on Phase 2

There is a lot of stuff going on right now. There are stories local and international that are causing people alarm, confusion, and anxiety. I cannot tell if things are spinning faster now, or if we are all so apprehensive about our imminent release from social quarantine that the tension is making us hyper aware. There will be a reams of sociology research coming out of the time we are in, and the times to come over the next 6 months. Or 8 months. Or 12. Who knows, and maybe that we don’t know timelines is part of this. Or maybe its just me.

I get a lot of correspondence as an elected type, and like many of you have been spending a lot of time looking out through social media at the conversation in my community. I have been stepping out to shop, to exercise, to smell the flowers in a park. Talking to friends from 7 feet apart and stepping sideways to yield some sidewalk space. Wondering if I send the wrong signal when I tried to hold the door for someone, not at first recognizing that they didn’t want to walk past me. There is a common thread through all of this – anxiety. Or maybe nervousness is a better word, and anxiety best reserved for when it becomes disproportionate and disabling, Even then how are we to know what level of discomfort is “disproportionate” right now?

Last year, the City of New West was reviewing applications for cannabis retail stores. These were, nominally, just regular rezoning applications to add another legal use to existing retail locations. We had many people write to us and come to the Public Hearing expressing fear and concern about the impact of these stores on their neighbourhood, their community, and their children. With cannabis made legal and its use already ubiquitous in our community, it was hard to understand where this seemingly disproportionate anxiety was coming from.

A wise colleague put this into context for me. Government at every level, police, schools, churches, and the media, had spent most of the last century telling the public that cannabis was a terrible threat. Reefer Madness, gateway drug, a surefire way for your child to throw their life away. We invested millions in scaring the population about this menace, and incarcerating people for using or trading in it. Then one day, government declared it legal and all fine now, with very little fanfare, and (most importantly) limited education about the reality of its health impacts. They frankly never said “we were wrong”, or if they weren’t wrong, why those fears they transmitted are now not important. What right do we have now to act surprised that everyone didn’t just say OK when that shift happened? We need to recognize that the anxiety came from a place not of the anxious person’s making. We must be compassionate about the impact it is having on them while working on re-doing the public education about this issue.

I feel that the same applies right now as people start to transition out of lockdown, and into whatever modes come next. Except it is on a compressed timeline, and a threat more imminent. Parents are understandably unsure about sending their kids to school, some are nervous about playgrounds opening while others are chagrined that we are not moving faster to open them up. Some feel inconvenienced by the lineups and physical distancing requirements at the Farmers’ Market, others are comforted to see that they can buy food with crowding managed for safety, still others feel the Farmers’ Market is not doing enough to satisfy their personal comfort.

It’s not necessarily because people don’t trust guidance from government or public health officials. Though some may feel that way, the people of BC have demonstrated over the last 4 months incredible faith in the leadership guiding us through this, and faith in their community. However, as that guidance changes, people need time to interpret and adapt to that change. Very few people alive have been through anything like this before, and we are all (experts and lay people) making this up as we go along, doing the best we can. We are all taking different paths through this crisis, some are more vulnerable, some feel more vulnerable. As this is a crisis that has required collective action, our vulnerability and sense of vulnerability are impacted by the actions of others as much as our own action.

So all this to say what Dr. Henry said eloquently in so few words: “Be calm, be kind, be safe

As we transition to re-opening, try to do so with other people’s anxiety in mind. It may not be rational to you, but that is a sign to listen, not to dismiss. We need to be kind to each other and recognize their path is different than our own. Before we criticize others for attending events, or refusing to attend events, before we judge decisions other parents make about how their children interact or play in the weeks ahead, before we mask-shame someone or question their picnic habits, use kindness to inform your view.

And be kind to yourself. It is okay to feel uncomfortable or unsure. We are all making this up as we go along, we are all doing our best, and we are all wondering if it is enough. BC has done a great job up to now, potentially thousands of lives have been saved, and we did it by working together. Let’s keep that collective spirit, keep thinking of each other.

