Council – Jan 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Assessments 2021

Assessments are here. For those who own homes, this means a letter arrived in the mail telling you what the assessed value of your property was on July 1, 2019. It also tells you what the assessed value was over the previous three years. Some people are very upset to find their property has gone up in value, which means their property taxes are going up. Others are very upset that their assessed value has gone down, and their investment is losing value. At least, that is what I glean from Social Media, but maybe I need to get out more.

I have written before about the relationship between property assessment and property taxes, and about how the assessment process works, so this will be a bit of an update/summary of those posts. A bit of redundancy, but with new numbers.

First off, your assessment does impact your property taxes, but not as directly as you may think. The City has not passed a 2021 budget, so I do not yet know what the 2021 Property Tax rates will be, but in our last discussions, we seemed to be settling towards something like a 4.9% increase over 2020. I will round that up to 5.0% for the purposes of this discussion as long as we can all agree that is speculative and the numbers may change between now and when you get the bill.

That 5% means the amount of revenue the City will receive in property taxes from existing taxpayers will go up 5%, but it does not mean the cheque you write in July will necessarily be 5% higher than the one you wrote in 2020. First off, it only impacts the portion of property taxes that the City gets to keep. Last year, your residential Property Tax Bill looked like this:

So 58% of your property tax goes to the City, 35% to the provincial government through the School Tax, and about 7% to other agencies regulated by the provincial government. Everything else I talk about below here relates only to that to-the-City portion of the tax bill. To find out how the School Tax is set or how the BC Assessment Authority spends it’s 1%, you need to go to someone else’s blog. All this to say if the City put your municipal property taxes up by 5%, the amount of money you pay only goes up about 2.9% (that is, 5% of 58%).

If you look at your Property Assessment letter, you will note that the average change in property values in the City of New Westminster was a 3% increase. Because the City calculates its property tax rate based on this average value, a 5% increase will be based on this value. If your house went up in value by the average, then a 5% tax increase means the municipal portion of your property tax bill will go up 5%. The relationship between these two numbers is linear, so to calculate your potential increase, subtract the average value increase from your own value increase, and add the 5% increase the City is proposing:

My assessment (1940 SFD on a 5,300sqft lot in the Brow) actually went down by 11% since last year. So my Municipal taxes would go down by (-11)-(3)+5=  –9%.

My friend in Sapperton (1920 SFD on a 4,000sqft lot) saw her assessment go up by 20% over last year, so her Municipal taxes would go up by (20)-(3)+5= 22%.  Yikes.

Assessment is a dark science, and every year there are weird local effects of property values in one neighbourhood going up or down relative to others, and it is not always clear what the causes of these changes are. A recent example is the Heritage Conservation Area in Queens Park which was either going to cause housing prices to go through the roof and make the neighbourhood forever inaccessible to young families, or was going to crater the value of the houses dooming young families to inescapable debt, again depending on which Social Media account you followed. The reality is, it had little perceptible effect when compared to similar properties in Glenbrook North or the West End over the last 5 years. The market is bigger than one neighbourhood.

Properties actually sell “above assessed value” or “below assessed value”, a metric that is often used as an indicator of a market trend, since assessments are always at least 6 months old. However, it is important to remember that, in aggregate, things just don’t shift as much as they do in one-off conditions. If the person up your street who spent $50,000 on a new kitchen sells their house, they are likely to get more than the neighbour who has a black mold farm in the basement, even though both houses may look the same from the outside. Assessments are approximations of how the “typical” or median house of the size, age, and lot dimensions in your neighbourhood should be valued, not an evaluation of your wainscoting. Individual results may vary.

If you think your increase or decrease this year is unfair, there is a process to appeal your assessment, but you can’t dawdle. Local governments have to know the official assessed values by April so we can set our tax rates and get those cheery bills into the mail, so the Assessment Authority has to provide official numbers by the end of March. Therefore you only have until February 1st to file an appeal, but if you think you might want to do so, you should contact BC Assessment immediately and get the details about what you need in order to make that appeal. The important part is that the onus is on you to provide evidence that the appeal is wrong, not vice versa.

Council – Jan 4 2021

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

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

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

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

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


The following items were Moved on Consent:

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

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


Our Bylaws readings included the following for Adoption:

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

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


We had one late addition piece of New Business:

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


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

Ask Pat: Making Home

ASP asks—

Hi Pat – What are your thoughts on Kennedy Stewart’s pilot project to build up to six housing units on lots zoned for single-family homes? Also, do you think something like this could work in New West?

