On the Curbside

The second item from last Council Meeting I promised a follow up on deserves a deeper dive for a very different reason than the last. In this case, the public policy and outcomes are comparatively simple to understand, even if for some they are counter-intuitive.

There was a motion brought to Council that would not only cost the City significant revenue on the order of $1 Million, but also stands in contrast to our City’s Official Community Plan, Master Transportation Plan, Downtown Parking Strategy, the recently-adopted Retail Strategy, our Climate Action goals, and various other city policies.

Under the guise of “supporting local business”, the proposal was to provide free street parking for an hour in all business areas, expand free evening parking, and make parking free on Sundays. Besides taking a significant chunk out of our parking revenue (which would presumably need to be offset by Property Tax increases), there is simply no evidence that free street-parking initiatives like this help local retail businesses in urban communities like New Westminster. The studies have been done, the evidence does not exist. The idea of free street parking may be populist, but it won’t work.

It’s not just me saying this, and nothing makes New Westminster unique here. I like to paraphrase/quote Donald Shoup, the acknowledged global expert on exactly this topic and author of “The High Price of Free Parking” when he says the curb lane on a commercial street is some of the most valuable land in any city. It is the biggest mistake a city can make to take that most valuable land and give it away, for free, to cars. Underpriced street parking drives traffic congestion, it drives emissions, and it makes a place less pedestrian friendly. It also, ironically, acts to make parking less available and harms the businesses it purports to serve.

Like most things involving cars, free parking works great until everyone wants to use it. This is because cars are massive consumers of space compared to their utility when compared to any other mode. You can have abundant available parking or you can have free parking, you cannot have both without turning the majority of your public space into parking lots. This works (at abhorrent cost) at suburban malls, but in dense urban city centres, the space simply doesn’t exist to make it work without loss of all of the things that make a community walkable and livable.

This is why the City of New Westminster, much like Vancouver and other modern cities, work to adjust commercial street parking rates based on needs assessments and the principle that correctly priced parking makes it more available for critical users, and properly prioritizes it in the hierarchy of needs for that most valuable curbside real estate.

In practice, this means setting a price for street parking that is higher than adjacent off-street parking. If street parking if free or too low priced, it will immediately be overwhelmed, and the off-street parking that was expensive to build and maintain will be underutilized. Ideally, on-street parking prices should be set so about 15% of spaces are open at any given time. Price it too low and people will circle the blocks in frustration not being able to find parking. When this motion first appeared in our Council agendas, I went down to Columbia Street on a regular Friday afternoon to see where our parking utilization rate was. I found about one empty parking space per block – or about 90% utilization. This is of course anecdotal, but there was no sign that pricing is out of scale with idealized price. This is because the price is based on a well-developed and evidence-based policy.

The City spent significant time putting together an updated parking pricing policy in 2019, including consultation with the business community, and that policy clearly lays out priorities and goals of the community, and sets a pricing policy to move us towards those goals over a 5-year implementation period. Let me quote from that October 2019 policy document:

“On-street vehicle parking is a valuable resource in urbanized communities, especially in commercial districts, around major institutions, and near rapid transit stations. Like other economic goods, when parking supply and pricing are not managed, demand for on-street parking often exceeds the amount of street space available. Complicating this issue is the growing demand for existing and potential designated curbside uses, such as transit stops and priority measures, taxi and ride-hailing zones, loading zones, accessible parking, car-share parking, protected bike lanes and bike parking, bike-share and other shared micromobility docking areas, parklets, and so forth. These uses – all of which are consistent with the City’s sustainable transportation and other goals – will continue to constrain the finite supply of onstreet space for the storage of personal vehicles.”

But our parking pricing strategy does not exist in a vacuum. It builds on the principles of the Official Community Plan, the Master Transportation Plan, the City’s Downtown Parking Strategy, our Community Energy and Emissions Plan, and other city policies. All of these are undermined by an arbitrary motion that re-prices this valuable public resource on a whim or a political promise.

In my opinion, this motion only represent bad public policy, it is regressive public policy that will (and this is actually the bigger point) not achieve the goals it claims to seek. I was not able to support it, nor was the majority of Council.

It is perhaps a coincidence that this motion arrived at Council as I was finishing reading a great book on this topic. Not Donald Shoup’s bible of parking policy, but Henry Grabar’s “Paved Paradise” which somehow makes the discussion of parking policy interesting and funny. The subtitle claims that parking explains the world we live in, and as you read he clearly makes the case that “parking is the primary determinant of the way the place you live looks, feels, and functions”.

We have work to do to make our curb spaces work better in Downtown New West, Sapperton, and Uptown. This work is ongoing through updates to our Master transportation Plan with a new area of focus on “curbside management”. We need to create better accessible parking for those who require accessible spaces, we need to change our pick-up/drop-off spaces to recognize the new emphasis on direct good and food delivery, we need to finds c at the curb for new mobility, for improved transit efficiency, for placemaking. This work will help businesses in our business districts, and it will help our residents better and more safely connect with those businesses. This is where the where the good public policy that supports local businesses is found. Alas, it doesn’t have the populist cachet of “free parking!”

HRAs and HCAs and Housing Priorities

There were two items I promised follow-up from last council meeting. This one deserves a deeper dive because it was a complicated conversation that resulted in a complex discussion at Council with several amendments and re-directions, all because the public policy and eventual outcomes were not obvious.

This is a result of a decision back in 2021 by Council to put a “freeze” on HRA applications in the Queens Park HCA, and a staff recommendation that we now lift that freeze.  And yeah, those acronyms are confusing. So I’ll try to unpack.

The residential neighbourhood of Queens Park has been designated a Heritage Conservation Area (“HCA”); one of the largest in the province. Because of the unique and provincially-significant collection of pre-1941 single family homes that meet the standard of having “heritage” merit, the neighbourhood and the Community Heritage Commission recommended the City put in an HCA a few years ago to provide extra protection to those homes. If you really want the background, here is my blog post from when it occurred.

Heritage Restoration Agreements (“HRAs”) are a planning tool that can be (and are) applied anywhere in the City. They are rather like a rezoning, in which a property owner asks to do something that is not permitted in the current zoning (i.e. build a duplex on a single family lot) in exchange for providing some value to the community or meeting some City policy goal. In the case of HRAs, it is essentially a rezoning where the “value” being exchanged is the permanent preservation of a heritage asset.

It is important to note that “designation” of a preserved heritage asset under an HRA is the highest level of heritage protection available to local governments in BC, and a much stronger level of heritage protection than is offered to the pre-1940 “protected” houses in the HCA. For this reason, alterations of heritage properties in the HCA usually come about through an HRA. If the owner of a pre-1940 HCA-protected house in Queens Park wants to make an exterior alteration, add a carriage or laneway house, lift the building to put in a full basement or put in dormers that increase the livable square footage of the home, they come to the City to ask for an HRA. Through an extensive review to assure the heritage merit is protected, and through a  (by regulation) Public Hearing, the Council either permits the change in exchange for “designation”, or does not. HRAs are also used outside Queens Park, but within Queens Park HCA they are essentially the only tool to allow alterations of pre-1940 homes, so they are more common there while other neighbourhoods are more familiar with other rezoning tools.

Since the adoption of the HCA, some members of the Queens Park community felt that HRAs were being applied in a way that was not complimentary to the HCA principles. I’ve heard criticism that HRAs were being granted with no benefit to the community, that they were an “end around” of the regular rezoning process. I don’t agree with these assertions, but they did lead to a few fractious HRA Public Hearings, and staff suggested we “pause” the processing of HRAs in Queens Park for a bit of time to let some policy work be done to update HRA principles across the City.

Unfortunately, this HRA process work has been repeatedly delayed by staff shortages and Council’s decision to prioritize other housing work – putting together affordable housing applications, an inclusionary housing policy, 22nd Street Area master planning, and applications coming that will help us meaningfully address the critical housing needs identified in our Housing Needs Assessment. Frankly, the HRA work was going to take up too much staff time and consultation energy for the value (and number of housing units) they provide the community during a housing crisis. Because of this, the “freeze” on new HRAs in Queens Park has dragged on for two years. Staff brought this report to us recommending we lift the freeze, because the work to update the HRA system (now wrapped into a more comprehensive Infill Density Policy Review) is not resourced to happen until 2025.

This is a question of balancing procedural fairness (people should be able to apply for rezoning or HRAs and understand the process that is available for them) with the common-good and heritage protection principles of the HCA.

During the conversation at Council there was a proposal to refer this question to the Community Heritage Commission – an advisory commission the city has to bring subject matter expertise to exactly this question: how to best evaluate heritage merit and balance its protection against other City policy and priorities? There was also a suggestion that applicants caught up in the “freeze” in 2021 be unfrozen to allow them to proceed with HRAs if they are still so inclined, but to maintain the freeze otherwise until the policy work is completed. Finally, the recommendation from staff to lift the freeze was put on the table, with the proviso that HRA applications not be prioritized over more critical housing work reflected in our Housing Needs assessment and overall housing policy direction.

This was a lengthy conversation, and I don’t want to speak for others at Council here, because the votes were split in different ways as we moved through the amendments, and everyone clearly had different comfort levels on this balance we were trying to strike. Instead, I will speak to my motivations for voting as I did.

When the HCA was introduced back in 2017, I supported in on the strict proviso that it would not stop all housing change in Queens Park – that the HCA should work to facilitate heritage-informed development of more housing diversity in Queens Park, and not act as a tool to prevent housing diversity in the neighbourhood. In the blog post I linked to above, I said it this way:

“the HCA policy cannot stop all development, infill density, or other ways of increasing housing choice in the Queens Park neighbourhood. We need to accelerate our work towards increasing laneway and carriage house infill, stratification of large houses if they wish to re-configure into multi-family buildings, and protecting the multi-family housing stock that already exists in Queens Park. The HCA as adopted will not prevent that progress,”

On a similar vein, I voted against the HRA freeze in 2021 because I felt it shifted the balance too far towards stopping the evolution of Queens Park by not even allowing change if it worked to improve heritage asset protection.

