This Happened (v3)

I think I found the right title for my “community” posts, because this is really just a run-down of things that happened that I happened to be near as opposed to things that happened because of me or things I made happen, though some of those may happen to slip in. Passive voice -me is not what it is all about! Since this is the third in my recent resurgence of this topic, I’m starting at v3. Don’t @ me.

Events this last week had a distinct volunteer-and-community-builder feel.

The annual Civic Dinner is an event where we ask the many volunteers to City committees, task forces, commissions and other roles to come together and break bread. It is a fun night (see above), and one previously known for sometimes too long but nonetheless sincere thank-you speeches from all the councillors. A few years ago when this started to verge towards hours of speeches, the shift was made to councillors recording a short video. This makes it easier for everyone to sit through, but also gives us more time as councillors to circulate during dinner and thank folks personally. It also afforded people one last opportunity to laugh at the beard.

I had to run out right as the video started (my curling team awaited!) but I tried to circulate before and connect with everyone. If you served on a committee with me (or any committee for that matter), and I missed you, apologies, but know I really do appreciate the hours of work and valuable advise the volunteers in that room provide to staff and Council. And many of you I will see again as the new committee season starts now!

On Friday, there was the opening of the new temporary exhibit at the New Westminster Museum, “An Ocean of Peace”. This exhibit celebrates 100 years of Sikh community building in New Westminster, mostly around the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar on Wood Street. This exhibit was assembled by collecting the stories and artifacts of people who live in our community – not only the leaders and founders, but the everyday people who have for several generations made New Westminster and the surrounding areas home. The opening was incredibly well attended, with generous food provided by the Gurdwara. It is worth while heading down to the museum in the next couple of months to the temporary exhibit space and learn a little more about the history (and current life!) of New Westminster.

Saturday was the annual Festival of Volunteers at Royal City Centre, brought to you by New Westminster Volunteer Connections. This small event attracts a lot of not-for-profit organizations to set up booths and let people know what volunteer opportunities exist in the City ,and generally promotes the good works of local non-government agencies. I had great chats with my friends from HUB (who have a revitalized and active local New Westminster group). Pride New West, the New West Hospice Society, the Arts Council, and many other groups that keep the social and advocacy life buzzing in New West.

Thursday there was a well attended social put on by the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Fraserside Community Services. The Chamber is really stepping up their “making connections” program in the community, and it was great to see an event hosted at Fraserside. They have been working for more than 40 years in New Westminster to help people with barriers to community integration and employment achieve a fuller life, with job placement, housing support, counselling, and more. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy was there as well to talk briefly about the challenges of her portfolio, and the work ahead, and a brief profile of the many, many programs Fraserside provides from their CEO Lynda Edmonds (who was smiling every second, except when I took this picture!)

Finally, I attended my first meeting with the Glenbrook North Residents Association as their “council Liaison”. It happened to be their AGM, so I got to watch the cut and thrust of RA elections. We also talked a bit about how the RA wants this new “Council Liaison” role to work, and I answered a few questions about the Canada Games Pool, the recycling Centre and (of course) traffic. The GNRA seems to have a strong, engaged executive base, and I encourage folks between Avenues 6 and 10, and Streets 6 and McBride to join them at a meeting (it’s Free!) and learn more about what is happening in your neighbourhood.

Council – Jan 27, 2020

Our meeting this week was a short one agenda-wise, but we made up for it with and afternoon workshop that involved discussion about the upcoming Climate Action public consultation, Council expense policy, and the Regional Growth Strategy. More on those in later posts. We also had some Public Hearings, but we got through our Regular Agenda first:

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act Report for 2019
The City is subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which means we have staff who answer to requests for info, and through the framework of the FOIPPA, screen that info for privacy protection concerns before releasing it to the applicant. Annually, they report out on the number of requests and response rate.

Requests have been going up in the last few years. Most applications are related to insurance or legal claims, usually between parties that do not include the City – so things like car crash reports and building inspection reports are common targets. Staff have provided responses within the regulated timeline (30 days) in all cases, which is the goal. Of the 86 requests in 2019, two were forwarded to the provincial Commissioner.

Carter St. Access Road Project – 2019 Budget Variance
As the TMH project in Queensborough is finally coming along, the work the City has long been planning to do to improve the road access to the Queensborough Community Centre coincides with the need to provide road access to the housing – the so-called “Carter Street”. Building roads and bringing old ones up to modern standards in Q’boro is expensive because of soil conditions. In this case, it is a cost-sharing between BC Housing and our existing paving and sewer rehabilitation programs. This cost was always anticipated, but timing has changed, and with the 2020-2024 Financial Plan not completed yet and the road needing to get built, we need to give official authorization to pay for this work (which would normally come with that Financial Plan)

Recruitment 2020: Appointments to Advisory Committees, Commissions, Boards and Panels
Here are the new Committee members. We changed a bit how appointments were made this time around, with staff providing an early screening and recommendations based on providing appropriate skill sets and lived experience from across our community. But Council ultimately has to approve the appointments. If you applied, look for your name here. If you were not selected, please apply again next year, because the new selection process should also increase the turnover of applicants. For everyone who volunteers for City committees, thank you! For those on the FIPRAC and STAC, we will see you soon!

Recruitment 2020: Appointments to the New Westminster Library Board
We also appoint people to serve on the Library Board!

