Council – Sept 26, 2022

In more than 10 years, I don’t think I have gone more than three weeks without blogging, even when I took extended vacations. Sorry folks, it has been busy and this page has dropped in priority over the other engagement and media work I have been doing. Still, I am committed to reporting out every council meeting for the last 8 years, and I’m not stopping now!


The penultimate Council Meeting of the term took us on our annual (excepting COVID disruption) trip to the Queensborough Community Centre, where I was expecting a big turnout, but was surprised to see so few people present.

Nonetheless, we had a full Agenda that started with the following items Moved on Consent:

Appointment of Acting City Clerk
Our City Clerk is seconded to act as our Chief Electoral Officer. This is getting busy, and so for the next three weeks the assistant Clerk is taking over Clerk duties. City Clerk has clearly defined and legislated duties, so we have to officially, through a motion of Council, assign these duties to the Assistant until the Clerk is free again in October.

Budget 2023: User Fees and Rates Review Amendment Bylaws
We reviewed the proposed fee increases for 2023 last meeting, Every department reviews their rates annually, and try to balance three things: Inflationary increases so rate increases are gradual and we don’t get behind on CPI; Reviewing the cost of delivering the service so (ideally – not always) fees cover those costs; and a comparison to fees charged in adjacent communities to make sure the City is not out of touch with what is charged elsewhere. This year staff are recommending most rates and fees go up about 2.4%, to reflect CPI, though some fees are not going up (QtoQ Ferry, Inter Municipal Business Licences, EV charging costs) and some are going up more than 2.4% based on previous policy decisions (e.g. Parking fees are mostly going up to align with the 5-year plan for Parking rates approved by Council after much discussion back in October of 2018).

We reviewed the reports last meeting, allowing staff to prepare the empowering Bylaws. If a Councillor wanted to suggest changes to these Bylaws, last meeting would have been a good time to do that so we could have a fulsome discussion and staff could prepare a response giving Council any extra information they may need (e.g. budget implications) to make a decision. Alternately, they could pull this item from consent and have the discussion now, though staff would be a bit on their heels. Doing it when we are giving the Bylaws three reading later in the meeting can only be interpreted as grandstanding. Ugh. Elections.

City’s Response to the Accessible British Columbia Act
BC has a new Accessibility Act, and will require local governments (and Police and Library Boards) have organizational accessibility plans and accessibility committees, and to develop plans to meet Accessibility Standards for our employees and in service delivery. So we are complying, and staff have given us a bit of a framework of how we will get there.

Infrastructure Canada Active Transportation Fund – Grant Agreement
When Council supported my motion to get staff developing a complete and connected AAA mobility network in the City, they got to work. There is now Federal Government Funds to help pay for this planning work, and we are applying to said grant for one of those grants. Well, we already applied and got approval in principle, but we need to formalize the authorization and delegate the ability to sign a grant agreement. Government.

Manufacture’s Patio Application (Pacific Breeze Winery)
Pacific Breeze is a small winery off Stewardson Way, and they have been operating a small patio during COVID through the temporary measures taken by the City to support these licences. There have been no problems with this operation, so the City is supporting their application with the Province to make this permanent.

Official Community Plan Amendment Section 475 and 476: 501 Fourth Avenue and 408 Fifth Street (Holy Eucharist Cathedral), and 1135 Salter Street – Consultation Report
The Ukrainian Church in Queens Park wants to expand their campus to include some affordable housing and other uses to support their function, which would require an OCP amendment. There is also a property in Queensborough that wants to build residential units that would require an OCP Amendment. We have only seen preliminary plans for both of these, and sent them to the regulatory-required outside agencies and First Nations for consultation before we can consider the OCP amendments further. This report adds 6 more First Nations to the list of those requiring consultation, based on further evaluation by Metro. This report approves the start of that expanded consultation. Both of these projects will also be going through Public Consultation, so more on this to come.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 376 Keary Street – Preliminary Report
The owner of a single family house in Sapperton wants to build a duplex. This aligns with the OCP, there is no net increase in living units (a laneway house would otherwise be permitted here), no variances, but “duplex” triggers the need for rezoning. This is a preliminary application, so it will go to public consultation, Drop us a line and let us know what you think.

Rezoning, Development Variance Permit, and Development Permit: 114 and 118 Sprice Street – Preliminary Report
The owner of these lots in Queensborough where there are currently two single family homes want to build 10 compact lot single family homes on the largish existing lots. This is a pretty complicated application and an interesting design approach. This is, however, just a preliminary application that will go to public consultation. If you have opinions, let us know.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Council Code of Conduct
Our Council has a Code of Conduct, but the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has a new requirement that we “publicly revise” our Code. We have updated ours in review of the development guide provided by the Province and looking at best practices in other communities. This new Code includes a more prescribed method to investigate breaches to the Code, including stricter timelines to investigation and assigning a third party to investigate to put a bit of a fence between Council and the investigation.

This is a good step, but it is not the solution to many of the issues around the region over the last few years when it comes to Council as a respectful workplace. New Westminster has for the most part avoided the worst of this, but I can name a half dozen council colleagues around the region who have been bullied, harassed, and treated in a way that no employer would permit in any other workplace, but do not have the protection of an Employment Standards Act, of an Ombudsperson, or a Union. Updating this Code is a step to better workplace conditions for elected officials, but we still need the Provincial Government to do more.

Introduction of the Local Government Climate Action Program and 2021 Corporate Greenhouse Gas Emissions Update
I might have railed here or there about the end of CARIP, a Provincial funding source to local governments for climate action. The Province heard many local governments (and the organization of which I served as Chair, the Community Energy Association) in the need for a replacement program that all local governments could rely on as base funding for these efforts.

The Best news is that New West will receive just under $300,000 from the CARIP replacement program (Local Government Climate Action Program – LGCAP) in 2022, which is more than twice what we received under CARIP. Similar to CARIP, this program requires some reporting of our efforts to the Province and alignment of our actions with the CleanBC plan – which are things we are already doing in our 7 bold Steps for climate.

This report also outlines our progress toward 2030, 2040, and 2050. Our original targets (compared to the 2010 baseline) were 45% reduction by 2030, 60% by 2040, and net zero by 2050. We also have a Corporate target to be net zero by 2030. As of 2021, we are 29% below baseline, but the curve is definitely bent to the right direction. I’m so proud of the work this council has got done to set bold targets, to empower staff to achieve them, and to get us in a leadership position regionally on this most important of issues. I have heard people suggest New West talks a lot about climate action, but what are they actually doing? Here is the answer; we are getting it done.

Latecomer Agreement for Extended Servicing Costs Related to the Servicing of the Queensborough Special Study Area
This gets a little into the weeds, so hold on. When development happens, it often means we need to build bigger off-side supports for the development. Bigger sewer lines, bigger water lines, bigger pumps for both, roadways, etc. This is usually covered by Development Cost Charges (“DCCs”) – we make the developer pay that cost by charging them per square foot of new density, then when enough developments come along making the increased capacity prudent to build, we use that money to build it.

However, sometimes a large development means capacity needs to be added right away, so we get them to build it right away. But it is also possible that more future development in the area of this first one will mean we want to build that capacity bigger than strictly needed by the first developer, so we don’t have to rebuild it a few years later when the next phase of development happens. One way to manage that is to ask the first developer to build the extra-big capacity, then when the next developer comes along, they can benefit from that expanded capacity. The “latecomer” developer then pays back the first developer for the extra cost of that extra-large capacity that was conveniently built for them.

