Council – March 29, 2021

Back to long agendas full of important stuff. Put on the kettle, this will be a long one. Sorry, but there is a lot going on right now in the City. We started the Agenda with two big presentations that maybe I’ll push off longer discussions around to follow-up blogs, aside from mentioning them here:

New Westminster Aquatic & Community Centre: Project Update & Next Steps
This report outlines the result of the major construction procurement for the NWACC and steps forward for the biggest infrastructure project he City has ever done. The good news is we are basically within budget, and will be breaking ground next week and hoping for completion by the end of 2023.

City-Wide Bold Steps Work Plan 2021
Yep, we declared a Climate Emergency, and it was not an empty declaration. It was immediately followed by Council asking staff to come up with an actionable plan and viable targets – 2050 targets to meet the IPCC goal and our country’s commitments, and 2030 targets that require immediate action to achieve and will get us on the path to 2050. This report lists the many project areas under each of the 7 Bold Steps that the City is working on, by way of an update, and a 2021 work plan for the Climate Action staff at City Hall.

We then had a Temporary Use Permit approval:

Temporary Use Permit for 40 Begbie Street
Purpose Society and Fraser Health want to operate a Health contact centre to reduce risk for people who use drugs in New Westminster. This will include witnessed consumption, drug checking, harm reduction supplies, peer employment opportunities, education on safer drug use, and referral to treatment and health services, combined with the supports that Purpose already provides at the site. This requires a Temporary Use Permit to align with zoning.

The public consultation on this was (as expected with the Pandemic), mostly on-line, and we had a lot of response, including about two dozen pieces of written correspondence. Overall, the vast majority of feedback we received from residents and downtown businesses alike is support for this type of approach, and a recognition that we need to take action on the poisoned drug supply crisis, though some are concerned about neighbourhood impacts, with some adjacent businesses going so far as to suggest they will close or move.

I hope people will recognize this type of intervention will save lives (which should be everyone’s priority in a civil society) and by reducing the suffering and desperation of some drug users, a secondary benefit will be a reduction of the behaviours that make comfortably housed people less comfortable in their community. This program will also provide Purpose some resources to mitigate some of those community impacts around Begbie Street and Lorne Mews. Council voted unanimously to support the TUP.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Update on Non-Profit COVID Recovery Support Program for 2021
The not-for-profit sector has been hurt by COVID like most organizations, but are generally less able to receive senior government support or operate with cut-back resources, especially as volunteer availability has dropped markedly with Pandemic restrictions. The City’s Economic Development Team has taken a directed approach to identify specific needs of the NFP sector in New West through hosting “Virtual Education and Networking Night” VENN Events, and have identified an opportunity to support an educational program with bursaries (to be funded through our existing Economic Development budget) for people who work and volunteer in the NFP area.
The goal here is to build their capacity and strength so they are still here to help us with the recovery.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update form the 5 task forces, read if you want to know ow the City is supporting residents, businesses and those in need through the Pandemic.

Updates to the Restorative Justice Committee
This Council term, we have shifted somewhat how our Council Advisory Committees work, as I’ve talked about a few times and don’t want to rehash here. The Restorative Justice Committee is one we have not been able to find a consensus on how to manage, as Council is generally in support of restorative justice, and recognize its valuable role in rectifying some of the harms our justice system inflicts on Indigenous people, the courts are very strictly not within our jurisdiction. That said, we are in the middle of a wider City-ride reconciliation process, and are undergoing comprehensive reviews of policing in the City, and it was thought this committee may provide valuable input to those two processes, so we will continue to support the committee for the time being.

Cancellation of the Section 57 Notices on 711 Walmsley Street and 1402 Seventh Avenue
Every once in a while, a property is found non-compliant with a building code or zoning bylaw and the owners are resistant to bringing their property into compliance, so Council puts a notice on the title of the property under Section 57 of the Community Charter. This mostly warns any future owners or mortgage holders that the property is non-compliant and serves to protect them from inheriting a non-compliant property. If the property is brought into compliance, Council can remove the notice on title. These two properties are now compliant.

Withdrawal of Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) Motion Concerning Local Government Candidates Access to Multifamily Dwellings During the Campaign Period
It doesn’t usually happen like this. We were going to advocate to the Provincial Government for changes to the Elections Act, but a few days after we drafted our resolution, the province went ahead and did it without us even asking. I wish it was always that easy!

Support for the Help Cities Lead Campaign
This is a campaign that many BC Municipalities are getting behind, asking for support from the Provincial Government in setting up local governments to help with our 2050 community climate goals by making changes in the building sector. The specific asks are: allowing local governments to regulate GHG emissions in new buildings (like we already can for energy efficiency under the Step Code); creating a home energy labelling requirement; introducing a PACE financing program; regulating GHG emissions from the existing building stock; and mandatory building benchmarking and reporting. These are all important steps towards addressing the ~17% of current GHG emissions that are from the housing sector in New Westminster.

This report is asking that Council endorse these ideas, and let senior government know. I will also be bringing a resolution to this effect to the Lower Mainland LGA as an Executive resolution.

Update and Next Steps Related to the Community Action Network Leadership Training Program
The City has worked with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition to involve people with lived experience in poverty and homelessness in the Community Action Network Leadership Training Program, and the first cohort of leaders has completed the program successfully. There are some recommendations going forward to continue to support this cohort with their community leadership activities, and to continue to the program for new applicants.

1319 Third Avenue (Steel & Oak): Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment and Manufacturing Facility Structural Change Applications – Preliminary Report
Steel & Oak Brewery want to expand the seating in their lounge, which will take a zoning text amendment. This is a preliminary report, and would go to Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

1324 Nanaimo Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement – Preliminary Report
The owner of this house in the West end wants to subdivide and use an HRA and designation of the existing house, while building a second house of similar size on the lot. This is a preliminary report, and would go to Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

MOTION regarding Liquor Primary Licence for 759 Carnarvon Street
We gave a Public Hearing to the zoning bylaw here last meeting, but when dealing with a Liquor Primary license the province requires a solemn declaration by Council that we really, really think it OK. Laws are funny.

Energy Save New West 2020 Impact Report and 2021 Initiatives
Did you know Energy Save New West is one of the longest running and most comprehensive community energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction programs in Canada? New Westminster punching above its weight again. This is a for-information report about the impact of the work that has been done, ongoing program offerings, and new initiatives for 2021 – including ways you can save money heating your home and water with help from the City.

2021 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
It is the time of year where we start getting these snowpack reports and freshet forecast to let us know how ready we need to be for flooding come late spring. This is probably the least favorable forecast I have seen in a few years – the entire Fraser Basin is above average snowpack and the spring forecast is for melt to start late, so that means our flood risk is probably higher than on the average year. That said, freshet levels are impacted by lots of factors. We are not worrying yet, but are maintaining a cat-like state of readiness.

Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Implementation in New Westminster 2021
On the good news side, vaccinations are coming. They are already going on at Century House, but in early April they are going to shift to a larger facility at Anvil Centre, staffed 7 days a week from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm. The City is working with Fraser Health to make sure they have the venue they need, and we will be hosting an on-line Q&A session on April 8th to answer people’s questions and share information about the first mass vaccination in recent memory. I am so ready for this.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Application of Regulations and Status of the Implementation Program
This report is a for-information report to clarify some details of the Heritage Conservation Area in Queens Park in light of recent comments at more than one public delegation. This paragraph is most apropos:

“A Heritage Conservation Area is a policy in a municipality’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which is a high level visioning and policy tool. A Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) is a type of zoning that includes specialized regulations for heritage revitalization and protection. A Conservation Area policy promotes the protection of a distinctive heritage area, and defines the types of protection applied to that area. Regulatory tools, such as HRAs and Heritage Alteration Permits (HAPs) are needed to implement that protection. The use of one does not take precedence over, or impede, the use of the other.”

Though there is more detail in here worth reading if you care the least about Heritage houses in the City.

Cannabis Retail Locations: Sapperton Area Application Update – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The City approved several locations for cannabis retail back in 2019, and a few of them have not yet opened. Turns out the provincial license for the proposed Sapperton site was terminated by the Province after we provided First and Second reading of the zoning Bylaw, but before it came back to us for Third Reading. So staff are recommending we rescind the First and Second readings (though the application remain suspected instead of closed, which I don’t understand)

The “second place” applicant for Sapperton is apparently still interested, and already have passed their Provincial hurdles, so Staff is suggesting we start the process with them, which seems fair to me. There is a bit of community concern about the location, but as those can be tested at the Public Hearing, I will hold my comments until then.

Hume Park Outdoor Pool – Summer 2021 Status
Hume Pool is not planned to be open in 2021. This is disappointing to many people who live on the east side of the City, but there are practical reasons that staff recommended this to Council back in November during our open budget deliberations. These reasons are related to both limitations on the operation related to the Public Health Orders and how those made the math of operating the pool not great in a cost-benefit sense for 2021. Part of this is the age and layout of Hume would limit occupation to 15 people (pool and deck area) and only two people per change room at any given time, making it a marginal operation. Add to this the difficulty of staffing in 2020 (it to with how Lifeguards are trained up) and the need for some long-awaited maintenance work that is better to be done during the summer, and the decision to not open in 2021 made sense from the Parks and Recreation operations standpoint.

That said, Council has heard the community on this, and have asked staff to provide us some options and outline a pathway to opening. This doesn’t mean it will open, but just that we want to assure we are making an informed decision either way that we can defend to the community. We’ll be back at this next meeting.

E-Comm Correspondence
The regional E-Comm service is run by a Board, and New West has intermittent representation on this Board, along with our regional partners. There is a whole bunch of backstory here, but we have been trying for something like two years now by various approaches to get Board representation that is better reflective of our region. Even getting diversity by gender is turning out to be challenging. We push, our cohorts in adjacent Municipalities have pushed back. But we will continue to push.

We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (221 Townsend Place) Bylaw No. 8253, 2021 and
Heritage Designation Bylaw (221 Townsend Place) Bylaw No. 8254, 2021
The Bylaws that support the permanent protection of a Heritage house in Queens Park and subdivision of the lot to permit the building of a second house as was discussed at Public Hearing last week were Adopted.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (466 Rousseau Street – Urban Academy Text Amendment) No. 8211, 2020
The Bylaw to permit and expansion of the Urban Academy school in Sapperton that was given a Public Hearing back in October of last year was Adopted.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (1135 Tanaka Court) No. 8250, 2021
The Bylaw to support the use of an industrial building in Queensborough for making cannabis-infused food products was adopted by Council.

Then we had three pieces of New Business

MOTION: Advocacy and Support for the Arts Sector

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Mayor writes to the Premier and Provincial Health Officer on behalf of Council, advocating for a clear plan and schedule that outlines a 2021 opening for the Arts and Culture sector and an anticipated schedule for communicating this plan to the Arts and Culture Organizations across the region such that they can begin the preparation for re-opening with sufficient lead time to be successful.

The Local Arts community has reached out to us expressing concern about the re-opening plan, and their inability to plan for re-opening with sufficient lead tim to get their artists, performers, producers, support and technical staff, together and start programming. Putting on a performance isn’t like re-opening a restaurant or hockey arena, and clear guidance from the government is seemingly lacking.

Update on Pier Park Opening
After some slightly heroic work in making arrangements with the railways and emergency services, staff are able to get the Pier Park opened in time for the upcoming long weekend. We recognize it has been really hard for residents, especially those who live downtown, to be without this important public space for the last few months, and yes it is a somewhat reduced public space from what it was before the fire, but ire ally is the City’s outdoor living room, and we missed it. The good news is that the playground replacement within the new ramp entrance is also nearing completion, and it is going to be epic. Have fun!

Appointment to Electrical Commission
Finally, we had an opening on the Electrical Commission, and we found a great Commissioner who will bring a wealth of knowledge in community energy planning to help lead New Westminster Electrical through the next couple of years when they will (hopefully) play a pivotal role in us meeting the goals of our Seven Bold Steps.

And that was it for the evening. Mostly good stuff, a few things to be excited about, and a lot of work yet to do. Same as it ever was.

Council – March 22, 2021

Building on a trend of more, shorter meetings, we had a Public Hearing on Monday and not much else. Well, one more item, so let’s cover that before we get into the fun part of the meeting:

Funding Submissions to the Provincial Community Emergency Preparedness Fund for Evacuation Route Planning and Update the New Westminster Emergency Evacuation Plan
We are applying for a grant from the Provincial Government to help pay for some updated emergency planning work. Staff in Fire & Rescue have identified Queensborough and Quayside are areas where we need to put a little more emphasis on updating evacuation plans in the event we have a serious incident, thinking about flooding, a hazardous materials incident, or in the event of a major regional event that impacts critical transportation links like the Queensborough Bridge or one of the rail overpasses.

Council moved to support the application!

We then had a Public Hearing on two relatively small applications:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (759 Carnarvon Street) No. 8255, 2021
The Metro banquet/event hall on Carnarvon in Downtown has operated for more than a decade on special event licenses when an event requires alcohol licensing. They want to get a Liquor Primary license to remove that specific hassle that they deal with 100+ times a year. They are not planning to change their business model or operations as part of this, and their operation has not caused hassles for staff or police in the past, so there is no reason to assume that it will now.

We received no correspondence on this, and no-one came to speak to Council on the application. Council moved to support the application, and in the subsequent meeting gave the Bylaw change Third Reading and Adoption.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (221 Townsend Place) Bylaw No. 8253 and 2021 and Heritage Designation (221 Townsend Place) Bylaw No. 8254, 2021
The owner of this house on a small side-street in Queens Park wants to subdivide the property and build a second house on what is currently their side-yard. As the existing house has heritage significance, a Heritage Revitalization Agreement was the chosen pathway to this, and the approach was endorsed by the Community Heritage Commission. In exchange for designation, some restoration, and permanent protection of the heritage house, a subdivision would be granted and a similar-sized house built.

