversation. It doesn’t help that the information in the preamble was not exactly accurate, which is why I included the preamble in the quote above.

To clarify the record, Century House does not close at 4:00pm, but is open until at least 8:00pm, it is programming offered by the Century House Association (not by the City, though the City supports it) that generally ends at 4:00pm, but the centre remains open for social use and other informal programming. Century House is a cooling centre operated by the City, and we have spent money in the last couple of years upgrading HVAC systems to assure it provides that respite. We also extend the hours to provide more support during heat events, even staying open overnight when needed. The facility is also used at times by programming not provided by the Century House Association, including overlapping programs from the Youth Centre that often extend in to the evening.

This resolution therefore created some confusion on the ask, as it seemed to suggest a one-hour extension of hours, with it no being clear who is asking for that, and that the membership of Century House be asked if this is a good idea, when staff are already engaged deeply with the Century House Association (which represents “the Members”) on their programming needs, including the recent update of the MOU the City has with the Association to assure we are working together to be responsive to the community’s needs.

In the end, after lengthy discussion, Council decided to refer this motion to the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan work, as that speaks more broadly to the needs of seniors in the community and best use of our recreation/social assets in the community.

Supporting our local business community by implementing a pilot project to reduce parking fees
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back on the budget implications and operational requirements associated with establishing a pilot project to reduce parking fees in 2024 which will include the following core components:
• First hour of on-street parking (where paid on-street metered parking currently exists) will be complimentary. This would apply to the Downtown, Uptown, Sapperton and 12th Street commercial and business districts.
• Expand free on-street parking to after 7 pm during the business week from the current 8 pm setting in all commercial and business districts.
• Parking will be free on Sunday and all statutory provincial holidays in all areas of the city.

This is another item I am going to have to write a longer follow-up on, because it speaks deeply to what is good public policy and what is not. Putting aside the (~$1 Million?) in potential revenue loss and resultant impact on Property Taxes, this is a proposal that stands in contrast to our City’s Official Community Plan, Master Transportation Plan, Downtown Parking Strategy, our Climate Action goals, and other city policies. In my opinion, this is bad public policy, and regressive public policy that will (and this is actually the bigger point) not achieve the goals it claims to seek. I was not able to support it, nor was the majority of Council.

And that was what we did last Monday instead of watching the ‘Bellies in Game 3!

Council – Aug 28, 2023 part 2!

Council last week was made longer by two issues for which we received delegations, both resulting in long conversations. I’m going to try to do my best to unpack these two conversations here, but before I do, I’ll offer another of my hopefully-redundant-by-now caveats. As both of these issues have various political angles to them, and as Council was clearly not aligned on some of the core political issues at hand, it is hard to talk this out without approaching politics. So where I try to keep my Council reports as close to “just the facts”, this one will probably have a bit more opinion thrown in. As always, it is important to remember this is a my blog, not official City or Council communications, so opinions expressed here are not that of the City or of Council, and some of them might not even be mine!

Also, there were delegations from the public on both of these topics, and Council deliberated on them right after, so you can watch the video (it is available here, and these topics start at 1:20:00) and hear the conversation yourself, I’m sure you will hear ideas you agree with and those you disagree with, and such is democracy. So fairly warned:

K de K Court Boulevard Trees
Residents in a strata on the Quayside have expressed concern to the City that the trees in front of their complex are too large and blocking their view of the river. Specifically, the trees are larger than the City suggested they would be when they were planted on the City land adjacent to their condo units back in 2007. This issue came to Council in 2017 with the residents asking the trees to be removed, and the City instead undertook an enhanced pruning schedule for these trees to hopefully train them back to what was originally suggested. After a few years, it is apparent this strategy will not work, as the trees continue to expand to a size that continues to impact peoples’ enjoyment of their suites.

Since this first bubbled up, the City has adopted a bunch of new policies around trees, including the Urban Forest Management Strategy and the Seven Bold Steps Climate Action Plan, both of which set ambitious plans for increasing the tree canopy cover in the City. This means new guidelines and restrictions around removing trees on private property, and an aggressive tree planting strategy for public lands in the City. To be really clear, removing trees from public land to improve or protect peoples’ views does not align with any of these policies or strategies. I didn’t hear anyone on Council advocate for the removal of these trees.

However, there was a recognition that this is a long-standing issue, and the City’s responses over the last 15+ years has not brought the results either the homeowners or the City had hoped for. There have been agreements created between the residents and the City, and notwithstanding our new policies, there is a responsibility to acknowledge, and as best we can be true to, the nature of those agreements. The final decision of Council was to continue the work being done under the 2017 agreement with enhanced pruning and tree care while working with the Strata to find a resolution to their issues.