To do that, we need to agree on what capacity is needed, how it will be built, and how much the Latecomer will pay to tap into that expanded capacity. This requires a legal agreement between the City and first developer. This report is about us developing such an agreement with the company hoping to develop the mixed-us “Eastern Node” neighbourhood in Queensborough. The form of the agreement is laid out by Staff, and Council are asked to approve it. This is a bit unusual for New West because we don’t do much “Greenfield” development, but it is common in other communities.

Permissive Property Tax Exempt Properties for 2023 – Review of Application Result
Some properties don’t pay property tax because they have a statutory exemption set by Provincial Law (Churches, private schools, provincial government agencies, etc.). Others don’t pay property tax, or pay reduced property tax, because the City has determined that there is a community benefit to their being here worthy of reduced taxes. There are some limits to whom we can give this permissive exemption (church accessory buildings, sports clubs, social service providers), and the City has a well written policy to guide new exemptions one we have followed pretty closely in my time on council.

There are several applications for new exemptions this year, three of which were already eligible for Statutory Exemption, and the others that do not meet out policy threshold for new permissive exemption.

Q2 2022 Capital Budget Adjustments
We have started quarterly reporting of our Capital Budget, instead of the previous practice of doing annual updates with occasional ad hoc adjustments as major capital projects proceeded.

As per Local Government regulation, our Capital Budget exists as a 5-year Capital Plan Bylaw, with annual Capital budgets. This means if we want to change the overall budget over 5 years, we need to amend the bylaw, but if we want to move proposed spending from year 1 to year 3, or vice versa, we don’t need to amend the Bylaw, we just need a motion to do so. This gives staff some flexibility to adjust capital planning do deal with minor cost overruns, unexpected savings, or changes in delivery times for different projects – like if we break a truck and need to replace it sooner than expected, or if a construction project gets delayed by supply chain issues.

This quarter, we are adjusting the 2022 Capital Budget by $1.7Million, but are NOT increasing overall spending, but are instead deferring or delaying other projects in the 5 year plan. These changes include:
$0.7M increase in the cost for the Wood Street drainage upgrades;
$0.5M in increased spending on sidewalk repair and replacement;
$0.3M for increased Pier Park fire remediation costs;
$0.2M for expanded scope on some road safety projects.
There is a spreadsheet attached to the report here if you want more details on cost increases and decreases that offset them.

Queensborough Ecological Restoration Project
The little slough on the south end of Ryall Field South and the trail that leads from Ewen at Stanley Street to the Riverfront will see ecological restoration, including refurbishment of the wetlands portions, new trees and native plantings, improves trails and new signage. More than an enhancement of the Perimeter Trail, this will support the ecological network model of our new Biodiversity and Natural Areas Strategy, and the Urban Forest Management Program.

Rezoning Application for Detached Accessory Building: 228 Seventh Street – Preliminary Report
Westminster House wants to expand their existing accessory building for their operation in the Brow of the Hill. I am an almost immediate neighbor, I recused myself from this discussion or decision, as there may be a perceived pecuniary interest.

Update on the Community Action Network Leadership Training Program and the Ethics of Engagement Project
The CAN Leadership Training program has been operating in New West since 2020 to bring people with lived and living experience with homelessness into planning and decision making around municipal efforts to address homelessness and poverty. We now have 16 CAN Leaders in New Westminster who serve on City Advisory Committees, Task Forces and Working Groups.

If you want to know what makes New Westminster innovative, you may want to read this report. It is a great summary of what an inclusive and compassionate City can do to improve people’s lives, and improve the community while we are at it. It is also groundbreaking in how we are expanding Public Engagement to include participatory decision making, and reaching out to residents traditionally not included in Public Engagement efforts.


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

Delegation Amendment Bylaw No. 8365, 2022
This Bylaw responds to some recent changes in department structures in Staff, and makes clear who is what delegated authority as required by provincial law. We adopted it.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (616 and 640 Sixth Street – Text Amendment) No. 8348, 2022
This is the final Bylaw to support the construction of a mixed use, Purpose Built Rental toawer in uptown – the first significant density approved Uptown in a decade, and the first Purpose Built Rental building in longer than that. Council adopted it!

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (108-118 Royal Avenue and 74-82 First Street) Bylaw No. 8339, 2022; Heritage Designation Bylaw (82 First Street) No. 8340, 2022; and Windsor Road Closure, Dedication Removal and Disposition Bylaw No. 8350, 2022.
These Bylaws approve the development of a new 6-8 storey residential building on Royal Ave and the retention and protection of one heritage house on the lot. Council moved ot adopt the Bylaws.

Official Community Plan Amendment (514 Carnarvon Street – Holy Trinity Cathedral) Bylaw No. 8088, 2022; Heritage Revitalization Agreement (514 Carnarvon Street – Holy Trinity Cathedral) Bylaw No. 8089, 2022; and Heritage Designation Bylaw (514 Carnarvon Street – Holy Trinity Cathedral) No. 8090, 2022.
These Bylaws approve the building of a new Mixed-use tower including public amenity use, rental and market Condos adjacent to the HTC, along with a restoration and preservation plan for the 120+ year old Cathedral itself. Council moved unanimously to adopt.


finally, we had two pieces of New Business

Disposition of Unused 2018 Campaign Funds, Mayor Cote
When we fundraise for campaigns, there are all kinds of rules about how that money is spent. Surplus funds at the end of the campaign can be held in Trust by the City for the candidate to pull out next time they run. If the candidate chooses not to run again, it is unclear where those funds go, except into general revenue in the City. The motion here from the Mayor is to move unspent campaign funds to a charitable cause or scholarship program at the discretion of the departing candidate. I support this, as these funds were either the Candidate’s own money, or that of people who politically supported the Candidate, and the candidate is therefore in the unique position of knowing where their supporters would like to see the money go.

Extreme Heat Event Monitoring Centre Initiative
This late addition to the Agenda was nonetheless notable, in that the City is partnering with Fraser Health and Emergency Management BC on an advanced response to Heat Dome events, a response led by New West Fire and Rescue. The plan is to set up a Heat Response Centre to offer immediate care to less-acute cases at Century House, with LPNs and trained Firefighters providing patient monitoring, relieving the Ambulance Service and Emergency room to address more seriously impacted patients. I like this innovative approach, and the partnerships we are able to leverage across municipal and provincial authorities.


And with that, our Penultimate Meeting is a wrap. Tune in a gain on October 3rd for the final meeting of the term, which will no doubt have some weepy moments for a few members of Council, and a bit of fun to mark the occasion. Now back to the Campaign Trail.

Police Numbers (update!)

The topic of policing is coming up across the region in various forms, most of them related to elections. Last week, two non-incumbent people running for Mayor in the two largest Metro Vancouver municipalities are promising to increase the number of police officers to address a perception of increased crime. I have also heard some discussion recently about New West not increasing its police force to keep up with population growth. So I thought it would be good to write a blog that looks at the data, as a precursor to what is likely to be a deeper discussion in the community about policing.

When I say “the data”, I mean the information provided by police themselves and reported to the Province of BC. The Province has a page dedicated to collecting and reporting out all kinds of police information from across the province that you can find here. The part I am most interested in is report linked at the bottom of the page entitled “Police resources in British Columbia, 2020“. It is the most recent and comprehensive comparison of police forces across the province, and though I’ll add data caveats below, it seems like as definitive a source as one can find.