Release of Council Resolution from Closed Meeting: Massey Theatre Working Group
Now that the Theatre Strategy is passed and being implemented, the timing is appropriate for us to have a conversation with the Massey Theatre Society to determine how we can get the most out of our continued relationship in both the Anvil Theatre and the Massey Theatre.

301 Stewardson Way: Development Variance Permit to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
You might have noticed Key West Ford did a bunch of renovations to their buildings at their dealership at 3rd and Stewardson. They now want to replace their signage, and the unique character of a car dealership doesn’t really mesh cleanly with our Sign Bylaw, which is meant to reflect somewhat more urban settings. So Key West is asking for a sign Bylaw variance. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on February 24th, so come on out and tell us what you think.

Major Purchases September 1st to December 31st, 2019
This is our every-four-months report on major purchases by the City, so you can see how we spend your money, and the results of our public procurement processes. This also discloses and sole-source contracts we give out, to keep our spending transparent. .

2019 New West Grand Prix
This is a reporting out on the New West Grand Prix, which has become one of the keystone summer events in New West. We have more sponsors coming on, and attendance is up, even if the weather wasn’t perfect this year. Some of the goals around supporting the kids race and getting downtown businesses more engaged were met, and we had (as always – thank you New West!) a tonne of volunteers. We also underspent the budget thanks to some cost efficiencies by staff and 1/3 of it being covered by expanded sponsorship. On to 2020!


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Proposed Child Care Facility Ownership and Management Policy and Provincial Child Care Funding Update
The City is supportive of new Childcare facilities. It is well known that there is a childcare crisis in the City, and has been for a while, but both the City and the provincial government are working hard to address that gap. Of course, “available” and “affordable” are two different things, and we need to improve both.

The current model for most affordable daycare is to have some form of not-for-profit receive subsidies to provide the service that the market simply will not fulfill. The big start-up capital cost is impossible for that model, so the City is making spaces available in City buildings (the QCC, and the CGP replacement, for example) and is leveraging development amenities to get childcare spaces built as part of new buildings.

This policy will help guide what type of operator is appropriate for these City-supported facilities, and where the division of responsibilities lie, like who is responsible for building repairs or utilities in these models? The report here outlines a proposed policy framework to answer these questions and provide some certainty for the operators.

Investment Report to December 31, 2019
This is our regular end-of year report on our investments, for the public record. The City has about $179 Million in the “bank”, most in reserves set aside for upcoming capital projects. We made $4.3M on those investments this year, but the City invests in a pretty low-risk way.

Following up on previous motions from Council to look at divestment from fossil fuels, there has been some progress through the City of New West lobbying the Municipal Finance Authority and other municipalities interested in climate action. It is too early to make any kind of official announcement, but the MFA is working on it, and we may hear something as soon as this spring.


We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Development Approval Procedures Amendment Bylaw No. 8152, 2019 and
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8153,2019
As discussed on December 9th, these Bylaws that adjust the fees for some development service fees as part of our larger process streamlining were adopted by Council.

Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8161, 2020
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that changes the Building Bylaw to help us support higher-efficiency buildings through the BC Energy Step Code and applying a performance bond on new buildings, was adopted by Council.

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8177, 2020
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw to adjust Development fees (once again!) to increase out Preliminary Application Review Fee was adopted by Council.


We also had a single item of New Business

271 Francis Way
We had a delegation a few months ago about a conflict between Onni and a Strata in Victoria Hill around parking. Our staff has looked deeper into the issue, and in this motion, Council directs staff to take no further action on this issue. I don’t want to talk further about it right now, because this involves a conflict between two parties in the City and I think it would be inappropriate for me to interject myself in this blog.


And after a short break, we had three Public Hearings:

Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw No. 8151, 2019
This is a bit of an Omnibus OCP amendment to fix a few anomalies in the existing Official Community Plan.

This includes shifts in the Land Use Designation for four specific properties. These are not rezonings of the properties, and are not the result of anticipated change in land use, but the shifting the OCP designation to reflect current use.

361 Keary Street: this property is designated as residential detached on the OCP, but is zoned as multi-family low rise, and has a small apartment building on it. Not fixing the designation during the OCP update was an oversight, and we can fix that now.

345 Keary Street: This property was meant to be designated as residential detached during the OCP process, but was delayed to give a chance to consult with the owner. That consultation has happened now, so staff are proposing the change now.

1906 River Drive: This property is designated as residential detached, but has been zoned heavy industrial for some time, so the designation will be changed to reflect the zoning.

522 Fader Street: this property is designated as residential detached, but is owned by the School District and they requested that it be changed to Major Institutional.

There are also some changes in in language in the Queensborough Community Plan to make the language match the 2017 OCP, and a few grammatical changes in the OCP.

Finally, there are a few process changes here in how we do approvals to streamline the processes. Some Development Permit approvals are being delegated to the Director of Development Services (with an ability to raise them to Council if there are complaints or conflicts arising). Also, some minor DPs (e.g. under $100,000 in improvements) will go straight to staff.

We had one written response and one speaker at the Public Hearing, mostly seeking clarification about how this differs from a rezoning, and expressing concern about one of the properties changing use. Council gave the OCP change Third Reading and Adopted it.

Zoning Amendment (111 First Street, 115 & 117 First Street, and 118 Park Row) Bylaw No. 8175, 2019
There are three properties in the Queens Park neighbourhood around First and Royal that have duplexes on them, but back in 1987 for reasons unknown (but rumored about), they were re-zoned as residential single detached without the consent of the owners. We are now changing them back.

