Mixing Business

As a follow-up to my Council report from last week, there were two items I promised to circle back to, like how I circled back to the preposition at the end of that sentence.

English teachers will find that last sentence fun. Hi Mom!

The two items spoke to supporting local businesses and streetscapes. We had a report on Bill 28, and the opportunity for us to explore whether Bill 28-style property tax relief might be a useful tool for our community, and we had a motion from Councillor Nakagawa to review our development and zoning policies to better support local community-serving small businesses. Both of these linked back to some recent chatter in the community around street-level commercial spaces, with people wanting to see more experiential retail and entertainment, and less service and office, to “liven up” the street (I got through all of that without mentioning dentists once). So I want to unpack each item a bit and discuss not just what a city/council can do, but more about the varying ideas about what a city/council should do.

Bill 28 – Property Tax Relief Legislation
I have written quite a bit over the last 9 years about how property tax works (examples here, here, and here). This new legislation changes this a bit for one category of properties, allowing us to provide some short term (5 year) property tax relief for some commercial property owners.

To review, the City sets tax rates, but the tax paid on property is based on BC Assessment Value, determined by “Highest and Best Use” – not necessarily the current value of the property, but the value the property would have if the owner sought to maximize that value. The change with Bill 28 is pretty specific, limited to properties where the “Land-value ratio” greater than 0.95, which means the value of improvements on the land (the existing building) is less than 5% of the total assessed value of the property. Where it is flexible is in how the local government can apply tax relief, and how much.

Some folks would suggest any tax relief for business is good, but we need to be clear this tool provides us a potential tax shift – giving one type of taxpayer some relief transfers that taxation to other taxpayers – not an overall decrease in the revenue on the part of the City. We are taking a more cautious approach here, because not only are there more devils in details, there are likely perverse incentives in there as well.

There is a general feeling that high lease rates and tax rates make it harder from small neighbourhood-serving business to set up shop, and that is surely a factor. The diversity of business types on Twelfth Street is almost certainly a product of low per-foot lease rates. So one part of the thinking here is that if the lease cost (including taxes) was lower, we would more likely get smaller, more diverse, and more interesting business types setting up. Instead of dentists (there, I said it).

One potential challenge with the Bill 28 approach is the recognition that property owners pay taxes, not business owners. Sometimes a business also owns the property they operate out of, but for most small neighbourhood businesses in New West a lease is paid to a landlord. It is the common practice for the landlord to pass the property tax bill directly to the tenant (through “triple net leases”), but there is nothing in Bill 28 or elsewhere that forces a landlord to pass any tax relief savings down to the small business person, so a tax incentive may not get to the small business types we are trying to support, and might actually make the situation worse for the business owner, but better for the Landlord. It may also be a disincentive to upgrading, repair, or improvement of marginal buildings, reducing the attractiveness and safety of commercial spaces.

The City of Vancouver is the only City that has taken on a Bill 28 approach, and we are going to hope to learn from their example as staff bring some data and analysis back to council to see if this approach can be made to help. It may be a useful tool, if we can wield it creatively enough.

Ensuring that ground level retail spaces in new developments prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations
This motion from Councillor Nakagawa was a bit more all-encompassing, and completely within our jurisdiction. It was asking that the City “review and refresh current policies relating to ground level retail” and “develop policy to ensure that future ground level retail spaces in new development are built to prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations in alignment with the retail strategy.”

When people ask what Council can do to assure a (insert type of business you want to see) opens in a specific location instead of a (insert type of business you don’t want to see), I often retort with the question: are you sure you want to give me the power to do that?  Council has some power to restrict different business types through zoning, but do you really want 7 elected people picking and choosing the businesses in your downtown? Are we the wisest ones to choose this, or is this somewhere we need to ask “the market” to address? Clearly there is a huge spectrum between completely hands-off and being so prescriptive that we end up with streets full of unleased spaces because Council of the day fails to understand the market. Personally, I would love to see a small hardware store downtown. But we had one for a few years, and it was really great, but it was not supported enough to stay open and now you can buy discount shoes in that spot. The reasons for that specific store closing may be complex and global (as they were part of a nation-wide chain that changed its focus and has now closing many Big Box offerings across Canada as well). The City saying “only hardware stores here” would not change those global forces, and we would likely have an empty space in its place, and angry landlord, and a decaying business district. That said, we do exercise limited powers to restrict uses like cannabis or liquor stores (for example) to address perceived or suspected risks.

Nothing against dentists, but mine is Uptown and on the second floor, which is probably a better space for the kind of use that doesn’t really “activate” the street or lead to good walking-around experiences. One thing we can all agree is that a street is more fun to live near and shop on if we have a variety of interesting retail and service experiences along it. As part of our Council Strategic Priority Plan, we talked about supporting a people-centered economy, supporting retail areas that address the needs of the local community.

When Starbucks made a global decision to close thousands of stores including Columbia and 6th, people lamented this loss. Since that time, three new coffee shops have opened downtown, and the old Starbucks location is a popular Italian deli. There are literally dozens of businesses Downtown that were not there at the beginning of the Pandemic, and there is not a lot of lease vacancy. By many measures, the business environment Downtown is pretty healthy. Still, the community is engaged in a conversation about retail mix, though it’s not clear how the community wants to get there.

There are two policy areas inherent in this motion we can look at. We can look at how we approve new street-facing spaces in new mixed use developments like 618 Carnarvon, where a brand new dentist office is opening in a space where folks might have wanted to see a coffee shop, or boutique, or other more experiential use. The other is to look at policies that rezone existing spaces to limit the variety of uses possible when businesses turn over, much like we do with liquor stores. To traditional businesses this sounds like a lot of “red tape”, and may result in an incredibly complex zoning bylaw that makes it harder for any business to find the right space. One can imagine this resulting in any new and innovative business types wanting to set up in town having to come to Council to ask permission, because their specific type that doesn’t fit the Bylaw. We went down that path with a video-game arcade that wanted to serve alcohol – and it was a massive pain in the ass for staff, a difficult challenge for the business owner who felt unsupported, and left everyone feeling soured. And that was for a business idea that that everyone on Council liked!

There is a guy I have had lunch with (Hi John!) who suggests the City should simply open more restaurants downtown. I don’t think it is that simple, because I don’t know what the role of the City is in doing that. Restaurants are permitted in almost every business storefont on Columbia Street, there are no rules or regulations preventing them from opening now. At the same time, we cannot force the landlord to kick out the current tenant and put in a restaurant. Reducing taxes of set-up costs will not have any positive effect on a restaurant business model that it doesn’t equally have on a nail salon or dog grooming business model. Further, we are limited by Section 25 of the Community Charter (the part that says it is illegal for a City to “provide a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance to a business”) from directly incenting a specific business owner to do a specific thing. We could, I guess, buy up the land and start leasing it to the business types and business owners we like, but I’m not sure that is the best role of a City government.

All this to say, there is an interesting bit of policy work we can do here, but we are also limited in our powers by legislation and common sense. This also speaks to and augments existing work we are doing around the recently-adopted Retail Strategy.

Year of Work

Last month I wrote a blog post marking the one-year anniversary of the 2022 election that was mostly personal reflections and not about the work we did in Year One. Now that we are on the one-year anniversary of the new Council being actually sworn in, a bit of a summary is apropos. As I worked on this, I realized there is a lot to talk about, so I need to edit it down a bit and gather by themes. So this is more a list of highlights than a complete catalogue.