In comparing Metro Vancouver policing, there is one thing that needs to be addressed up front: of the 17 municipalities with more than 5,000 residents, 12 are served by municipal RCMP forces, and 5 are served by Municipal Police. When you dig into details, the service model is actually much more complicated than this, as there are Regional Task Forces that are shared between multiple jurisdictions and may include Muni and RCMP staff, and every city receives some services from some task forces while most also lend staff to these task forces. There are also other forces such as Transit Police and Federal RCMP detachments operating in the region. The overlaps are complex, and the report itself has a lot of text explaining these complications. Read that report if you want those kind of details.

A commonly heard point is that Municipal police cost more, but provide better service and better local accountability. This is the concept behind Mayor McCallum’s argument for establishing a Municipal force in Surrey. There are a couple of ways to look at policing cost, but these two make sense:

The orange points are Municipal forces, the blue are RCMP. You can see the policing cost per capita does tend support the notion that local cops cost a bit more. You also see there is a wide range of per capita costs regardless of the provider – Vancouver and Langley City residents pay almost twice as much as North Vancouver District residents do for police. You can see New West has the lowest costs of any Municipal force, but is still more costly than most RCMP forces. The cost per officer to run the police force does not vary quite as much, and you can see New West is middling-to-high compared to our cohort, but not completely out of scale with the regional average.

This brings us to the number of officers per capita, or (the easier wat to count it) the number of residents per police officer. I think the most interesting way to look at this number is compared to the Case Load. That stat is the number of criminal offences per officer, which is an imperfect but useful proxy for “how busy is the average cop?”

You can see here that New West is about smack dab in the middle of the region in both of these counts. Our numbers are remarkably close to Surrey, which is a very different city with an RCMP force (these stats were collected before the Surrey Municipal police force was set up). You also note that Municipal forces general have fewer people per police (more police per capita) and lower caseloads than RCMP forces, with New West again leaning towards RCMP levels more than fitting in with the Municipal Force cluster.

Of course, this discussion leads to a discussion about growth, and whether the police forces are keeping up with regional population growth. The data here is a again from the BC Government report, including the 2020 population data. I gathered the 2011 population data from another BC Government dataset you can find here if you want check my numbers.

You can see that by percentage of growth over the decade, very few police forces have added members at the rate that population has grown (the dots on or below the blue diagonal lines being the few that did), and two North Shore municipalities have fewer police now than they did in 2011. You will also note that there isn’t a clear divide between RCMP and Muni forces here. It is clear that the increase in Police in New West (going from 108 to 113) has not kept up with the 22% population increase. It is also interesting that Surrey and New West are so far apart in this graph, when they were overlapping in the last – the relationships between officer count, case count, and growth are obviously complex.

So those are the numbers (table form below for those who wish to nit-pick), and I am sure that this kind of data will lead to principled and well informed discussions in the community. I just want to make the point that is often missed in these discussions: City Councils generally do not determine police officer counts. In RCMP-serviced communities, I have no idea how those decisions are made. For a City with a Municipal force, that is the job of the Police Board working with senior policing staff, backed by provincial service standards and based on the unique needs of the community. If you are interested in leading the discussion on police officer counts in New Westminster, your opportunity is now, as the province is currently receiving applications for Police Board members right here in New Westminster. Apply here, the closing date is September 9th.

Finally, it is important to note some data caveats. These are 2020 numbers, the most recent the province has available. The actual number of sworn officers in your community is likely lower than the numbers here, because these stats are “Authorized Force” and assume that all funded positions in the police force are filled. This is rarely true in the best of times, but in the last few years we have had events that made it less true, such as the regional shifts related to Surrey ramping up its Municipal Force and the COVID-related Great Resignation affecting many sectors of the economy. Also, there was a dip in crime in 2020 related to COVID (this is discussed in the report), and though we might presume this dip was systemic and equal across the region, this data neither confirms nor refutes that.

Raw numbers used in the charts above. Sources listed and linked to in the text above.

BONUS CONTENT!

In the comments, a reader suggested comparing Case Loads between 2011 and 2020 would be interesting. The table I downloaded from the province didn’t have case load data from 2011, but you can find CC Case counts in the “Jurisdiction Crime Trends” table on the same page. From that and the Authorized Strength already reported, you can calculate Case Loads from 2011 an 2020. The results are interesting, if a bit unclear. And again, I want to emphasize the 2020 data is likely anomalous due to COVID, so I also did the math comparing 2011 to 2019, which might be the most recent “representative” year. Sorry, the best you get is a table:

So Case Loads are generally down, but there are some municipalities where they went up, some by quite a bit – West Van and Maple ridge share a strange similarity here. You can also see an almost universal drop in 2020, except in White Rock. My first impression is probably that the majority of cases are likely more complex now than they were a decade ago, but once again, you can read form the numbers what you will! I’m just reporting here.

Bad Data. Again.

The Fraser Institute are up to their old tricks: shabby data gathering resulting in inaccurate results. I’ve demonstrated this before, and even sent them a letter outlining the big mistake they made last time they did this (not coincidentally four years ago, just before the last municipal election), and they have blithely made the same mistake again. So here I am to correct the record. Again.

The Record shingled this story into my social media feeds, and it speaks to this report prepared by the Fraser Institute. The report attempts to compare “spending per capita” and “revenue per capita” across the 17 largest municipalities in Greater Vancouver. I’ve said before, this is not a competition, but on the face of it, this isn’t the worst way to look at whether residents in various municipalities are getting value for their tax dollar. There are a few problems with over-simplification (I’ll talk about those further down), but as a first pass it is an interesting easy-to digest media byte.

The problem is, New Westminster, unlike any of the other 16 municipalities listed, has an electrical utility, and the data used by the FI rolls that Electrical Utility into the overall revenue and spending amount. Residents of every other city pay for electricity, but it is not included in these comparisons. This is not an insignificant difference. New West Electric pulls almost $50 Million in revenue ($622 per capita), and spends more than $40M ($505 per capita) every year.

So, much like I did last time, we can adjust for this significant factor, and shift the FI charts to reflect an apples-to-apples comparison. You see New West, when fairly compared, does not have the second highest spending in the region, but is tied with North Van City for 8th place, firmly in the middle of the pack:

Table from Fraser Institute report, modified to show how New West compares when the $40.6M in annual Electrical Utility spending is removed, allowing a true apples-to-apples comparison with other municipalities that do not have an electrical utility.

And when fairly compared, New West does not have the second highest per capita revenue in the region, but instead tenth, slightly below the regional average:

Table from Fraser Institute report, modified to show how New West compares when the $50 M in annual Electrical Utility revenue is removed, allowing a true apples-to-apples comparison with other municipalities that do not have an electrical utility.

The FI also conflates all revenue sources. This is problematic, because they vary greatly across the region. Municipalities have different fees for services and different ways of managing utilities. Also, as this is a data snapshot for only one year, factors like one-time senior government grants or sale of properties in any given year can really juice the numbers and make apples-to-apples difficult. When fans of FI reports talk about City spending, they are usually worried about taxes, so it is fortunate that the same government database from which the FI draws their numbers breaks down the revenue sources. It is easy to separate out Property Tax revenues from the pile, and compare on a per-capita basis. When you do that, you see New Westminster is one of the (and I totally buried the lede here) lowest-taxed municipalities on a per capita basis in the Lower Mainland:

Comparison of Revenue from Taxation across the lower mainland. Population Estimates same as used in Fraser Institute report cited above, taxation data source is BC Government Schedule 401_2019, column D “Total Own Purpose Taxation and Grants in Lieu”. available here: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/local-governments/facts-framework/statistics/statistics

And in case you are interested, here is that data in tabular form:


Now onto the detail part for those still interested.