We received three written submissions in support, and a couple of delegations. A couple of the delegations raising concern were confused about the meaning of the rezoning and about the history of one of the sites, but it was never clear to me what their actual concern was- as they never expressed a reason for opposing the change, except that they didn’t understand it. Council gave the Bylaw Third Reading and Adoption.

Zoning Text Amendment Bylaw (230 Keary Street, 268 Nelson’s Court and 228 Nelson’s Crescent (Brewery District)) No. 8164, 2019
The developer of the Brewery District wants to shift some of the land use for the buildings on the site. Wesgroup would like to provide more “Purpose Built Rental”, or Market Rental (as opposed to strata condo ownership) in the Brewery District in exchange for more height (but no increase in density – so taller-but-narrower) for another building on site. This will also shift some of the formerly “omnibus” landuse- which is kind of an open designation that will allow any of residential, commercial, or health care.

It is a bit complicated, but this is how the land use for the three buildings breaks down:

Building 5 (228 Nelson Court) is under construction:
Approved: 80,000SQFT Strata Residential, 82,000 SQFT Market Rental.
Change: 162,000 SQFT Market Rental.

Building 7 (268 Nelson Court) is not yet started:
Approved: 260,000 SQFT “Omnibus”
Change: 210,000 SQFT Market Rental, 50,000SQFT Health/Commercial

Building 8 (230 Keary Street) is not yet started:
Approved: 300,000 SQFT Health/Commercial
Change: 200,000 SQFT “Omnibus”, 100,000 SQFT Health/Commercial

So the end result if these changes are approved:

Landuse             Before SQFT     After SQFT
Strata                     81,000                   0
PBR                        82,000                  371,000
Health Services   300,000                150,000
Omnibus               260,000               200,000

We received on letter in opposition and one delegation from the proponent. In a split vote, Council votes to give this change Third Reading. To me, the commitment to more purpose built and secured market rental in the Sapperton Neighbourhood (more than a quadrupling of the rental density) was the most important consideration. We have been building a lot of rental in New West, but are no-where near closing the rental gap. Seeing the development community commit to rental in New West is a positive for the community.

And that was a night’s work!

Uber alles

I have tried to avoid the social media storm that is the long-awaited arrival of large, legal ride-hailing operations in Greater Vancouver. Though I think this tweet sums up my feelings at the end of the day yesterday:

And eventually, during a transit ride home that I drafted my subtweety response:

So, it is clear that I am not excited about the arrival of Uber and Lyft, despite the almost constant media saturation and lobbying pressure from Uber Spokesfolks (in contrast, I have not received a single letter, e-mail, or phone call, or invite for a meeting from the Taxi industry on this topic). My tweet lead to a few questions from people who have never connected with me on social media before. It was also referenced in a local Reddit comment thread, so I drafted up a Reddit response. Apparently multi-platforming is the hot thing in media today, so I figured I would re-draft the Reddit response for a blog here, without even taking time to edit out all the damn brackets, because who has time? Here we go!

In response to concerns that Uber or Lyft are not available today in New West (or Maple Ridge or Delta), I need to clarify that ride-hailing companies will decide what areas they want to serve. It should hardly be surprising to anyone that they are concentrating on areas already served well with transit – those are the areas where there is a density of users and destinations to support the business case of ride hailing. Because it is the same business case that supports Public Transit in the neo-liberal model of service delivery.

The regulations created by the provincial government are really clear: local governments cannot prevent operation of ride-hailing within their borders. They can regulate the service by requiring things like business licences and set conditions for pick-up/drop-off in their road and parking bylaws, but they can’t just say “no”. In this sense, the Mayor of Surrey (in my humble opinion) is blowing smoke. He could, I guess, create a regulatory and licencing regime that is so difficult to navigate that no-one bothers, but I seriously doubt he has the enforcement personnel to make that effective. I guess time will tell how that works out.

New West is working with regional partners to set up a regional business licence system for ride hailing, we talked about it back in November, and the best update I have is that staff in the many municipalities are still hammering out the details. Unfortunately, the sausage-making of making harmonized regulations work between all these jurisdictions is difficult, and they really couldn’t get started until the provincial regulatory regime was made clear. Such is government.

My understanding (and I stand to be corrected here) is that ride hailing companies licensed by the Passenger Transportation Board to operate in the Lower Mainland can operate in New Westminster (and Surrey and Coquitlam, etc.) right now. There will be a period of shake-down as they get their drivers organized, their service areas worked out, and local governments get the licencing requirements (and enforcement processes) organized. It’s a new world, and there is nothing unique about this as these kind of choppy launches occurred in every single jurisdiction where ride-hailing launched.

My personal opinions about Uber and Lyft have very little impact on this. As I mentioned, back in November, New West Council set out the framework for staff about how we feel ride-hailing should operate in New West. Some parts of it I agree with, some I don’t. My concerns about labour rights, environmental impacts, road safety, traffic impacts, transit system impacts, and neighbourhood livability are based on a *lot* of research about impacts of ride hailing in other jurisdictions. It has also proven in other jurisdictions that most of the promises of ride-hailing (cheaper! more convenient! fun!) are false, and the entire business model is propped up by massive financial losses. The system itself is not sustainable, which makes me wonder why we are rushing into embracing it (see “media saturation and lobbying effort” above). I trust urban transportation experts like Jerrett Walker on this more than I trust the well-oiled Uber/Lyft marketing machine. The Taxi system is not perfect, but I have gone on at length (note this piece from several years ago) about how it is actually the arcane regulation of the industry that makes it not work the way we might like. But that’s another rant, and times have changed since I wrote that piece. Not for the better.

