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!

on reserves

The discussions about municipal budgets are ongoing across the region, As it is budget time, and as the Province has decided to flip $1 Billion to local governments right in the middle of that budget period, which will lead to some interesting conversions in every muncipal hall. Some Councils will see it as a windfall to be spent on new things, some will use it for political cover for questionable decisions, some will prudently invest, others will go full populist. A real Marshmallow Test for local government.

Among the stories, this one popped out to me. PoCo is getting a reputation for artfully blending populism with prudent investment, but the bigger question about balancing reserves is something that every city neeeds to grapple with. The McElroy story caused me to dig deeper into reserve levels across the region, so I can test my preconceived notions about New Westminster’s relative financial health. As always, I want to preface this by saying it is not a competition, as every municipality has its own pressures, its own priorities and its own way to serve their populace. In comparing ourselves to our regional cohort, I want to get a sense of where we are doing better or worse to inform our priority setting while approving a budget.

I am once again leaning on the BC Government Local Government Financial Statistics, which are reported in a more-or-less consistent way every year. This is not my data, but the data provided by law to the Province by local governments every year. When it comes to Financial Assets, Reserves, and Tangible Capital Assets, all data is pulled form Schedules 301, 302, 404, and 503. Got a problem with the numbers? Take it up there.

Every City reports Financial Assets (the money in their savings and chequing accounts) and their financial liabilities (their mortgages and loans). The difference between them is reported as “net financial reserves”, which is the number McElroy was pointing to in that story above. These are the reported numbers for the 17 major Municipalities in Greater Vancouver (sorry, Belcarra) in the most recent reporting year, which is the end of 2021:

But perhaps a better way to look at it is to subtract the liabilities form the assets, so you can compare the Net Reserves:

Some things are not surprising: Vancouver has the most money, and the most debt. Burnaby has the highest net neserves, and Richmond and Coquitlam are both doing really well if money-in-the-bank is your preferred measure. Indeed, PoCo has the lowest net, with New West a little below the middle, but there is a trend following population, as you might expect, with smaller Munis over on the right, larger towards the left. So let’s calculate the net reserves per capita using 2021 Census data:

Burnaby still way up there (with $7,700 in net reserves per resident), and New Westminster shifting further over to the right (with $972 per resident). PoCo in this measure is not the lowest, but is pretty closely clustered with Surrey and the Township of Langley at under $500 per resident.

This is interesting, but does not really reflect the purpose of reserves. Part of it is to demonstrate financial health to make it easier to borrow money, but part of it is also to have sufficient cash on hand to address unexpected future costs. Mostly those costs are related to capital replacement, so it is more useful to compare your reserves to the value of your capital assets. This is the value of the roads, buildings, pipes, computers, vehicles and all of the “stuff” your City owns and operates. Schedule 503 provides these numbers as reported by the City every year. This chart shows the reserves as a percentage of the net book value of our tangible capital assets:

There needs to be a big caveat here. Though a fundamental measure of your reserves vs the value of your capital assets is a measure of financial resiliency (our finance staff have suggested 10% of the asset value is a good minimum benchmark), the denominator of the equation needs to be viewed with a certain skepticism. This is because local governments have not historically been very good at evaluating the true value of their capital assets, and that might take me down the rabbit hole of talking about asset management, which is probably another blog post on its own.

Just to create a sense of comparison, here are the net reserves per capita and relative to tangible capital assets, plotted as a scatter. Somewhere in here is a trend. I added the green dot to show the “average” for the region:

Finally, part of the conversation about reserves is the direction they are moving. Are we building them, or are we depleting them? Luckily the province provides data going back a few years in their Schedules 404. To compare across cities of varying size, I indexed the reserves value based on their 2012 value so we can see the decade-long trend. Problem is, a couple of Municipalities (Vancouver and West Van) had negative reserves in 2012, which makes it hard to compare this way, so I removed them from the data set. Suffice to say, their increase over the last decade has been proportionally much higher than all others (they would be well off the top of this chart). But for the rest of us, you can see most Munis are in building phases, and only one has fewer reseves than a decade ago:

The comparison over a decade is valuable, because reserves serve another function – they are where a City stores some money for big capital investments, like a recreation centre or a new City Hall. And when a City borrows to build a new capital asset, that downward pressure on net reserves is felt for several years. New West has been growing reserves in the last couple of years in recognition that təməsew̓txʷ and it’s $114 Million investment will have this impact on our net.

So, comparatively? New West has lower-than-average reserves by most measures, has been building them, but has a big capital investment that will put downward pressure on these reserves in the years ahead. That should inform some of our thinking about future investments in the City and our ability to make expensive promises.

This Happened (23.3)

Another necessarily-incomplete run-down of the things I have been doing that aren’t Council Meetings. It’s a little weird to try to report on everything, because my calendar is stuffed these days, and some things are more fun/interesting/relevant than others. So in no particular order, here are some things I’ve been up to. Besides randomly running into people at coffee shops and posing for selfies:

Met with Aman Singh at Mood Swing Coffee to talk Q’boro transportation, and another Q’boro denizen dropped by.