I find the lack of adjustment for the electrical utility fascinating, not only because I pointed it out to them last time, but also because they do make and adjustment for the West Vancouver Blue bus system – a single-municipality expense and revenue stream. If you compare the FI data to the government database, you find West Van expenses are actually higher (by $417 per capita for spending and $910 per capita for revenue) than the FI report. They make that adjustment for West Van blue bus, but not for New West Electrical. This seems inconsistent.

Looking at the government database also demonstrates the problem with using snapshot data for one year. Line items in spending like “loss on disposition of assets” sound technocratic, but it is writing off value of assets either destroyed or sold off, and it varies across the region year by year as you might imagine. Add to this annual amortization adjustment, and cities with lots of physical assets (like Vancouver) and those that have invested recently in important infrastructure are disproportionately cast as spendthrifts. On the revenue side, one-time grants for big projects may be counted in this year data, but not reflect overall revenue generation ability. In 2019, Coquitlam sold $60 Million in assets – more than every other municipality combined – but that is not an annual (or sustainable) trend and does not reflect any long-term economic comparison between Coquitlam and any other municipality.

So the comparison is sloppy. And as much as I would like to counter some critics with the table that shows New Westminster spending growth over my time on Council as one of the lowest in the region (and, notably, much lower than the 18% cumulative inflation of the 10 years ), the way the FI presents data is so poorly explained that I don’t even feel good using it to tell a story that makes New West look like the kind of fiscally responsible municipality the FI would allege to support:

Table copied directly from the Fraser Institute report cited above. The only thing I added was the red arrow.

I just want the FI to do be fair, and the local and regional media to do a little bit of preliminary analysis before they credulously print their press release. After years of this kind of sloppy work the FI deserve to be treated with more scrutiny.

Reaching out

Hey Folks.

Not much updating going on here. Council is on the summer break but I am busier than I have ever been, because I am running for Mayor. Every day is filled with meetings, scheduled or impromptu, in person and on-line, with campaign team folks, with other candidates, with community stakeholders. I have been helping with platform discussions and writing and design, planning out comms for September, helping coordinate events and fundraising, helping line up volunteers for the work ahead. We have a great team and a lot of tasks, and the Mayor candidate tends to get pulled into a lot more of them. Yesterday I got through 4 of the 7 things on my morning To Do list, today my list is longer. And this note wasn’t even on it…

It can be exasperating at times, barely keeping up, but most evenings (when there isn’t another event) I drop it all at 5:30 or so, and meet a volunteer for a couple of hours of door-knocking. By 8:00 I am recharged and excited again, because meeting people and talking about the city – what we do well, what we need to do better – is just about my favourite thing in the world. People in this community are so positive and forward-looking. It’s joyful work and those conversations are like a breath of fresh air.

I don’t generally use his Blog for campaign stuff. You can find campaign info at my campaign site, at my Facebook site, and of course I’m always Twittering, I only rarely put campaign stuff on here and that won’t change. But I’m talking Campaign on my blog today because I want you to go here right now: communityfirstnw.ca/donate_patrick

There are a lot of people who read this blog who I don’t have other direct contact with. I meet people on the doorstep who tell me they read this and appreciate the work I have done to try to make the work of Council easier to understand and more transparent. It takes a lot of time and I don’t get paid extra to do it, but it is part of the commitment I made when I got elected to Council 8 years ago.

If you are reading this, and have been reading this, you know who I am and what I stand for. At a time when politics is increasingly cynical and polarized, I still believe we can talk through the challenges in our community in an open and transparent way, we can hear different voices and stand behind decision making. We can also change our mind when given new information or better data. We can make this a better City and a better world by doing these things.

If you think this too, and appreciate the work I have done to bring the community into City Hall, then I ask that you donate to my Campaign for Mayor so I can keep doing this work.

Why You? Because new campaign finance rules mean I cannot receive any business or union donations. Nothing from CUPE, nothing from BIA members, nothing from the development companies. Every donation must come from an individual, and no individual can donate more than $1250. I am not even allowed to donate more than $1250 to my own campaign. This means I am not allowed to pay for my own lawn signs, or for a campaign office. I can pay for newspaper ads or pamphlets, but not both. I need those who support me to donate to my campaign, and our team needs to pool funds to get those things done. We need you.

As always, if you have a question or concern, drop me a note. I might not have time for an ASK PAT response right now, but I try to reply to every email I get. Please consider helping me out if you are able, then get back to enjoying the summer. And now I’m off to the New West Farmers Market to judge a Pie Contest. But that’s another blog…

Counting homes

It is 2022, which means 2021 Census data is trickling out. If you are interested in this kind of data, you should probably be over at censusmapper or Mountain Doodles where Jens does cool things with maps and data visualization to make census numbers fun. But before you go, I want to talk a bit more about what the census can tell us about the regional housing situation.

I have written a few blog posts in the past that compare census data to the regional growth trends projects in the Regional Growth Strategy – the master document of regional planning for Metro Vancouver, and the one that all municipal Official Community Plans must align with. In those posts I compared the decade of population growth that the regional government planning folks predicted back in 2011 to the actual population growth shown in the census. Turns out (surprise!) growth is not evenly distributed around the region, and though the overall growth of the region is close to the projection (when you account for census undercount, which is an interesting phenomenon), but there are great regional variations between those communities that met or exceeded their regional growth projections and those that fell far short.

However, the population count is not something cities directly control (despite some fanciful promises candidates may offer). The region grows for many overlapping demographic, economic and socio-political reasons, and cities can either accommodate that growth (by supplying homes, employment spaces, utilities, infrastructure) or choose not to (and face housing price inflation, labour shortages, and failing services). The Regional Growth Strategy also includes projected dwelling counts for every community, and Cities though their policies and practices, have much closer control of this. It also happens that dwelling count is a major factor in housing affordability – the idea that increasing supply puts downward pressure on price is not controversial outside of some Landscape Architecture schools.

The 2021 dwelling count data was recently released by Statistics Canada, and we can now compare the decade-old RGS projected numbers for 2021 to the census numbers for 2021. I’ll start with a table, because I am not the data visualization genius Jens is:

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see only 5 of 21 municipalities built more housing units than the RGS projected, though some may be surprised to see Vancouver exceed its targets by almost 20,000 units. As is probably expected, North Van City exceeded growth projections by the highest amount proportional to its population, and Delta, New West and White Rock round out the Municipalities that built more housing units that projected (and Richmond was within statistical error of it target). However, during a decade of overlapping housing crises, while everyone agrees the affordability of housing is the primary local government issue, every other Municipality in the Metro Vancouver fell short of the very commitment they made to the region to get new housing built.

Yes, I dropped Anmore and Lions Bay and other small munis that have negligible effect on regional housing supply.

Of course, not all munis are equal in size, nor are all munis equal in their ability to accommodate growth. A significant part of the Regional Growth Strategy is to emphasize new growth near transit and established transportation networks, to increase residential density near work / study / shopping areas to reduce transportation burdens, and to prevent the erosion of the ALR and and the Urban Containment Boundary.  This is why the RGS set different targets for different municipalities, and came up with 2021 targets that every muni could agree to when they signed off on the document.

So I compared the projected increase in dwelling units from 2011 to 2021 to the amount that each municipality exceeded or fell short of the 2021 target based on 2021 census data, and you can see how the growth was not only shared unequally, but how different municipalities had different commitments to the agreed-upon plan. It is here that the two recalcitrant North Shore districts and the Tri-Cities really stand out.

