Council – May 29, 2023

We had quite an eventful Council Meeting this week, and I’d suggest you make sure you read to the end, but we didn’t get to the end, so surprise there: It will all make less sense when you get there, and you can draw your own conclusions. Nonetheless, the agenda was a full one, starting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Inter-municipal TNS (Ride-Hailing) Business Licence Scheme Bylaw No. 8391, 2023
The City of New Westminster has an agreement with many other municipalities to share the business licensing of ride-hailing services. Essentially, the companies buy a license in Vancouver that applies to all municipalities, and we split the revenue. This change to that scheme would bring Mission, Kent and Hope into the fold. This change requires an Opportunity to be Heard. We received no written correspondence, and no-one came to speak to the change at Council. Council voted to approve the change.

We then had a Report for Action:

Rezoning Application for Conversion to Supportive Housing: 422 Sixth Street
This is a building in the Brow of the Hill that has operated as an office building, but is already zoned mixed use (it can have residential and office use above the commercial at grade). The owner wants to operate it as supportive affordable housing on the top two floors and continue to operate an office on the ground floor. This is compliant with the OCP and zoning, except the zoning language does not include “supportive” housing, so this is the rezoning request to add that language. This came to Council as a detailed report on the nature of that rezoning, with staff asking for anything we want added ot the empowering Bylaws, so we can consider approval at a future meeting. There was also a request to waive the Public Hearing, as the project is compliant with our OCP and stated City priorities.

We had some delegates speak for and against this project, and unfortunately, incorrect information circulating in the neighbourhood about the project appears to have taken a foothold. There was a lot of conflation between this type of supportive housing and emergency shelter, which demonstrated the need for us to have a public meeting and do further outreach about the truth of the project.

Council voted to approve the bylaws being prepared and the project to come to a future Council meeting for a vote on approval or rejection. In a move I do not remember seeing in my 8+ years on New West Council, we had council members voting against even considering bylaws on an affordable and supportive housing project. The same members voted against an amendment to have a public meeting about the project so the community can more clearly understand the project and Council can hear from the public in a constructive dialogue. Fortunately, the majority of Council voted for consultation, and will consider the approval after that consultation.

We then moved the following items On Consent

Rezoning Application: 805 Boyd Street (Queensborough Landing) – Preliminary Report
The Queensborough Landing commercial area wants to expand its offerings and are requesting expanding the permitted land uses on the site to include breweries, wineries, arcades, commercial schools, and more. They are all pretty typical of this type of “highway commercial” areas, and are not likely to conflict with other land use on the site.

This is a preliminary report, as this application will go to internal review and public consultation, but as it is consistent with the OCP, we will waive the Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 902 First St – Preliminary Report
The owner of this property in Glenbrook North wants to build a duplex where there is now a single family home, which is consistent with the OCP, and no variances from the Interim Policy (based on RT-1), but needs a rezoning. This is a preliminary report, and will go to some public consultation, but as it is consistent with the OCP, we will waive the Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know!

Street and Traffic Bylaw Amendments for Three Readings – Bylaw 8397, 2023
This is a bit of a housekeeping change to the Streets and Traffic Bylaw, updating some of the language to match the new Active Transportation Network Plan, remover reference to insurance expiry date stickers as they don’t exist anymore, and other minor updates.

Sustainable Transportation Zoning Bylaw Amendments –Transportation Demand Management and Right-Sizing Parking
This is a zoning amendment bylaw to update our requirements for off-street parking in new multi-family development. This is part of a longer process we have been undergoing to modernize our off-street parking requirements, as part of our ongoing and constant review of Policies, Procedures, and Processes to assure they are current and appropriate. This part seeks to better balance the modern (and reduced) need for parking with the (increasing) cost of building and our other climate and livability goals (which both require less dependency on cars).

The change in requirements is based on analysis of vehicle ownership trends in New West and in our cohort communities, and through benchmark comparisons with other Metro Van jurisdictions, and through consultation with the development industry.

In short, the proposal reduces the number of parking spots that need to be built in in secured rental, in the Downtown neighbourhood, and in areas with high transit service, along with requiring better end-of-trip facilities for other modes (Bicycle storage rooms in residential, other facilities in Commercial). We are also removing the part of the bylaw that limits reductions in parking spaces – if a development can make the case for any level of reduction, we will hear that case instead of there being an arbitrary minimum. This opens the door a bit more for parking-free developments in the City.

Or more this is a preliminary report on a proposed change that will, again, go to public consultation, but as it is consistent with the OCP, we will waive the Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know!

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Extension of Committee Member Terms
As we look to implement new model for Advisory Committees, including an Advisory Assembly model, staff are outlining the time that will be required to get us there, and we need to set up a schedule for the existing Advisory Committees and Grant Committees so we don’t have a gap in functionality.

Liquor Primary Patio Application (Thirsty Duck Pub) for 606 Twelfth Street
The Thirsty Duck has been operating a seasonal outdoor patio since COVID led to a shift in regulation of patios. They have not caused any problems, or generated any complaints, and the Duck now wants ot make this patio a permanent feature. So Council needs to approve and needs to send a resolution to the LCRB to assure them we are fine with the liquor license operating in this way. So we are doing both.

New Westminster Rent Bank Funding Request
The Rent Bank is a program that started in 2017 in New West, and is now funded primarily by the Province (an example of uploading?) and is operational in many municipalities across BC after New West set the example. It is an emergency short-term interest-free loan program to help people who get into Rent or Utility arrears such that they run the risk of being evicted and made homeless. This is proactive avoidance of homelessness. It is also a contact point for community-based programming for people who are precariously housed, including credit counselling and food security and health care services.

This program is a partnership, and the City has been contributing $35,000 per year to cover a portion of the administrative cost, which allows the Rent Bank to operate 5 days a week. This report is asking the city to continue this commitment for three more years, and was supported by Council.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit: 808 Royal Avenue (Douglas College) – Preliminary Report
Douglas College wants to build a new building on the empty lots across 8th Street from their New West Campus. The plan is to have a 20-storey building with 244 student housing units and academic spaces on the lower floors. This is consistent with the OCP and the Downtown Community Plan, but the site needs a rezoning.

This is a preliminary report outlining the plan, and the project will need internal review and public consultation, but as it is consistent with the OCP and meets City Priorities, we will be waiving the Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know.

Welcome Centre Update and Funding Request
The Welcome Centre at NWSS is a partnership between the City, the School District, and service organizations supporting newcomers and their families. The City funds a “navigator” position to work in the centre and direct clients toward services they may require. We have applied to IIRC (the federal government) to help fund this position, as we are somewhat making up for gaps in the immigration systems that make it hard for recent arrivals to access these types of services, however we were not successful in getting the position funded for 2024. We will re-apply for 2025-2026, but need to commit to the position beforehand, which Council did.

Correspondence: Metro Vancouver letter dated May 16, 2023 regarding Land Use Designation Amendment to Metro 2050 Township of Langley – Gloucester Industrial Park
This is an application before Metro Vancouver to have 14.6 acres moved from Agricultural use outside the urban containment boundary to turn it to industrial land. This is adjacent to the Gloucester Industrial Park, but the land was previously (until recently) protected by the ALR. This change of the Urban Containment Boundary requires an amendment to our regional plan, which requires support of 50%+1 through a weighted vote at Metro Vancouver Board to be approved. This correspondence is our notice that we have until July 4, 2023 to the Board (as do members of the public and affected stakeholders).

Council moved the following resolution in response:
“ Council write a letter to Metro Board expressing concerns about erosion of the Urban Containment Boundary, citing its vital role in maintaining a stable, long-term footprint for urban development while reinforcing the protection of agricultural, conservation and rural lands for ecological and climate values. Sprawl of developed land outside of the UCB, whether for residential or commercial purposes, increases the cost of servicing these lands, undermines our regional transportation goals, and challenges our regional sustainable growth goals”

We then Read some Bylaws including the following Bylaw for Adoption:

Inter-municipal TNS Business Licence Agreement Bylaw No. 8393, 2023
As discussed above, this bylaw that expands the agreement among participating municipalities regarding an Inter-municipal Transportation Network Services (i.e. Ride-Hailing) Business License program was Adopted by Council. It’s the law of the land now, if the other 30 Municipalities agree.

Then on to everyone’s favourite section of the evening, Motions from Council:

2024 Police Budget
Councillor Nakagawa

Be it resolved that New Westminster City Council writes to the Police Board requesting to engage in collaborative dialogue about the 2024 Police Budget on an ongoing basis beginning in spring 2023.

City Council is required by law to approve a police budget, but we are not deeply involved in the creation of that police budget (though it represents the largest single departmental budget in the City). That is the work of the Police Board, along with setting the policy of the Police department. Under the Police Act, the Police Board is struck to specifically keep City Council (and therefore politics) separate from police operations, but the relationship over the budget is a bit more nuanced.

The idea that the Police Board and the City Council should have a collaborative dialogue about the budget during its development seems common sense. That said, it is up to the Police board to determine the budget development process that works for them, so this is an invitation from Council, and it will be up to the Police Board to decide what to do it. Council approved this request, and we will see where it goes.

I do note that the Police Act creates this weird situation where I, as the elected Mayor, am the spokesperson for both Council and the Police Board, so I should clarify here my comments are as Mayor and chair of City Council (though, of course not official City Communications, as this is my blog, not a city website), and not as Chair of the Police Board. Maybe I’ll blog out later how the Police Board reacts, but in the meantime, no-one is more aware than I of the weirdness of my conflicted position, and the role of Provincial Legislation in creating this conflict, and the challenges of doing this kind of open and transparent discussion with residents while I am doing these two jobs. Government just isn’t set up for this kind of direct and informal communications, but here we are.

Establishing a new Planning Policies, Procedures and Processes Working Group
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED that Council establish a Planning Policies, Procedures and Processes Working Group; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that once established and members of the Working Group are appointed, it be provided with up to 120 days to prepare a report to Council which includes recommendations regarding possible revisions, updates or the elimination of any unnecessary, outdated, costly or ineffective planning by-laws, policies, procedures and processes;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council appoint two city councillors to co-chair the Working Group and that they develop the terms of reference, and prepare a budget (if required) for approval by Council; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the co-chairs will recommend to Council the overall composition of the Working Group; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that all efforts should be made by the Working Group to utilize external resources as a means of limiting staff time required to support this initiative; and
BE IF FURTHER RESOLVED the representatives of the Working Group will represent the diversity of our community and that the consultation they undertake will be done so in an equitable manner

I was challenged with this set of recommendations, and was happy Council did not support this motion. It seemed to want to duplicate processes that are already going on in the City by adding a layer of bureaucracy, and appears to me to demonstrate a lack of understanding of what those processes are, which is disappointing after the work we did to onboard Council.

For example, earlier this meeting we had the item called “Sustainable Transportation Zoning Bylaw Amendments” which was part of exactly this – an updating of significant planning policies and procedures that came from staff continued effort to update and streamline policies, procedures and policies. We also recently approved a budget that included specific line items that addressed exactly this, from the update to the infill housing guidelines and new draft development permit guidelines and the new duplex/triples application approval process, to our planned “one stop shopping” eGov services program and transition to digital submissions of permit applications for review, inspections and approvals including digitization technology and resources. The conceit of this motion is that a couple of Councillors will direct this continuous improvement better than the professional staff doing this every day.

