Ask Pat: Smoking Bylaws

Norm asked—

I live in a low-rise condo in New West. Our Strata bylaws prohibit anyone from smoking in common areas, including decks and patios. The resident in the unit below me is a smoker. He stands in the patio doorway of his unit and holds his cigarette outside. He also blows the cigarette smoke outside. If I have my patio doors open, the smokes comes directly into my unit, which is several times a day. It’s a problem year-round, but obviously worse during the summer. After many complaints to the Strata Council, they say there is nothing they can do because technically he is standing inside his unit. I’m wondering if Bylaw 7583, 2014 3(p) would apply in my situation?

I was just flipping through Bylaw 7583, 2014 yesterday and…. um, no, I’m kidding, I had to look this up. And it wasn’t the easiest Google.

The City’s Smoking Control Bylaw 6263, 1995 regulates smoking within the limits of the City’s jurisdiction. Bylaw 7583, 2014 is an amendment to that Bylaw which includes your cited Section 3(p). Altogether it reads:

3. No person shall smoke:
(p) within 7.5 metres of any opening into a building, including any door or window that opens and any air intake;

Which sounds like a slam-dunk, except that Section 4 of the Bylaw reads:

The provisions of this Bylaw do not apply to private residential properties

So just like a homeowner is allowed to make rules about smoking in their own house or backyard, your strata is allowed to make such rules about smoking around doors, balconies, and common areas on your strata Lot. And I feel your pain, as MsNWimby and I once lived in an apartment where the person downstairs was a smoker, and there were no rules preventing them from second-hand fumigating our apartment. If your strata has an anti-nuisance Bylaw, and you manage to argue to the strata council that your neighbour’s action constitute a nuisance, you might get some relief, but unless one or the other of you move, there is no quick fix here. Unfortunately, there is also not much technically or legally the City can do.

This is, I suspect, going to become an increased problem in the next short while as cannabis legalization causes those who choose to use the product to be less bashful about it, and strata councils are going to be uncertain how to manage it.

The enforcement of smoking laws is really difficult for a City – the nature of the offence is that it is short-lived and ephemeral. There are varying and possibly overlapping rules between private property, city property, and other public property (i.e. enforcement around New West Station) and our Bylaw officers do not have a lot of power to detain or force people to give them ID.

Alas, I don’t know what we can do other than rely on public education and peer pressure to manage the nuisance, and it seems to me that there is currently no public pressure to change the behavior of smokers. I sat near New West Station the other day for 30 minutes watching person after person stand right next to a “No Smoking” sign and light up. Every single one of them tossed the butt on the ground. The tossed butt alone is a $200 fine, but not a fine anyone enforces, because cigarette butts are the last bastion of free littering, despite their significant impacts on our storm drainage systems and river ecosystems. Smokers don’t seem to give a shit, nor do most of the public it seems.

I’d love to see if a Bylaw crackdown would work to address this, but also recognize much of this behavior is by people already marginalized and for whom interactions with the Strong Arm Of The Law could have seriously negative consequences. There is also the addictions issue – being addicted to nicotine is a medical condition for which there is limited access to support, especially for marginalized populations. Unlike alcohol, smokers cannot go into a pub to get their fix, and if they are lower income, they are more likely to live in a setting (rental or other shared housing) where they are legally not able to use it in their own home. Parks and most public places are also illegal. They are addicted and suffering from a prohibition – not a legal one, but a geographic and socio-economic one. We can debate the addictive properties of cannabis, but the situation is essentially the same.

So short version is I don’t know what to do. In your condo or as a City. You can check to see if your building’s nuisance bylaw is any relief, but I suspect that is a long row to hoe, with questionable results. The City could have Bylaw Officers and police walking the streets telling people to put those things out, handing out fines if appropriate, but I am not sure it is the way to change behavior or community standards, and I wonder about our actual ability to collect on those fines and the potential for further marginalizing people. I’ve banged my head against this sine I started on Council, everyone agrees that someone should do something. I’m open for suggestions.

Council – July 8, 2019

Our last Council meeting until the end of August happened on July 8. So let’s get through this report together, and we can all move on to enjoying our summers. We had lots of cool stuff on the agenda, starting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Five Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8136, 2018
The City is required by law to have a 5-year financial plan that as closely as possible estimates our finances for the next 5 years. When reality varies from those estimates in a significant way, we need to update the 5-year plan.

The changes here are exactly what you might expect as our finance folks try to estimate future costs and revenues. For example, a few of the capital projects we were hoping to get done in fiscal 2018 were delayed, meaning the DCC accounts and other places from which we drew the money to pay for them need to be updated to reflect that we didn’t spend this money this year, and that we plan to spend that money next year instead. There are also things like estimating the value of tangible capital assets (things like pipes in the ground and sidewalks) that developers are supposed to deliver the City through development, as it is hard to put a cost to those until the development happen and the assets are actually in the ground and start depreciating. Municipal finance is exasperating and never ending in its reporting.

This is somewhat arcane stuff, but we are required to give the public an opportunity to comment on the changes, so did so, and not surprisingly we received no correspondence or public comment.


We then went into a couple of Staff Reports for action:

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre – Design Update
The project team continues to work on the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre, now acronymically called the NWACC (“NEW-ak”) – but more on that in the next item in the Agenda. The conceptual design was passed through the New West Design Panel, generally to good reviews, with a few suggested improvements. We are starting to now have a clearer understanding of what the facility will look like, some of the shape driven by site constraints and the programming needs of the various elements, but also responding to energy efficiency, buildability, and the long public consultation around how the public wants this new Community Centre to work. We have our Budget Bylaw in place, the next task is to do some more accurate cost estimating now that major design components are agreed upon, and any time that Senior Governments want to announce infrastructure grants, that would be great!

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre: Process to Develop Facility Name
The project team is also shifting some of the Public Consultation energy away from programming and design elements now and talking about branding. What are we going to call this place? Obviously, Canada Games Pool does not make sense, as the new project will not be a legacy of the Games like the old one was. And Centennial Community Centre was named to mark the Centennial of New Westminster or Canada or something.

There has already been some consultation on this, and to answer your first question, we will not be naming it Pooly McPoolface. There is a strong community interest in using this first major infrastructure project in the City after launching our reconciliation strategy to assure there be some components of the facility reflecting Indigenous cultures of the area, both as programming elements and in the design. I suspect that this will also be reflected in the naming. But I do not want to pre-judge the process too much, and we will strike a Facility Naming Advisory Panel to guide the community through this. We named Councillor Das to that Panel.

Riverfront Park (660 Quayside Drive) – Preferred Design Concept
The Bosa Development project on the waterfront includes the delivery of a 2-acre public park as an extension of the existing Pier Park, and a continuation of the waterfront esplanade between Pier Park and the River Market. There has been some public consultation on design concepts for this space, which is being reported out now.

This park is a few years out yet, but preliminary designs need to be considered as part of the engineering work for the underground parkade that will exist under the park. Things like structural loads, air vents, stairs and such need to integrate between the underground and the park. So the City led three Open Houses, had pop-up booths at a Fridays on Front and the Farmers Market, held a stakeholder workshop, and went through a few Council advisory committees. We do a lot of consultation.

The draft models show a combination of active and passive spaces, a mix of hardsurface and green space, and a lot of emphasis on flow through the space. Altogether it is a great compliment to the design principles of the existing Pier Park. There is a LOT in this report, almost overwhelming all of the detail here, but I really appreciate the consideration that went into this work, and the public who took time to help our staff come up with concepts.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Recruitment 2019: Committee Rescindments
Ongoing committee shifts, as one community volunteer took a job in the City that prevented her from continuing to serve on a committee, another changed jobs, and a third moved out of town.

1209 – 1217 Eighth Avenue: Infill Townhouses – Consideration of Development Permit Issuance
This project would see 22 townhouses built where there are currently 5 single family detached homes. The project had a Public Open House (attended by 15 people) and went to the Residents’ Association (a meeting attended by 9 people), was supported (with some recommendations) by the Design Panel and APC, and had a Public Hearing on May 27, 2019. Council moved to approve the Development Permit.

I am whole-heartedly in support of this type of development in New West. This represents 22 new family-friendly homes that will be priced lower than the single detached houses they replace, but provide space and amenity appropriate for medium-sized families. This is the “missing middle” that is so lacking in New Westminster, while also bringing more people into the 12th Street business district to make that area more vibrant. The scale is sensitive to the houses already there, but also points us to a direction where more people can afford to live in size-appropriate housing in New West.