But that said, my (Council) job is partly to advocate for things that make the community stronger and more sustainable, but it is equally to assure the City is runs as effectively and responsibly as possible. Ride-hailing is here, (some) people want it, the local government job is to work to reduce the inevitable externalities and make it work as best as possible in our community. Of course, one of those externalities is that this “cheap” transportation option is going to cause your property taxes to go up. Uber and Lyft don’t pay taxes to the City, and regulation and enforcement are not free.

You may not like Uber or Lyft, but due to powerful lobbying and a brilliant international viral marketing program, you will be paying for it.

Community, Jan 24, 2020

OK, so maybe I already missed the mark on my soft promise of weekly updates on my council-related community activities, but let’s call them almost-weekly, and if we can keep ahead of fortnightly (although I love the term), and we can call this a success. It is going to depend on how many things I have going on, and how much time I have to write about them. Whish will result in this strange curve, because eventually I get to busy to write about them at all. And how much time I spend trying to use MSPaint to draw curves of phenomenon in my life:

Since my last of these community updates, we ran into snowpocalypse or snowmageddon or whatever, so a few events were cancelled. Most notably, I made it to the Queensborough Residents’ Association meeting just as the power outage caused a cancellation, and the New West Collective (a peer-to-peer support and networking group for local small businesses) wisely chose to delay their quarterly-or-so gathering until proper spring weather arrives.

Many may not know I am a member of the board of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which is an area association representing 33 local governments (municipalities and regional districts) from Hope to Vancouver to Pemberton. We had an executive meeting last week which was spent mostly on organizing our AGM and convention in Whistler. It looks like a great program is shaping up, and I look forward to reporting out on it in May.

We held the last meeting of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee last Friday. This committee operated for about a decade, and provided some valuable guidance to Council and staff on the Intelligent New West initiative. As Council re-organized the committee structures in 2019, this was one whose role was re-evaluated, as INW is now operational, the City has a Strategic Plan for INW and there are staff responsible for all three “pillars” of INW. The “council advisory” role under INW will now be part of the Economic Development and Advisory Committee’s mandate, but there are aspect of the INW program that will also fall under Public Realm, Public Engagement / Inclusion, and the Electrical Utility Commission. There were a few members of that Committee not happy with this direction, and Council will be reviewing how to assure that the INW Strategic Plan is measured and reported out. More importantly, the City needs to recognize that there is a real braintrust of people who understand the digital economy and how information technology is evolving regionally (and globally) as the Internet of things and 5G networks become our reality. New West has some unique advantages here, we need to be vigilant to make sure those opportunities are not lost.

Last week, the members of City Council and a few senior staff members attended a special training session as part of our ongoing Truth and Reconciliation work. We had Brad Marsden lead us in a workshop around improving our understanding of the history of Residential Schools and Colonization, and its impact on Indigenous and Urban Indigenous Peoples. This was a powerful and emotionally draining session, and I understand New West is the first “Mayor and Council” to take part.

This week I was also fortunate to be able to attend the first in a three-part public conversation about changing the conversation around social housing. Led by the Douglas College philosophy department, this series seeks to explore how we can have better public conversations about social and supportive housing in our communities:

The first session put the conversation in context with an introduction by Elliot Rossiter (who wrote this great opinion in the Record recently), followed by short presentations that talked about the history of housing in New West and Canada, from the criminalization of “vagrancy” in the City’s early days through the complex social programs that virtually eliminated homelessness as we know it in the decades after WW2, to the neoliberal shift and commodification of shelter that made “unhousing” of people a common occurrence for the first time. This was followed by a panel (including Councillor Nakagawa) talking about how we can improve the community conversation about providing housing, and move past the stigmatization of people who are victims of the complex systemic and societal failure that is poverty in Canada.

Sorry, Phil, but the “neolibralism” count I got from the panel was 7. All on mark, from people who actually understand the meaning of the term.

There will be two more talks in this series that are more about exploring potential solutions than naming the problems. If you care about justice, about local governance, or even about how your neighbourhood can have better conversations about housing, you should come out! It’s free!

Finally, in the last week I had a Canada Games Pool Task Force meeting, an Electrical Commission meeting, and a less formal meeting with one of the guiding lights in the New Westminster Environmental Partners, to talk about how they view our current recycling situation, and some great initiatives they are hoping to lead around raising the profile of the Brunette River as an ecological asset in New West.

Depot

As you may have heard, the current recycling centre adjacent to the Canada Games Pool has to close, and the services are being relocated to United Boulevard. For the best part of a year there has been a lot of discussion (mostly on social media) about what this means for our City’s commitment to recycling. Even the Record took the unprecedented step of making something that hasn’t actually happened yet their top news story of 2019.

Last Monday, there was both a report to Council from our engineering department on developments in the city-wide recycling program, and a number of people came to Council to delegate on the imminent closure of the recycling depot. Many of them came to speak in support of a an on-line petition promoted by a local political party asking that the current recycling centre be kept open. I find on-line petitions are a terrible way to gauge people’s opinions for several reasons, but this is an entirely different blog that I will maybe write someday. For now, I would rather address the report that came to Council and what I heard at the delegations.

First off, we need to be clear about why the current facility is closing. Through two years of consultation on the replacement of the CGP, it was clear that the community wanted the existing facilities to remain open and operational until the new centre is opened in order to maintain continuity in programs and offerings. This decision fundamentally shaped the new facility and the site plan.