As an aside, there was some talk during the deliberation about the City agreeing on tree removal elsewhere in the City, I think it is worthwhile clarifying what our policy and practice is. We do not remove trees from city land to improve people’s views, nor do we typically prune or shape city trees to improve views, though we do prune to support the health and safety of the tree as it grows. We sometimes remove city-owned trees if they are unhealthy or dangerous, but this is an arborist-driven decision based on detailed analysis of the tree health.

On private lands, we will permit the removal of a tree that is diseased or dangerous, but it must be replaced on a one-for-one or two-for-one basis. We will also sometimes permit the removal of healthy trees if there is a zoning entitlement that cannot be fulfilled with the tree in place, or through redevelopment. We then require replacement on a (typically) two-for-one basis. We generally require that the tree be replaced on the same property, but if you are building higher density housing, often there isn’t room on the property for all of the replacement trees to flourish. In this case the City may take cash-in-lieu of replacement, so the City can use that money to pay for planting those replacement trees elsewhere in the City, typically on City property like boulevards or parks. The goal is no net loss of trees, with 2-for-one replacement as a way of mitigating the fact a large mature tree provides more canopy cover than a necessarily-smaller replacement.

Cooling Equipment in Rental Units
Councillor Henderson and Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED that City Council direct staff to explore the tools available for the City to adopt a bylaw that requires rental units to have cooling equipment, or passive means, that prevents at least one room of the unit from exceeding the standard recommendation of 26 C (79 F);
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City write a letter to the Minister of Housing to request clarification and confirmation that these upgrades would not trigger legal renovictions or the Above Guideline Rent Increase permissible by the Province.

Since the Heat Dome of 2021, the City and the Province have taken a number of measures to prevent the deaths that shocked the region and this City. In New Westminster we had 28 people die, for the most part vulnerable people living alone in homes that where the temperature was too high to support life. We have had several reports to Council over the last two years outlining extended measures we have been taking, partnerships we have created, and resources we have re-allocated to help vulnerable people get through the net time an extreme heat event like that occurs.

One part of this work is assuring people have access to cooling. In some buildings and for some people, that means assuring that the building has “one cool room” – a common room where people have access to a cool refuge without needing to leave their building, reducing anxiety about medication, pets, and the general comfort and security of home. We have also worked with Senior Series Society and Fraser Health to identify higher-risk folks for whom this may not work, and are targeting a program to provide air conditioners as a local augment to the program the BC Government is managing through BC Hydro.

Since these programs began rolling out, we have heard that many rental building owners were not permitting air conditioning in rental units. Some even sent vaguely threatening letters to all tenants informing them that the installation of even portable air conditioners could result in eviction. As egregious and callous as this is in the face of a disaster that killed dozens of people in our community – it is not strictly illegal. Provincial laws regulate rental housing, and they require that all housing must have fire protection, must have safe electrical systems, and must (most notably) adequate heating. When the Heat Dome became a mass-death event bigger than any fire or any winter blizzard, we have to ask whether regulating cooling is as important as the above.

The request in this motion is to look at local or provincial solutions to regulate maximum sustained temperatures in rental units, in a similar way that minimum sustained temperatures are already regulated. We have in the past been innovative in New West on protecting renters, including the use of Business Licensing to regulate what the Residential Tenancy Act fails to regulate. Up to now, much of our work to protect vulnerable people from future heat emergencies has relied on us providing incentives and direct public health interventions, and we are taking those as far as we can. At some point providers of housing – those whose business is providing housing to people – need to take responsibility for assuring the housing from which they are extracting rent is safe for occupation.

Importantly, this is not requesting specific prescriptive solutions. Just as the current regulations don’t require a specific type of heating for buildings, as long as heating is available and adequate to sustain life, we can introduce similar requirements and expect the market and engineering professionals find the specific solutions that work for any single building and living unit.

There were a few amendments added to the motion that saw little support. A few were to point this issue at the provincial government and to assess cost impacts and concerns about electrical load impacts. Both of these are, in my mind, follow-ups to after the initial work comes from staff as requested in the initial motion – if we have no tools or need to rely on Provincial tools, than that extra work is redundant. The motion is not asking to immediately implement these regulations, but for an assessment of the best tools the City can use to bring them in so at that time we can assess secondary impacts as we always do through new bylaw development. As it is a non-prescriptive motion, the emphasis on in-room air conditions is premature, and frankly the emphasis on electrical demand is a bit of a red herring as modern portable air conditions have power demands similar to an electric kettle or hair dryer – two appliances that are not regulated in most residential tenancy agreements. There was also a request to consult with tenants rights organizations, which seems unnecessarily delaying to initial work here when we have representatives of several renters rights organizations delegating at this very meeting asking for exactly what the motion is requesting.