There are some details in here. The subdivided lots would be 2,380 sqft., which is quite a bit smaller than the minimum for the designated zoning (6,000 sqft), which is the major relaxation being requested here. There are a few other relaxations, such as decreased set-backs for the existing house (it is not moving, the house is currently non-complaint, and permanent protection would mean it would be non-compliant forever), as minor set-back relaxation for the parking pad (though the project meets standards for off-street parking), and a very slight increase in lot coverage (35.7% instead of the 35% allowed). The “density” if measured by FSR is 0.71, compared to 0.70 that would be the max permitted on site, the “density” if measured by living units will go from 1 to 2 (neither house is being designed to have a secondary suite) where the zoning entitlement would be up to three (a house with secondary suite plus a carriage house).

We had quite a bit of correspondence on this application (around 50 pieces total, mostly opposed), and had about a dozen people come to speak to Council on the application, again the majority opposed. It is always dangerous to try to paraphrase and condense the many thoughts offered by the community, but I will try to address the most commonly heard concerns (speaking for myself, as always, and not all of Council).

Street parking is oversubscribed, traffic congestion, safety of children. The application meets the requirements for off-street parking, one per residence, and presumably the permitted three residences would produce more traffic than the two we are permitting. Competition for unassigned common space to store automobiles is never a compelling argument to stop new housing being built in my mind.

The density is not consistent with the neighbourhood. The increases over permitted density are minuscule. These small lots may not be common in Queens Park, but they are not unique. There are many ~2,000spft lots in the community dating back to the late 19th Century, with similarly small homes, and they are every bit as important to the heritage of Queens Park and the grand Victorian on the 8,000 square foot garden lot. Indeed both of these lots will be larger than the immediately neighbouring lot (at 1,800sqft). Housing variety like this is not an anomaly, but is part of the character of Queens Park.

A loss of green space. This is, of course not public green space, but a private lawn with a garage on it in a neighbourhood with ample green space, both public and private, compared to any other neighbourhood in the City. Again, the primary measure of private green space is the 35% maximum permissible lot coverage under the zoning, and the two lots will have 35% and 35.6% lot coverage.

No heritage win, or a violation of the spirit of the Bylaws. This may be a bit more subjective than the others, but it is a theme heard for every HRA application in Queens Park. So it is worth talking about again. The Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area does not permanently protect homes, it instead gives Council a set of tools to protect homes that have significant heritage value. It is still at the whim of Council (this, or the next, or the one after that) if and how to apply those tools. Before the HCA, there was nothing Council could do to prevent a heritage home from being demolished if the owner wanted to do that. With the HCA, Council can prevent some demolitions, and it also has enforcement powers to prevent “demolition by neglect”.

A Heritage Designation provides a higher level of protection. With a Designation on title, the owner cannot demolish a house, and has an obligation to replace it if it destroyed by, say, a fire or flood. It is a legal agreement that binds the owner (and future owners) and Council (and future Councils). When an HRA is completed, the house is designated, and is protected at a much higher level than being an identified heritage asset within an HCA.

Typically, and HRA comes with the owner of the building seeking a relaxation from a zoning bylaw limitation on the use of their property in exchange for that designation. So saying “HRAs are being used to violate zoning laws!” is to actually say the HRA is being applied exactly as they are intended. If there are no zoning relaxations, there is not HRA. In this case, the heritage “win” is relatively minor – a house of heritage merit is permanently protected and the owner is bound by a legal agreement to protect it which passes on to all future owners – in exchange for what are relatively minor relaxations of the zoning law that are otherwise reasonable and not onerous on the community. That’s the deal.

Overall, I am comfortable with this application, especially when shown the other options for the site that the owner chose not to follow (such as expansion of the house and the building of a lane way house). I have always expressed my feeling that the HCA should not “freeze” Queens Park in place, but that we should still explore opportunities to expand the variety of housing in the neighbourhood, including small lot infill like this, laneway/carriage houses, and (yes) even stratification of some of the larger houses that have been divided into multiple units for years, if possible with our stringent building codes.

In the end, Council voted 5-2 to support this application and the heritage designation, and gave both Bylaws Third Reading in the subsequent Council meeting.

Council – March 1, 2021

Almost a year after our last full meeting of City Council before the Pandemic shut us down, we seem to have this virtual meeting things sussed. We even had smooth public delegation, though it just doesn’t carry the weight of having people in the room. In the meantime, we had a full agenda, starting with two Development Variance Permits:

DVP00674 for 34 South Dyke Road
There is a 16-unit townhouse project on an empty lot in Queensborough that was given rezoning approval last year. Unfortunately, in spite of the project having tandem-style parking, there was an error and the rezoning failed to include that in the language, so we now need to do a DVP now to correct that. We gave notice a month ago, and received two pieces of correspondence from a neighbor asking about unrelated aspects of the already-approved development. Council voted to approve the DVP.

DVP00683 for 805 Boyd Street (Walmart)
Walmart in Queensborough wants to put some directional signage up on their building that is not aligned with the sign bylaw, which requires a variance. We gave notice last month, no-one wrote us any correspondence about this, and Council voted to approve the DVP.

We then had a Report for Action:

Police Reform Framework – Input from the Reconciliation, Inclusion and Engagement Task Force
The provincial government is looking into updating and/or reforming the Police Act, and New West wants to take part in this. We have a Reconciliation, Inclusion and Engagement Task Force that is digging deeper into this, but they wanted to bring this part of the discussion to the larger Council.

There is a whole lot going on here, and I can’t possibly summarize here. The provincial Special Committee is looking at not just the Police Act, but also the Mental Health Act, the way the RCMP work in the province, and how all of the above relate to UNDRIP. Alas, the “key drivers” for this deep dive into police operations do not directly include addressing systemic racism in policing, but instead dances somewhat around the edge of that. Perhaps more concerning, the UBCM advocacy paper submitted seems directed towards various ways to increase policing spending (though asking for the Province to contribute more to that funding, of course). Read the room, dudes.

There is more coming here, but in the short term, we are going to strike a small working group including members of Council, staff, and likely a few key community stakeholders to provide feedback to the Province on the tight timelines.

We moved the following items On Consent:

Local Government Election Candidates: Access to Multifamily Dwellings during the Campaign Period
Door-knocking has always been an important part of electioneering in New Westminster, and a part of the campaign I really enjoy. A few of my council colleagues and I have even (before COVID, of course) gone door-knocking outside of election period to get the pulse of neighbourhoods on specific issues. But more than half of New West residents live in apartments, and door-knocking in apartments is difficult. There are federal and provincial law that say stratas and building managers cannot restrict access to campaigners who want to knock on apartment doors in multi-family buildings for elections at that level. For local elections, the Residential Tenancy Act gives renters the same access, but the Strata Act does not. As a result, people who live in single family homes get better access at elections than those who live in multi-family.

