Council – March 12, 2018

Our Pre-Spring Break meeting had a lot of public participation and delegations, and also came after an afternoon Workshop where we discussed implementation of the Heritage Conservation Area in Queens Park (worth watching the Video if this topic is interesting to you).

Our evening Agenda began with a startling ritual, and the following items being Moved on Consent:

2018 Delegation to Lijiang, China
The City will once again be sending Councillor Williams to Lijiang as part of our Sister City and Student Visitation policies, and will fund this from our International Relations fund. I have my own ideas about where the City could benefit better from an International Relations program than this, but my thoughts are still somewhat half-formed, and I guess I will write more about that after giving them a little more work.

Recommendations from the International Relations Task Force
This is part of what I think we can do better with our international Relations process, and can be a major part of our reconciliation efforts in the City. Recognizing the nationhood of the First Nations in this province is a huge step towards rectifying our common past, and Councillor Puchmayr’s efforts as a representative of the City to build a positive relationship with the Tsilhqot’in is groundbreaking.

I love the idea of holding an event here in the City, in the model of a gathering. I think the spirit of reconciliation would have us first asking representatives of local first nations to permit us to hold this event on Coast Salish lands, and of course to invite them. At the ArtLatch held at the Massey Theatre earlier this year there was an interesting revision of a great meeting that occurred in New Westminster between then-Governor Seymour and the assembled Chiefs of the region and colony. The young artists used transcripts of the meeting to demonstrate how people talking past each other, empowered by patriarchal and colonialist attitudes, stood in the way of communication. The colonial interest in getting business done failed to acknowledge the need to first establish a relationship or even seek a common set of understandings. Too often today, we fall to this same trap.

As a community (and as a Council representing the community) we need to get back to building these relationships and understanding one another. A gathering may give us the opportunity to begin on this new path towards understanding, if we are brave enough to put our egos and preconceived notions aside, and share our stories.

Recruitment 2018: ACTBiPed Appointment
There was a bit of an adjustment of the membership of ACTBiPed coming out of the recruitment for the 2018 committee selection process and scheduling.

Updated Automated Voting Machines Authorization Amendment Bylaw No.7994, 2018
We needed to update our Bylaw that permits the use of those automated ballot-counting machines to align with new provincial regulations and language. Another change was identified since we gave this Bylaw third reading, so we need to rescind that third reading and re-do it with the amended Bylaw. Hey, folks, there’s an election in October!

Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Official Community Plan Amendments to Remove Protection – Streamlined Application Review Process
With the new HCA in Queens Park, we need a formal process to move houses between categories, to either extend further protection to an identified heritage asset not caught in the first-draft classification, or to reduce the protection of a house that is old, but so heavily modified or degraded that it no longer carries any heritage value. One of the principles established while setting up the HCA was that this should be a transparent process that isn’t too onerous.

The regular OCP Amendment process may be described as onerous. It requires multiple committee reviews, Council approvals, and stages of public consultation. A diligent applicant may navigate this process in 6 months, and will not know the result until after a potentially-confrontational Public Hearing right at the end of it all. The proposed “Streamlined” process would still include committee and Council input, and a Public Hearing, but may be completed within about a 6 week window, by relying on the application meeting a set of requirements and conditions established through the HRA consultation process. This is not about skipping review or ignoring our due diligence, it is about creating a process that makes the necessary bureaucracy operate more efficiently.

2018 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
The spring freshet report is getting slightly worse, with some larger-than average snow packs in the Fraser River Basin. There have also been big snow accumulations late in the season in the Kootenays (mostly those go to the Columbia, not the Fraser). We keep an eye on this to inform our flood preparedness. Nothing to panic about yet, but there is a slightly enhanced interest, as flood risk so much depends on the rate of melt as it does on the accumulation. It is a la Nina year, which would usually suggest a slower rate of melt.

The good news is that local snow packs are high, which bodes well for our summer water supply, but similarly much of this depends of the speed of the melt and how much we need to spill out of our reservoirs in the spring.

Connaught Heights Traffic Calming Plan
We are doing some work to make the pedestrian realm safer and more pleasant in Connaught Heights. This includes improved sidewalks and lighting on key routes, mostly connecting to the 22nd Street Skytrain station (through partnership with TransLink). There will also be some enhancements to the traffic calming measures in the neighbourhoods, coming after extensive consultation with residents and the RA. I’m also glad to see there will be some improvements of the paint treatment on 20th to (hopefully) reduce the blocking of the intersections at 8th and 7th by queuing traffic.

Application for Grant Funding to the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund
We need to update/upgrade another pump station in Queensborough – another one of those pretty-much-invisible but rather expensive capital projects the City is working on. Because this is a primary flood control measure, it is applicable to a provincial grant program to help finance emergency preparedness infrastructure. Let’s hope it gets granted!

2018/2019 Electrical Utility Rates
The City’s Electrical Utility has a long-standing practice of adjusting electricity rates to mimic BC Hydro rates. We buy from BC Hydro at wholesale rates, sell at retail, and with the difference we pay for the infrastructure and capital costs of the utility, and still return a dividend to the City that offsets a few million dollars in taxes.