I will avoid wading into City of Vancouver politics here, but if you buy me a beer (post pandemic) I might regale you with my strongly held opinions about the way this was handled from a political point of view. Today, I’ll instead try to answer the questions from a public policy side. I have not done the deepest dive into this (see all the caveat-form ass-covering below) but am basing my critique on the proposal as outlined here on the Mayor’s own website.

Skipping past the “pilot 100 lots first” part of it, the big idea was to pre-zone standard single-family lots in Vancouver to allow up to 4 living units in what I assume would be a fourplex or clustered townhome configuration. The new building would operate as a kind of Co-op ownership model where the price of three of the units were based on market prices (which would be, presumably, less than the Single Family Detached house it replaced) and the price of the fourth would be tied to some regional determination of middle-income affordability for initial sale, and for perpetuity through a Section 219 Covenant on title or other mechanism. In some larger lots, this could be expanded to 6 units (4 market, two moderate-income).

To assess this, I want to break it into two parts, while recognizing they are intrinsically linked: land use and affordability.

Land Use
There are about 40,000 Single Family Detached homes in Vancouver (data from here), out of a total of about 280,000 households, yet SFD is by far the most dominant land use by area. It is likely that most of these SFD have more than one dwelling unit in them, be that a basement suite and/or a laneway house, with varying levels of legality, but it still means less than a quarter of the living units cover a vast majority of the residential land in Vancouver.

I have sometimes pushed Gordon Price’s buttons on this, as he speaks frequently of the “Grand Bargain” inherent in the politics of urban planning in the Lower Mainland for the past couple of decades: we will allow bigger towers, mostly on SkyTrain lines, as long as you keep your hands off of the sacred and ill-defined Neighbourhood Character of our single family houses. I suggest that the “Cities in a Sea of Green” narrative of the Livable Region Strategy has boiled down to more localized “Towers in a Sea of Single Family Houses”. This unfortunately has far-reaching effects on housing variety and flexibility, the cost of providing things like utility and transportation services in a community, and the viability of our communities.

We have already accepted (tacitly at first, but now more formally) that basement suites and carriage homes are acceptable, and that they provide a valuable from of more affordable housing that the region would be hard-pressed to function without. With the overall shrinking of the size of families even compared to 20 years ago (never mind the Vancouver Special peak of the 1970s) the reality is that many of our Single Family Detached neighbourhoods are shrinking in population, even as the region’s population swells. Corner stores, community schools, recreation leagues cannot operate on a shrinking population base, especially if we continue to shift our mode of travel from the private automobile to more sustainable forms.

So putting four small families in well-designed compact homes of the 1,000 square foot scale on a single 4,000 square foot lot (FSR 1.0) with 50% lot coverage is, in my mind, a preferable form of land use than similarly-sized single family homes with a legal basement suite. Maybe not everywhere, as no one housing form solves all of our housing needs, but in huge swatches of that RS-1 zoning map, this change would make for better, stronger, more resilient, and equitable neighbourhoods.

Affordability:
When a random Vancouver-Special-having single family detached lot in East Vancouver has $1.7 Million in land value and $100K in improvement value, it is hard to see how “working class” affordability fits into this model. The mortgages required to buy a starter home like this costs something like $6,000 a month, which puts the annual mortgage cost perilously close to the median annual pre-tax income of Vancouver families (about $75,000). If we think of an East Van Vancouver Special as a luxury only 5% of the population can afford, then we perhaps have to talk about why we are allowing the vast majority of the residential land to be preserved for this use?

Of course, many of these houses provide for an increasingly inequitable form of serfdom where basement suites act both as “mortgage helpers” for the gentry, and limited-franchise housing for the peasantry. This proposal would, I think help in closing that gap by introducing a more equitable Co-op type model at the single-lot scale.

This relies on a few things that are uncertain, which is why I suspect the Mayor’s proposal was for study and piloting as opposed to wide-spread adoption. Making these projects economically viable so a median income family mortgage fits the market component housing would require them to be salable in the $700,000 range. This may mean pre-approved design (we could call it a “New Vancouver Special”) and perhaps even some training of the building community to find the most efficient way to build a Step Code compliant building of this scale and form.