There are a series of talks and events at Douglas College under the umbrella of the “Changing the Conversation Project” which are exploring different aspects of community, housing, homelessness, and poverty. As February is Black History Month, they led a panel discussion on the Black experience in housing in the Lower Mainland, tying together the history of Hogans Alley to the Swahili Vision participation in an affordable housing project in New Westminster.

The moderator of the discussion “From Displacement to Housing Justice” was Lama Mugabo, Founding Director of Hogan’s Alley Society.

February also brought us Family Day, and there was a lot going on around New West, including an open door at the Learning Lab at the Anvil Centre. This is the hands-on offshoot of the New Media Gallery where people of all ages (yes, adults can learn to 3D print!) learn about new media video and sound, programming, electronics, robotics, and digital creativity. You should check it out.

Kids playing with Little Bits, a learning toy that does for electronics what Lego does for construction.

Some members of Council took a tour of the Fraser River Discovery Centre to see what their new initiatives are, and to learn about their vision in the years ahead.

Members of the FRDC Board and staff guide Council members though their exhibit spaces.

I went to my first wedding in something like 8 years. It was great fun (Congrats Jack and Jason!) but more personal than Mayoral, so I wouldn’t normally report out here. Except that the grooms knew enough to seat me next to a guy who I have mentioned on this blog, but never actually met before, Jens von Bergmann at Mountain Math. So it was half wedding, half geeking out on housing policy, and therefore a perfect evening!

We went to a wedding, and a housing policy discussion broke out!

You may not know that March 3rd is Bulgarian Liberation Day, marking the day in 1878 that the Treaty of San-Stefano was signed, and Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule. For the first time since COVID, this day was marked by the raising of the Bulgarian flag at Friendship gardens, an event attended by representatives of the local Bulgarian-Canadian community, the honourary Consel General, and Senator Yonah Martin, who is co-chair of the Canada-Bulgaria Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group.

The Bulgarian Flag was raised at Friendship Gardens to the sounds of Mila Rodino.

I also had a visit in the Mayor’s Office from a group of new Canadians that was organized by the Welcome Centre at NWSS. This group have been learning about Canada and New Westminster, and were able to tour City Hall to learn about how local government works. It was great to welcome them, and show them around Council Chambers and some of the curiosities of the Mayor’s office, like the Chain of Office and registry signed by the actual Queen and the King of Pop.

The Mayor’s office is a bit small for this number of visitors!

This last weekend was also busy with overlapping events. The Dancers of Damelahamid were hosting the annual Coastal Dance Festival at the Anvil Centre, and I was able to see several performances, including the group Dakhká Khwaán from Whitehorse who really (in their own words) brought the noise.

Spot the Light Sabre.

Saturday was also Hoobiyee, the Nisga’a New Year celebration. This is a big event both in the Nass Valley, and in the Lower Mainland where a large number of Nisga’a people live, and the celebration is shared with Indigenous people from around the province and beyond. This year, the festival filled the PNE forum with dancers, music, crafts, food and storytelling, and I was honoured to meet the organizers and take part in the event.

Hoobiyee 2023 at the PNE Forum

And finally, I was invited to join the head table at the New Westminster Police Department’s annual Mess Dinner – their first post-COVID. It was a great evening of speeches, memories, more than a few jokes, (“What happens when a member of the NWPD leaves to join the RCMP? The average IQ of both organizations go up!”) with a mix of camaraderie and formality that always kind of keeps you on edge.

The Head Table at the 2023 NWPD Mess Dinner

Now that curling season is almost over, and the days are getting longer, event season is rushing towards us. I hope I will have time to keep writing these summaries. Meanwhile, get out there and enjoy the events of New West. If you see me out there, be sure to say Hi. And remind me to get a photo.

On fiscal responsibility

Council has for several meetings been going through the budget. In practical terms, this means staff have been writing reports, providing long spreadsheets, and Council members have spent hours reading through those reports and spreadsheets in preparation for meetings. We have then held these meetings (mostly in Workshop format during the day, Jan 23, Jan 25, Jan 30, Feb 6, Feb 13 and Feb 27; you can watch those meetings and read those reports here) and discussed different aspects of the budget in some detail. We were able to ask questions of staff about departmental priorities, about work plan capabilities, about the policies that drive the priorities behind the budget, about where we could fit our own priorities (because we all have them), and at times went line-by-line through different operational and capital line items. These have been productive and positive conversations, and the budget has been iterated along during them.

Through it all, we now have a pretty good understanding of where the budget will land and how we are going to pay for our aggressive capital program ($166 Million in 2023!). Last meeting, we gave instruction to staff for them to prepare budget documents for Bylaws to come to our next meetings.

So, with that background for context, I need to retort to this story. Alas.

The motion that was defeated at Council arrived at the eleventh hour of that months-long budget discussion, and comprised a long list of disconnected funding items. Together they represented something like $8 Million in new spending that was not discussed in previous budget deliberations, though that number is uncertain, because the funding was requested without any actual costing, testing for viability, or understanding of the impact on work plans or the ability to deliver. It was an expensive wish list tacked onto the end of a budget, ballooning it by something like 5%, with no consideration for how this fits into any existing priorities. This is not good governance.

