(non)-SimCity

The City is having this on-going conversation about housing types. It is part of the consultation process for a new Official Community Plan. If you read this blog you probably care a bit about the future of the City, so you should take part. You can now do that without leaving the comforting warm blue glow of the computer you are looking at right now.

The OCP is a legally-required planning document the City produces, and it is usually updated every decade or so. The City is operating on a 1998 OCP that, despite regular updates and edits over the last 17 years, is getting very long in tooth. The process to update it has been going on for more than a year, and there have been several phases of public consultation, as open houses, as stakeholder meetings, and as special events.

Staff have gone out of their way to try to engage more people in this process so that resultant plan can better reflect the desires of the entire community, not just the easy-to-engage groups that are usually over represented in your regular City Open House. Now they have developed a new engagement tool, so you can sit at home on your computer or tablet and provide some useful insight to the process.

It comes at a time when the OCP is looking at housing types, and addresses what some have identified as a significant problem in New Westminster: we have a lot of apartments and an adequate supply of single family detached (SFD) homes; we have very little of the in-between housing types. Townhomes, row homes, du-, tri- and quad-riplex designs, and carriage/laneway housing. With the average SFD in New West selling over $800,000, young and growing families are running out of affordable options in our City, and it is the young, growing families that we need to sustain our community, our livability, and our community in the coming decades. If they leave (or are forced out by lack of flexible housing options), then our city will change in a way that few will like.

So the question to be asked right now is: How do those housing types fit in our community? Are there places this type of “infill density” makes sense, and places where it doesn’t? you can help answer this question by taking this on-line survey. But before you do, maybe I can explain a little more about how the survey works, and what you are being asked. So click this link, open a second window, and I’ll walk you through it.

When you open the survey, you can see there are 5 “pages”, and you are on Page 1, marked by a checkmark. As you go through each page, its page number will become a checkmark, so you can follow your progress.1

Page 1 is just an intro with some factoids on it, and if you hit the “begin” button, it throws you to Page 2:2Here is where various housing forms are shown, divided up into three categories: Low, Moderate, and High Infill. In each of those three categories, there are examples of housing types, (4,3,and 2, respectively). For each of those 9 types, you can select what you think about it (from strongly dislike to strongly like, with “neutral” in the middle). You can also provide some comments for each by hitting the “optional comment” section at the bottom. You might have a specific concern about the function of any one type, or talk about the measures that would need to be in place to make that form work for you.

Not sure what these housing types really look like? The City has provided a couple of walking tour maps, one of Queensborough, another of North Vancouver, where some of these housing types are already built. You can print them off and go take a look, or just go into Google Maps and Google Streetview and have a look around. We live in the future.   

If you provide at least “like” levels for 50% or more of the housing types, you get your check mark and can move on to Part 3:3This page gives you a map of the 1998 OCP (which you can zoom into and look around), and provides you three “Scenarios” for a new OCP. None of these scenarios are necessarily part of a final OCP, but they are models used to gauge opinion and each address different neighbourhoods differently. At the roughest form, Scenario 1 would provide little more growth than we have today, Scenario 2 would provide more opportunities around transportation corridors especially, and Scenario 3 would provide the most opportunity to diversify our housing types, spreading the potential growth around a little more.

You can zoom in and scan around the Three Scenarios, provide a simple 1-5 star rating, and provide optional comments on what you like or don’t like about each Scenario. If you open the Legend, you will see the shades of beige reflect the “Low-Moderate-High” infill that was discussed on the earlier page, and that is where the detail really hits the ground here.

It is important looking at this to remember, if a neighbourhood or street are zoned for “medium infill”, that in no way means every house on that street is going to be knocked down and replaced with a triplex or row homes. Development simply doesn’t happen like that. Houses belong to individual homeowners, the City cannot tell them to knock their house down and replace it. Looking at the existing OCP from 1998 (The “current scenario” map), there are many areas where higher density is permitted than currently exists. For example, the extensive “RL/RM” medium-density area around the 22nd Street SkyTrain station is still single family homes 18 years after that OCP was adopted. Changes permitted on a lot-by-lot basis on an OCP ware not changes required by an OCP on a neighbourhood basis, and with growth occurring at between1-5% annually, these changes are very gradual. This is why we need to look decades ahead in these plans.

So poke around those three scenarios, see what you like or don’t, add your opinions, and give them some “stars”. This earns you a check mark, and lets you move onto Page 4:4Here, you can provide your own plan for how the City should grow. Starting with a blank map of the City (if you use the little pull-down menu that says “City Wide”, it will zoom to specific neighbourhoods). You can drag-and-drop any of the square tabs from the top row, from “Status Quo” up through density to “High Rise”, and drop in on a block in your map. Kind of like SimCity but less immediate feedback. You can also add comments on any block if you wish:4b

You can be creative about what you think the shape of New Westminster should be, recognizing that you are not looking at tomorrow, but 20-30 years in the future. Once you have dropped a few pieces, you earn your checkmark and move on:5

Here, the survey collects a bit of demographic data. It is simple, and anonymous, but helps with understanding what groups are being reached with this tool, and which ones are not. You can provide an e-mail to receive updates (if you want), and add any extra comments. And you are done.

So this Christmas time, you are sitting around with the family, tryped out on tryptophan, presents are unwrapped, log in the fireplace, and it is a few days before the New Years College Football black hole opens up and consumes you whole, spend a half hour playing working on the computer and providing the City the data it needs to make the OCP vision fit your vision.

Merry Christmas! See you in 2016.