Pedestrian Clearance Interval Times – Best Practices and Implementation Plan
We had a presentation for the Walkers Caucus last year concerned that some of our pedestrian walking signals did not provide sufficient crossing time for some of our more vulnerable pedestrians, which seemed at odds with our Master Transportation Plan principles of placing pedestrians and vulnerable road users at the top of our transportation hierarchy. Staff (with the help of a co-op student project) determined that yep, we have historically used a crossing speed assumption based on older data, and that we could do better.

So staff is beginning a program of re-programming many of our pedestrian-activated crossings to assume pedestrian crossing speeds about 20% slower than we currently do, and that we should expect more pedestrians to clear the crossing before the “flashing hand” or yellow signal activates to improve pedestrian comfort and safety. This especially will reduce conflict between pedestrians and drivers turning through the intersection while only minimally increasing the stop timing for drivers.

Response to HUB New West Delegation to Council (June 10, 2019)
Staff are responding in this Report for Information to the HUB presentation to Council back on June 10th, where HUB listed what they see as the biggest priorities to improve cycling infrastructure in the City. Essentially, staff are thanking HUB for their input and aside from assuring that the concerns raised are entered into the record through this report, are also reiterating that HUB is an important partner in the design and implementation of cycling infrastructure on the City, and will continue to be consulted as they have been in the past as we set priorities.

I think I’ll say more about this in a follow-up blog post, now that it is summer and I have time.

Transportation Development Review – New Fee
When the City reviews proposed developments, one of the many tasks it undertakes is to evaluate the transportation impacts of the project. We do this because “traffic” and “parking” are the most common concerns raised by the public about every project or any shape of size everywhere (except new single family homes, which are actually the cause of more traffic and on-street parking problems, but I digress). So it is incumbent on us to be informed of those impacts before we approve or deny any project, and for staff to work with a developer to determine if impacts can be mitigated through a change in design or through engineering changes on the City side.

This work is getting more complex and time consuming, partially because of the number of developments staff are tasked with reviewing, and partly because our new Master Transportation Plan requires higher levels of pedestrian and other active transportation infrastructure. As with most review of private development, we expect the developer to pay for it on a cost-recovery basis, and this report is asking for a new fee to be attached to new development applications to cover this extra cost – essentially to pay for the staff we need to do this work so property tax doesn’t have to.

Proposed Speed Hump Policy
Our transportation department has brought back a proposed policy around where and how we will install speed humps in the event that a resident raises the request. In the past, this was an ad-hoc process based on volume of complaint, but this is not an equitable way to manage infrastructure and it isn’t the most efficient way to use our transportation funds. This came to Council in the spring, and we asked that it be reviewed based on two concerns: the sense that put the emphasis on “homeowner” consultation and the way that would emphasize improvements in single family neighbourhoods over that in areas with more rentals, and the sense that engineering evaluation of the need/benefit should not be subordinate to community demand, but should either support or not support it.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2019 – 2022 Strategic Plan – Vision, Core Values and Priority Areas and Key Directions
While the rest of City business has been banging along, Council has been working with staff on Strategic Planning since the election last fall. I am glad to be able to share the preliminary parts of this work, with more detail to come after the summer.

I think it is clear we are an activist Council, we are all here because we want to get things done, and want to continue to build on the leadership this City has shown in housing, in addressing inequality, in improving the livability of the community. I think the big push this coming term will be from the addition of Climate Action and Reconciliation to this workload.

Frankly, New Westminster is still a smallish city despite our very big-city dreams. We have 72,000 residents who want the services and amenities of a much larger City, which means that much of our work here is about setting priorities. My experience through our strategic planning was a struggle to reduce the number of priorities my Council colleagues will attest my common use of the phrase “if you prioritize everything, you prioritize nothing”.

So with this preliminary report, I just want to emphasize the Vision and Value Statements, and the 7 Key Directions. These should guide how the Council approaches decisions over the term, and if you want to push Council on a topic, it might be worth your time to read this and determine how your specific interest keys into these key directions – it will make your delegation more compelling and will make it easier for the Council to say YES to your idea. There are the principles we are holding ourselves accountable for. Use that!

Front Street and Begbie Street Intersection (Pier West Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The portion of Front Street behind Hyack Square was ripped up during utility servicing works to support the Pier West project needs to be repaved. They want to do this work at night to reduce the impacts on traffic, and are asking for a construction Noise Bylaw Exemption.

Demonstrating how dangerous blanket statements by elected officials are, I stated last meeting that I would no longer vote for night time noise exemptions when their only interest is to reduce the impact on through-traffic, arguing that our residents’ ability to sleep is more important to livability than regional commuters’ ability to have a less-impeded drive through New West. And here I am in the very next meeting concerned about ongoing access impacts on the River Market from surrounding projects and realizing there may be exceptions to even this rule. The traffic situation around the River Market and Quayside drive has been challenged quite a bit over the last year, and will be for the next year or two with the new project to the east of the Market.

Governance is a funny thing.

616 – 640 Sixth Street (Market Rental): Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8131, 2019 – Consideration of Three Readings
This project recently given Third Reading by Council requires a Housing Agreement – that is an agreement with the City that the promised 95 secured market rental suites will be operated as rentals for 60 years or the “life of the building”, and will be owned by a single entity for that term, who will manage the rental operation. This agreement is secured with a legal covenant between the city and the Owner.

I opened up discussion on what is usually a simple process here because I want to talk about parking in secured market rental buildings. There has been increased demand for street parking around some of our recent market rental buildings, and we have had issues with parking allocation in some of the secured rental buildings in Victoria Hill, and I wanted to clarify what policy guidance we have around parking in secured rental, be it market or non-market.

If the owner of a secured market rental building charges for parking above what regular rent is, then that is an incentive for a renter to save that $100 or more a month and park on the street, impacting their neighbors and businesses, and creating the impression that we are not building enough underground parking. In neighbourhoods where we have permit parking, we charge much less than this for street parking permits for our residents ($15.year) than they would pay for a month underground. I think the thing none of us want to see is streets saturated with cars parking for free and underground garages sitting relatively empty – so I want to be sure we are not creating economic incentives towards this.

One of the principles in our housing agreements is that “off-street vehicle parking and storage be made available to tenants at a reasonable cost”. I am asking Staff to bring back a bit of a policy analysis about what that “reasonable” cost is, how we determine it, and whether there is a public policy reason why we don’t insist that parking be provided as part of rent. We tables the Housing Agreement until next meeting, hoping to get that feedback first.

268 Nelson’s Court (Brewery District Building 7): Development Permit Application for a Proposed High Rise Mixed Use Development – Consideration of Development Permit Issuance
This DP is for building 7 of the Brewery District project – a 32-story tower that has 257 strata units, 52,000 sqft of office, a 9,600 sqft daycare, and 4,600 sqft of retail, as per the existing zoning entitlements. That said, there is an active rezoning for this site that would not change the shape or form of this building, but could shift the condo portion to market rental in exchange for changes in shape and form of other buildings. This is a little strange, but at this point we are NOT evaluating that rezoning, only the form and character of this building, whether it becomes strata or rental is a conversation we will have later.

Participation in Regional Recycling Depot – Public Information Update
The City is committed to taking part in a regional recycling facility near the New West / Coquitlam border in partnership with the Tri-Cities when it opens some time in late 2020. Around that time (and subject to some construction timing) we are no longer going to operate the recycling centre next to the Canada Games pool, because that site is going to be part of the construction project of the NWAAC. Despite some of the hyperbole you may read online, this doesn’t mean the City is abandoning the idea of recycling glass, Styrofoam or soft plastics. Instead, we are going to look at more creative ways to make recycling these materials work for residents, especially those without access to cars, and the >90% of New West residents who don’t use the current recycling yard.

We have at least another year to work on any transition plans we may need to assure residents have access to the recycling they need. Part of this is obviously pointing out the recycling options people already have access to (there are several places in New West other than the current recycling centre that take glass, plastics and Styrofoam!) and part of it is identifying the gaps in the recycling system and ways the City can creatively address them. Some of the operational constraints we are dealing with (TIL: the corporate entities that take our recycling materials away will not accept materials from unstaffed recycling stations) are daunting, and the entire region’s recycling system is under strain right now because of global economic conditions and the collapsing market for recycled materials. I can almost guarantee you that the City’s costs (and therefore your cost) for recycling are going up significantly in the coming years, and we are looking for ways to address that.

I know change is hard for some people, but this system needs to change to be sustainable. We can look at this as an opportunity for the City to improve how it provides recycling, and for citizens to think about their own actions around consumption and taking responsibility for your waste stream.