We have a process to (for example) continually review and update our zoning bylaw and processes that underlie it, including the recent changes that have provided more flexibility to waive Public Hearings and to fast-track affordable housing projects in the City where there are senior government funds on the table (something the mover of this motion seemed to express concern with in earlier conversation in this very meeting).

The point it, this work needs to be (and is) directed toward identified process problems or delays and are prioritized based on our Housing Needs Assessments. If, as this motion suggests, there are “concerns expressed about processes, procedures and policies”, then let’s have a conversation about those items. But the solution is not and un-costed and unclear fishing expedition led by a new layer of bureaucracy to add to the work load of staff already engaged in this work, especially as we are resource challenged right now.

Supporting the victims of random and violent crimes in New Westminster
Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor, on behalf of Council, write to the Federal Minister of Justice, the Premier of British Columbia and the BC’s Solicitor General requesting that every effort be made to reform our ‘catch and release’ justice system which is facilitating repeat and prolific offenders being allowed to roam New Westminster’s streets; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council endorse a request made in February 2023 by the Business Improvement Areas of BC to establish a new provincially funded program which supports initiatives aimed at curtailing the impacts of vandalism and property crime; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council request an urgent meeting with the New Westminster Police Board to develop a joint strategy and determine what additional initiatives can be immediately implemented to ensure our streets remain safe from further violent crime.

As these three measures appeared quite disconnected, it was moved to sever into three separate motions.

On the first resolution, there was some concern expressed by council about the suggestion that the Mayor should send opposition party speaking points (both Provincial and Federal) to the governments, as this did not seem conducive to a clear outcome, bereft of context or a clear ask.

I felt the need to point out that the recent announcement by the provincial government around the creation of the Hub model in communities including New Westminster, where police, dedicated prosecutors and probation officers are working together as part of the Repeat Violent Offending Intervention Initiative, demonstrates that the province is already taking this issue seriously and are taking new an innovative approaches to that issue. Further, the introduction of Bill C-48 represents as similar refocusing on the issue by the Federal government, focusing on bail reform in a way that keeps violent offenders of the street in a way that would survive a charter challenge.

Of course, I believe that everyone has the right to feel safe in our community, and the mutli-faceted approach that target the root causes of these types of crimes while assuring the justice system has the tools it needs to protect the public from those few who commit the most atrocious violence in our communities is the right approach. I support the work the provincial and federal governments are doing now, and am not convinced my sending them opposition speaking points now is going to make any material difference. Council did not support this resolution.

On the second resolution debate was cut short because the meeting hit 10:30pm, and our Procedure Bylaw requires 2/3 of the Council to vote to extend beyond 10:30. Much to my surprise, the member who brought this resolution, and the member who brought the following resolution on the agenda voted to NOT extend debate on their own resolutions, and instead wanted the meeting to adjourn. I can’t explain that.

So we wrapped at 10:30 with a bit of an abrupt ending to the meeting. The unaddressed issues will come back (presumably) at the next meeting, though there is a time sensitive item later in the agenda that will likely require an emergency meeting. So stay tuned!

Strategic Priorities Plan

A Strategic Priorities Plan was recently endorsed by Council. I wrote previously about the process we went through to get here, this is the meat in the middle. The Plan sets out the five priority areas for our work in the next few years. One of the principles we took into Strategic Planning was a recognition that these kinds of plans need to be aspirational and values-based, not necessarily prescriptive. The last 4 years taught us that even the best laid plans can be shifted by events, and we need to be ready to pivot when events conspire. A clear understanding of our common goals and the values that guide us toward them helps us with that pivot.

The core of the plan is five priority areas, four fairly straight-forward, one more abstract. In each of these, we have objectives and some example outcomes.

Homes and Housing Options. Our Community has been a leader in full-spectrum housing policy, from shelter and supportive housing through purpose-built rental and family-friendly transit oriented development. Still, secure and affordable housing is the #1 regional priority, and we have work to do. Our focus this term will be on implementing the Homelessness Action Strategy, and better targeting our affordable housing efforts to align with senior government funding opportunities. We will continue to prioritize market housing development on and near Transit, and will update our infill density program to bring more diversity of housing in every neighbourhood. Finally, facing the labour crunch, we are going to implement a simplified and streamlined approvals process to get more built sooner.

Safe Movement of People The ways people move around our region are changing, as people want more choice and equity in how we allocate transportation space and we are starting to make the shift necessary for us to meet our Climate Action goals. To reflect this, we are emphasizing increased safety for all modes, and measuring transportation success by our ability to move people more than traditional transportation models related to moving specific types of devices. Along with generational investments in our Active Transportation Network (again, to align with senior government funding opportunities), we are going to bring a new focus on the safety and comfort of our transportation realm – we don’t want choice constrained by lack of safety. This will be inter-departmental and culture-shifting, whether we brand it “VisionZero” or not.

People-centred Economy Continuing the trend of centering the people we serve in our work, we are framing our Economic Development focus around people. This means supporting vibrant retail areas that are focused on local needs. This means assuring our jobs-creating spaces (Commercial/ Industrial) are able to support local jobs. This also means assuring the economic benefits of our strong Arts and Culture sector are shared here in the community. This is an area where relationships and partnerships will be key to our success.

Assets and Infrastructure This doesn’t get everyone excited, but the City has a 5-year capital plan I can only describe as aggressive, which means we are investing in core infrastructure like never before. Asset Management is a the practice of assuring you understand your long-term asset needs and the lifecycle of existing and new assets, so that you can properly plan the finances needed to keep your assets in good repair, and renew them when needed. We are advancing a structured Asset Management strategy in the City, department by department, and though this will be better positioned both to score senior government grants to support infrastructure growth, and to set priorities when the inevitable call for more stuff but less spending arrives.

Community Belonging and Connecting This is the slightly less tangible priority area, but through our Strat Plan discussions, it was a theme we kept coming back to organically. What makes New West unique is the way residents and businesses feel connected to the community, to each other, in a way many other municipalities in the Lower Mainland don’t. We have a culture of connections, and Council wants to foster that. This means supporting the many community organizations that are bringing people together around, arts, around culture, around sport, or around an activated street.

These are the focus areas, but the way we do this work is as important as the work itself, so this Strategic Plan includes context statements that describe the organizations foundations we work upon, and the lenses through which we view our work. That can all sound a bit like Management Consultant Speak, but let me unpack it a bit using Climate Action as an example.

We are in an era where people expect their government to take action on Climate Change mitigation and adaptation. The existential aspect of this work is such that it impacts every department in the City. We cannot achieve our 2030 and 2050 GHG goals unless we engineer our public spaces differently. We cannot be resilient in the face of climate disruption unless our Emergency Services understand and adapt to the new threats. The buildings we approve today will be the affordable building stock in the zero-carbon future, we better assure they are built for that future. It goes on. Everything we do from this point forward must be viewed through a climate lens – are we doing this in a way that reduces GHG emissions? Is what we are building going to be appropriate in 20 years? Does this move us towards mitigation, or away from it?

Lenses like this will be applied to assure we are being true to our goals for Reconciliation, for Public Engagement, and for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIAR). It is what our community expects, and it is the right way to approach this work.

Finally, all of this work will be done on the foundation of Organizational Effectiveness. This means supporting our professional staff to do their work, assuring they have the resources and tools they need to do it, from IT to HR to the building in which people work.

And that is the plan in a nutshell. It is meant to be aspirational and realistic, and it is flexible enough for us to shift emphasis as needs (and senior government supports) shift over the next 40ish months. We will be monitoring and measuring the success transparently so Council and staff can be kept accountable to deliver on it.

Now go enjoy your long weekend, and Tuesday we get back to work.

Strategic Planning

As I reported last week, New West Council completed our Strategic Priority Plan. You can read the plan here, and I will write a second post about the content of it, but first a bit about the process that got us here, and the next steps. In the Strat Plan Blogging sandwich, this will be about the bread, and we can talk about the meat in the middle in the next post.

This Strategic Plan is the work of all of Council, with significant support from staff in preparing it. This is a new Council, with 4 new members and a new Mayor. We have also seen some significant changes in the last few years, between the persistent impacts of COVID-19 on our program delivery and the generational scale of our capital plan. Though it is common for a new Council to adopt a new strategic plan to guide staff work for the term, I felt it was important that this time we take a bit of time for the new Council to get their feet under them, and that we do intensive onboarding and training to assure all of Council are adequately informed to take a meaningful part in the Strat Planning.

As both Strategic Planning and budget planning take a lot of work, I did not want to rush through the former before we started working on the latter, and the budget has legislated timelines we needed to meet. The timing we followed allowed Council a chance to go through their first budget cycle before we buttoned up the Strat Plan – an important lesson in compromise and priority setting. The Strat Plan (and future budgets) will be stronger because we did this learning, but we also needed to recognize that our Strat Plan will not be fully demonstrated in our budget until next year.

The Strat Plan process included a weekend workshop, it was embedded into the many onboarding workshops we held, and there were early written drafts that all of Council opined on, as staff were able to frame and make sensible from all of that input. This was a good exercise overall, as members of Council were free to discuss technical and legislative policy limits with staff in a way that they feel free and unencumbered to ask the “bad question”. There was also space to debate values, ideas, policies, and challenges in a way that is mostly free of the political fray. I think we grew as a Council through this.

All that said, there is a responsibility that Council make decisions transparently, which means that the Strat Plan comes to an open meeting, and all of Council have an opportunity to speak to it. You can see this process (closed development discussion followed by open release and endorsement) is the standard practice for Municipalities that do strategic plans, and you can see other Munis reports here, here, and here.

Now that the Strat Plan is adopted, we will use it to guide future budget discussions, and will integrate it with our other major planning documents, from the Official Community Plan to our Climate Action Plan and Parks and open Spaces Strategy. When Staff or Council bring ideas forward, they will be discussed in the context of this plan – either the new work should match our priorities, or we need a compelling reason to adjust those priorities.

To bring the Strat Plan to function, we will likely be making some changes in the operation of the City. We had a report last week about Advisory Committees, and are beginning the work to assure they are structured to serve the priorities of the Strat Plan. It is also possible that we will make some organizations changes at the staff level to assure that workplans are better aligned with Council’s priorities and that the reporting structure is designed to provide oversight and accountability to the goals of Council as expressed by the Strat Plan. This is the work of the months ahead.

We are in a time when Local Governments are being asked to do more things for more people all the time. We are also being asked to do more with less, in the sense that our budgets are strained and the regional labour shortage means fewer people are available to do the expanded work. To achieve our major strategic goals, we are going to have to set priorities. This is a hard thing for New Westminster (the City, and the community) to do – we are the small city that does a lot, and we are proud of our level of achievement. Yes, there are a lot of great things we could do but we simply cannot do it all. This is called a Strategic Priorities Plan for a reason, and I’ll write in the next post about what those priorities are.