Ask Pat: New Westminster College

Randy asks—

Have you read the article at the Globe and Mail about a fake college set up called New Westminster College? As per the article, there are no students, no courses, no employees. It seems like a total sham. Is there anything the city can do to prevent this kind of thing from occurring?

No, I hadn’t read this, but I encourage people to. It is a pretty good piece of investigative reporting that gives me hope for the continued existence of journalism.

It is pretty strange to see how far some people will go to run a scam potential non-existent business, and it is unclear exactly what the scam business model is here (although my skeptic senses are tingling). The “General” doesn’t appear to be asking anyone for money from their website, and as far as I can tell, putting up a webpage of you shaking hands with famous people isn’t against the law, even if you call yourself “Professor” to do it. Neither is handing our fake fellowships, even when dressing up in uniform and pretending to be a soldier. The world (even New Westminster) is full of “Kentucky Colonels” and “Nebraska Admirals” and the such, and having never been a soldier myself, it isn’t up to me to call them out. If he calls himself a geologist, I’ll get involved.

According to the Globe story, the “College” has a business licence in New Westminster (I have not looked into this), but without an address here other than a post office box, it would be hard to argue they are violating any business license requirements or zoning. Perhaps not surprisingly, our Business Licence Bylaw says you need a license to run a business, but not that you need to run a business in order to be able to buy a licence.

As far as trading in the good name of New Westminster, there is probably not much we can do about that either. From New Westminster Centre to the Shops at New Westminster Station, businesses can attach a place name to their business without the City being able to command intellectual property. I’m not sure we have the legal authority to determine who is “too scammy” to use our good name.

But hey, who am I to say? This may be some sort of immigration scam, or he may just be an innocent general contractor with access to the former Prime Minister trying to open a Hospital on Morocco. Could be he is just a guy with a dream. To quote the illustrious General himself: “It’s not my fault if people do not do their research.”

Long Span

A short post on what could soon be the longest bridge span in Canada.

There is much to say on this boondoggle (there, I put it out there right up front so you know how I feel about this plan) and the pretend “business case” presented to defend it. I am sure I will be writing something more lengthy and detailed in the coming weeks, but I need to end one line of discussion immediately, so this short note.

In discussing this project, the strongest proponents and the more flaccid skeptics (unfortunately, I don’t know in which of those camps to include the Province’s official opposition), are quick to say “well, something has to be done about the traffic there!” which to most seems like justification enough to spend $3.5 Billion on a solution right out of 1950. The Minister of Speeding even invoked his 1950s predecessor Phil “Air pollution is the smell of money” Gaglardi, calling anyone who doubted a 1950’s solution to a 2015 problem a “naysayer”, like that is the natural antonym to his self-description as a capital-V “Visionary”.

So if we all agree that “something has to be done about the traffic there” (and if we choose to ignore that “the traffic there” has been steadily decreasing for a decade), perhaps we should have a meaningful discussion about what the options are to address that traffic problem. Right off the bat, however, the most ignored point is that we don’t need to get rid of all of the traffic to fix the traffic problem. We only need to get rid of a little bit of the traffic.

Let me explain. But first, we need to ignore this graphic in the Project Definition Report:

ignore

…because it comes without proper citation to its source, and appears to reflect some imaginary projection of what the actual traffic counts in the tunnel are. I say this, because the Ministry helpfully provides actual traffic counts in this document, and as Station P-16-4NS is the counter that measures the number of vehicles going through the tunnel, here is the most recent data:

p164ns

Congestion occurs somewhere around 1,500 – 1,600 vehicles per hour per lane. That’s just one of those numbers transportation geeks keep in the back of their mind when reviewing this stuff. Note that the tunnel has a counter-flow lane, so peak travel is carried on three lanes. The two big peaks flatline just over 1,500 x 3 for about two hours every morning and two hours every evening. At the same time, the single-lane against-peak flow flatlines at about the carrying capacity of the reduced lane count, also causing congestion until the counter-flows can re-open to give a little relief. The tunnel is at capacity during the rush, which is why traffic is reducing on this route, not going up.

Those peaks and flatlines are important, because those are the natural limits of the system, stay a few hundred cars below that, and you have the carrying capacity of the bridge, and (barring accidents and the such, but let’s not go there now) you have a system working at optimum. Looking at the data, that optimum for the system only requires removing about 10-15% of the traffic.

These pie charts from the same report demonstrate how easy it would be to do that:

type1

type2

type3

type4

SOV? Single Occupant Vehicle. A car with one person in it. Anywhere between 65% and 84% of the vehicles driving through the bridge. Add the 2OV (Two Occupant Vehicle), and you realize that the problem at the tunnel is not “goods movement”, as trucks are only on average about 5% of the traffic. Also notice transit vehicles are 1% of the traffic on the tunnel. Despite that 1%, we also learn from the consultation documents that up to a quarter of the people travelling through the tunnel are in that 1% of the traffic:

transittunnel

So how can we reduce the traffic in the tunnel by the required 15%? Get a few of the people in those SOVs into transit. Not all of them (and that is the false dichotomy argument we must avoid), but just a few of them. I’m not even suggesting that tunnel traffic see a radical mode shift, just one in line with transportation patterns north of the Fraser. To do this you need to provide more and better transit service, because to get people out of their cars, you need to give people viable and reliable alternatives. Even the incredibly sub-par overcrowded, under-scheduled, and poorly-connected transit service through the current tunnel moves up to a quarter of the people who go through the tube. Imagine what would happen if it was rapid bus, or light rail…

Alternately, if funding is a problem, you could also do the only thing ever proven to reduce traffic congestion in urban areas: put a price on the road. No need to build a new bridge if you put a small toll on the existing tunnel. That very effectively reduced traffic on the Port Mann Bridge corridor. Then you could use that toll to fix the safety issues at each end and upgrade the 5o-year-old mechanical systems, which by all accounts is an order of magnitude less money than the new bridge would cost.