My position has not changed much here, and I voted with the slim majority of Council to lift the freeze, as recommended by Staff. I was not opposed to referring to the CHC for feedback prior to the lifting of the freeze, but that was defeated by another slim majority of Council. I also support the general direction to staff that we don’t need to prioritize this type of low-density infill at this time, and that is NOT consistent with my previous feelings and votes at Council.

Simply put, we are not in the same place now as we were in 2017 when we approved the current Official Community Plan. At the time, infill density was seen as an important part of our housing strategy, to bring more affordable but still market “family friendly” housing diversity in the community. In the last few years, land values in New West have grown to the point where infill is going to play less of a role in meeting our housing needs in the next few years, as higher-density forms re going to be needed to hit that lower-end-of-market and family-friendly sweet spot.

Council – Sept 11, 2023

Once a year, we hold a City Council meeting in the Queensborough Community Centre. We had a full house at the start of the meeting, which waned down to a few fans after a 5+ hour meeting. But at least we got a good two hours’ worth of work done during the time. Here is the Agenda, and as always you can watch the Video here to see how the conversation actually went.

We started with one piece of Unfinished Business from our previous long meeting:

Hydro Rates
Submitted by Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED that the City of New Westminster requests that the Electrical Commission explores piloting a program to provide rates geared to income for low income community members and engage with City Council to discuss implementation and targeting.

The City’s Electrical Utility is a bit unique in the region, and is governed by an Electrical Commission that makes recommendations to Council on rates and other strategic plans. There has been some discussion of providing rebates or discount rates to people of low income individuals this year, but this is the first time we have sent such a discussion to the Commission to test the waters. I am happy to refer this to the Commission, and am interested in how they provide feedback. This speaks a bit to the mandate the City has given the Commission, and some discussion we have had at that table about updating their governance and long term strategic planning.

There was an amendment that we ask the Commission to also look at “two tier” pricing like BC Hydro has, which charges less for the first 1376kWh per billing period and more for use above this level. This is something BC Hydro has been suggesting they are moving away from, but we don’t know where those talks are with the BCUC, so we should be able to get a report back from the Commission on this.

We then had this Report for Discussion:

TACC Project Update
The təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre is a bit delayed and almost on budget. This report gives us the first update on TACC since February, when we were anticipating an early spring 2024 opening, and that still looks like the plan, but later spring than we initially hoped. This is for “Phase 1” completion (when people are going to be able to get into the pool as opposed to “Phase 2” completion – which is when all of the external parking lot and landscaping stuff will be done, which is still on tap for summer 2024, but less important to most folks). The project is coming in very close it its adjusted budget of $114.6M, though the transition delays will have some operational budget impacts.

Right now, the building is watertight, and tiling is going on. There are a LOT of tiles in this building, with the hot tubs already sealed and tested, and the other pools to follow. Interior finishing is a huge undertaking, and supply chain issues still pose some risk to timelines, even with construction teams now double-shifting to keep us on timelines. The granting of Occupancy in (hopefully early April) leads to staffing, training, and bringing a bunch of systems on line. This is actually a daunting task – something of the scale City has not undertaken in a very long time, if ever. This will lead to a soft opening in May, if all goes by plan.

There is also going to be a transition period where programs migrate from Centennial Community Centre to TACC, and as the CCC needs to close before the TACC can be opened, there will be disruptions to some programs, though staff will work to mitigate these as best as possible, including moving programs to third locations for a transition period.

We are not finished yet here, but I am impressed that we got this project across the finish line within 10% of the original budget, and only a few months after planned. This with an initial 6-month delay caused by COVID uncertainty, unexpected geotechnical challenges, global supply chain crises, a regional concrete strike, and unpredicted inflationary pressures facing the entire construction industry. This is a major success on the part of City project management staff, and proves we can get things done here in New West. It’s not a contest, but I compare our experience in some other Lower Mainland municipalities with new major recreation centers, that are running into delay and budget challenges, and I feel really fortunate that we got this project started when we did, and our staff brought it through.

We moved the following items On Consent:

Just kidding. We moved nothing on consent because every item was pulled for discussion.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2023 Capital and Operating Quarterly Performance Report
This is our now-regular quarterly update on the Capital and Operational budgets. As expected ,there are a few minor adjustments, with a Capital Budget increase equaling about 0.6% of the existing budget, though most of this will be covered by offsets and efficiencies in the existing capital plan. Operational revenues exceed projections by about 1%, while expenses exceeding budget by 0.02%, so we net out a bit on the positive as far as operational numbers.

Accelerating Climate Action to Meet Targets and Address Extreme Heat: Staffing and Financial Considerations
The City has a Climate Action plan, and clear targets to meet by 2030 and the decades ahead. Staff have created a work plan of tasks that will need to be completed if we plan to actually meet those targets, which we reviewed and approved last meeting. This report outlines in detail the staffing required to complete those plans. This was originally driven by us moving some resources over the Heat Dome response work, and staff warning us that climate action work may suffer as a consequence, leading Council to ask staff what resources we would need to mount a serious climate disruption defense while keeping on our existing mitigation plan.

The report outlines about four new staff in the next year, and up to three more in subsequent years. There is also a suggestion that Climate Action Levy funds could be used to support this new staff compliment to reducing the direct impact on property tax rates. Council is being asked to support this model, and staff will then incorporate the changes in to the 2024 budget deliberations starting this fall.

In short – this is what it means to take Climate Action and meet our stated goals for 2030, as our part of both Provincial and Federal GHG emission reduction goals. This is an obvious yes from me, funding the plans we have already on to meet targets we have already agreed on, from a fund collected to help us get to those targets. Fortunately, the majority of Council takes our climate goals seriously, and supported this.

22nd Street Station Area Visioning Update
The 22nd Street area visioning project is moving along, after being delayed by a global pandemic. There will be a public engagement process starting soon, including public meetings and on-line components. There has also been a positive initial connection with First Nations on the idea of collaborative visioning of the site. There is also an intent to bring in academic and design expertise through an Ideas Challenge.

One of the big questions around urban development of the Lower Mainland is what some SkyTrain Stations foster successful mixed-use development (New Westminster, Surrey Centre, Lougheed) while others look fairly unchanged decades after SkyTrain arrives (Nanaimo, 29th Ave, Sperling). 22nd Street definitely falls in that latter category. Why is a site with great transportation connections, in a city willing to support densification and growth, in a central urban location linked to three communities during a time of desperate housing need not seeing development? There are certainly a variety of factors, but perhaps this design and visioning work can create the spark that has so far missed at this site.

Heritage Revitalization Agreements in Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area
This was a big, complicated discussion at Council with several split votes, so I am going to punch the longer discussion to a follow-up blog post. But the short notes are that back in 2021 Council put a “freeze” on Heritage Restoration Agreement applications in Queens Park as we were trying to work out some details of an HRA policy refresh driven by members of the Queens Park community feeling that HRAs were being applied in a way that was not complimentary to the Heritage Conservation Area principles. Since that time, the HCA incentives and policy work has been completed, but the HRA Refresh has been de-prioritized due to staff shortages and other higher-priority housing work. Staff recommended we stop the freeze, and Council moved to do this, but more detail to come…

Housing Agreement Bylaw and Development Variance Permit to Vary Parking Requirements: 311 Ash Street
I have recused myself from this item, as I live immediately across the street from the project address and there may be a perception of conflict of interest. You will have to watch the video or read someone else’s blog to get the details.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit – 808 Royal Avenue: Application Consideration
Douglas College wishes to build student housing and expanded academic space on a vacant lot across the street from the New Westminster campus. This requires rezoning and a SDP, but it is consistent with the OCP, and therefore does not require a Public Hearing. The application is also generally consistent with the Downtown Community Plan, our Economic Development Plan, Downtown Building and Public Realm Design Guidelines and Master Plan, and the Downtown Transportation Plan. And the public engagement was generally positive.

This comprehensive report presages Staff developing Bylaws for Council Approval at our next Council meeting. If you have opinions, you can still let us know!

Official Community Plan Amendment, Rezoning, Road Closure, and Land Sale: 909-915 Twelfth Street – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owners of these lots in the Moody Park neighbourhood want to build a 5-story 40-unit residential building. This would also require purchasing a strip of unused City-owned lane to complete the lot dimensions. It is this small piece of lane land that requires the OCP amendment, as the rest of the project is consistent with the OCP. It would also require a rezoning.

This project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my opinions until then. If you have opinions, let us know!

Application for Grant Funding to the 2023 UBCM Asset Management Planning Program
As the City works through its Asset Management modernization, we are applying to a special UBCM fund to help pay for some of that work. The application requires a resolution from Council, which is this.

Authorization to Enter Into License Agreements for 68 Sixth Street and 824 Agnes Street
As previously discussed, we are moving a temporary dog park to 68 Sixth Street. We don’t own the land, so this is the license agreement that allows us to use the land for $10/year. A bargain!
The existing dog park at 824 Agnes will be licensed to the developer for them to stage and do construction of the public park before they turn it back over to the City as a completed public park. This is the license agreement to allow them to do that on City owned land. They pay fair market value for the use, which is $3,625 a month. Also a bargain.

We then read several Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Subdivision and Development Control Miscellaneous Amendment Bylaw No. 8412, 2023
This bylaw that updates the language in our Subdivision and Development Control Bylaw was Adopted by Council.