The City is proposing some steps to improve this access in time for the 2022 election, and are going to take a resolution to the Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM asking that Local Election candidates have the same right to access as Federal and Provincial candidates to strata properties.

City Consistency with Ministerial Order No. M192/2020 and the Provincial Health Officer Gatherings and Events Order
This is an update on the process for Council and Public Hearing meetings as the Pandemic and resultant Provincial State of Emergency is ongoing. Nothing particularly new here, just an update to clarify the legal orders under which we have been operating and an endorsement to continue in this mode until we are confident the public health emergency is over. A year, in folks…

733 Thirteenth Street: Rezoning Application for Child Care – Preliminary Report
A childcare operator in the West End wants to move their operations to a house around the corner. This requires a rezoning of the current large single family house on the lot and minor changes to the building. This is a preliminary report that will go to public consultation.

759 Carnarvon Street (The Metro): Zoning Amendment Bylaw to Allow a Liquor Primary Licensed Establishment – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
A downtown events hall wants to formalize their Liquor License situation with a stand alone liquor primary instead of the special events licenses they have relied on for more than a decade of operation. This will require (by Provincial Law) a Zoning Amendment, and we will take that to Public Hearing, likely on March 22. Call us up and let us know what you think!

221 Townsend Place: Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The owner of a house in Queens Park wants to restore and preserve at 1907 house permanently in exchange for a subdivision and building an infill house on their side yard. This will go to a Public Hearing, not yet scheduled, so let us know if you have feedback.

Regional Growth Strategy Amendment: Metro 2050
Metro Vancouver is working on an update to the Regional Growth Strategy, currently called Metro 2040. As a signatory Municipality, we are required by law to have a Context Statement in our OCP that addresses the regional plan, but have until 2023 to make that change (though I suspect out current context statement will still fit pretty well). This report is just for information on the process Metro is undergoing. There is a lot of emphasis on industrial land agricultural land protection more than major changes in housing policy, some increased emphasis on ecosystem services and social equity, and though there isn’t a specific emphasis on it, Climate Action is a thread running through the rest of the document. Good reading here if you want to know about the future of the region.

Single-Use Item Regional Regulation Resolution for UBCM
The Province has given local governments some increased authority to introduce ban on the sale or use of single-use plastic items in an effort to reduce plastic waste and burdening our solid waste systems with a complex mix of hard-to-recycle materials. In a previous discussion, Council asked that this authority be given to regional governments, as having a Metro Vancouver region with 21 different sets of regulations is a ridiculous approach for consumers, businesses, and suppliers. Staff have drafted a resolution that we will take to the UBCM conference to reflect that request.

Canada Healthy Communities Initiative Grant Application Approval
We are applying for a Federal Government grant to help pay for an outdoor seating intuitive in the City. I’m all for it!

819 Milton Street: Rezoning Application for a Duplex – Preliminary Report
The owner of a largish lot in the Brow of the hill with an older house on it wants to replace that house with a pretty funky looking duplex that is “suite ready”. This requires a rezoning, and will have some public consultation coming, and there may or may not be a Public Hearing (this one might get waived). If you have opinions, let us know!

723 Fourth Street: Demolition and Temporary Protection Order
The owner of this house in Glenbrooke North wants to knock it down and replace it. There is no other application, so I presume they are planning to replace with a new single family detached, but it is only coming to council because the existing house is more than 100 years old, and our policy is to circulate the application to committees and council and the applicant if they really, really, want to demolish it before we give them a permit. Council moved to allow them to have a permit.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Naming of City Asset in Commemoration of the Komagata Maru
There has been some interest locally and regionally in commemorating the Komagata Maru incident. We had a request a year ago to consider the New Westminster context, and our Museums and Heritage staff doing some research into both the locals in the South Asian community who supported the passengers of the Komagata Maru, and local elected people of the time who took actions to support those who would prevent the passengers from having safe harbor here in British Columbia. There was even a special community meeting in New Westminster, led by Mayor and Council, asking for the “total exclusion of Asiatics from this country”.

One request from the local South Asian community has been to find a City asset that could appropriately be re-named in commemoration of the Komagata Maru, with the Facilities, Infrastructure and Public Realm Task Force recommending something on the Q’boro water front, but also on the “mainland”. Staff have suggested the QtoQ dock infrastructure and the adjacent walkway (we have taken to calling “the dock and walk”) on the Queensborough waterfront, as it could be seen a symbolic to the action to prevent the passengers from being able to dock and walk on Canadian soil, is appropriately located, and also provides an opportunity for interpretive signage. ( I note with some irony that the MV Sun Sea was docked across Annacis Channel there for a decade)

In light of the research our staff uncovered, and recognizing the harmful impact that the actions and words of the 1914 City Council had on so many residents of our community, Council also moved that we draft a formal apology to the community, families, and descendants of those impacted negatively by those actions and words.

Proposed Retail Strategy Workplan
Our Economic Development staff are working on a strategy to guide the City to better supporting local-serving retail at a time of rapid transition in how people shop. This work will occur over 2021, with a report back to Council in early 2022.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our regular update from the Pandemic Response Task forces, including work to support vulnerable and at risk people, where we recently introduced some hygiene services to make it easier for under-sheltered people to have a shower, do laundry, and get basic hygiene supplies through the Reaching Home Program. We also had a bit of a longer discussion on efforts to increase the amount of emergency shelter space in the city.

108 – 118 Royal Avenue and 74 – 82 First Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Special Development Permit Applications – Preliminary Report
This project would see some older houses on the south side of Royal Avenue replaced with a 6-story strata apartment building, with the preservation of two heritage homes on the site. Although I had a few technical questions about the process, this is a preliminary application that would see a Public Hearing before approval, so I will hold my comments until then.

40 Begbie Street (Lower Mainland Purpose Society): Temporary Use Permit for a Health Contact Centre (Overdose Prevention Site) – Notice of Issuance
Purpose Society and Fraser Health are proposing a Health Contact Centre in this property downtown, where Purpose has been operating various services for several years. This will include various overdose prevention services (observed consumption, drug testing, harm reduction supplies, and access to peer counseling, education and referral to treatment services). The City is considering a Temporary Use Permit as opposed to full rezoning to accommodate this for a three-year trial period.

There has been some community engagement on this proposal, including with the Residents Association and downtown businesses. We will consider the TUP at out March 29th meeting, if you have questions concerns or feedback, provide it before then!

We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (404 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8235, 2020 and
Heritage Designation Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8236, 2020
These two bylaws that support the renovation and preservation the butcher shop in Queens Park were Adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (837 – 841 Twelfth Street) No. 8139, 2019
This Bylaw that permits the construction of a 5-story 29-unit apartment building on an empty lot at 12th and Dublin which was given a Public Hearing back in October of 2019(!) is now ready to be adopted by Council.

Finally, we had these resolutions as New Business, and it being a long agenda, I will only report the motions and let you write the authors or watch the council video if you want to understand more about these issues:

Motion: Support for Farmers in India Councillor Puchmayr
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the New Westminster City Council stands with the Indian farmers, and asks the federal government to continue to speak out against these regressive laws, and to accelerate the message of concern to the Indian government up to and including imposing economic sanctions against India.