Of course, to “solve the problem”, any rational transportation planner would suggest the Government do both. This is why the Mayors of the region, who have been grappling with a failing transportation system (and the provincial government’s reluctance to fix it) for a decade now, recognize that the Massey Replacement is not solving any problems. They rightly point out that it will both create larger problems, and take billions of dollars away from the alternative solutions that *can* fix the problem.

Wow. This short note sure got long, what with the graphs and such. Sorry, I will sum up.

Yeah, maybe somebody has to do something about the traffic here, but the solution being offered is far from “Visionary”. Instead, it is an expensive kludge being offered by people who lack the imagination and courage (two characteristics that define true Visionaries) to address a problem in a creative new way, instead relying on the ghost of a 1950s ideology.

These people

thesetwo

Look at those two on my right. They aren’t just one of the cutest couples known to history, they are a big part of the recent history of New Westminster. I’m celebrating them here today because they just got on a plane, headed for Montreal and a new home, a new adventure, and a new community.

Will Tomkinson was born and raised in New West, in a heritage home on 1st street across from Queens Park. He is variously third- or fourth-generation or something the other, which makes him “Old New West”, and he has the sartorial style, baritone singing voice, and respect for traditions to fit the stereotype. Briana is a transplant to New West, with new-fangled ideas about creating local connections through social media and social justice, rarely hearing a new idea she didn’t want to throw up a flag pole, just to see who salutes. They met in Douglas College and eventually fell in enough love to start building a homestead in the West End of New Westminster. They started raising a gaggle of free-range kids, and started blogging about being a young family in New Westminster.

It was only a few years ago, but I cannot remember for certain when I first met them, or when I became aware of Tenth to the Fraser, or which came first. However, it must have been around the 2008 Municipal Elections when the Tomkinsons’ hyper-local Blog became part of my usual web surfing routine. I vaguely remember helping run an all-candidates event at Douglas College in what must have been the May 2009 Provincial election with Will and Briana (I seem to remember pulling audience-member’s questions out of Will’s fedora, but my memory is more photogenic than photographic), so we must have been friends by then.

What Briana and Will (and Will’s sister Jocelyn, and later Jen Arbo) did with 10ttF was create a social media nexus in New Westminster. It was a general-purpose Blog back when Blogs were the cool new thing. Instead of just being about them, they covered events in the city, politics, business reviews, and general interest stories about being a young family in a growing and changing community. And as with all really effective social media, it created digital connections that soon became human connections. They introduced us to, and induced us to support, new local businesses like Re-Up BBQ and new social enterprises like the Royal City Farmers Market. 10ttF was a glue that brought people together without the commitment of a club or the constraints of common interest, and their comments section was often where conversation took place amongst that in-between generation of young professionals and young families who found Letters to the Editor a little too quaint, and those who were too profane or silly to be committed to newsprint.

Through 10ttF, I was encouraged to start my own Blog, first on environmental issues as GreenNewWest (I was the President of the New Westminster Environmental Partners and an Environmental Scientist- “write what you know”, they say), then as NWimby, as my interests expanded. It was through 10ttF that I first met Jen Arbo, who once told me I had to do this Twitter thing (much to James Crosty’s chagrin), and who eventually became a huge supporter during my campaign for City Councillor. It was through 10ttF that I was encouraged to get involved on City advisory committees and other volunteer work around town, which was one part of what led to my Citizen of the Year nomination. I have a lot for which to personally thank Will and Briana.

So now the Tomkinsons are pulling up stakes and relocating to la belle province. A great job opportunity, and a chance to escape a bit from the frenetic property-value-defined lifestyle of the West Coast, they are going to raise that gaggle of kids in a wooded semi-rural area with actual seasons and where half the people speak an entire other language. Can’t say I’m not a little jealous for the adventure those kids are going to have. But even as they have been recently pulling back from their central-organizer roles in New West due to work commitments, an expanding family, and some other pressures, we will now truly feel their absence at the next New Westminster Scotch Appreciation Society meeting, at the next NEXT-NW soirée, at the next Brew Westminster kettle boil, when we need a line on a sweet artisanal axe.

The legacy they have created, however, will go on. Tenth to the Fraser has a new owner (the ubiquitous and omniscient Jen Arbo), and pieces are being put into place to create a new look and a new vibe to appeal to that larger group of digitally-connected people who are increasingly making New Westminster their home. The many connections Briana and Will made remain strong: on line, at Beer Friday, or just down at the River Market at a Saturday where we somehow find there is always someone to talk to, someone who is so familiar around New West as you consider them part of the furniture, but you can’t quite remember when you first met them.

Thank you Will and Briana. You are good friends, and great citizens, and you made New Westminster a better place for those you are leaving behind. We’ll see you again soon.

Ask Pat: bike lockers?

Pamela asks—

Are there bylaws requiring bike lockers in new developments?

Yes. Kind of. But they may not be as useful as you might like.

The City has the weighty tome called the Zoning Bylaw that regulates pretty much every aspect of new development. If you want to build an apartment building, row of townhouses, office tower, curling rink or shopping mall, there are all sorts of regulations in there to dash your architect’s dreams. Included in those requirements are requirements for bicycle parking (Section 155, to be precise).

