The Happy New Year 2019 edition of New Westminster City Council had a packed Agenda, and started off with a presentation on Innovation Week, which is coming in the beginning of March and is something you should definitely check out.
We started our Council Action by moving the following items on Consent:
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act Report for 2017 and 2018
This is our annual report on how staff managed Freedom of Information requests and Privacy inquiries. The FOI applications are trending downward over the last few years, at least partly because we have an Open Data portal that makes more data accessible to the public without having to engage the FOI process. The other side of that equation is that we have more and more privacy protection concerns, and have to be pretty cautious with how we manage information so we don’t violate the “Privacy Protection” part of the Act.
The best news is that staff are processing the FOIs in a timely manner, and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner seems happy.
New Westminster Aquatics and Community Centre Loan Authorization Bylaw and Temporary Borrowing Bylaw
We need to get Loan Authorization Bylaws lined up so we can move ahead on the Canada Games Pool replacement project. Because of how the borrowing laws for local governments in BC work, we are preparing for two types of loans. First is a Temporary Loan Bylaw which will allow us to borrow cash to pay the bills as we are going along, which must be paid back within 5 years. The second is a longer-term Loan Authorization that allows us to amortize the costs of the project over 20 years. We will use this second one to pay off the first one once we have everything completed.
The plan is to secure the authority to borrow up to $93.6Million. This is, essentially, the maximum project cost ($114M) less the reserves we have saved up for the project ($20.4M). That does not mean we will spend all of the $93.6 Million, in fact we are going through this process right now to facilitate application for a Federal Infrastructure Grant. If we were to get that grant, it would come right off of this loan amount. We are also relatively early in the detail design of the new facility, and where cost savings can be found, they can also reduce this amount.
The Loan Authorization Bylaw will have to go through the Alternative Approval Process – meaning that we will ask the public whether they feel this is an appropriate expenditure (albeit through ha less-than-ideal negative-option process). So expect to hear more about this in the coming months.
Here we go again. Being an elected official responsible for budgets means you need to, at some point, authorize your own wages, and take the shit show that comes with it. Our current policy was adjusted by the previous Council, and involves a review every 4 years (i.e. once per Council term) to compare compensation to a representative cohort across the region. As there is a bit of a spanner in the regular works this year when the federal government made a significant shift in how local government elected officials wages are taxed. Most (all?) municipalities are increasing Mayor and Council wages to “make them whole”, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about how to handle this.
The recommendation by staff here is that we send this out to an independent HR consultant who can apply HR industry guidelines and make a recommendation about what compensation levels Council should get, and how we should implement future changes. This will be a public report, and at arms-length to Mayor and Council, which I think is the only fair and accountable way to deal with prickly topics like this.
Multi-Family Residential Rental Tenure Zoning: Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8078, 2019 – For Consideration of First and Second Readings
The City has had a moratorium on conversion of purpose-built rental multi-family buildings into Strata properties (“stratification”) since 1978, part of our long-term commitment to protecting affordable housing within our legal ability to do so.
New zoning powers were granted by the province last year that mean local governments can now limit land use in some residential zones to only include rental-only tenure. There are several properties in the City that were built as purpose built rental, some even receiving zoning benefits or support from CMHC because they were rentals, but are not subject to the moratorium due to a variety of historic factors. The City is moving to rezone them as rental-only, in an effort to assure they are not converted. At the same time, we are pre-applying rental zoning to a tract of City-owned lands in Queensborough to help inform future use of the lands.
This will be going to a Public Hearing, which I suspect will be a spirited one.
381 Keary Street: Development Variance Permit to Permit a Parking Space to be Designated in the Front Yard – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
This property owner wants to have a legal secondary suite, but has no back alley, and not enough sideyard to put a driveway to the back yard. As the City has a policy against front yard parking in residential areas, they need a DVP to permit a front parking pad. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on February 4th if you have any concerns, C’mon out and let us know what you think.
341 Johnston Street: Development Variance Permit to Permit Lot Frontages of 8.9 Percent of the Perimeter – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
This property owner wants to subdivide their property in Queensborough to create two 32.5ft-wide lots, but because their lot is150ft deep, that means the frontage will be less than 10% of the total perimeter, so a DVP is required. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on February 4th if you have any concerns, C’mon out and let us know what you think.
Energy Step Code and Building Bylaw Amendments: Bylaw for Consideration of Three Readings
We are moving forward with Step Code implementation. This sets the energy efficiency levels (as classified by the BC Building code) of new buildings being constructed on New Westminster. We have already adopted a Bylaw for single family homes, and are now bringing in a phased program for multi-family and commercial buildings.