Public Notice Bylaw No. 8417, 2023
This bylaw that updated our Public Notice bylaw to reflect that fact that we no longer have a print newspaper ion New Westminster was adopted by Council.

We then had some Motions from Council:

Fair Wage and Living Wage Policies
Mayor Johnstone

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff bring a report to Council outlining a process to adoption of a Fair Wage Policy similar to that of Burnaby or the City of North Vancouver to complement New Westminster’s successful Living Wage Policy; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Mayor Johnstone take a motion to the Board of Metro Vancouver on behalf of New Westminster Council requesting that Fair Wage and Living Wage policies be developed and adopted by the Regional Government.

New Westminster was a leader in Living Wage Policy, being the first municipality to adopt it, with most others following suit in subsequent years. This policy assures the Minimum wage paid to anyone one working for the City, directly or indirectly through a contractor or consultant, is paid a fair living wage for the region (Currently $24.08/hr). Fair Wage policies, in contrast, assure that all workers are paid wages equal to a fair wage for their skill set in the labour market. This policy has been in place for some time in Burnaby and North Vancouver, and I have had conversations with Mayors Hurley and Buchannan who both fully support the Fair Wage policy in their respective jurisdictions, and say their experience is that it makes for a more competitive procurement process, has not noticeably increased costs, and has resulted in better procurement results.

I also think that Living wage and Fair Wage policies re under attack in some jurisdictions at a time when working people are feeling the effects of increased cost of living. Assuring that people who work for the City are paid a fair and living wage allowing them to live and prosper in this city is the least we can do. As members of Metro Vancouver, I hope we can use our position at that board to bring Living and Fair Wages to that bigger body.

Council unanimously supported this motion.

Conducting a Review Regarding the Cause and Cost Pertaining to the City of New Westminster Oil Spill in the Fraser River
Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed to produce a public report regarding the July 2023 oil spill which emanated from the Samson V Museum; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED this oil spill public report include the following core components:
• An overview of the negative environmental impacts caused by the Samson V oil spill to the Fraser River and surrounding communities;
• The full list of government agencies, regulators, community partners, environmental non-governmental organization involved in responding to the Samson V oil spill;
• Full costing of the environmental cleanup including an estimate of staff time;
• An estimate of any fines that may be levied by regulators and senior orders of government;
• Analysis as to circumstances which triggered the Samson V oil spill released into the Fraser River;
• Cost analysis of moving the Samson V into drydock for a period of up to 12 months for necessary repairs, safety and cosmetic upgrades/refurbishment

The spill of some oily bilgewater from the Samson V was already reported out on quite a bit. But as per the Provincial Spill Reporting Regulation, an End-of-Spill Report is a public document and will be shared with Council. As such, most of what is being asked for here has a reporting path to make it public, so this motion is really more of an email to staff than a motion required of Council, but no problem moving it.

The final bullet point, however, is different, and I asked that this could be severed so I could vote against it. In discussions with staff, it was made clear that there are no “necessary repairs” to the boat that require dry-docking, for 12 months or any other time period. The hull and decking have been inspected recently by a marine engineer, and were found to be sound and water tight, with no structural concerns. There is ongoing roofing work, and some paint and path repair on the deck is being planned out, but there is simply no reason to spend the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that would be required to pull the boat from the water. Council voted to support most of this motion except this final bullet.

Increasing access to fresh drinking water for local residents and their pets
Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council regarding the cost and operational requirements of installing temporary water fountains connected to a fire hydrant in time for summer 2024; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT staff reach out to the City of Vancouver who have successfully implemented fire hydrant water fountains to determine if there are learnings that can be applied in New Westminster.

This motion was supported by Council unanimously. I am afraid we may be repeating work previously done, and staff sounded pretty skeptical, as their preliminary evaluation was that this would be not only expensive, but challenging to fire operations as our fire suppression water pipe systems Is functionally quite different than Vancouver’s. But aside from some staff time, there is not too much harm in having another look at the possibilities or barriers so we can report back to public one way or the other.

Supporting our seniors by increasing hours of operation for Century House during the summer
Councillor Fontaine

Whereas other Metro Vancouver cities have ensured their seniors centers are more accessible throughout the year by keeping them open in the evening during summer; and
Whereas Century House is a critical gathering place for our seniors in New Westminster and it currently closes at 4:00 pm during the summer; and
Whereas Century House can serve as a cooling center during the hot summer months.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed as part of Budget 2024 to provide Council with the costs and operational requirements to extend the hours of operation at Century House to 9:00 pm on weekdays during the summer; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the membership of Century House be surveyed regarding their level of interest in expanding the service hours during the summer and that the results of this survey be provided to Council for further consultation and evaluation.

This was, frankly, a bit of a confusing motion and conversation. It doesn’t help that the information in the preamble was not exactly accurate, which is why I included the preamble in the quote above.

To clarify the record, Century House does not close at 4:00pm, but is open until at least 8:00pm, it is programming offered by the Century House Association (not by the City, though the City supports it) that generally ends at 4:00pm, but the centre remains open for social use and other informal programming. Century House is a cooling centre operated by the City, and we have spent money in the last couple of years upgrading HVAC systems to assure it provides that respite. We also extend the hours to provide more support during heat events, even staying open overnight when needed. The facility is also used at times by programming not provided by the Century House Association, including overlapping programs from the Youth Centre that often extend in to the evening.

This resolution therefore created some confusion on the ask, as it seemed to suggest a one-hour extension of hours, with it no being clear who is asking for that, and that the membership of Century House be asked if this is a good idea, when staff are already engaged deeply with the Century House Association (which represents “the Members”) on their programming needs, including the recent update of the MOU the City has with the Association to assure we are working together to be responsive to the community’s needs.

In the end, after lengthy discussion, Council decided to refer this motion to the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan work, as that speaks more broadly to the needs of seniors in the community and best use of our recreation/social assets in the community.

Supporting our local business community by implementing a pilot project to reduce parking fees
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back on the budget implications and operational requirements associated with establishing a pilot project to reduce parking fees in 2024 which will include the following core components:
• First hour of on-street parking (where paid on-street metered parking currently exists) will be complimentary. This would apply to the Downtown, Uptown, Sapperton and 12th Street commercial and business districts.
• Expand free on-street parking to after 7 pm during the business week from the current 8 pm setting in all commercial and business districts.
• Parking will be free on Sunday and all statutory provincial holidays in all areas of the city.

This is another item I am going to have to write a longer follow-up on, because it speaks deeply to what is good public policy and what is not. Putting aside the (~$1 Million?) in potential revenue loss and resultant impact on Property Taxes, this is a proposal that stands in contrast to our City’s Official Community Plan, Master Transportation Plan, Downtown Parking Strategy, our Climate Action goals, and other city policies. In my opinion, this is bad public policy, and regressive public policy that will (and this is actually the bigger point) not achieve the goals it claims to seek. I was not able to support it, nor was the majority of Council.

And that was what we did last Monday instead of watching the ‘Bellies in Game 3!

Council – Aug 28, 2023 part 2!

Council last week was made longer by two issues for which we received delegations, both resulting in long conversations. I’m going to try to do my best to unpack these two conversations here, but before I do, I’ll offer another of my hopefully-redundant-by-now caveats. As both of these issues have various political angles to them, and as Council was clearly not aligned on some of the core political issues at hand, it is hard to talk this out without approaching politics. So where I try to keep my Council reports as close to “just the facts”, this one will probably have a bit more opinion thrown in. As always, it is important to remember this is a my blog, not official City or Council communications, so opinions expressed here are not that of the City or of Council, and some of them might not even be mine!

Also, there were delegations from the public on both of these topics, and Council deliberated on them right after, so you can watch the video (it is available here, and these topics start at 1:20:00) and hear the conversation yourself, I’m sure you will hear ideas you agree with and those you disagree with, and such is democracy. So fairly warned:

K de K Court Boulevard Trees
Residents in a strata on the Quayside have expressed concern to the City that the trees in front of their complex are too large and blocking their view of the river. Specifically, the trees are larger than the City suggested they would be when they were planted on the City land adjacent to their condo units back in 2007. This issue came to Council in 2017 with the residents asking the trees to be removed, and the City instead undertook an enhanced pruning schedule for these trees to hopefully train them back to what was originally suggested. After a few years, it is apparent this strategy will not work, as the trees continue to expand to a size that continues to impact peoples’ enjoyment of their suites.

Since this first bubbled up, the City has adopted a bunch of new policies around trees, including the Urban Forest Management Strategy and the Seven Bold Steps Climate Action Plan, both of which set ambitious plans for increasing the tree canopy cover in the City. This means new guidelines and restrictions around removing trees on private property, and an aggressive tree planting strategy for public lands in the City. To be really clear, removing trees from public land to improve or protect peoples’ views does not align with any of these policies or strategies. I didn’t hear anyone on Council advocate for the removal of these trees.

However, there was a recognition that this is a long-standing issue, and the City’s responses over the last 15+ years has not brought the results either the homeowners or the City had hoped for. There have been agreements created between the residents and the City, and notwithstanding our new policies, there is a responsibility to acknowledge, and as best we can be true to, the nature of those agreements. The final decision of Council was to continue the work being done under the 2017 agreement with enhanced pruning and tree care while working with the Strata to find a resolution to their issues.

As an aside, there was some talk during the deliberation about the City agreeing on tree removal elsewhere in the City, I think it is worthwhile clarifying what our policy and practice is. We do not remove trees from city land to improve people’s views, nor do we typically prune or shape city trees to improve views, though we do prune to support the health and safety of the tree as it grows. We sometimes remove city-owned trees if they are unhealthy or dangerous, but this is an arborist-driven decision based on detailed analysis of the tree health.