Before we get too deep into it, we need to define our terms, because I often park my bicycle leaned up against a parking meter, so all “bicycle parking” is not created equal. The Bylaw differentiates between Long-Term Bicycle Parking (“means a space designed for the parking of one bicycle by permanent users of a building, such as employees and residents”) and Short-Term Bicycle Parking (“a freely accessible space designated for the parking of one bicycle, available for public use during the business hours of premises in the building”). It also differentiates between a Bicycle Locker (“for the storage of one bicycle and accessible only to the operator of the bicycle“) and Bicycle Storage (“an area providing two or more long term bicycle parking spaces“).

Let’s put the short-term parking aside, because installing a couple of racks on the sidewalk is pretty straight-forward. The number of designated long-term bicycle parking spots depends on the type of development. New multi-family buildings require 1.25 bicycle spots per unit (regardless of whether that unit is a studio or a three-bedroom), and office buildings require 1 long-term bicycle space per 8,000 sqft of office space. For comparison, the City requires between 1 and 1.5 vehicle parking spaces per residential unit (depending on the number of bedrooms) and 1 parking spot per 31-50 sqft of office space.

Long-term bicycle storage must be at least 20% in the form of bicycle lockers, which must be solid-walled (not metal cages) and secure. The rest can be in a bike storage room, which must by law be painted white(!), include space for no more than 40 bicycles per room, and have secured access by key for fob.

The Bylaw is silent, however, on how those bicycle parking facilities are distributed among the residents of the building, so those decisions are made by the Developer, the Marketer, and (eventually) the Strata Board. I can find no rule that makes it mandatory to provide access to one or more secured bicycle parking spots to any specific suite, nor is there anything limiting a developer from charging for access to those secured spots. It is possible that, once built, the “bicycle storage” area could be converted to general storage, and I suspect that is what happens in many buildings.

Do you have storage lockers in the basement of your high-rise? Nothing in the Zoning Bylaw that I could find mandates their existence, and it is possible those are converted bicycle storage, if your building is a recent build. People who bought suites may have paid for access, or may have been guaranteed access, but it is, unfortunately, a buyer-beware market. Of course, the same is true for automobile parking spaces. The City designates there must be, say 1.4 per suite, but we do not dictate which suites get one spot and which suite gets two, or how much residents are required to pay for buying/leasing/using them.

As for Office buildings, we simply do not require enough in our zoning bylaw. One spot for 8,000 sqft of office is ridiculous. However, we also do not have any rules around end-of-trip facilities in commercial buildings, and this will limit uptake of cycling more than the threat of having to lock your bike up outside. If you work for a large organization like TransLink with a 150,000 sqft office (18 bike spots required!), it is easy to justify end-of-trip change rooms and showers for your several-hundred staff – actually, they are likely to demand it if your staff includes professionals under the age of 40. But if you are a smaller office tenant, leasing 2,000 square feet for your 5 employees in the same strata building, it is not viable for you to build those same amenities, and you can only hope the Owner and/or Strata see the benefit of these as a “common area” amenity.

So to answer your question, Yes, we require bicycle storage. However, we don’t do enough to make sure that storage is useful for people who want to use it.

Ask Pat: Jamieson & the C3

Someone asked—

I live at Jamieson Crt and currently catch the C3 at the bottom of my complex. It also drops me off there on my return. I am worried this stop will be eliminated. Is this there any indication that this might happen? This is a very convenient spot for folks to board the bus. I hope this spot will remain as is.

I talked about this in a previous post, and it seems the C3 as we know it is going away. If you used the C3 as a direct route up to Canada Games Pool, then you will potentially need to take the C9 to Columbia Station, then switch to a “J” to get you Uptown. If you used it to get to Columbia Street downtown, your route just became more direct.

TransLink floated the idea of completely removing the Jamieson Court stop, and I asked them at Council on November 2nd to please reconsider this, for reasons I outlined in the post I link to above. The stop on Jamieson is useful for a few destinations popular with seniors, and the crossing at Jamieson and Richmond is not great for pedestrians, especially those with mobility issues. We do not yet know if that request (made by others as well, I hope, through the public engagement that ended in November) had any effect. I have not heard any further, but the TransLink system maps on this page “Effective from January 4, 2016 to April 10, 2016” show Jamieson still an active stop for the C3 and C9, and the C3 on existing route, so the changes are probably not going to occur until later in the spring.

If you and your neighbours have concerns about the Jamieson stop being lost, especially as they relate to safety of seniors trying to get to Richmond street, please make sure everyone lets TransLink know. You can contact them at this link. I would categorize this as a “suggestion”, and make sure to ask for a response.

Ask Pat: Trees!

Two Ask Pats in one! Both of these questions came in about the same time a while ago, and one I have already personally answered at a public event, but they are a common theme, so here goes:

Someone asks—

does Queensborough landing area require tree cutting permit to remove tree on edge of city and private properties?

Depends. If it is on their land, they can cut it down. The City does not have a tree protection bylaw for private property, something I have complained about in the past. We do have a Bylaw that makes it illegal to cut or damage trees on City property without the City’s permission. We can fine you for that, and make you replace the tree.

Wes asks—

Hi Pat, why in light of the City’s recognition of the importance of an Urban Forest Strategy did Management and Council strip out budget for the city arborist to plant any new Boulevard trees this year? Seems totally counterintuitive.

Because we probably weren’t aware, and because it made sense at the time.

The annual budgeting process is large and complicated, and Council needs to rely on senior staff to make decisions about their annual needs, based on a set of priorities set out by the Council.

