Council – Jan 18, 2021

Our Council meeting this week was efficient, helped along by a fairly short agenda with not a lot of meat on it (that will, apparently, be next week). The following items were Moved on consent without discussion:

Poet Laureate Program 2021-2023
New Westminster has a Poet Laureate, an honorary role where a local artist is provided a small honorarium and support to bring voice through literary arts to our community. If you have been at a major community event over the last three year, you may have heard Alan Hill reciting verse and telling story of the event. Alan is the 4th Poet Laureate, and his 3-year term came to an end in 2020, so after a bit of a COVID delay, we are starting a search for a new artist.

Major Purchases September 1st to December 31st, 2020
Every 4 months we publicly report out on from whom we bought majors items or services from as part of our transparent procurement process. Here’s how we spent the money.

Recruitment 2021: Appointments to Advisory Committees, Commissions, Boards and Panels
Here is where we report out on who has been chosen to serve on City Advisory Committees, Boards, and Panels. It is a bit of a strange year with COVID, and some terms were extended due to the inability to have full meetings last year, but there is also a bit of a refreshment on most committees. Alas, we were also not able to have a Volunteer Appreciation dinner, so we will have to ramp it up next year after everyone has their shots. It’s been a long time since we go the community together to celebrate our community.

Amendments to the City’s Secondary Suite Requirements: Amendment Bylaws for Consideration of Readings
The City has a pretty progressive secondary suite policy. That’s no feather in my cap, it has been that way since the late 1990s, and has provided a significant contribution to our more-affordable housing stock. With the building code changing in 2019, we need to update our requirements to match these changes, and in the meantime staff hope to streamline and simplify the process in City Hall a bit to formalize a secondary suite.

Essentially, this limits code enforcement to life safety and livability issues for exiting secondary suites, and removes from our local rules those that are regulated by the BC Building Code. At the same time, regulations to improve livability (such as separation of heat systems, providing separated outdoor space, etc.) will be applied to new builds.

As these changes impact the City-wide Zoning Bylaw, these changes will go to a Public Hearing. If you have an opinion, let us know!

632 Carnarvon Street: Development Variance Permit Application to Vary Off-Street Parking Requirements
A Childcare operator wants to operate in the “Fisheries Building” across from the Law Courts on Carnarvon, but there isn’t sufficient off-street parking space for that use based on the zoning bylaw. Well, there may be, but the operator also needs an on-site outdoor play space according to Fraser Health.

This requires a Development Variance Permit, which we will consider at our February 8th meeting. If you have opinions about childcare spaces and parking downtown, let us know!

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular report of what our internal task forces are doing in regards to the COVID pandemic response.

Many things reported out here are happening a bit in the background (until there is enough detail worked out to provide a full Council report) including ongoing work with BC Housing to try to find a viable location for an Emergency Response Centre for up to 50 temporary supported homes with applications for additional funding underway with CMHC, and some progress has been made on a Health Contact Centre to house harm reduction services for people living with opioid addictions. More to come on these programs. There was some discussion about how we will manage Childcare programs over the Spring Break, as regular parks and rec programs are still COVID-limited, and staff is working on it!

BC Building Code Update: Tall Wood Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction
The BC Building Code is being modified to allow larger mass timber buildings, up to 12 stories, and a few Cities have already opted into this. There are some sustainability advantages to mass timber construction, some that may not have been realized yet as the technology is evolving. Up to now, our process to approve this technique is a bit complicated, where if we opt into the approval process, it adds this to the options for developers in town to fill the 6-to-12-storey gap where current construction methods are not particularly economical.

Council supported us moving in the direction of opting into this, but wanted a bit more info about potential costs. As it will involve different permitting and inspections than existing established building techniques, there may be some staff training cost (especially in Fire Inspections), but in general practice inspection and permitting costs are meant to be covered by fees on the builder, not general tax revenue, so this creates a bit of uncertainty for Council. So we decided to support opting in in principle and asked for better reporting on potential costs before we add staffing costs to a financial plan.

Single-Use Item Reduction Update
Council asked staff to develop a strategy around the reduction in single-use plastics, and it appears senior governments are working on similar strategies, so we want to align, and not waste resources on redundancy. There have been nascent attempts in other municipalities to bad plastic bags or straws, and these have not been problem free (legal challenges in Victoria, questions about ableism and the role plastic straws play for people with some disabilities are two off the top of my head).

This work has been delayed by COVID, and at the same time we have changed our shopping and eating patterns which have likely exacerbated the issue, as we are using more single use plastic than ever.

The provincial government announced late last year that they will change the Community Charter to support a local-government approach to single use produce bans, unfortunately at the same time the industry is telling governments they want a synchronized senior government approach. They also suggest expanding the existing EPR program to include these plastics, effectively putting the plastics industry in charge of plastics, and in the face of clear evidence that recycling is not a sustainable solution to this problem. At the same time, the Prime Minister assures us the federal government takes this issue very seriously, so we can count on them not doing anything.

The report did not go into Metro Vancouver’s role. They are ultimately responsible for solid waste in the region, but their role has traditionally been about managing where waste goes (recycling, incineration, landfilling) and not about reducing at the front end. They put together a Single Use Item Reduction Toolkit that suggests ways 21 local governments could set up their own bylaws to ban or put fees on items and take on the expensive and cumbersome enforcement role. This is contrary to the results of every consultation that has been done, where businesses and consumers have made clear they want a region-wide consistent approach.

New Westminster does not have a representative on the Zero Waste Committee at Metro Vancouver, so I moved that we ask staff to put together correspondence to the Metro Vancouver Board and Zero Waste Committee asking them to take a more active role and develop a region-wide single use plastics reduction strategy that takes the Principles of the Single-Use Item Toolkit and integrates them into a regional regulatory regime.

And after reading a few Bylaws, that was the work for the evening. See you next week!

Council – Jan 4 2021

A New(!) Year(!!) is here, and we had Council Meeting right off the bat. The open agenda was fairly short, so it was soft landing back into the real world. We started with a piece of Unfinished Business:

New Westminster Police Department letter dated November 26, 2020 and report regarding Response to the Calls for Justice – Listening and Learning through Respect and Understanding
This report was sent to Council from the Police Board in response a motion we passed a little while back asking several of our partners to respond to the Calls for Justice that arose from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Our request to the Police Board was to respond to the Calls for Justice relevant to policing, and champion and lead a regional police task force to address them. This report provides a summary of the work being done, some of it relevant to the Calls for Justice, some that more generously might be characterized as community outreach. This second category is important and positive, but not specifically relevant to the Calls for Justice, and in not differentiating these, in some ways take away from the value of the report.

I think the parts of the report that speak to relationship building are good, and indeed this probably reflects that the Department has already understood the need for this work, and I think emphasizes a strength the NWPD has from which further work can build. However, fear a bit the report is stuck in the present (if that makes sense) in that it does not do enough looking back at the historic role policing played in building and supporting the systems that failed Indigenous women. It also talks more about what the force is doing now, and less about what the force would do differently if we were able to move past systemic racism.

That said, we did not provide a critique or specific feedback to the report in the meeting, as we determined it was better to have a formal review of the report through Council’s Reconciliation and Inclusion Task Force, who can provide recommendations to Council, and I suspect this is going to be a more detailed conversation between Council and the Police Board.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

718 Twelfth Street (Canadian Islamic Cultural Society): Renewal of Temporary Use Permit – Consideration of Issuance
There is a hall on 12th Street that the CICS has been using for religious assembly of a relatively small group for a couple of years on a Temporary Use Permit. It isn’t a permitted use in the Commercial zone it is in, but Council has previously asked staff to look at this designation and whether this type of use on upper floors of commercial storefront buildings may be appropriate – but we just haven’t had a chance to do that work yet. Council is being asked to consider a three-year extension of the Temporary Use Permit to both give staff time to do that police work and to give the CICS a chance to figure out if they want to stay there or go elsewhere.

1135 Tanaka Court: Rezoning for Cannabis Infused Product Manufacturing Facility – consideration of First and Second Readings
A company wants to use a light industrial property in Queensborough to manufacture cannabis-infused food products (“edibles”). If it was a food manufacturing facility, they wouldn’t even be coming to Council, but the regulations around cannabis are still prohibition-based, so we need to go through an extra zoning process, in this case a zoning amendment. This is a first and second reading, and will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.

Our Bylaws readings included the following for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Patio zoning relaxations) No. 8246, 2020
This Bylaw that extends the current relaxation of patio rules through to the end of 2021 was adopted by Council. Better put on a wooly hat!

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (805 Boyd Street) No. 8214, 2020
This Bylaw that allows “self-improvement schools” in the big box Queensborough Landing area was adopted by Council.