Amendment to the Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw
Every year, Parks and Rec staff review the fees for their various programs, and make adjustments. The main drivers of cost for our programs are wages of the staff who provide those services (our collective agreement with union staff have a 2% CPI increase this year) and inflation (about 2% this year). We also adjust to assure our fees are representative of regional “market value’ for such services. No fees are going up more than 5% this year, and most are either staying the same or increasing much less an 5%.

As was promised during the last election, we are expanding our “low cost” programs, like $2 Public Skates and some $2 swims and fitness admissions for CGP, so in these senses, some fees are going down this year.

There are some facts buried in this report that are worth calling attention to, and as a City we don’t celebrate enough. New Westminster has the lowest ice use fees in the Lower Mainland – we charge Minor Hockey users 22% to 44% less than the average across the region. Our swim and skate fees are all below the regional average, and our playing field rentals are well below regional average. Use of our recreation services are a bargain in New West, so get out there and recreate!

Community Heritage Commission (CHC) Recommendations to Council
The Community Heritage Commission made a few recommendations to Council, and we moved to accept the Staff responses – mostly “we are already doing this”, but these will all be things brought back to Council as part of further work, so let’s see where it goes.


We bumped a few Bylaws along, including the following Adoptions:

Housing Agreement (228 Nelson’s Crescent) Amendment Bylaw No. 8135, 2019
This is the Housing Agreement that secures Market Rental use for the building at 288 Nelson Crescent that we needed to amend to make CMHC happy with the language, as discussed on June 24th. Council moved to adopt it.

Road Closure (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8093, 2019; and
Zoning Amendment (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8092, 2019
These are the Bylaws that empower the road closure in Queensborough that were subject to a June 24th Public Hearing. Now adopted and the Law of the Land.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1002 – 1004 and 1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8117, 2019;
Heritage Designation (1002 – 1004 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8118, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8119, 2019
This is the HRA and designation Bylaws for those two brick duplexes in the Brow of the Hill, addressed at Public Hearing last week, where no-one came to speak to the applications, and no-one on Council voted against the issuing of Third Reading. One Councilor voted against Adopting these Bylaws for no articulated reason after supporting the project every step until now, so read into that for what it is. The rest of Council voted to support the Adoption.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8120, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8121, 2019
These are the Bylaws that empower the HRA and heritage designation of a single family home in Glenbrook North that were subject to a June 24th Public Hearing. Now adopted and the Law of the Land.

Zoning Amendment (1209-1217 Eighth Avenue) Bylaw No. 8099, 2019
This Zoning Amendment Bylaw supports Rezoning a few single family lots just off 12th Street to build 22 Family-friendly Townhouses, and was Adopted by Council.

Subdivision and Development Control Amendment Bylaw No. 8128, 2019
This Bylaw updates the Bylaw that regulates how new developments hook up to some city Utilities to make sure they are meeting bigger City and Regional goals around sustainability of the utilities. It was adopted unanimously by Council.


Finally, we had two items of New Business:

Motion: Council Meetings – Efficiencies, Councillor Trentadue

Therefore be it resolved that,
Council asks staff to report back on efficiencies that Council can consider to make our meetings more efficient therefore ensuring that all members of the Community and members of Council have an opportunity to speak.

Efficiencies to be included but not limited are:
• consideration of time limits for Council members comments and questions
• limiting the number of times a Councillor might comment, unless with new Information

We have been having long meetings, with long agendas, and we don’t necessarily use our time all that efficiently. It isn’t just Council time, but it is staff time (which is expensive), and public time (which tries the patience of even the most diligent Council watcher). It also results in council making decision late in the evening when we may not be our sharpest, and it results in items further down the agenda not seeing the scrutiny or open discussion that items at the top of the agenda get. That’s not a model for good governance.

We have not had a serious look at our Council Procedures Bylaw since we moved away from Committee of the Whole early in my first term and put all of our regular business on the public meeting agenda, and it might be worth looking at what other Cities do to make sure the conversation and deliberation are fulsome, but that speaking space is equally distributed and provides for a more succinct and efficient meeting.

Council moved in a split vote to support this after a lengthy deliberation, natch.

Motion in response to Reclaiming Power and Place, Councillor Nakagawa and Councillor Johnstone

Therefore be it resolved that
A the City of New Westminster affirm the report’s findings that the actions of
governments have constituted genocide; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon the New Westminster Police Board to respond to the Calls to Justice, specifically 9.1 through 9.11, and request that they champion and lead the establishment of a regional police task force to address the Calls to Justice; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon the Prime Minister and the Member of Parliament for New Westminster to respond to the Calls to Justice that require action on the part of the federal government of Canada; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon Premier of British Columbia and the New Westminster Members of the Legislative Assembly to respond to the Calls to justice that require action on the part of the provincial government; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon New Westminster School Board to respond to the Calls to Justice that refer to public education, specifically 11.1 through 11.2; and

That the New Westminster Restorative Justice Committee be called upon to provide recommendations to Council and/or the provincial court system to inform a local approach to the Calls to Justice that refer to the court system; and

That the Calls to Justice be incorporated into the City’s reconciliation work.

I will write more about this in a follow-up post, because it is a topic deserving of its own space, but short version is that having read the reports and recommendations that came out of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, there is clear direction that cities should take, and we want New Westminster to take those actions. We are relatively early adopters here (I think only Winnipeg and Saskatoon have taken similar actions), but I hope this is an area where we can show regional leadership. More to come here.

And that was a wrap for the spring session! Many Ask Pats in the queue, so I will be blogging in the break, between summer vacations, trips to the Kootenays or Saturna to visit mamily, Music by the River, Fridays on Front, Columbia StrEAT Foot Truck Fest, Uptown Live, Pride Street Fest, and whatever bike rides the Fraser River Fuggitivi have organized for me. Enjoy the season, folks.

Poe?

I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official. I try to read it all, and try to respond to most of it – almost all with the opening line “I’m sorry I am so late replying to this e-mail, I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official.”

There are those few letters that come in every once in a while to which I have no idea how to reply. Bravo? Thank you? Please let your care professional know you have access to the internet? I try hard to take every one seriously, but at times I feel like I’m being played. There is a name for the specific phenomenon I am talking about: the Poe.

Poe’s Law is an internet adage that says “Without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.”

This has been extended beyond its original intent as a characterization of religious extremism and has been applied to the wide variety of on-line crankiness. And once you recognize it (something that likely only happens to elected officials and local newspaper editors, I suspect), it changes how you view a letter like this, that we at New West Council received last week (personal info redacted out of common decency):

 We often get letters addressed to a wide reach of local and provincial elected types. The content here was, however, a curious mix: The Roman numeral date, the pejorative salutation, the way he spells “Apparatchik” correctly, but immediately uses “they’re” in place of “their”. We commonly hear…uh… unusual opinions that leave me questioning how they are even asking me to act on an issue, but in this case the ask is kind of benign if a little confused: Speak out against China doing something but let other countries do it (those other countries are allowed, as far as I know, but I digress…) So is this a slightly cranky guy venting his deeply felt convictions, or someone mocking Mayor West, and the rest of the recipients? I would have happily assumed the former, but see those two attachments to the e-mail? (ps: never open attachments to an e-mail unless your IT department has vetted them!). They are these two graphics:

OK, now I’m thinking he is having us on, so I Google the person who sent it. His name has many, many hits, mostly in the form of letters he has written to editors of local newspapers from Montreal to Spokane, often with the honorific “Rev.” added, to opine on everything from racism (he is against it), homophobia (also against), potential names of future NHL teams (interesting), pipelines (he is for them), Alberta Premiers (he is against them – past and present), and the viability of DC-Marvel crossovers. He even got a pro-Derrek Corrigan letter published a few years ago in the Burnaby Now.

So, seriously, I don’t know if the Reverend takes himself seriously, but he definitely has lots of time and opinions, and I’m not sure I have time to address them all, so I don’t think I’ll reply. But don’t let that dissuade you from writing me a letter, or asking me a question with that red ASK PAT button up there, I will try to get to it as soon as possible. If I think you are serious.

JUNE 24 PUBLIC HEARING (PART 3)

The June 24th Public Hearing had a lot of items on a diverse set of topics. I covered most of them in this post and this post. The last item was a new development project in Uptown:

Zoning Amendment (616 and 640 Sixth Street) Bylaw No. 7997, 2019
This proposal would see a 29-story mixed-use building built in Uptown. This is the first high rise development (indeed the first development of any scale), approved in the Uptown in a decade – since Bob Osterman and Betty MacIntosh were on the Council! The proposed building has 145 Market strata units and 95 secured market rental units. All would meet the City’s Family Friendly Housing requirements as far as 2- and 3-bedroom suites. There would also be more than 12,000 square feet of commercial space in the three-story podium.