Finally, it was disappointing that the work of the last few months was not endorsed by all of Council. I assumed everyone was in those meetings and discussions for the same reasons, to work out a shared sense of principles and priorities. I thought we had got there, and it was communicated to me that we got there. To have a last-minute amendment on a parochial item seemed performative to me, and to use the lack of support for this performative gesture as an excuse to oppose the result of months of staff and Council work seemed to disregard the collaborative approach Council had taken into this work. I am disappointed by that, but will learn from it.

Council – May 8, 2023

It was a long, and at times complicated, council meeting on Monday, but we got a lot of really positive work done, and left the room feeling more refreshed than we should have been at that late time of night. The Agenda was lengthy, and started with an important Presentation

2022-2026 Council Strategic Plan
Council has been working on a Strategic Plan for months. This included a bunch of onboarding work, which is important when the majority of Council is new to the job, and brings different expectations of what the City is, and where it needs to be, to the equation. We had an intensive weekend retreat at the Shipyards on North Vancouver, and some workshops following that session. We have also asked staff to do a bunch of work to translate our “wants” into potential deliverables. Anyone who works for an organization the size of this City understands the challenge of distilling visions into a digestible document. I’m really proud of Council and staff for getting here. Share and enjoy.

Is it the Strat Plan I would have written? Maybe not exactly. But I am one of seven at Council, and as much as I might want to impose my own vision on everything in the community, I am part of a team, I recognize the product of the team is a better product – more likely to reflect the vision of the broader community and more likely to reflect a vision that can be realized by the team. This is a good thing, and I have a lot of faith in the team to see us though.

I’m a little disappointed that after all this work, there was not unanimous adoption of the product of that work, ostensibly because the balance of Council was unwilling to add a last minute parochial issue (that had recently been the target of a campaign by a business person with a clear pecuniary interest) into the long-discussed community-focused strategy. Alas, that is where we are politically.

More blog posts to come, because this is an important topic, but for now, the Council adopted the Strat Plan, and our work ahead is prioritized.

We then had a couple of Information Reports pulled forward for discussion:

Anvil Centre Operations
This Report provided City Council with some updates and details on Anvil Centre operations, as a compliment to the report under Consent regarding Anvil Centre budgets. After almost 9 years of operation, and the Anvil Centre being important to many of the priorities in the just-adopted Strategic Plan (Downtown revitalization, the blending of Arts and Culture with Economic Development, developing better connectedness and belonging in the city), Council asked that we have a deeper discussion around the successes and challenges of Anvil, and an opportunity to discuss the mandate of Anvil going into its tenth year. This will come back to us in Workshop format in the middle future.

Demographic Profile of Be Heard New West Registered Users
The City has operated on-line engagement portal since 2020, called Be Heard New West. This is one of the deliverables from the City’s Public Engagement Strategy, which was adopted in 2016 following a Mayor’s Task Force on Public Engagement (which included two members of Council who were not on Council then!). This is , of course, not the only Public Engagement work we do, but it is one that allows pretty close tracking of who we are engaging with, and perhaps more reliantly, who we are not reaching with our community engagement.

This report compares the demographics of the people connected with Be Heard New West with the demographics of the community gleaned from the 2021 census. We have almost 3,500 registrants (just under 5% of the population), which would be a statistically relevant number if it wasn’t self-selected. Groups under-represented might not be surprising. Renters only make up 24% of Be Heard participants, while renter households are more than 45% of the households in New West. People under 35 are underrepresented, while people 35-64 are very much overrepresented. People of Colour are underrepresented, as are immigrant residents. There was some expressed interest in Council to look at other tools to assure better representation of the community in our engagement, which slightly previewed our discussion of the Advisory Committees below.

These items were then moved On Consent:

Anvil Centre Operating Overview
As a companion to the earlier info report, this is a report that arose out of some deeper conversations Council has been having around the budget for the Anvil Centre. Where some on Council have asserted repeatedly that the Anvil is “losing $5 Million per year”. The reality is something different.

It costs about $5.3 Million to run the Anvil Centre every year. $2.4M of this is conference services, $1.2M is Community Arts & Theatre operations, and the remaining $1.5M the cost of the Museum, Archives, art and technology functions. This is offset by $2.6M in revenue earned every year, mostly from Conference Services. This does NOT include parking from the parkade under Anvil or leases of the commercial spaces in the Anvil, which are a separate revenue source, nor does it include the $2.7M in annual capital depreciation, which is not an actual cash “cost”, but an accounting for the idea that the Anvil, like all assets, has a lifespan we need to account for in our capital budget.

Appointment of Corporate Officer
We have a new Corporate Officer, and this is one of the positions we need to officially assign as City Council as they have regulatory role and delegated duties. So this was done.

Approach for Budget 2024 Engagement & Budget Timelines
This report outlines the timelines for engagement on next years’ budget. We have just wrapped the 2023 budget, but Council has expressed a desire to engage earlier and deeper with the broad community on budget matters, and a desire to complete the budget work earlier in the year so we can better align our budget with annual staff work plans, which means we are going to begin the 2024 budget engagement process this month.

There are two plans here: a quick start for 2024, recognizing he tight timelines and staff resources that will include Be Heard New West and directly outreach to a broader community, including both educational materials about municipal budgeting and questions about service levels, priorities, and tax tolerance. Given how this works and more planning time, there will be enhanced work for the 2025 budget season.

Daycare Lease Agreement at 490 Furness Street
This is the Lease that allows KIDS to operate a daycare (12 infant/toddler spots and 25 preschool-age) in a building the City negotiated out of the development of a townhouse project in Queensborough. The Developer built the building and gave it to the City. The Province provided a $500,000 grant towards construction. The City fitted it out, including using $450,000 from our daycare reserve funds, and will continue to own and maintain the building. KIDS won the contract in an open call for proposals, and will staff and operate the daycare, including daily building maintenance. The City will collect $2,800/month in lease to cover the majority of costs for the building, utilities, and to help offset the depreciation of the building, which is clearly a small percentage of what “market rent” would be for a building like this. These costs (and the lease amount) will be adjusted over the term of the lease through quarterly reporting to KIDS.

Early Steps Daycare – Playground License Agreement at 601 Queens Avenue
A new Childcare is trying to set up on Queens Avenue, but the “front lawn” is not large enough to meet provincial standards for outdoor play space. Immediately adjacent to this lawn is City boulevard with more than enough space well set back from traffic, with no clear delineation where City land starts and private property ends. The Daycare operator would like to include a small part of the City-owned lawn as their designated outdoor space. This is OK with the City, but as they are a for-profit organization, we can’t just let them use it (ref. Section 25 of the Community Charter), so we need to agree to a fair lease for the use of public space. This is that agreement.

Expanding the Inter-municipal TNS (Ride-Hailing) Business Licence to include Hope, Kent and Mission
The City is part of an Inter-Municipal Business License scheme along with 20+ Greater Vancouver municipalities to provide a single business license to ride-hailing companies, meaning the operators can legally operate across the region, and each municipality gets its share of the license revenue. Three Fraser Valley municipalities want be added to this IMBL. Which means we need to amend our own bylaw. If you have opinions, let us know by May 29th.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Application for Strata Conversion of the existing building at 716 Columbia Street.
This building has been sitting empty for a long time, one of the persistent gaps in our downtown streetscape. Of all the gaps, this the one that we quickest to get filled, as there already was zoning for mixed use and building and building permits were granted almost a decade ago. Strata conversions are not common in New West, as we do not permit existing rental to be converted to Strata. This site was never a rental building in any official way (though it operated as a hotel at some point in the middle-distant past), and is currently not occupied by residents.

There was some discussion about the small footprint and slightly unusual layouts of these suites. They would probably not be given a development permit to build this in 2023, but they were back in 2010, and were granted building permits based on the building code and regulations applicable at the time, so it would be highly irregular (and legally questionable) to retract those approvals now that the work has finally been done.

Long and short, this is the first of the “gaps” downtown that we have got activated, with commercial at grade and some small strata apartments above. That is a good thing!

Rezoning Application for Conversion to Supportive Housing: 422 Sixth Street – Preliminary Application
The owner of this building in the Brow of the Hill wishes to convers two floors of the mixed-use office building to a form of supportive housing desperately needed in the community. 30 units of supportive housing for people facing homelessness, with on-site supports. This is consistent with the OCP designation for the site, and the mixed residential/commercial use and density are within the zoning, but the supportive nature of the housing is not, so we need to do a rezoning to address that specific point.

This is a preliminary report, and there are some details and funding to work out. There will also be a public engagement step as is typical of a rezoning, however as this is consistent with policy and priorities in the City, we are going to waive the Public Hearing on this rezoning.

We then Adopted a a Bylaw:

Tax Rates Bylaw No. 8395 2023
This Bylaw, as it suggests, sets the Tax Rates for 2023, and it was adopted by Council.

Then we had our Motions from Council:

Inviting the Community to Celebrate and Say Goodbye to the Pattullo Bridge
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor write a letter on behalf of Council to the BC Ministry of Transportation to determine the feasibility of opening the Pattullo Bridge to pedestrian, cycle and other non-vehicular modes of transportation for a period of three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) subsequent to the opening of the new bridge; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council enter into discussions with the Ministry of Transportation to facilitate a community-based celebration of the existing Pattullo Bridge by way of an ‘on bridge’ day-long street festival during the three day public access period

Through some discussion on Council, this got amended to something like (forgive my notes, this may not be perfect):

BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor write a letter on behalf of Council to the BC Ministry of Transportation and TransLink to determine the feasibility of opening the Pattullo Bridge to pedestrian, cycle and other non-vehicular modes of transportation for a period of three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) subsequent to the opening of the new bridge; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council notify the Ministry of Transportation and TransLink that the City wants them to host a community-based celebration of the existing Pattullo Bridge by way of an ‘on bridge’ day-long street festival during the three day public access period with City input to the event; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this include a memorial event or day be held to mark the lives lost on the structure.

This motion is consistent with the conversation we are already having with MOTI, including a couple of weeks ago when they came here to present to Council about the Pattullo Replacement project and we will need to engage TransLink, as I understand they are still the owner of the asset.

The history of the bridge is complicated. While the arch has marked the skyline of New Westminster for generations, and is iconic for that, it is also a place where many people lost their lives, and I think a day of remembrance would also be appropriate. We have a year or more to plan this out, so let’s see where the conversation goes.

Updating and determining the effectiveness of the City’s Tree Protection and Regulation Bylaw
Submitted by Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED that staff be directed to report back to Council regarding the costs, potential sources of funding and operational impacts pertaining to the City conducting an independent and arms-length review and public consultation regarding the effectiveness of our Tree Protection and Regulation Bylaw

It was not made clear what the goal of this motion was, or why this bylaw was being selected for scrutiny among out hundreds of bylaws. There is no data supporting the assertion that the tree canopy is declining, indeed it is likely holding steady. What we can say for certainty is that there are many, many more trees in the City than even a couple of years ago, and their contribution to overall canopy cover will not be realized for a decade. We plant a tree not for today, but for 20 years in the future, and that is why we have an Urban Forest Management Strategy, of which the Tree Protection Bylaw is only one component.

Has this Bylaw been reviewed? Yes. Since the initial introduction of the Bylaw, which came itself after significant public consultation and industry review, this Bylaw has been iterated to make it clearer, more functional, and easier to navigate. Indeed, our Amended Bylaw has served as a model for other municipalities who have followed our lead on navigating the unique challenges of implementing a tree bylaw in a heavily urbanized area facing significant population growth.