We had one late addition piece of New Business:

Westminster Pier Park Fire Recovery: Request for Construction Noise Exemption
The Pier Park fire clean-up is complicated. A very short version of the story is that a creosote-and asphalt fire dropped debris in to the river, and we need to clean that up to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Environment, and that work really needs to be done in a way that protects fisheries habitat, and preferably before the salmon start to run down the river. Our contractor is concerned about timelines, and wants to have the ability to do this work outside of our regular construction hours, which needs a construction noise bylaw exemption because part of the work is on City titled lands. Council moved to allow that.

Now everyone get back to work and we’ll see you in two weeks.

Ask Pat: Blogs

JL asked—

Are you aware of a blog similar to the one you run but focused on the city of Richmond?
I have grown to love New West in my 5 years here and am sad to leave. I really want to let you know how much I appreciate the time you take to write these entries on the council meetings and topics related to the City of New Westminster. They are very informative and make me feel more connected the city. Frankly, I think a monthly (bi-weekly?) email newsletter similar to your blog would be an asset to the city’s residents.

In short, no. I don’t know anyone in Richmond doing this. Actually, I don’t know very many City Councillors doing stuff like this, which makes me wonder why I am doing it, to be honest.

I love that there are a few Councillors more actively engaging the public in interesting ways. Nathan Pachal in Langley City has a more concise blog than mine covering what happens on his Council, Mathew Bond in North Vancouver District (@mrmathewbond) has been live-tweeting Public Hearings to enlightening effect. There are some real Local Government stars like Christine Boyle in Vancouver who blogs and uses other media to tell the stories of Council work and of her vision for bigger change, but I see nothing of the sort in Richmond. A few blogs that were very active in the months before election, and silent since, seems the trend. There are likely a few more active Facebook pages, but not much else.

In my experience (disclosure: I used to work in Richmond City Hall) Richmond is a strange place politically. Where else can a candidate can run for the Conservatives in opposition to oil & gas development in one race, be endorsed by an NDP candidate in another, then after a half dozen tries, be elected when running on a slate with a Green Candidate? With the public generally disengaged in local politics (aside from the Steveston neighbourhood preservation activists and a few very tight ethnic- and religious<-based cliques), and a pretty popular and non-controversial Mayor, it was really hard to know where the public was on issues. So, maybe once you get there, you can figure it out and report out to us?

That is kinda how this all started for me here. It was back in the heady days of the 2000s when everybody had a blog. I was blogging on other stuff around my environmental activism and loving my adopted community of New West. A brief period of time between when Letters to the Editor and Calling into Your Local AM Radio Station were replaced by Facebook comment threads and Podcasts, the blog was a medium where anyone with an opinion could start a conversation with people they had never met. I do cringe a bit in reading some of my early stuff, because I really didn’t know how the City worked (I sort of still don’t, but I’m getting better). The upside is I actually earned a great network of friends in New West though this thing.

I told the story here before, but my inspiration was actually Jordan Bateman. Before he became and anti-tax Reaganite crusader for Economic Freedom™, he was a tax-and-spend City Councillor like the rest of us. Even during his spendthrift Councillor days, he was still much further over to the right side of the political spectrum than I, but I did admire his blogging prowess. While serving on Langley Township Council he did something akin to what I am doing now, reporting out on the activities of Council. You didn’t have to agree with him politically to appreciate that he at least provided justification for his positions, which to me is the most honest way to approach this work.

Eventually, Jordan flew too close to the sun. One day he used his blog to publicly criticize his own BC Liberal Party (he worked for Rich Coleman) over their inconsistency on the HST issue, and within a few days was forced (chose?) to print a retraction and apology, one that was weirdly unclear about what he was apologizing for, other than making Finance Minister Colin Hansen look bad for pointing out that the Finance Minister looked bad. Shortly after that, Jordan’s blogging days (and apparent political ascendency in Langley) were over.

I have completely failed to take the obvious lesson from that. After a few years of blogging and becoming increasingly political in New West, I threw my hat into the ring for Council. At the time, a few people suggested the blog thing was going to be a political liability, but I swore I was going to keep doing it. I am perhaps naïve enough to think that in the local politics realm, people value honesty and transparency, and the risk of pissing people off who don’t agree with you on political points is by far offset by the trust-building of being open and honest.

I don’t know about all of the discourse that happened out there in the community during the last municipal election, but there was at least one candidate for Council who tried to leverage a few cherry-picked quotes out of my blog to campaign against me. Not having deleted any of my old posts, it was easy enough for me when challenged on what I said to point at the cherry picked posts and “here is where I am transparent, and here is where my opponent is being disingenuous”. It didn’t help that the opponent was himself a municipal affairs blogger who deleted all of his old blog posts before running – which somewhat undermined his claims about transparency and openness. Anyway, the upshot of that funny situation was that I got a lot of positive feedback from people I didn’t even know read my blog, and I’d bet a few voters were made aware of my blog via my opponent’s campaign and turned out to vote for me thanks to it.

However, we can still learn from Jordan’s Icarian moment to remember politics don’t happen within a bubble. Before being elected, I was pretty critical of the Harper Conservatives because I am an environmental scientist and saw the damage he and his policies were doing to environmental science and the environment (Damage Mr. Trudeau is, alas, reluctant and slow to undo). I also became critical of the Christy Clark BC Liberal party as she steered the ship in strangely Harperian directions. I admired the work that Jack Layton did, and have a tonne of respect for Peter Julian and Judy Darcy, and have written about this in my blog. I have even made clear my voting intent in previous provincial and federal elections. That has not, however, stopped me from being critical of the NDP at times (I still think they are 100% wrong and cynical on the topic of road pricing, for example). I have even provided firmly-worded suggestions to how they could do better when I feel like they deserve to hear it. The only evidence I ever got that they were listening is once when I was writing about the flaws in the Public Hearing process when applied to critically needed supportive housing, I get a note from (then Minister for Local Government) Selena Robinson letting me know she read it, she heard me, and was aware of the issue. I think some of the temporary changes made during COVID reflect these concerns, and I hope post-COVID we can keep some of these changes.

Anyway, I am aware that the comments my electoral opponent pulled out a few years ago that were not complimentary to the NDP or the swear words that Stephen Harper sometimes drew out of me are probably career limiting if I aspired towards senior government, so I’m not sure why anyone else elected to public service would do this, and in a way understand why so many City Councillor blogs go silent shortly after they are elected.

Problem is, I’m stuck now. After 6 years in office and 500+ blog posts (on top of the 450+ posts I wrote before getting elected) I can’t quit now. I got elected saying I was going to keep blogging about things in the City, and here I am, until the internet goes away or I get booted from office. To be honest it is getting to be a bit of a timesuck of questionable value, as unfortunately people simply don’t engage in blogs like they used to (see how few comments I get compared to the old days), and long Council Agendas, even when reduced down to 4,000-word blog posts, don’t fit the culture of Facebook (or, shudder, Reddit). So, it is good to hear someone reads them, and I’m not just shouting into the void.

This speaks to another problem that I don’t pretend my Blog can solve, and that is the trend towards lost accountability in local government. With the hollowing out of local newspaper newsrooms and the consolidation of news media, we have very little coverage of the day-to-day workings of City Hall. A single reporter in New West with a much wider beat than City Council cannot keep up with the wide range of issues we are dealing with. New West is actually lucky to still have that reporter – many Cities are going without. It is hard to keep track of what is happening locally, and blogs (or, it being 2020, Podcasts) are not the answer, especially when they are written by people like me who necessarily have a bias and do not have the training or professional responsibility to manage that bias like we expect (perhaps idealistically) from capital-J Journalism.

So good luck in Richmond. Support your local newspaper. Start a blog, or a podcast, or your own newsletter.  Let us know what’s happening over there. I worked there for 8 years, and was never able to figure it out.

Council – Dec 14, 2020

We had our last Council Meeting of 2020 on Monday, with an agenda full of pre-Christmas fun:

We started with an item Removed from Closed:

Library Board addition
Council gets to appoint people to the Library Board, one seat became available and we had many great applicants from which we chose one!

We then had a Special Hearing

Council Reconsideration of Tree Removal Permit Issuance for 309 Louellen Street
The City has a Tree Protection Bylaw we approved a few years ago after much public discussion. Recognizing that a healthy tree canopy makes a healthier community, the City put restrictions on the removal of healthy trees even from private property. Not a complete ban, but limitations. The owners of a house in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood want to remove a group of mature Douglas fir trees from their back yard. Following the permitting rules, they hired an Arbourist who determined they could be removed for safety reasons, and they pose “moderate risk”.

The City’s Arbourist and an independent third party Arbourist were of the opinion that two of the trees were indeed in need of removal, but the other 5 are healthy and just need a bit of pruning care, so the request for removal of these 5 was denied. As is their right, the homeowner is appealing this decision to Council.