It would be unusual, and not very useful, for any individual Councillor to go through every single budget line and decide “a little more” or “a little less”. If every Councillor did this, it would be chaos. The budget documents we need to review come in three-ring binders, the massive 3-inch ring types, and are printed double-sided. Every change to one line results in sometimes obscure changes to other items, with compounding effects over multi-year budgeting cycles. Relying on senior staff from multiple departments to distill this info is required.

That said, as a Council we asked Parks, Culture, and Recreation staff to reduce some of their spending last year from what they requested, in part of the effort to get the annual property tax increase reduced from a draft 2.42% in February to the to 1.96% we approved in April (and yeah, there may be some politics to that idea of “keeping it under 2%”).

I do remember having discussions about the reductions in some spending on Parks Maintenance staff (which I voted against) as I remember joking that if we paved all of the green space, it would then be Engineering’s problem to pay for it, and Parks would be off the hook. I also remember at the time staff being asked to dig deeper for some operational savings related to this. We did, at the time, discuss Council’s expressed desire to improve the amount and quality of our green spaces in the City, and how this wasn’t being reflected in the budget. However, I doubt it was ever expressed to us that no trees would be planted in 2015.

The good news is that this does not mean that no trees would be planted in 2015. Parks staff recognized that they had a bit of a backlog of unplanted trees. These are generally trees the City receives as part of the contributions of various developers (if a developer is required to put trees in front of their property on City land, they just pay the City to do that instead of doing it themselves) and other sources. We also (I am told by staff) had a bit of catching up to do in regards to tree maintenance across the City, so this freed up some staff time to do more pruning and other tree maintenance activities.

The City plants something north of 200 trees per year on average, but the early work being done to help develop an Urban Forest Management Strategy tells us this is not enough to maintain a healthy urban forest. Expect to hear more in the New Year, but the City is going to need to ramp up its plantings, and do more to encourage the protection of trees on private property, if we want to change the trend of an urban forest continuing to erode.

Council – Dec 7, 2015

Another week, another very late Council report. Sorry, but Theresa McManus sits through our sometimes interminable meetings, and I like when she gets the scoops! No, actually, in reality I have been busy with events, some political, some Christmassy, all much fun (except for the public meeting from which I was given the bum’s rush, but that is another story for another time!)

The final Council Meeting of 2015 began with Council passing the following items on Consent without discussion:

Preamble: many topics this week are around the various Community Grants the City awards to various groups in New Westminster for various purposes. All of these grant funds exist within a Terms of Reference, and a pre-determined budget. Each grant fund has its own committee that recommends to Council how the budget should be allocated, based on how their application meets the term of reference provided to the Committee by Council.

That said, ultimately, the decision on funding resides with Council. I really appreciate the work these committees do, and any changes that Council make to the recommended grant allocations represents either a failure of Council to set a Terms that properly reflect their desires, or an introduction of new information by Council that the Committee did not have access to (i.e. that the entire Grants budget was not awarded).

2016 Child Care Grant Committee Recommendations
This Grant has a $40,000 annual budget, and just under $40,000 was granted (of $44,630 requested) to support the needs of 295 children. Of course, that is not a good measure, because the grants are not for operations, but for capital projects that enhance childcare spaces and create an ongoing legacy, potentially helping thousands of kids in non-for-profit daycare across the City.

2016 Environmental Grant Program Recommendations
Only $8,310 was granted this year from $10,435 in requests, and out of a budget of $20,000. Let this be a message to burgeoning environmental groups or those with an idea to improve the City’s sustainability – there is more grant money available next year!

Information Access Principles and Guidelines
Move recommendation

Recruitment 2016: Appointment of Chairs to 2016 Advisory Bodies
This is the assignment of Committees for the members of Council. Not much has changed from last year. I chair two committees (ACTBIPed, Access Ability Advisory), Co-chair one (Environment Advisory), serve as Council representative on one (Youth Advisory), and am a member of three Task Forces (Public Engagement, Transportation, and Canada Games Pool Replacement).

Community Heritage Commission Amendment Bylaw No. 7808, 2015
The Heritage Commission is a Council advisory committee. This recommendation is to adjust the terms of reference such that the two-year terms are staggered between two groups of appointees, to create some continuity. An easy thing to agree to.

Arts Commission Amendment Bylaw No. 7809, 2015
This is the same change as with the Heritage Commission, staggering two-year terms to create more continuity.

Information Access Principles and Guidelines
After some public consultation ,we are moving forward with developing policy improvements to how the city manages our Freedom of Information files. The City is moving increasingly towards easier access and more openness of our data, which is a good thing.

Tenant Relocation Policy
This report came out of a request I made a few months ago for Staff to update Council on how well we are protecting the affordability and accessibility of rental housing in New Westminster. We have a Secured Market Rental Housing Policy which is helping us get more rental housing built as we battle against regional shortages. We also have an Affordable Housing Strategy that works to develop supported affordable housing options. However, we have a vacancy rate of about 1.3% in market rental housing, and as new rental buildings replace some of our aging rental stock, the rents increase significantly, with average rent for a building built after 2000 almost double that for a building built before 1980.

The challenges here are plenty. Rental stock must periodically be replaced, as aging buildings do not provide the safety, the energy efficiency, or the durability of newer buildings, and become more expensive to maintain at the same time as their value to renters becomes reduced. Still, there are instances where people live in the same rental unit for a decade or longer and truly establish homes in rental buildings. Forced removal, by renovation, by development, by demolition, is incredibly disruptive to their lives. Seniors are the most vulnerable, although young families with limited incomes suffer from stress as well.