If the point is external arms-length review, I would suggest the reviews by the Canadian Institute of Planners, who gave our Urban Forest Management Strategy the national Award for Planning Excellence, and the Planning Institute of British Columbia who gave it an award of Excellence on Policy Planning. To experts in the field, this strategy and the Bylaw demonstrate incredible industry-leading work by our staff.

Without specific ideas of what needs fixing, I can’t support staff spending time or limited resources reviewing this program at this time. I would suggest that time and money are better spent in continued implementation of the strategy. Council did not vote to support this motion.

Finally, we had one piece of New Business:

Potential Changes to City Advisory Committee Structure
Now that we have an adopted Strategic Plan, we are going to do the next bit of work, which is adjusting our Advisory Committee Structure. This happens every Council term, as we did a pretty big shift in early 2019 to a paired Task Force – Advisory Committee model and pared back our 30+ Advisory Committees to more align with areas of strategic focus. There were strengths and weaknesses to this model, but the biggest challenge (identified going back to our 2016 Public Engagement Strategy) is making our advisory committees better match our community profile in demographics. This was also noted in the report further up on Be Heard New West demographics, where council agrees we needed new tools to better connect with the diversity of our community. In this report, one such tool is outlined.

Though there are details to work out, Community Engagement staff are going to develop a “community assembly” or “citizens assembly” or “advisory council” model. The name doesn’t matter (yet. I think it will matter, just not yet) as much as the idea – a larger demographically-representative group of residents to serve as an advisory body to Council and staff. This could be applied in various ways, including having a demographically-representative pool of hyper-engaged participants from which advisory task forces or panels could be drawn on various topics. As the need arises.

This is a new model, we don’t know of anywhere it has been applied yet, but it does represent a new model that meets the goals of our Public Engagement Strategy in a new and exciting way. It is a bit risky, but could be ground-breaking. I’m excited to see where this goes.

And that was the meeting that was. Go outside, get some sun.

Council – April 24, 2023

Our Council meeting this week started with a Public Hearing, as is pretty typical for last-meeting-of-the-month. But that wasn’t the only item on the agenda, so join me on a journey.

Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw No. 8374, 2023 and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8375, 2023 for 102/104 Eighth Avenue and 728 First Street
This project would see 10 townhouses built in two buildings where there is currently a single family house and a duplex in Glenbrook North. The overall FSR would be 1.03 (0.87 above grade) and all units would be three-bedroom family-friendly (1,700 -1,800 sq ft) with a single parking spot which meets the parking requirement for this type of development. The project would exceed energy efficiency required by the BC Energy Step Code, achieving Step 4.

This requires not just a rezoning (from RS-1 single family residential to RT townhouse) but an amendment to the Official Community Plan to change the land use from RD (single family detached and duplex) to RGO (Ground-Oriented Infill Housing). This designation was considered as part of the OCP update 6 years ago now, but Council in its wisdom chose to not designate the entire block, and instead to allow piecemeal applications if they come up.

Since 2021, this project has gone through the Land Use Planning Committee (which led to minor modifications), the Advisory Planning Commission (supported) and Design Panel (supported), and there was consultation with First Nations and the School District (as required for an OCP amendment). There was also active and passive public consultation, including virtual open house and communications through the Glenbrook North Residents’ Association. Most of the feedback was positive, noting the lack of family-friendly townhouse building form in this part of New West, with the main concerns being lack of parking (natch), the desire for more affordability, and infrastructure not keeping up with growth.

We had two pieces of correspondence and about a half dozen delegates speak to council, including the proponent. We heard opposition to any change to the OCP, and we heard some concerns about parking, rodent control and construction impacts, which were directed to staff.

Overall, I am in support of this kind of infill missing middle housing, as it fills an important gap in our housing supply – family-sized ground oriented units in a high-service neighbourhood so close to schools, shops, parks, and everything families need. This is the kind of infill housing I hear residents in New West asking for more of.

Council voted in favour of the application, and in the Council meeting to follow, gave the Bylaws three readings.

Following some announcements and proclamations, we go our first Report for discussion:

Train Whistle Cessation – Update
Staff have started a practice of making quarterly reports on train whistle cessation. They are attached as information reports on the end of Council Agenda (as there is no decision for council to make, we are just being informed), but as with all information reports, a Councilor may ask to have them raised to the next council meeting for discussion. This one was raised from April 3. Most of the information here is also freely available on the City’s public website about Whistle Cessation.

The new part here is the renewed activity in the Rail Technical Working Group, and a few more details about timelines for the rail crossings where we are currently working on cessation and clarity about the funding sources for that work.

There is also a notion in here worth calling attention to. There has been political conversation about the desire to end “unnecessary whistling” in the community. This report takes the time to point out that “unnecessary whistling” is already illegal by federal law, and there have been no reports of “unnecessary whistling” being a problem in the City. The whistling we hear is a regulatory requirement, and it is that regulatory requirement we are trying to address.

We then approved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Exemption: 651 Carnarvon Street – Signia Construction Ltd.
The Provincial Court House is being renovated with new cladding and roofing, increasing its energy efficiency. Because of the nature of other operations, construction work during court hours is not preferred, so they need to do some of their work outside of court hours. This means evening and weekend work that exceeds our construction noise Bylaw, which is why they are asking for an exemption.

Recruitment 2023: Appointments to the Accessibility Advisory Committee
We have an Accessibility Advisory Committee, to which we appoint people. Here is one of those appointments.

Salmonbellies Municipally Significant LCRB Resolution
There is a quirk in the LCRB rules about how you sell beer at a beer garden involving their fixed prices and sizes of containers and such where, in rare occasion, an event can get around some of the rigidity by the City deeming the event “Municipally Significant”. I’m not sure we have ever done this before, but if hosting the Most Famous Team in Lacrosse*, 24-time Mann Cup winners over a proud 130+ year history isn’t “Municipally Significant” for New Westminster, I don’t know what is. So in deeming them so, they have some new partnership opportunities that are theirs to announce not mine. Or, you know, check my Instagram.

We then had the following items Removed from Consent for discussion:

2023 Tax Rates Bylaw No 8395, 2023
With the budget Bylaw prepared last meeting, staff can now set the Tax Rates to recover the required $102 Million in property taxes from the roughly $30 Billion of assessed real estate value in the City.

There are also reminders here that homeowners need to apply to the Provincial Government for the $570 grant to help offset property taxes, $845 if you are over 65. Also, anyone over the age of 55 can defer 100% of their property taxes, which means the Province will pay them for you, and you pay them back at some point in the future (presumably when you sell the property, but that’s up to you). The current interest rate for deferral is 4.45% simple interest.

So doing the math on this, if you are a 65 year old living in a house assessed at $1 Million, your Municipal taxes will be $2,500. Less Homeowner grant, that is $1155. If you defer your taxes, it will cost you about $51 in interest per year until you (or your heirs) decide to sell the house. As this interest is applied against your house, it is important to note that the value of the typical $1 Million house in New West went up 11% last year, or about $110,000. So for less than 0.05% of the amount the typical house value goes up every year, you could never pay property taxes again. Just saying.

City Hall Community Art Exhibition Program
This is the result of a Motion from former Councillor Mary Trentadue, and some work staff have been doing with partners in the Community since. The walls in the area outside Council chambers are kind of dull, and looked pretty uninviting. The thought was, as we are trying to invite more people into City Hall, it would be an opportunity to liven the space up while providing more space for local and regional artists to display their work. Staff coordinated with the Arts Advisory Committee and Arts Council of New Westminster to use these spaces to let folks know what works are happening at the other Arts Council locations.

City Hall is old historic, so we need to do a Hazardous Building Materials survey and install some appropriate hardware, but we should see Art in City Hall soon! Arts adds to conversations, it leads to deeper thinking, it fills our souls and gives us inspiration, and all of those things should happen in the entrance to Council Chambers.

Economic Impact Model Scope of Work
The idea here is that staff want to put together a new economic analysis tool. This way existing programs (in this case, the Anvil Centre, but it could be applicable to the Library, to the Queens Park Arena or Pier Park) could be evaluated for their impact on the local economy. The idea is that it could inform future civic initiatives.

I like the idea of an economic Input-output model, but I wonder about its usefulness as a decision-making tool unless it incorporates more than economic factors. We are not a business, we are a local government, and the economic lens can act like blinders limiting our analysis of social impacts of our work, of climate and environmental impacts, of cultural and community connection impacts, of health and happiness impacts. Little of what we do in the City serves only an economic goal. We could also get into a deeper discussion about the role of a Local Government in driving Fiscal Policy in a Monetary Policy epoch, but that way leads to rabbit holes.

Anyway, it is a small relative cost, and I do generally like staff to have good data to help guide our decision-making, so I am comfortable with Economic Development staff being given time and budget to do this work. However, like any tool, it is more important that we be judicious in its application.

Queen’s Park Farm Master Plan Adoption
This has been discussed a few times now in council and workshop, and this final report and ask for endorsement of the plan comes after a year-long two-phase community engagement and iterative design process. The results of that are a model to replace the old “petting zoo” with a new set of program elements and activity spaces for all ages. The theme is “habitat + grow” – a mix of learning and experience spaces around forest habitats and around the sources of our food. This will be a new jewel in the Queens Park space, and I am really proud of the work staff and the design team did in bringing a diverse set of elements together.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit (810 Agnes Street and 815 821 Victoria Street) – Application Consideration
This project downtown has been in the planning process for a couple of years. It includes a space that was an informal community centre for the Chinese community in New West more than 100 years ago, which was gifted to the City about 50 years ago by the Chinese Benevolent Society. The plan is to develop part of the site (that currently has older warehouse type buildings on it) for a residential tower, and create an outdoor public park that honours the history of the site and its importance to the history of Chinese people in early New Westminster. This has been on the books for some time, so much of the public consultation and design of the park amenity space has already occurred.

The development itself has been shifted from what was originally going to be market condos to 350 Purpose Built Rental suites in a 33 story building. This project saw the Land Use and Planning Committee and a Preliminary Report to Council in early 2018, has been through public open houses and consultation before the pandemic and again in 2022. As the results of that consultation were positive, it is consistent with the OCP, provides a much needed form of housing (market rental adjacent to a SkyTrain Station) and a well understood public amenity package, is consistent with City’s stated policy direction for housing development, Council agreed to waive the Public Hearing and will consider giving the Rezoning three readings in an upcoming council meeting following circulation of notice in accordance with the Local Government Act..

We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Building Amendment Bylaw No. 8388, 2023
This Bylaw that amends our Building Bylaw to align with changes to the BC Building Code was adopted unanimously by council, because we all love alignment.

Five Year Financial Plan 2023 – 2027 Bylaw No 8392, 2023
This Bylaw that formalizes our Consolidated Financial Plan for 2023 through 2027 was adopted by Council. The Budget is in the books. Bring on 2024.