On private lands, we will permit the removal of a tree that is diseased or dangerous, but it must be replaced on a one-for-one or two-for-one basis. We will also sometimes permit the removal of healthy trees if there is a zoning entitlement that cannot be fulfilled with the tree in place, or through redevelopment. We then require replacement on a (typically) two-for-one basis. We generally require that the tree be replaced on the same property, but if you are building higher density housing, often there isn’t room on the property for all of the replacement trees to flourish. In this case the City may take cash-in-lieu of replacement, so the City can use that money to pay for planting those replacement trees elsewhere in the City, typically on City property like boulevards or parks. The goal is no net loss of trees, with 2-for-one replacement as a way of mitigating the fact a large mature tree provides more canopy cover than a necessarily-smaller replacement.

Cooling Equipment in Rental Units
Councillor Henderson and Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED that City Council direct staff to explore the tools available for the City to adopt a bylaw that requires rental units to have cooling equipment, or passive means, that prevents at least one room of the unit from exceeding the standard recommendation of 26 C (79 F);
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City write a letter to the Minister of Housing to request clarification and confirmation that these upgrades would not trigger legal renovictions or the Above Guideline Rent Increase permissible by the Province.

Since the Heat Dome of 2021, the City and the Province have taken a number of measures to prevent the deaths that shocked the region and this City. In New Westminster we had 28 people die, for the most part vulnerable people living alone in homes that where the temperature was too high to support life. We have had several reports to Council over the last two years outlining extended measures we have been taking, partnerships we have created, and resources we have re-allocated to help vulnerable people get through the net time an extreme heat event like that occurs.

One part of this work is assuring people have access to cooling. In some buildings and for some people, that means assuring that the building has “one cool room” – a common room where people have access to a cool refuge without needing to leave their building, reducing anxiety about medication, pets, and the general comfort and security of home. We have also worked with Senior Series Society and Fraser Health to identify higher-risk folks for whom this may not work, and are targeting a program to provide air conditioners as a local augment to the program the BC Government is managing through BC Hydro.

Since these programs began rolling out, we have heard that many rental building owners were not permitting air conditioning in rental units. Some even sent vaguely threatening letters to all tenants informing them that the installation of even portable air conditioners could result in eviction. As egregious and callous as this is in the face of a disaster that killed dozens of people in our community – it is not strictly illegal. Provincial laws regulate rental housing, and they require that all housing must have fire protection, must have safe electrical systems, and must (most notably) adequate heating. When the Heat Dome became a mass-death event bigger than any fire or any winter blizzard, we have to ask whether regulating cooling is as important as the above.

The request in this motion is to look at local or provincial solutions to regulate maximum sustained temperatures in rental units, in a similar way that minimum sustained temperatures are already regulated. We have in the past been innovative in New West on protecting renters, including the use of Business Licensing to regulate what the Residential Tenancy Act fails to regulate. Up to now, much of our work to protect vulnerable people from future heat emergencies has relied on us providing incentives and direct public health interventions, and we are taking those as far as we can. At some point providers of housing – those whose business is providing housing to people – need to take responsibility for assuring the housing from which they are extracting rent is safe for occupation.

Importantly, this is not requesting specific prescriptive solutions. Just as the current regulations don’t require a specific type of heating for buildings, as long as heating is available and adequate to sustain life, we can introduce similar requirements and expect the market and engineering professionals find the specific solutions that work for any single building and living unit.

There were a few amendments added to the motion that saw little support. A few were to point this issue at the provincial government and to assess cost impacts and concerns about electrical load impacts. Both of these are, in my mind, follow-ups to after the initial work comes from staff as requested in the initial motion – if we have no tools or need to rely on Provincial tools, than that extra work is redundant. The motion is not asking to immediately implement these regulations, but for an assessment of the best tools the City can use to bring them in so at that time we can assess secondary impacts as we always do through new bylaw development. As it is a non-prescriptive motion, the emphasis on in-room air conditions is premature, and frankly the emphasis on electrical demand is a bit of a red herring as modern portable air conditions have power demands similar to an electric kettle or hair dryer – two appliances that are not regulated in most residential tenancy agreements. There was also a request to consult with tenants rights organizations, which seems unnecessarily delaying to initial work here when we have representatives of several renters rights organizations delegating at this very meeting asking for exactly what the motion is requesting.

In the end, Council supported this motion as originally written, and this is work that will be coming back to Council for future discussion, which will hopefully prompt deeper conversations not just in New Westminster, but across the province, about measures that may be required to help vulnerable people in our communities adapt to climate disruption.

Council – Aug 28, 2023

Sorry folks, it’s only August, but summer is over when Council meets again, and we met on Monday. It was a monster meeting, going almost to midnight, but we had a few meaty items on the agenda and whole bunch of smaller items to go through, and Council was a chatty bunch! As always, the agenda and video are here so you can follow along or catch the highlights, don’t take my word for what went down, see for yourself.

We started with these Reports:

Report Back on School Zone Enforcement Hours
Following a resolution from Council asking staff about the potential to extend the hours that School Zone speed limits apply, staff took the suggestion to a regional meeting of municipal engineers to determine the interest in adopting a regional approach to this. There is no doubt it would be more effective as a regional approach (or a province-wide approach – dare to dream), as consistency helps with compliance, New Westminster is already among the cities leading the region in adopting 30 km/h on residential and pedestrian-focused streets. We are going to ask the region to come along, but if they do not want to follow, Council sent the message that we are comfortable going alone.

Train Whistle Cessation – Q2 Update
This information report reflects Staff now reporting quarterly on progress with whistle cessation, to Council and the public. Not a lot to update this quarter as we await approval of conceptual design for the Sapperton crossings, and the Rail technical committee continues to meet.

422 Sixth Street: Good Neighbour Agreement and Community Advisory Committee Terms of Reference
This information report outlines the terms of the Good Neighbour Agreement signed between the City and the Lower Mainland Purpose Society and the Term of Reference for the Community Advisory Committee in support of the Transitional Supportive Housing project planned for 422 Sixth Street.

Response to Council Motion Re: Parks and Recreation registration process
This information report follows on the call from Council earlier this year to review the Parks the Recreation program registration process to assure equity and accessibility. Some changes have already been made for summer 2023 programs, such as changing times of registration to avoid conflicts, separating day camp registration from other programs, and improved waitlist management. But demand for programs still outstrips supply, so registration is still frustrating for some residents. There are also some “next steps” listed here, including simplifying and making clearer the on-line experience, and consideration of a central call bank, among other things.

Budget 2024 Engagement Results and Next Steps
The City spent some time late in the spring and through the summer doing active engagement with the public on the budget and budget process. This included on-line (through Be Heard New West) and in-person engagement at community events. There is a lot of data in here, and as one would expect in such a broad conversation with the community, the opinions varied. There was also an interesting contrast between the feedback received from on-line engagement and that from traditionally underrepresented groups (specifically renters and newcomers to the City) that were directly approached for consultation.

Not surprising to those who have read past public engagements, in general people feel they get good value from property taxes, and those that think property taxes should continue to meet the need for enhanced services in the community and reductions in property taxes are important to a minority of people in the City. People also support the City finding a balance between enhancing new services, maintaining reserves, and paying down debt.

The next two items I am going to write about in a follow-up post, because they were both long conversations and interesting for a variety of overlapping reasons deserving longer-form treatment, and this post is already going to be too long.

12 K de K Court Boulevard Trees
Residents in a strata on the Quayside have expressed concern to the City that the trees in front of their complex are too large.

Cooling Equipment in Rental Units
This is a motion from Council asking that the City look to regulate maximum temperatures in rental apartments in the city in the same way we regulate minimum temperature standards, in light of the deaths from the Heat Dome.

After those long discussions, we moved the following items On Consent:

Changes Announced to the Current Government of Canada Cabinet July 23, 2023 Update and Meeting Requests
This report outlines the changes to the current Government of Canada’s Cabinet on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, recommends letters of congratulations and meeting requests with several federal ministries for follow up. With the Federal Cabinet Shuffle, we are going to send congratulations letters and invites to meet to several key members of the new Federal Cabinet. It’s a bit of a formality, but a good practice that we are now shedding a bit of light onto.

Consideration of a Public Notice Bylaw No. 8417, 2023 to Provide for Alternative Methods of Publication
The New West Record is no longer printing a newspaper. This is a challenge for the City because we have always relied on the Record (and previously the News Leader) to meet our obligation under Section 94 of the Community Charter for public notice of those things that require public notice. If no local newspaper exists, the Charter has some criteria we must meet to assure notice is still adequate. Our Public Notice Bylaw needs to be updated to reflect this new reality.

Posting in the two public libraries (in addition to City Hall) will augment our posting information on CityPage – this is our digital platform you can receive as an email (as ~2,000 people already do) or follow links on other social media platforms (e.g. the City’s Facebook page) or the City’s website.

Repealing Public Works Mutual Aid Agreement of 2000
The Municipalities of the Lower Mainland have forged a new Mutual Aid Agreement to replace the one from twenty years ago. This is an agreement that says during an emergency, we will share resources needed to address the emergency, and we will agree to fairly work out the payment for those resources after the emergency is dealt with. This new agreement means we have to repeal the old one, which requires authorization by Council, which is what we are doing here.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 376 Keary Street – Comprehensive Report
The owner of this single family house in Sapperton wants to replace it with a duplex. There are no variances for setback, density, or height requested, just the duplex form. The Public Consultation we generally positive, and this will come to Council for final approval soon, but does not require a Public Hearing. If you have opinions, let us know!