Those conversations around the new facility answered the big questions (25m or 50m pool, one or two gyms? Daycare? Meeting rooms? etc.) and we settled on a fairly large structure – over 100,000 square feet. After a tonne of work by the architects and engineers, it was determined that the facility would not fit well on the parking lot to the east of the Canada Games Pool, and due to some utility issues and uncertain ground conditions related to the old Glenbrook ravine (which used to extend all the way to 8th avenue!), the only place where this large a facility fits is snuggled alongside the existing pool and community centre on the west side:

A rough drawing of the footprint of the new recreation centre (in white) and landscaping/entrance area (brown) that will be required for laydown during construction. This area (and much of the all-weather field to the top left) will be an active construction site. This is a rough drawing, I did it in MSpaint(!) based on drawings available here, please don’t use for navigation.

That means that the front parking lot will need to be excavated, meaning for two years the main road access to the current recycling depot would be a hole in the ground then an active construction site. Again, the engineers looked at a few options including shifting the one-way road adjacent to the fire hall to two lanes and providing temporary direct access off of McBride, but no solution was found that would meet safety standards our engineers demand.

This speaks a bit to the problem with on-line petitions. Several hundred people in New West signed a petition asking the City to do the one thing we could not do, unless we were going to turn our back on 2 years of public consultation and more than a year of architecture and engineering work. The author of the petition knew this, which is another example of how disingenuous politics are good at creating a scene, but not at finding solutions. Finding solutions is harder work.

Some have suggested that the recycling facility (even temporarily) be moved to the east parking lot. Staff have (of course) looked at this, and from what I hear, I cannot support that idea. The east parking lot has about 120 parking spots to support a recreation facility with more than a thousand visits a day, and a curling rink with a capacity of about 100. A parking spot for every 10 users is a very, very low number, and this is already certain to cause significant neighbourhood and user group stress during the building of the new facility. Moving even a shrunk-but-still-workable recycling depot to that spot would mean removing about half of those remaining spots. This challenges our earlier commitment to keeping the current facility functioning and accessible during constructions.

For all of the political hay-making and quoting of Joni Mitchell, this is just a question of geometry.

So the status quo is not viable. What do we do now? Some of the delegates provided some good ideas, and I think that it was useful to hear what types of recycling people are most stressed about. I think for many people in the City, the new joint recycling depot on the Coquitlam border with more services than our current facility, longer hours, and easier access to SkyTrain, will provide more convenience. I also recognize that for some people, this change represents a change to their established patterns and extra inconvenience.

We have not really had a robust conversation with the community about what that change looks like for them, and I recognize that was a communications and engagement failure on the City’s part. Over the last couple of months a few people have asked me questions about recycling, I have met a few for coffee, replied to some e-mails, tried to listen and learn (and have occasionally reported out on those conversations). During the delegations last Monday we heard a few interesting ideas, and there were also several people who came to delegate to say they fully supported the change. People had different recycling needs – some spoke of lawn clippings, some of Styrofoam and glass. Its clear most wanted to have a deeper discussion about what role recycling plays in our community, and asking for resources to make not just the City’s recycling system work better, but to assure our waste management systems are meeting our climate and sustainability goals.

Council heard that call for a better discussion, and staff heard it as well. The staff report that came to Council last Monday outlines a series of opportunities to provide the City some feedback and ideas on recycling (open houses, on-line polls), and I am spreading hearing rumours of the NWEP “Trash Talkers” group getting together and working to raise public awareness and gather ideas about the barriers to waste diversion, and strategies to address them.

Resilience

This was quite a week transportation-wise. We are headed into a second week with snow and ice on the ground, and even more forecast tonight, and like many of you, this has messed with my plans.

Monday was a Council day, so I spent most of it inside not thinking about how frightful the weather was outside. Tuesday I faced transit delays on my way into work, and transit chaos in my way home, but I managed to get to the QRA meeting in Queensborough for the 7:00 start, only to find the meeting cancelled due to a power failure. Wednesday was a true “snow day” where I did some work from home, but mostly went out every couple of hours to shovel Kootenay-quality powder off of my walk and driveway. Thursday saw more transit delays with some sort of “power rail meltdown” on Skytrain. Today was slushy with promise of more to come, but was actually a seamless transit day both ways, though ridership was notably higher than usual, as I assume fewer people wanted to risk the still-wintery roads on bikes and in cars.

I love transit, and I rely on it. Though it arguably provided safer and more reliable service than driving in those weather conditions would have, this week got me thinking about the resiliency of the system. During snow events, trains run slightly less frequently (with staff on board to help manage the controls in case of a weather-induced track intrusion alarm), and there are some issues with how the automatic doors manage ice build up, but much of the overcrowding and delay was related to the system running at 110% during a normal rush hour, and 25% more people show up wanting a ride during a weather emergency. The system feels fragile: it is on edge and under pressure on the best of days, and quick to disappoint when conditions veer from nominal (in the NASA use of the adjective).

Strangely enough (and this is definitely anecdote, not data), all of my bus rides this week were uneventful and reliable, if sometimes a little more crowded than usual. I even made a strategic mistake in route planning one day, deciding to use Canada Line-SkyTrain instead of a bus-SkyTrain option that would have allowed me to skip the “trouble spot” on SkyTrain. Aside from the issues around keeping up with road clearing and our ongoing trouble with maintaining universal accessibility at bus stops during snow conditions, it is the distributed and flexible nature of the bus system that provides the resiliency to our transit system that the SkyTrian back bone sometimes fails to do.