Note this is not total dwelling units, just the increase between 2011 and 2021. It also shows that the apparently-rapid growth of new towers in Burnaby and Coquitlam are not enough to keep up with the demand that was projected in the region a decade ago. And that Sea Bus apparently is the great catalyst to urban growth?

The RGS is being updated right now, the decade-old document projecting to 2040 is being replaced with one projecting to 2050. All of the Municipalities are expected to sign off on it, though there are some rumblings Surrey is going to push back because they felt the other cities were not sufficiently diffident in granting them a major re-draw of the Urban Containment Boundary so they can replace forest with warehouses. One of the concerns raised by New Westminster through that process was that municipal projections/targets are being replaced with sub-regional ones that clump municipalities together, further reducing the accountability local governments have in addressing our serious housing crisis. And with strong anti-growth voices rising regionally during this local government election period, I am less confident that the order of government most able to bring in new supply is going to get the work done.

Hey Mr. Eby; we should talk.

Yes, I’m running.

I really love New Westminster, and am really proud of the work that Council and staff have done in the (almost) 8 years since I was first elected. The last two have been especially challenging, but also the most important. We’ve weathered the worst of the pandemic, and it tested the resiliency of our community, residents and businesses alike. But it also showed us the strength of our community. We made it through together by learning new ways to support each other. Now that we are getting back to the momentum we had pre-pandemic, we need to be guided by the lessons we learned  – the importance of teamwork, the value of public services, and the need for listening and compassion.

I think the City is at a critical time, as is the region, and we need a positive, hopeful, vision for where we go as a community.

As a City, we are working through an aggressive capital plan, replacing aging infrastructure like never before. At the same time, we are leading the region on addressing the housing crises (plural) and are taking bold action on climate. We are supporting the arts and renewing our urban forest. We are opening a new page on reconciliation, and creating new forms of public engagement. I don’t want us to lose that momentum, we can’t afford to stop short or turn back.

With my experience on Council, my knowledge of the City, my commitment to listening and opening up government, and with the support of Council incumbents and so many people in the community, I think I am the right person to lead New Westminster during this time.

So I am seeking the Community First New West nomination for Mayor of New Westminster.

If you read this blog, you already know who I am, what I stand for, and how seriously I take this work. During my 8 years on Council, I put so much time and energy into being an accountable and transparent elected official – every vote, every decision, every challenge we faced on Council, I wrote about here, and spoke about publicly. And I have learned from hearing your feedback, from listening to the residents, business owners, service providers and volunteers of this great community. You never stop learning in this job, and you can never stop listening.

So, things may get a little weird around here in the next few weeks, but I am not going to be using this blog site as a campaign site – campaign comms need a copy editor. There will no doubt be some references to elections and platforms and events and such, but my plan is for this to remain my place for writing about the City and the work of Council, at least until the voters make a decision on October 15th. In the meantime, I will have a campaign website here: PJNewwest.ca (just getting started!) and there will be other social media handles and such, but that kind of work will appear after the nomination meeting later this month. And as always, you can e-mail me or hit the Ask Pat button above or stop me on the street and ask me questions. I’d love to chat.

I encourage you to support and follow the website of Community First New West. There looks to be a great slate of School Board and Council candidates seeking nomination with Community First – people with positive visions for New Westminster and track records of work building this community. But those are their stories to tell, not mine.

Off to the races.

3 delegations

As I mentioned last blog, we had a few public delegations at Council on Monday that were notable. I don’t often write about public delegations here unless they result in direct Council action, in which case they make it into my regular Council Reports. But anyone can delegate on any topic in New West, so we often don’t know what is coming, and are not prepared to directly address the issue raised in the council meeting. It is also a weirdly pre-election political time, and as such, more of these delegations will be seen in context of October 15th. So with the benefit of a few days of reflection, I might like to look at the points raised.

First, a candidate for Mayor made his first appearance in Council chambers to ask Council to put the 2030 Olympic bid to a referendum of New Westminster residents. I, frankly, did not know how to respond to this request.

For context, there are four First Nations (Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Líl̓wat) putting together a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics, relying heavily on existing infrastructure built for the 2010 games. They have invited the municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler to enter MOUs to define how they can work together to achieve the bid goals. New Westminster is not a party to those MOUs, we have not (yet) been invited by the host nations to enter those discussions, nor are the details of the bid established enough for us to have an informed conversation about its viability.

So when one suggests residents of New West be engaged in a referendum on this, I am not sure how we would even phrase a question without sounding profoundly colonial and setting back relationships we are respectfully trying to build with those indigenous communities on whose land we live and work, and whose land on which the broader “we” were very comfortable holding our own Olympics a decade ago without (to my knowledge) doing a referendum of Indigenous Peoples. Further, I don’t know how we would operationalize any answer (yes or no) without violating core principles of reconciliation at a time when we are building relationships. So the request was not timely, and was not something I can imagine us putting resources towards right now.


The second delegation was from a long-time Council Watcher reminding us that the Community Charter (Section 118) says a City over 50,000 people should have eight councilors, unless we have a Bylaw saying otherwise. Back in the early 2000’s New West made a decision when the population went over 50K to not add two new councilors. In 2005, the City Council of the time put a non-binding plebiscite question on the ballot, and 70% voted against an increase in council. We have not, in my time at least, had any conversation about revisiting that decision. That was 17 years ago, and now that we are over 80,000 residents, it seems reasonable for a resident to ask whether we should review that decision.

My reflex response is that I just don’t feel the public is in a place today where a strong majority sees “more elected people” as the solution to any problem. Maybe that is cynical, and I could hear an argument that more elected officials results in better and potentially more diverse representation. So am going to stay agnostic on this for now, and just look at the numbers.

There are 19 Municipalities in BC with population over 50,000. Of those, seven have 6 Councilors (37%), twelve have 8 Councilors (63%), and one has 10 Councilors (Vancouver, which has its own Charter, so it doesn’t count here). Here is how they plot in population vs. council count:

Of the seven municipalities in BC with a population larger than 50,000 and six Councilors, four have a larger population than New West (Delta, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, and the District of North Vancouver) and two are smaller than New West (Port Coquitlam and North Vancouver City). There is one municipality with population smaller than New West with eight Councilors, and that is Prince George (which despite a current spurt in growth, has effectively the same population as it did in the 1990s).

So what I take from this is that New West in not currently anomalous in its number of councilors, but would be one of the smallest municipalities with eight if we made the shift. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the number is perfect, or that the rules the way they are set up is optimal, only that New West seems to be within the category of nominal in regards to Council count. Let the conversation in he community ensue…


Finally, we had a presentation from a representative of the Uptown BIA expressing concern about the proposed Uptown Active Transportation improvements. This followed up on a letter sent to Council by the BIA.

The current plan is the result of lengthy public and user group consultation, and addresses the point that a new High School and major park destination is not well connected to our local or regional active transportation network. Direct-as-possible routes from the Crosstown Greenway on the west (through Moody Park, already built) and east (along 200m/2 blocks of 6th street) were identified as active transportation priorities.