Then we had one final piece of New Business

2023 Summer Heat Response Update
This report set out the various initiatives that staff in the Emergency Management Office and other departments in the City (working with partners at Fraser Health and in the community) have put together to prepare for heat related events. It includes expanded accessible public spaces to cool off, outreach to building managers, seniors, people with disabilities through a new communications strategy, a program to rent air conditioners out on a means-tested basis, and outdoor misting stations, and more.

This is good, but I have asked for us to look at going a step further. I have discussed with several people from being on a panel at UBCM with Dr. Bonnie Henry to recent meetings with Fraser Health, and organizations in town that support vulnerable people and seniors the idea of us applying regulatory tools not dissimilar to our fire preparedness legislation to address heat emergency preparedness. As such, I asked that staff explore our ability to regulate a heat response plan requirement for all Multi-unit residential building in the City.

I don’t know if we have the tools we need, or if we need to advocate for them from the province, but with the scale of the deaths New West faced in the 2021 Heat Dome, I don’t want our connect and prepare response to be one driven by and relying on volunteers. We don’t let building operators volunteer to have sprinklers or fire alarms, nor do we rely on volunteers to assure these systems are operational. They are fundamental life safety measures, and we have learned now that a heat emergency plan is also a fundamental life saving measure.

This first request is just to help us understand what tools we may have, there will no doubt be deeper discussions after to determine the viability of applying those tools, this is just information gathering at this time.

And that was the week that was, I can’t believe it’s almost May. Go outside, enjoy some spring sun. Or go see a lavish musical. I’m going to do both!

Council – April 17, 2023

We had a special Council meeting on Monday, where the only item on the agenda was giving three readings to the Budget Bylaw – approval of the 5-year financial plan. We had an Opportunity to be Heard before the Bylaw was read.

This type of Opportunity to be Heard is just that, and opportunity for members of the public to tell us what they think. It’s not really a time for debate with the public, so two-way dialogue is not encouraged. Council has a pile of data in front of it, people are able to provide their ideas on that pile of data, Council makes a decision based on those inputs.

It is important to note this is not the only input the public provide to the budget. We have had on-line engagement for a while, and we have received emails and delegations in previous meetings regarding different aspects of the budget. We have had a fulsome discussion in workshops and in Council, and I appreciate the many voices I have heard in delegations, in emails, and in the many community events over the last few months. Even on my Mayor’s walk last week, residents were telling me what they see as priorities for the community.

I also appreciate the work Council have done to get themselves up to speed on the state of the City’s finances, and their active participation in the workshops we have done coinciding with budget preparation and development of a new strategic plan. Having 4 new Council Members and a new Mayor put an extra burden on staff to assure we had the information we needed to make these decisions, and impacted our timelines. It is great we can sum this work up and start working on the plan ahead.

Following my comments on the evening, there are three big parts of the budget I spoke to, and maybe I’ll follow up with a blog post with more numbers and graphs and such (when I find time), but for now I want to hit on these three points at a high level.

The first is the unprecedented Capital budget we are looking at. This means investing in a spectacular new aquatic and recreation centre, replacing 50 year old facilities with the most modern aquatic facility in the Lower Mainland, and the most efficient one ever built in Canada. We are doubling our recreation capacity, our fitness areas, and much more flexible aquatic space to support everything from Aquafit to competitive swimming to finally having the kind of fun all-ages pool young parents in our community have been longing for, all with Carbon-free energy systems and a building accessible to all. We are also investing in the Arts by making a generational commitment to save and restore the Massey Theatre not just for big shows, but a place where people can learn new skills, can rehearse, and can perform. At the same time, we are leveraging senior government supports to undertake a massive revamping of the critical infrastructure that makes our City resilient – electrical substations and modern metering technology, $11Million in water system upgrades, more than $20 Million in sewer separation program. Even the $1.5 Million we are spending on tree planting and maintenance – we are making the generational investments that our growing city needs. They are not inexpensive projects, or easy projects, but they are building a stronger city. This is what people have asked us for.

The second is how this budget addresses our real operational needs. We heard people worried about livability downtown, and are investing in the Livability Strategy that will address the most pressing concerns for residents and businesses, while we partner with the province and outside agencies to reduce the suffering resulting from overlapping housing, addiction, and mental health crises. Our community partners (the Downtown BIA, the non-profit support providers, the residents downtown) deserve to be supported by the City, and our front line staff need the resources to provide this support. This budget provides it. We are also investing in staff positions to accelerate permitting process, to help with our long-term HR needs and employee resiliency, and to support our emergency response capabilities at a time when the climate emergency is knocking on our door. These investments will let new homes get built faster, will mean more resilient emergency response, will improve the customer service experience at City Hall.

The third part is the aspect of sound fiscal management. We are making these important investments at a time of economic uncertainty. With less stable interest rates and inflation, we, as managers of the public purse, need to not think only about the needs of the day, but about the long-term needs of the community. Balancing the need to invest with debt tolerance and the need to maintain healthy reserves has never been as important as now. We cannot burden the next generation – the young families moving to New West in record numbers and the kids they are raising here – with bad fiscal decisions now, nor can we burden them by not investing in Climate resiliency.

One motion brought to the table proposed cutting $1 Million from our projected surplus to reduce the tax increase by 1%. Problem is, there is no projected surplus due to our major capital investment, so this $1 Million would be added to our debt (something one of the delegates who came to speak to council specifically warned us against) or erode our capital reserves (something our CFO has been warning us about for four months of council discussions). That is exactly the kind of kicking-the-can-down-the-road thinking that created the infrastructure deficit we are currently trying to address. Fortunately, Council did not support this change.

We have new revenue sources like the Low Carbon Fuel Credits, and have further revenue opportunities though District Energy and the trend towards increased electrification, but at the same time are not immune to the same inflationary pressures businesses and residents in our community are feeling. On the optimistic side, we have Provincial and Federal governments ready to invest in the kinds of things that we are trying to build here: Climate resiliency, livability and affordability, housing and childcare, active transportation, and urban forest. We need to be ready with the shovel-ready projects to get access to those senior government funds, and the 5-year capital plan gets us there.

So I supported the budget as proposed, as did the majority of council, and look forward to getting to work building the community New Westminster elected us to build.

Council – April 3, 2023

I am so late putting this report out. The week was a short one, but very long, with a UBCM Housing Summit and Metro Vancouver meetings, but I finally have a chance to sit down and write this us up while watching Edin vs. Gushue 2. We had a relatively short agenda, starting with a Presentation:

Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project – Project Update
The Pattullo project team presented to Council for this first time in a year, with an update on their progress, and some news about upcoming road closures related to the construction. No surprise that there will be some road closures as they re-align the on- and off-ramps and put overpass spans over Front Street and Columbia. The closures of Columbia will only be at the Elliot end, but that impacts traffic patterns on the rest of the road, and temporary closures of parts of Royal and Front at different stages will mean lots of change coming over the next year. This diagram is a good indication of the timelines envisioned:

Council and the Pattullo team are aware of the construction weariness being felt be Downtown businesses and residents, and we are asking the Ministry of Transportation and the Pattullo Team to be very conscious of their outreach and transparency with the Downtown community. The re-alignment of truck routes during some of these closures is something the City is going to work with the Ministry to determine the path that best protects the livability of our community.

The following items were then removed from consent for discussion:

Building Amendment Bylaw No. 8388, 2023: BC Energy Step Code Alignment – Bylaw for Three Readings
The Province has changed the “Step Code”, which is the part of the provincial building code that regulates building efficiency and emissions. We are updating our Building Bylaw to align with this change.

New Westminster Secondary School (NWSS) Cycling Connector – Mitigation of Business Concerns
The Bike Lanes connecting the Crosstown Greenway to the new high school are not yet complete. Weather will determine when the final lane markings and signage work can be completed. There were some concerns raised by a few Uptown businesses when the lanes were being installed. Recognizing the impacts they were feeling were more likely related to construction than a completed street improvement, Council asked staff to report back on mitigation measures, in part to help with this project, and in part to inform the next time this type of change is implements, as forecast by Council’s adoption of the Active Transportation Network plan.

The resultant report is a good one, worth a read. In reaching out to other municipalities that have historically managed this type of change (Edmonton, Calgary, Portland, Burnaby, the City of North Vancouver, and others) the clear message was that the engagement process we undertook before the work began was “comprehensive… relative to what other municipalities have done in similar situations”, though there was some good advice on specific engagement approaches. This extra step of direct outreach during the construction phase is another example of this commitment.

We then read some Bylaws, including the following Bylaw for Adoption:

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8386, 2023
This Bylaw that amends the Bylaw to temporarily suspend Street Occupancy Permit fees for block parties was adopted by Council. Party on, Blocks.

We then had a few Motions from Council

Parks and Recreation registration process
Submitted by Councillor Henderson
BE IT RESOLVED that Council direct staff to explore opportunities to improve the equity and accessibility of the Parks and Recreation registration process and report back to Council with options to address the current challenges./i>
This issue arose from some concerns from parents around the challenge of getting registered for kids programs in the City. It has been likened to trying to get Taylor Swift concert tickets. And of course it is related to a very similar phenomenon: demand for great programs that far exceeds availability. The changes wrought by COVID are part of this, but there is also challenges with shifting to on-line registration. Not a couple of days after this motion was passed, there was a story on CBC radio about Surrey having very similar issues with the aquatics programs, so we aren’t alone here. Part of a region growing faster than services can keep pace.

The availability of programs (and cost related to expansion, including as təməsew̓txʷ comes on line next year) is another conversation we need to have in context of a budget discussion, but this motion is looking towards our equity programs to determine if there are structural inequities in how we do registration, and ways to address that, which is an important first step in alignment with our equity goals as a City.

Preserving, protecting and enhancing the Samson V museum for future generations
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back on the costs, potential sources of funding and operational impacts associated with temporarily placing the Samson V in dry dock to repair and restore the vessel for public viewing; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff report back on options to find a permanent indoor home for the Samson V adjacent to or on our waterfront as part of a possible pier expansion and/or long-term tourism strategy; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff consult with the Fraser River Discovery Center and other key stakeholders and report back regarding the opportunity and costs associated with undertaking a pilot program that would permit short-term pleasure craft usage at the moorage vacated by the Samson V

The Samson V is under repair. It is 90 years old, and is (notably) “the only completely intact and floating wooden sternwheeler in North America.” As discussed several times during Council onboarding, there is a maintenance plan to keep it so, fully costed in our Capital budget ($60K for maintenance and repair this year, $38K for dredging this year to keep it floating, $72 total over the following 4 years for maintenance and repair). The current roof repairs need to be performed in good weather, so boat wrap is being used to keep the rain and pigeons out until that is done. That said, there is nothing dire about it that regular maintenance can’t address. There is no pressing need to dry dock it, to buy or build a 6,500 square foot 5 story building in which to house it. Indeed, doing these things would take away one of the key heritage aspects of the museum, would cost millions of dollars, and likely add to the maintenance costs of the boat, as we would now need to maintain and operate a building. This is not a priority for me right now with so many things pressing for staff time and limited resources in the City right now. Council seems to agree with me, and did not support this motion.