The Skytrain system has grown remarkably in ridership over the last decade, as has always been the regional plan for transit-oriented development. But until recently, there was no money or political will to invest in making the system grow to match this increase. That has changed when Jordan Bateman started stumping for contractors with new investments and proper funding of the Mayors 10-year plan, which includes significant SkyTrain capacity increases (bigger stations, new cars, reduced time between trains, etc.). But we are still playing catch-up, and I don’t think it is enough. Everyone is doing the best with the resources we have, but there is no escaping the simple math: the system is at capacity, ridership is exploding, we need more money to expand the system now, and we need consistent capital funding from senior governments to plan for future growth. That is the only way the system will become more resilient.

There is an ongoing discussion right now about the future of TransLink, and I (as always) have my own opinions about things like embracing-the-newest vs fixing-the-fundamentals spectra and the roles of different solutions, but I hope people who care enough to read this far in my post will go there and take part in the TransLink discussion.

I also hope as the Federal and Provincial governments continue discussions about spending billions on expanding road capacity on Highway 1, under the Fraser River, or even right here in our own neighbourhood, we can re-frame the discussion to talk about economic impacts of an unreliable transit system. The tunnel replacement and highway expansion is always talked about as an economic imperative – cars and trucks stuck in traffic are a negative cost. I argue that this picture right here shows the real economic backbone of the Province. 7.5% of the national GDP, almost half of the Provincial GDP is earned within 10km of this spot, and the real cost of congestion and traffic that looks like this is never accounted for:

But I want to say a couple of positive things about this week’s experiences in Snowmageddon.

I spent a lot of time this week on crowded platforms, stuffed cheek-to-jowl on lurching trains, and lamenting on Social Media about it all, but I have to say the human experience of it was way more positive than you experience when an accident on a bridge causes traffic chaos in the adjacent neighbourhoods. We’ve all seen the cursing, honking, banging-steering-wheel impotent anger of people trapped in traffic gridlock, some of us may have even felt it at some time. But my experience in the Skytrain mob was not like that at all, There were some long sighs, a muttered curse here and there, but it was mostly concert eye-rolling and “we are all in this together” comradery. And it is amazing how diffusing that energy is. The few times I was starting to feel a little hot under the collar because I-am-going-to-miss-my-important-meeting-I-am-an-important-person stress hormones or whatever, the feeling that we were all in the same boat, and the many lame humour attempts by my fellow straphangers got me out of my own head, and out of my own ass, and into the shared reality. Transit is a community that way. Beats the hell out of traffic on the worst day.

The real local positive this week was that the QtoQ Ferry ran pretty much as scheduled, and had a lot of new riders. As repeated snow-ice cycles made it hard for our road crews to keep up with Primary route clearing, never mind Secondary routes and local roads, a lot of people on the east end of Queensborough found the QtoQ to be a better alternative than to drive on snowy/icy roads and taking a chance on traffic chaos around the bridge. This itself speaks a bit to resiliency. A robust transportation system needs to provide alternatives, and the QtoQ is one of those “niche” solutions that takes the pressure of the entire system. I hope folks at TransLink see this story, and see in it the value of integrating more flexible solutions to local transportation needs (cough cough Gondolas cough).

Council – Jan. 13, 2020!

The first Council meeting of 2020 was a long one, though the agenda was fairly short. We had a proclamation, and had several open delegations on the both the 2020 capital plan and the recycling centre (along with other topics, as is the nature of open delegations) but this report as always is on the business of the day. I’ll talk in an future blog post about the recycling centre discussion (though this provides some background info), and the 2020 budget will no doubt be the topic of many discussions between now and May!

The following items were Moved on Consent:

263 Jardine Street: Temporary Protection Order Update
Back in November, Council approved a temporary protection order for a single family home in the Queensborough after the owner applied for a demolition permit and the Community Heritage commission requested that efforts be made to save the house for its heritage value. The temporary order gave staff time to connect with the owner and assure they knew of the various incentives and benefits of heritage protection. The owner, once fully informed, decided to go on with demolishing the house and building a new house, as is their right under the zoning entitlement. So Council is lifting the protection order.


The following items were Removed From Consent for discussion:

High Performance “Bond” for Energy Step Code Buildings at Level 3 and Higher, and Select Increases to Building and Development Fees – Bylaws for Consideration of Readings
This report is a proposal from staff to make a few changes to building application fees in the City. It includes a significant increase in the application fee for a “preliminary review” of a significant development project, the introduction of a performance bod for high efficiency buildings to assure they meet step code goals, and a few minor “housekeeping” bylaw language changes.

The preliminary review application fee is pretty significant – up to $5,000. But staff have consulted with the development community, and they see a real value in this “early check in” model for the review of major projects, and as it is an optional approach ot any development, it is not causing anyone to pull their hair out, which is interesting for any fee increase.

The Performance Bond is a good way to incentivize compliance, but not so high that it disincentives building new homes during an ongoing housing supply crisis. And it helps us meet our building efficiency goals for the community. Council moved to approve these changes being read into a Bylaw.

Zoning Bylaw Work Program to Address Sustainable Transportation and Accessibility Objectives
Zoning policy is transportation policy, and vice versa. Smart growth means building transit-oriented communities where people have a lower risk of using a car, or even of owning a car, and a lower risk for being car-dependent for their everyday lives.