There are some businesses on that block of 6th Street that are concerned about the change, because there will be a reduction in street parking. This is not surprising, as separated safe cycling infrastructure is often anticipated to bring a negative impact to retail areas. This despite there being extensive evidence from around North America and the rest of the world that merchants vastly overestimate the importance of cars as the mode their shoppers use, and that safe cycling infrastructure that displaces curbside parking does not hurt adjacent businesses, and may actually be a positive.*

That said, the updates on 6th Street are going to initially be installed using temporary hardware, similar to the Room to Move installations that occurred primarily Uptown during the Pandemic summers to test out where the balance between pedestrian and car space can be adjusted. Those informed some of the more permanent installations you see now on Sixth Ave where sidewalks are being expanded. The mobility lanes will be separated by more than paint (which is required to make them safe), but in a way that we can make inexpensive changes to iterate the design to make it work better. Part of that evaluation should include impacts on the local businesses, and I hope to continue that conversation with the BIA.

* References from:
New Zealand
Ireland
Toronto
Seattle
New York
Toronto, again
Portland
Los Angeles

Ask Pat: Sticks & Carrots

Allen asks—

What do you think of the news that B.C. prepares to remove some housing approval powers from local governments? There are no denying that getting permits from a city is slow and difficult. I’m not sure whether take powers away from local government is good or bad, but in your opinion, how New Westminster can do better on issuing new permits?

I have been thinking a lot about it, but I don’t yet have any answers. This is mostly because Minister Eby has been rather vague about what types of changes he is looking to implement, and the target needs to be well understood to avoid unintended effects. I’ll try to unpack what doesn’t fit in the headlines.

First, I need to note my comments are from the point of view of a member of a City Councils that is meeting our regionally-agreed-upon commitments to building new housing. We have leadership and staff that have weathered the challenges of meeting our Regional Growth Strategy obligations in approving new Purpose Built Rental, market housing, and family friendly housing, while we are finally cracking the nut on new “missing middle”. We have not just approved new non-market affordable housing, but have made City lands available and fast-tracked approvals to assure that when funding arrives for non-market housing, we are inviting it in, and we have made clear we want more funded in our own back yard. We did this without massive expansion into greenfield (because as a 150+ year old City, we don’t have much greenfield) and without massive displacement of vulnerable residents from the older, most affordable housing in the City.

That is not to say New Westminster doesn’t have more work to do, or that the crises are over, only to note that the work we have done in the last decade is region-leading (if the City of North Van will share the podium). This work has not been without push-back from some of the community. Every day we hear as much from people telling us we are going too far, too fast, as we do from people asking us what we are doing to address housing. Have you looked at Facebook recently?

At the same time, we are a City of just under 80,000 people in a region headed towards 3 Million. With only 3% of the region’s population, less than 3% of its tax revenue,  and much less than 1% of its land area, New Westminster is not going to fix the regional housing crisis.  The region is thousands of units a year short of approving what is needed to start to stabilize the market, and are thousands of non-market units short of what we need to provide stability to the most vulnerable populations. So when facing push back or predatory delay, I can see why the Minister responsible for Housing is getting hot under the collar, and is ready to start swinging a big stick to get municipalities to do their job.

Without the benefit of more detail about what that stick looks like, I am concerned that the perception being created (as it may not be what he intends, only the way he is being interpreted in the media) is that of threats, and I can only hope from the New West perspective that Minister Eby will find carrots to compliment that stick.

People in New West know what we need to help the new housing find broader public support in the community; we know what those carrots are. Clear financing for new school locations; support for transit and funding for active transportation to reduce the traffic loads new growth would bring without those investments; prioritizing existing infrastructure funds supporting everything from sewer upgrades to library expansions to new park space, so communities meeting their regional commitments have the upper hand in grant applications. And, yeah, legislative tools to give well-meaning Municipal Councils and staff the flexibility to approve good projects faster.

How can we do better on issuing new permits? The question is really wide-reaching, so the best answer is equally far-reaching. If the conceit of your question is that New West is not building fast enough (and I’m not convinced your entire community agrees with you there) then there is work we can do to accelerate the process. I have had long conversations with architects designing new apartment buildings to homeowners doing relatively small infill projects, and there is no doubt they feel there are approval steps or consultation standards that are not obvious in why they are needed. Developers will tell you this extra time costs them money and pushes up prices, but accelerating the process may cost the City money (as we would need more staff), or compromise important policy goals, so there is clearly a balance to be found. I think the best shorter-term improvement is in creating more certainty about the time for approvals. But again, Development is complex, and we have a culture of public engagement in New West that is difficult to rush.

The one assumption to put aside, however, is that the Province can meaningfully force an acceleration of these processes. Unless the province removes from Municipalities the one ultimate authority they hold – zoning – it will be wielded by different Municipalities to achieve the policy and political goals of the community. And, alas, constructive delay of change is a policy goal of some local governments. As a Lawyer, Minister Eby certainly understands that removing zoning power opens a Pandora’s Box of problems, because zoning authority is interwoven with local government and provincial government regulations. A single example I am professionally very familiar with: without local government zoning control, the entire provincial contaminated sites identification and management system will have to be redesigned. There are scores of other Provincial and Municipal regulatory systems that are similarly buttressed by zoning. Unpacking that would be a very difficult process.

That is not to say the Province is powerless, far from it. I think that Minister Eby will need to be surgical and strategic about the sticks he wields, though I would not begrudge him wielding it to get our region back on track to addressing our overlapping housing crises. I only hope he also brings those carrots, because local governments need community support to do good work, and long-term benefits of meeting our regional commitments to housing are becoming a harder sell to the comfortably housed who vote.

Opening Doors

I finally had a little time to condense down a bunch of thoughts and notes about the Opening Doors report that was delivered to the Provincial Government last year. I read the report when it came out last summer, and noted how it landed in an overstuffed news cycle to be almost ignored by anyone who wasn’t already a housing wonk. I might have winged a bit on line at the time, but I was not overall as critical as some of my neighbours across Tenth Ave.

Last month we held a Workshop at New West Council to talk through the report recommendations with staff support, and prepare a more formal response to the provincial government (you can watch a video of that meeting here and see the report and presentation City Staff prepared to inform that workshop here). This brings me to my regular warning that the comments that follow are mine, not the official position of New Westminster City Council or anyone else, and you might want to watch that video to see some of the more nuanced discussion other Councilors brought to the discussion.

The report needs to be put into the context of how and why it was created. It was an Expert Panel put together to provide advice to the BC and Federal Governments (delivered to the respective Ministers of Finance, notably) so it weighs heavily on things senior government can do. The Experts on the Expert Panel were, perhaps shockingly, bereft of municipal experience, and their decided expertise in finance and property development resulted in their firm application of Maslow’s Hammer. I also chagrin that the progressive *economic* quick wins proposed were the only part of the report that the senior government Ministers of Finance rushed to make comment on – and that was just to say no to them at the moment they were proposed.

But I’m already getting ahead of myself. Let’s look through the major policy directions proposed, from the municipal perspective. There were 5 major themes, and 23 recommendations, and you can read through them all if you like, but much like the conversation we had at the Council workshop, I’m going to summarize by order of government, because we all have work to do to address what is a national crisis at this point.

Things the Feds can do:
The roots of our current homelessness crisis are found in the early 1990s when Paul Martin looked at the comparatively modest housing cuts under a decade of Mulroney, and decided he could do better. The 1994 Martin budget got the federal government right out of the business of building housing. When a rapidly growing and urbanizing country like Canada goes from building 15,000-20,000 social housing units a year to less than 1,000 there are going to be devastating effects. And here we are.