Hearing from the communities regarding their priorities for the new Growing Communities Fund
Submitted by Councillor Minhas
BE IT RESOLVED that Council hold a special open meeting at City Hall at the earliest opportunity to obtain feedback from the public regarding what the priorities should be for the Growing Communities Funding; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff develop an online survey opportunity for the public to provide their feedback regarding what priority areas Council should consider as part of the Growing Communities Funding

Through discussion with Council, this motion was amended to the point of replacement with another motion that is further-reaching:

BE IT RESOLVED: that early in the 2024 budget process, Community Engagement staff lead a structured consultation including an online survey component with the goal to involve a representative sample of the community in determining priority areas for future Capital budget spending.
BE IT FUTRTHER REOLVED that no decision be made regarding allocation of the growing communities fun regarding the engagement consultation process.

The mindset of the original motion is one I felt the need to challenge, and that is of the Growing Communities Fund being money we need to spend like a lottery win, in that it represents a large amount of money in the scope of our Capital budget. $15.85 Million seems like a lot of money for capital investment, except that it is only 9% of the $173.2 Million 2023 Capital Budget coming forward for approval next week, and only 4% of our $410 Million 5-year capital plan.

Of course $16 Million is still a lot of money that must be spent wisely, and we need to be transparent about how it is spent. The point is we need to be transparent about how we spend all of our Capital Budget, not just this part. This is why Council expanded the discussion to expand public consultation for the next budget cycle to help us set priorities for our capital budget. In the broad scope of things, does the public want us to use this $16 Million to reduce the debt related to our current Capital Program? To bolster our reserves, recognizing the infrastructure deficit we are facing? Or do they want us to spend it on new capital items? If we want to spend it on new items, how do we prioritize what to add to the already extensive capital program?

The language of the motion introduced by Councilor Nakagawa was intentional – “Involve” is the level of consultation we are aiming towards on the IAP2 Spectrum, which is important as staff need to understand what type of consultation we are looking for. It is also important that the consultation be structured to consult a representative group of New Westminster, as we know many forms of consultation result in a skewed and often privileged view of public opinion. Questions around this were asked of the original mover, but I did not hear the member offer any answer.

I was not happy with the second clause of this motion, as it again reinforced the false perception that this was a “lottery win” and not a part of a more important broader discussion of the capital budget. Indeed, a Councilor clearly tried to reinforce this perception while arguing for the original motion with some incorrect ideas about how the capital budget is structured (which were corrected on the record by the Director of Finance). This is especially important as I have seen some members of council putting out videos and encouraging people to delegate to council with ideas that have already spent this money three times over (that is not a joke), but overall I am satisfied that we will have an opportunity for deeper public consultation leading to the next Capital budget.

Council – March 27, 2023

We had long Council day on Monday. Aside from the regular meeting, we also had some open and closed workshops (the open ones you can see here), but overall a ~15 hour day for Council and senior staff. The Agenda wasn’t that long, but you know how these things can go. We started with a Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 8379, 2023 and Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 8380, 2023 (802 and 806 Eighth Street and 809 Eighth Avenue).
This project in the Moody Park area of Uptown proposes to amalgamate three single family detached lots, relocate one of the homes on those lots for heritage protection, and build townhouses totaling 17 units. The 1929 heritage house would be permanently preserved.

This project includes the compact townhouse density that reflects the OCP designation, and includes 13 regular townhouses, but in exchange for preserving the Heritage home, they are building 4 smaller accessible ground-oriented units in a bit of a stacked townhouse form.

We received about two dozen pieces of correspondence, mostly in favour, and we had 10 delegates speak to Council, which were a mix of supporters, opponents (mostly with concerns about the off-street parking relaxation given), and a few that liked the project except for having concerns (again, almost exclusively about the limited off-street parking).

Council voted to approve Third Reading of the Bylaws.

We then had Presentation for discussion on the Budget:

Budget 2023: Draft 2023 – 2027 Financial Plan
We have been working for some time (almost three months) on the budget, which is really two separate yet connected budgets. Our Capital Budget is $173.2 Million – that is the money we plan to spend this year on capital works, repairs and upgrades. The Operational Budget includes $301.5 Million in revenues and $235.4M in expenses – which means we are planning to spend about $66M less on operations that we collect in revenue, but that extra goes to reserves to pay for things in in that Capital Budget.

This budget as presented follows the input provided by Council in previous budget meetings, and incorporates feedback from the community. Out Utility Rates were approved in December, We went through proposed service enhancements in January and the Capital Budget in February. Every one of these budget meeting and workshops is publicly viewable on our web page, because we debate the budget in a transparent way in New West.

There was some discussion in Council about where this budget is, but I will hold that off for a follow-up blog post, because it deserves deeper discussion. In the end, Council voted to approve this budget going to Bylaws which will be read by Council in April, as they must be adopted at our April 23rd meeting. Until then, we will have will have the information available for public feedback.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 22nd Street SkyTrain Station – Amending Report
They are upgrading the safety capacity of SkyTrian stations. Some work needs to be done at night when trains are not running and the station is not full of people. Makes sense.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Columbia Street at 8th Street (New Westminster SkyTrain Station)
They are upgrading the safety capacity of SkyTrian stations. Some work needs to be done at night when trains are not running and the station is not full of people. Makes sense.

Official Community Plan Amendment and Rezoning: 102/104 Eighth Avenue and 728 First Street – Bylaws for First and Second Reading
This project would bring 10 townhouses to a couple of lots in Glenbrook North. This requires an OCP amendment, not just a rezoning, which means it had a more intense public and First Nations consultation. The project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 1031 Quebec Street, New Westminster – Metro Vancouver Annacis Water Supply Tunnel, Fraser River Crossing
Metro Vancouver is currently boring a tunnel under the Fraser River from Surrey to New West. It will come to the (near) surface in the Lower 12th Street area. The work to build this end terminal will take a few long concrete pours, and a few of those might exceed our construction noise time periods. So Council moved to grant them an exemption.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Bylaw Amendment for Three Readings – Bylaw 8386, 2023
We moved earlier to remove the nominal charge for block parties this is the bylaw change needed to make it happen.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit (809 – 811 Carnarvon Street and 60 – 70 Eighth Street) – Preliminary Report
This is an interesting project in the “tower district” of downtown. It would achieve one of the City’s longer-term Economic Development needs: more hotel space. It is consistent with the OCP, but the residential component is taller than current allowance, so it is proposed to use our Density Bonus policy to achieve the required density (though it is taller than them it is lower density than several adjacent developments). This is a preliminary application, and there are many details to be worked out, including a significant Public Consultation process, but given that consultation be satisfactory, we are able to waive the Public Hearing as the project is consistent with the OCP, stated policy, and strategic goals of the City.

We then read some Bylaws including the following Bylaw for Adoption:

Council Procedure Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8385, 2023
This bylaw that defines a mechanism to handle Notices of Motion being placed on the agenda was adopted by Council. It’s the Law of the Land.

Speaking of Notices of Motion, we had a couple of Motions from Council:

Ensuring the timely removal and replacement of dead and/or dying trees on city property
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine
BE IT RESOLVED that staff report back regarding the resources required and staffing implications to conduct an audit of how many dead or dying trees are on city sidewalks, boulevards and adjacent to arterials that require replacement; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the report incorporate the estimated costs associated with the removal of all dead and/or dying trees on city-owned land and have them replanted prior to the April 2024; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that upon approval of this resolution any tree on city-owned property which must be cut down to a stump will be removed and replanted within a 12 month period</>I
This motion made me itchy, because it is deeply operational. The question about managing dead trees was raised several times through on-boarding by the Councillor (virtually every time planting trees was mentioned. Every time staff provided a clear answer explaining the operational parameters around street tree replacement, first addressing the safety issue, then the operational cost management issue, then the issue around how some trees cannot be replaced because of what we now know as inadequate soil volume to allow then to survive longer summers. We have been told that engineering ops has acquired new equipment to facilitate the stump removal so we no longer need to rely on a contractor, and that there is a work plan that includes removing the existing stumps, but there is a backlog, as other horticulture work (maintaining living trees so they don’t join the dead, primarily) is prioritized. Asked and answered.

However, Council found a way to re-frame this motion to meet the goals of it (for example, there is no need for an “audit” when staff know and track trees living and dead) without undermining the larger goals of our Urban Forest Management Plan. I’m working form memory here, but the motion Council unanimously approved is something like (check the official minutes if you need accuracy):

BE IT RESOLVED that the report incorporate the estimated costs associated with the removal of all dead and/or dying trees on city-owned land and have them replanted prior to the April 2024; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that upon approval of this resolution any tree on city-owned property which must be cut down to a stump will be removed and replanted within a 12 month period where practical, with priority for replanting aligned with the equity principles in the Tree Planting Master Plan

Supporting Single Mothers’ Alliance Transit for Teens Campaign
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster endorse the Single Mothers’ Alliance Transit for Teens Campaign; and the Mayor write a letter to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the Minister of Children and Family Development, and the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth to express Council’s support for extending free transit to include youth 13-18 in all transit systems in BC.

New Westminster was a leader in the #AllOnBoard campaign, that was instrumental in securing the funding from the Provincial Government to make public transit free up to the Age of 12. The goal of that campaign was (and still is) not just to make transit free to the age of 18, but to introduce a sliding-scale monthly pass system based on income to assure poverty was not a barrier to transportation freedom in public transit served areas. The previous Council did a lot of work to rally local government support and put forward a UBCM resolution that got referred. But we were bolstered by the local and regional anti-poverty and Labour activist community to convince the Provincial Government to get part way there. Many of the same groups are calling for this next step.

The TransLink Mayors Council mandate does not really allow them to introduce this, and they have no source funding to support it, which is why it was important then (and remains so now), to keep this campaign focused on the Provincial Government, as the Single Mothers Alliance are doing. So the motion above is a slight amendment to the original motion to keep it on track, but was approved by all of Council.

I am hoping to have some time to write a couple of follow-up blogs on this meeting, because I feel there was some important sub-text in the conversations that happened on this day, both in workshop and in Council meetings, that reflect poorly on the goals I had for a collaborative Council. Indeed, it was a repeat of events I talked about here, but with a sharper edge to it. And at some point, we need to start talking about this more frankly. Until then, get out and enjoy some sun.

Council – March 13, 2023

How many ways can I start a new blog post saying “we had a New West Council meeting this week”? I think I have run out of new ways. But here is what we got done, and as always, you can check the agenda here and follow along!

We started with a Development Variance Permit for approval:

DVP00708 for 231 Lawrence Street
Some lots in Queensborough are deeper than typical, which means a 30’ or 33’ lot width that might be normal in other parts of the City result in lot where less than 10% of its perimeter as frontage – one of those slightly arbitrary rules that manages lot shapes in a bigger planning context. So if they want to subdivide this property to be like the properties adjacent, they need to ask for this development variance to exempt them from the 10% rule. We received no correspondence on this, and Council moved to approve.

We then had a Special Presentation:

Year of Truth, 2023
The City is carefully walking the reconciliation path, but we are also arguably, the most Colonial city west of the Great Lakes, with a long history of displacement and marginalization of indigenous people, from our founding to the Indian Act to the Residential School System to continued injustice today. So we are embarking on an introspective journey, digging into the City’s past and present to expose more of the Truth, recognizing that it must come before Reconciliation.