There is abundant technical information in the reports, including a robust discussion between arborist regarding the typical behaviours of these trees and resultant risks. I am not an Arbourist, and cannot assess on that data, I need to rely on the professional competence of people who are professionals. The consensus here is that there is insufficient evidence that the trees are unhealthy or constitute a significant risk to persons or property. The homeowner still has an option to do a higher-level assessment to demonstrate that a higher-level risk exists, but until that case is made to staff, they cannot recommend removal.

I voted along with Council to not overturn the recommendation of staff and to continue to protect the trees.

We then had a review of a Development Variance Permit:

Development Variance Permit DVP00685 for 616 and 640 Sixth Street
A couple of years ago, Council approved a mixed-use building in Uptown. This was the first significant new residential development in the Uptown core in more than a decade, the first high rise approved north of Sixth Ave since Casey Cook and Jerry Dobrovolny were on Council. It was a mix of commercial at grade, and a 29 storey tower with a mix of market rental and market condominium ownership. At the time, it was in the news because a dishonest local businessperson tried to leverage it into a Facebook campaign against new residents moving to New Westminster (now in the “where are they now?” file) and because the mix of market rental and strata was structured as two buildings in a single envelope which raised the spectre of “poor doors”, though there was no affordable or subsidized housing component in the development.

Anyway, after some detailed design and number crunching, the owner would now like to make some changes to the proposal. There is no change in density here (same FSR and unit count), but they are proposing making the building slightly shorter (27 stories instead of 29) and slightly wider (a 6% increase in tower floorplate) and convert the entire residential component to market rental. They would apply for CMHC support to make some portion of the rental meet the CMHC standard for below-market (but not the City’s standard for “affordable”).

This requires that both the housing agreement that secures rental tenure for 60 years and the development permit be revised, which is where we are here. We received about 14 pieces of correspondence, almost all opposed to the original development, not the question before us now about condo vs. purpose built rental. One was from a resident of the neighboring tower who suggests shifting from condo to all rental is somehow a “tax grab” that will turn the area in to a circus, a few who have less that charitable things to say about renters as a class of people, and most of them concerned about the traffic impacts on Princess Street.

I think the shift to Purpose Built Rental is a good one, and hope that CMHC funding (always competitive) can lead to some subsidized rents here. I voted to support the change.

Then we had a Presentation from Metro Vancouver:

Metro Vancouver New Westminster Sewer Interceptor Columbia Section Rehabilitation
Under Columbia Street is a great big concrete pipe that used to move a lot of TriCities sewage down to Annacis Island. With the new Pump Station at Sapperton Landing and that big underground chamber by the old Train Station that was built in the last couple of years that had Front Street closed by Hyack Square for a while, most of that regional sewage is now redirected through a new pipe under Front Street. However, the line under Columbia still moves a bunch of sewage from the Glenbrook North and Sapperton areas, and ties into lines across downtown, and though it moves less sewage now, it is still vital, and reaching the end of its service life.

Instead of replacing, the plan is to “slip line” it – essentially slipping a slightly smaller pipe into the existing pipe to reinforce and reline it. As non-obtrusive as that sounds, it actually involves digging up a bunch of Columbia Street, and Metro Vancouver wants to do this in the summer of 2021.

There is a lot to be concerned about here. Downtown is not going great right now, businesses are suffering and residents of downtown are feeling the brunt of COVID burnout. Assuming we are re-opening society next summer, the role Columbia Street plays in the events that bring community cohesion cannot be underemphasized: Will we have a Grand Prix nest July? Will there be a Pride Festival, a Foot Truck Fest, or other events that build our community. As we look forward to a return to being a City where people meet in public spaces, we cannot forget Columbia Street is one of our most important public spaces, not just for the businesses, but for the large population of people who live in smaller homes in that neighbourhood compared to their uphill neighbours.

Council pushed back a bit, asking Metro Vancouver to look at measures to either accelerate or push back this work to reduce the disruption during the emerging-from-COVID period that is to come, and to look at other ways to address the various impacts it will have on Columbia Street as a public space.

The following items are ones me Moved on Consent

Recommended Actions in Response to Public Engagement Results on COVID-19 Recovery
We did a public engagement exercise to assess public feelings about the City’s COVID response and suggestions for what we need to do better. It was reported out to us on November 9th, and this report talks about next steps, and how we are going to act on those recommendations. We are keeping the Task Forces running and maintaining emphases on vulnerable populations, business continuity support, education and service delivery. We are going to renew our emphasis on moving things outdoors as much as possible, and finding creative ways to program outdoors in our famously damp winter and spring. We are also continuing to emphasize affordable housing projects and assuring Active Transportation in all its forms are supported with barriers removed.

I like this report because it I an important part of “closing the loop” on Public Engagement. We asked the public for input, more than 1,000 people took part and provided that input, now we are clearly saying “we heard you, and this is what we are doing to address your input”.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces.
This is our regular catch-up on the work of the City Task Forces on COVID response.

404 Salter Street (Summit Earthworks): Proposed Soil Transfer Facility and Gravel Storage Facility – Update
There is an industrial property next to the Derwent Street Bridge that is under Port of Vancouver jurisdiction. A business wants to use the site for two purposes: gravel storage on one part (404a Salter) and a soil transfer facility where waste soils from development around Vancouver would arrive, be stockpiled, and loaded by conveyers onto barges (404 Salter).

The City and neighbours have been informed of this and there has been some consultation, but the permitting is out of the City’s hands, and in the hands of the Port. As a City, we expressed some concerns about the buffer to adjacent residential neighbourhoods and impact of heavy truck traffic on Derwent Way. Apparently, the Port has already issued a permit for the gravel operation, with some conditions to manage dust impacts and reduced operational hours. The soil part is still being reviewed, has been slightly modified to reduce footprint and dike impacts, and the City will send some correspondence to the Port regarding some outstanding traffic management concerns.

Streets for People in 2020 – Final Report
This is a follow-up report on the work Staff did this summer to re-imagine some streetscapes in the City, and lead a conversation in the community about street spaces, active transportation, and improving the public realm. When we started installing temporary measures across the City, there was a lot of feedback. Some positive, some negative. The Facebook comments section perhaps the perfect distillation of the latter.

When you start to push spaces away from “cars only” to other types of use, the status quo pushes back hard. It was relieving that some of the more direct feedback, including at pop-up events throughout the City, was actually much more positive than Facebook would have you believe. There were many suggestions of how to make it work better, but overall people appreciated the work the City was doing to make the streets where they live and move around more comfortable for people who chose not to bring the comfort of a personal car along on their trip. This was encouraging, and reflected the experience of other jurisdictions across North America that have taken this approach of using the light intervention as a consultation tool.

There was also actual data collected to determine if the spaces were being used the way it was intended, and how the patterns of travel differed between streets that had an intervention and similar ones nearby that did not. This was a combination of surveys and noncontact observations of the patterns of users. So much of transportation feedback is based on anecdotes, it is great to collect more robust data like this. The report is a good read.

There are recommendations here on how we can do this better next time, on the types of interventions that people would like to see made permanent, and those they want to see go away. All fair comment. Remember we have set a goal for 10% of road space reallocation by 2030, so this important first step will help us on that path.

Update on Litter Receptacles Within Public Streetscapes, Parks and Open Spaces
This is the update requested on how the City’s street waste receptacle program is progressing since staff made some changes last year. Staff have removed some public waste bins and placed more in other areas and have been tracking impacts on the amount of waste generated and surrounding litter. Of course, people changed their regular patterns this summer because of COVID, including more parks and public space use and much more take-out food and resultant trash. Some extra waste receptacles were installed in some problem areas to address this. Alas, with the extra strain on some of our businesses, the outreach around this program came at a bad time.

The experience this summer was a slight increase in littering related to a few COVID-related shifts, and installation of a few more receptacles in strategic locations. We also had staff resources strained in mounting our own COVID response, so keeping ahead of litter and receptacle collection sometimes lagged a bit behind. Staff will continue to monitor and optimize the program, and look forward like the rest of us to a post-COVID world.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

823 – 841 Sixth Street: Proposed Affordable Housing Project – preliminary Report
This is a preliminary report on a proposed multi-family affordable housing project across the street from the new High School. This would provide a significant number of truly affordable housing units for in Uptown where there are currently 6 single family houses. There is a lot of good potential here to fill a vital housing need in our community, though we are already hearing some push back from the community.

This is a very preliminary report, and more work needs to be done. Importantly, it would require an investment from the City’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund of up to $2.4 Million, and we simply don’t have that much money in the reserve fund, so we would need to have a conversation about where that money comes from. Yes, this is downloading of some housing costs to local government from the provincial government so the province can bravely “hold the line” on taxes while putting the burden on less sustainable Property Taxes so your neighbours can have rooves over their head, but it is work someone has to do.