The project has evolved quite a bit since it was first proposed a couple of years ago, including an increase in rental units, and a changed shape and form of the building to make the pedestal 3 stories instead of the originally-proposed 5 stories, which is a significant improvement to the street presence of the building and supports a more human-scaled street.

The Design Panel and Advisory Planning Commission reviewed and approved the project, and the two adjacent Residents Associations also expressed no opposition. The public open house had more mixed responses, with a significant number of direct neighbours opposed for the reasons you would expect: loss of views, adjacency to their building, construction impacts and traffic. Always traffic. We received 44 written submissions, the vast majority of them supporting the project.

Some were anticipating a large and fractious Public Hearing on this project due to a directed and active social media campaign against it. For the first time in my experience on Council, an anonymous person actually purchased Facebook ads (laden with dishonest and disingenuous rhetoric) in an attempt to rally people in opposition to the project. Surprisingly, the people leading that campaign decided not to show up at the Public Hearing. Instead, several neighbours did come to express concerns about the project while and a few people spoke in favour, so I want to go through a bit of what I took from their delegations.

The issue of pedestrian safety on Princess Street is an issue I take seriously. Although using the term “congestion” to describe Princess Street may be out of scale with other streets, I agree that there is a need to improve the pedestrian experience in this location, mostly because there are a lot more pedestrians using that space than was probably anticipated back when the Royal City Centre mall was designed. A strange design choice back then had the loading bay end of the mall across the street from the main entrance to several residential buildings, and the single mid-block pedestrian crossing is not well marked or located where many users would choose to cross. Making the Greenway on 7th Ave less safe (by creating another conflict-zone driveway crossing immediately adjacent to a significant intersection) is not the solution, improving to Princess is, and I look forward to seeing what those changes could look like.

There were some typically hyperbolic moments in the Public Hearing delegations. A person who is not a Professional Engineer represented himself as a Professional Engineer then raised frankly bizarre concerns about impacts on the Telus tower (200 feet away) and other fanciful geotechnical anxieties. A delegate suggested that 327 parking spaces are designed to accommodate 480 cars. We heard we live in the “the most congested City in Canada” and the suggestion that this one building will “destroy everything about the City”. I recently visited Hong Kong, and I can say with complete confidence that one residential tower at FSR under 7 approved per decade does not make New Westminster indistinguishable from Hong Kong. But the Public Hearing is ultimately about arguing rhetoric rather than about a solemn testing of evidence, which challenges the idea that this process is meant to be “semi-judicial”.  Some day I will rant at greater length about this.

The issue of separate entrances for the Market Rental and Strata components of the building did raise some concerns in the community and at Council. I challenge the contention that this represents “poor doors”, the pejorative applied to separate entrances when included in projects in New York or London where market units are combined with non-market (affordable or otherwise subsidized) units. This proposal does not even include subsidized or low-income housing, but is all market rate housing.

The City has some policy work to do here, as we are working on Inclusionary Zoning policy, and the subject of how to integrate market and non-market housing forms and address shared or separated amenities is an important one. Especially as BC Housing and other non-profit housing providers – organizations absolutely required to get on board if we hope to make non-market housing viable – have clearly stated that shared amenities and entrances with Stratas creates operational and management issues for the providers of affordable housing. These issues were, unfortunately, conflated by some delegates at this Public Hearing, resulting in some confusion in the public (and, indeed on Council) about the issue.

The issue of class segregation and fairness of zoning decisions was raised in a more compelling way by one delegate in opposition to this project because (and I am paraphrasing a 5-minute long delegation) he felt it didn’t do enough to address the housing crisis. Why not all rental? Why not affordable rental on this site? And why is this 240 units of housing OK if this council would not approve even the most modest infill density proposals one block to the east?

In the end, this is about building housing. Supply is (as we often hear) not the entire answer to the housing affordability crunch, but choking off supply will definitely not improve the situation. Still, no single project can be expected to provide every solution to housing;  much like the Ovation project downtown will provide one type of supportive housing, this will bring much-needed Purpose Built Rental to a part of town that has oodles of services, but has not seen any new housing in a decade. It is not lost on me that almost 100 market rental units are being committed to weeks after we had Landlord BC and UDI come to a New West Council meeting to tell us that our aggressive renoviction prevention measures were going to cause purpose built rental building to grind to a halt in the City. The housing crisis and recent market shift have caused hyperbole on all sides, but as a City Council we need to be driven not by reacting to hyperbole, but by solid, defensible housing policy. I am confident that this is an area where New Westminster is still leading the region.

The delegate who was an uptown business owner, and the Uptown BIA through their letter of support, showed that they feel more residential density in the neighbourhood is a good thing for the Uptown community. the developers of this property are long-time New Westminster property owners, locals interested in building housing for their community and for the long-term. More people living in places where they can support local businesses, more people within a walk of their daily needs and living on a Frequent Transit Network, these represent the goals of our Official Community Plan, and the vision for New Westminster in the decades ahead.

Council voted 6-1 in favour of supporting the project, and I was one of the 6.

JUNE 24 PUBLIC HEARING (PART 2)

More Public Hearing goodness from June 24th. We had 5 items that got somewhat less attention at the meeting, which I will go through now:

Zoning Amendment (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8092, 2019; and
Road Closure (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8093, 2019
The eloquently-named Eastern Node neighbourhood in Queensborough is part of a long-term plan to bring a node of “mixed use” development to the transition area between Port Royal and the rest of Q’Boro. This will (finally) bring a renewed neighbourhood-serving retail node to the Port Royal area, something the community is definitely in need of. There are two unopened roads within the plan area of the Eastern Node, that is pieces of land that belong to the City for the ostensible future use as roads that have never been actually used as roads. To re-purpose them, they need to be officially “closed” (which means make then into titled, taxable lands) and rezoned. These are the Bylaws necessary to make that happen.

We received no written submissions on these Bylaws, and we had one delegate speak in favour (though she did express concern that the city was not getting a fair price for the lands). Council voted to support the Bylaws.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1002 – 1004 and 1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8117, 2019;
Heritage Designation (1002 – 1004 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8118, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8119, 2019
Those two unique brick duplexes at 10th and Third are getting a bit of a renovation, which is almost completely interior work, but they nonetheless are going through the HRA route and will be permanently protected through Heritage Designation. The Community Heritage Commission, Advisory Planning Commission, and Brow RA all approved of it. We had no written submissions and no-one came to speak to the application. Council moved to approve the Bylaws.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8120, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8121, 2019
This property owner wants to fix up a heritage house in Glenbrook North, give it permanent protection and subdivide the relatively large lot it is on to build a second infill house on the lot. The Community Heritage commission, Advisory Planning commission, and Residents Association all expressed approval for the plan. We received 7 written submissions for neighbours, all in favour of the application. We also had about a half dozen people come and speak to council about the application – some in favour, some opposed.

To place those delegations in context, I note that this proposal would provide two modest sized houses, both with suites, on a site that would currently allow a large ~4,000 square foot house. To me, our Official Community Plan is better supported by the subdivision and providing increased flexibility of housing close to schools on a Greenway than it is by having a single house that would be much larger and more out of context with the neighbourhood.

One neighbor was concerned about the proximity of the new house to their existing home, but there is no variance of the setback being requested here – if we didn’t approve this, the owner could build their 4,00 square foot house on the same footprint and have the same impact on this neighbor. There were also some concerns expressed about parking (natch) and the safety of the 7th Ave Greenway for bikes. I think that second topic is going to be a great discussion over the next year or so (I have some ideas here, even led a Jane’s Walk on the topic), but this project will not shift the landscape on 7th in a meaningful way. Council moved to support these Bylaws.

Official Community Plan Amendment (Queensborough Residential Low Density) Bylaw No. 8122, 2019;
Heritage Revitalization Agreement (647 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 8068, 2019;
and
Heritage Designation (647 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 8069, 2019
This property owner wants to build a small townhouse development in Queensborough, along with preserving and repurposing the historic Slovak Hall, to convert it into two townhouse-style units.

This proposal is supported by the Community Heritage Commission, the Advisory Planning Commission, and the Design Panel. We received no written submissions on this, we had two delegations: the proponent (in favour) and the direct neighbor (not completely opposed, but with concerns).

I think this was a creative approach to infill density in Queensborough, and the Slovak Hall is a unique structure that will continue to add it the interesting streetscape (avenuescape?) on Ewen Avenue. Council voted to approve the OCP Amendment and Bylaws.