Inauguration
We swore in a new Council on November 7th, 2022, bringing in one of the bigger change-overs in recent years. Best I can tell, it has been more than 25 years since we had this large a change-over with a new Mayor and 4 new Councillors elected in the same year. This meant that onboarding for the new members (myself included, because the Mayor role is very different than the Council one) dominated the first few months of work. We held long onboarding seminars and site tours with staff getting everyone as up to speed as possible on everything from how the municipal budget works in reality (very different than how it works on some election platforms!) to details on the various areas of service delivery the City performs.

Following on this, we developed together and adopted a Strategic Priorities Plan that I wrote about here. It has the regular priority stuff – transportation and housing and asset management – but I am more proud in how Council came together to center the residents and communities (yes, plural) we are serving in this plan, and to emphasize community connectedness as a priority. This is what makes New West special, and what will truly address many of the challenges we face.

Housing Approved
The City continues to lead on housing policy, signing housing agreements on almost 700 new Purpose Built Rental units, and giving final approvals to 244 student apartments, 50 supportive housing units, more than 150 new townhouses and about 50 other units in several medium-density forms. We waived Public Hearing on projects promising more than 400 more rental units, and dozens of townhouses because they were consistent with the Official Community Plan and public consultation showed strong support. We are also working through initial phases of several larger developments in the City, as we strive to (and are so far successful at) meeting our Regional Growth Strategy targets. We are still struggling to get 24/7 shelter, transitional and supportive housing funded in the City, even those that we have approved, and continue to balance putting the pressure on provincial and federal purse-string holders while we work with them at the staff-to-staff level to develop fundable projects.

Crises
We have been proactive at addressing the overlapping crises of homelessness, mental health, and addictions that are challenging every municipality in Canada. Back in December, we brought in a Downtown Livability Strategy to coordinate efforts between staff from Community Planning, Economic Development, Engineering, Fire Services, Integrated Services (“Bylaws”), Parks and Recreation, Finance, and Police and added some resources to address general hygiene and cleanliness issues. We have continued to partner with Fraser Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Housing, and service agencies working downtown, have secured $1.7 Million from the federal Building Safer Communities Fund, $1.2M from the Provincial Government to support our groundbreaking Peer Assist Care Teams, $50,000 from the provincial Ministry of Public Safety to set up Situation Tables and Collaborative Public Safety Programs. We have also launched a new Homelessness Action Plan working with our partners in the Homelessness Coalition.

Staff have been working hard and making progress with the resources available to them. Just last week, we committed to a plan to increase these resources and set up a new structure to assure we are leveraging community partnerships and coordinating our lobbying and communications efforts to best serve the entire community.

It is a difficult time for many in our community, and everyone deserves to feel safe and supported however they live in this community. We are committed to a compassionate, evidence-based approach to addressing the needs of those most at risk, and to address the externalities related to too many people not having access to the dignified supports they need. We have also supported the building of new supportive housing in the community – recognizing the real solution to homelessness is safe and secure homes.

Capital Projects
Our Capital Plan is significant. The biggest item being təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre – a more than doubling of the recreation and aquatic space provided by the old Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre, and the first Zero Carbon recreation centre of its kind in Canada. Considering that procurement and construction occurred during massive construction inflation, the regional concrete strike, unprecedented supply chain disruptions, not to mention a global pandemic, delivering this project within a few months of planned opening, and within 5% of the budget is a significant achievement. We are not across the finish line yet, but opening is planned for the spring, and that will be a great day for New West.

Flying under the radar a bit was a new $28 Million substation in Queensborough that we cut the ribbon on a few months ago. Not only will this provide secure long-term electrical reliability for rapidly-growing Q’Boro, but the Electrical Utility delivered the project for $2 million under budget, saving all city electrical ratepayers money. Serious kudos to the team who delivered this project.

You also probably noticed there have been a lot of roads torn up over the last year, mostly in Sapperton and the West End. This is the result of many overlapping utility renewal projects by the City and Metro Vancouver, with some of it supported by a $10.4 Million Investing in Canada grant from both the Federal and Provincial governments. Building a City is project that never stops, and we are investing more than ever on things that matter to the quality of life in this community, like sidewalks and trees.

Reconciliation
A Year of Truth is ground-breaking work on uncovering the history of colonization in New Westminster. We are informing a truth-based dialogue about our shared history with the original inhabitants of these lands to inform a more genuine approach to reconciliation. A new relationship with the 6 Host Nations, and a new commitment to co-develop the replacement of Pier Park in a vision shared by the original inhabitants of these lands and the community. This is sometimes challenging work, but we are leading with clear principles, and our entire community will be much stronger for having had these discussions, for having taken the time to listen and to learn. Only once we have truth can reconciliation begin.

Resiliency
Over the last year, we have seen a massive all-department response to the Heat Dome disaster of 2021. Our Emergency Planning staff have partnered with Fraser Health and Senior Services Society to identify and directly support vulnerable residents, have surveyed and identified the most vulnerable buildings in the City and initiated a One Cool Room program. Our Electrical Utility is augmenting the province’s free Air Conditioner Program with an enhanced program for New West residents. Our Parks and Engineering teams have brought a new emphasis on public cooling stations and relief centres to address the bad days when they come. Meanwhile, we continue to advocate to senior government for regulatory changes that will reduce the risk to vulnerable residents in the future.

We have also initiated a new Flood Resilience Plan that adopts the recently-updated 2050 Fraser River Flood Profile to address climate-change driven freshet changes and sea-level rise to the middle of the century in Queensborough, in the Downtown ,and the Braid Industrial area. We have been successful at pulling in senior government funding to support pump station and dike upgrades in Queensborough. This plan will help us direct the next phase of investments.

Climate
We have adopted new Zero Carbon Step Code levels that incent the building of new homes that are both energy efficient and zero carbon, a major step towards our 2030 and 2050 community greenhouse gas reduction goals. We made a major shift in minimum parking requirements in new buildings around Skytrain and frequent transit, to reduce the cost of building new homes and better support transportation and climate goals. Meanwhile, we have been putting together a decision making framework to prioritize spending of the Climate Action Reserve to assure we get the best bang for the buck as we apply that reserve to items in our capital plan that move the needle on climate emissions reductions and climate resilience. We also supported youth leadership in our community by adopting a 15-Minute City Strategy which will guide future development and planning.

Partnerships
As Council prioritized building strong relationships with organizations doing good work in the community, we have put this in practice. This includes building a stronger relationship with Sahib Sukh Sagar Gurdwara through shared emergency management strategy and resources. We are strengthening our relationship with Urban Indigenous residents and Indigenous Youth through partnership with Spirit of the Children Society through Truth and Reconciliation Day and hosting an Every Child Matters sidewalk mural in the centre of our Downtown. We cut the ribbon on the new K.I.D.S. Childcare space in Queensborough – a partnership between the development community, the City, and the Province bringing much needed childcare spaces to Queensborough. We supported seniors advocacy in our community by adopting recommendations that support dignified and affordable Aging in Place after a request from representatives from Century House. For the first time, we recognized Transgender Day of Visibility with flag raising and lighting up City Hall, and were the first BC City to recognize Ethiopian Day by raising the Ethiopian Flag at Friendship gardens and invited representatives of the local Ethiopian Community into City Hall to share food and ideas. Just today I attended the New West Hospice Society dialogue on Death and dying at Century House- an incredible and meaningful collaboration between the City and two volunteer-driven organizations in the City that are making our community stronger.

We also hosted the Mann Cup! OK, Council didn’t get them there, but it was a memorable event that fills me photostream for the year. One thing this Council did to to help was to designate the ‘Bellies as an Event of Municipal Significance, which allowed for a shift in how they manage their liquor license. This helped facilitate a partnership between the ‘Bellies and a local brewery, and providing more secure funding for their operations though an exciting payoff run.