I would like an evaluation of whether the policy can provide higher levels of protection to longer-term tenants, and what the implications are if we include this in a policy… will we disincentivize longer-term rentals, or are protections in the existing Residential Tenancy Act enough to prevent that kind of blow-back in policy?

I also want to have a little better understanding about how the tenant relocation and eviction process would dovetail with a typical Rezoning or HRA, where the review process and Public Hearings and bylaw implementation can take 6 months or a year. Does that get included in notice, and how to we sensitively facilitate the communications between landlord and renter over what can be a year-long process?

I see this policy as supporting an updated tenant relocation strategy, similar to those adopted in Vancouver and North Vancouver, but recognizing some of the unique characteristics of New Westminster, where we have a large stock of aging rental buildings, and where much of other rental stock is found in non-purpose rental and less formal arrangements like secondary suites. This is fundamental to the livability and affordability of our City, and am happy staff is continuing this work and bringing back a developed policy to Council early in the New Year.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7781, 2015 to Zoning Bylaw 6680, 2001
to Permit Commercial Storage Lockers in the C-4C Zoning District

There are a set of storage lockers in Plaza 88 near the loading bay on 8th Street, which have turned out to be not useful for the commercial or residential users of the building complex. The owner of the building would like to convert them to commercial storage units, which requires an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw to permit that type of commercial operation.

Animal Shelter and Tow Yard Facility – Task Force Recommendations
The City is building a new Animal Shelter, and is integrating it with a move of our tow yard to create a single civic facility in Queensborough under the Queensborough Bridge. This is part of our long-term strategic plan, and will be paid for by some strategic land sales as part of our long-term capital plan. The task force has been working on this for quite some time, I’m glad to see the City moving forward on their recommendations.

The meeting then proceeded with an Opportunity to Be Heard:

DVP No. 601 for 109 Third Ave
This Development Variance Permit is required to allow a resident to pave a thin strip of their land so that there is smooth asphalt between their three-car garage and the adjacent alley (which is, like many alleys in New Westminster, a named street, in this case, Emory Street). The zoning only allows paved driveways to be certain widths, and this is technically a “driveway” that exceeds that width, although it is only a foot or so long.

We received one piece of correspondence supporting the DVP, and no-one came to speak against it. Council moved to support the DVP.

We then had a presentation from folks at Fraser Health to talk about the first stages of construction work at RCH, which includes the moving of the Helipad. Following this lengthy discussion, we wanted to delay the conversation about Grants until after the Public Delegations, we launched into other parts of the agenda including:

Recruitment 2016: Library Board Appointments
This is an approval of the recommended new members of the Library Board. Welcome, new volunteers.

DNA funding
This is a follow up to a recent federal decision to download the funding for DNA analysis to local police forces, and the unwillingness of the Provincial Government to step up and fill the gap. Police costs come right out of your property taxes folks, and this will add to that burden.

Commercial Storage Lockers Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7781, 2015
As discussed above, this Bylaw received two readings.

Community Heritage Commission Amendment Bylaw No. 7808, 2015
As discussed above, this Bylaw received three readings.

Arts and Commission Amendment Bylaw No. 7809, 2015
As discussed above, this Bylaw received three readings.

Inter-Municipal Business License Agreement Bylaw No. 7794, 2015 and
Inter-Municipal Business License Agreement Bylaw No. 7795, 2015

As discussed November 30, these Bylaws were Adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please adjust your behavior appropriately.

Demolition Waste and Recyclable Materials Management Bylaw No. 7660, 2014
As discussed November 30, these Bylaws were Adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please adjust your behavior appropriately.

After a short recess and some Public Delegations, we continued covering items removed from the consent agenda, which again launched us into talking about Grants.

2016 Amateur Sport Fund Committee Grant Recommendations
This grant is totally covered by two endowment funds, one from the Canada Games (1973!) and one from the Casino. More than $75,000 was requested, and the full allotment of $35,000 was awarded. This works out to about $10 per athlete for 3,500 amateur athletes over 10 different sports.

2016 Arts & Culture Grant Recommendations
I needed to remove myself from some of this discussion because @MsNWimby is the treasurer of the Arts Council, and filled out a lot of grant forms for them. Regardless, there was $42,000 requested from a fund of $20,000. After some compelling delegations Council decided to expand the granting envelope here and add $4,500 for the Royal City Musical Theatre request, and $2,575 for the New Westminster Symphony request.

2016 Heritage Grant Program Committee Recommendations
This grant allocation is $25,000, and we had $26,000 in requests. Uniquely, one organization was granted $4,000 more than they requested, which rubbed a couple of Councillors the wrong way (including me). So instead of granting them the $14,000 recommended, we dialed that back to $10,000. In total, we ended up granting $21,000.

2016 Community Grant Recommendations
There as a budget of $48,000, all awarded, from requests totaling almost $116,000. The recommendation was followed.

2016 City Partnership Grants
Again, there were some Arts Council requests here, which means I had to remove myself from that part of the discussion. This is the big one – $421,510 was awarded from a budget of $421,000, and there was $534,500 in requests. Some are multi-year agreements.

So after all is said and done, we came in a little under budget on Grants, but still awarded more than $600,000.

table

At that point, the meeting was all over but the singing. We Wish you a Merry Christmas, indeed.

Council – Nov. 30, 2015

The council meeting on November 30 was a little different in format, and it appears we are still working out some bugs of the post-Committee of the Whole era for New West Council. Part of the reason for the change of formats was to provide more time for open workshop-type discussions where we can dig into larger issues though a public discussion, the other was to try to push more of our day-to-day business discussion into the evening meeting, instead of doing it as a Committee of the Whole.