In the end, Council supported this motion as originally written, and this is work that will be coming back to Council for future discussion, which will hopefully prompt deeper conversations not just in New Westminster, but across the province, about measures that may be required to help vulnerable people in our communities adapt to climate disruption.

Council – Aug 28, 2023

Sorry folks, it’s only August, but summer is over when Council meets again, and we met on Monday. It was a monster meeting, going almost to midnight, but we had a few meaty items on the agenda and whole bunch of smaller items to go through, and Council was a chatty bunch! As always, the agenda and video are here so you can follow along or catch the highlights, don’t take my word for what went down, see for yourself.

We started with these Reports:

Report Back on School Zone Enforcement Hours
Following a resolution from Council asking staff about the potential to extend the hours that School Zone speed limits apply, staff took the suggestion to a regional meeting of municipal engineers to determine the interest in adopting a regional approach to this. There is no doubt it would be more effective as a regional approach (or a province-wide approach – dare to dream), as consistency helps with compliance, New Westminster is already among the cities leading the region in adopting 30 km/h on residential and pedestrian-focused streets. We are going to ask the region to come along, but if they do not want to follow, Council sent the message that we are comfortable going alone.

Train Whistle Cessation – Q2 Update
This information report reflects Staff now reporting quarterly on progress with whistle cessation, to Council and the public. Not a lot to update this quarter as we await approval of conceptual design for the Sapperton crossings, and the Rail technical committee continues to meet.

422 Sixth Street: Good Neighbour Agreement and Community Advisory Committee Terms of Reference
This information report outlines the terms of the Good Neighbour Agreement signed between the City and the Lower Mainland Purpose Society and the Term of Reference for the Community Advisory Committee in support of the Transitional Supportive Housing project planned for 422 Sixth Street.

Response to Council Motion Re: Parks and Recreation registration process
This information report follows on the call from Council earlier this year to review the Parks the Recreation program registration process to assure equity and accessibility. Some changes have already been made for summer 2023 programs, such as changing times of registration to avoid conflicts, separating day camp registration from other programs, and improved waitlist management. But demand for programs still outstrips supply, so registration is still frustrating for some residents. There are also some “next steps” listed here, including simplifying and making clearer the on-line experience, and consideration of a central call bank, among other things.

Budget 2024 Engagement Results and Next Steps
The City spent some time late in the spring and through the summer doing active engagement with the public on the budget and budget process. This included on-line (through Be Heard New West) and in-person engagement at community events. There is a lot of data in here, and as one would expect in such a broad conversation with the community, the opinions varied. There was also an interesting contrast between the feedback received from on-line engagement and that from traditionally underrepresented groups (specifically renters and newcomers to the City) that were directly approached for consultation.

Not surprising to those who have read past public engagements, in general people feel they get good value from property taxes, and those that think property taxes should continue to meet the need for enhanced services in the community and reductions in property taxes are important to a minority of people in the City. People also support the City finding a balance between enhancing new services, maintaining reserves, and paying down debt.

The next two items I am going to write about in a follow-up post, because they were both long conversations and interesting for a variety of overlapping reasons deserving longer-form treatment, and this post is already going to be too long.

12 K de K Court Boulevard Trees
Residents in a strata on the Quayside have expressed concern to the City that the trees in front of their complex are too large.

Cooling Equipment in Rental Units
This is a motion from Council asking that the City look to regulate maximum temperatures in rental apartments in the city in the same way we regulate minimum temperature standards, in light of the deaths from the Heat Dome.

After those long discussions, we moved the following items On Consent:

Changes Announced to the Current Government of Canada Cabinet July 23, 2023 Update and Meeting Requests
This report outlines the changes to the current Government of Canada’s Cabinet on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, recommends letters of congratulations and meeting requests with several federal ministries for follow up. With the Federal Cabinet Shuffle, we are going to send congratulations letters and invites to meet to several key members of the new Federal Cabinet. It’s a bit of a formality, but a good practice that we are now shedding a bit of light onto.

Consideration of a Public Notice Bylaw No. 8417, 2023 to Provide for Alternative Methods of Publication
The New West Record is no longer printing a newspaper. This is a challenge for the City because we have always relied on the Record (and previously the News Leader) to meet our obligation under Section 94 of the Community Charter for public notice of those things that require public notice. If no local newspaper exists, the Charter has some criteria we must meet to assure notice is still adequate. Our Public Notice Bylaw needs to be updated to reflect this new reality.