Motion: Poisoned Drug Supply Crisis Councillors McEvoy and Nakagawa
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster calls upon the Government of Canada to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency so that it is taken seriously and funded appropriately as well as to immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan, which includes comprehensive supports and full consideration of reforms that other countries have used to significantly reduce drug-related fatalities and stigma, such as legal regulation of illicit drugs to ensure safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs, and decriminalization for personal use.

Motion: Lifting Restrictions on Farmers Market Vendors Councillor Johnstone
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Mayor and Council write to the Minister of Health and Public Health Officer requesting that the arbitrary restriction of non-food vendors at Farmers Markets be lifted in time for the 2021 summer Farmers Market season, and that the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, the Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation, and the MLA for New Westminster receive copies of that correspondence.

Motion: Support for Laid-off Hotel and Tourism Industry Workers Councillor Nakagawa
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster affirms that people should not lose their livelihoods due to the pandemic; and
THAT the City of New Westminster write to the Ministers of Labour and Tourism expressing our support for the right for laid off workers to return to their jobs when the pandemic eases; and
THAT this letter be forwarded to all BC municipalities asking to write their support; and
THAT the City of New Westminster writes to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association and Union of BC Municipalities encouraging them to host future conferences and events in venues that respect worker rights and pay at least a living wage.

Council – Feb 22, 2021

We had a bit of a lengthy Council Meeting on Monday; an Agenda heavy with Public Hearing and Opportunities to be Heard. It is telling about the unpredictability of City Council that we had two really big topics – the annual budget and a change to the Secondary Suites program that effectively impacts every single family detached home in the City – and no-one came to speak to those, but we had three hours of delegations on the renovation of a butcher shop. This job is strange.

Financial Plan, 2021 – 2025
The 5 year financial plan bylaws have been sketched up, and we had an Opportunity to be Heard on the Bylaws. We received two pieces of correspondence asking questions, but nobody came to delegate or clarify on points in the plan. I have a follow up blog to go into a bit more detail about the feedback we received in the last month or so as the annual budget was finalized, but for now I just want to note it was a challenging year to do this work, and I have to send kudos to our staff for getting this work done swiftly, fur the extraordinary efforts they took to engage the public in the budget process, and the quality of the presentations that Council has received that allow us to understand the finances well enough to not just vote on it, but to explain to our constituents about how and why we made the decisions we did.

Council gave the Bylaw three readings and adopted it. On to 2021!

We then had three Public Hearings:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Secondary Suite Requirements) No. 8154, 2021
We are updating and streamlining our Secondary Suite program. There are currently more than 800 authorized secondary suites in ostensibly “single family homes” in the City (likely more, as there are undoubtedly many unauthorized units in the City). Most new houses are built with a secondary suite, or to accommodate a secondary suite if the owner so decides. With changes in the BC building Code on 2019, staff saw a need to revise our Zoning Bylaw to make it easier for compliance and approval. In short, these changes streamline and simplify approvals of secondary suites.

There are slightly different standards for secondary suites in buildings that already exist and for new secondary suites to be built after September, 2021. Base-line life safety standards exist for both, but as we can be more prescriptive on new builds we are adding further livability requirements, such as limiting ventilation between the main and secondary living units, assuring tenants have control of their own utilities and heating.
In the end, this a Zoning Bylaw amendment will replace more complicated documents and processes while assuring life safety and livability standards are met and avoid some redundancy with the BC Building Code. This also requires amendments to our enforcement bylaws.

We received a couple of pieces of correspondence about this, more inquiries about details than opposition or support, and no-one came to speak to the issue. Council voted to support the changes.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (1135 Tanaka Court) No. 8250, 2021
There is a business that would like to start manufacturing food products that include cannabis ingredients in a Light Industrial property in Queensborough. If there wasn’t cannabis involved, this kind of use would be within zoning and no public hearing would occur, but Provincial Regulations and our own Bylaws around the devil’s cabbage are still peri-prohibitionist. So a zoning language amendment is required to permit this use.

There is no growing of cannabis, or retail sales of the product anticipated at the site. There shouldn’t be any specific odour or security concerns apart from any other light industrial manufacturing site, and their operations will be licensed by Health Canada.

We received one piece correspondence (the applicant, in favour), and we had no-one come to speak to us on this application. Council voted to support it.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8235, 2020 and
Heritage Designation Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8236, 2020
The owner of the little butcher shop that has been (in various forms) on the corner of Second Street and Fourth Ave in the middle of Queens Park for more than 100 years is looking to do some building improvements and expansion to make her business operate better. This includes a small expansion on the Fourth Ave side, the completion of a full basement, and some building restoration and rejuvenation to bring it back to its Mid-Century glory (but not its original 1920’s form). As the current use is non-conforming with the zoning bylaw (because the current use is decades older than the zoning bylaw itself), this expansion either required rezoning for formalize that use, or a Heritage Restoration Agreement which provides essentially the same function as a rezoning, but adds permanent protection of the historic building. The application was for the latter.

We received 79 pieces of correspondence on this (about 55% in favour and 45% against) and had 24 speakers (about evenly split between for and against), with significant overlap between the two. I cannot go through all of the comments (you can watch the hearing if you really want to dig in), but do want to paraphrase some of the major concern I heard, with my own (editorializing?) responses.

This is a violation of the rules (OCP, zoning, HRA), or of the spirit of the rules: This application complies with the language and spirit of the Official Community Plan. It is indeed non-conforming with the Zoning Bylaw, but the Heritage Restoration Agreement is a tool to bring this into compliance. This is the exact purpose of HRAs, and it is being used appropriate, both within the Local government Act and out local Bylaws.

Tripling the FSR is too much: The current FSR is 35%, and with the expansion planned the FSR above grade will be 50%. This is in line with form common in the neighbourhood. The full FSR will be 100% only when a full basement is added, and the FSR below grade will have no impact on the street expression or massing of the building. Allowing a full basement for storage and preparation is a reasonable request to me considering it has no impact whatsoever on the neighbourhood or form of the building.

Parking is insufficient: Yep, we are giving a parking relaxation, recognizing this business has operated at this site for almost 100 years, and in its current setting for about 70 years, and is not noted for creating parking chaos. Second Street is a quiet street with curbside parking almost always available, and this is a local small business that mostly serves local customers in a cycling- and walking-friendly neighbourhood. Parking can’t stop us having good things, or all we will ever have is parking.

Too many alternate uses possible: The current non-conforming retail use of the site is being formalized through the HRA, but the HRA does not fundamentally change the possible uses. As the current non-conforming use predates the zoning bylaw, another form of retail/commercial would be able to operate in the site (pending compliance with business bylaws, health code, etc.) if the butcher shut down even before the HRA. Notably, many people from the neighbourhood suggested a café or expanded retail might not be a bad thing for the community, but a welcome addition. That said, the owner has indicated they plan to operate a butcher and deli similar to the current operation for the foreseeable future.