The timelines here are based on BC Housing timelines, and are aggressive, every change we propose along the way makes the project less viable, but we will see where it goes. On the project itself, this is a Preliminary report that will likely go to Public Hearing, so I won’t talk too much about it in this preliminary form, but we moved to let it advance to next steps, and to have staff report back to us on the implications for the Housing Reserve Fund if we agree to contribute.

Petition regarding Zoning Changes to Glenbrooke North
I took a bit of an unusual stand here and voted against even receiving this piece of correspondence. Simply put, it is full of misinforming and misinformed statements and makes baseless accusations about the motives of staff and Council when reviewing an affordable housing project in the City, and is below the standard of what should be considered useful input to the municipal governance process.

It also framed a petition that was circulated in a neighbourhood where almost 40% of households are renters (according to the 2016 census), and is on the topic of a rental development project, yet it is clearly stated that only the opinions of land owners are valid to represent the concerns of the residents of a neighbourhood. I cannot allow that to go unnoted. Considering the baseless accusations and outright falsehoods in the letter attached, I have very little faith that the petition itself was offered to the residents – oh, sorry, landowners – in a truthful and genuine way.

I want to encourage people to correspond with Council, and I appreciate grassroots activism – I did quite a bit of it myself before being elected. I have no problem receiving correspondence with political rhetoric or policy positions I don’t support for political or other reasons. Bu when a document fails to meet a basic standard of honesty and respect for your neighbours, I cannot receive in good faith.

New Westminster Police Department letter dated November 26, 2020 and report regarding Response to the Calls for Justice – Listening and Learning through Respect and Understanding
This report from the NWPD was a response to the motion put forward by Councillor Nakagawa and myself last year asking the NWPD to respond to the Calls for Action arising from the MMIWG Report that were relevant to policing. We referred this correspondence to a future Council meeting as it needs a more thorough review than we were able to provide this meeting. We have work to do as a City, and as a Police Board.

We adopted the following Bylaws:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (34 South Dyke Road) No. 8087, 2019
This zoning amendment that you may not remember because no-one even showed up when it came to Public Hearing almost 16 months ago, but will nonetheless see 16 townhouses built on a vacant lot on South Dike Road, including a swap of some lands to make a better dike and waterfront park in that area, was finally adopted by Council.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw (709 Cumberland Street) Bylaw No. 8233, 2020
This HRA that will see a replica heritage house to replace one lost, and another heritage house moved to a subdivided lot by the Canada Games Pool was adopted by Council.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (631 Second Street) Bylaw No.8239, 2020 and Heritage Designation (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8240, 2020
This HRA that will see a “character house” in Glenbrook North permanently preserved and a second infill house build on the lot was adopted by Council.

Sign Amendment Bylaw 8182, 2020
This Bylaw that puts some further restrictions on Election signs in the City was adopted by Council.

DCC Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 8244, 2020
This Bylaw that allows us to take the money we collected from developers and spend it on utility upgrades as per the DCC Bylaw was adopted by council.

Finally, we had one piece of New Business

Increases to Disability Assistance and Income Assistance
Councillor Nakagawa brought the following motion:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT The City of New Westminster write to the Provincial Minister of Finance, the Premier, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the MLA for New Westminster, and the MLA for Richmond-Queensborough advocating that the government reinstate the $300 monthly top-up for people receiving disability assistance and permanently raise the rates of income assistance and disability assistance to a livable rate that is above the market basket measure.

Council was unanimous in calling for this measure. It don’t understand why this area was chosen for government penny-pinching at this time, but the recent loss of the $300 top-up really hurts people living in our community at a time they can least adapt. It’s never a good time to cut support to the lowest income people in our society, this is the worst time.

And with that, we broke for the holidays. Have a safe Holiday, help somebody in need, and think of the positive recovery ahead. Peace.

Police budget

Last week we had a Council workshop on the budget. After a couple of previous workshops, and backed up by a pile of reports on different aspects of both the Capital and Operating plans for 2021 and beyond, staff brought us a presentation with an outline of the budget they would like to bring to Council for approval. The basic asks from staff were: do you have the info you need to make this decision, and are there any significant changes you need to see before we ask you to vote on this in a subsequent meeting?

The answers were basically yes and yes.

But I’m not going to go over the budget material again here today. It has shifted a bit since I wrote these Blog posts on the Capital, Utilities, and Operational budget, and there may be some minor adjusting yet, and when the final documents get to Council for approval, I will come back to report on that.

The one part coming out of those discussions that garnered a lot of attention was a motion to freeze the Police operational budget at 2020 levels. In short, the Police budget in 2020 was $31.6 Million and the requested budget for 2021 was $33.3 Million, an increase of $1.73 Million, or about 5.5%. As I have written about in earlier discussions of the Operational budget, some of this is a baked in increase due to inflation and annual wage increases, some of it is “enhancements”, which are new costs related to new programs or changes in how the department operates. It is also a little more complicated because some of these costs (about $650K) are anticipated to be offset by new non-property-tax revenue, as some of the activities the Police Department does are revenue-generating.

The requested “enhancements” for 2021 were pretty modest, $90,000 for a new Temporary Full Time position to hire someone to coordinate the Diversity Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (“DIEAR”) plan that arose from the recent Police Board Motion on these issues, and $44,000 to pay for increased PPE and Naloxone, which apparently used to be funded by the provincial government, but is no longer. In Council’s discussion of these enhancements, it was questioned whether the DIEAR work should be under the Police budget or the City’s HR budget (as the City is undergoing similar work and the two streams really need to be aligned). No-one opposed the spending on Naloxone, though I may lament that the Province should not be downloading this cost on to local governments.

Again, it is worth reviewing again what I wrote about in the summer. The Police Act makes a clear distinction between the roles of City Council and the Police Board. Council is not meant to oversee the operations of police, but are required to approve a budget for police. The budget is first put together by the Police Board (well, in reality, put together by the police department and approved by the Police Board, much like how City staff put together the City budget and ask Council to approve it) then brought to Council to be included in our budget. As a Council, we have essentially no say in how the Police spend the budget they are provided. Though there is some reporting every year of operational details from Police, and we do have occasional (maybe once a year?) Council-Police Board meetings, from a numbers point of view this is the level of detail that City Council gets when asked to approve a police budget:

We also go through the requests for additions to the Capital budget. The police service Capital budget request for 2021 was this, which mostly represents replacement of heavily used equipment as it approaches end-of-life:

The discussion at Council about these requests was mostly around when the best time to shift the types and number of vehicles we purchase in order to achieve our larger Climate Action goals. Police fleets as they exist are a real trouble spot for de-carbonizing our vehicle operations, as electric or even plug-in Hybrid vehicles essentially don’t exist in North American police fleets (Google low-emissions Police vehicles, and the majority of hits are from the UK, for some strange reason that is taking me way off track here…). In the end, Council voted to support all of the $1.3M in Police Capital requests, so the rest of the conversation here is the about operational budget.

During budget deliberations over the last few weeks, there has been more scrutiny of the Police Budget than I remember in previous years. Of course, this is in context of the larger conversation around North America about policing, about the impacts our model of policing disproportionally has on Black and (in Canada especially) Indigenous people and on populations made vulnerable by the overlapping crises of a poisoned drug supply, a failing mental health system, and increasing economic disparity as we endure a fourth decade of this grand neo-liberalism experiment. I hear the calls for change, and the questioning if the Police are the right organization to be at the front line addressing these crises in our community. The center of those discussions was the idea of shifting resources from policing to other ways to address the community impacts of these crises.

When the motion came forward to freeze the NWPD operation budget at 2020 levels, the motion did not come out of “Left Field”, but was a natural extension of the conversation the community (not just in New Westminster) has been having over the last year, and was written in the undercurrent of our budget deliberations over the last month. During the spirited Council debate on the issue, I was compelled by the strength of the arguments for making this move at this time, and I thank my Council colleagues for that (As always, I don’t want to speak on their behalf, you can watch the video yourself is you want to follow the tenor of the conversations).

If we agree (and I do) that we need a different model to address the impacts of addiction, mental health, and poverty in our community, that the status quo needs to change, then this is one of the few places where we, as a City Council, can force that change. So much of the increases in City budgets in recent years has been finding other ways to help with these problems in our community, even when those things are outside of our jurisdiction – we are spending the money because someone has to. We are helping provide community-based health care in our support of the Umbrella Co-op, we are helping reduce homelessness in supporting the Rent Bank, we are helping reduce the impact of the poisoned drug supply with funding of Naloxone for our fire department and in working with Fraser Health to establish safe consumption sites in the City. So much of the emphasis of our COVID response was in assuring the most vulnerable in our community have access to the supports they need – because we know they are going to feel the impacts of COVID the most. Emergency shelter, food security, seniors outreach, access to washrooms and hygene for unhoused people, the list goes on. As do the demands. This is what we need to fund to be a just and safe community for all.