Posting in the two public libraries (in addition to City Hall) will augment our posting information on CityPage – this is our digital platform you can receive as an email (as ~2,000 people already do) or follow links on other social media platforms (e.g. the City’s Facebook page) or the City’s website.

Repealing Public Works Mutual Aid Agreement of 2000
The Municipalities of the Lower Mainland have forged a new Mutual Aid Agreement to replace the one from twenty years ago. This is an agreement that says during an emergency, we will share resources needed to address the emergency, and we will agree to fairly work out the payment for those resources after the emergency is dealt with. This new agreement means we have to repeal the old one, which requires authorization by Council, which is what we are doing here.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 376 Keary Street – Comprehensive Report
The owner of this single family house in Sapperton wants to replace it with a duplex. There are no variances for setback, density, or height requested, just the duplex form. The Public Consultation we generally positive, and this will come to Council for final approval soon, but does not require a Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know!

Subdivision and Development Control Miscellaneous Amendment Bylaw No. 8412, 2023
This is what we call “housekeeping”. Major Bylaws like this one that regulates how subdivisions are performed and serviced in the city evolve over time as requirements and complimentary regulations change. At times minor errors, inconsistencies, or things like page numbering get out of synch and need to be cleaned up. To edit a Bylaw needs a Bylaw.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2023 Stream 1 Accelerated Heat Plan Update
This report updates the Emergency Management Office’s approach to addressing the Heat Plan and vulnerable people in the City. They have identified 126 higher-risk multi-family buildings, have reached out to the building managers, and are working on getting air conditioners installed in common rooms to assure the most people have access to “one cool room” without having to leave their building. Fraser Health is also helping in connecting with vulnerable people with mobility challenges where an in-room air conditioner is more appropriate. The Seniors Services Society are assisting with identifying vulnerable seniors and assuring transportation is available to cooling centres. Staff are also translating educational materials about cooling centres and other cooling supports into eight languages.

This is only part of what Emergency Services staff are doing in heat emergencies, but this is the work directly to address people at risk in extreme heat. It is based on the building and leveraging of relationships with service organizations in the community to assure we are prioritizing the protection of the most vulnerable. This is really great work, and demonstrates the City’s commitment to not allowing the lessons of 2021 to go unheeded.

Accelerating Climate Action: Four Year Workplan to Meet Targets and Address Extreme Heat
Right now, some of the resources (mostly staff) to address the increased risk of Heat Emergency are being reallocated from the Climate Action work plan. This is convenient and makes best use of available resources, but it is obviously not a great idea to slow down the work on the root cause in the rush to address the symptom. To do both means we need more resources.

We have 124 implementation actions in our Climate Plan, 66 led by our Climate Action Team. We have added to that several shorter-term actions to address building safety in heat emergency events. This report outlines what action items are coming forward in the next few years, and what more we can get done if we “accelerate” climate action by providing more resources. The resource need is not clear right now, but staff are asking Council if we want them to assess those needs, or have no interest in acceleration. Council says “bring it on”.

City of New Westminster and New Westminster School District No. 40 Draft Child Care Guiding Principles
The City and School District 40 established a Childcare Protocol in 2009 to codify our desire to work together to improve childcare availability New Westminster. A lot has happened since 2009 in childcare, we have a Federal government who is committing to $10/day universal childcare, the provincial government has put delivery of public childcare under the Ministry of Education, and New Westminster’s childcare needs have exploded as your families have moved into New West at a record pace. It’s time to update the Protocol.

Our first staff-to-staff work in this indicated SD40 doesn’t think the Protocol is the right structure, and prefer a joint statement of Guiding Principles through which we can work together to bring more public and affordable childcare to New West. Council read the first draft and had several comments, mostly around a greater sense of urgency, a clearer definition of who is responsible for what, and other details. We have provided that feedback to staff and they will work with SD40 to create an updated draft.

City of Surrey Fraser Heights Metro 2050 Amendment Application
The City of Surrey is applying for a change to the Regional Growth Strategy to change some industrial land to “general urban”. The land is within the Urban Containment Boundary, and though Industrial Land is valuable right now, this land is not viable for industrial use as it is in a unique location on the slopes above the North Fraser Perimeter Road. There is no good reason to oppose this.

Community Advisory Assembly Draft Terms of Reference and Next Steps
The City is taking a bold step in Community Engagement in forming a Community Advisory Assembly – a largish committee of citizen representatives who as a group are as close as possible to a representative cross-section of residents, reflecting the diversity of the overall New Westminster community. This is an innovative and unusual model, but one supported by our Public Engagement Task Force recommendations and one that reflects a best practice for Public Participation.