Arts, Culture and Economic Development
Council made a $20 Million investment in the repair and upgrade of the Massey Theatre so this artistic jewel of the community can continue to thrive for another generation. We also secured a long-term operational agreement with the Massey Theatre Society so they can transform Massey Theatre into a multi-purpose arts centre called 8th and 8th Arts Spaces.

Meanwhile, Council initiated downtown renewal plans, including advocating for a Vacant Commercial Property Tax at UBCM, and adopting a new Retail Strategy to be implemented in 2024. We have also adopted a new Site-Wide Liquor Licensing policy to better support major festivals in the City. We have renewed our our Economic Development Advisory Committee by recognizing the importance of Arts and Culture in this space, and expanding the mandate of the committee to include it.

Engagement
We have launched several public engagement opportunities, from the development of a new Queensborough Transportation Plan to the visioning of the 22nd Street Station Area. We are also launching an innovative Community Advisory Assembly model of engagement, where a council of community members that represent the diversity of our city can weigh in on issues important to the community.


Incomplete as it is, for the first year of a mostly-new Council, I am pretty happy with this list. There are also many things that Council has expressed interest in working on that we have not really started yet. It’s a busy time in the City, in every City when I talk to me colleagues around the region, and we are still in a place where we need to balance the desire to get lots of things done while we are challenged for resources and staff are already fully tasked, and then some. Council recognizes that this work is being done by more than 1,000 hardworking people in City Hall, the Works Yard, the recreation centres and out in the community, and their dedication is appreciated.

It has been a year of excitement and frustrations, and more than one distraction, but the work never stops. Building a City is not a job that is ever completed, nor is it something a Mayor can do – it requires a team effort. I am so fortunate in this role to have a great team surrounding me, doing the work to make New Westminster more active, more connected, and more nurturing. I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish in 2024.

Year one

It has been an intense fall in the work/life balance front, and I almost forgot that I should probably mark the date on the calendar – one year since the election of 2022.

I haven’t had a chance to sit down and think about what “one year” means. I often feel dates like this are arbitrary, and so much of the important work we do in the City is incremental and based on long-term and system thinking that it doesn’t lend itself to tracking arbitrary dates. I also recognize years-in-review suit the listicle thinking of modern communications. However, I am instead going to do a bit of public self-reflection instead of talking about accomplishments that I might share with my incredible Council Team and the staff of the City. Maybe those will come in a follow-up.

Yesterday I spent several hours at the New West Fire and Rescue Open House at Glenbrook Fire Hall. Doing what I occasionally do – sitting in a booth taking questions from everyday folks, hearing concerns and talking about the City and the work of Council. One of the most common questions (after “are you really the Mayor!?”) is something around the theme: “What’s it like to be Mayor?” or “Is it what your expected?” or “How are you enjoying it?”

I usually quip an answer around “I’m experiencing it, that’s for sure” (chuckle), because it is hard to describe what something is like when you are so immersed in it, and it is hard to remember what I expected before I got here. The line of questioning does inspire some thoughts that are probably appropriate to go through after year one and it almost looks like a listicle.

First off, it is busy (and busy is rarely a good thing).

An interesting shift from time on Council to this job is how more all-encompassing this job is, and I thought Council was intense. The challenge is when things are coming at you in a constant stream, it is hard to know what actually needs current attention and what needs to be ignored – or what you can afford to ignore. If you are always reacting to what just arrived, you never have the time to do any long-term planning, or to concentrate on a single thing for a long enough period of time. The risk is you slip into a mode where you are reacting instead of thinking or planning.

There are many ways this manifests. I cannot possibly reply to every email I get, and can only reply to very few in timely and meaningful ways. I like replying to emails, and feel most people deserve a thoughtful response to their concern if they took the time to write. But there is only so much thoughtful time in a day. This is why I simply don’t have time to write blogs like I used to. I committed to the Council reports, but the longer discussions about bigger topics are just too hard to take the time to sit down and write.

As for the constant small decision making, it can get tiring, mostly because of the vast array of topics the City’s work touches. It seems every decision requires a shift in gears – from discussing sewer grants to community consultation scheduling to housing advocacy to discussing sidewalk repairs to flag raising events or parking rules – you never know what you will be asked next. It is exciting and dynamic, but at the end of the day, it is exhausting.

Secondly, it is at times emotionally difficult.

Bad news is all around us; global bad news and local bad news. Some I have no control over, while some are right in front of me. There is also some over which I have limited control, but have a responsibility to address. There are no two ways about it, some people in our community are suffering. Some lack a home; some lack support for their health care needs; some lack resources to feed and fully care for their family. These residents are not abstractions, they are people I see every day and talk to when walking around the City. The idea that I carry a Naloxone kit in my walks should be terrifying, but instead it is banal.

I was pointed to a radio show last week where people in my community with power and voice used those privileges to contribute to the stigma thrust upon the most vulnerable members of this community. Conflating not having a home or living with an addiction with criminality. Dehumanizing the people who most need help in our community. Framing them as the problem and propagating untruthful messages about the actual problem while providing no solutions. This both angers and saddens me, and I struggle to find a positive response, because the dehumanization is the entire point of that narrative. Separating community into “us” and “them” gives people reason to not care about their neighbours and makes it harder to build support for and do the work we need to do, stops us from acting with the optimism and hope we need to make a positive difference in our community.

Fortunately, it is also rewarding.

There are algorithms culturing negative narratives in social media and shock radio, but talking to people in the community gives such a different impression of what this community is and aspires to be. I sit at the Ask Pat booth or run into people on the Quayside or at the Brewery, and people love New West. Overwhelmingly, people appreciate the work the City is doing during challenging times, love our spaces and places, and like the balance we strike in NewWest. There is optimism.

This is shown by the growing number of young families settling here, by the way people show up when events occur, and by how engaged folks are at community meetings like last week on the 22nd Street Plan. It also shows up in the public surveys and polling where we find (for example) that the vast majority of New West residents feel safe in this community, and appreciate the way we find balance in our annual budgets.

When people come to me and say “thanks”, be it for the support their organization received or because they had a good experience at City Hall or just because they got their question asked at the booth, it is nice to be able to be at the receiving end of gratitude for the work that many, many people do together.

And it is Uplifting.

I have said it so many times over the last year, this community is about connections. There are so many people and organizations doing good work in this community to lift their neighbours, it is hard not to have a full heart. Sports clubs, social services, arts groups, businesses and non-profits, collections of caring neighbours, and staff in the city doing the everyday work of keeping the community moving forward.

This Friday after the radio made me grumpy, I attended the New Westminster Homelessness Coalition Community Party, where there was food, music, prizes, and the laughter and conversations of people getting together for no other reason than to be together celebrating community. After this I rushed up to the Massey Theatre for the launch of the 20th(!) annual Cultural Crawl where artists and art lovers from across the region gathered to support one another and showcase the talent in our community, and our MLA spoke eloquently about the importance of art in bringing community together at the toughest times.

There was no being grumpy after this.


One year in, we have a lot of work to do, but we have also done a lot of good work. We face challenges in our community, in the province, around the world, but we have made progress on many fronts, and can see the path forward to a community where more of our residents can thrive and live their best life. We need optimism and hope to do that work.

So I’ll close by thanking you for the work you do in your own community (however you define that) to make it stronger. It might be taking the time to be a good parent, it might be attending yet another strata meeting to talk building envelope. It might be supporting a local business or helping with a charity, or doing your little bit to make a community event happen next year. Thanks for being part of the great fabric of New West.

Right to Cool

Glad to see the regional media touching on this important issue.