It was further suggested this wish list could be funded by the City’s expected grant from the Growing Communities Fund. This was based on speculation about how much money the City will get, and presumes there will not be any limitations on how this money can be used. In the meeting, staff made it clear that this was not a prudent way to plan for a senior government grant. As we were currently looking at a very aggressive ~$170 Million capital budget for 2023, one that staff have repeatedly pointed out over the last months of open discussions will challenge our debt tolerance and reserve funds, I think treating new capital funding sources as “free money” to be spent willy nilly is the least fiscally responsible idea I have heard in my time in Local Government.

This raises the question of whether, as implied in the headline, Council opposes investments in “New Sidewalks, Paved Roads And Community Festivals In New Westminster”? Of course not. The draft capital budget includes $5 Million in 2023 (more than $20 Million over 5 years) for paving roads alone. This is aside from the $11+ Million to be invested in 2023 in road and street safety improvements and $4+ Million to be invested in 2023 in pedestrian improvements (sidewalks, light signal and crosswalk upgrades, etc). We also have one of the most generous community grant programs in the Lower Mainland to support local groups running festivals and activating our streets. Every bit of that funding has been discussed and prioritized, because saying yes to more is always easy; putting all new spending into the context of tax increases, debt and reserves before you spend it is harder.

I have heard people ask us to do more. I have heard people ask us to spend less. I have not heard people asking us to be fiscally irresponsible and spend money for the sake of spending it. That is why I didn’t support the motion presented on Monday. I am happy the majority of council was equally as prudent.

As perhaps an aside (now that I am into it), there are other quotes in that piece that criticize council colleagues for not being “collaborative”. This after a meeting where there were no less than four motions brought to the floor by the author, and three of those motions were passed by a majority of Council – two of them (in my recollection) unanimously. Collaboration in my mind means working together to evaluate each other’s ideas and finding compromise and places of agreement, it does not require the capitulation to all ideas regardless of how poorly they are presented. The job of those seven people around that table is to govern, and the hardest part of governing is in setting priorities, including deciding when to say no.

I find this extra disingenuous in that these debates are framed as being partisan, with the implication that council members are acting for partisan reasons only. This implication is disrespectful to the intentions and professionalism of the council members. It also is not reflected in the voting record over the last few months. There have been many unanimous votes, there have been votes with one, two or three votes separate from the majority, because members genuinely disagreed with each other on the merits of the proposal before them. I have seen members across partisan lines working to amend motions to make them agreeable to all. As the Mayor, there are votes I have been on the losing side during this Council, but I don’t think that is a partisan conspiracy, that is members acting in good conscience and evidence of a Council responsibly doing its job.

Alas, Council responsibly doing its job and acting in good conscience does not fit the narrative being crafted by whoever is developing the Progressive media strategy. I have to have faith that the public will see through that.

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.

Council – Feb 13, 2023

We had yet another marathon Council meeting this week. I wish the work we were getting done was proportional to the amount of time spent in rhetorical argument that changes no-ones mind, but that is not the path we are on. Regardless, we did get some work done, and for technical reasons started the Agenda with the adoption of a Bylaw:

Adoption of Heritage Designation (109 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8381, 2023
As discussed at the January Public Hearing, this Bylaw that designates a home in Queens Park was adopted by Council. Following this, we handed out the plaques for homes in the City that are designated as Heritage Assets, including this one and a large rental building downtown. We haven’t done this is a few years in part because of the weirdness of hybrid council meetings, so we had some catching up to do.

We than had two Presentations:

Proposed Airspace Modernization Changes at Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
The Federal Agency that oversees aircraft navigation in Canada wants to change the system that manages planes coming into YVR, which means changing some of the routes. This involves some public consultation (over the last three months, with on-line and open house formats across the lower mainland), and they came to present to Council. Though some other communities are unhappy because they foresee more overhead flights (Especially North Burnaby and Port Moody, where the tracks have shifted), it does not look to me like there will be increased flights over New West, or that the planes will be lower. There were quite a few questions asked by Council, and staff will follow up with an information report.

Air Quality Permit Application from Cedar Island Forest Products Ltd
There is a small wood products manufacturer operating on industrial land in Queensborough, operating for 30 years. They create sawdust as part of their operations, and have systems they call “cyclones” to trap this sawdust so it can be recycled. These cyclones do have some “emissions”, in that some dust gets through, and that means an air quality permit is required, and Metro Vancouver is the government that issues that permit by Provincial Law.

There are two issues here. The one up for discussion is the regulation of these dust emissions. Unfortunately, the notice provided by Metro Vancouver did not include many details about the actual application, only a link to the company website that has no details. It is even unclear if this application represents an increase in emissions, a reduction, or no change, or even if there will be any monitoring requirements, or evaluation of the impact of the emissions on adjacent properties. As such, I requested that Staff ask Metro Vancouver to delay issuing the permit until these details (the complete application) is made available for the City and public review.