I would also throw in a caveat that cities have become reliant on development to fund the infrastructure expansion to support population growth – and I’ll use the building of better sewers here as my example. Going from 35% to 50% lot coverage means we need to address things like storm run-off at a different scale. It also means sanitary sewers have to be upsized or we will need to shift building codes to reduce the volume of sewage generated. When a City permits the building of a high-rise or even low-rise apartment building, we can suck tens of thousands of dollars out of each unit in the form of DCCs and CACs to pay for this work. With thousands of individual small projects across the City (if we are going to treat these small projects like we currently do replacement single family homes), the balance between keeping those re-builds affordable and providing the necessary infrastructure backbone is even a bigger challenge. I suspect it can be done, but there are details to be worked out here. This needs work.

The other big caveat is the potential loss of a stock of low-income housing in the form of those legal and illegal basement suites in single family homes across the City. In theory, the one-subsidized-unit-per-lot part of this plan will offset that, but I want to see some numbers. The limited franchise of the renter in the illegal basement suite situation is still better than those people being unhoused in a rental market with persistent sub-1% rental vacancy. Though I resist the whattaboutism of expecting any single new housing policy to solve all housing problems, we do need to put the policy into the context of the multiple housing crises in our region. In practice, I suspect the uptake of this type of new housing would be slow to start, giving time to assure we are building appropriate supportive housing for anyone displaced – but this only adds to the urgency of building that type of housing instead of taking away from it.

Would it work in New West?
It would work differently, but I’m not sure it could work. And again I’m going to try to avoid the politics of it here (I have no idea if the community or Council would embrace this idea) and try to look at it as a policy.

Land values in New West are still quite different than in East Van. A standard lot in the West End of New West has an unimproved value of about $1M, and in Lower Sapperton closer to $800K (to pick two neighbourhoods of mostly-single-family homes where you could see something like this work). So off the bat you may think it would be easier to pull off here, especially as you consider our median family income is about the same as Vancouver’s. However, this also means knocking down an old house and building a new SFD on it (with a carriage house & basement suite, as we currently permit) can already provide three residential units at a buy-and-build price that is still in reach for a wider range of income levels, though still not the median income earner. You would have to compete with that option to convince a builder to invest in the build of a new four-plex or six-plex model.

This would make it more imperative that savings could be found and risk reduced through streamlined approval and standardization, which is complicated in New West. We have a rich diversity of “standard” lot sizes here: 130×50’ in Queensborough and the West End, 120×50’ in Connaught Heights and Glenbrooke North (unless you have a lane, then 100×50’ is typical). Sapperton is typically 45×112’ or 40×100’. Though Upper Sapperton may make the most sense, their lot dimensions and slopes may make it most difficult. We also have some aging infrastructure problems (such as ongoing sewer separation work) and some building-on-steep-hill problems that impact building costs and make standardization harder. Finally, I think having 10% of the population and revenues of the City of Vancouver makes it harder for New West as a City to do some of the planning and design work to make this the most viable option, and would still be a less attractive market than Vancouver for private industry to do that work. It is much harder and riskier for New West to be the bleeding edge on a program like this.

The Vancouver Special was developed in Vancouver (and adopted in some adjacent communities) because it was a governance and market response to needing a bunch of affordable-ownership housing during rapid growth. I like where this proposal went, because it applied that kind of thinking to our current housing situation. To answer your question in TL;DR form (after the fact!): I like the idea, I don’t know if it would work, but I wish Vancouver had given it a try.

As a final caveat, I want to say I am almost perfectly the wrong person to ask about this. I am not a builder, a professional planner or a land economist, but am an elected official expected to approve policy based on the best advice of these professions. That probably means I am speaking here from a Dunning-Kruger knowledge nadir. I would love to hear more experienced people talk about this model, and point out the complications I am too knowledgeably unaware of.

Making Hay

I’m not the only one who blogged a Year in Review. At the risk of giving them a little more Streisand Effect attention than they deserve, local political Council Watchers have risen a bit from the political shadows to throw a little light mud towards City Council. I would normally let it pass without comment, except that a comment by their sole elected member is misinformed and misinforming in a way that I think undermines the work of Council and the School Board. So I’ll risk a retort.