One interesting wrinkle here is that we will allow a slightly less efficient building to be built if it’s primary thermal energy source is a low-carbon source (like ground source geothermal or sewer heat recovery). This recognizes that the GHG emission reduction is the most important part of energy efficiency, as GHG are the most pressing concern. Council moved to give this Bylaw three readings.
New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre Grant Application for Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program
We are applying for the grant. Although the combined Federal/Provincial infrastructure program will fund up to 73% of eligible projects (40% from the Feds, 33% from the Province), the entire program is only $134 Million to be spread across BC, so the chance of us getting funding at that level is pretty remote. BC is a big province, New West is 1.5% of the population, every community has needs and many have projects they want to get built. Do the math.
The good news is that this project meets all of the criteria for a hefty grant. It literally checks every box: cultural, recreational, and community infrastructure improvement, it is a significant GHG-reduction project, it is a service to vulnerable populations, and it is developed to a point where we can be assured that the project can be completed. So we are going to ask for the maximum funding for which we are applicable, and see where it goes.
The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8080, 2019
There was a clerical error in the amendment to the Engineering User Fees Bylaw we passed back in late 2018. This amendment corrects that error.
Tree Protection Bylaw Administration: Update on Staffing Pilot Project and Potential Amendments and Incentives
The tree protection Bylaw is still being adjusted to make it work better. We have moved the administration of Tree Permits within City hall to make it more transparent to applicants when tree permit are required, and to help trigger to staff when tree protection measures are required. We are also making it easier for a resident to use a consulting arbourist in the cases where an arbourist is needed, and are creating a bit of a reliance model so we don’t have the City arbourist doing redundant work.
This is a work in progress, and Council remains committed to the tree bylaw, to tree protection, and the urban Forest Management Strategy, but that doesn’t stop staff from working on making the bylaw work as smoothly, efficiently, and transparently as possible.
We gave a bunch of Bylaws readings (Which I am not going to list in these reports anymore), but only one was a Bylaw for Adoption:
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment (Cannabis) Bylaw No. 8076, 2018
This Bylaw adjusts our development fees bylaw so that we can collect the appropriate fees for the development of cannabis retail outlets in the City. It was adopted by Council.
We then had an extraordinary amount of New Business:
Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign
This Motion form Councillor Nakagawa was bolstered by a delegation from the Lost Voices campaign – young adults from our community who are immigrants to Canada, most of them not yet citizens but long-time Permanent Residents who would like to have a voice in how their adopted City and School District are run. They are asking cities to campaign to the province (through the UBCM) to extend local government voting rights to Permanent Residents.
Council agreed to take this issue to UBCM on their behalf, where I am sure it is going to be a spirited debate.
Clothing and Donation Bins
This is once again a topic that popped to the top of regional interest as yet again (in another community) a person died by getting trapped in a clothing donation bin. Some Councils have banned them outright, which I think is a knee-jerk reaction. As proposed by Councillor Trentadue, we have asked staff to report back to us immediately with steps we can do to improve safety. This may result in us banning some types, and we did make it clear to staff that they should not wait for us if they feel they need to act to protect public safety. However, I know we will also be hearing from agencies that rely on the donations, and from those who feel a safer bin design is possible.
Proposed Rental Housing Revitalization Initiative
Some of the most affordable housing in New Westminster is the housing most under threat: our older purpose built rental stock. This is where the risk of demoviction is highest (see the Rental Zoning item about) and this is where we are seeing a distressing amount of rennoviction. We have struggled to create policy to prevent rennoviction in the City within our limited powers, but our Planning and other staff have brainstormed and come up with some potential actions the City can do to prevent these rennovictions from making people in our community homeless.
There is a lot to digest here, and some of it is in relatively preliminary form, but the multi-prong approach includes a Rental Replacement Policy that will formally dictate how much and what type of rental tenure housing will have to be built if a developer plans to demolish a purpose-built rental building. We are also looking at using our Business Licensing powers to make rennoviction more difficult. Finally, we are going to look at a Rental Revitalization Program to make it easier for owners to perform necessary upgrades, efficiency improvements and repairs to our lower-cost rental stock without the need to evict the current tenants.
There is going to be quite a bit of talk about this over the next few months, but I am happy that our staff are finding creative solutions to protect the most vulnerable part of our current housing spectrum – the important gap between subsidized housing and new market rental.
Happy New Year, New West!