The second issue is proximity issues between this long-established industrial use and the adjacent residential properties – a proximity apparently approved in the 1995 Queensborough Plan with development permits issued in 2011. I do not think we would permit this proximity if this application came before us today, but that is cold comfort to the folks living there today and feeling those proximity impacts.

We then moved the following item on On Consent:

Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption: 660 Quayside Drive (Bosa Development)
The Bosa site on the waterfront needs to move crane sections in, which has to happen outside of traffic hours because of the disruption caused. This means they need a Construction Noise Bylaw Variance.

We then had these items Removed from Consent for discussion:

A Year of Truth
The City is advancing along its reconciliation journey thoughtfully. This report outlines the actions the City and its various departments are planning to undertake in the year ahead, under the banner of “a Year of Truth”, in recognition that truth comes before reconciliation. There is a lot of education happening in house, and opportunities for the public to engage in learning, listening, and better understanding of our history, and why reconciliation is needed. This is hard and often uncomfortable work, but it is good work and will make us a stronger community for doing it.

Building Safer Communities Program from Public Safety Canada
The City received a $1.7M grant from Public Safety Canada under the Building Safer Communities program to deliver services to at-risk youth in the community. This report outlines how the City plans to deliver those programs. The Government of Canada approved this plan (it is their money, after all), and we have identified the many partners in the community who we will be bringing in to help support the programming, including local social service NFPs, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the School District. This is real, proactive crime prevention that centers vulnerable people before they get into trouble, and a great example of partnership in the community.

Council also moved to strike a Working Group to guide this work, in a format similar to what worked well to bring PACT to the City.

Housing Agreement Bylaw and Development Variance Permit to Vary Residential and Visitor Parking Requirements: 311 Ash Street – Bylaw for Three Readings
This older rental apartment building in the Brow of the Hill Neighbourhood wants to convert some unused parking space into rental homes, going from 29 units to 34, and reducing their parking from 35 to 21 spots. This requires a Development Variance Permit. In exchange, they will enter into a Housing Agreement guaranteeing that the building will remain Purpose Built Rental for 60 years or the life of the building, whichever is longer. This property is across the street from my home, so I am recusing myself to avoid conflict of interest.

Notice of Motion Process
There was a request in a previous meeting (ironically, by “Notice of Motion”) that we clarify the Procedure Bylaw on Notices of Motion. This is the report back from staff on the process as it was, as it is currently, and as they suggest it should be moving forward.

Every city does this a bit different, and staff reviewed some other cities to see what worked and what didn’t. Any of our cohort communities simply don’t do Notices of Motion except in exceptional circumstances, others require Councilors who want to bring a Motion must work with staff to write a report supporting the motion. There is no “common practice”, but in New West, we have a history of being a little loose in this area. This worked when we had the average of 5 or 6 NoMs per year (as we did consistently from 2010-2021), where we now have that many per meeting. This creates a legislative logjam that threatens to prevent us from getting any priority work done, and also prevents us from giving all Motions their due consideration.

Some changes are proposed. Part 1 codifies the structure of a NoM so they are easier to manage and review, and to protect us from liability resulting from poorly worded or inaccurate recitals. Part 2 clarifies the submittal process and limits the number of NoMs per meeting, Part 3 the staff review practices. Part 4 reinforces the purpose of NoMs. After a long discussion, Council decided to workshop an approach here instead of making changes now. and I’ll hold my longer form response to this until after that workshop.

Temporary Working Space Agreement (GVSD590) for 590 Blackberry Drive
There is a big sewer pipe under Glenbrook Ravine, within which resides a big valve. That valve is old and needs to be replaced. This is a big job, being done by Metro Vancouver this summer. This means they need to close the north access to Glenbrook Ravine to pedestrians during these works, potentially for 6 months. I’m not happy about this. Glenbrook Ravine is one of the most important green spaces in our community, there are many people in the community for whom the Ravine Trail is part of their daily life, a respite of cool space and nature that is fundamental to their wellbeing, especially in the heat of summer. However, I am satisfied that all due diligence was done and there was no alternative found that could reasonably allow the important sewer work to be done while maintaining access via Glenbrook Drive.

We then read some Bylaws including these for adoption:

Community Heritage Commission Amendment Bylaw No. 8384, 2023
This Bylaw that increased the number of members on the Community Heritage Commission from nine to ten was adopted by Council.

Development Cost Charge Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 8371 2022
This Bylaw to allow us to spend DCC money on upcoming Queensborough drainage, sewer, and parkland improvements was Adopted by Council.

We then had some Motions From Council:

Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar Emergency Management Partnership Opportunities
BE IT RESOLVED that the City of New Westminster Fire Department explore Emergency Management partnership opportunities with The Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar to support the emergent needs in Queensborough

This is a good idea. The Gurdwara in Queensborough has been a great informal partner with the City when emergencies happen in Queensborough, and also show up across the region when people need support. Coming out of a couple of recent events, there were some conversations with our emergency services about how we could both support this work, and assure that we are not working at cross purposes with their massive volunteer force. A more formal relationship would open up some funding opportunities for supplies, training or other supports to help the Gurdwara help the community.