In her year-end letter to the community, Trustee Connelly suggests the following:

The truth of the matter is that since the Trustee was elected in 2018, the City has altered the Official Community Plan with exactly four amendments:

OCP Amendment Bylaw #8156 (to remove Heritage Conservation Area protection from 7 houses, on account of their lack of heritage value);
#8122 (To support the Heritage Conservation the Slovak Hall at 647 Ewen Ave);
#8151 (a housekeeping bylaw to fix some designations that didn’t match current use); and
#8145 (to allow a Childcare operation in a hall attached to a church on Sixth Ave).

Of those, only one involved an increase in density: the Ewen Ave amendment permitted the building of 5 townhouse units in exchange for permanent preservation of the Slovak Hall. The Sixth Ave amendment was to permit the addition of 114 childcare spaces to a Heritage-protected church location, and the housekeeping amendment was to fix minor errors included in the original OCP regarding four properties – including one (ironically?) requested by the School District.

But the OCP is older than the tenure of this School Trustee, as it was adopted in 2017. So let’s test her assertion against all of the amendments made before the Trustee was elected:

#7956 (allowing childcare spaces on vacant City land in Queensborough);
#8025 (preservation of heritage single family houses in Queens Park);
#8021 (44 units of Temporary Modular Housing for women in need of support in Queensborough);
#7982 (appending a small portion of commercial land to a Townhouse and Childcare project in Queensborough);
#8039 (requiring builders of new mutli-family buildings provide EV charging infrastructure);
#8042 (expanding the Heritage Conservation Area in Queens Park).

So, to reframe the Trustee’s concern: the City has “alter[ed] their new official community plan to accommodate more densification and growth” by a grand total of five (5!) family-friendly townhouse units and a Temporary Modular Housing project to support women facing homelessness. The question may be asked: which of these OCP amendments would she have asked Council to vote against?

I know what you are going to say: “What about all the towers!?” And that is a fair question. What about them?

In the time since the Trustee was elected, there have been two high rise residential developments approved in New West. The first was a 237-unit building in Uptown which was the first major residential development approved in Uptown in more than a decade. It was also recently amended – without added density – to go from mixed strata and rental to 100% Purpose Built Rental – filling a dire need in our community. The second was an increase by about 190 units at 100 Braid to support a shift from Strata to Purpose Built Rental. Other than the units in these two towers, there have been fewer than 80 dwelling units approved through rezoning in two years in a City with more than 34,000 dwelling units in the midst of a regional housing crisis. To be clear, none of these rezonings required altering the OCP. All of those units were fully in alignment with the existing Official Community Plan. They were also in alignment with the Regional Growth Strategy approved a decade ago by New Westminster in conjunction with all 22 regional municipal governments and the Provincial Government, who funds the building of new schools.

The Trustee is free to argue that the City is growing too fast or changing in ways she doesn’t like, if that suits her political motivations (though I would note the sum of all approvals above represent a growth rate of less than 1% a year). But it is disingenuous to claim OCP Amendments are instruments to create growth. They are actually the responsible governance response to growth, and looking at the examples of OCP amendments in New Westminster, are more likely to *restrict* densification through Heritage Conservation than actually support it. Even the rezonings  are not examples of City Council forcing new population to move into areas underserved by the School District, but the building of much-needed housing in areas consistent with a decade-old regional plan and and Official Community Plan that the School District was not only consulted on, but provided meaningful feedback to.

No doubt there are challenges related to regional population growth for School Districts, and anticipating how growth impacts the School District is a significant aspect of how the City reviews development plans. This is not a “particular challenge for New Westminster“, but common across the growing region. That is one of the reasons we have a Regional Growth Strategy and an Official Community Plan in the first place.

This is also why we have Section 476 of the Local Government Act that specifically requires Local Governments to have this consultation with the Board of Education. The Trustee would like “a coordinated effort to accommodate this growth as it translates to schools” and I retort with Section 476 of the LGA, and the active role the School District has taken in the OCP and OCP Amendment process. We do this not just because it is the law, but because it is a good idea. We do it so when the School District is planning, for example, a replacement for McBride Elementary, the School district and their funders in Victoria know what capacity is needed. This is also why Council has been supporting the School District in their aggressive capital plan over the last decade, bringing new schools on line and anticipating their needs in the decade ahead.

I recognize that part of politics is making hay.  Political Science is often about finding local wedge issues and figuring out how to use them to separate yourself from *them*. But when your argument is disconnected from the way governance works (both in practice and in legislation) then it seems disingenuous. Maybe it’s a dog-whistle, maybe it’s just misinformed. I’m not sure which is worse. We all want the residents of the City to have access to great schools, and the Board of Education and City Council have a good working relationship based on an honest understanding of the pressures we both face, and a strong desire to deliver on those needs. Happy New Year.