June 24 Public Hearing (Part 1)

We had a lengthy Public Hearing last Council meeting with 8 different items, so I’m going to talk about it in sections. and try to work through it over the long weekend. I’ll start with the last two items of the evening:

Zoning Amendment – Cannabis Retail Location: 532 Sixth Street Bylaw 8111, 2019 and
8. Zoning Amendment – Cannabis Retail Location: 710 Twelfth Street Bylaw No. 8109, 2019
These are the first two applications for cannabis retail locations that have reached this last stage of City approvals; one on 6th Street in Uptown and one on 12th Street.

We have spent more than a year and a half in the process that got us here. This link points you to the reams of public documents and conversations we have had about how best to synch our local land use and business regulations with the federal and provincial regulations, made no less easy as we were waiting for the details from senior governments to trickle in as we were going along. I wrote a few relevant blog posts along the way, and even answered some questions on my blog page. You can go there and search “cannabis” to follow along and see where my mind was as we went through things.

We had our first open Council Workshop back on October 30, 2017, a full year before federal legalization. Staff led us through a pretty detailed discussion about the issues, and you really need to watch the video from the workshop to get a sense of the discussion. It was clear that Council had varying concerns and levels of comfort with the legalization regime, but staff did a pretty good job of working us towards consensus on a framework for local regulations, which they brought back to us for another open Council Workshop on January 29, 2018 where Council once again found several points to disagree on, yet worked our way towards some early principles to build draft Bylaws on.

We then hired a consultant to put together some presentation materials based on the framework, and put it out to two Public Open Houses and a meeting with the local business community. The feedback was generally favourable. We had an on-line survey that was advertised in the local paper, at City Hall, and through social media, and received more than 300 responses. We held a Council Town Hall, inviting people to come in and tell Council what they think we need to do, not do, or adjust.

This feedback was drafted into a set of Zoning and Business Bylaw amendments, which were put to a Public Hearing, with all the notice that entails. We had two people come and speak to that Public Hearing – one telling us we were moving too slow, and one telling us we were moving too fast. Such is the nature of Public Consultation.

At this point, applications started coming into the City for retail locations. They were reviewed by staff based on the framework established, and 5 locations were approved (again, at a public meeting) to go to final approval. We received quite a few delegations at this point, mostly from proponents who had not been selected in their first round. The two applicants in front of us at this Public Hearing were the first to clear all of the required provincial regulatory hurdles to get to this final Public Hearing Stage.

So, after all of that, I do not take at face value a delegate at the Public Hearing who claims that this process was rushed, secretive, and failed to include public input. It is ridiculous on the face of it.

There were some concerns raised about traffic on the 12th Street site. However, the location is an existing retail space, and I don’t see how a cannabis retail location will present greater traffic concerns than a book store, a pub, or a coffee shop.

There are some requirements we agreed upon as a Council that I frankly don’t understand. The requirement for opaque windows is not congruent with vibrant retail street design. This and the “buffer from schools” are requirements based on an outmoded and Puritan idea that we can protect children from (alleged) evil by keeping that evil out of their sight. There is an extended meme in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy about “Peril-sensitive sunglasses” that riffs off of this idea. If the idea of keeping dangerous things out of children’s sight aligned with the real risks to the life and health of children, we would quickly resolve that there are no automobiles within 500m of a school. But I digress.

In saying that, I don’t want to act dismissive of the concerns raised by parents at the meeting. It was clear they are genuinely concerned, even scared, about what the legalization of cannabis means to their children. I empathize with their fears, but I do not share their fears. The substance has always been available to youth who want it, and I think this legalization and regulation process is actually going to make it easier to have rational, fact-based conversations about the substance, its risks and responsible use. I agree it is not appropriate for children to be using cannabis at the age when I started smoking pot (full disclosure: I haven’t touched the stuff in years), but even in my I’d-still-like-to-think-it-wasn’t-that-long-ago youth, parents were less able to have rational conversations about cannabis than they were about alcohol. I suspect that is because alcohol was present in most houses in some for or other and was visible in advertising and on the street, where cannabis was counter-culture and represented (dangerous?) rebellion. I hope that these conversations will change through legalization, but recognize there will always be people unable to move past the prohibition-based status quo.

The nuisance issue with cannabis is a real one, and still one local governments across Canada are going to be challenged to address. I think the nuisance issues will never be as bad as those caused by alcohol (cannabis typically just doesn’t lead to the loud, violent rowdiness that is associated with closing time at many pubs) but they will be different. But in our land use decision-making, I think the nuisance will be more about consumption in inappropriate places (parks, bus stops) and less about where the purchase occurs.

The Uptown location received the most correspondence: 362 pieces, by far most were in favour, suggesting they already have a well established potential client base. We had about 10 people speak to this application, most opposed. It seemed to me that most were opposed to the entire idea of cannabis retail, and the opposition to this location was a sub-set of that. The 12th Street location received a single piece of correspondence (opposed), and about 10 people delegating, with the majority opposed based largely on traffic concerns and parking concerns. In the end, Council moved to approve the two locations.

Council – June 24, 2019

We had a long day on Monday. I had a task force meeting at 9:00 am, and left City Hall just before midnight. 15 hours. And much of that was spent going through the Public Hearing topics. But I’m not going to talk about the Public Hearing here, because that is going to take a whole bunch of space and time and a little more thinking on my part about how to frame my responses to the events of the evening, so I’ll just deal with the info on the Regular Agenda, which began with three Opportunities to be Heard:

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8130, 2019
The City has been pretty aggressive at addressing the renoviction situation, after the situation was rising to crisis levels last year. I have to give kudos to our staff for finding creative ways to leverage the City’s limited regulatory power here to fill gaps in the Provincial regulations, while we wait for those regulations to hopefully be updated and strengthened. I am pretty proud that other cities are following the lead of New Westminster, and that tenants around the region are seeing better protection because of our actions.

As we are on the leading edge here, Staff have brought forward some improvements on the Bylaws we passed back in February to use our Business Licensing powers to regulate how evictions occur in the City. Learning from practical experience, these changes will make the Bylaw easier to enforce and more effective. This includes making the timing of the offence at the delivery of eviction (if that eviction is found to be non-compliant), to clarify that every day the situation is not addressed constitutes a new offence (allowing the City to pile up fines to create real deterrence), and other administrative changes.

No-one came to speak to the Bylaw, and we received no written submissions. Council moved to adopt the Bylaw.

Closing of a Portion of Boyne Street at 34 South Dyke Road Bylaw No. 8074, 2019
There is an unused road portion in Queensborough the City wants to close. That means there is a piece of land that is not a regular taxable lot, but designated as highway that belongs to the city. This piece of highway has never had need for a road on it, so it is vacant land. There is a development on one side of it, and another development happening on the other side, but the roadway is still “surplus” to the city’s needs.

As is policy in these cases, the road can be sold to the adjacent landowner and integrated into the development, as long as conditions the City needs are met. We need a bylaw to do this, to “raise title” on the land so it can be valued and taxed appropriately. No-one came to speak to the Bylaw, and we received no written correspondence. Council moved to adopt the Bylaw.

Development Variance Permit DVP00664 for 118 Regina Street
The owners of this heritage house in Queens Park want to put a 12-foot addition on the back to create a more livable back space in the house, but because the side of the existing house is closer to the property line than would be currently permitted, an addition to the back will also be too close to the property line, meaning a variance is required.

We had no speakers and no written correspondence, and Council moved approve the variance.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

NWACC Infrastructure Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 8073, 2019 – Results from Alternative Approval Process
The replacement for the Canada games Pool and Centennial Community Centre is going to require that we borrow money beyond a 5-year term, which requires special consent from the community. The City has two alternatives under the Community Charter – a City-wide referendum or this Alternate Approval Process (AAP) where we ask the City to tell us if they oppose the idea. If 10% of the public register opposition, we need to go to referendum.

I hate the structure of the AAP, always have, but that is the process available to us if we believe (as I do) that referendums are terrible way to choose what vital service the City – or any government – is able to deliver.

Anyway, the APP was completed as per the legislation, we had 41 people let us know they opposed the borrowing Bylaw (which is short of the 5,061 required to force referendum) so we can proceed with adopting the borrowing bylaw (below).

2018 Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report
The City samples your water to make sure it is safe to drink, because dysentery sucks. We have 13 sampling stations, and they measure things like coliforms and e-coli, chlorine levels, turbidity and metals. We collected more than 1,000 samples in 2018, and all passed quality criteria.