Increasing safe access to the Fraser River for residents and tourists
BE IT RESOLVED that staff report back to Council regarding opportunities to provide increased direct access and connectivity to the Fraser River for our citizens and tourists;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we identify opportunities and possible funding sources to plan and develop additional userpay pleasure craft moorage on our City’s waterfront; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff be asked to identify possible new access points for a user-pay pleasure craft launch facility; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff identify the costs, challenges and opportunities of establishing a walkable link along the waterfront between Sapperton and Pier Park; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff prepare a key stakeholder consultation strategy to be presented to Council as part of this review; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff report to Council regarding the necessary budget, possible sources of funding and resources required to undertake the work as noted above.

The City developed a Riverfront Vision strategy, adopted in 2016. There were some positive moves on aspects of the vision, including the QtoQ, Front Street Mews, and the development of the public space plans for the Bosa development on the Riverfront. There are other aspects of it that are works in progress, including the connection of Pier Park to Sapperton Landing (set back seriously by COVID and the Pier Park Fire), and finding opportunities to better connect people to the River.

There was a tonne of work done a decade ago regarding private moorage along the Quay, it was one of the visions related to the original development of Pier Park under Mayor Wright. The Port made clear (and continues to assert) that the riverfront along the Quay is a working riverfront, and not a place where they would support pleasurecraft moorage, for a raft of safety and practical reasons. There *is* public moorage in New West in Queensborough where the Port supports it, and there is some potential for “touching” the river in the North Arm as we develop Poplar Landing, but that is a few years off. In the end, Council did not think this was a motion that merited support, as work under the Riverfront Vision has already been appropriately prioritized.

We also had an afternoon workshop where we worked through aspects of the City’s Capital Plan, in preparation for further budget development. That will be the focus of the next meeting, though no doubt there will be lots of opportunities for us to drift away from that focus.


Last week there were a few stories in the regional media (traditional and social) about CMHC’s recent release of housing data. One story that got my attention was this graph posted on Twitter by census data guru Jens von Bergmann (@vb_jens):

This appeared to show New West losing a large number of bachelor and one bedroom rental suites over the 2021-2022 survey period, while 2- and 3-bedroom numbers went up, resulting in a small net increase of units. A few people asked “what’s up with New West?”, and I honestly had no idea.

Not to bury the lede: there is no way New Westminster lost hundreds of rental units over this period of time. For this to happen, there would have to be either some massive conversion of rental units to condo (not something we permit in New Westminster) or major demo- or reno-victions (both of which are tightly regulated here, and we simply have not had any such applications).

So I had to look into this, and City staff looked into it as well, and conformed what I suspected. It seems like this was a data anomaly, thought it was not immediately clear what the source of the anomaly is. This did give an excuse to dig a bit into the data, which is available here.

I took the numbers for rental units for not just 2021 and 2022, but for the last 8 years, essentially since I was first elected to Council. Here are the raw numbers, and I highlighted the numbers that show a decrease in the last year that is reflected in the original post:

It appears that a couple of larger Purpose Built Rental buildings were misclassified in their unit counts when they were opened in 2019 and 2020, showing the significant jump in Bachelor and 1-bedrooms over those two years, and for some unknown reason, the more accurate data is being presented now. It’s a bit complicated how we can tell this, but the short version is that CMHC also provides unit counts by census tract and by construction period (e.g. “built in 2000 or later”). This allows us to look at how a couple of larger and recently completed PBR buildings were reported in the year they opened, and in there found an anomaly. It appears both 900 Carnarvon (Completed in 2020, 172 studio, 72 1-bed, 132 2-bed, and 22 3+bed) and 228 Nelson’s Crescent (Completed 2019, 0 studio, 85 1-bed, 77 2-bed and 24 3+bed) appear to not have been entered properly, as the number of new 2- and 3-bedroom suites added do not even add up to those provided by these two buildings (and they were not the only buildings to come on line during that period). This also explains some anomalous numbers reported last year about how New West was building way more bachelor and 1-bedroom rental units than our Family Friendly Housing Policy would allow – it is the same data error, now corrected.

As these numbers appear to have now been adjusted, it does show that looking at one year of unit completions from CMHC data may not be the best way to compare communities or track construction/approval trends, especially for smaller cities where one or two units opening (or being mis-reported) can skew annual numbers, and hide the deeper trend. To broaden the data a bit, I looked at the last 8 years (2014- 2022), non-coincidentally the time I have been on Council. I tried to re-create Jens’ chart with the unit count change over that 8 years, divided by 8 to give us an average annual unit change over that time:

And you can see why I have been saying no-one (except Vancouver) is building more PRB than New West. Of course not all of these communities are equal in size, or in population growth (see more on that here), and these net count numbers are not adjusted for those pressures.