New West is once again leading the region on improving livability for renters and people made vulnerable by the overlap of the housing crisis and the climate crisis. Since the horrible 2021 Heat Dome tragedy, our Emergency Management office has worked with Senior Services Society and Fraser Health to identify high-risk buildings and vulnerable residents to assure they have access to cooling. In some buildings that means “one cool room” they can use as a refuge during a heart emergency without leaving their building. For others with mobility limitations or other needs, that means getting a City-supplied air conditioner into their room. They have also done some innovative work in connecting community and building managers to highlight the dangers of extreme heat events.

As previously discussed, the City is also investing in building upon the Province’s Air Conditioner program (being administered by BC Hydro) to assure we have adequate measures in recognition of the increased risk in our community because of our demographics.

We have also identified and called out the need for regulatory change in the Strata Act and the Residential Tenancy Act, with Councillors Nakagawa and Henderson leading the charge here while working with the New West Tenants Union and other organizations. Though “right to cool” motions had a rough ride at the Lower Mainland LGA convention, we will continue to lobby the Provincial Government for these important lifesaving measures, and the Councillors have brought a motion to test whether we can use our Business Licensing powers or other innovative means to force landlords to assure the spaces they are renting at the very least are able to support human life.

This on top of our enhanced Heat Emergency response, installation of new misting stations around town, ongoing efforts to plant more trees and provide more shaded public spaces. Save lives in the short term while we make the legislative changes that will reduce the risk. This is taking action in the face of Climate disruption.

Approval

Last Monday, our Council meeting included giving three readings to a Bylaw that changed the zoning of 422 Sixth Street. The boring, technical part is that the change involved taking what was permitted on the site (Commercial Zone C3-A, high-rise commercial and mixed use commercial and multifamily residential) and add to this “supportive housing” among the long list of permitted uses. But when it comes to providing dignified housing for people in need, nothing is ever boring. As this is emblematic of the entire regional housing crisis, and as Council spent several hours over several meetings putting up and taking down red tape around this simple land use change, I am going to spend some time unpacking this project timeline and Council’s decision making.

As this project is a bit of a hot button, I am going to once again remind folks this is a blog, not official City communications. Though I try my best to stick to the facts, everything here is my opinion and filtered through my memory and notes, and not written by or edited by anyone at the City, or anyone else for that matter.

The proposal that came before Council from the owner of the building at first seemed like a simple one. They have a four-story building where they operate offices on the bottom two floors. The two upper floors are underutilized and the current zoning allowed housing in those upper two floors. The owner has provided a variety of services around the region for more than 40 years (Childcare, food hamper programs, youth services, health and education programs, and housing). There is a desperate need for transitional/supportive housing in New West (according to our updated housing needs assessment, 358 units are needed by 2031, 35 a year), this operator had space, so they applied to senior government for funding to fulfill this need. They were awarded provisional funding by CMHC and BC Housing on the strength of their proposal, but needed zoning approvals by July first to add “supportive” to the already-allowable “housing”. And here we are.

Back in 2021, City Council brought forward OCP and Zoning Bylaw changes under the title “City-Wide Crisis Response” that were meant to make it easier for the City to respond with land use changes that are in support of addressing a Public Health Emergency or recognized Regional Crisis. Around the same time, the Province changed the rules to no longer require Public Hearings for zoning changes that are consistent with the OCP. When people talk about “streamlining” and “cutting Red Tape” to speed up approvals of affordable and supportive housing, this is what it looks like when the rubber hits the road.

The net effect of the changes above is that “No Public Hearing” is the presumptive default for OCP-compliant projects, though Council could move to have one if they deem it in the public interest. As a practice, New West is not having them for projects that are directly addressing stated Council priority (like addressing crisis-level need) and are compliant with the City’s Official Community Plan. This is an important step because it removes some of the uncertainty of the process at the very last stage of approvals. This does not, however, mean we are taking the public out of the process completely, but instead we will rely on earlier consultations that engage public concerns at an earlier stage in planning where issues can be meaningfully addressed. This is not without challenges (e.g. how early? A project needs to be developed far enough that there is something useful to engage the community on before we engage them; timing for senior government funding is often very, very tight, meaning consultation must occur faster than ideal), but ultimately it is a more meaningful engagement, and creates more certainty for the developer and the community.

The proposal for 422 Sixth Street first came to Council on May 8, and indeed had a tight timeline to approval, as the major senior government funding source required that zoning be put in place by the end of June. This was a fast timeline, but considered viable because the rezoning request was relatively small from a land use standpoint (again, the proposed use is aligned with the OCP and housing was already a permitted use above grade, just not “supportive” housing). After all, zoning is about land use.

At the May 8 meeting, there were a few minor questions raised regarding loss of office space, windows, and property tax implications, but no changes to the project or additional conditions were applied at the time, and Council unanimously agreed to move the project forward notionally and without a Public Hearing.

Staff then went ahead and launched a Be Heard New West page to elicit feedback on the project, put out social media calls for comment, placed an ad in the May 11 Record (where this topic was also the front page story), and sent a mailer to every household and business within 100m. All were asking for feedback by May 25 (two weeks) so the follow-up report could be prepared for the May 29th meeting, but also let folks know they could email or call or drop by City Hall for more info after this date.

Unfortunately, this is when a pamphlet prepared and distributed by an anonymous member of the community was circulated that provided misinformation about the project, raising concern for some residents or local businesses. The pamphlet curiously asked people to send feedback to me and to Councillor Henderson(?). This prompted a second City mailing to local houses and businesses correcting the record on some of the misinformation in that leaflet, and reminding people about where they could get their questions answered or provide feedback to Staff, Mayor and all of Council.

The project came back to Council on May 29th. This time I was clear with Council that this was the best opportunity to make changes that informed the Bylaws, if changes were requested. There was a staff report, we had some public delegations both in favour and opposed to the project, and a lengthy discussion at Council. Unfortunately, much of the misinformation in the pamphlet was also present during this meeting, as discussion included calling into question the capability of the operator (who has been operating in the City for 40 years), and vague inquiries about how undefined “problems” with the operator or residents would be addressed if they arise.

In the subsequent deliberation, there was a motion to add back in the requirement for a Public Hearing, which was not supported by the majority of Council. However, in light of the pamphleting, there was a request by Council to instead have genuine engagement and a dialogue with the community about the project. This included consideration of the introduction of a Community Advisory Committee and Good Neighbour Agreement on the model for the Mazarine Lodge. This latter motion for further public dialogue was supported by a majority of Council, but notably not by the members of Council who were asking for a Public Hearing. There was then a motion to move this project forward and bring Bylaws for Council deliberation after that public dialogue occurs. This motion passed (otherwise, the project dies here) but was also opposed by the two members of Council who supported a Public Hearing.

City staff put together two dialogue sessions, one in person and one online. I, along with several members of Council, attended both. I was also happy to see that many of the people who attended the council meeting on May 29th to oppose the project attended that session, and were able to engage in dialogue about their concerns. There were some excellent questions asked, and some challenges highlighted. The folks I shared a table with were happy to hear the details, and to hear that some of their concerns were unfounded based on the actual model of the project. I’m not going to say they all left in support of the project, I know some did not. But I did hear from several that the opportunity for a Community Advisory Committee was something they supported. Others I know went from totally opposed to still skeptical but willing to hear us out. I walked away feeling that we had the kind of two-way dialogue that would never have occurred at a Public Hearing, and that suggestions brought forward would result in a stronger Good Neighbour Agreement, and subsequently, a stronger project.

At the June 26 meeting of Council, staff reported back on those dialogues, and also brought Bylaws for Third Readings. This resulted in a two hour deliberation, and it got procedurally complicated. I’ll try to unpack as best I can.