This is a heads-up from staff of some policy work for which Council has been asking for a while, to update the type and amount of off-street parking we require in new development to better reflect our strategic plans, our Master Transportation Plan, and the Climate Emergency goals. As this is preliminary, there is policy development work to be done, and bylaw changes will come back to Council, but I wanted to assure staff were thinking along the lines of looking a signficiant reductions in parking requirements for our transit-oriented development areas, and are thinking about end-of-trip facilities for both bicycles and e-bikes, and how those are managed in Condo buildings. The current “required bike room” bylaws do not always assure safe storage is available for residents and renters in multi-family, and this is will be an increasing need in our community as we start to transition to a car-light community.

Child Protection Policy and Procedures
This is a follow-up report on work our staff have been doing to update training and practices in all public buildings to better protect children from harm and exploitation.


We also had an Opportunity to be Heard on a Variance:

Development Variance Permit DVP00672 for 312 Fifth Street
As mentioned in a previous meeting, this heritage restoration project went sideways. Though the house will still be more or less preserved, there has been enough modification of the building materials that the restoration no longer meets nationally-recognized heritage conservation guidelines, so the benefits afforded the owner through the Heritage Restoration Agreement were rescinded. The work on the house still requires a couple of minor variances, and therefore we have to have an Opportunity to be Heard to assure the public has an opportunity to opine on those variances.

We received a single piece of correspondence (a neighbour’s letter of support) and no-one came to speak the variances. Council moved to approve these variances.


We had some Bylaws to adopt:

Sign Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8132, 2019
This Bylaw Amendment, which we gave Three Readings back on December 9th, makes some changes to our Sign Bylaw in order to reduce the need for variance applications and bring the Bylaw more in line with recent practice in regulating signs. Adopted by council, and now it’s the Law of the Land!

Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation (312 Fifth Street) Rescinding Bylaw No. 8171, 2019
This is the official removal of Heritage Designation and removal of the benefits provided the homeowner by the HRA, related to the variance application earlier in the meeting.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (647 Ewen) Bylaw No. 8068, 2019
Heritage Designation Bylaw (647 Ewen Avenue) No. 8069, 2019

This is the Bylaw that formally protects the Slovak Hall and provides the HRA that supports the development of a small townhouse development attached to the hall. Adopted by Council, and now the law.


Finally, we had an item of New Business:

Motion: A Welcoming and Inclusive City
Councillor Nakagawa brought forward this motion asking staff to look into several different potential ways to improve consultation in the City, and make the work that Council does more accessible to more people. Some of it is right along the line of our Public Engagement Strategy and Work Plan that came out of the Public Engagement Task from last term, others are somewhat more general accessibility and inclusion ideas that should make for a more welcoming and inclusive community. This motion asked staff to report back with ideas of how to implement these. Council voted unanimously to support the motion.

Community – Jan 12, 2020

I hope to get back in to the practice of posting weekly (or so) on the things I have done that are Council-job-related and happenings-around-town aside from the Exciting! Monday! Night! Meetings! you all watch at home. This is because people have often asked questions along the theme of “how much time does it take?”, or “What does the job involve?”. I had always hoped to use my little pulpit here to open that part of the job up a bit, and then I got busy and it fell by the wayside, but I’ll try again.

Of course, “Council work” includes a bunch of reading of reports, independent research, and countless e-mails and conversations on the street with residents, business owners, and others. Lots of times, you wake up in the morning thinking about it, and go to sleep at night thinking about it. You sit in the pub and chat about recycling, friends corner you at the curling rink and ask you about dog parks, the barber fills you in with the latest happenings during your trim. I’m a social guy, and I love to talk, so I don’t want that to come across as a complaint, but his makes it hard to “count the hours” of the job. Is it full time or part time? The only answer is that it is a job that expands to the time available to it.

Still , here are some of the things I have been up to:

The funnest event in my week was going to the New Media Gallery to see the Cartooney show currently going on. I am embarrassingly late getting to this show (I usually try to get to the openings of new NMG shows), and I need another visit. You really should book out a full hour for this show so you can enjoy the full cycle of Andy Holden’s “Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape” because it is hilarious and insightful. The other 5 pieces are also worth taking the time to chew on, so get there before February 9th when the show closes!

This week we held a Capital Budget workshop where a few dozen residents and stakeholders in the community came to look at the work done so far by staff and council on the 2020-2024 budget. This evening workshop outlines council’s strategic plans and the goals of the Climate Action strategy, and then gave details about the capital expenditures the City is looking at making over the next 5 years, hoping that residents can provide feedback about priorities. There were spreadsheets of numbers, and some pretty intense discussions:

This was, by far, the most public engagement in our budgeting process has ever had, and I don’t know of any other City in the lower mainland doing anywhere near this much outreach. some even seen to disdain this type of public participation. If you were not able to attend, there is still an on-line survey you can do, and of course you can come to Council for open delegation and tell us what you think.

This is a bit of an experiment, putting all of the data out there early in hopes that people will read what is pretty detailed data bout the City’s finances, and provide informed and meaningful feedback. If you are reading this blog, you probably care about this stuff, so please take some time to read the info, and provide us some feedback. It not only makes it easier for us to make better decisions, it shows that this kind of engagement is valued by the community.