Ask Pat: Smoking fines

ThRe asks—

Hello Pat, Where can I get specific data about fines to smoking bylaw offenders in New Westminster? Thank you

Smoking Bylaws are a bit of a funny beast, because there are more than one enforcement bodies that stick their nose into where you can or cannot smoke. A few years ago, I did a bit of a dive into smoking bylaws around New Westminster Station and some of the “nuisance behaviours” at this primary entrance to the City. I learned that in some areas smoking was prohibited by the TransLink regulations and Transit Police were the enforcing authority, in others the City Bylaws applied, and Bylaw Officers were the relevant authority, and in other areas such as patios and buffer around the doors to restaurants Provincial Health Authority enforcement staff were the relevant agency, but could only apply fines to the proprietors who failed to stop smoking in the public plaza, not to the actual smokers, presumably putting the Mall Cops in charge of any kind of active enforcement. Knowing which side of a metal strip on the ground or how many metres you were from a doorway was important to know who is supposed to enforce the Bylaw in that particular spot. We also apparently cannot enforce smoking bylaws within strata buildings (such as on your residential balcony) as that is something that the provincial Strata Act manages.

Add to this that smoking enforcement is by its nature difficult as it is an ephemeral act, so with overlapping and gap-prone administrative boundaries I would assume actual fines are very, very rare.

The City’s smoking Bylaw is available online: Smoking Control Bylaw 6263, 1995 (last updated in September 2018) lays out the details of what we can enforce in the City. The actual fines for violating the Smoking Control Bylaw are found in the Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw 7318, 2009 (last updated in August 2020), or the Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw 8077, 2019 (last updated in August 2020). And there is a difference.

“Bylaw Notice Enforcement” is a local administrative fine process, run completely by the City. We use this for a bunch of smaller offences (it is limited by Provincial Law to fines under $500) and would be familiar to anyone who has gotten a parking ticket. The adjudication process is run by the City, which is easier and cheaper than relying on provincial Courts. Your ultimate appeal measure would be to come to Council if you disputed it (or the Provincial Ombudsperson, I guess, if things went really bad). Here are the available Smoking fines under that process:

The “Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw” process relies on the Courts, and is more akin to a speeding ticket. You can, if you wish, go to court and appeal to a judge, and they are able to determine an appropriate fine given your situation, up to $1,000. The fun part here is that it turns out pretty much anyone with a badge has the legal authority to enforce it (though City Councillor is suspiciously absent from the list):

So those are the ways Smoking Bylaws may be enforced in the City. If you are more curious about how often or where this enforcement happens, and how many fines are actually collected, You are asking the wrong guy. I would first suggest you contact the City’s Bylaws Enforcement division and ask if they collect this data, and if they are free to share it.

The City is subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA), which is a funny two-part set of provincial regulations, one part giveth, one part taketh away. A good way to think of it is that the City must share public information under FOI unless they are strictly forbidden from sharing it under PPA. In practice, the City has to determine if there is Privacy Protection component to any information it shares,  which means staff need to comb through it and skim the privacy protection parts off. It is probably important to note that Council is completely separated from this process – except we are sometimes requested to provide information such as our correspondence. The City has professional staff who are well versed in FOIPPA who do those reviews, and under the act, the City is permitted to bill anyone asking for that information to cover the cost of that staff member’s time. It’s not a perfect system, but it is the system we have.

Goodbye 2020

It’s the time to do year-in-review stuff, but I honestly have been struggling to get this written.

2020 was a year when many of us realized we are lucky, and/or privileged in ways we never considered. I got through 2020 with a secure job (well, two, and one more secure than the other), and a partner whose job was similarly transferrable to the dining room table. We also have a secure dining room in which to put that table. Our family and friends are for the most part well, though we do miss time with them. This year, the most basic seems too much to ask for.

Here in our community, there are many families impacted directly by the COVID crisis and the poisoned drug supply crisis. The pernicious effects of inequality and homelessness were made worse this year as the ability for already-strained supports to do their work met breaking points. It was a year punctuated by loss: some personal, some community-wide and far-reaching like the Timber Wharf at Pier Park. Businesses and not-for-profits are struggling, and many will not be here after this has passed. For good reason, I am sensitive to griping about my own not being able to do a year-end trip or celebrate my Dad’s Birthday-ending-in-zero with my family. In the big scheme, I am really lucky.