A few months ago as we were doing budget planning, the Electrical Department provided a forecast of rates going up 3% to match the BC Hydro increase. Then the provincial government applied to the BCUC to freeze rates for a year, which frankly threw our capital planning into a bit of a twizzle. When the BCUC denied the rate freeze (recognizing BC Hydro’s own capital planning needs) it put things back on track for us, for the meantime anyway. So your electricity rates will be going up 3% next year, like everyone else in the province.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Ethical investment options through the MFA
This idea has already been reported on, but this update includes the response from the Municipal Finance Authority to calls from several municipalities (New West is not alone here) to consider fossil fuel divestment. No need for me to rant again (you can read this if you want to dig into it), but I am glad we are making a little progress in pushing for Ethical Investing options, and am happy to bring this topic again to the UBCM.

It is interesting to contrast this action with recent calls for “ethically responsible” businesses like MEC to stop carrying goods produced by companies who make money selling assault rifles. There are many ways to frame the ethical investing argument, but only one way to frame the alternative view: that it is the job – nay the Professional Responsibility – of our investment brokers to return the highest value possible to fundholders, and anything that constrains their decision making (be it ethical concerns on the part of fundholder or new regulations) may possibly impinge upon their ability to Act Professionally. This, in summary, is how Capitalism flaunts the line between allowing and encouraging unethical practices, from poisoning rivers to selling dangerous weapons to dangerous people.

The City will continue to call on the MFA to explore more ethical investing options, and will also work with our partner municipalities (Victoria is already on board, along with a few others) to get enough capital commitment together to make this happen.

Housing and Social Services Coordinator: Request to Seek Funding for Proposed Pilot Project
This is another one of those gut-check times. I think this City does more than most, perhaps more than any other of our size, on the housing affordability file. Through stellar work by our staff, we have supported a variety of programs to address homelessness and housing affordability. Some may (and do) argue this is something we should leave to senior government, and I wish they provided all of the resources to do the work that needs to be done, but they have not in the past, and I don’t think we can just ignore the gaps that exist in our community.

It is a time that rental vacancy is below 1%, prices are skyrocketing, and when regional pressures are being felt locally. When people face renoviction in this market, are priced out of housing, are transitioning out of healthcare or fleeing unsafe domestic situations – who are they going to call? Federal government cuts to homelessness outreach have taken more than a quarter million dollars out of local outreach funding. This is another gap we can hardly afford to ignore, and our Social Planning folks working for the City have been overtasked trying to cover this.

This initiative would fund at least a part-time position to continue this important outreach work. We have the potential to share a person with another adjacent community with limited resources, in order to save money and provide better connections to a wider range of supports. We also hope that the province will step up and help fund the position. I completely support the need for this position, and hope through partnership we can manage the cost.

Amendment to Water Shortage Response Bylaw No. 6948, 2004 – Revisions to the Water Shortage Response Plan
The regional policies on water shortage are being subtly adjusted to reflect better consumption research and public feedback. There will be a few changes on what is and is not permitted under Stage 1 – Stage 3 water shortages. These rules are developed at the Metro Vancouver level (our water utility is a regional function), but there is a partnership between Metro and the member Municipalities to educate and enforce.

We then went through a Bylaws reading ritual:

Water Shortage Response Amendment Bylaw No.7988, 2018 (Revisions to the Water Shortage Response Plan)
This Bylaw that aligns our Municipal water shortage response plan with the updated regional plan, as discussed above, was given Three Readings.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No.7998, 2018
This Bylaw that updates our electrical rates to match BC Hydro rate increases, as discussed above, was given Three Readings.

Automated Voting Machines Authorization Amendment Bylaw No. 7994, 2018
This Bylaw that regulates the automated ballot-reading machines we use in the Municipal Election needed some modification to better match the new provincial regulations. We rescinded the Third Reading from last meeting, and did a Third Reading of the amended Bylaw today.

We then had a few pieces of New Business:

Community Health Centres
After another compelling presentation by advocates, and what was frankly a remarkably long conversation around an item that all of council easily supported, Council voted to endorse the Community Health Centre model, and ask the Provincial Government to do something about it (via the UBCM).

Updating the Motor Vehicle Act
Following up on a recommendation from ACTBiPed as endorsed by Council at a previous meeting, we moved to take our support for the Road Safety Law Reform Group recommendations to the LMLGA, and ask the provincial government to update the Motor Vehicle Act to protect vulnerable road users.

Mercer Stadium Skatepark Relocation
Council asked Staff to bring a report as soon as possible on the community consultation for the proposed replacement Skate Park. With the highschool project getting ready to break ground, I am afraid we are going to have an extended period without a skate facility in the community if we delay construction past this summer season. We need to decide whether the location we have is the one we are going with, or if we need to retool, but we cannot delay that decision any longer.

And that brought the meeting to a wrap. Hope everyone has a good Spring Break, and we’ll see you back at Council on April 9!

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