As part of Council’s earlier direction, a preliminary Good Neighbour Agreement was taken to the public engagement, and drafted in collaboration with the service provider. At the June 26 meeting, two members of Council put forward amendments to the GNA, which was potentially problematic at this stage in the discussion, as the GNA was something developed collaboratively and with community buy-in. Making additions now around the details of staffing or how (if it was the desire of Council) to make the GNA binding as opposed to a voluntary agreement violated the spirit of those collaborative discussions. Worse, these amendments were being offered at a time that left no time to engage again with the Provider or funding governments about the impact of operational changes on the viability of the project, while timing on making them binding is especially problematic at this stage. This led staff to consult in camera and recommend to Council that tying the GNA to the Business License would be the most likely process to make it binding from a City functioning point of view.

On balance, Council did not support the majority of the proposed amendments, for a variety of reasons. I personally opposed these motions on their face (they mostly, in my opinion, frame people needing housing as people who need to be policed as opposed to people who need to be supported, which I find abhorrent), but also because this process was a violation of the mutual respect and collaboration that allows non-profit transitional housing providers to operate in the City. They are not an enemy to be contained, they are a provider of life-saving supports to be worked with. As such, it is a violation of the very Good Neighbour Agreement model that was being proposed here, which was already a demonstrable success in our community.

Council instead moved to support the implementation of the GNA and the Community Advisory Committee as voluntary collaboration tools that were developed through the community consultation process, as opposed to regulatory tools tied to the business license. The members of Council who proffered a number of amendments to the GNA voted in opposition to this.

Finally, the Bylaws were brought to Council at the end of the meeting for Three Readings, and Council unanimously supported the approval of the three readings. In a subsequent meeting on June 30th, the members of Council who were present (one had an excused absence for a family situation, two simply failed to show) unanimously voted for Adoption of the Bylaws, meaning the rezoning is approved.

In the end, the goal here is to provide housing that is needed in the community. This project is only 30 units, small in comparison to the need demonstrated in our Housing Needs Report, but it is also a vital piece in the housing puzzle – transitional units that help people move from shelter to more permanent affordable housing, or keep people from ever entering the shelter model. The model was not perfect, but it was approved by BC Housing for operational funding and by the Federal Government for capital funding, so it is a model the two levels of government are willing to support, and is vastly superior to having 30 fewer transitional housing units in the City. The tight timelines are (alas) a necessary result of our need to work within the Province of BC and Government of Canada funding models. This is what it looks like to work with those senior governments.

The rezoning here is specifically related to this being “supportive housing”, meaning the residents will be assured of having supports or wrap-around care if they need it, something they would not get from a private hotel SRO model, and cannot be provided consistently though the shelter model. This, along with fast-tracking and reduction in red tape for the development of non-profit housing that fully conforms with our OCP, are actions that were supported in the platforms of every single person who was elected to New Westminster Council. It was disappointing to see so many last-minute hurdles and Red Tape put in the pathway to approval of this project.

That said, I am really proud of the work Staff did to quickly pivot to a more collaborative and respectful community dialogue about the project when faced by a disinformation campaign in the community. It is this kind of dialogue that builds trust in the community that will make approval of future projects easier. It demonstrated the difference between a (by design) confrontational Public Hearing and a (well designed) dialogue with the community.

I especially appreciated a delegate coming to Council on June 26th to speak about their experience as a young parent in Queensborough through the approval, opening and operation of the Mazarine Lodge. They spoke of the fears that were spread in the community during that approval process, how they were addressed by the provider, residents, and community meeting together and having a process for dialogue, and how their entire community has benefitted. This is a model that works, and breaks down the stigma related to people who, after all, just need a home.

Good work, New West.

This Happened (23.6)

The last two weekends have been action packed. Summer events season is upon us, and I can’t possibly blog all of the events happening in town, but here are some highlights from the last couple of weeks.

With the end of May comes the opening of the 2023 Salmonbellies season, with a convincing win by the home team, S&O beer for sale, and Chief Larabee performing the ceremonial faceoff, it was a fun night overall! (no, I wasn’t wearing a jersey, I wore that shirt to celebrate the colour of the legendary QPA wood floor)
The Hyack Parade was as well attended as I’ve seen in a decade, and more than 100 entries. Here I was chatting with one of the Filipino cultural groups in the parade, as we all staged for the walk ahead.
There was a great street fest following the Hyack Parade, with booths, music, food trucks, and the best imaginable weather.
There was a great street fest following the Hyack Parade, with booths, music, food trucks, and the best imaginable weather.
There are several other events that come along with the Hyack Parade, including the planting of a rose in front of City Hall by the Royal Rosarians of Portland to honour (or “honor” as they spell it) the President of Hyack.

The same day as the Hyack Parade and Festival, the May Day celebrations took place in Queens Park, featuring 2023 May Queen Alessia Preovolos (right).

The same weekend, the Greater Vancouver edition of the Walk to Make Cystic Fibrosis History started at Ryall Park. There was a great turnout, and inspirational words from people impacted by CF. You can learn more and help them with their fundraising goals here.
This weekend included the annual Newcomers Festival and Information Fair, organized at the Welcome Centre at NWSS, where Chinu Das (a force behind getting the Welcome Centre built) was the Master of Ceremonies.
The Newcomers Fair, I got to meet groups of youth (and their parents) recently arrived from Ukraine, Eritrea, Columbia, and other places. It was great to hear what they liked about New West/Canada and what they missed from home.
I was also able to drop by the Opening of the new show at the New Media Gallery- entitled “Dust”. The Anvil had youth performing in the theatre, a wedding on the main floor, and other events on a busy Saturday.
Arts New West was also holding their first Craft Market of the season at the boardwalk at the River Market.
The Quayside Boardwalk was also the location of the “5th annual” (after a bit of a Covid pause) River Walk for Hospice. It started brilliantly on a sunny Sunday morning with the Rainbow Chorus.

I love Summer time. Wait – its not summer yet?

THIS HAPPENED (23.5)

Aya Carumba, I been busy. Mostly good stuff, but a lot going on. I’m walking every day (come along!), there are Metro and TransLink meetings happening, and as we wish April Showers goodbye, it looks like my May calendar is already filling up to a distressing degree. So I don’t have time to blog much, but here is my oft-promised and always-late photo essay of things I have been doing that aren’t strictly work, though a lot of it is work.

I got to stand next to a ribbon being cut! This for the KIDS Queensborough Childcare centre, built through a partnership between the City, the Province, and Anthem Properties. This is a City-owned building that the development built as an amenity as part of their townhouse development, with funds from the City and the province to fit the spaces out.

I took a quick trip over to Victoria for the Municipal Finance Authority Annual General Meeting (New Westminster is a member). While I was there I was able to set up a couple of side-meetings, including with Jason Lum, who is Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District and an all-around great guy. We talked about Metro-FV alignment on flood preparedness, air quality, and inter-regional transportation in preparation for the Lower Mainland LGA meeting coming up in May.

I also went out to the Fraser Valley to join Metro Vancouver senior staff and Board Members for a two-day Strategic Planning session that was informative and at times challenging, with the massive scale of infrastructure work Metro needs to do in coming years.

New Westminster hosted (for the first time!) the Pacific Contact conference at the Anvil Centre and Massey Theatre. This conference by the BC Touring Council brings performing artists and venues across BC together to showcase, network, and coordinate seasons for travelling performing artists. It was great for New West to showcase the Massey Theatre and Anvil Theatre, and I was able to provide a welcome to delegates and provide a bit of the background of the two theatres and the City’s continued commitment to performance arts. It was great to run into (and bend the ear of) Briana Doyle, who is more famous in New Westminster than you might expect!