Subdivision and Development Control Miscellaneous Amendment Bylaw No. 8412, 2023
This is what we call “housekeeping”. Major Bylaws like this one that regulates how subdivisions are performed and serviced in the city evolve over time as requirements and complimentary regulations change. At times minor errors, inconsistencies, or things like page numbering get out of synch and need to be cleaned up. To edit a Bylaw needs a Bylaw.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2023 Stream 1 Accelerated Heat Plan Update
This report updates the Emergency Management Office’s approach to addressing the Heat Plan and vulnerable people in the City. They have identified 126 higher-risk multi-family buildings, have reached out to the building managers, and are working on getting air conditioners installed in common rooms to assure the most people have access to “one cool room” without having to leave their building. Fraser Health is also helping in connecting with vulnerable people with mobility challenges where an in-room air conditioner is more appropriate. The Seniors Services Society are assisting with identifying vulnerable seniors and assuring transportation is available to cooling centres. Staff are also translating educational materials about cooling centres and other cooling supports into eight languages.

This is only part of what Emergency Services staff are doing in heat emergencies, but this is the work directly to address people at risk in extreme heat. It is based on the building and leveraging of relationships with service organizations in the community to assure we are prioritizing the protection of the most vulnerable. This is really great work, and demonstrates the City’s commitment to not allowing the lessons of 2021 to go unheeded.

Accelerating Climate Action: Four Year Workplan to Meet Targets and Address Extreme Heat
Right now, some of the resources (mostly staff) to address the increased risk of Heat Emergency are being reallocated from the Climate Action work plan. This is convenient and makes best use of available resources, but it is obviously not a great idea to slow down the work on the root cause in the rush to address the symptom. To do both means we need more resources.

We have 124 implementation actions in our Climate Plan, 66 led by our Climate Action Team. We have added to that several shorter-term actions to address building safety in heat emergency events. This report outlines what action items are coming forward in the next few years, and what more we can get done if we “accelerate” climate action by providing more resources. The resource need is not clear right now, but staff are asking Council if we want them to assess those needs, or have no interest in acceleration. Council says “bring it on”.

City of New Westminster and New Westminster School District No. 40 Draft Child Care Guiding Principles
The City and School District 40 established a Childcare Protocol in 2009 to codify our desire to work together to improve childcare availability New Westminster. A lot has happened since 2009 in childcare, we have a Federal government who is committing to $10/day universal childcare, the provincial government has put delivery of public childcare under the Ministry of Education, and New Westminster’s childcare needs have exploded as your families have moved into New West at a record pace. It’s time to update the Protocol.

Our first staff-to-staff work in this indicated SD40 doesn’t think the Protocol is the right structure, and prefer a joint statement of Guiding Principles through which we can work together to bring more public and affordable childcare to New West. Council read the first draft and had several comments, mostly around a greater sense of urgency, a clearer definition of who is responsible for what, and other details. We have provided that feedback to staff and they will work with SD40 to create an updated draft.

City of Surrey Fraser Heights Metro 2050 Amendment Application
The City of Surrey is applying for a change to the Regional Growth Strategy to change some industrial land to “general urban”. The land is within the Urban Containment Boundary, and though Industrial Land is valuable right now, this land is not viable for industrial use as it is in a unique location on the slopes above the North Fraser Perimeter Road. There is no good reason to oppose this.

Community Advisory Assembly Draft Terms of Reference and Next Steps
The City is taking a bold step in Community Engagement in forming a Community Advisory Assembly – a largish committee of citizen representatives who as a group are as close as possible to a representative cross-section of residents, reflecting the diversity of the overall New Westminster community. This is an innovative and unusual model, but one supported by our Public Engagement Task Force recommendations and one that reflects a best practice for Public Participation.

We are engaging in a bit of chicken-and-egg here, because we need Terms of Reference to strike the Assembly, but we also want the Assembly itself to have a role in developing Terms, so we are putting forward DRAFT Terms now, and staff are working to start recruitment in September.

Council Strategic Plan Workshop Model
Over the last two terms, The Mayor had set up Task Forces to address Council priorities – these were sub-committees of 3 members of Council who would provide some staff guidance and make recommendations to all of Council. We have a different Council dynamic this term, and I’m hoping to streamline the decision-making a bit by moving these to a committee-of-the-whole model – I think it is important to include all members of Council in these discussion while also allowing decision-making through thos dialogues without the extra step of another report to Council.

As we already have a “workshop” model in our procedures, these can be re-purposed to follow the themes of Council’s priorities, and topic areas can be scheduled well in advance to make sure staff have a clear timeline for check-ins and reporting on their progress (which was the real strength of Task Forces). This will include a significant increase in the number of meetings all of council will be holding in workshop form, but Council seemed ok with this, so updates to the Council Calendar coming.

Interim Relocation of the Downtown Dog Off Leash Area (824 Agnes Street)
One thing we have a hard time finding space for downtown is adequate off-leash dog parks. There are a lot of dogs living downtown, and this is a difficult land use to accommodate when we are so space-constrained. The temporary space currently on Agnes is going to be incorporated into the public amenity space of a planned development and the space on Simcoe is not as accessible for many downtown residents as would be ideal. It is going to take some time to find a permanent solution, so staff have approached every vacant lot in Downtown looking for a partner for a temporary space. Only one agreed. It won’t be fancy, but it will fill a need for up to 9 months for very low cost, and we can hopefully have a longer-term solution before the building breaks ground at 68 Sixth Street.

Rezoning, Development Permit, and Development Variance Permit Application: 317-319 Howes St – Preliminary Report
The owner of this lot in Queensborough wants to build 26 townhouses similar to the lots adjacent. Council was presented this as a preliminary report to provide feedback prior to staff and the owner doing detail design of the project. And Council provided more than feedback. Two primary concerns were access to the site as the intersection at Howes and Highway 91A is challenging for a bunch of reasons including transit access, and this proposed to drop a driveway into very close proximity to the intersection. There are also a lot of trees (70+, though this number includes hedges as multiple trees, so even the count is complicated) that would have to be managed through retention or replacement plans.
The recommendation from staff was to provide these issues of concern to staff as feedback and let staff work with the owner to see how they could be addressed prior to public consultation and eventual return of a final proposal that addresses concerns for later approval. Council instead voted against this path, and effectively ended work on the development as proposed. Owners will have to go back to the drawing table.

Township of Langley Metro 2050 Amendment Application
The Township of Langley wants to convert some rural-designated land outside of the Urban Containment Boundary to Industrial use, which requires a Regional Growth Strategy amendment. This is concerning, as the UCB is meant to limit exactly this kind of higher-intensity development in rural areas and to encourage more concentrated use of lands within the UCB for a variety of economic (servicing lands inside the UCB is less expensive), food security (encroaching into ALR lands adds to speculative pressures) and environmental (we need rural green space to maintain the biodiversity and ecological health of our region) reasons. Council moved to oppose this application, and we will relate that to Metro Vancouver Board.

We then read a few Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8405, 2023
This Bylaw that updates the Parks and Recreation Fees for 2024 was adopted by Council. Did you know we have discounted rates for folks who have a hard time affording recreation programs for themselves or their kids?

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Off-Street Vehicle Parking – Multiple Dwellings) No. 8396, 2023
This Bylaw that reduces the number of off-street parking spots required in new buildings, as long as there is adequate Demand Management measures in place, was adopted by Council.

Finally, we had a late addition to the Agenda:

2023 Mann Cup Media Day Hosting Opportunity
Our meeting was the day before the ‘Bellies won Game 7 of the WLA Championships, but win it they did. In anticipation of that win, Council was informed of some events that will need to take place around hosting the Mann Cup in September. This is going to be a great thing for the community, but it will take some City resources to (at the least) host a luncheon for our out-of-town guests, and have a media launch at Queens Park Arena. Since the win, City Hall staff are already looking at other aspects of hosting the Six Nations Chiefs and other opportunities to help the Salmonbellies and the WLA host a memorable Mann Cup tournament – and hopefully Hoist the Mann Cup itself!

Go ‘Bellies Go.

Right to Cool

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

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

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

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

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

Council – July 10, 2023

Last Council meeting before we take a summer break, and there was a lot on the agenda. We started with a Development Variance Permit:

DVP00696 for 300 Duncan Street, 313 to 325 Blackley Street, and 326 to 340 Mercer Street
The “Eastern Node” is an area of Q’boro just to the west of Port Royal that has a Master Plan to provide some moderate-density family-friendly housing and (at long last) a local-serving commercial node on the east end of Q’boro. As they work through the development of different phases of the project, they are now asking for a parking variance to include tandem parking in some of the residential and reduce the number of residential guest parking spots. For this they need a Development Variance Permit. We received no correspondence on this, and the parking numbers they are proposing actually align with our new standards, just not the standards that were in place back when this development was approved. Council agreed to grant the variance.

We then had a Report for Discussion:

City Staff’s Heat Plan Response to Extreme Heat in New Westminster: Accelerated Workplan and Funding for Summer 2023
As I have written here many times, the City had a Heat Emergency Response Plan. But like other plans across the province, it was a great plan for the mid-30s heat waves we used to have, it was not adequate for the unprecedented and anomalous 40+ heat dome event of 2021. The intensity of that event surprised everyone from the national weather service that offers forecast warnings to provincial emergency organizations that receive them to first responders across the region, all to tragic results.

In the time since that 2021 event, the City’s Emergency Management Office (EMO) has been working with our Climate Action Team, Social Planning and Facilities Staff to bring stronger measures in, and have forged partnerships with Fraser Health and Senior Services Society to help identify and target vulnerable populations in preparation for this new type of heat emergency.

There was a motion brought to Council recently to give subsidies to residents to purchase air conditioners and to further subsidize their electrical utility bill, which Council referred to the Electrical Utility Commission. The Commission suggested against this approach, and instead recommended new money be spent on enhancement of the more targeted and effective approach already underway by the EMO. During this conversation, the Province introduced an Air Conditioner program for vulnerable people (that will be administered by BC Hydro, but like pervious programs of the type, is available to New Westminster residents), which looks slightly different than the program the City was already running through the EMO and our partners.