We are engaging in a bit of chicken-and-egg here, because we need Terms of Reference to strike the Assembly, but we also want the Assembly itself to have a role in developing Terms, so we are putting forward DRAFT Terms now, and staff are working to start recruitment in September.

Council Strategic Plan Workshop Model
Over the last two terms, The Mayor had set up Task Forces to address Council priorities – these were sub-committees of 3 members of Council who would provide some staff guidance and make recommendations to all of Council. We have a different Council dynamic this term, and I’m hoping to streamline the decision-making a bit by moving these to a committee-of-the-whole model – I think it is important to include all members of Council in these discussion while also allowing decision-making through thos dialogues without the extra step of another report to Council.

As we already have a “workshop” model in our procedures, these can be re-purposed to follow the themes of Council’s priorities, and topic areas can be scheduled well in advance to make sure staff have a clear timeline for check-ins and reporting on their progress (which was the real strength of Task Forces). This will include a significant increase in the number of meetings all of council will be holding in workshop form, but Council seemed ok with this, so updates to the Council Calendar coming.

Interim Relocation of the Downtown Dog Off Leash Area (824 Agnes Street)
One thing we have a hard time finding space for downtown is adequate off-leash dog parks. There are a lot of dogs living downtown, and this is a difficult land use to accommodate when we are so space-constrained. The temporary space currently on Agnes is going to be incorporated into the public amenity space of a planned development and the space on Simcoe is not as accessible for many downtown residents as would be ideal. It is going to take some time to find a permanent solution, so staff have approached every vacant lot in Downtown looking for a partner for a temporary space. Only one agreed. It won’t be fancy, but it will fill a need for up to 9 months for very low cost, and we can hopefully have a longer-term solution before the building breaks ground at 68 Sixth Street.

Rezoning, Development Permit, and Development Variance Permit Application: 317-319 Howes St – Preliminary Report
The owner of this lot in Queensborough wants to build 26 townhouses similar to the lots adjacent. Council was presented this as a preliminary report to provide feedback prior to staff and the owner doing detail design of the project. And Council provided more than feedback. Two primary concerns were access to the site as the intersection at Howes and Highway 91A is challenging for a bunch of reasons including transit access, and this proposed to drop a driveway into very close proximity to the intersection. There are also a lot of trees (70+, though this number includes hedges as multiple trees, so even the count is complicated) that would have to be managed through retention or replacement plans.
The recommendation from staff was to provide these issues of concern to staff as feedback and let staff work with the owner to see how they could be addressed prior to public consultation and eventual return of a final proposal that addresses concerns for later approval. Council instead voted against this path, and effectively ended work on the development as proposed. Owners will have to go back to the drawing table.

Township of Langley Metro 2050 Amendment Application
The Township of Langley wants to convert some rural-designated land outside of the Urban Containment Boundary to Industrial use, which requires a Regional Growth Strategy amendment. This is concerning, as the UCB is meant to limit exactly this kind of higher-intensity development in rural areas and to encourage more concentrated use of lands within the UCB for a variety of economic (servicing lands inside the UCB is less expensive), food security (encroaching into ALR lands adds to speculative pressures) and environmental (we need rural green space to maintain the biodiversity and ecological health of our region) reasons. Council moved to oppose this application, and we will relate that to Metro Vancouver Board.

We then read a few Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8405, 2023
This Bylaw that updates the Parks and Recreation Fees for 2024 was adopted by Council. Did you know we have discounted rates for folks who have a hard time affording recreation programs for themselves or their kids?

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Off-Street Vehicle Parking – Multiple Dwellings) No. 8396, 2023
This Bylaw that reduces the number of off-street parking spots required in new buildings, as long as there is adequate Demand Management measures in place, was adopted by Council.

Finally, we had a late addition to the Agenda:

2023 Mann Cup Media Day Hosting Opportunity
Our meeting was the day before the ‘Bellies won Game 7 of the WLA Championships, but win it they did. In anticipation of that win, Council was informed of some events that will need to take place around hosting the Mann Cup in September. This is going to be a great thing for the community, but it will take some City resources to (at the least) host a luncheon for our out-of-town guests, and have a media launch at Queens Park Arena. Since the win, City Hall staff are already looking at other aspects of hosting the Six Nations Chiefs and other opportunities to help the Salmonbellies and the WLA host a memorable Mann Cup tournament – and hopefully Hoist the Mann Cup itself!

Go ‘Bellies Go.