Sixth Avenue and Second Street Intersection – Open Delegation Response
We had a couple of delegates come to Council back in April to express concerns about a pedestrian improvement in Queens Park. Staff looked again at the changes, and have had discussions with the Neighbourhood Traffic Advisory Committee, the Queens Park Residents’ Association, and the NWPD, and have determined that the improvements planned are the best option for the site. With a City full of intersection improvements needed, the treatment here is the one that makes the most sense.

Glenbrook Ravine Park Invasive Plant Management Plan
Glenbrook Ravine is a green treasure in the City, but most people will not recognize that much of the green you see there represents invasive species that are actually terrible for the local ecosystem networks. Blackberry and English Ivy have completely proliferated in the ravine, where other invasives like Scotch Broom and Knotweed are still very limited in extent. Realistically, the limited extent invasive can be knocked out relatively easily, the proliferating ones cannot – but we can take efforts to reduce their impacts (i.e. stop ivy from destroying the alders),

Through ad-hoc efforts of community volunteers like Kyle Routledge and groups like the New West Environmental Partners, there have been some efforts to start addressing this problem, but the problem is bigger than these small efforts, and needs a long-term coordinated plan if it is going to make progress. This report outlines what that long-term strategy looks like!

228 Nelson’s Crescent: Housing Agreement Amendment Bylaw 8135, 2019 for Three Readings
We have a housing agreement with Wesgroup on the secured market rental building in the Brewery District, but the language of the agreement is making CMHC nervous, so we made a small modification so everyone is secure that the Feds will get paid if things go terribly wrong, I suppose.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion

330 East Columbia Street (RCH Project): Gas Service Installation on Brunette Avenue – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 Exemption
The hospital upgrade requires a gas line upgrade, which means digging up Brunette Ave in front of the Hospital. Because traffic on Brunette must flow, they are going to do this work at night, which requires an exemption from the Construction Noise Bylaw for a week in late August.

I voted against this. I’m not against the work getting done, but do it during business hours and let people sleep. Fully charged and feeling punchy after the Active Transportation Summit, I am feeling strongly that we need to start pushing back a bit against the assumptions of motordom. I’m ready to start voting against these small erosions and start prioritizing livability before traffic flow. The exemption was granted in a split vote.

Child Care Situation in Queensborough
Affordable, accessible childcare is a desperate need across the City and region, but in New West the need is most acute in Queensborough. Where most neighbourhoods in New West have childcare spaces exceeding the provincial and regional average, Queensborough stands out with only 11 spaces per 1,000 children (compared to the regional average of 18.5). For a variety of reasons, both private and non-profit daycare providers are not setting up in Queensborough.

This is just a status report, but the City and School District are going to work together to address this, and specifically ask the province to help us out. Council discussed the need to find some creative solutions, as the current model (and current funding models) simply is not providing the need.

Amendment to Subdivision and Development Control Bylaw Schedule “B” Design Criteria Sections 1, 3, 4, 5 and Part of 8
Looking at the title, does anyone have any idea what this report is about?!

Let’s see if I can break it down. We have a Bylaw that tells anyone who wants to build some things in the City what they need to do to connect that thing to the rest of the City – what kind of water, sewer, electrical, road, sidewalk, etc. connections the developer or builder will be responsible for to assure that everything works together when the building is complete, and the developer pays for their share of the costs, not downloading it onto taxpayers. Attached to that Bylaw is “Schedule B”, which describes in detail all of the designs the City requires. Parts of the Schedule, in turn, describe General Requirements, Storm Drainage System, Sanitary Sewer System, Water Distribution System, and the designs of road pavement. Not surprisingly, technology and engineering demands change over time, and so we need to update the Bylaw to reflect these changes, which we have not done, apparently, since 2006.

It seems arcane, but there are some nuggets in here. The biggest changes are in how we account for projected climate change impacts on rainfall patterns (we need to store more rain water locally or build bigger pipes to address more intense storms). Consistent with Metro Vancouver work, we are incorporating a “moderate climate change forecast” for 2050 (for most infrastructure) or 2100 (for high-risk or critical infrastructure) based on this report.

I have had discussions with people trying to build laneway or carriage houses, and one common complaint is that the rules for connecting to water and sewer do not seem to reflect the situation where we have two residences on a single lot. Some of the existing bylaws create problematic situations like having to trench across an entire property when there may be a closer second connection, or having to run a new sewer line under or through an exsiting building. Staff assured us that they are learning from the experiences of these early adopters, and these Bylaws have the adaptability to support these changes.

Q to Q Ferry Service Plan for Permanent Service
In the last year (May 2018 – June 2019) we had 80,000 rides on the QtoQ ferry, and the City subsidized the service by a bit over $700,000. Staff are asking us to enter into a new procurement for a permanent service, and though I am supportive of the QtoQ, I am challenged with the projected cost, based on the existing ridership.

I had hoped that we could extend for another year, and have some better discussions with potential partners like TransLink and the Ministry of Transportation, both of whom were at the Active Transportation Summit, and both of whom have been expressing interest in supporting more innovative and multi-modal transportation options like the QtoQ, while we continue to see if we can cost share or bring more cost efficiency to the system. However, Council voted to commit to a 5-year contract, in light of how that may provide more security for users and may result in us getting a better contract with a provider.

I do think there is room to continue those conversations with senior agencies and potential partners. In the meantime, some small service adjustments are proposed to make the system run more efficiently

2019 Council Remuneration
We once again sent the touchy issue of Council Remuneration to an outside agency for review, as we agreed to do 4 years ago last time this came up. They recommended that Council pay be increased by 15% to make up for the change in federal taxation regime, which removed the tax exemption from half of our pay, essentially reducing our take-home by 15%. Then we should continue annual CPI increases. This would make our pay fit close to the median of our comparator communities, and essentially make out take-home pay match what we got in previous years. I am happy with this recommendation.

The report also recommended an increased vehicle allowance, but that recommendation did not make it through to our report, as staff will be looking at it as part of a more comprehensive update of our council expense policy.

639 – 655 East Columbia Street: Preliminary Application Review for Infill Townhouses
This is a preliminary report on a potential land assembly and townhouse development on East Columbia right across from the Lower Hume Park entrance. There is quite a bit going on here, including designing a new entrance and intersection at Hume Park, preservation of two possibly-heritage homes and potential to “strand” one property at the extreme north end of New West.

I don’t know why preserving these two single family homes would be congruent with what the bigger goal is here – more affordable and flexible townhouse-type development. If we are going to talk about the cost of preserving these homes as providing community asset, I would rather it be more affordable housing and expansion green space adjacent to Brunette River – even a connection to the Interurban train on the south side of Brunette, and preservation of significant trees. .

Anyway, a preliminary report for review, and there is lots of work to do yet here.

City of Victoria letter to UBCM dated May 29, 2019 regarding restoring Provincial support for libraries
We received a letter from the City of Victoria requesting we support their request to the Provincial government, and we did so and will send a note to the effect. I hope they don’t get it in their head that we are over that whole stealing-of-the-Capital thing….


Finally, we had one Bylaw for Adoption:

New Westminster Aquatics and Community Centre Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 8073, 2019
This Bylaw, which gives Council the authority to borrow up to $93.6 Million for a term of 20 years to build the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre was adopted by Council. Things are getting real now.

And like I said, I will follow up when I get a chance with a reporting out of my experiences at the Public Hearing. Lucky there is a long weekend coming!

Council – June 10, 2019

We had a public-delegation-full Council Meeting on Monday, I never realized how much people in New West hate basketball (I’m going to look back at this blog post in a few years and have no idea what that joke is about). To see it all, you need to watch the video, because I only report here on what we get done, and we had an agenda to get through:

Uptown Belmont Street Parklet: Proposed Redesign
The Uptown Parklet has been successful, if you measure success by its intended purpose: making a public place where people can meet, rest, socialize, and share. As a public square owned by the public, it works, better than any other parklet in the City (and yes, there are others, in Sapperton, in the Brow). We are not quite Montreal, but animating public space is a goal this council supports.

Part of the problem with this success is that some people are bothered by other people using the space. There has also been a bit of a shift in the use of the space as the original astroturf got shabby and was removed, and there were some maintenance issues with the equipment in the space. This report outlines a plan to “refresh” the space to address the second problem, and a bit of a strategy to address the first problem.