So when asked “what are you going to do instead”, those are the beginning of the answers. We also need to be holding the new Provincial Government’s feet to the fire about the downloading aspects of expecting local governments to fund these things, and we need to keep pushing for the legislative changes needed to help the most vulnerable in our community. They are moving in the right direction, but it simply isn’t fast enough, and it is not clear to me that they are really committed to spending the money that needs to be spent.

This is hard. This is not a decision made lightly, or for unthoughtful reasons. It is also difficult to have conversations about these issues because so much of the public rhetoric about policing and police reform is polarized and lacking in both civics and civility. But I’m hopeful we can have a respectful and productive conversation between Council, the Police Board, and the Province about where we go from here. The idea that New Westminster could go from having an truly innovative police service (and we do) to having a transformational approach to policing, to even be a “pilot city” for new approaches at a time when the Province is talking about changes to the Police Act, is an opportunity I think we should embrace.

Council – Dec 7, 2020

Monday’s Council meeting was limited to three Public Hearing topics. We also had a workshop during the day where we made some decisions about the 2021 budget that threaten to overshadow the Public Hearing in their newsworthiness, but I’m going to stick to the Public Hearings in this report, and follow up on the budget later (as the it was a workshop, the “real” decisions will be made next Council meeting). We had three development projects up for Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (835 Royal Avenue) Bylaw No. 8237, 2020 and Heritage Designation (835 Royal Avenue) Bylaw No. 8238, 2020
The owner of a very old house on a fairly large lot on the hill on Royal Avenue wants to preserve said house with an addition and build three townhouses on the back of the lot. Before the hearing, LUPC approved on consent, the Community Heritage Commission would prefer both houses on the site preserved but approved the plan, and a few neighbours had familiar traffic-related complaints in the limited public consultation. We had a single piece of correspondence from the neighbourhood (in support) and only the proponent came to speak to the Public Hearing.

I reluctantly supported this HRA. At the current time, the density we see here (6 residential units, 5 strata ownership and one rental) is probably appropriate, so I do not want to vote against adding this kind of housing choice right now. But I also note that this location is 5 minutes’ walk from the centre of a Regional City Centre highlighted in the Regional Growth Strategy – this is a place where the regional plan tells us in the decades ahead we will need to bring more density if we are going to achieve our regional sustainability and transit-oriented-development goals.

When people complain about towers right next to single family homes, they are usually complaining about the tower, but I think it requires us to be equally skeptical if  the market calls for a tower and we have single family houses. On a site like this, 400m from a SkyTrain station and the centre of a bustling commercial area, across the street from a school, I would rather see more moderate density. If the apocryphal four-floors-and-the-corner-store had come to me as an application for this site, I likely would have voted to approve it.

Instead, we were asked to protect *forever* a single family home build form a 5 minute walk from our busiest commercial centre, because the house met some narrow sense of aesthetic good – it is a preserved example of somebody’s tastes 100 years ago. Single Family homes are going to exist in our city for a very very long time, nothing wrong with that (I live in a single family home myself), but to permanently preserve one this close to a regional centre rubs me the wrong way in 2020.

The problem I’m going on about here is not caused by the proponent, it is the City’s HRA and development policies that push owners down this path. If I were to vote against this HRA and convince Council to support me, it would likely mean this addition of housing flexibility would go away, and there is no guarantee anyone would come with a plan that fits my notions of where we should be going here any time soon. At this point, the greater good to me is the housing choice this development provides, so I talked myself out of voting against it. Maybe I overthink things.

Council voted unanimously in the follow-up meeting to support this plan and give these Bylaws Third reading.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8239, 2020 and Heritage Designation (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8240, 2020
The owner of a modest house in the Glenbrook North neighbourhood wants to preserve the house permanently through an HRA and build a second house on the subdivided side yard. As this is a corner lot, this will make for two compact lots with frontages that are pretty much consistent with the existing block, though both buildings exceed the allowable FSR.

We had several written submissions on this site, mostly neighbours in favour of the housing diversity, a few opposed for mostly over-densification arguments. We had the Proponent speak in favour and three neighbours speak in opposition.

Again, the HRA process is a bit funny here, as the original house has limited heritage value, even as admitted by the Community Heritage Commission, but is identified as a “character house”, which sounds like some pretty special pleading towards status quo to me. This process has exposed to me again that “heritage” is still sometimes used as a hammer to preserve some very personalized ideals of status quo as opposed to protecting limited and valuable assets. We really need a refreshed conversation about our goals around HRAs, but like the previous application, this is not the place to make that stand.

So the HRA part of this is neither here nor there for me. Compact lots that fit into the neighbourhood, located on a greenway, less than 5 minutes’ walk to a non-transit-oriented commercial area and a short walk to two schools, that provide some housing diversity in our established SFD neighbourhoods, should be encouraged, not discouraged by requiring special pleading about Heritage to get to Council. The current zoning entitlement for the land is for three residential units (A house, a secondary suite and a carriage house). This expands that to four (two houses with secondary suites). Any way you cut it, +1 is about a gentle a density increase as possible.

Council voted unanimously in the follow-up meeting to support this application and give these Bylaws third reading.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (100 Braid Street Text Amendment) No. 8245, 2020
The owners of 100 Braid Street have an approved development plan for 233-odd market condos in a 21 storey building at 100 Braid Street. They are requesting to change that to 423 units of rental housing, including sufficient 2- and 3-bedroom units to meet the City’s Family Friendly housing policy. This would require about a 50% increase in density (measured by FSR) and make the building about 390 feet tall. They would also apply to CMHC for partial funding to support 96 less-than-market units, which would be secured at less than market rates (though not far enough to meet the City’s definition of “affordable housing”) for 16 years. If the CMHC funding is not granted, Wesgroup will revert to the 21-storey 233-unit condo plan. Or, in theory, they could come back to Council with another plan to be assessed at that time. The proposal meets the City’s OCP land use designation, but requires a change in the zoning through this text amendment. It would require a slight relaxation from parking minimums, but one consistent with the parking need demonstrated by other rental buildings adjacent to transit centers. The inclusion of a community art space of just over 4,000 square feet is included in the application, and has not changed.

To be clear, the building is already approved, the question before us now is the existing 233 market condo plan or a bigger building with 423 secured market rentals (secured for 60 years), 96 of which would be CMHC below-market rates (secured for 16 years).

We received 22 written submissions on this application: some in favour, but mostly opposed. We also had about a dozen people connect into the Public Hearing and provide us comments, mostly in favour. If I can summarize, some in the neighbourhood felt the building was too large, and had concerns about traffic impacts. Supporters generally spoke to the need for rental in the neighbourhood and the proximity to Braid Skytrain station as being the right place for purpose built rental in our community. I note that one of the delegates at the Publci Hearing was speaking on behalf of LandlordBC. Notable, because the last time I remember that organization sending a representative to New West Council was two years ago when they argued that  if the City went through with its region-leading renter-protection bylaws (which we did go through with), then no-one would propose building Purpose Built Rental in New Westminster again. So, there’s that.

I voted in support of this change. I think discussion of “neighborhood character” here needs to be put in context of the Skytrain station 200 metres away – a station that has been there for almost 20 years now, with growth being essentially frozen around the station for those 20 years. This is going to change with the master-planned neighbourhood in development across the street, which will likely see a dozen towers and more than 4 Million square feet of residential and commercial space. 423 secured market rental suites across the street from a SkyTrain Station is completely consistent with our community plan, with the Regional Growth Strategy, and with the needs of not just renters and potential renters in our community, but the needs of employers and businesses in our community.

Council voted unanimously to support the zoning amendments.

Council – Nov 30 2020

We had Council on November 30th, and I have to say we are really getting used to this zoom meeting thing. Hardly an “uh…you are on mute” at all. We had a pretty lengthy agenda, starting with a waived Public Hearing:

Business License Amendment Bylaw (Amusement Centre) No. 8229, 2020
The owner of the Arcade in Sapperton has been trying to shift to a business model that the City has not allowed before, and one the Province’s liquor laws have tried to prevent. From the City side, that has to do with 1990s (public nuisance? moral panic?) issues about arcades that got baked into our zoning and business bylaws. This includes it not being in a Mall (where, I guess Paul Bart was going to prevent the youts causing trouble?), it being a larger footprint than currently allowed, not having controls on content (in the 1990s, most pornography was distributed by stores in similar business districts as arcades), and hours of operation (late night Arcades kept the youts from their assigned homework tasks). On the liquor side, it is generally not ok to have liquor, youth, and amusements in the same place. Any of the two, but not all three. Add to this a desire to have kids in a place where you can sell beer past midnight, and the Liquor Branch doesn’t know what to do.