So this is the ask from staff for the resources to accelerate the program EMO was running, and to align the City’s plan with the Provincial program being run through BC Hydro. Estimated one-time budget ask is $268K, about half of which is for air conditioners for our enhanced program, the other half for staff resources to do all the other things. Council voted to support this.

We then moved the following item On Consent:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement: 1426 Seventh Avenue – Preliminary Report
This property owner in the West End hopes to preserve a small 1911 heritage home in the West End and put one large and two small infill houses on the same lot. With two rental units, this is a total of 6 homes where there is currently one, which is a pretty creative infill density plan that nonetheless keeps the FSR under 1, and the site coverage under 35%, though there is a challenge meeting the City’s open space requirements with the current configuration. This is a preliminary report, and the project will see public consultation. If you have opinions, let us know!

And the following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption: 651 Carnarvon Street (Provincial Courthouse)
The Courthouse needs to be re-roofed and have new siding put on. Unlike every other workplace in recent history (City Hall, the Hospital, etc.), the Courts feel they cannot work while construction is actively occurring. It is unclear how much of this is security or privacy or just no wanting to be in a noisy environment when they are working. I have some concerns about the potential scale of impact to the community here – there are ~400 homes within 100m of this site, and this is a projet asking for work ate in the evening and on the weekends for 18 months. To me, that level of impact requires a strong justification to explain why this work cannot happen during operational hours, and what is being done ot reduce community impacts.

There was a bit of a discussion here, and in the end, Council agreed to issue the variance for 6 months and ask the applicant to re-apply early in the new year to put them on notice that they will need to be cognizant of community impact and mitigation measures during the early phases of the work. This will come back to Council in January.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption: 660 Quayside Drive (Bosa Developments)
Unlike the above, there is a good rationale for one day starting a little early to get these crane sections delivered to site, so council is granting a Construction Noise exemption for one day without debate.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement: 203 Pembina Street – Preliminary Report
This is, for all practical effects, a rezoning request, asking for a change to allow the building of a small 6-unit townhouse project on what is currently a largish (>1,000 sq m) single family lot in Queensborough. What makes it an HRA is the proposal to protect and designate as a Heritage Asset, a significant mature tree – which is a first for New West. This is a preliminary report, and the project will see public consultation. If you have opinions, let us know!

New Westminster School District’s 2023-2024 Eligible School Sites Proposal
The School Board has been doing a lot of work updating their needs for the decade ahead, in recognition that New West is not only one of the fastest-growing communities in the lower mainland, but is growing fastest in the young family demographic. The Board develops 10-year plans to inform the School Site Acquisition Charges the City collects from all developers on behalf of the Province, and to apply for capital needs. One step in their capital planning is to run their projections by the City, which this report does.

For the first time I remember, the School District is actually anticipating faster growth of homes than the City is projecting, and faster than the city’s Regional Growth Strategy targets. This is offset somewhat by the disconnect between how the province calculates the number of students that will be yielded by multi-family housing forms – in short, the province has a record of assuming “families don’t live in apartments”, and New West has proven that untrue. The end result is the SD and the City agreeing we will have 2,000 more school-aged residents by 2043. If you want to read how the AD is planning to fill this capacity need, read their Capital Plan submission report attached to this.

The City is also sending some feedback to the Province here to reinforce the need for childcare funding to go with new school funding (as this is Provincial responsibility, and Child Care is now part of the Ministry of Education mandate), and to ask the province to recognize the unique challenges in finding adequate outdoor recreation space for new schools in one of the densest communities in the country, and increased construction costs for multi-story building in Queensborough.

Parks and Recreation 2024 Fees and Charges Bylaw Amendment
Every Year, Parks and Recreation review their fee structures, and we need to codify them with an annual bylaw update. There are several factors that inform the fees, including the inflationary effect on the cost of offering space and programs, comparison to adjacent communities, and overall market trends.

As a general trend, New Westminster has very low rates for almost all forms of recreation programming and space compared to adjacent communities, especially in facility rental rates charges to amateur sports. As we move towards opening of təməsew̓txʷ, we will need to set up an appropriate fee schedule. Though most fees are going up in the 2-5% range expected with inflation, some will be bumped a bit more to better reflect regional trends and cost, most noticeably lane rentals in the new pool. This is partly a result of us having not increased rates in the last few years as we recognized CGP was reaching end of life (though that end arrived faster than we hoped) so we had some catching up to do both to inflation and to regional averages. That said, historic user groups (read: Hyack Swim Club) and youth will still receive the “grandfathered” reduced rate.

All in all, Council voted unanimously to approve the changes.

Proposed timeline to advance requirements of the Energy Step Code and the Zero Carbon Step Code for new buildings
One of the city’s Bold Steps for climate action is to create “Carbon Free Homes and Buildings”. The City does not, however, have its own building code like Vancouver; we rely on the Provincial building code. The province gives municipalities some flexibility in how they choose to apply the Energy Step Code (“ESC”), which regulates the energy efficiency of new buildings, and the Zero Carbon Step Code (“ZCSC”) which regulates the types of energy systems in new buildings. The idea behind this approach is that the province will gradually move towards highest-efficiency zero-carbon buildings in the decade ahead, but will do so in a way that allows the market and the building industry to adapt to the new requirements. We have the option as a City to move to higher steps faster than the provincial standard.

This report offers an update approach to the Step Codes for the City, including “Part 9” buildings (mostly single family homes and townhouse type homes) and “Part 3” buildings (mostly larger multi-family buildings and mixed-use buildings). Both provide more flexibility for efficiency if builders commit to building lower-carbon buildings.

For 2024, the proposal is to require Part 9 buildings reach Step 5 (the highest step) in the ESC if the building meets only Step 1 in the ZCSC, but to allow a lower ESC level (Step 3) if building only has carbon-free fuels (ZCSC Level 4). For this first year, staff are proposing Part 3 buildings start at the lowest ZCSC level. Both of these standards will ramp up every 2 years so we are Step 5 ESC / Level 4 ZCSC by 2027.

The City is also looking at regulatory ability to require heat pumps in place of much less efficient resistive heating (baseboards) in new Part 3 buildings, but that is work still being developed.

Retail Strategy Endorsement
The City has been working for some time (slightly COVID-disrupted) on a new Retail strategy. Council watchers (hi Mom!) will know we have had a few workshops on this over the last 6 months, this is the final report to Council for adoption. Despite its name, this is not just about “retail” in the traditional sense, but all ground-level commercial land use planning in the City. It also recognized the unique character of our distinct commercial areas from Sapperton to Queensborough Landing.

Response to public engagement on this late stage was low (though there has been a tonne of engagement earlier in the development of the strategy, both with the business community and the general public), and the Economic Development Advisory Committee endorsed the plan as developed. The full report is a good read, as it talks about the modern state of experiential retail, the (negative and possibly positive) impacts of business migration to on-line, and the emphasis on integrating arts and culture to commercial areas to provide attractants to the streetscape.

The report comes with an implementation plan, and there will have to be a discussion in our 2024 budget about whether we pay for the staffing needed to see this implementation. There are some suggested changes to our Zoning Bylaw, changing our development guidelines for new storefronts, Public realm improvements, etc. etc. Council moved to adopt the Strategy, so we are on the way.

Zoning Bylaw Amendment for Retail Liquor Store: 812 Twentieth Street – Preliminary Report
There is an application to open a retail liquor store on 20th Street. This was previously discouraged by the pervious Land Use Planning Committee, but the application is back before us as is the right of any applicant. As the zoning is retail but doesn’t specifically include retail liquor, a rezoning would be required. Of course, provincial permitting will also be required, but apparently the province has put a freeze on new liquor store licenses until (get this) 2032 – so one would have to be relocated to this location.

This is not near any other liquor retailers (something the Province actually requires, which is one of the weird bits in how we regulate alcohol – we would never deny two shoe stores the right to be next to each other, or two cigarette retailers or used car lots), and it would occupy and otherwise vacant retail store. This is a preliminary report on the rezoning that would see public consultation, so if you have an opinion, let us know.

Finally, we had a Motion from Council:

Statement of Opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project
Councillor Nakagawa

WHEREAS the City of New Westminster has endorsed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, has developed the Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action, and has previously opposed the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project as an intervenor; and
WHEREAS the City of New Westminster has concerns about the impacts to the Fraser River stemming from the pipeline crossing near the Port Mann bridge;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster file a Statement of Opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline project that is traversing the Fraser River (stal̕əw̓) to the Canada Energy Regulator website.

This motion follows a delegation that came to Council about a month ago expressing concerns about some of the recent actions in punching the new TMX pipeline under the river near Port Mann. However, it is also consistent with concerns New Westminster has raised regarding the potential impacts on The Burnette and Fraser Rivers immediately upstream of New Westminster, which led us to be Intervenors in the Environmental Assessment process and delegates to the review panel. Consistent with our previous opposition, with our stated concerns about the climate emergency, and in support of concerns raised in our community by land defenders, I am happy to support this.

And with that, we were out of Council before it got dark outside. Our next scheduled meeting is August 28th, so I’ll have to find something else to write about here. Otherwise, have a good summer!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good work, New West.

Council – June 26, 2023

We had long meeting Monday, over 5 hours not including our afternoon Workshop session or the closed portion. There was a fair amount on the agenda, but the bulk of the discussion was on only a few topics. We started with a presentation on the City’s Annual Report:

Presentation of the 2022 Annual Report
This is the Annual Report mandated by the Local Government Act. We talk about our successes over the last year, and provide financial and statistical data for the province. 2022 was indeed a strange year, with the transition between the former Council and this one right in the middle of it. There is much to be proud of, and I appreciate the extra effort Staff undertook to guide us through that transition and keep the City recovering from the Pandemic response to more of a normal operation through it all.