Some residents of the adjacent residential buildings are bothered by nighttime use of the parklet, especially people leaving the local pub or drinking in the parklet at night, which has lead to a lot of noise complaints. Smoking is also (as in all of our parks) a problem. In short, some neighbours want the Parklet removed. These are both community behaviour problems that occur in all of our parks and public areas, and re-locating them is not a solution. Every time I go to the Parklet and talk to people using it, they tell me how much they appreciate it being there (though many say they want it fixed up). The drinking/smoking issues are best addressed through a combination of enforcement and education. We are working with the NWPD, the Uptown BIA and the neighbours to work on these issues, and Councillor Trentadue was right on the mark (IMHO) in saying we need to look at a little more “proactive” enforcement, and a little less relying on people to call the NWPD non-emergency line.


The following items were moved on consent:

Recruitment 2019: Committee Appointments (NTAC & Arts)
We are officially appointing a new representative to the NTAC from the new Victoria Hill Ginger Drive Residents’ Association, and a new representative to the Arts Commission.

800 Block Boyd Street: Road Paving – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 Exemption
They need to re-pave Boyd Street after gas line replacement. It will happen at night to reduce the traffic impact, and a construction noise bylaw exemption is required. Council approved this.

118 Regina Street: Development Variance Permit – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
A heritage house in Queens Park is seeing an upgrade to improve the livable space, while protecting the heritage value of the house. They require a variance for side setback (how close the side of the addition can be to the property line), to reduce it from 5 feet to 3.1 feet. This will go to an Opportunity to be Heard on June 24th; C’mon out and tell us what you think.

230 Keary Street (Building 8), 268 Nelson’s Court (Building 7), and 228 Nelson’s Crescent (Building 5): Brewery District – Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment to Convert Permitted Use on Building 8 from Commercial to Omnibus Use (including Residential)
Wesgroup would like to revisit the zoning language for the next phases of the Brewery District development. The want to make the currently-designated commercial density in Building 8 into “omnibus” zoning which allows a shift towards more residential and less commercial use, along with increasing the height of the building (but not the density – a narrower, taller building), in exchange for making all of buildings 5 and 7 into market rental properties. In short, 320 units currently approved for sale as condos would become secured market rental units in exchange for no increased density, but a shift from commercial to residential.

This is a preliminary report, and has some review to go through, including a conversation with the neighbourhood and eventually a Public Hearing if it gets through all the hoops. I’m a bit challenged by this developer one again going back to the neighbourhood to ask for more height, but I am willing to see how the public and committee reviews go here, and whether the addition of more market rental is valued.

UBCM Resolution in Support of Greater Investments in Municipal and Not-for-Profit Seniors Services and Supports
The UBCM meeting in the Fall will already have a couple of New Westminster resolutions, this one was brought to us by the Healthy Aging Municipal Caucus, of which the City is a member. We are asking, along with a few other municipalities, for the UBCM to coordinate a more coordinated approach between the three orders of governments and local not-for-profits to better fund initiatives to support seniors in our communities.

2018 Statement of Financial Information
Every year we produce a SOFI for the Provincial Government, along with a report from our Auditors telling them everything is on the up-and-up. We ended this fiscal year with $51M more in financial assets than Liabilities ($4M less than last year), but have $23M more in accumulated surplus (which includes the value of all of our buildings, sewer pipes, asphalt, light poles, desktop computers, etc. etc.). We exceeded our revenue targets by $5 Million (though we collected $1M less than anticipated in taxes), and spent $9M more than we expected. We have $128M in investments, and $59M in debt.

Also on there is the remuneration info – I got paid $46,434 for Council work in fiscal year 2018, and spent $5,719 on various expenses (mostly conference attendance at FCM, UBCM, and Lower Mainland LGA). You can also see a list with the names (ugh) of every employee who got paid more than $75,000 in wages and expenses last year, and the name of every supplier from whom we purchased more than $25,000 in goods. Compelling stuff!


The following items were Removed form Consent for discussion:

Funding for Tsilhqot’in Nation reconciliation
The City has a budget line for “international relations”, which has in the past supported several international-exchange initiatives with our City Cities in China, Japan, and the Philippines. Those types of junkets are becoming less common (I have never travelled overseas on behalf of the City in my 4+ years on Council, and there hasn’t been a full council exchange in many years). We are, however, entering a new kind of City-to-Nation relationship with First Nations communities across the province. The special relationship of New Westminster and the Tsilhqot’in Nation, based on a tragic history, has been a priority for Council, and has resulted in some great relationship building leading to a positive path towards reconciliation with this Nation.

The next step in this relationship is for our two communities to come together and have a commemoration ceremony with representatives of the Tsilhqot’in, and more visits by a Councillor or two to their Nation to talk about future activities. We are, in this report, approving taking some of the International Relations budget money to pay for this, and establishing that future expenses should come from a reconciliation budget.

2019 Council Remuneration
We once again sent the touchy issue of Council Remuneration to an outside consultant for review, as we agreed to do last time this came up 4 years ago. The consultant recommended that Council pay be increased by 15% to make up for the change in federal taxation regime, which removed the tax exemption from half of our pay, essentially reducing our take-home by 15% 9or “making us whole” so we have essentially the same take-home in 2019 as we did in 2018, then continue annual CPI increases. This would make our pay once again fit close to the median of our comparator communities.

They also recommended that we increase a vehicle allowance to match that of our neighbouring communities. This I disagree with. I simply don’t think we need a vehicle allowance in a City of 15 square kilometres with excellent transit service and walkability, and if we do have legitimate travel costs for our day-to-day work, it should be managed though our expense allowance, not as something we are given outright.

Regardless, Council moved to table the report, and we will have a fuller discussion of it next meeting, no doubt after careful consideration of Facebook comments.

Arts Commission: Request to Increase Arts & Culture Grant
We are going through a process of revamping our grant process, including some review of how grants are categorized. As we are also launching a new Arts Strategy, the Arts Commission is asking that the amount of money awarded to support arts in the community, and way it is awarded, be reviewed as part of this review. There is no specific ask for a specific amount here, but we will be getting a report back from staff.


We moved the following Bylaw,:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8123, 2019 for Residential Rental Tenure
This Bylaw that updates the Rental Tenure zoning for 6 properties that have always operated a rental in the city was adopted by Council.


We also had one piece of New business:

Motion: Gender, Diversity and Inclusion
Councillor Trentadue put forward the following motion:

That staff report back on the current breakdown of departments by gender, diversity, and people with disabilities, and
That staff report back on best practices that other governments, institutions and businesses have implemented to address gender parity, diversity and inclusion; and
That staff develop hiring practices that will meet the needs of a changing workforce and improve the balance of our employee make up; and
That staff develop metrics and a reporting structure that will confirm our success
or failure to address these issues; and
That staff develop City-wide policy to which all departments can adhere and that addresses not only the issues of gender parity, diversity, and inclusion but also the integration and support of all city employees with disabilities.

The City has always had the feeling that we are doing a good job at diversity in our workforce, but there are areas (such as in the trades) where we are definitely not keeping up with the diversity of the general workforce. This motion will ask staff to actually start tracking the diversity of our workforce, and report back with practices and metrics so we can assure that barriers to employment for underrepresented groups can be identified and addressed. This is going to make us a better operation, and Council unanimously supported it.

And that was the end of the meeting, but don’t forget to tune in or drop by on June 24th when we have (count ‘em) 12 Public Hearings and 3 Opportunities to be heard. Should be an action-packed event!

FCM 2019

The 2019 annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) was held in Quebec City at the end of May. I attended along with one other Councillor from New West and more than 2000 other delegates from across Canada. Here is a short version of what I saw during an action-packed three days.

Sessions:
The meat of any professional conference is the workshop sessions, where we can learn about the best practices, new ideas, and challenges of other municipalities across the country. I attended sessions all three days, including ones on the challenges and opportunities coming out of the upcoming federal election (read: funding!), the FCM National Funding Program update, 5G implementation, building diversity on our Councils, Smart City applications, and addressing affordable housing.

There was a lot there, but the last session was perhaps the most compelling, with a researcher from McGill talking about Short Term Rentals, their impact on Le Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal, and the challenges that City has run into in attempts to regulate it while their rental vacancy dips below 1%. It was compelling, and somewhat challenging…

One of these maps shows the AirBnB Listings in the Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal. the other is the *legally registered* AirBnB listings in that neighbourhood. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

Business:
These conferences also feature an AGM, where a few organizational Bylaw changes were discussed. Getting bylaw changes and annual financial reporting though with a delegation of more than 1500 people in the room was handled deftly by the table executive, using remote voting devices.

These devices were also used for voting on Resolutions. Compared to the UBCM or Lower Mainland LGA, there were very few resolutions, and most of them were aspirational asks more than specific requests for regulatory changes (cities are “creatures of the provinces”, so our regulatory interface with the federal government is slightly filtered). However, with minor amendments, all 9 resolutions were passed by the Membership.