Staff presented a work plan last meeting around the year ahead on Truth and Reconciliation, this week we are reading a Proclamation to officially mark this as A Year of Truth. This will, no doubt, lead to some uncomfortable discussions in our community, but the importance of us sharing the truth cannot be understated. As we are going to be sharing a path, and a common understanding will make that journey more meaningful for everyone.

We then had a few Reports for Discussion:

Extending School Zone Speed Limit Hours
Last meeting we received this report for information based on a letter sent to Council form the District Parent Advisory Council asking for extended speed limit hours around schools. A councilor asked that it be pulled forward for discussion this week, though we already moved a resolution last meeting that asked staff to do some work in this area, and report back with a plan forward, including costs.
This is part of a bigger piece of work around Road Safety we need to do in the community, and it is something the community is asking of us. Cllr Henderson’s previous motion will lead to a report that guides us to the best way to implement this change, and I am looking forward to seeing that work.

Outdoor Pool Extended Season Aquatics Plan
Last meeting we received this report for information, and this week a councilor asked that it be pulled forward for discussion. Like last year, we are extending the outdoor pool season; a move that was well received last year both in participation numbers and in the public feedback we go through our Be Heard New West on-line engagement. A more detailed survey was done to determine how people wanted to see the outdoor pool program changed or kept the same, so some adjustments will be made. Moody Park will be open from April 22 to October 1, while Hume will be open from May 20 to October 1.

Also, if you know someone interested in becoming a lifeguard, we have a cool new program to help them pay for the training! Check it out!

Transition to Provision of Recycling Services by Recycle BC
Last meeting we received this report for information, and this week a councilor asked that it be pulled forward for discussion. The City collects recycling at the curbside, and delivers it to Recycle BC. We get paid by Recycle BC to do this, to the order of $900,000 per year. But this does not cover the entire cost of recycling services, and as we had long discussions about last year, we are dealing with our contamination rate, which results in penalties, and costs us in operating the system.

This information report is clear in that it will be followed up with a more detailed report addressing these issues. As our recycling collection practice is mingled with our other solid waste collection (garbage and organics), it is not easy to parse out costs related to one specific stream, but we do need to have a deeper conversation about the role of recycling as the region is also updating its solid waste management system and the Recycle BC program is being modified in ways we aren’t quite certain about yet.

Of course, recycling isn’t climate action, as much as Reduce and Reuse are, and it is important that we recognize that distinction. I look forward to that, and to a deeper discussion in the community in how we address Recycling as one part of a larger environmental policy.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Extending Committee Appointments
We are still working on some re-organization of our committees, so we are going to extend the current structure for another couple of months.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Air Quality Permit Application from Cedar Island Forest Products Ltd (CIFP) – Update
The small sawmill/wood manufacturer in Queensborough has been operating for more than 30 years, and more than 20 years ago residential lots were approved adjacent to it, and there have been interface issues since. Recently, they applied for an Air Quality Permit from Metro Vancouver and residents raised concerns to Council. Note that the City has no authority here, air quality in the region is regulated by Metro Vancouver under a special agreement with the Ministry of Environment. Last this came to Council, I asked that we get more information and the permitting process be extended, as I did not feel the company or Metro Vancouver did enough to make the permit conditions transparent to stakeholders, especially the neighbours.

They have now provided us the Permit application. There are existing cyclone air filters to collect sawdust at the mill that have never been subject to a Metro Vancouver Air Permit, and now will be. This gives Metro the ability to regulate these emissions for the first time, and to take action on complaints.

Notwithstanding the regulation, in my mind the offence here to the residents isn’t the dust at the exhaust of the cyclone, so that is not the measure we need. If that dust falls to the ground in the mill, that’s not our problem. My concern is the impact on neighbours, and the offence happens at the fence-line of the property. We are adding in our comments a request for them to measure and manage dust at the fence-line, and are making a recommendation (as forwarded by Cllr Henderson) to add increased filtration, ion recognition that this permit is allowing the “status quo” to continue, which does not address the original concerns of the neighbours.

Amendment to Extend License to Occupy BC Hydro Lands for Pollinator Meadow
There is some green space in Connaught Heights that is under BC Hydro power lines, and the land belongs to them. Over the last couple of years the City has been working with the community to develop more of a pollinator meadow on land that we previously intermittently-maintained mowed grass. This is good for the birds and the bees and the neighbourhood. It does require us to have an agreement with the land owner, and this is that agreement.

Notice of Motion Process
We are making a few changes to our Procedure Bylaw to make things work more efficiently in our evening Council meetings. These changes were all agreed to by all of Council through a workshop we had back on February 27th. I am glad to see that we were able to come to a common understanding that some limits may be appropriate in setting up the Agenda so we can more efficiently use our Council and staff time, and that this does not represent an existential threat to democracy.

Site-Wide Liquor Licensing Program for Special Events
Many outdoor events have beer gardens, but increasingly events (like Fridays on Front) are having more of an “open license” style, where alcohol purchased on site can be consumed anywhere in the event footprint, not just in limited places. Event organizer are asking the City to allow more of this, and they are not a problem where they have been tried, so why not?

This report outlines the procedures the City will follow, based on the experience in Vancouver and other communities in BC where this has been tried. It is a bit onerous, but most of the onerous parts of the process are based on assuring the guidelines developed under the applicable BC Liquor Licensing regulations are met.

Urban Reforestation and Biodiversity Enhancement Initiative Update and Proposed Tree Planting at City Hall
We are planting trees. Lots of them. 800 new trees in New West Parks were planted in 2022, and 1,400 more will be planted in 2023. I’m not going to go through the long list of benefits of urban trees (I’ve done it before), but finding locations were we can have large stands of trees is getting harder in the City – even as we roll out more street trees. Tree canopy is better than monoculture grass fields, and staff have proposed adding about 60 trees to one of the least utilized green fields in the city: City Hall’s front lawn.

The lawn is used for Remembrance Day every year, and the plan will still accommodate that event, and the community garden will also remain. This will look a little different for the first few years, but providing access to another forest stand near Downtown and the Brow of the Hill will be transformational. This project is already budgeted (along with the rest of the aggressive tree-planting schedule above), and will draw its funds from the $1.7 Million grant we got from the federal government for specifically this purpose.

We then read some Bylaws, including adopting this one:

Housing Agreement (612 Seventh Avenue) Bylaw No. 8376 2023
This Bylaw that secures 327 market rental units and 10 below-market rental units in under-construction building project at 612 Seventh Ave was adopted by Council.

And we wrapped with two items of New Business:

East Columbia at Brunette Intersection and Roadway Improvement Plans and Implications
This report outlines the steps ahead to investigate interim and long-term changes measures to increase the safety and comfort of the stretch of East Columbia where there was a pedestrian fatality last month. As I previously mentioned, the City’s Engineering folks are already in the process of having a detailed survey of the location done, recognizing that even the installation of an interim barrier will have implications on lane geometry that will probably need approval from MOTI or TransLink, as would closing lanes or reducing speed limits. The reality is that without detailed engineering analysis, no-one is going to sign off on any changes, so we need to get this work done as quickly as possible. We will also be doing some more detailed work on long-tern solutions, but with those likely more than a year away, we would like to see interim measures in place.

The message from Council to staff is clear: don’t rush and do the wrong thing (which may make the situation less safe for all users), but be deliberate and as quick as possible in doing the right thing. That is our path.

Request to modify of the Call to Action on Creating more Equitable Municipalities motion forwarded to LMLGA and UBCM
A Resolution approved by Council to go to the Lower Mainland LGA was also approved by a few other Municipalities with slightly different language. To make this work better procedurally, the LGA is asking us all to edit our resolutions to common language so they can do it as one group resolution. That works!

With that, we wrapped another exciting evening of Council work. Back to your Spring Break!

Council – Feb 27, 2023

February has flown by, and as the snow was flying on February 27th, we got through a day of budget workshops and an evening of exciting Council Meeting action. As always you can enjoy the entire agenda here, or you can read my biased summary below, which I need to once again emphasize does not constitute official City communications:

We started the meeting with a Development Variance Permit:

DVP00701 for 311 Ash Street
As discussed last meeting, the owner of this building wants to add 5 new rental suites to the existing rental building by building them into the existing semi-sunk parking area. This requires a Development Variance Permit to allow for the reduction in parking. (it also requires building permits and such, but those are not purview of Council). As I live very close to this property, I have recused myself from the discussion to avoid perception of conflict of interest, so to find out what happened you will have to watch the video.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 2126 Seventh Avenue (22nd Street SkyTrain Station)
TransLink is going to be doing some work at the 22nd Street Skytrain station to improve emergency access related to the increased number of people using the station. Some of this work has to happen at night, because it cannot happen when people are using the station. They are asking for a construction noise variance to permit this work, and we are giving them one.

Development Variance Permit: 231 Lawrence Street – Permit to Vary Lot Frontage
Some lots in Queensborough are deeper than typical, which means a 30’ lot width that might be typical in other parts of the city result in lot that has less than 10% of its perimeter as frontage – one of those rules that manages lot shapes in a bigger planning context. So if they want to subdivide this property to be like the properties adjacent, they need to ask for this development variance to exempt them from the 10% rule. This will come to our next council meeting, if you have opinions, let us know before then!

Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation: 802 & 806 Eighth Street and 809 Eighth Avenue – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owners of these properties in Uptown want to build more missing middle – 18 stacked townhouse units, and will preserve a historic single family home as well. This project will go to a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then. If you have opinions, let us know!

Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8376, 2023 for 612 Seventh Avenue – Bylaw for Three Readings
The first new major development in Uptown in some time is getting ready to break ground. We have already gone through the approval process, we need now to come to terms on the Housing Agreement that guarantees the building will remain rental for 60 years or the life of the building – whichever is longer. This requires a Bylaw, and we agreed to read it.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Considerations Related to a Review of the Existing Council Code of Conduct
We introduced a Code of Conduct in New West Council at the beginning of last term, and revised it a bit last year. There is a new statutory requirement by the province to introduce one if you don’t have one, or review it if we do have one. The request here is for staff to start that work. Council made a few suggested additions, including clearer guidance on Conflict of Interest and the introduction of an external Integrity Commissioner to provide independent oversight of the process. Staff will work on this and report back.

Exception to the CDSA exemption to address illicit drug use in spaces for children and youth
The Federal Government decriminalized possession of small amounts of some drugs, They made some exceptions: You can’t carry those drugs into a school, a childcare centre, into an airplane, etc. They did not include municipal parks or playgrounds in that exception, though local government staff asked for it. On the advice of staff, we are going to submit a resolution to the UBCM asking the members to make the political ask to fix this oversight.

Project Update – təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre (TACC)
The update on təməsew̓txʷ is that we hope to have a soft launch around Family Day 2024. This is a month or two after best laid plans, but considering the massive construction industry churn, the supply chain chaos of the last two years, and the concrete strike, this is a remarkable achievement. There are still critical path activities going on, so we are not home and dry yet, but we are home and vigorously toweling ourselves off, and all indications are that we are ready to plan the next big step – hiring and training staff for a brand new and staff-intensive operation. On that topic – we are looking for Aquatics Staff for both this summer outdoor pool season, and for the new complex – if you want to come work in the biggest & bestest new pool in the region go here and apply now!