Source: https://policyfix.ca/2011/10/07/where-has-all-the-affordable-housing-construction-gone/

So, with the Feds having the, by far, deepest pockets, it is not surprising that the one thing the Feds could do first is start using those funds to build housing. To quote directly:

the federal government make long-term funding commitments, as was done until the mid-1990s, rather than offering short-term capital grants. We recommend that the scale of these funding commitments reflects what is required for the construction of new social housing units to return to historic levels, when nearly 10% of all national housing starts were social housing units

There are also great recommendations here about making Federal Lands available for housing in high-demand communities, giving the non-profit housing sector more tax incentives, harmonizing programs that may speed housing being brought on-line (like federal/provincial/municipal building codes, fire codes, energy efficiency codes, etc.). But, still, someone has to pay for the housing that the market is not going to provide.

There is also a recommendation around incentives that stands out to me:

federal and provincial governments create a municipal housing incentive program rewarding the creation of net new housing supply wherever demand occurs… their primary purpose is to recognize municipal costs incurred in growing the housing stock and reward growth of housing supply where it is needed.

This addresses straight-on a significant downloading concern all Cities have in investing in affordable housing. Given an historic lack in Federal and Provincial funding (only beginning to be abated now), creative cities looking to be proactive have tried to leverage local powers to get housing funded. This means directly spending on housing, giving our limited land base up to affordable housing projects, or leveraging affordable housing as a community amenity attached to new market housing. This last one definitely has populist appeal, because it makes people feel we are making the “greedy developers” pay for it, but the reality is we are simply taking money that would have otherwise been used to pay for other community amenities – parks and recreation centers and libraries – and as we dip into those resources, we lose public support for growth, because we cannot provide amenities that assure a denser City is livable and full-service.

So this recommendation seems to suggest that Cities that meet housing growth targets are prioritized for federal funding. I actually hoped it would go a little further and suggest that federal infrastructure granting programs like ICIP should specifically hinge on high-demand communities like New Westminster meeting their housing targets.


Things the Province can do:
When Martin/Chretien gutted federal funding for housing in the early 1990’s, BC stayed in the business of building housing for another decade or so, until the Liberal Government of Gordon Campbell put an end to that in 2002. Though programs are now coming back in a meaningful way, we are left with a big gap of 20 years of underbuilding to our needs.

All of the points above about what the Feds can do also apply to the Province – they can provide funds, land, and incentives. Though their pool of funds is somewhat smaller, they are in the right place to note and be proactive about regional needs, and indeed the money saved by giving people safe, secure homes comes right back to the Province through savings in health care and other social support spending.

One aspect of this that is somewhat missed in the panel report is the opportunity for the Province to get back into the business of supportive housing. By the current model, the Province may provide funding to private developers to include affordable housing in their market housing proposals and/or provide funding for the not-for-profit sector to deliver and operate the housing. This is based on the neoliberal idea that government saves money by paying someone else to do something instead of doing it themselves. This is the model that brought us disastrous results when a pandemic hit the care home sector, and a model we still somewhat resist for healthcare. But this is still an operating assumption for housing that adds complication and uncertainty to the delivery of housing, and makes it harder to get housing built.

This report skates around the demand side of the equation. I know this is a politically charged discussion in a growing country with ambitious population and economic growth models, and I am not going to delve into the fanciful economics of a certain UBC landscape architect or the xenophobic ravings of familiar populists. Instead, I would suggest the place where demand management comes in is the federal and provincial taxation structures that reward the commodification of housing, while at the same time providing no benefit to renters or those who are unhoused. For whatever reasons these various structures (homeowner tax credits, capital gains exemptions for housing, etc.) were developed years and decades ago to encourage people to buy and stay in houses, they no doubt provide a perverse incentive during a housing crisis where most cannot afford the ticket to entry while taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the government’s coffers that could be better applied to providing housing to those in need. This is the part of the Expert Panel Report that senior governments rushed to say they were not going to enact. See recommendations 21 and 23:

21.…make changes to tax programs to bring the treatment of renters and homeowners into closer alignment. This would include reviewing the impact of the capital gains tax exemption on principal residences… and extending comparable support to other forms of wealth building;
23. …phase out the Home Owner Grant. Monies saved from this should be used to fund social housing in addition to the commitments made in the 10-year plan.

Alas, the Culture of Contentment assures that no government, no matter how progressive their campaign, will be willing to address this disparity any time soon.

Another important piece missing from this report is the need to protect renters and keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. Again, the Province has made tentative steps in the right direction here, but is not where the City of New Westminster and other local governments have been asking them to be in stopping renovictions and demovictions.


Things for Local Gov’t to do?
I’m going to mix together our Regional and Local government parts here, and only note that the Expert Panel Report skips regional government altogether, though they are a significant provider of affordable housing in the Lower Mainland and other regions of the province. They are also the level of government that sets regional land use and housing policy, but we’ll get to that.

The part to remember is that this is a report to senior governments, and the question here is more “what can senior governments to do to either compel or make local governments approve more housing faster?”. This might sounds strange to many in New West, where we are meeting (and slightly exceeding) our regional growth strategy targets for housing, rental and affordable housing, and population growth. If anything, I feel people are starting to feel a bit of growth fatigue related to construction impacts. However, we are one of the few municipalities hitting these targets (as I talked about at length here), and housing demand is still far outstripping availability – so what can the province do to get those other municipalities to keep up?

Right off the bat, we know the first recommendation doesn’t work:

the B.C. government impose statutory time limits to all stages of the property development process, municipal or other, for all types of development. Similar limits imposed
in Ontario and Alberta can serve as examples

Putting an artificial timeline of, say 90 days on a Rezoning application as Ontario did, fixes nothing. The arbitrary nature of the limit belies the complexity of many rezonings, ignores that even the Province cannot commit to providing referrals within that time limit (in the case of EMA freeze-and-release provisions, or MOTI approval for development near highways as only two examples), effectively undermines the ability for an elected Council to do what the Community elects them to do. It reduces a local government’s ability to evaluate and benefit from land lift related to rezoning, and undermines any principle of meaningful community engagement over development. The net effect is that most rezoning applications would be turned down, not that most would get approved faster. It does this all while adding a new layer of bureaucracy – the tribunal through which applications not meeting timeline could be appealed.

Fortunately, more of the recommendations around introducing “affordability adjustments” to the Housing Needs Reports, aligning our OCP updates with these needs reports, provincial streamlining of development permitting processes province-wide and the such, are doable, reasonable, and would likely have wide-spread buy-in by municipalities, though they may take some work on behalf of all parties.

An identified theme is that Municipal and regional housing targets actually have to come with some force. We are dealing with a regional problem, and need to solve it regionally. There are a variety of sticks and carrots the Provincial Government can apply, and a lot of funding incentives for infrastructure to better support the pressures cities face as they densify. Indeed, changing how the province incentivizes growth would also result in significant greenhouse gas reductions and reductions in the cost of many different forms of service delivery. There is a big win in here, but it would require some political courage to step into what local governments (and regional governments) see as their turf. When half the mayors in the region are elected on straight-up or veiled promises to curb growth, political battles would no doubt ensue, but a crisis like this does not allow half of the region to say “not our problem” as has been the reality for a decade. They know who they are.

There are two aspects of how Cities approve housing that the Provincial government can definitely influence, as they are regulated at least in part but Provincial regulations: how Cities finance growth, and how our permitting programs work.