Politics:
We had speeches from the leaders of 4 Federal Parties, all trying to sell their vision for how the Federal Government and local governments can work together – and why their success in the upcoming election is paramount to that. In the order they appeared:

The Prime Minister, unless I missed it, never referenced the leader of the Conservative Party, but at least twice directly referenced the suddenly-not-popular Doug Ford. Hard to tell if he was just trying this out because of recent news, or if this is the strategy, but the short message is: If you vote for the Conservatives, Scheer will do what Doug Ford is doing, and will cut funds to local governments for the services you need. Other than that, he attaches himself to popular mayors in the audience, promises to work closely with Cities, and not let pesky provinces get in the way (which is probably another shot at Kenney and Ford, but seems a challenge to our model of Federalism).

Scheer’s speech was a long exercise in coded words and dogwhistles, but in the end I guess they all are. He fears infrastructure funding will lead to deficits (strange thing to say to 2,000 municipal leaders looking for handouts), never mentions climate (though he does care deeply about the environment), but he hates the Carbon Tax because it “punishes innocent families”. His approach to housing is to let the market do its thing with less red tape (ugh, the market is what got us here!), and his solution to the opioid crisis is to somehow “hold China accountable..” I might say the entire thing was ugly, ignorant, and offensive, but I may betray my bias.

Jagmeet Singh was the first leader to open with a land acknowledgement, and the first to speak without a teleprompter. He had notes, but riffed off of them freely. His speech was good if unpolished. He promised a lot (pharmacare, broadband, infrastructure funding, removing barriers to post-secondary education), but to me the most telling part was that he was the only leader to link climate action to inequality and the need for a just transition away from fossil fuels. That was the message I wanted to hear (and increasingly, that is the message among people looking for climate action in Canada), and he delivered it clearly without equivocation.

Elizabeth May was the last speaker, she also opened with a land acknowledgement, and spoke without notes at all, best I could tell. Though the eldest leader, she spoke more than others about the need to listen to the youth and the duty we have to them (a very different message than the Trudeau and Scheer platitudes about “supporting families”). She spoke passionately about the Climate Emergency, and drew allusions to Dunkirk and Churchill. Though her speech lacked the substance of the other leaders, she was easily the most inspiring of the speakers.

If you want to watch the speeches yourself, you can scroll down the FCM Facebook page, where they were live streamed and are still available.

Overall:
FCM is a funny bird. It is much larger than our regional and provincial associations, and much like the Federal government, it at times seems disconnected from the day-to day. Though the message is reinforced all along that the Feds care about local government, and how local government is the order of government that has the most connection to people’s every day life, the FCM runs the risk of being too far from our everyday as to sometimes challenge me to think about local applications.

Jagmeet Singh made the comment during his Q&A that his father used to say “If the Federal government stopped working today, no-one would notice for a month, The provincial government might be missed after a week or two, but if the local government went way, you would notice almost immediately.” Water, sewer, roads, waste, parks, these things we interact with so ubiquitously that we take them for granted, and because in Canada we tend to deliver them really well, we take the system that delivers them for granted.

Part of the peculiarity of FCM is that it is a strangely rural conference. Canada has never been as urban as it is now: our biggest cities are growing fast, and our small towns are (with some notable exceptions) stagnant or hollowing out. Yet the 2,000+ delegates at FCM overwhelmingly represent smaller towns and rural areas. There are more members from Saskatchewan than from any other province, and the three Prairie Provinces have more members than Quebec and Ontario combined:Breakdown of the number of UBCM members by province, which clearly does not correlate with population.

Therefore the issues of rural areas (e.g. unmet demand for Broadband service) dominate the conversation over the issues of urban areas (e.g. unmet demand for public transit). There is a “Big Cities Mayors Caucus”, and I’m sure Naheed Nenshi gets more access to Trudeau than the Mayor of Podunk, Saskatchewan, but at the delegate level, the imbalance is palpable.

This was perhaps made more distinct by the phenomenon of organized (and no-doubt industry-sponsored) campaigns to get the “Support Fossil Fuels” message across getting larger every year. A booth handed out literally thousands of “Support Canada’s Energy” t-shirts, which was no doubt a challenge to the continued efforts at FCM to get the federal government to help local governments shoulder our disproportionate burden for greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation. We may have been at a bilingual conference in Quebec City, but Canada’s Two Solitudes are divided on different lines today than they once were:

So perhaps the most inspiring meeting of this year was an impromptu meeting organized by Rik Logtenberg, a new Councillor for Nelson BC to start a “Climate Caucus”. A group to coordinate local government calls for support in addressing the Climate Crisis. It was not part of the regular program, but was spread by word-of-mouth, and we had a packed room (standing room only!) representing a diversity of Canada. No free industry-supplied t-shirts, just people getting together to talk about shifting our thinking and supporting each other in the tough work ahead:

In the end, that is the best part of taking an opportunity like FCM – the power of networking formally and informally with elected officials across the nation that are trying and doing and sometimes failing the same way you are, so we can learn together. Scheming over beers has always been a powerful force for change.

Taxes 2019

If you own a home in New West, you should have received your annual tax bill in the mail in recent weeks. If your assessment went up by the city-wide average of 9.03%, then your tax bill went up over last year by 5.28%. If your assessment went up by more than 9.03%, then your tax bill went up more. Conversely, if your assessment went up by less than 3.7%, or if it went down, then your tax bill this year is lower than it was last year. I tried to show how this works in this blog post from a couple of years ago (with the numbers from a couple of years ago, mind you).

It seems an appropriate time for me to update some of my older posts comparing New West tax rates to others around the region. I’ve done this a few times in a few different ways for several years on this blog (here, here, and here, for example), and no matter what type of analysis you do, it is clear that some local pundits continue to perpetuate terminological inexactitudes when they claim that New Westminster has the highest taxes in BC, or Canada.

Recognizing my own suspicion of bias, all of the data below comes from the BC Government reports that annually compare tax rates and burdens across all local governments, and have been doing so for a while. Of course, this data is from 2018 (Cities are only now submitting 2019 budget numbers to them), but this is the best source to compare numbers across the province. You can read them all here and make your own comparisons if you don’t like my ham-fisted Excel skills.

I am going to reiterate a point I have made before: there are many ways to compare taxes between jurisdictions. Vancouver and Surrey collect more tax overall than New West, because they are much larger. West Vancouver has lower mil rates because their average house price is much higher, Creston has a much higher mil rate because its average house value is much lower. Even the use of “typical house value” to compare taxes is biased, because some cities like New West have more people living in rental and condo buildings than some others, so a “typical house” is much larger and more expensive than the median or average household occupies. So to answer the primary question: do New Westminsterites pay more municipal taxes than residents of other municipalities, I think the fairest comparison is taxes collected per capita:

Source: BC Government statistics, Schedule 703_2018

Of the 161 Municipalities in BC, ranked from highest taxes to lowest, New Westminster (orange bar above) is ranked #71, between Parksville (#70) and Saanich (#72). In 2018 we collected $77.7 Million in taxes from just under 74,000 people, making our per capita tax rate $1,051. Province-wide, $4.76 Billion in municipal taxes was collected from 4.3 Million people, making the province-wide average about $1,150 (red dashed line above). So New Westminster residents paid $100 less per year, almost 10% less, than the average resident of BC. Our tax increase in 2019 will eat into this gap, pushing us up by about $50, but at the same time, almost every other Municipality in the province increased their taxes at a rate between 2 and 7%, so our position will not shift substantially.

Naturally, there are massive differences across the province on the proportion of taxes paid by industry and businesses, and the level of services provided by the Municipality. The Lower Mainland is a bit different than the rest of the province in the level of services we supply and the cost of delivering those services, so it may be fairer to only compare New West to our Metro Vancouver cohort:

Source: BC Government statistics, Schedule 703_2018

New Westminster ranks 13th out of 21 GVRD municipalities in taxes collected per capita. The GVRD Municipalities collect about $2.6 Billion in Municipal taxes from 2.56 Million people, for an average of $1019 per person (the red dashed line). New Westminster collects slightly more (3% more) than this average. This has changed over the last couple of years for two main reasons: New Westminster’s Capital Levy we are using to fund our aggressive capital renewal plan (lead by the replacement of the Canada Games Pool) and the regional trend where there is a much higher rate of population growth in the relatively low-tax municipalities of Surrey and Maple Ridge compared to slower growth in Vancouver and (especially) the North Shore. We can talk about correlation/causation here, because it might not be what you think…