I had two informal meetings this week, one with a member of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee to talk about the future of that file as the ICAC’s work gets rolled into the Economic Development Advisory Committee’s workplan (as part of the overall consolidation of advisory committee work). I also met with representatives of the Queensborough Residents’ Association executive, as I have been assigned to act as Council liaison to the QRA, and I wanted to get their idea about how they think this will work best. This liaison-to-RAs is a new thing, and I am really cognizant that RAs belong to the residents, not to Council, so I am putting a bit of a burden on them to define the bounds of my participation, and to make sure that communication works in a way that serves their needs.

Bad measures

I try not to be one to rise to the bait.

In my role as an elected official, there are voices you are best to just ignore. Part of this is something I have talked about before around not punching down – an elected role is a bully pulpit, and it shouldn’t be used to ridicule people who have less access to information or less understanding of what my job actually is. There is also a second part, though, where disingenuous arguments are used by political opportunists – those who know better – but responding to them just throws attention toward them, and we enter some weird Streisand Effect peril.

This is the second one, and here I am rising to the bait, because someone who knows better is being very, very silly, and trying to make narrative out of it. He is doing this specifically because he knows that most people don’t recognize the flaw in his argument, but having worked in City Halls himself, he knows perfectly well how disingenuous he is being. Since he already has many platforms, I don’t mind calling him out.

When Daniel Fontaine started a blog to specifically criticize New Westminster Council, it wasn’t a surprise. The blog is a little light on content (hey, blogs are dead as a media!) but the hook is something he calls the “unanimeter”. This ostensibly measures how often New West Council votes unanimously on motions, apparently an effort to prove we are all one like mind.

Anyone who watches Council meetings, especially our (always free on video) afternoon workshops, can hear that we are rarely of one mind. But that is not the point I want to push back against. The inference in the Unanimeter is that if we had a few people like Daniel on Council, we would have more split votes, which would mean, in an underpants gnome type of causation, better democracy. But measuring split votes is based on a flawed understanding of how a City Council works.

Currently, Daniel has pegged the “Unanimeter” at 96%. We have, apparently, voted unanimously 96% of the time on motions brought to vote in 2019. I don’t know if this claim is true, as he doesn’t really provide back-up to this claim, and I’m not interested in doing his math for him. But more importantly, he also doesn’t provide any kind of “ideal” number, because he knows the idea underpinning this is ridiculous.

Does anyone think a Council that is always arguing (0% unanimous) is a better one? How many people on the Council have to vote against the majority for democracy to be served? One? Three? What exactly are we measuring here? 

Still, to the people Daniel is trying to misinform, 96% sounds bad. So I thought I would do a bit of my own math to see how bad that is compared to other (supposedly better, by the underlying conceit) councils.

For example, New Westminster has a School Board made up of 7 Trustees. Five of them ran together as a slate (full disclosure – with me!), one ran as an independent, and one ran on Daniel Fontaine’s team. They are, by all accounts, doing a great job. The School District is managing money well, building new infrastructure, and showing provincial leadership on some important issues. If these positive results are related to the diversity of representatives, and this can be measured by a Unanimeter, surely their Unanimeter would count lower than New West Council? I went through the publicly available minutes for SD40’s Board for 2019, and guess what? 96% unanimous votes. (numbers below).

But that is a School District, surely  City Council is a different animal? I went back to 2008 to look over the minutes of the most diverse Council for which New West has an online record. This Council was chaired by Mayor Wayne Wright, and included three “labour endorsed” City Councillors (Cote, Harper, and Williams). There were also three long-serving Councillors who were definitively NOT labour-endorsed: Calvin Donnelly, Bob Osterman and Betty MacIntosh (who is still a Facebook critic of everything this Council does). Going back through their minutes from 2008, how did this democracy-serving Council work? 96% unanimous votes. (numbers below).

To demonstrate why this is especially disingenuous coming from Daniel is that we can all remember he worked in Sam Sullivan’s office when Sam was the Mayor of Vancouver. Daniel helped the increasingly-unpopular NPA Mayor manage a Council of 5 NPA members, 4 Vision Vancouver members, and a COPE member. Luckily, their 2008 minutes are available online as well. Guess what? This fractious and oppositional Council made up of three parties with no love of each other and representing very different political alignments was unanimous 92% of the time. When you dig deeper into the minutes, you see most of the “defeated” votes were on amendments to motions that were subsequently approved unanimously by Council. If you adjust for this anomaly, the Unanimeter tips to 96% (numbers below).

Short version: The Unanaimeter is useless at measuring… the thing Daniel claims to be concerned about.

Now, there may be an argument that majority government is a bad idea, but if Daniel is making that argument, the Unanimeter is not supporting it. There may be an argument that this Council makes bad decisions, or that the voters made a big mistake when they gave the people who are on this Council more votes than they did to Daniel. I would like to hear Daniel make those arguments, because at least they will be based on something other than an ill-informed meme that only serves to misinform voters.

I’ve always been transparent about my decision-making on Council, and anyone is free to watch our meetings and ask Council questions. Part of the reason I do this blog (though blogs are a dead media!) is to help people be informed enough to engage meaningfully with Council. Sometimes people use this to call me on what they think is a bad decision on my part, or on the part of Council, and I encourage that. Sometimes I change my mind.

But what I won’t do is the easy thing – throw meaningless votes away to shift the numbers on a voter-insulting meme like the Unanimeter. It would be easy, and it would disarm Daniel, but it would be silly, and it would be disrespectful to the people I serve and the work the Council is doing.

Links to the sources are above, but here is my math, please check it!