Why 1950s and not 1920s: Many Heritage advocates would prefer if this building was re-shaped to better reflect the pre-1940 fashion of the bulk of the preserved residential houses in the neighbourhood. The problem with this is that most of the building is not from the original 1920s structure, but was added in the extensive 1951 renovation, that is the form that exists to be preserved. I was also compelled by some correspondence and the heritage statement that talks about architectural diversity, 1950s examples being an important compliment to the pre-war heritage of the neighbourhood, and speaking to the importance of the retail strip that used to exist along this block of Second Street before the others were torn down to build modern residential houses. There is a mid-century story being told by this building that is as important from a heritage point of view as the aesthetics of the pre-war period.

What is heritage win?: Some neighbours feel there was a lot given the landowner here (essentially FSR and reduced setbacks on two sides) for little community benefit. Aside from the community benefit of having this business operating in the community (the value of which many neighbours came to speak to), the HRA will assure permanent preservation of a mid-century small retail space, the last of its type after similar businesses were demolished along this block. Fundamentally, preservation of a building of demonstrated heritage value is the “heritage win” of any HRA.

There were other concerns raised, and indeed many came to speak in support of the project. The discussion even got a little philosophical at times as we delved into the balance between heritage as physical objects and heritage and intangibles (it is, most would agree, both). This was put into context by the final delegate whose father used to operate the butcher in question, and who actually grew up in the attached residential unit.

In the end, I supported the land use question put before us. And was comfortable that the HRA was an appropriate tool appropriately applied in this case. I hope the butcher can continue to provide a valued local service in Queens Park. Council voted unanimously to support the application and gave Third Reading to the Bylaws.

Council – Feb 8, 2021

It seems we are meeting a lot these days, but we also have relatively short open agendas, amazing how that works out. This week’s meeting started out with a great staff presentation on the draft budget:

Draft 2021 – 2025 Financial Plan
There is a report here, and a power point presentation with some great diagrams about the 5-year financial plan. Staff will now put this plan together into the appropriate empowering bylaws.

We have been through several workshops, and have done the most comprehensive consultation with the community of any budget process I have been through in 6 years on Council. We have spent a lot of time working on the Capital Plan especially, as it is especially significant this year. All of this discussion and compromise and debate is going to, inevitably, to be distilled down to one number. And this year that number looks to be 4.9%.

The proposed property tax increase is made up of a 2.3% increase that is a result of inflationary pressure on the existing program (both inflation for fixed costs and bargained wage increases), 2.0% to go directly to financing the debt on the NWACC project, which we are going to have to start paying for in 2021, and another 0.6% increase that represents new services. Utility rates are also going up, mostly due to increased fees being charged by the regional suppliers, though we are also continuing to invest locally to assure our long-term reserves are healthy.

We will read and potentially adopt the Bylaw on February 22nd, so if you have opinions, please let us know here! But please at least read the report first or watch the Power Point in the Video to get a sense of where this is coming from.

We then had a DVP for Approval:

Development Variance Permit DVP00686 for 632 Carnarvon Street
An operator wants to open a much-needed-in-downtown childcare space in the old Fisheries Building downtown, but needs to repurpose some outdoor space to play space to meet Fraser Health requirements, which will erode their ability to provide off-street parking for their staff to meet our zoning minimums for the use. This requires a DVP, which we put notice out about last month. We received a single piece of correspondence concerned about traffic impacts on the Court building. Council moved to approve the DVP, and I can’t speak for everyone, but my only thinking was that childcare space is in much greater need in downtown than parking space.

We had three items on the Consent Agenda, two of which we removed from consent to talk about, but you’ll have to watch the video to see which ones! Ha!

Recruitment 2021: Appointments to Board of Variance (BOV)
The Board of Variance is a provincially-mandated committee the City has to review variances if the person who is requesting the variance would rather appeal to someone other than Council. Ours does not meet very often, but we assign people to it, because that’s the law!

Landscaping Guidelines for Laneway Houses in Queen’s Park
We had a delegation a few weeks ago concerned about a chain link fence in the Queens Park neighbourhood. Seriously.

Indeed, chain link is not a preferred material in the design guidelines (which are guidelines, not laws), and as fences are typically not subject to permits or inspections (aside from having limited heights), fencing materials may be included in guidelines applied for new construction in the HCA… I honestly cannot believe we spent staff and Council time digging into this when there are an almost infinite number of more important things going on but…

Turns out we got an e-mail from a neighbour, and there are some weird details here around how the existing fence was removed that fall under that nebulous world of Fence Law which is actually a fascinating body of jurisprudence that doesn’t really involve the City directly unless there are building permits. Anyway, we are going to ask staff to go back and help the neighbours work this thing out if they can.

Westminster Pier Park Management Oversight Committee: Westminster Pier Park – Fire Recovery Update
The good news: the playground inside the loop of the new ramp entrance is being built as we speak, and will be ready this spring. The bad news: the entire damn park is still closed, and it may take until April to get it opened again. The reasoning here is a need for a level crossing access for vehicles for public safety reasons.

We had a bit of discussion here, and I am frankly disappointed where we are. The Fire department feels we need to be able to drive a vehicle into the Park for emergency response before we open it. This seemed strange to me, as there are two foot accesses to the park, one at each end, and there are many places in the City where you cannot drive a vehicle that are nonetheless accessible for park use. The middle of Hume Park, the “beach” in Queensborough, areas of Glenbrook Ravine. I am not a first responder, but it was not really made clear to me what the operational restrictions are, or if efforts were found to address those restrictions that didn’t involve months of negotiation with the railways, procuring road building, etc.

My point for pushing here is that I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency, or an understanding of how important this par space is for the many people who live in Downtown New West. This is an area of the community where density is, where many residents are renters, and many don’t have access to outdoor private space. The Pier Park is literally their back yard, and vital to the livability of the community for them. During COVID we have lost so much of our social and collective space – people are feeling trapped in their homes – they need this space, and it has been closed for almost 5 months now, with another couple of months of closure on the horizon.

It is a diminished space, and yes I know it is winter, but to have a sunny day like last Saturday and for the thousands of people downtown to have no access to their premier park space – that is not the level of service our residents should expect. We need to do better, find a creative solution, and get this park space back into the hands and under the butts of our residents.

Finally, we had a Bylaw and related Motion:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (457 East Columbia Street) No. 8227, 2020
The operator of the Arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor primary license. We adopted the Rezoning Bylaw that made that happen, and moved the resolution the province needs from us to get the Liquor Primary licence approved.

The operator of the Arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor primary license. We adopted the Rezoning Bylaw, and moved the resolution the Province needs from us to get the licence approved.

And look at me getting my Council Report out the morning after the meeting!