If you want to look deeper at the numbers, they are here , and you can select by City. The numbers I have used are under the “Rental Universe” tab on the left. And just for fun, and if you want to check my math, here are the total numbers I found for over the 8 years (not the per year average presented above):

In summary, one part of the housing crises that New Westminster has been very effective at addressing is the paucity of Purpose Built Rental. There were a couple of decades there from the hollowing out of Federal Housing programs to the early 2000’s where almost no new PBR was being built, and indeed it was being lost. By policy and intention, New West has turned that tide and brought more rental to the market, while preserving the older more affordable rental, with visible results:

None of this changes that rents are going up at what looks like an unsustainable rate, and a rate disconnected from regional wages. Rental availability is fundamentally regional issue, not one New Westminster (with 3% of the regional population and 8% of the regional rental supply) can solve alone. Everyone needs to build more PBR, there is no new news there.

Council – Jan 30, 2023

Before our regular evening meeting on January 30th, we had a lengthy daytime workshop on the budget, which will be a topic of ongoing discussion and future blogs. In the evening meeting, we had the first Public Hearing of the new Council Term, and despite a pretty full Council chambers, it was a gentle introduction to Public Hearings for the folks new to the Council.

Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 8381, 2023 for 109 Third Avenue
The owner of this home on Queens Park volunteered to “designate” it, meaning it will have permanent protection as a heritage asset in the community beyond the protection provided by the Heritage Conservation Area. By Provincial Law, this designation requires a Bylaw change that actually requires a Public Hearing. We received no correspondence on this application, and we had one delegate come to express support.

In the subsequent Regular Meeting, Council approved giving this Bylaw third reading.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital Redevelopment Project)
If you have noticed the new RCH Acute Care Tower going up in Sapperton, you might have noted that the floor plate size is really big. For structural reasons, these big floor slabs need to be poured all at once, which means pouring and finishing the floors before they set is technically very difficult within a 12-hour window allowed by our Construction Noise Bylaw. They are asking to exceed allowable construction hours three days a month to allow the floor finishing to be completed before the big pour sets. They will send notice to the neighborhood on timing, and do their best to limit noise leaving the site.

DCC Expenditure Bylaw No. 8371, 2023
The City collects Development Cost Charges from developments to pay for infrastructure to support that development and the growth that comes with it (water, sewer, drainage, parks, and transportation). This is a strictly managed process by Provincial law, as the DCCs must go into a specified Reserve, and must only be spent on a specified infrastructure project. One of the controls on that is that money can only be moved from these reserves to actually pay for the project by Bylaw approved by Council. This Bylaw approves the spending a little more than $1Million from those reserves for the projects they were designated.

Recruitment 2023: Appointments to Advisory Committees, Commissions, Boards, and Panels
We have appointed members of the community to various commissions and committees. We do this in Closed Meeting first as these appointments are recommended to Council by staff after extensive review of their applications, which includes personal information of volunteers and unsuccessful applicants, but the final appointments are brought to open meeting in this information report.

Rozzini’s Restaurant, 211 Ewen Avenue – Application for Patron Participation Endorsement
This popular family restaurant in Queensborough wants to have live music. Our Byzantine provincial liquor license laws require that they get a formal endorsement from City Council to allow this, and that they do a public consultation. A public consultation to decide whether a restaurant that has been operating for decades can have live music, eating up their time, City time, costing thousands of dollars. Anyway, that’s the law and here we are passing that resolution.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Changes to the Terms of Reference of the Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Community Heritage Commission Bylaw No. 6423
The City is striking a new Accessibility Advisory Committee, and we are adding representatives from the NW Police Department and the NW Library. At the same time, we are adding another seat on the Community Heritage Commission. Both of these are committees with Provincial Regulatory structures, with Bylaws behind them, so these changes need bylaw amendments.

Renewed Child Care Protocol between the City of New Westminster and New Westminster School District No.40
The issue of Childcare has been front of mind for Council and the community. Recent changes in school space needs along with the Provincial integration of Childcare into the Ministry of Education have made it clear that there is an advantage to both parties if Council and SD40 more closely coordinate their child care initiatives. Some austerity hawks will argue this is not a “core service” of the City, but we have an active role to play in finding and supporting the full spectrum of childcare needs in the community.

The City and the School District had a 2009 Childcare Protocol, but the massive changes in this landscape warrant an update to that protocol; indeed this is a task identified in our updated Child Care Strategy. Informally discussed with School Board members, we need a more formal correspondence, including endorsement for some terms of the Protocol and timing of the completion. This report is asking Council to endorse those.

Rezoning Application for Detached Accessory Building: 228 Seventh Street – Comprehensive Report
This supportive housing operator in the Brow of the Hill neighborhood wants to expand their existing garage into an accessory building that will house some administrative uses. This needs a rezoning. I am not going to say any more about it, or take part in the decision here because I am a direct neighbor and this arguably results in a pecuniary interest, so I am recusing myself to avoid perception of conflict.

We then spent some time going through another raft of Motions from Members of Council

Mitigating traffic and transportation issues and improving pedestrian safety on Ewen Avenue in Queensborough
BE IT RESOLVED that staff provide a memo to Council regarding the opportunity to modify the current “no right turn on red” policy at Ewen Avenue and Howes Street so it only applies during peak rush hour traffic; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that as part of the Queensborough Transportation Plan, staff seek feedback from local residents and business regarding their interest in the installation of a new pedestrian-activated crossing at the corner of Wood Street and Ewen Avenue

The First Phase of Consultation on the Queensborough Transportation Plan update was completed recently, and have are available on the City’s Be Heard New West website. There is a comprehensive survey in there, and some results from the stakeholder meetings, the Q’Boro Residents Association, and some pop up events in the community.