I also want to Once again thank Mayor Jonathan Cote and Councillors Mary Trentadue, Chinu Das, and Chuck Puchmayr. The bulk of the work of the last year was initiated under their watch. As we cut the ribbon on the Queensborough substation (last week), and on təməsew̓txʷ (early next year), this Council has the opportunity to do that only through the leadership of the previous Council.

The things I’m proudest about over the last year don’t show up in the big numbers section in the back of this report. They are the strides we have made in Reconciliation and in Climate Action. Those are not jobs done, they are jobs that people on Council will still be working on after I’m gone. However, the progress and commitments we made in 2022 have us on a path to success and moved us further along that path than any previous year.

You can read the Annual Report and see all the numbers here.

Council Code of Conduct
Codes of Conduct are a hot topic in Local Government right now. Over the last few years, there have been many regional examples of elected Councils that have gone off the rails because of the actions of one or more elected folks who don’t take their Oath of Office, fiduciary duty, or Duty of Care seriously in this role, either because they don’t know how or because disruption for the sake of disruption is the goal. The Provincial Government responded to some calls to step in in various cases by doing the quite literally least they could do: requiring Councils to consider whether they need a Code of Conduct.

The City of New West already had a Code of Conduct, but we responded to the “call to consider” with a decision to update it. Working with a subject matter expert (one of the few people in the region who has served in the role of Ethics Commissioner for a local government), Staff and Council worked to develop a model for review. There are four major components:

  • An external Ethics Commissioner that takes the complaint and investigation process out of the hands of elected officials;
  • A Code that allows complaints to be launched by City residents, volunteers, employees, and members of Council;
  • A Multi-phase investigation process with the EC doing an initial review of applicability, an informal resolution process, a formal resolution process with timelines; and
  • Transparency in the decision-making around contraventions, while assuring compliance with FIPPA.

This is first reading of the empowering Bylaw, and we made a few recommendations to inform a second and subsequent readings. More to come here, but we are on a good path.

We then moved the following On Consent:

2022 Statement of Financial Information
This is our annual report of financial information about the City, as required by the Financial Information Act. These included audited financial statements, Council expenses, staff salaries, and every supplier from whom we bought more than $25K worth of goods and services from. It’s all there, and part of Local Government being the most transparent order of Government.

Development Variance Permit (300 Duncan Street, 313 to 327 Blackley Street, and 326 to 340 Mercer Street): Permit to Vary Off-Street Visitor Parking and Permit Tandem Parking – Notice of Consideration of Issuance
A builder is bringing 146 townhouses and 14 commercial units to this property in the “Eastern Node” portion of Queensborough, and are requesting a Development Variance Permit to adjust the parking in two ways. First by allowing some “tandem” parking in the residential units and by reducing the number of visitor parking spots from 30 to 17 (there would still be 8 commercial parking spots). The project is complaint with the OCP and the existing zoning for the site, and would finally bring some small retail to the eastern end of Q’boro to service the Port Royal community. This is the issuance of notice about the DVP, which will be reviewed at a future Council Meeting. If you have opinions, let us know.

Official Community Plan Amendment, Rezoning and Development Permit Application: 805 Boyd Street – Preliminary Report
The owner of Queensborough Landing wants to build a 4-storey self-storage building on a part of their property that is not currently very active. This would require an OCP amendment (as this is not a land use envisioned in the OCP) and a rezoning. That means external consultation (including First Nations and the Province) and a Public Hearing. This is a preliminary report, if you have opinions, let us know.

Report Back on Safety Concerns at Eastbound Tenth Avenue Between First Street and McBride Boulevard
A scary incident occurred in the spring when a car left 10th avenue and ended up in someone’s front yard, via their front fence. We asked Engineering to review if there were engineering controls that could be reasonable installed here to improve safety in the area. Staff reviewed several years of crash data and found this was a one-off incident.

Cars leave roadways; that is only one of the ways they pose danger in urban areas. However, we cannot install jersey barriers on every road to prevent this, as it would cause significant knock-off effects for everyone from pedestrians to emergency responders. However, in this spot, it is likely that reflective posts could reduce the chances of drivers leaving the road by making the curb location more apparent and adding visual “friction” that makes drivers slow down and be more attentive. This seems to be an intervention concomitant with the risk posed by the curb geometry at the site.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Additional Public Consultation Events Summary Report: 422 Sixth Street
At the request of the majority of Council, there were public engagement sessions held on the proposed supportive affordable housing project at 422 Sixth Street, one on-line and one in-person. I attended both, as did several members of Council, and found the dialogue constructive and positive in both cases. It was clear some in the room were in favour and some opposed to the project, and there were clear learnings from both groups.

One idea that arose out of these conversations and on-line engagement through Be Heard New West was to include both a Good Neighbour Agreement and a Community Advisory Committee as part of any approvals for the site, reflecting a successful model used for the supportive housing project on Ewan Avenue in Queensborough. Staff are recommending that here. This led to a two-hour discussion at Council that I am going to have to write a follow-up blog about, but short version: the majority of Council supported this idea.

Response to Council Motion Re: Removal and replacement of dead and/or dying trees on City property
Management of dead trees is part of the Urban Forest Management Strategy for the City, but as we are currently in a very rapid tree-planting phase in public green spaces, the restoration of some street and boulevards has taken a temporary back seat as per the approved Tree Planting Master Plan.

There are plans to get caught up on the back-log of boulevard tree re & re, but there are aspects of replacement that makes it more complicated than just putting back a tree when one dies. In some places, there are plans to replace or refurbish the sidewalk in upcoming work plans, and no point doing the tree until that happens. Similarly, there are areas that will get torn up for utility work or development, so best replace the trees after that. Finally, many of our sidewalk and street trees were not planted in ways that meet modern standards, and do not support the long-term viability of the tree or sidewalk. These may require significant excavation, installation a soil cell of sufficient size to support the tree to maturity, and re-design of the sidewalk. Safe to say if you see a tree stump that has been standing there for a year or more, one of the above applies.

Just inventorying these challenges across the City where we have thousands of boulevard trees will take some time and money, never mind the cost of actual tree replacement and increased maintenance in the first three years. So an arbitrary deadline for replacement of all trees (as was offered in the April motion that launched this review) is not practical or a responsible way to manage public costs. Instead, Staff have offered us two options: one is to keep doing what we are doing, with planned and gradual replacement of street trees and opportunistic replacement of dead/dying street trees coordinated with routine scheduled block pruning regimes within a given neighbourhood, as it most efficiently fits into the program. The other option is to invest an extra $125K in doing that inventory in 2024, then bring future funding requests to accelerate re-planting based on that inventory (and presumably, at a faster rate than the existing practice, pending Council’s approving funding that accelerated pace to the scale of $1 Million or more over the next couple of years). I liked the first approach, but Council convinced me through discussion to support the latter (which was the staff recommendation), recognizing it will have 2024 budget implications but also increases our ability to get some of this covered by senior government grants. The majority of Council voted to take this second approach.

We then read several Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption

New Westminster Pesticide Use Amendment Bylaw No. 8403, 2023
This Bylaw that updates the language of our pesticide bylaw to reflect changes in provincial regulation was adopted by council.

Subdivision and Development Control Amendment Bylaw No. 8369, 2023
This Bylaw that updates our offsite works agreements and standards for new developments was adopted by Council.

We then had one piece of New Business that was a late addition to the agenda.

Heat Plan Response to Extreme Heat in New Westminster: Accelerated funding for Summer 2023
This arose from an earlier request at Council to hand out money in the form of rebates to thousands of households as response to the Heat Emergency we experienced two years ago. This request was referred to the Electrical Utility Commission (seeing as it appeared they would be the budget through which this program would operate, as it was tied to utility rates). The Utility Commission met last week and said, politely, no, this is not a good idea, as handing out money to people will do nothing to keep them cool in a disaster, but there are perhaps good ways (with the advice of the Emergency Management Office) we can augment the existing Heat Emergency plans that are targeting the most vulnerable in our community. They then sent it back to Council to say “you have to decide on the budget”.

Staff put together a report from all this that outlined the many things that the Emergency Management Office are already doing in response to the 2021 Heat Dome, including targeted intervention to identified high-risk buildings and working with Fraser Health and Senior Services to identify and connect with vulnerable individuals. EMO and our Climate Action Team are providing guidance and resources around establishing safe cool rooms in people’s buildings, and are partnering with Fraser Health to provide portable AC units to those who have mobility issues preventing their accessing safe cool rooms. There are further actions being detailed out in the shorter term (e.g. partnering with faith-based community organizations to distribute water and heat response info), medium-term (e.g. Heat pump retrofit programs, regulatory responses) and long-term (e.g. tree planting, building code changes) to build resiliency into our community so emergency response is less relied upon.

There were some suggestions on how we can resource up to accelerate this work, mostly staff time and to purchase more portable AC units for vulnerable people. The budget request is a one-time of something like $270K from the Climate Action Reserve Fund, and Council approved staff developing this model with more certain budgeting to be approved next meeting.

I’m really proud of the work that our Emergency Management Office and Climate Action Team have done to address the unprecedented disaster of 2021, and to reduce the likelihood of it happening again. New Westminster is again leading on this, because it is the right thing to do when you care about the most vulnerable in your community.

And that’s all I have to say this week about the council meeting. Until I write more in the next post about the less clear things this week in council.