Council – Feb 1, 2021

Yep, Council met last week, and we had more than just that one item on the agenda. I’m late getting this out (and have another Council Package to read this weekend!) so here is a quick summary, that started with a Presentation:

ReDiscover New West Campaign Presentation,
The City is working with our BIAs and Tourism New West to promote locals helping our local business community to help reframe 2021 after a slightly dismal 2020. There is a great video with familiar (masked!) faces and places, promotions of local businesses, and a contest you can take part in to support out local business community right now. See it all here.

We are really fortunate in NewWest that our BIAs (formal and informal) are really effective advocates and great partners to the City. Send your local favourites some love in February – it is always a bad month for the restaurant business especially, so let’s help them out so they will be here for us when we emerge from our mandated slumber.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update on the work of the City’s COVID taskforces. We got Federal funding for part of our Food Security work, are working on providing better access to showers for unhoused people in the City, continue to work on the Health Outreach Centre, and continue to work with the business community to keep them connected and find out what types of supports we can provide.

COVID-19 At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force: New Westminster Digital Inclusion Project Update and Potential City Contribution to Project
One of the goals of our Intelligent City Action Plan is to make digital connection more inclusive – so people who cannot necessarily afford a phone or home computer can be connected to some internet services – as so much of our public services are oriented around internes connectivity. Partnering with Douglas College, Purpose, and other community organizations, with a SPARC grant, we can get phones to people. We can also provide WiFi hotspots and connectivity hubs in the City to access the internet with those devices. The City is also providing older devices (iPhone 7s) to the cause.

34 South Dyke Road: Development Variance Permit Application to Vary Access to Tandem Parking
This 16-unit Townhouse development in Queensborough was approved by Council last year, but we overlooked the need for a DVP to allow the parking to be tandem-style instead of side-by-side. So we are giving notice that we will consider this DVP, likely at the March 1st meeting. If you have opinions, let us know!

Sapperton Green: Official Community Plan Amendment Section 475 and 476 Consultation Report
Sapperton Green are working through their revised Master Plan to accommodate increased affordable housing, as was presented in a preliminary way to City Council a year ago (yes, this stuff takes time). As this increases the residential density beyond the current OCP, we are required by law to do formal consultation regionally before it comes back to Council for eventual Public Hearing. This report outlines who will be consulted. Yes, it includes the Board of Education for School District 40.

759 Carnarvon Street (The Metro): Rezoning and Liquor Primary Applications – Preliminary Report
The Metro is a banquet hall Downtown where people have been holding events without any trouble for something like 13 years. They have operated on Special Event licenses when those events included alcohol sales (something like 100 nights a year!) and they want to get a Liquor Primary license. They are not planning on changing their business – it’s not becoming a pub, for example – but trying to simplify their operations and align better with changes in the Provincial licensing regime. An LP license requires a change in the language of the Zoning Bylaw. We are doing an expedited process here, but will likely go to Public Hearing in March, so I’ll hold further comment until then.

2020 Filming Activity Overview
This is the annual report on filming activity in the City. The City has a Film Coordinator on staff who manages the myriad of ways film operations interact with the City’s operations – road closures, policing, use of City buildings, permits, etc. We also charge permit fees to recover these costs, to the tune of more than $700,000 a year. This is a bit down from the peak of 2017, but still a significant budget item. This is just City revenues, and does not include the salaries paid to the nearly 1,000 New Westminster residents who work in the film industry, or the money paid to home and business owners to lease their spaces for filming.

There was also a story on the TeeVee News that was ostensibly about Vancouver as Hollywood North, but ended up having a bunch of New West content.

Youth Advisory Committee Recommendation re Indigenous Workshop for City Committee Members
The Youth Advisory Committee sent a recommendation to Council (as is their job!) asking that include training for Advisory Committee members on Indigenous issues and reconciliation. It is actually a good idea to expand the scope of the training we are undergoing with staff to include Advisory committee members, I think it will result in better informed advice coming to Council and it will be a value add for the members who volunteer their time to help the city.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

E-Comm nominations for 2020-2021
As one of the cities that receives 911 service from E-Comm, we get a part vote – shared with the Tri Cities – on two seats on the Board that governs the organization. The last time a New Westminster had a representative was Councillor Trentadue few years ago. We recently ran into some challenges in filling recent vacancies, with New West a bit of a hold-out as we are trying to encourage our partners to consider gender and diversity in their nominations. And it has been, unfortunately, a challenge. So a vacancy remains.

We are escalating a bit here on an issue that has been going on somewhat in the background for a couple of years. The report lays out how hard we have tried to make our case to our neighbouring communities, and the various steps forward and backward along the way. We have now asked staff to prepare formal correspondence to the entire EComm board asking that they take some responsibility and commit to improving the diversity of their board, and asking that our partner Cities commit to gender diversity immediately by assuring all future nomination include at least 50% women or non-binary representatives. We are also going to elevate this to the Lower Mainland LGA. More to come here.

805 Boyd Street (Walmart): Development Variance Permit Application to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements for Directional Signage
Walmart in Queensborough wants to add some signage to point people to their new pick up area, that doesn’t strictly meet our Sign Bylaw limitations, but they are pretty small and on the side of a Walmart, so the impact on neighbourhood aesthetics seems pretty limited. Regardless, we are giving notice that we will consider this DVP, likely at the March 1st meeting. If you have opinions, let us know. “I hate Walmart” is, frankly, not really useful input here, this is about wayfinding signage, not global capitalism.

Single-Use Item Reduction Advocacy for Consistent Regional Regulation
Following up on our talk about single-use plastics two meetings ago, Staff have provided some guidance on a path forward for regional and senior government advocacy.

Finally, we had a bit of New Business:

Bill C-213, an Act to enact the Canada Pharmacare Act
Councillor McEvoy brought this motion, similar to what numerous municipalities across the Country are asking for right now:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT New Westminster City Council support Bill C-213, An Act to enact the Canada Pharmacare Act.

It helps that the Bill was introduced by our own Member of Parliament, but this is a long-overdue promise made by several Liberal Governments, and it is well past time to hold them to their promise. As the ancient proverb says, the best time to introduce Universal Pharmacare is 20 years ago when the Liberals first promised it; the second best time is now.

And that was it, see you again Monday!

Police Budget redux

We had a full Council meeting on Monday, with several important topics on the agenda, But I am really busy his week, and I want to write about this one first and separately, because it seems to have caught a little media attention, and wouldn’t hurt from a more detailed discussion.

Before I start, I want to do one of my regular reminders that this blog is, as always, my personal opinion, and not official City communications. There are a spectrum of opinions on Council about this, and we have had a few split votes, so I don’t want anyone to think I am providing an official position of council, or that I am speaking for my Council colleagues. I respect where my colleagues are coming from here, this is a difficult topic, and will try really hard to avoid putting word in their mouths. There is a video available if you want to hear the full discussion.

New Westminster Municipal Police Board letter dated January 25, 2021 regarding New Westminster Police Department 2021 Budget
The Police Board has replied to Council’s previous request that they review their enhancement requests and revise the budget increase requested for 2021. They have replied with the assertion that the requested 2.9% increase is inflationary and does not support increasing police services, but maintains the status quo as far as service levels. That is an unfortunate turn of phrase, because the entire point of this discussion is that status quo needs to be challenged, but I don’t want to get mired in pedantry.