On the financing side, the report includes this recommendation:

conduct a full review of local government revenue sources and spending responsibilities… includ[ing] consideration of additional or enhanced funding sources for infrastructure and amenities that are more predictable and do not rely on rezoning or the development process. Preference should be given to means that capture land value through taxation, rather than homebuilding

To frame this a bit, Municipal governments collect Development Cost Charges (“DCCs”) on new growth, Voluntary/Community Amenity Contributions (“VACs” or “CACs”), and a whole raft of different fees and changes on development. It’s a bit of a complex mess, and outside of DCCs, not particularly well regulated. This creates not just cost, but uncertainty and complexity for builders and great variances across the province and region. One recommendation would be for the Province to clean some of this up. perhaps by expanding the DCC program to make it more flexible and reduce the reliance on VACs/CACs. This sounds easy, but is actually something that would have to be addressed with great care, as the balance between community and private benefit from growth (never mind the public perception of that balance) is precarious and dynamic, and Mencken warned us about seemingly simple fixes to dynamic human problems.

The second aspect of change could be in the permitting processes themselves. Given the financing issue is managed (see above),then strategic pre-zoning takes a lot of risk away from builders, and reduces the time taken to get from planning to occupancy. This type of strategic pre-zoning probably doesn’t want to occur until we have a funding model established to assure the community knows it is getting its share of the inevitable land lift (and Cities have a way to fund the parks, playgrounds, roads, theatres and libraries that make the community livable), and stricter and clearer design control is in place, as the City will functionally be ceding much of that control when it gives away zoning. There are incremental changes Cities can make in the short term (like New West, where we have given Development Permit authority to staff without an extra trip to Council), but some major shifts in the permitting process that are recommended (like reforming the problematic Public Hearing) would require changes to provincial legislation.


The summary
We have a housing affordability crisis because we are not building enough homes to meet demand. We have a homelessness crisis because we are not building enough non-market and supportive housing to provide appropriate shelter for people who are forced out of the bottom of the market as prices rise. These are two overlapping crises that require parallel approaches to fix.

The first problem is related to a complex mix of jurisdictional and political roadblocks, some easier to overcome than others, but even with the existing legislative framework and tax structure, municipalities can build to meet demand now. some of us are. If the Regional Growth Strategy is any guide, Municipalities like the City of North Vancouver and New West have shown that the solutions are available, but some municipalities simply don’t want to take part. We need to level that playing field.

The second problem is much easier to solve. Build housing for people who cannot afford to be in the market, like this country and this province did in the decades between WW2 and Mulroney/Chretien austerity, or as the Baby Boom generation calls them, the Good Old Days. Fortunately, this easier-to-solve problem can go first, and even the most reluctant local government can’t stop it if the senior governments are committed to fixing it. As a bonus, it takes the pressure off of the harder to solve supply/demand problem of market housing. But to solve that second problem, we first need senior governments to be more honest about the goals of our economic policies, while local governments need to be more honest about whether they actually want to solve the problem.

This report, for its strengths and weaknesses, could open doors to some of those more truthful conversations.

Resilience

I never remember feeling like this before. The bad stuff is piling up. People and governments are being tested in ways I don’t think anyone anticipated, though it was easily predicted. What’s on my mind is not the bad news happening (there has always been bad news), but in the shift in mindset about the bad news. Maybe it was Trump, maybe it was COVID, maybe it is the algorithms in our news feed or there was truth to the theory that David Bowie was holding the good in the Universe together. I don’t know the cause, but I have been thinking about how a shift in language I noticed might give insight into a change in out collective mindset, and what it means to be in a leadership role at this time.

I am involved in a few organizations that bring Local Governments together. I’m on the Executive of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association. We bring local government leaders together to network, share resources and knowledge, and advocate for the things we need (money and/or regulatory change) to make our communities work better. I am also the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Community Energy Association. We are a not-for profit with a growing professional staff that empower local and regional governments to achieve energy and emissions reductions targets, through planning support, coaching, and actual implementation of programs that move the dial on Climate Action.

In both of those organizations, we spend a lot of time strategizing the best way to serve our communities. We are both receivers and dealers in Buzz Words. In that part of the work, there has been a shift that was so subtle, I didn’t even notice at the time, and was swept up in the change such that I even changed my own language and thinking without noticing. Only with hindsight, and only recently, have I started to think about what we may have lost.

The shift is how we stopped talking about (and building towards) sustainable communities, and are now talking about (and hoping for) resilient communities. Perhaps this is not a revelation. Google “resilience is the new sustainability” and you get an awful lot of hits, most of them of the eco-marketing genre. Resilience is the new buzz, sustainability is passé.

This has been in my mind of late because [gestures to everything happening around us] and how wordshift / mindshift is not limited to those organizations above, but in communications being used by the government in face of overlapping catastrophe. The increased reliance on “resilience” as a planning idea, a community goal, a vision, means something different when you recognize just don’t talk about sustainability any more, it turns to dark thoughts.

Sustainability, use as a buzzword aside, has a clear definition that can be traced back to the Brundtland Report and can be simplified to “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. There is a hope in sustainability. A vision that we can do better right now in ways that will make things better in the future. It’s planning for a prosperous future, like planting a tree under whose shade you may never personally sit. It tells the next generation that we care, that we are cognizant we are passing to them a legacy of our decisions, and we are taking responsibility for that legacy.

Resilience is something different. So shockingly different that it is amazing we have so easily slotted it in to replace sustainability. Though definitions may vary based on context, the one we are talking about in community planning and governance is something akin to “an ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, misfortune or disruption”. This is a different vision, one that sees a lot of bad shit coming down the pike, and we can do nothing to stop it, so hold on tight, and we’ll try to get you some pillows to soften the blow. It is different than hope, and if it isn’t exactly despair, it is at least stripped of optimism.

These days, our emergencies feel like Matryoshka dolls. Last week’s emergencies are sitting within last month’s emergencies, sitting within the emergency that has been going on for two years, surrounded by a decades-long building emergency that is, ultimately, the cause of last week’s emergency. And will be the cause of next week’s.

How did we get here? After decades of talking about, instead of applying, a sustainability lens to addressing that big emergency, we are left with trying to build resiliency to the inevitable emergencies that we know are coming. It is an admission of failure at providing the basic stability of yesterday to those living tomorrow.  If we weren’t successful at the sustainability, why would we believe we are going to be successful at resilience? How did we let this shift happen without us noticing it? Without even comment?

These questions are rhetorical, but the answers are there for us. There is the generational failure where hoarding was seen as the best path to assuring the next generation’s prosperity. There is the neo-liberal outsourcing of solutions for pressing problems to a market that was wholly unequipped to think long-term because we had to be creating something to hoard. There is an intentional erosion of trust in institutions from science to education to governance to journalism that has disarmed the warning systems that should have shown us this future. There is a paucity of leadership, replaced with caffeine hits of populism.

Worse than a lack of vision, there is a fear of vision. A suspicion of vision. We are at the same time clamoring for change and terrified of change. Ideas like “maybe we can fix homelessness by building homes” are seen as radical, fanciful, and ultimately unaffordable. So the change we are getting is the one we could not avoid. At the heart of it all is the feeling that we, one of the most prosperous societies in the history of the globe, can’t afford change. We need to keep digging the hole, because hole-digging is what’s going to pay our way out of this hole. Yes, I’m looking at you, TMX.

If there is hope in this, it is that there are people who see past this. There are leaders in our community, in our province, in our country who are talking about what we can do, not what we can’t. Because shit has to change, and this dread you are feeling doesn’t need to be there. We can’t settle for resilience. Sustainability is not a pipe dream we should let die, it is the survival of all we value, and it is the promise we should be making to the next generation, and to ourselves. It’s the path away from this dread.

It’s the work we have to do, now more than ever.