This week’s agenda had such an Open Workshop that ended up looking very much like a committee of the Whole meeting, including items passed on consent – not really the purpose of a workshop. We also had a remarkably light agenda including the Public Hearing and Workshop materials, so I may as well report on what talked about at all three meetings.

Workshop:

The New Media Gallery First Year
I’m not afraid to admit I am a big fan of the New Media Gallery, although I was at times wondering how it was doing as far as crowd-draw and regional impacts. Looking at the report, it is clear the answer is very good. Compared to any other regional publically-run Art Gallery (with the exception of the Vancouver Art Gallery), the NMG is pulling big numbers, and operating on a lean budget. The fact we are pulling in internationally-famous artists when the gallery is so new and limited in budget is a real testament to the knowledge and talent of Sarah and Gordon, our exceptional directors.

You should take the time to go to the NMG, it is free to enjoy for everyone, and open to all ages. The current show “the Scary”, and despite its title, looks pretty appropriate for all ages to me. I find a great way to enjoy the NMG pieces are to go in without a guide, and just sit and try to figure out what is going on. Some pieces seem very straight-forward, others completely baffling. After spending some time setting your own notions, you can have the host provide you a walk-around tour, which will usually change what you thought was straight-forward, and open up some of the things that didn’t make sense to you at first pass. It is a fun way to spend an hour opening up your mind. I’m really happy it is so successful. The fact it often challenges what I interpret as “Art” leads to the next topic we discussed in Workshop…

Public Art Workshop
This report brought us into a discussion about how the City’s Public Art program operates, and more specifically, what the role of the Public Art Advisory Committee, our professional Cultural Services Staff, a Public art Selection jury, and Council play in determining how our public art budget is set up.

In earlier discussions, I think I have made my position pretty clear on this (and I am digging deep into personal opinion here, speaking only for myself, and willing to hear counter-arguments). I think Council should approve themes, ideas, concepts, and budgets, but we should not be the final say on which pieces of Public Art are selected. I was not elected for my art criticism skills, and art, by its very nature, should challenge what we think we understand about aesthetics, about communication, and about community. To have 7 politicians look at something created by a professional and curated by a jury of professionals who were presumably provided clear conceptual guidance, and have those Council members “I don’t like it” is to undermine the professionalism of those persons so charged, and to have Council say “…therefore we won’t have it” opens the doors to all kinds of censorship and other issues. Sometime good governance is being able to step back and let people do their jobs.

I want our Public Art to be interesting, challenging, and iconic. To get there, it sometimes has to push the community out of its comfort zone. If given a choice between two pieces, one that Council unanimously endorsed, and one that Council turned down 4 votes to three, I can tell you which of the two would generate more interesting conversations and push the discussion of artistic expression into the daily conversation. It would be a shame if this or a future council, were to recommend against something for fear of facing some negative public reaction. Ironically, the best way for us politicians to avoid being in that situation is to rely on our professional staff and the jury of art professionals, with the guidance of our Public Art Advisory Committee, to determine what best fits the needs of the piece, the location, or the concept.

I have to admit, the WOW piece looks a lot better in context than it does is photos (or it did as concept drawings), and although I could not envision it, I supported the process that got the City to approving it over the last year or two, and I appreciate the positive and negative feedback I have received since it was installed. It makes a statement, it challenges our idea of aesthetics, and it created a new visual icon on our waterfront. It works.

Temporary Use Permit for Extreme Weather Response
There is an Emergency Shelter set up in Downtown New Westminster which is activated when the weather gets such that it seriously threatens the lives of people who are living outdoors (extreme cold, snow, protracted heavy rain), The permit for this site must be renewed every three years, and Council moved to renew the license.

Councillor Puchmayr further raised the issue that the hours of the shelter do not coincide with other social services in town, and asking about the potential to expand shelter hours so that in the worst of conditions, people at risk don’t have to spend a few hours every morning with no-where to go, exposing them to potentially hazardous conditions. Of course, funding and programs are stretched, but we need to find these opportunities to improve what services we provide.

There were also a couple of items that we, paradoxically, passed by Consent as part of the Workshop:

Anvil Centre Capital Budget Update
This is an administrative shuffling of budget amounts. There were several things at the Anvil fit-out that cost more than expected (AV system installations, LEED certification, etc.) and to pay for them, several other things (Installation of corridor, dishwasher upgrades, storage space modifications, etc.) were put off until future capital budget savings or a new allocation of capital funds.

Youth Advisory Committee Amendment to TOR
We agreed to adjust the Terms of Reference for the Youth Advisory Committee to include one more person, a returning member of last year’s YAC who made great contributions in the community and would make a great mentor for the new YAC members.

The evening’s meeting began with an Opportunity to be Heard on the topic of ne Inter-Municipal Business License Agreement. I mentioned this in a earlier report, where were are working with adjacent Cities to align our business licensing for building trades and contractors, such that it is easier for these businesses to work across municipal boundaries, but each City’s business license costs are still covered.

No one corresponded with the City on this issue, and no-one came to council to delegate on the topic, so we referred the two enabling Bylaws to Council for Third Reading.