Vaisakhi was on April 14th, and the good folks at the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar wanted to “share the harvest” and thank City staff for their work thought the pandemic, and offered a free lunch to crews at the City’s Works Yard. The food was delicious, and we lucked out with a sunny day that made for a great picnic for staff. This was a really generous offer by the folks at the Gurdwara, and it was great to be able to break bread with the outdoor crews in such a casual setting.

The Local HUB Cycling chapter invited me to their monthly meeting to talk about what the City is doing for active transportation, and to let me know what they see as the big priorities in the year ahead.

Like many Local Government folks around the region, I attended the UBCM Housing Conference in Vancouver. I don’t remember there ever being an event like this, with so many elected folks and planning staff from local governments, provincial government representatives (including the leaders of all three Provincial parties) and housing providers in the same room, talking about the need for different and more aggressive approaches to getting housing approved and built. The panels were great learning, but the networking and connections were the most valuable part, especially for the new members of Council.

One of the Conference days, I slipped out for an hour to run across the street and see the UBC SACRP Studio student project presentations, including one sponsored by the City of New Westminster on the topis of public washroom services.

I also dropped by the opening of the New West Artists pop-up gallery space at the Community Space at Columbia Square,

A few members of Council attended the Fraser River Discovery Centre Hall of Fame induction of SRY and SeaSpan. It was great to meet more of the people who work on the river, and bend the ears of the Port and marine carriers about our common interests.

And finally, Earth Day came and went, which brought a lot of activities to the City. I joined the Family Bike Ride organized by a couple of local “Rad Moms” and Babies for Climate Action with some support for the local HUB chapter. A few folks there were unsarcastcially thankful of City of New West for building safer bike infrastructure, though they do still need work to do to make the network complete.

Behind the scenes

Trying hard to get back to my post-election semi-promise to try to post here once a week; Alas it was an aspirational goal I will strive towards, but not there yet. Though it is a good time for a bit of an update not just on what I’ve been up to, but what New West Council has been up to. You may have noticed our meeting agendas have been a little light (excepting random Motions from Council, which are another issue altogether), and there is a good reason for this.

We have 4 new City Councillors, and I am new in my role. There has also been a lot of change in the City over the last couple of years as we pivoted quickly to a COVID response, and more recently and slowly pivoting away from that initial response – recognizing that everything has changed due to COVID while there are still community expectations that the work that was delayed by COVID must go on. Into this, we had seven people elected with wish lists of things they want to do, even with promises of what they were going to do. We are going to need to figure out what to prioritize, or nothing will get done. That prioritization and strategic planning can only occur (in my mind), if all 7 members have a clear, and as equal as possible, understanding of the landscape between where we are and where we want to go. So all that so say: we have been doing a *lot* of  Onboard Training. This emphasis is meant to assure the new Council members are up to speed enough to make informed decisions before we make any major changes.

We have had a number of Onboarding Meetings, basically every Monday and Wednesday since early November, a few hours at a time. Different departments present to Council on what they do – their current work plans, the things they are looking at for longer-term planning, their pressures and challenges and the opportunities they see in the short term and in the years ahead. Council was able to have some frank discussions with them about our ideas and concerns. If you want to watch one of these meetings, they are streamed live, and you can watch them here. For example, click on January 23rd on the calendar, and you can watch our discussion of the Anvil Centre, Building and Planning Permits and Fees, and Pay Parking policies. Yep, there is minutiae.

We have also had a few tours of City facilities and sites of interest in the City. Talking about whistle cessation or works yard space issues or the new təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre in the abstract is not as useful as going to the sites to look over the site so Council and Staff can actually point at the things we are discussing. Down at the bottom, Ill add some photos from our tours, and note these are going to continue for another couple of weeks as we build towards Strategic Planning in early February.

I have also been taking the opportunity as Mayor to meet with Staff where they work. Not the senior staff we see often in City Hall so much as the 1,000-odd folks who keep the City running day to day. It has been great to chat with them about what they do every day, and what their pressures and concerns are, in an informal way. These meetings are ongoing as well, as I have a few more sites to get to.

I’ve really appreciated the time regional leaders (new and experienced) have taken to meet and talk about our shared challenges and opportunities.

Meanwhile, I have had a chance to meet with many of my regional colleagues, some in person, some through phone calls or zoom. And I’ve had meetings with our local MLAs, and phone meetings with the new Premier, and several members of his new Caucus.

Then there is the onboarding I have been doing at Metro Vancouver and TransLink. The Chair of Metro Vancouver appoints regional leaders to various Committees, and I am on several, including Parks (we had our Inaugural meeting January 11), Climate Action (I chaired our inaugural meeting on January 13th), Liquid Waste (Inaugural meeting January 18th), and the Board (next Meeting January 27th), along with the Indigenous Relations Committee (Which doesn’t meet until February). The TransLink Mayor’s Council has had several onboarding meetings, and has another meeting January 26th, and I have been named to the Finance Committee, so that will be another monthly meeting. It’s a lot of meetings, and a *lot* of onboarding. So as I empathize with my new Council colleagues drinking from the firehose of info, I am feeling it myself at the regional level.

Metro Vancouver Board meetings are a bit complex, with 40 Board Members, a challenging meeting space, and a plethora of screens. Here was a part of my view during the Inaugural meeting.

The good news is that staff in both organizations have been great in getting us elected types the material we need so we can read ahead and be prepared for training, and Council has been working hard and asking lots of questions. This is time and energy well spent, as it will make us a stronger group of leaders for the community.


Now for the photo tour of some of our tour stops (so far):

We toured the Anvil Centre to see the behind the scenes parts of the Archives and museum collection, the performance and conference space.
The topic of train whistle cessation is one where the new Councillors especially benefitted from seeing the on-site challenges and the work staff has done to make it work downtown…
…while also recognizing the special challenges at Sapperton that mean it is still a work in progress.
We’ve now visited all three Firehalls – the good, the almost-as-good, and the ugly. Each has its own character and use, but one really needs to be replaced.
The new substation in Queensborough represents the single biggest investment we have ever made in the sustainability of our electrical grid. It is almost ready to get turned on, and is looking to come in a little under budget – no mean feat in this time of inflation and supply chain disruption.
Visiting the Queensborough Community Centre was highlighted by seeing how the satellite library branch meets the needs of that community through careful collection management and programs.
We had a long discussion with engineering staff about Queensborough drainage infrastructure, the importance of the pump system and open watercourses, how the system is maintained, and some of the engineering challenges that come with ongoing upgrades to the system.
We toured the refreshed and renewing Massey Theatre to see how the MTS is making this into a new hub for teaching, experiencing, and engaging in the Arts.
And finally, today we got to tour the təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre, and I think most of Council was left agape at the scale of the project, as most of the framing is complete (except over the 50m lap pool). This is going to be a real game-changer for community space in New West come 2024.

2022 in review

Having a bit of time over the Christmas break to think back about the year that was 2022, I am mostly thinking about a year of strategizing, planning, and bringing teams together like I have never experienced before. It is perhaps ironic then (though being the Alanis generation, I may not really understand irony) that my life path in 2022 was nothing I would have predicted one year ago today. This was not the path I expected, but it was a path I navigated as events occurred. So excuse me if my “Year in Review” post is maybe more self-reflective than community-reflective than is my usual.

December last year was the tail end of a challenging time. The City had weathered the worst of the Pandemic admirably, but was still seeing significant challenges around overlapping regional crises related to homelessness, spiraling housing costs and inflationary pressures, the poisoned drug supply and a regional emergency response system that was just not delivering for those suffering from health crises. There was a lot of bad news locally and planet-wide. People could not be blamed for being in a bit of a funk.