To be honest, this resolution could have been an email. I am not prepared to say whether these are good or bad ideas, though they are certainly more granular than we usually get here in Council when talking Transportation Plans. Looking at the relatively-recently completed Sapperton Transportation Plan, you can see these types of intersection improvements are evaluated and prioritized, but need to be done so in the context of their neighbourhood-wide effects, not as one-offs.

My reflex here is to support the Council proposal to refer these local ideas the Q’Boro Transportation Plan process that is ongoing, but as the second half refers already to the Plan, and the first half is a simple request Staff are willing to respond to without work plan changes, I was able to support the motion as it stands. Council moved to support this motion.

Increasing year-round usage of city park spaces through the installation of additional all-weather tracks as part of the capital plan
BE IT RESOLVED that staff prioritize the sourcing of funds required to install an increased number of all-weather fields in New Westminster over the next five years; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that as part of the 2023 Budget process staff identify the funds necessary to undertake a planning and community consultation process to determine the feasibility of prioritizing an all-weather field at Ryall Park in Queensborough.

A quick look at the City’s 5-year capital plan show there is $2 Million set aside in 2024 for another all-weather field, and during our tours of Queensborough, staff talked about the work they have done to evaluate potential options for Ryall Park. Notably, a full-sized 400-m track like at Mercer Stadium will not fit at that site, but there is potential for a smaller track, with consideration that building anything at Ryall is technically challenging (read: more expensive) for the very same soils conditions that make the current field wetter than some others.

Council is very aware of the calls for more sport and recreation facilities in Q’boro, though a lacrosse box / multi-use court was generally higher priority to folks I spoke with. That said, this all speaks to the need for a Comprehensive Parks Plan informed by full public consultation, which is in this year’s work plan. Council moved to refer these specific requests to that planning process so that conversation can take place before we commit those millions of dollars.

Requesting an update from local MLAs regarding a 2020 election commitment to provide a free bus service to Queensborough students
BE IT RESOLVED that Mayor Patrick Johnstone write to MLAs Aman Singh and Jennifer Whiteside to request a meeting be established with Councillors Tasha Henderson, Nadine
Nakagawa and Daniel Fontaine (School Board Liaisons) regarding the status of the provincial government’s 2020 campaign commitment to the parents and students of Queensborough for a free bus service to New West Secondary School.

There is some work going on in this space, though I have not heard of any public announcements yet. I’ve had a chance to have some informal meetings with MLA Singh at community events and check-in phone calls, and this is actually a topic he brought up in a recent chat. I have also been talking with TransLink colleagues about the Queensborough transportation plans, and they are evaluating the results of the recent additions to bus service levels related to schooltime queuing at 22nd Street station.

I am happy to write a note to MLA Singh, though Council also thought it appropriate to invite the School Board representatives to the Council/School Board joint working group to this meeting, as this seems like a conversation we should include them in.

Halting the City’s rebranding exercise as previously approved by Council in July 2022
BE IT RESOLVED that staff reduce the potential burden to residential and commercial taxpayers by ceasing work on any corporate-wide rebranding projects through to December 31st, 2024.

To be clear, and made clear numerous times by City staff, there is no burden to taxpayers related to the current work plan on rebranding, it is currently operating within the normal operational budget. There will not be any burden to taxpayers until a plan is returned to Council to seek guidance on next steps here whether this work occurs now or in 2025 (as the motion suggests) has no material effect to the budget. Putting aside the political hyperbole about the eventual cost of rebranding, Council will be able to opine on actual numbers once there are actual numbers. Council moved to defeat this motion.

Clarifying Matters Related to Notice of Motion in the Council Procedure Bylaw
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to report back on the apparent discrepancy between how the Council Procedure Bylaw No. 6910, 2004 was and is being interpreted and applied in the present, notably at the November 28, 2022 Council meeting with respect to Notice of Motion, and how the Bylaw was interpreted and applied by previous Councils in order to clarify the situation and determine what the correct procedure is, and
FURTHER THAT staff report back at the February 13th Council meeting with recommendations to improve Section 21 of the Council Procedures Bylaw 6910 to ensure it no longer lacks clarity and is less subject to interpretation.

This is both meta and Inside Baseball. The current practice at Council, as codified in the Procedures Bylaw, is for Notices of Motion from members to appear on an agenda then be debated and voted upon in the subsequent meeting. This was not the regular practice last term. Though this has been discussed in several meetings, there is a request here for clarity. The Procedures Bylaw can, of course, be amended by Council as suits their need, and staff have some ideas about how to improve the current Procedures Bylaw to make Council work better, and were planning to report back on this, so the request here is work already in progress. Council moved to approve this motion.