Council – June 12, 2023 (part 2)

This is the second part of my report on the June 12th meeting, the first part is available here, and as there are were spicy conversations around some of these issues, I should probably add a bit of a caveat once again. This blog is written by me and me alone and not only does it not constitute official City communications, it also has inherent to it my biases. I make no claim to objectivity, even when I try my best to be objective. As always, you can watch the video here and see how the conversation itself went down, and can judge for yourself.

This Part 2 covers our various Motions from Council:

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

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

This was an item delayed from the meeting two weeks ago when members of Council voted to not continue past 10:30, and this item got put aside halfway through. We already addressed the first Resolution (see link here), but had yet to address the last two.

On the second Resolution, it was amended to not just “endorse” the BIA of BC request, but to send letters to the appropriate members of the provincial government to add advocacy to the provincial government to our endorsement. All members of Council voted in favour of this advocacy to the provincial government make that endorsement clear.

On the third resolution, I was prepared to argue that this was inconsistent with the roles of Council and the Police Board. The Police Act makes very clear that there be a firewall between Police activities and City Council, to prevent exactly this kind of political interference in the operation of Police Forces. Indeed it was argued last meeting (incorrectly, in my opinion), including by council members advocating for this motion, that this firewall should prevent Council from being involved in discussions with the Police Board around budget matters, which is the one part of the Police Act where Council actually has a role. So the contradictions here are byzantine.

In my discussions with the Police Board, they appear very interested in meeting with Council to build a better budget consultation process, as police budgeting is meant to be a collaboration between the Police Board and Council, but when we start to veer into policy and operations, the Police Board will likely push back, as will the management of the police department as per the Police Act. That said, this request is to ask the Police Board for a meeting, and I have no problem with making that request to see where it goes. Council moved unanimously to move this.

Implementing initiatives to reduce catalytic converter thefts in New Westminster
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED that staff work with ICBC and the New Westminster Police Department to determine the feasibility of replicating Surrey’s “Etch It, We Catch It” campaign in our city; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff report back regarding the feasibility of implementing a by-law that would place a temporary ban on the resale of catalytic converters and impose serious fines to those individuals and/or businesses who knowingly sell stolen catalytic converters in our city.

Again, this is a matter (in my thinking) for the Police Board, not City Council, and would have benefitted from some communications with the Police Board or leadership in the police department before it came to Council. It is also problematic that the reselling of catalytic converters is not a currently licensed business in New Westminster, and the Surrey Bylaw (which you can read here) is part of its business regulation of scrap car recycling – a business type we don’t have in New Westminster. The suggestion here is to create a Bylaw to regulate a business type we don’t have. I’m not sure adding bureaucracy to regulate a business we don’t even have would be helpful, or aligned with our overall goal to simplify and streamline our business licensing.

I was also influenced here by a presentation at the Metro Vancouver Mayors Committee last week from the Chief Constable of the Delta Police Department (see meeting agenda and minutes here) on this very topic. It was very clear in his presentation – and I took the time to confirm this with him during our Q&A – that local government Bylaws are not a useful tool in addressing this issue. Instead, he emphasized in no uncertain terms that we are in a place where we need a change to provincial regulation, and was asking the Metro mayors to do that advocacy work. He indicated a patchwork of local bylaws can’t address the drivers of this crime, because they are impossible for police to administer, and would only catch people trying to sell a converter into legitimate recycling businesses, which is not the situation we are facing in BC. The vast majority of converters are stripped for precious metals and/or put into containers for overseas transport. This is an organized crime operation, not a petty crime operation, and petty crime approaches do not work.

So, although I fully recognize that catalytic converter theft is a real problem and cost in our region, and hear from people in the community concerned about it, I could not support this motion because it doesn’t meaningfully address the problem. That’s not me talking; that is the advice from regional law enforcement, the experts on the matter.

The majority of Council voted to not support the motion.

Enhancing Livability in New Westminster
Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council directs staff to report back on opportunities to bring a program similar to the Chinatown Stewards model to New Westminster.

The Chinatown Stewards are a model of community involvement in Vancouver where local residents with employment barriers are trained and employed to do a bunch of different things to make the urban space more friendly and attractive. This is similar to the I’s on the Street program we run in New West, but with an expended suite of services, which means more services for the commercial area and more diverse training for the staff.

This is a request for a report back to Council on opportunities (and, presumably, challenges), not a commitment to the model, so I was happy to support. The majority of Council voted to support this.

The Right Person, the Right Time, the Right Place Report
Councillor Campbell

BE IT RESOLVED That Staff provide a report back to Council on opportunities to action the local government recommendations presented in the Century House Association report The Right Person, the Right Time, the Right Place; and That City Staff work with Century House Association, Senior Services Society and other New Westminster senior support agencies to develop a senior government advocacy strategy to support the additional recommendations in the report.

Council had a presentation a few weeks ago from representatives from a group at Century House to speak to the report named here, which resulted from a webinar event at Century House supported by the United Way that discussed the state of long-term care in BC, the disaster that was long term care during COVID, and the work governments need to do to assure seniors in our community have affordable, safe, and dignified options for aging in our community.

The report came with recommendations for the Federal Government, Provincial Government, Health Authorities and Local Governments, developed by Gerontology experts from SFU, the Seniors’ Advocate for British Columbia, and other subject matter experts. There are four specific recommendations for local government, which this motion requests staff review for practicality. It also suggests senior government advocacy on the other recommendations, which is (much like the first motion we discussed this day) a pretty normal thing for motions from Council to ask for.

The majority of council voted to support the motion.

New Westminster: a 15-minute City
Councillors Henderson and Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster endorse the concept of becoming a 15-minute city and create a plan to implement the plan by 2030.

This was a motion brought to Councillors (and Council) by the community, and the community in question call themselves the Monkey Rebel Group – youth activists looking to (selfishly!) support building a better City for the future. We had a delegation of from the group present to Council, and have seen a bit of correspondence for and against since the motion was presented as a notice two weeks ago. In my 8+ years of this work, I cannot recall a motion where the vocal opposition was so detached from the actual thing being asked for in the motion, but that’s the post-information environment we are in.

The idea that we should be planning and building our cities so most of your daily needs can be met in a short walk or cycle is not a new one. Indeed, this was the model for almost all city building for thousands of years prior to Motordom. Preparing to discuss this motion took me down a deep rabbit hole of using an on-line tool to look at 15 minute walk-sheds and cycle-sheds in New Westminster. And fortunately, there are provincial support programs that speak directly to the first phase of work we would need to do here, which is essentially a mapping exercise to see where we fall short. Yes, we all know some areas we fall short (the High School is more than 15 minutes bike ride from Lower Sapperton and Queensborough), but there are also details beyond the obvious, and perhaps our planning can better address these. Let’s have the talk.

The majority of Council supported this motion.

Implementation of a temporary Low-Income Energy Assistance Program in 2023
Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED that effective June 1st, 2023 the New West Electrical Utility be directed to provide a one-time reimbursement of up to $500 to low income residents to install a new or replace an older non-functioning air conditioning unit; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that New West Electrical Utility establish a low-income energy assistance program effective June 1st to provide up to $500 in credits for eligible residents who are facing markedly higher energy bills due to increased consumption during the summer season (June through September); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the definition of low-income mirror that of the Province of BC which is defined as individuals with an income of $39,115 or less, and families with a household income of $50,170 or less in 2022; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that up to $500,000 be sourced from the Climate Action Reserve Fund to cover the cost of this temporary program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that on urgent basis the CAO be authorized, in consultation with the Mayor, to establish the streamlined program eligibility and temporarily reallocate the necessary internal resources to support the operations of this program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Mayor write a letter to the Premier of BC requesting the 14 recommendations contained in a June 7, 2022 BC Coroner’s Office report titled “Extreme Heat and Human Mortality: A Review of Heat-Related Deaths in B.C. in Summer 2021” be fully implemented in an expedited manner

On the face of it, support for air conditioners for low-income folks, and evaluating our opportunities to have means-tested reductions in utility rates for very low income households are things I can support. Unfortunately, the language in this motion make it seem both over prescriptive and underdeveloped.

As an example, using the $50,170 household income threshold to determine eligibility would make (based on 2021 Census data) more than 9,600 households eligible, meaning (even if we agreed that this is an appropriate use of Climate Action Reserve funds), the proposed $500,000 would represent a small proportion of the overall cost. This looks to be a plan sketched on a napkin without consultation with the Electrical Utility Commission or anyone in finance, and one that commits us to immediate spending of multiple millions of dollars.

This also (as was pointed out by other Councilors and the Renter Union) not addressing the core issue with rights for the most vulnerable in our community, many of whom are actually banned from installing an air conditioner. We need an approach here that is set in the realistic experience of people who are living in lower-cost rental or living in isolation (the identified factors in Heat Dome deaths).

The City and the Province are taking a number of proactive measures to prepare for the next Heat Dome and assure we don’t have the same disastrous impact on people’s health. We are working through Emergency Management, in partnership with the Health Authority, and are implementing many of the measures outlined in the Coroner’s Report following the Heat Dome event. These measures have been reported on openly by the City (see here, only a few meetings ago) and the Province. We are also exploring alternatives as direct action and senior government advocacy towards regulated cooling in buildings. There is a lot going on in this space right now, it is unfortunate that this motion was characterized as the one thing the City could and should do to make people safer, as that is simply not true.

Reflecting that most in Council think there is a nugget of a good idea in here, the majority of Council moved to refer this idea to the Electrical Utility Commission so they can address many of the questions raised: What would be the cost? How feasible is this? What is a practical timeline of taking this approach? Does the Utility even collect the data to go this direction? So more to talk about.

And that was the end of the excitement section of the evening’s meeting. Except for that motion to extend past 10:30, which council unanimously supported this time around.