At the same time, there was a lot of talk among folks around the New West council table about who would run again. This became pressing in December, as the new campaign finance rules limit the amount of money candidates can contribute per year for their own campaigns. If you were going to run in 2022, it was a good idea to do a little fundraising in 2021, or at least put your personal maximum donation in the bank before the year end. I was very uncertain about running again for Council, and as I was leaning against it I did zero fundraising in 2021. But I hedged my bets by at least opening the bank account and putting in my personal donation.

It may seem strange for the current Mayor to suggest I was uncertain if I would run for Council again just 12 months ago, but Mayor and Council are two very different jobs and we had a solid Mayor. Council would mean another 4 years of continuing to hold my professional life slightly on the side burner: I was working half time, but my heart was not in it to build my geoscience career like it had been in the past, and the half-time work meant I wasn’t really doing the professional development that my work required if I really wanted to excel. I really enjoyed the work of City Council and the team I was working with, but I had two half time jobs, both needing fuller commitment. Something had to give.

There were also some great candidates who reached out about their interest in running for Council (some who are now elected, some who are not) and when I got into the Councillor job I made a personal commitment to not stay around too long, especially not so long that I block the path for great new candidates who can bring the kind of energy and ideas that motivated me 8 years ago. So, December 2022, I was considering not just whether I wanted another 4 years of Council, but whether I was needed.

Then on the first day of 2022, Mayor Cote surprised me (and many others, I suspect) by announcing he would not be running for re-election. That put the scramble to everything, and resulted in my 2022 being divided into four not perfectly equal quarters. All with the common theme of teambuilding.

The first was mostly discussions with friends, supporters, and political allies to determine if I was the right candidate for Mayor. If I was electable, and if there was a broad enough support base out there to get elected. This also included talking to some other potential Mayoral candidates to determine if I should throw support behind them, if they even wanted the job. There were SWOT analyses, hard personal questions asked, and even values challenged. There was also some soul-seeking and conversations about the type of campaign and vision I wanted to present – positive, optimistic and pragmatic. Is that what people would vote for in 2022?

The second quarter began when I was convinced there was a viable path, but I needed a team and a broader support group to run a winning campaign. Running as an independent (as some friends recommended) was an idea I dismissed through these early stages. I think a Mayor needs a team, a supportive Council who can help get things done. With the wide variety of topics we address on Council, a leader needs a strong team of people with diverse experiences to guide them and support them. I already mentioned there were several great new candidates interested in running for Council; I wanted to work with this team. The work of putting a party together was bigger than me, there were many hands that did much more work than I, but helping in that process informed me further on whether I was ready to do the Mayor job.

It was also about putting together and gaining the support of the volunteer team for the project that is a “campaign”. Many community leaders don’t want to run for election themselves, but want to help like-minded folks get elected. Some provide financial support, some volunteer support, some real party structure organizational support, and many a combination of all three. Just as a Council is a team, a campaign is a team. With a good team, you can worry about being a candidate, and know the logistics are taken care of. Without knowing I had this team behind me, I would not have run, because I would not have been successful.

The third quarter was the campaign itself. Parts of it began as far back as January with that self-reflection, but the really intense campaign period began in the last half of the summer. Doorknocking every night, working with the team to develop platform and communications, fundraising and events. It is non-stop, and it never feels like you are doing enough. And though I had been involved in many campaigns before, supporting others and in running for Council two times: the Mayor campaign was something different.

There were ups and downs during the campaign, a few all-candidate events went great, some not so great. Sometimes I read the media and felt good, sometimes I was frustrated by it (Facebook was a complete shit-show, but that’s another blog altogether). In contrast, the doorknocking and the booth-style direct engagement were almost universally a positive. We had a great team of candidates it was a pleasure to share doorknocking time with, and people of New Westminster were their usual: engaged, interested, friendly, thoughtful, and inspiring. As the campaign went on, it was the doors and the booth (or more, the talking to people at both) that gave me energy every day to do the work, because the campaign overall was exhausting. We also had phenomenal doorknocking weather, and an incredible group of volunteers that brought a little joy every day to what is often an arduous journey. And that attack ad – that is some great scrapbook material!

This makes the fourth quarter the post-election period and the new job. The rest of 2022 was mostly filled with various ways of integrating into the job. This means lots of meetings with senior staff and stakeholders in the community, getting the new Council up to speed on the “State of the City” and some deeper thinking about what the “want-to-do”s and the “need-to-do”s are for the next year, and the next four years. And ow there are evets again, where I am now expected to have a few inspirational (!) words.

The good news is that the State of the City is good. We are in a decent (but not decadent) financial situation considering the chaos of COVID and our very aggressive capital plan, but costs are going up everywhere, and the City is no exception. Thanks to Mayor Cote’s leadership, we are in a good shape on a lot of policy fronts – in recent conversations with regional leaders and new Ministers in the Provincial Government, our leadership in housing policy across the spectrum has been noted repeatedly. Our role in getting PACT rolled out not just here but in other communities is also seen as demonstration of leadership, ad the multi-jurisdictional approach to addressing Downtown challenges is a great work in progress, with more to come. At the same time, the conversations we are having here on active transportation infrastructure sounds like debates from 15 years go in Vancouver, and 5 years ago in Victoria. A medium-sized City can’t be a leader on everything.

2022 also saw a return to one of the things that makes New West such a great place to live: we were back to events. Pride and Car Free Day both rocked Columbia, Fridays on Front were appreciated by significant crowds, Uptown Live and Recovery Day brought thousands to Uptown, and all kinds of different events like PechaKucha and the S&O Anniversary Party and the Mushtari Begum Festival the On Your Block Festival and the Hyack Parade and Play the Parks, etc. etc. There were so many ways for folks to connect again, to build that community spirit that was challenged for two years. It was a fun year.

And this winter, we had a few reminders that the day-to-day work of the city never stops. It has already been a challenging snow removal season, we have had crews working long hours and burning through a lot of salt and diesel to keep up with the changing conditions. The social media feedback has been demonstrative of something…

…admittedly, a bit of a mixed message.

I’m also spending some time this break thinking about how to engage differently in Social Media. Partly because the new job changes how my engagement is read, partly because I simply do not have time to track and respond to social media the way it sometimes desires, and partly because during the election I found judicious use of the “mute” button improved my outlook on the community, what with the anonymous trolls and racists filtered out. But this will be the topic of future posts and further reflection as the social media landscape is rapidly changing. Apparently Mastodon is a thing now?

So, to sum up, thank you to everyone who took part in making New West an exciting, engaged, and proactive community in 2022. There is much good coming in 2023, though I am sure the upcoming budget discussions will be contentious here as in most communities, as cost are going up and the austerity hawks will be making their damaging claims about the need to strip back community services. One of my reads over the break has been Andy Merrifield’s “The New Urban Question”, an exciting review of the impact of neoliberalism on not just the function of “The City”, but on the very nature of citizenship in the new Urban Realm, worldwide. It is an empowering and challenging read, and a reminder that the work we are doing has a purpose, even if the battle has no end.

Happy New Year! See you in Council Chambers – and around town – in 2023!

The Campaign

What a wild ride that was.

In early January, I started to ask people if they thought I should run for Mayor, and started noodling about what a run would look like. It took a few months for me to convince myself that there was a viable path, that it would take a strong team, I would need a lot of help putting that team together, but the team was there to be brought together. That work took another 3 months, with conversations and facilitated sessions and the help of many people with experience in organizational development and politics. Bylaws, an AGM, candidate search and nomination process, it was a whirlwind. Then we started knocking on doors and connecting with the broader community, developing platforms, and setting ourselves up for Labour Day, when the real rush begins…

All though the campaign, I found I kept saying the same thing to the candidates: Keep it positive, and do your work. In the good times and the bad times, when we were excited and when we were lagging, when facing conflict or negativity, we just told each other to stay on the positive, and then found some work to do.