The Public Hearing began at 6:00 sharp, with a single project up for discussion:

This is a townhouse development in Queensborough at the Corner of Boyd and Stanley Streets. This is essentially the western end of the higher-density part of the Queensborough west of Boyd Street, and is in compliance with the larger Queensborough Community Plan. It will have 80 townhouses, all 2- and 3-bedroom, averaging over 1,200 square feet each, with some green space in the block, special design considerations (double drywall, higher-buffering windows) to reduce the impact of nose from the light industrial area to the North (which, in the case of the way the Port manages its “industrial land”, means a truck warehouse, which will not generate a lot of noise other than truck traffic), and an established buffer between the buildings and the adjacent Riparian Management Area protected watercourse.

The Community Plan supports it, the Design Panel supports it, the Advisory Planning Commission supports it, the Queensborough Neighborhood Association supports it, the Port opposes it, and no-one else wrote or came to Council to speak about it, so I have no reason to oppose this project.

The Regular Meeting began right after the Public Hearing, and began with the Zoning Amendment Bylaw coming out of that Public Hearing:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7796, 2015
As mentioned above, this is a townhouse development in Queensborough at the Corner of Boyd and Stanley Streets, and Council passed Third Reading of the Bylaw.

This was followed up by several other Bylaws:

Inter-Municipal Business Licence Agreement Bylaw No. 7794, 2015
Inter-Municipal Business Licence Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 7795,
2015.

After referral at today’s Opportunity to be Heard, these Bylaws were given Third Reading.

Delegation Bylaw No. 7176, 2015
As discussed on November 16, This Bylaw was adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please warn your neighbours and friends.

Development Cost Charge Expenditure Bylaw No. 7797, 2015
As discussed on November 16, this Bylaw was adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please warn your neighbours and friends.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7798, 2015
As discussed on November 2, this Bylaw was adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please warn your neighbours and friends.

Which bring to the end a very short meeting of New Westminster council.

Inconvenient Thesis

I’ve mentioned the Gish Gallop before, in how it is used by the disingenuous to cast doubt on the scientific certainty that the observed recent increase in warming of the planet is caused by the introduction of fossil carbon to the atmosphere by human activity. I even opined that the Gish Gallop is the mark of someone who knows they are being disingenuous, because its use knowingly belies intelligent discussion of the topic or useful exchange of ideas.

I have also taken pot-shots at Tom Fletcher in the past, because he is, in my opinion, the most ignorant, belligerent, lazy, and cynical columnist claiming the mantle of journalism in British Columbia today (and there is an ongoing battle for that low ground) while being unexplainably ubiquitous in small town media across BC. Misinformed and regressive opinions are one thing, but when combined with terrible rhetorical skills and piss-poor writing, it is pretty unforgivable that Fletcher still draws pay from the ever-shrinking dead tree media. I have not agreed with a P.J. O’Rourke opinion since I was an 18-year old, hemped up on hormones and car magazines and the smart-ass-conservative-white-dude-certainty they reinforce, but at least O’Rourke can turn a phrase and make me laugh while I disagree with him. Fletcher just makes me weep for a societal system that gives him a forum.

One thing they teach you in high school English class (and sorry to get all academic elitist here) is that an essay needs to have a thesis – in the OED sense of “a statement that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved”. In other words, before you sit down to write something, you need to understand what you are trying to say. For example, the thesis of this blog post started out as my strongly felt personal opinion that:

“Tom Fletcher is a hack journalist whose opinions are ignorant to the point of insulting his readership, whose writing skills are subpar, and whose continued employment as a columnist by Black Press represents an injustice to the many skilled and determined journalists currently suffering underemployment from the collapse of traditional media model, while also supporting the theory that this collapse is a result of wounds self-inflicted by the very media platforms that are suffering most from the collapse”.

Although, in the interest of brevity, I might have to reduce the scope of this thesis to the first 5 words.

The piece of evidence that led me to write an opinion essay on this thesis is Fletcher’s most recent Black Press missive, entitled “Inconvenient truths of climate change”. I challenge you to put a single-sentence thesis on this column that is supported by the column. Is Fletcher arguing that polar bears are fine, and therefore the climate is not changing? Is he arguing that the COP21 talks are doomed to failure, or that, because of the “religious zeal” of climate change profiteers, they should be doomed to failure? Is he arguing that BC was wrong to put in a carbon tax and reduce emissions while growing the economy, or that BC were previously leaders who are now failing because the economy is growing despite the existence of a carbon tax? Or is he arguing that Barack Obama’s failure to meet some of the aspirations he expressed at his inauguration should be a lesson to Justin Trudeau to just give up?

The column comes across as a Gish Gallop of disconnected factoids bereft of context, leading one to suspect that introducing context to any of the factoids would prove most of them to be less representative of the truth than a typical YouTube video comments stream. By introducing a little context, or at least a coherent narrative, perhaps Fletcher could get the column past the entire “old man sitting on a porch shaking his fist at passing clouds” aesthetic. Although, one could suppose that was the position he was actually aiming for. I can’t imagine his motivations, only marvel at the results.

Large parts of the old media are dying, at least in part because of instant accessibility to a huge variety of new voices and more interesting approaches to content delivery that are simply out-competing the dead tree press for time, for eyeballs, and for advertizing money. Smart companies are adapting to this change and not just taking the same stale product on-line, but are re-investing in quality of content, giving people a reason to look at what they are producing. Other companies are just pushing their old, tired concepts onto digital platforms, hoping that enough flashing lights along the edges will make their tired content seem new, and the pop-up ads will be attractive to the people who pay the bills. In the quest to appear “interactive” they have created unreadable comment forums attached to articles, that soon degrade into nonsensical collections of disconnected uninformed factoids bereft of content or self-recognition, interspersed with cynical drive-by insult-by-implication.

In other words: a typical Tom Fletcher column. They should be treated with the same deference.