So after a couple of years operating without a Liquor License on a Temporary Use Permit, all of the ducks have been lined up, and Amendment Bylaws have been drafted for our Zoning Bylaw, Permit Fees Bylaw, and Business License Bylaw. This would normally require an Opportunity to be Heard, but due to the length of the application process, the extensive public consultation the owner has gone through and the predominantly positive feedback from those consultations, Council has agreed to waive the need for this Council appearance. We moved to approve the Bylaw amendment.

Engineering and Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw Report
We discussed Utility Rates in a Workshop a couple of weeks ago and I wrote about it here. This is the Bylaw that sets the rate changes for 2021. I look forward to discussions in the 2021 about the sustainability of our reserves and our current reserve-replenishing strategy, but in the short term full agree with the need to assure financial solvency of these utilities and that these rate increases are important to meet that goal.

For a “typical” single family house, this means $42 more a year for water, $60 more for sewer service and $30 more for solid waste, a total of about $11 a month more for your City utilities. Add to this about $42 more a year or $3.50 a month for electricity (based on typical household use).

Having already approved utility rate changes in principle, the debate before us here was whether to continue waiving the 1% Climate Action Levy increase as we did in response to the uncertainty of the COVID situation early last year. This, in effect, reduced everyone’s electricity rates by 1%, or about $15/year on average. There is a bit of history here, but the Climate Levy was introduced to offset the removal of the “Rate Rider” from our rates to match a similar move by BC Hydro in 2019. The idea behind the levy was to create a stable fund source to support various energy and emissions reduction projects in the community – the work we need to do to get to our stated Climate Action goals.

I very much support this fund, and think it is prudent for the City to go back to funding the levy as originally intended. There will always be a reason to wait one more year before we take these kinds of actions. There always has been a reason to wait one more year, and that’s how we got to where we are today where a problem we have known about for decades is a sudden emergency. The levy was a good idea before COVID, it is still a good idea, and it will pay for things that save the residents and businesses of New Westminster money in the long term. The cost of us not doing this is going to cost the average New Westminster electricity customer much more than the $15 this levy will cost.

It was a split vote, but I voted with the majority to move us back to the full levy in 2021.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Budget 2021 Public Engagement Summary Report
The City led a Public Engagement exercise around budget issues, as we discussed in a recent Budget Workshop. Here we officially receive this into the Council record. Having more than 1,000 people engage in something like this is pretty good for New Westminster, but we do need to recognize this is not a scientific survey – people who choose to engage in this type of survey are by nature self-selecting. The cross-reference with demographic data is always interesting. Property owners were (as is typical) overrepresented compared to renters, youth were underrepresented, as were immigrants and visible minorities. Still, a good overview of how the voting base sees the City’s budget priorities.

Child Care Grant Update for 232 Lawrence Street and Next Steps
There is a piece of City land on 232 Lawrence Street that we were hoping to make available for a Childcare facility, as we have limited City land ownership in Queensborough, and it is the part of the City most lacking in childcare facilities. In applying for grants and doing some work assessing the land, we ran up against what is probably a typical reason why there is so little licensed childcare in Q’Boro: the difficulty of building an appropriate space with existing flood plain restrictions and geotechnical costs for that part of Lulu Island. Simply put, the cost per childcare spot is too high to meet Provincial criteria for support, mostly because the Province has shifted goalposts that make the Q’boro project no longer eligible.

I see where the Province is coming from, why spend $70,000 per space when others can be built for $40,000 per spot. But this builds in regional inequity – people in Q’Boro are just as deserving of local childcare (and have more dire need for it) as those who live on cheaper-to-develop lands on New Westminster’s mainland.

Meanwhile, staff are looking for other opportunities in Q’Boro. It seems that the owners of Queensborough Landing are not interested in leasing any of their many empty storefronts for this use, and there are limited other spaces available. We will continue to work with the School District as they have expansion plans for Queen Elizabeth School that may be able to accommodate Childcare expansion as well. Work to do.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update from the internal Pandemic Response task forces in City Hall. Not much in here, actually, as things are pretty much on a new-business-as-usual status.

Grimston Park Amendment Bylaw No. 8219, 2020 – Results of Alternative Approval Process
Not surprisingly, the completely asinine “Alternative Approval Process” for disposal of a small part of City lands where MOTI has already built a piece of infrastructure had zero responses. What a waste of staff time and City resources, but at least the Record got some advertising revenue. So, supporting local media for the win, I guess. The land can now be transferred to the Province.

Acting Mayor Appointments for January to December 2021
We all take turns being Acting Mayor. That means during that month we do mayor things if the mayor is not around. That may mean chairing a meeting, or signing important paperwork, or cutting a ribbon. I sued to be March and August (I don’t have kids, so rarely take vacations in those months), but it looks like we are going to try two-month appointments for a change, so I will be February and March.

I note than every other Councillor gets 61 days as Acting Mayor, while Councillor Trentadue gets 62, and I only get 59. A travesty.

Reorganization of Task Forces and Appointment of Chairs and Council members to Task Forces and Advisory Committees
On direction from the Mayor, with agreement of Council, we are making some adjustments of Task Forces and Advisory Committees. There are small changes, but mostly a continuation of the existing work areas.

1135 Tanaka Court: Rezoning for Cannabis Infused Product Manufacturing Facility – Preliminary Report
The owners of this empty big-box commercial space in Queensborough would like to use it to manufacture food products infused with cannabis for the burgeoning market for this stuff. Aside from one of the ingredients of the foodstuffs being cannabis, the use is pretty much consistent with the current zoning, but a few changes are needed to comply with federal cannabis production regulations. This is a preliminary report, and it may go to Public Hearing, so I’ll hold further comments until then.

6 – 320 Stewardson Way (Pacific Breeze Winery): Application for Manufacturers Lounge
The little “garage winery” just off Stewardson Way wants to open a lounge area with 20 seats. They have been manufacturing on site for several years, and have offered tasters on site, but now want people to be able to enjoy their products like they do on nearby Steel & Oak Brewery. They are applying from the Province for an appropriate license, and require endorsement from the City. Done.

618 Carnarvon Street (Urban One Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
A high-rise construction project downtown included in its plan the encapsulation of a stretch of the SkyTrain line just west of 6th Street. Construction of this requires installing forms so concrete can be poured, and for seemingly obvious reasons, some of this work cannot occur while the SkyTrain is running. This is a big job, and will take a couple of months. The builders will take some efforts to reduce the impact of this noise as much as possible, but there is no doubt it is going to cause some stress to some residential neighbors.

There are also going to be some disturbances of traffic on Clarkson Street, but Engineering are working with the builders to mitigate the impacts on neighbors.

Agnes Greenway Phase 1 Implementation & Engagement Update
The long-awaited Agnes Greenway is going to start rolling out this winter. It will arrive first with some temporary protection measures (the glue-down flexi-posts instead of concrete) to allow for a bit of a trial and active consult with the changes before we cast it in expensive concrete – which is better installed in the summer anyway. It is also going to involve some re-adjustment of traffic patterns on Agnes and Carnarvon, partly to simplify the conflict zones and make it safer for all users, partly to continue to protect the vast majority of street parking for residents. I think people angry about the changes will blame the bike lanes, not the free street parking. Such is the way with these things. That said, there is going to be a lot of attention paid to loading zones, accessibility, and transit system function through this trial, so don’t be afraid to give us some feedback. We want to get this right.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8243, 2020
This is our annual just-in-case borrowing bylaw. As the bulk of our revenue as a City arrives all at once at tax time, we maintain a cash flow with that in mind so we can make our monthly payroll. That said, we are usually pretty tight to break even, so it is possible that we would need to borrow for a short period of time (weeks) in the event an emergency happens at the worst possible time that draws us down. The best way to manage this is through a line-of-credit we can draw on if needed. Council need to give authorization for that line or credit each year. Here we are.

DCC Expenditure Bylaw No. 8244, 2020
The City collects Development Cost Charges to help pay for infrastructure improvements that are required because of increased density in the City. (I talked about DCCs in detail here). In order for us to spend from those DCC funds, we need to pass an expenditure Bylaw. This assures transparency and assures the people who paid DCCs that the money they gave us didn’t get spent on other stuff. In 2020, we spent $16,000 from DCCs on Queensborough drainage projects, $350,000 on Queensborough transportation projects, $250,000 on mainland transportation projects, $180,000 on Queensborough parks and $350,000 on mainland parks (those last two mostly in debt repayments for parks expansions already done).