Investments in new pedestrian infrastructure to support the City’s active transportation network in Queensborough and reduce our carbon footprint
BE IT RESOLVED that staff incorporate into the 2023 Operating Budget a new two-year 50/50 matching grant Pedestrian Improvement Pilot Program that will support Queensborough residents who wish to accelerate the covering up of unsafe ditches with paved sidewalks that support non-fossil fuel based active transportation; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that $300,000 from the Climate Action Reserve Fund be used to fund this pilot project over two years; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff seek out funds from the senior orders of government to offset or match the City’s contribution to the pilot program

This Motion is unfortunately timed, as it arrived for debate right after our lengthy daytime Operating Budget workshop where the mover of this motion suggested slashing millions of dollars from that budget (with no clarity to where those millions will come from) just before this request to commit to an unfunded and unaccounted program that could add millions to the operating budget. That said, it looks like a capital program, so the effect on the operational budget is unclear, especially as vague and unrealistic funding models are being proposed. I could add the concern that a partnership funding model similar to the one proposed already exists for the ditch infill program (though it cannot be applied property-by-property, because you can’t just do storm sewer upgrades property-by-property, they need to be performed on a block-by block basis for a variety of engineering and cost reasons); that the Federal Active Transportation Fund money cannot be applied to a resident opt-in program because there is no way for us to predict the amount of funds we would need in any single grant year; and that there has been no costing or impact modelling to justify pulling the seemingly random number of $300,000 out of the Climate Reserve Fund.

So, I may sound a little frustrated, but this proposal demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of how the city works, of how governance works. Not just in the little details I point out above, but in the bigger picture. It seems to be built on the assumption that long-standing concerns of the community (in this case, open ditches and associated pedestrian issues) have been completely ignored by the City, and all we need is one boutique program sketched on the back of a napkin to solve the problem. The reality is that these problems are long-standing because there are no simple solutions. We have applied decades of professional planning and engineering staff to find solutions (including the existing Local Area Service Plan program), and are making slow progress, but also need to apply them judiciously to manage costs, and to manage knock-off effects (e.g.: what happens during intense storms to the older homes in a neighbourhood if the road is raised to a flood level that is higher than the first floor of the homes?). As in most things in politics, if it was easy, it would already be done.

In light of this, Council decided that this proposal should be taken to a workshop with Council to go through those complications, the challenges, opportunities, and the practical costs, so Council has the information it needs to make a decision like this before we commit what would likely be millions of dollars.

Finally, we wrapped with one piece of New Business:

Nomination of Councillor Ruby Campbell to the Election to FCM Board of Directors
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities put out a call for nominees for Board Positions, as they had a couple of vacancies. Councillor Campbell expressed an interest and prepared and application, but needed our endorsement. This does not mean she will be appointed (that is up to the FCM Board), but Council unanimously supported her nomination.

Behind the scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Happened (23.1)

Regular readers (Hi Mom!) might remember some of my earlier practice of talking up community events I go to and cool things happening in the City. I am going to try to get back into this practice, because there is a lot going on, and because I don’t have time to celebrate it all at the great length it probably deserves. I’m so grateful for all the people doing good things to bring the community together and celebrate New West. Here’s some good moments that happened so far in 2023:

Had a meeting with the one and only Cassius Khan to talk about his experiences as an artist and an arts supporter in New West. He also signed CDs (you can’t really sign a digital file!) for me and Councillor Campbell. As always, he was generous with his thoughts and ideas, and the most gracious person you could ever meet.
New West Firefighters had their annual Tree Chipping, event at City Hall to give folks an chance to recycle their dried out tree, and raise money (More than $5,000 this year!) for their Charitable Society. Every day, NWFF deliver heavy lifting with a smile!
I was able to do a tour of Douglas College, see some of the exciting changes at the New West campus, and talk about their proposed new academic and residence building. I also learned about their “Coat of Arms”, that was recently designed by Carrielynn Victor, an artist from S’olh Temexw who was able to blend traditional knowledge and language from this region into what is typically a very Colonial media.
I was at the Royal City Curling Club to give greetings from New Westminster to the Scottish contingent visiting Canada as part of the century-old tradition of the Strathcona Cup series of  friendlies between Scottish and Canadian club teams.
There is a new photography exhibit at the Anvil Centre Community Art Space on the third floor. These are photos and short essays on “What Housing Means to Me”, prepared by residents of the supportive housing lodge in Queensborough. This is a simple, but really thoughtful, exhibition you should check out!
There was also a near full house for the first evening of the Outside/In program at Anvil Centre, as the BC World Music Collective brought a diverse program of music from around the Americas (with a bit of Africa thrown in) that left everyone thinking on the way home: Who knew you could do that with a tambourine?
And of course, January 22nd was Lunar New Year, and there were a few events around the region, including a traditional big event at the Nikkei Centre featuring the Whos Who of Burnaby and New West, where I was honoured to be invited to Dot the Dragon’s Eye and enjoy the loud and boisterous dance. I also go to hang with these cool kids…
…and we were also invited to take part in a perhaps louder and more boisterous Dragon parade at the Starlight Casino, which really pulled out all of the stops to ring in the Year of the Rabbit. gōng xi fā cái!