Request for Support for Family Place Relocation in Downtown New Westminster
Family Place is an important service in our community that supports vulnerable families in many ways, and creates a welcoming and supportive space for kids and parents. Their need to move locations has put them in a bit of a bind, and the City has been partnering with other organizations ot help find them an appropriate space. The uncertainty has also resulted in a short term need for some grant support to get them over the hump. I am reluctant to do this outside of our regular grant process, but there is money in the grant budget to support them here, and these are truly exceptional circumstances.

We had many Bylaws to read, including the following for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (228 seventh Street) No. 8373, 2023
This Bylaw that changes the property’s zoning to make it consistent with the current use, and enable construction of a detached accessory support building where there is currently a converted garage was Adopted by Council (I was not present for the vote because of conflict – this is right by my home)

We then had some Motions from Council, more than usual because it is the deadline for getting resolutions to the Lower Mainland LGA for further advance to UBCM, and New West always has a few ideas for those larger forums:

Improving Our Economy by Better Connecting Douglas College Students, Faculty and Staff with our Business Districts
BE IT RESOLVED that Council refer to the Economic Development Advisory Committee for discussion and action as appropriate, a collaborative “Study and Stay” campaign aimed at encouraging students, faculty and staff at Douglas College to more regularly frequent our city’s various business districts

In light of conversations we are having about the volume of notices of motion, this is an example of one that is, in my opinion, completely unnecessary to get to the goal stated. One member putting this motion forward is a member of the Economic Development Advisory Committee, and did not raise this topic during the most recent meeting of the committee. The third party being discussed – Douglas College – also has a representative on that same committee. This could have been a question across a table, and if the EcDev committee thought it was an area they wanted to prioritize, they could do that Advisory Committees do – advise council. I won’t even debate whether this is a good or bad idea, that is perhaps a great conversation for the EcDev committee, but democracy is not in any way harmed if every random thought a councilor might have is tested by advisory committee or discussion with staff before it ends up on our evening agenda, where it does not have the benefit of subject matter exercise that staff and advisory committees provide. Council moved to approve this, and EcDev can look at it.

Extension of Speed Zone Enforcement Hours
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct that speed zone enforcement hours be extended and direct staff to bring a report back to Council for approval on how to implement this change including a discussion on: The length of the extension i.e. 24 hours, or 7am –10pm; Potential impacts to Neighbourhoods, Transit, and Traffic Management; Any budget Implications; and • Other concerns arising.

There was an information report provided by Council on this issue, talking about some of the potential issues and suggesting coordination with surrounding communities to achieve as much consistency as possible. With Burnaby already extending their hours, this point is well taken.

Overall, I think this is a good idea, and I hear the community asking us for this. I have always been a supporter of 30km/h on residential and pedestrian-oriented streets, and as the City continues to make the case to Province that the MVA should be changed to reflect this, we have already made this change on Greenways and a few other appropriate locations. I would support 24 hours around schools (to be consistent with the changes we have already made), but we will see what Staff recommends.

Call to Action on Creating more Equitable Municipalities
BE IT RESOLVED THAT The City of New Westminster submit the following motion to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for consideration for submission to UBCM:

Whereas systemic inequities are present in all municipalities and prevent all citizens from fully participating in civic life;
Whereas numerous municipalities across British Columbia and Canada have made progress towards becoming more equitable by committing to embed equity in all government action through the use of analytical processes for the assessment of systemic inequities (e.g., Gender-Based Analysis Plus);

Therefore be it resolved that the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) calls upon the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada to provide resources and policy direction to enable municipalities to implement said processes across municipal capital investments, operations and strategic initiatives and once created urge municipalities to use the resources to make measurable progress towards dismantling systemic inequality in our communities.

This resolution was being championed by the YWCA, and is completely consistent with the work the City is trying to do in many different ways, though there are limited tools (regulatory or elsewise) to help local governments do this work. The Province of BC has Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives, and a mandate to improve equity outcomes in the province, this would help them in that work. Council supported the motion. On the Lower Mainland LGA!

Providing openness and transparency regarding the personal carbon footprint of elected officials
BE IT RESOLVED that Council request our Environment and Climate Advisory Committee (ECAC) be tasked with developing a new Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form for consideration; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that once it is finalized, the Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form be considered as a voluntary public annual disclosure for all members of Council and that it be completed at the same time as the financial disclosure; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form capture the estimated carbon emissions pertaining a number of key items such as:
Personal trips (planes, trains, automobiles, motorcycles); Business/Work trips (where no other low-carbon alternative option existed i.e. attendance via Zoom); Personal vehicle ownership and usage (electric, hybrid, fossil-fuel based); Home ownership types (single family home, townhome, condominium)
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form allow for members of Council to make a pledge for the coming year to personally undertake up to three new environmental activities that will help to lower their own carbon emissions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the declaration portion of the Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form be retroactive to the November 7, 2022 swearing-in of this current Council; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council forward a copy of this motion to the leaders of the recognized political parties in the BC Legislature and our Federal Parliament asking they immediately undertake the development of a similar declaration form to capture the personal carbon footprints of our Members of the Legislative Assembly and Member of Parliament

We had a couple of delegates come and speak to this motion – prominent climate activists in the community – and watching their presentation more succinctly and elegantly outlines the fundamental flaw in this motion than anything I say, but I’ll put my two cents in anyway.

This stunt does nothing to move the needle on emission in the city, so I am not interested in city staff working on this when we have more important climate action work to do. This also sends the dangerous message that climate action is about personal sacrifice and individual actions. That was a compelling idea a decade or two ago, but in 2023 we know that avoiding the worst impacts of climate disruption will require societal change, and as elected officials, our job is to facilitate that change. Counting the plastic drinking straws one uses is a waste of time when we have a federal government is spending $20 Billion on a bitumen pipeline that will move the equivalent of 120 Billion plastic straws of fossil hydrocarbons a day.

The time of counting straws of over. The time for bold action that shifts out reliance on hydrocarbons is here.

This also bears a striking similarity to (and ultimately facilitates) the common climate denialism tactic of dismissing anyone interested in talking about climate action through a special case ad hominem. Instead of listening to their ideas when they talk about the need for massive economic shifts, these disingenuous critics hone in on the personal lifestyle of the advocate. If they are vegans living in a cave, then they are characterized as freaks out of touch with the real needs of real people living in modern society. If they are NOT vegans living in cave, they are called hypocrites. Whether it is Bob Mackin lurking in David Suzuki’s bushes during earth hour or Keenan Bexte digging through Greta Thornberg’s garbage, it’s a tired meme, meant to distract people from doing real work. And as the WOPR taught us, in a silly game like this, the only winning move is not to play.

Improving and strengthening open communication between all elected officials in New Westminster
BE IT RESOLVED that Council send an invitation to our local Member of Parliament, Members of the Legislative Assembly and the School Board to participate in a New West Caucus to take place in 2023; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our staff work in partnership with the staff representing our MP, MLAs and School Board Trustees to develop a draft terms of reference for the New West Caucus; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a joint secretariat be established through the Office of the Mayor to assist with the coordination of establishing agendas and selecting dates for the New West Caucus

I’m not opposed to the idea, though I do question the characterization of Vancouver’s experience as a “great success”, as I can find no evidence that Sam Sullivan’s experiment at this resulted in anything more than one meeting in 2006, never to be repeated. That said, I have a great working relationship with all three senior government representatives in New West and the School Board chair. Our communications channels are always open, and I do work with them on matters of common interest. That said, managing all three schedules along with those of the 14 members of Council and School Board might be a challenge to make work. But if some sub-group of us can sit down as a larger group and share our goals of the months and years ahead, I’m happy to be the host.

Temporarily eliminating block party street occupancy permit fees to encourage increased neighbourhood connectivity
BE IT RESOLVED that to encourage more community engagement as we emerge from out of the COVID pandemic, Council amend the Engineering Fees and Rates Bylaw, 7553, 2013 to provide to eligible residents a no-charge street occupancy permit to host a ‘block party’ in their neighbourhood; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that applicants are able to host up to one no-fee block party per calendar year in 2023 and 2024 and that standard fees will apply for any additional permits; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff provide an update to Council regarding how the no-fee permits have impacted the number of community and street events after the first 12 months of implementation

This follows a motion from January, where Staff reported back to us that they did not see a great benefit here, as they don’t think the $39 permit fee was a deterrent to street festival organization, considering the other costs and organizational challenges. Note, we are not removing the requirement for a Permit (there are good legal liability reasons for this) only the nominal cost, which does not cover the full cost of the City supporting these events (about 30 in an average year). Council voted to support this, though I did vote in opposition, as I was compelled by the staff feedback.

Bringing Equity to Traffic Enforcement
Be it resolved that The City of New Westminster submit the following resolution to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for consideration for submission to UBCM:

Whereas the primary deterrent from exceeding speed limits or violating other road safety regulations on municipal roads in British Columbia are fines administered under the Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation; and
Whereas fixed rate fines are inequitable, disproportionately impacting people with lower incomes while applying lower deterrent value to people with higher incomes, creating a structural inequity in the application of justice;

Therefore be it resolved that the Union of British Columbia Municipalities calls upon the Provincial Government to implement a means-tested traffic fine system, similar to
Finland, Switzerland, Sweden or the UK, where fines may be calculated on the basis of the offender’s income.

This was an idea I shamelessly cribbed from Saanich Councillor Teale Phelps Bondaroff. After he failed to get support from his Council for this resolution, I asked him if I could modify it a bit and run it past my Council, as I think it is an idea we should test with the UBCM membership. And it appeals me because it speaks to several issues I care about, and issues that are addressed in our City’s policies.

Enforcement of dangerous behaviors on the road, be that running red lights, speeding, failing to yield to pedestrians, is important to our broader goals of road safety. Bringing equity to our legal system so the fine not only fits the crime, but provides a more equal incentive to safe driving practices for all members of the community, regardless of their socio-economic status. Having flat rate fines is inequitable, and the approach of indexing fines is very popular in several jurisdictions where it has been applied. Council voted to support this.

Vacant Property Tax on Commercial Properties
Be it resolved that Council support the following resolution go to the Lower Mainland LGA conference for consideration at the UBCM meeting:

Whereas the Province has adopted vacancy taxes on vacant residential properties as one tool to assure land speculation does not result in property standing fallow to the detriment of community livability and other goals; and
Whereas commercial property values are inflating province-wide, and increasingly face investment speculation resulting in similar underutilization of commercial property in many municipalities across British Columbia;

Therefore be it resolved that the Province of BC provide local governments with an option to introduce a vacant property tax applicable to commercial properties

This idea has been discussed in relation to some of the underutilized and vacant commercial properties in the City, and a recognition of their impact on the Downtown especially. Local governments in BC do not have the legal authority to charge a vacant property tax on empty lots or on commercial properties, we would need a change in provincial legislation to permit this. It would be good to have that in our toolbox, so we can discuss the best way to make it work.

It is worth noting that reps from the New West Chamber of Commerce delegated to Council and expressed support for this motion, and I have heard positive support for this from many business owners, especially in the downtown. It will be interesting to see how this discussion evolves through the Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM, now that Council unanimously supported this going forward to them.