New Normal Staff Committee: Mandatory Face Masks update and New Health Orders
This is just an update on the Public Health Orders around mandatory mask use in public buildings and businesses, and how it impacts our operations.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2021 Proposed Capital Budget and Operating Budget – Additional Information
These are some reports to follow up on requests Council had from last week’s budget workshop. These were added in part On Table, so Council will use them to inform our Budget deliberations next week

Amendments to the Sign Bylaw: Amending Bylaw No. 8182, 2020 for Second and Third Reading
The big debate of the night was whether those big 4 x 4 foot election signs were really needed, and were more clutter and hassle than they were worth. There were some suggestions out of the 2018 civic election on how we can adjust the election rules and function for next time around. One of the suggestions from that was suggested improvements to our election sign bylaws. After some discussion, the idea of limiting election signs to the smaller 2×2-foot lawn signs and the banning of larger billboard-sized signs may help with some issues around visual clutter and equity.

We had two rounds of sending requests to comments to all recent local government candidates and provincial and federal riding associations, and they all seem to agree that limiting signs to 3.0 square metres (as the current bylaw is written) has never caused anyone any concerns, limiting them to the lawn-sign-standard of 2×2 feet “runs counter to the principles of free association and free expression enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” In retort, I would suggest all Sign Bylaws act as a legal limitation on free expression, and yet every City has a sign Bylaw. The Charter gives governments the right to limit expression in a reasonable way. The Province gives Local Governments the right to regulate signs in the City. I find the charter argument to be spurious. I would also argue that one would have to be *very selective* in their reading of the election sign laws in adjacent municipalities to assert that these changes “are considerably more restrictive than those in neighbouring municipalities”.

We had a pretty good debate, and Council was split about this, both arguing their side was the one that afforded most equity. I was on the side of thinking that the large signs, by their nature, require infrastructure and resources that are difficult for smaller independent candidates to muster, and they tip the balance towards larger more sophisticated campaigns (and, by nature, incumbents). I noted 100% of the feedback we got opposing the change was from established and well-funded political organizations, and all thought that restricting the size of signs represented an unfair harm to small independent candidates. Not a single independent candidate in any of the last few elections or a third-place or worse party replied to our inquiries, so take from that what you like.

Council voted in a split vote to no longer permit 4×4 signs and limit election signs to the standard 2x2foot lawn variety and to residential property (including rental properties).

Zoning Relaxations to Allow On-Site Patios to Support Business Recovery: Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8246, 2020 – Bylaw for Two Readings
Back in the Summer of COVID, we relaxed some zoning requirements to make it easier for restaurants and pubs to have outdoor patios. Those provisions were necessarily temporary at the time, and we are now extending to January 2022. Specifically, these are the provisions that reduce by two the amount of off-street parking required for these businesses. We are also waiving the need for a public hearing.

My only question was why we were not doing this permanently. I would much rather pubs and restaurants use parking spaces to serve customers food and add to the street scene than use them to place cars. Every part of that is consistent with our OCP goals and our Climate Action goals – if it a good idea during COVID, it is also a good idea in the port-COVID world. Staff will be coming back to us with a report about making this permanent, as it may have implications about the provincial liquor license process, which is set up for temporary permits, and we need to assure things are aligned.

Uptown Streetscape Vision – Final Report
The City has been working on a visioning process for the streetscape of the major commercial nexus Uptown. This is not about immediately going out to build the changes, it is about creating a coherent design and engineering vision for the area so that when we make changes, they fit the bigger vision. That could be the City going in to improve a pedestrian space, or it could be a developer re-building a block face, we want everything to fit together, and this streetscape plan provides that.

There are some principles baked into here that I strongly endorse. The major elements of Uptown were designed at the time of peak car supremacy, and in some places cars have 4.5 meter-wide driving lanes while pedestrians are asked to share a 1.8m sidewalk with benches, trees, mailboxes, signs and other “furniture”. This balance needs to be shifted, especially if we hope to bring more activity to the space. We also need to re-balance curb space allocation so priority uses (bus stops, accessibility, and business loading zones) take priority and are more optimally located. We also want to support businesses with parklets, patios, and bicycle parking, and we want to assure safe pedestrian movements are prioritized at all crossings.

I love the design for the Belmont and 6th intersection, and think the “raised” crosswalk with special pavement treatment is a real game-changer about how this space is used. I also think the treatment at 6th Street and 7th Ave is a really big step in making 7th Ave a safer route – but the cul-de-sac closure may work better on the east side than the west, but that’s a detail we can work out.

That said, I fundamentally don’t agree with the routing of the east side cycling connection to NWSS, and do not think routing bikes down a narrow back alley is the best option for us as we are creating a raft of visibility and conflict and issues. That are just as present in a residential neighbourhood with wide boulevards as they are in busy commercial areas. I can rant about this at length (and I did in the meeting, you can see in the video), but we need to build better than this in connecting our premier greenway with the new school.

So all this to say, we have more work to do on this critical two-block link, but I don’t want that to take away from all of the good in this plan. So I will endorse the plan today, with the asterisk that the school connection is not the one I think the City should build.

Pumping Up Savings in Heating Pilot Program
The City may partner with the Community Energy Association to pilot a residential Heat Pump program. I recused myself from this discussion as I am the current Chair of the Board of the Community Energy Association. Though the City of New Westminster is a member of the CEA, my position is a volunteer one, and I have pecuniary interest, to avoid the perception of conflict I am happy to step out of this conversation.

We then ran though the Bylaw readings of the day including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8247, 2020
This Bylaw that annually sets our rates for a variety of fees for service in the City was adopted.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8248, 2020
As mentioned above, this Bylaw that sets next year’s Electrical Utility rates was adopted.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8243, 2020
As mentioned above, this Bylaw that empowers staff to draw up to $3M on a line of credit to get us through an unanticipated cash crunch was adopted

Grimston Park Amendment Bylaw No. 8219, 2020
As mentioned above, this Bylaw that transfers over to the province a small portion of Grimston Park under the footings of the new pedestrian overpass was adopted.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (909 First Street) Bylaw No. 8188, 2020
As discussed in a Public Hearing back on June 22nd, this zoning amendment that would see a small set of townhouses build in Glenbrooke North was adopted by Council.

Housing Agreement Amendment (616 – 640 Sixth Street) Bylaw
As discussed back on November 9th, this amendment to the housing agreement that shifts the market condo portion of this planned development in Uptown to secured market rental (along with slightly reducing the height of the building) was adopted by Council.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8226, 2020
This Bylaw that annually sets our rates for a variety of fees for service in the electrical department was adopted.

Finally we had one piece of New Business:

Review of Firework Policy and Regulation in New Westminster
There was a lot of conversation about fireworks around Halloween this year, and lots of fireworks. Although New West already has pretty restrictive rules (no sales, and use limited to specific hours without a permit), some cities are getting more restrictive on their use, and more people are raising concerns about nuisance, impact on animals, and other issues. At the same time, these is a significant cultural component to fireworks, and if we want to be an inviting, inclusive city, we need to think about how to balance those concerns. So we are asking Staff to report back on us about what other Cities are doing. This should be the start of an interesting conversation.

And that was it for the evening. Next week is already looking like a doozy…

Council PH – Nov 26th 2020

We had Public Hearing last week on a single Heritage Restoration Agreement project in that funny part of the city that might be Glenbrook North or Massey Victory Heights, but is really Upper Sapperton. There was some sensitive timing around the project, so it was held on a Thursday Night. The project is a bit of a different one. A previous HRA project on the site went off the rails when the previous owner mistakenly thought that they could protect a heritage house by first knocking it down. That did not go over well with Council.

The current owner has a plan to rebuild that house on the same foot print, essentially building a replica of the heritage house. They will then move a second heritage house from Royal Avenue up to this spot and locate it a subdivision of the original lot. Both properties would then be improved with a Laneway House. In exchange for permanent protection of the moved heritage house and re-building the replica, the proponent is requesting subdivision to lots smaller than typical for RS-1 (to ~4,000 square feet) and density measured by FSR higher than permitted on both resultant lots. of the demolished heritage house on site. There would also be a reduced from setback, though this is to permit the use of the original floorplate of the demolished house and align the new house with it.

The Community Heritage Commission and Land use Planning Committee both approved the plan. Community consultation took place, and some feedback was received. The critical arguments were the density being requested, and loss of parking (though there are no parking relaxations being requested –one more off-street parking spot than required is being planned).

We had two parties connect through the Public Hearing, a team representing the proponent, and a neighbor expressing density concerns. We also received a couple of pieces of correspondence from neighbours, both in favour and opposed (with density again being the point of contention). I think that the type of infill we are seeing here is a good thing for the neighbourhood, and will provide a wider range of living options for people in close proximity to the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Recreation Centre replacements, the Justice Institute, and relatively nearby schools and shopping, and immediately adjacent to the Crosstown Greenway.