There are so many people to thank, and those will be more personal notes than this. I thought for my first post-election blog, I wanted to write a bit about the experience. I’ll follow up with more of a “what’s next” post later. For now, here are my 8 things I learned this campaign:

People are good: I admit to being a bit nervous about door knocking back in June. For a lot of people the last two years have been shitty: locked down and stuck at homes for long periods, shifts in their work and social lives, a lot of anxiety driven by economic uncertainty, concerns about health and family, loss of loved ones, doom scrolling bad news locally and around the world, and clear signs of climate disruption warning us things are not going to get better. I was afraid people were not in a mental space to talk to a hopeful election candidate who shows up at their house.

For the most part, I was wrong. Door knocking was an encouraging experience. People were happy to talk, were looking for reasons to be positive and optimistic. Yes, they had concerns and gripes, but they also had ideas about what we can do better and wanted to hear from candidates that we had ideas for a brighter future. So many people in New West responded to crises and anxiety with hope and optimism about things getting better. Door knocking was uplifting, and I hope the candidates don’t lose that feeling over the next 4 years.

Algorithms are Bad: I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that Facebook is not the real world, but I have never seen a contrast as strong as this election. If the election result was determined by Facebook comments, I had no chance this election, nor did any incumbent in the election. After all, I was called everything from an idiot to a sociopath to a “vampire slug” by people I know in the community. Some of my (alas, inevitably) non-male colleagues faced much worse. And the algorithms assure any time I spend in social media world emphasize and amplified those few voices. The contrast between the vitriol on Facebook and the conversations I had every day with real people in this community was remarkable. I’ll write more about this in the “looking forward” post, but I cannot imagine what value Facebook provides to people interested in engaging with the community. It is a broken interface.

Politics are Parochial: In our doorknocking this time, it was a good reminder of how local many concerns are. Sure climate and COVID and big issues impacting the world right now are getting all the news space, and people want to see us taking serious action on Big Issues. However, when you ask folks about issues on the spot, they can usually physically point at the thing on top of their mind as they stand on their doorstep. A sidewalk in need of repair, the loss of trees, a too-stringent tree bylaw, parking (always parking), a fire hydrant in need of painting, the schedule for glass recycling. The little details of daily life are things that people think about when they think City Hall.

Housing Matters: One big difference this election over previous ones (in my imperfect memory) is that the housing crisis was top of mind for everyone this year, even those comfortably housed in single family neighbourhoods. Previously, you heard a lot about housing security and housing affordability in multi-family and rental buildings, but now the impacts of the ongoing crisis are being felt by everyone – because their kids cannot afford to live in the neighbourhood where they grew up, because rental availability is so low, because it is harder to find employees, because homelessness is more visible than ever. There were other issues this election, but the marked difference in the housing discussion really stood out to me.

Teams: I’m really proud of the team I ran with, and so grateful of the work we did. No-one has ever knocked on as many doors as Community First did during this campaign. Some members faced unique challenges and the other members stood up to support them. The incumbents pulled for the new candidates, and the volunteers and campaign staff were always there to enable the candidates to concentrate on connecting with voters. And when something went sideways – as will inevitably happen when you have 13 stressed candidates and dozens of passionate volunteers interacting with thousands of engaged residents on a tight deadline – we were able to pull together and regroup and get back to the positive, and back to doing the work.

Who knows what works? I am a physical scientist, and a member of Generation X. Both of those characteristics lend me towards wanting to understand how things work. How does [this one thing] get me closer to [the goal]. In a campaign surrounded by political activists, experienced campaigners, and enthusiastic volunteers, you hear a lot of differing opinions about what actually works in pulling the vote: the air game vs the ground game; the lawn sign war; Full Page Ads; viral TikToks (whatever the hell those are). Few people will agree on what is most important and what isn’t, and most of the traditional knowledge is wrapped in confirmation bias, survivorship bias, and anecdata. A local government election with limited media and 13 candidates on a team is also a very different animal that a traditional two- or three-party campaign we are used to with senior government.

I guess there is a thing called “Political Science”, but I have not studied it beyond reading Hunter Thompson books from the 1970s, as I tend to be reading about policy ideas and policy failures, assuming good ideas with predictable outcomes are all people want. But good policy is really hard to meme, and often the electorate is busy, otherwise engaged, or indifferent. So, to our incredible campaign staff, I apologize for every time I took part in the “Lawn signs don’t matter” vs “We are losing the Lawn Sign War!” debate in the office. Thanks for indulging us, letting us vent, then getting us back on track.

Elections are hard: Running for office is an emotional rollercoaster. If you care about the work, about the community, and about the ideals you bring into this, then there is some point in a campaign where it is going to hurt. Maybe low blood sugar and a couple of bad interactions at a door line up and your imposter syndrome hits you and you question why the hell you are doing this. Maybe you get stuck in the spiral of reading your opponent’s messaging (“did they just say that!?”) and Facebook comments (“do people actually believe that!?”) and you have to swallow the irritation because your team keeps telling you to keep it positive. Maybe you know you need to go hit doors or attend an event, when all you want to do this evening is sit down for dinner with your daughter and talk about her first day at school. Having a great team of supporters to pull you through those low points makes it easier, and sometimes we lament the burden taken on by our families and friends in supporting us as candidates. In the end, the positives of working together to build something positive wins out, even if we sometimes need to be reminded of this. A year from now we are going to remember the funny stories from doorknocking, not those low points, but at the moment, they are hard. A campaign office with sugary snacks help.

Losing sucks: I’m heartbroken that my colleagues Chinu and Bereket were not able to get over the top. Maybe I can speculate about the “why” part when I dig into the poll-by-poll results, but for now I am just disappointed and feel badly that our team didn’t do more to help them. Chinu has been an incredible source of calm wisdom and incisive fire at Council, and I have felt honoured to sit with her and learn from her. I was feeling really confident about Bereket from the day I met him about a year ago, he is smart, principled, and was so charming at the doors, while also pulling in an amazing team of volunteers. He was persistently positive, lifting the team every chance he had, and reminding us about Queensborough if we ever let it slip. I know they will both continue to be passionate advocates for their community, it is in their hearts to do this work.


The last week has been a different kind of whirlwind. I am working with my elected colleagues and City Staff to get organized around inauguration (November 7th in Council Chambers, mark your calendar), and getting all of council prepped to do the work. I have chatted with and am planning more meetings with Jonathan, and have also set up some meetings with Mayors from around the region to connect again with those I already know and introduce myself to those I have I haven’t worked with yet. And the invites for events of all types are starting to stream in.

I will hope to find time this weekend to write a bit of a “what’s next” follow up to this, but first things first, to answer the big question here:

Yes, I intend to keep blogging, but it is going to be different. I don’t even know how it will be different yet, because I need to find a new context for this writing. For good or for bad, anything written by the “person wearing the chain” becomes conflated with the “Official position of the City”, and I am aware of my need to separate those two. My council colleagues and staff of the city need to know I am not going to make their work harder through this part of my new-found bully pulpit. There is also the time commitment required to do this that I will need to understand and manage.

But writing this blog has become part of my “process” for understanding and keeping track of what is happening in council business. Somewhere in my University days I learned if I can’t write clearly about it, I clearly don’t understand it. So writing the notes that become this blog are part of how I read and absorb my council package and the reports attached. for now I suggest the presentation may change, the tone may change, but I do intend to keep connecting directly like this as long as it is viable to do so.

So thank you to my regular readers (Hi Mom!), and let’s see where this goes!