This was a difficult year to be on City Council, for reasons both obvious and obscure. The thing I love most about the Council job is the big vision work: the long-term planning and policy stuff that is so important to how the City is shaped over years and decades. This was the first work put aside this year when everything changed. So much of this year we were flying blind – doing things that we had to make up as we were going along. New West being a well-organized City, we had a Pandemic Response Plan that had been put together presumably after the SARS situation almost 20 years ago. It had accumulated some dust, but it at least gave staff a framework to hang new response plans on, and we were fortunate to have it. But from that part forward, it was all new.

Some of our larger visions / strategic plans / campaign promises had to take a back seat in the all-important second year of the term. Not forever, but just while staff had a chance to understand the impacts of the emerging Pandemic and its impact on City operations. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was Council’s decision to pause for a few months the procurement process on the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. Caution shown earlier in the year and the foresight of the Federal and Provincial governments to provide critical financial support directly to local governments facing revenue holes (to the tune of $6 Million for New Westminster) meant that we got out of 2020 in decent financial condition. We are not out of the woods yet, and our revenue is likely to continue to be down through to the end of 2021, but we are OK for now.

That said, I think Council was pretty unified in recognizing our priorities before the Pandemic were still priorities through the Pandemic: addressing as best we can the homelessness, childcare, and engagement gaps in the City, and integrating Climate Action into everything we do as a City so we can hit 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets. There was no time to take our foot off the gas on these pressing issues, and we managed to keep them moving. Still I fear limited desire in senior governments to help us on these ongoing issues in the year ahead. Crisis breeds austerity in the upside-down economics of neoliberalism, and that will, I think, be the real test for us as a society in 2021.

On the positive side, I am incredibly proud of the work that staff did this year. Thrown into unfamiliar territory and re-writing work plans while managing their own anxieties about health, their family, their finances, or the state of the freaking world, they found ways to get the work of the City done. The water flowed, the sewer worked, the trash went away, trees were planted, fires were put out and people in need were supported by first responders. Staff also found creative new ways to support those made vulnerable in our community, and to help businesses navigate their biggest challenges. Staff shone especially in managing the most uncertain of all budgets, in finding better ways to conduct public engagement, and in reporting out on that engagement. These efforts made it easier for Council to ground our decisions in a time of so much uncertainty. Staff have a lot of good work to look back on and be proud of in this difficult year, so if you have a chance this holiday, thank a muni worker in your life, they rarely get acknowledgement, and this year more than ever, deserve it.

So the City came through the first half of the Pandemic well, but the route was never easy. For Council, the change in how we made decisions, the uncertainty of an unfamiliar path, and even the shift to remote meetings made it a more difficult year to find consensus. In one sense, I missed spending unstructured time with my Council colleagues this year, the meeting at events or at committee meetings or just over City Hall lunches. It was in those times we found our common goals or were able to sense how others were feeling, push ideas or address push back. Instead, I found I was irritated by Council more this year than I remember previously (I suspect a few of them feel the same way about me, but that’s their story to tell), and at times frustrated by the process. I was too fast in finding the fault and too slow to see the progress. All to say, it was not fun year. But that’s not the goal, I guess.

Now I have a real week off, no travel planned, and time to kill. I have a few projects, and @MsNWimby has a few more she would love to see me get done. I have a few books to read that I hope will give me some inspiration. Looking back, even without the Pandemic it was an eventful and challenging year. Loss seemed to be the theme. It doesn’t help that I’m 50+ now and can no longer fake the side of the hill I am on. So I am trying to think more about 2021 and the work we have ahead. I’m going to take some strength from the resilience this amazing City showed in the shitty year behind us, and look to the brighter days ahead. I hope your 2021 shines bright.

Ask Pat: Blogs

JL asked—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council – Dec 14, 2020

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

We started with an item Removed from Closed:

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


We then had a Special Hearing

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

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

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

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


We then had a review of a Development Variance Permit:

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

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

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

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


Then we had a Presentation from Metro Vancouver:

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

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

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

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


The following items are ones me Moved on Consent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


We adopted the following Bylaws:

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

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

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

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

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


Finally, we had one piece of New Business

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

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

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

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

Police budget

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

The answers were basically yes and yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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