In the end, Council voted to approve the HRA proposal, and we all went on with our Thursday nights.

Budget 2021 – part 3

We had another budget workshop last week, and I’m sorry I’m so late getting to writing about it, but the usual level of chaos in my life was amped up a bit by too many meetings this week, including a chance to Fan-Boy on the two best “City beat” reporters in BC.

In the November 23rd workshop, Council took a first review of the Operating Budget. This is the money we spend day to day in the operations of the City. Not the buildings and equipment we use, but the staff in those buildings and the fuel for that equipment. And this is the budget that relates directly to the tax rate calculation for next year. One of the complicating factors in how we assess “the budget” is that we really have more than one. I have already talked about the Capital Budget and I already talked about Utilities, so I am going to ignore both of those as much as I can and talk just about Operations here.

The math form the 2020 budget looks like this:

So about 70% of our revenue in the general Operations Fund (aside from utility rates) comes from your property taxes. We also make money selling services (like concession stand hot dogs, swimming fees, and parking), a bit from senior government grants, more from “contributions” (casino money, etc.), and “Other” (which includes license fees, permitting fees, fines, interest on savings, an such). You can see the departmental breakdown of where the money is spent (in this case, shown without utility spending), and the breakdown of what we spend the money on (about 50% paying people, 35% buying stuff, 15% on financial stuff like amortization and interest).

2020 was (no surprise) a challenging year. Revenues fell short by almost $4 Million in sales of services (recreation fees, Anvil events, parking), an equal amount in lost Casino revenue, and about $1 million in other revenues. We also had significant operation savings, especially in staff costs related to not having to hire auxiliary staff to provide those suspended services like recreation classes, reduced training costs and suspensions of hiring at the peak of the Pandemic. We also had some unexpected costs related to the Pier Park fire and operating the Emergency Operations Centre for Pandemic response. The emergency Pandemic support money provided by the Province and Federal Government definitely helped and it looks like we are going to be in ok financial shape at the end of the year. We got through.

That said, we are not home and dry. To quote Ford Prefect, “We could not even be said to be home and vigorously toweling ourselves off.” The Pandemic is still here, and is still impacting our function and our finances. This makes modelling for 2021 difficult. We don’t know when revenues will come back, and certainly expenses are going to come back faster. We have to make some assumptions, and have to be conservative about those to keep ourselves from getting into financial trouble. We are assuming that $5 million of casino revenues are not coming back next year, that recreation programs and other sales of service will still be curtailed to the tune of $1.8M, and that we will be spending $550,000 on COVID response programs.

Once we set that as a baseline, we can project the “fixed” cost increases in the City related to already negotiated annual salary increases and inflation, which will be about $2.1 Million above 2020, and that our Capital Program as currently envisioned (mostly, that we break ground on the CGP replacement) will cause about $1.6 Million in debt financing costs. Staff have identified about $1 Million in operational efficiencies or savings, and have identified $3 Million in potential budget “enhancements” (new stuff we could do, or new staff we may need to meet the strategic goals set out be Council). Put that together, you end up with about a 6.3% tax increase in 2021. Yes, Council asked for  lot of stuff over the last year.

If we don’t want the tax increase to be that big, we need to cut some stuff from the budget, which is what most of the conversation from this point forward will be about. We spent some of the workshop discussion various “enhancements” and hearing reports from staff about their departmental operations and pressures that would either support or not those “enhancements”. When we get back together on December 7th, staff will have hopefully worked through those comments and come back with a draft budget that we can then start adjusting.

So all that to say, there is a *lot* of information in the public reports about the budget you can read here, and lots of it was related in the public meeting the video of which you can see here, and we have some work to do.

Budget 2021 – part 2

I wrote a bit about last week’s Council Workshop on the Capital Budget a few days ago, complete with some ugly pies. This post I am going to write about the second half of that presentation – the draft utility budgets for 2021.

As I have mentioned before, the City has more than one budget. The General Fund is all of the stuff we do to provide general City services, from parks and recreation to police and fire services to fixing potholes and supporting arts. The General Fund has a few funding sources including senior government contributions and fees related to permits or parking or fitness classes, but the bulk of it comes from property taxes. In that sense, it is the big fund that Council has close-to-unlimited authority to spend on providing a suite of services.

The Utility Funds are different, and are accounted differently. Outside of occasional senior government grant programs, all of what you pay for water, sewer, or solid waste, goes directly to paying to provide those services. No property tax is used to pay for providing those services, and paying for those services does not offset property taxes. (I am purposely putting our Electrical Utility aside, because it is unique in New West, as I’ve talked about before).

Utility rates are going up faster than property taxes. This is not because of Council largesse or pet projects, but because the cost of delivering these services is going up. To be more accurate, the cost for delivering these services *sustainably* is going up. More on that below.

I did some posts a couple of years ago that used a type of flow diagram to show what happens to the money you spend on your water, sewer, and solid waste bills. The numbers have gotten a little larger, but the proportions have stayed about the same, so the diagrams are still useful even if I don’t have the time or energy to update them right now.

Keep in mind that like all of our budgeting, the law tells us to create a 5-year budget plan. We update this plan every year, so even though we are currently looking to approve 2021-2025 budgets, we are really only approving the 2021 rate increases. The future rate increases are projected in order to inform our planning, but the rate increases in 2022 and beyond are really up to the discretion of future Councils. With that in mind, here is where we see the budgets going.

We foresee collecting just under $15 Million in water fees this year, compared to $13.7M in last year’s budget. That is about a 10% increase. Part of that will come from selling more water (the City is growing), and the rest from a 7% increase in water rates. Here’s where the money is projected to go:

Water is the money we pay Metro Vancouver for the water in the pipes. Operations is the cost of running the utility day to day (staff, materials, power, water quality testing, etc.). Capital is the cost of replacing or building new pipes, valves, meters, hydrants, and all the hard parts that keep water flowing. Transfers are the exchange of money between the Water Utility and the General budget of the City. The “City” buys water from the Utility to run city hall, arenas, the pools, watering flowers, etc. At the same time, the Water Utility uses City equipment and personnel to do some of their work – from billing to road crews, and because the Utility by law must be separate from the General fund, these transfers must be accounted for. Every year, the Utility uses a little more City services than it collects from us in water charges. Finally, Reserves are the money the Utility puts aside in a reserve fund for a variety of purposes, which I will talk about below.

We foresee collecting just over $24 Million in sewer fees this year, compared to about $22.5 Million in 2020. That is about a 7% increase. We are also projecting to collect another $3.6 Million in DCC money and capital grants (I talk about how that works here). That will predominantly come from a 7% increase in sewer rates. Here is where we expect that money to go:

With the same categories as water above (instead of paying for water, we are charged by volume by Metro Vancouver for the treatment of our waste water), you can see it is a little different. We are budgeting for a much bigger capital expenditure in 2021 for sewers, and we are actually going to dip a bit into our reserves to pay for that – which is why I put the blue box with the arrow above the line there to show the offset of costs from dipping into reserves.

Solid Waste
We foresee collecting $3.74M in users fees this year, compared to $3.35 Million last year (we also collect other revenue of a little under a million dollars in this utility) the utility rate increase works out to about 12%. Here’s where the money is projected to go:

You can see the solid waste utility works different that water and sewer. Though the per-tonne “tipping cost” of depositing waste at Metro Vancouver and private facilities is significant and going up, there is much more operational and transfer costs than other utilities. This is because of the nature of the work – we have collection trucks running 5 days a week that need crews and fuel. Also unique here is the fact we are running with a deficit in our reserves for solid waste, which will hopefully turn around by 2022, and this is not unrelated to why the rates are increasing so much.

I want to wrap this up by talking about our reserves. This is the money that each of these utilities have “in the bank” (well, Solid Waste has a deficit in the bank, but follow me here). We often talk about the main reason our utility rates are going up is because the cost of operating them is going up, but that is only partly true. We are also raising rates to build up our reserves.

The reason we have reserves is because they work like a buffer on the system. If we have an unexpected cost like extensive emergency repairs, a catastrophic loss, or have an opportunity to get a big matching fund grant from senior government that requires we are able to pay our half, a healthy reserve gives us that flexibility. Healthy reserves make our utilities *sustainable*. Currently, our reserves are in the order of 2-3% of the value of our assets. With increased awareness of the infrastructure gap so many communities are suffering, the current best practice is to keep reserves between 5% and 10% of the asset value. For this reason, we are continuing to build reserves in each of our Utility funds with an aim to get to that level.

This was a conversation we had in the workshop, and part of our finance staff’s work plan is to do a thorough analysis of our reserves situation as the City’s Asset Management plan is updated.

Overall, a typical household in New West can expect to see their annual utility rates for water, sewer, and solid waste go up by $132 next year, or about $11 more dollars a month.