I’ve written previously in this post and this post about the jurisdictional challenges here. In short, Council has no authority to direct how police do their work, or even how they allocate their budget, that is the job of the Police Board. Council are required by law to approve a budget. If we do not approve the one offered by the Police Board, then the Minister of Public Safety is asked to adjudicate. In the past when Councils have not agreed with Police Board requests, the Minister has always sided with the Police Board. We know where this was going.

I had honestly hoped that the Police Board would come back to us with an adjusted budget, or a more detailed explanation of where their specific budget pressures are. They did not really do that. They did make it clear, however, that this was the budget they were offering. It did not include all of the enhancements (which is the term we use in municipal budgeting for “things we want to do/pay for this year that we didn’t do/pay for last year”) they were originally looking for when the budget process began, but it similarly did not represent an increase in service levels. It effectively equaled an inflation adjustment over last year. It is hard for me to challenge this, as one of the uncertainties I feel on Council is that the scale and nature of the Police budget is not as transparent to us or the voting public as most the rest of the City budget. This is by design of the Police Act, and it is troubling.

For those so interested, there is more information about the budget available in the Police Board agenda, which you can read here: (the “package” is the agenda with the attached reports and police budget tables).

If you read the correspondence between the Police Board and Council here, it seems we agree on a few principles. The Police Board acknowledges that aspects of the services they currently provide may be better provided by a non-policing model, and if you draw a Venn diagram of how this overlaps with “Police Reform”, it certainly wouldn’t be a circle. However, The Police Board strongly feels that until those alternative delivery models are in place, they cannot responsibly suspend, or in any way reduce, the current delivery model. This puts us in a chicken-and-egg quandary, as there is currently no one with the jurisdiction, resources, and willingness to bring those delivery models into place. So it could seem we are stuck.

Ultimately, change is going to require the Police Board to resource some review of their internal operations. It is going to require Local Governments to identify how their residents want services delivered, and potentially to see what services the Local Government can deliver and fund though alternative models. Mostly, it is going to require the Provincial Government to reform the Police Act, and to resource the Health Authorities, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and potentially other agencies to deliver their resources differently. This is going to take coordination, and cooperation.

The good news is that everyone is signaling that they want to do this. The New West Police Board has sent us some more details about their plan to begin addressing this process. It isn’t perfect, but it is clear in its intent. The Provincial Government has also begun to work on a Police Act reform consultation, and the City of New Westminster has made it clear to them that we want in at the ground floor on those discussions – we are the right City to be in the center of this, with our own Police Force, a very proactive group of community service agencies, and all partners willing to see change.

So, to get back to the decision before Council, the options now were to approve the budget presented by the Police Board or not. There is no mandate for negotiation. As much as I want to push for systemic changes that the Board is alluding to, that Council and the public have asked for, and that may arise from the provincial Police Act review, I am not sure these ends are served by the Police Board spending the next few months engaging in a Provincial Government appeal process to get their budget approved. This feels like time wasted when it seems certain the Province will deliver the budget the Police Board requests. There may be a message to be sent by forcing the Public Safety Minister to issue that order, but I think we have other pathways to send that message, including two new MLAs who are in a caucus with that Minister and are itching to represent New Westminster in Victoria.

So I voted to support the budget as proposed, and supported Councillor McEvoy’s follow-up motion to call on the Police Board to be more proactive in engaging with Council and the Community in the work we all agree needs to be done. I hope we can use our time more effectively rowing in the same direction, and I expect the Police Board to be accountable to the community they serve for the commitments they have made to the community along with asking for this maintaining budget.

Council – Jan 25, 2021

We had a surprisingly short Council Meeting on Monday. We were anticipating a couple of longer Public Hearings, but staff became aware late in the afternoon that the Zoom invite sent out did not point participants to the right place for the Zoom meeting, for obscure Zoom-related technical reasons. The legislative requirements for clear public access to a Public Meeting are already strained a bit operating under our remote work COVID Ministerial Orders, so our staff made the prudent last-minute decision that the Public Hearings should be re-scheduled. It’s a bit unfortunate, but mistakes happen when everyone is working with new processes, and we are always better served to err on the side of assuring legislative requirements are met. I understand now the delayed Public Hearings will occur on February 22nd, but best check with City Page updates and not rely on my Blog to schedule your participation (have I mentioned recently that this Blog is not official communications from the City?)

The delays left us with a single item on the Agenda:

40 Begbie Street (Lower Mainland Purpose Society): Temporary Use Permit for a Health Contact Centre (Overdose Prevention Site) – preliminary Report
Council has been advocating to Fraser Health to help bring more support to people impacted by the poisoned drug supply crisis. One of the approaches we have asked the Health Authority to support is an overdose prevention site – a place where people using drugs can do so with health supervision, and where users can access the kind of health services they need, including referral to treatment and other services. The New West Overdose Community Action Team has been working with Purpose (large P and small p) to bring these services to New West.

Overdose Prevention Sites save lives. They are not the solution to the opioid crisis, but they demonstrably reduce deaths, and improve health outcomes for a cohort of drug users. They are one piece of a big, complicated puzzle, but an important one.

For this to operate in the location made available by Purpose, we need to adjust the zoning language. Staff are recommending a Temporary Use Permit to do this, and have outlined a community consultation and approval process that is typical for a TUP in COVID times. Council raised concerns about the potential delay of our process. This is a Public Health Emergency – it is not hyperbole to say people may die waiting for this centre to open. There is still some work to do by Purpose, Fraser Health, and the City to get it up and running, but the message sent by Council was that we don’t want to be the ones slowing things down.

I also wanted to say a few things about the consultation around this proposal, but first I need to talk a bit about the word “consultation”. The organization for professionals who do community engagement work for a living have identified a spectrum of consultation that informs the City’s Public Engagement Strategy:

When Cities (or anyone, really) do public engagement, it is good to know where on the spectrum your engagement lands. At one end, you are just informing people about a decision that was made by the City (“we have hired a new Chief Financial Officer”), at the other end you empower the public make the decision (“And the winner of the online poll is, Boaty McBoatface!”). When it comes to the engagement about this project, we are going to land around the consult part of the spectrum.

Council, in a public motion several months ago, asked Fraser Health to provide this service in New Westminster. The Health Authority has agreed, provided a funding model, and found a partner to provide the service though a procurement process. The location meets the provider’s needs, the Health Authority’s needs, and the client’s needs. What we intend to consult with stakeholders in the community on now are parameters around how the Health Contact Centre will operate. How we will ensure compliance with the City’s good Neighbour Policy, which partners are responsible for any mitigation efforts for negative community impacts if they occur, and how communications with the community should work. The City has set up an engagement site where some questions may already be answered, and you can provide feedback.

And that was all we had on the agenda. See you all next week!

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.