Council – May 25 2020

Sorry, there is too much going on and no time to sit down and bash out these notes. Amazing how busy we can be when we rarely leave our house. We had a Council Meeting on May 25, as always, follow this link to the Agenda and reports for more information, because the stuff below is (inevitably) a view through my filter, and not official positions of anyone other than me:


The following items were Moved on Consent:

At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force: Food Security Planning and Responses During COVID-19 Recovery
This was actually a tough one for me. One of the local food service organizations has lost its senior government funding. Until another founder (potentially a charity?) can be found, they have asked the City to help. So we have the choice of seeing people go without needed food or stepping in to help. Standing by while people go hungry seems like the worst outcome, so I will support this temporary measure. But not without calling out senior governments who get 92% of tax revenues, and are completely failing here such that local food security teams are forced to go hat-in-hand to charities to assure people have access to food. I’m not the fiscal conservative on Council, but how much blood are we expecting to get from this stone?

That said, there is a second request here for the city to help with some coordination in the food security role. Again, assuring people in poverty have food is probably something best handled by the province, but we definitely are best positioned right now to provide local coordination. I think this is an appropriate use of Affordable Housing Reserve fund and an interim measure.

516 Brunette Avenue: BNSF Railway Telecommunication Tower – Statement of Concurrence
BNSF wants to build a communications tower on their property in Sapperton. The City has no power to regulate this, but BNSF are required to let us know they are doing it, and we have at least theoretical ability to take any concerns to Industry Canada. However, there are no concerns being raised by the City.

Bosa Development: 660 Quayside Drive – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
A new pedestrian connection to Pier Park at the end of 6th Street is being provided in partnership with Bosa, and it requires a span over the rail lines along Front Street. That span needs to be installed with a crane, and due to traffic and rail safety concerns, that work needs to happen at night. There will be some disruptions of traffic and work during one late Saturday night in June or early July. Council approved a noise bylaw exemption to allow this to happen.

2020 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
Still keeping an eye on the snowpack, as freshet flooding is still possible. Some higher-than-average April temperatures helped remove some snowmelt, reducing flood risk a bit, but it is noteworthy that snowpacks in the mid- and upper-Fraser basins is among the highest ever recorded at this time of year, so there is still significant risk of flooding depending on how the weather between now and late June turns out. The City is doing some flood preparation work and dike patrols, just in case.

Major Purchases January 1 to April 30, 2020
Here is our every-four-months report on significant purchases the City has made, and the results of our open procurement policy. Want to know how we spend money, the details are in here.

Investment Report to April 30, 2020
This is our regular report on how our investments are doing. The City has significant reserve funds right now because we have been putting money aside for a couple of large projects, most notably the Canada Games Pool, and a pretty typical delay on delivery of a few capital projects. The City earned $1.3M on its investments over the year ending April 30. Notably the TSE Index went down 10% over that same period. We will naturally be impacted by the general market downturn related to COVID, but the City is required by law and by policy to be very conservative in its investment strategy, so our risk is lower than most.

2019 Filming Activity Update
Film revenue in the City was a little down in 2019 compared to the average over the previous 5 years but there were still 140 filming days in the City with almost $800K in revenue.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five COVID-19 Task Forces
This is the regular report on our COVID response, organized by Task Force. Want to know what the City is doing, it is here. The general trend these days is less organizing and preparing, more operations and planning for a transition to a recovery or post-Pandemic phase.

Education and Enforcement Task Force: Lessons Learned and Proposed Reprioritization
Right up front, I think the Covid Compliance Hotline was a positive initiative – it is unfortunate that the local media (social- and traditional-) chose to use a pejorative in referring to it, but it was effective at reducing the load on Police and 911 calls and providing people a place to address their concerns. It also provided an opportunity to educate the public at a time when many are clearly feeling anxiety, no doubt ramped up by so much bad information circulating through local media platforms where there is no editorial control to filter it. It also allowed the City and its communications staff to better understand where the anxieties were in the community so we can assure we are being effective in our response.

We are transitioning to more of a “personal responsibility” phase, with more expectation that people will be self-policing and less need for direct staff intervention across the City. The presence of compliance officers and Champions in public spaces, along with the rapid response to signage and communication was really excellent, but staff now feel we can scale back a bit.

We are still going to communicate and track compliance. I read a comment last week that came ti mind during this discussion: “Public health policy is predicated on the idea that common sense doesn’t scale up to society, because it’s individually defined, and often self-interested. ‘Common sense’ won’t protect other people from your selfishness. You can’t run a government on “just use your common sense””. – Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley

Sidewalk/Street Patios and Parklets to Support Business Recovery
The City is moving forward with support for re-allocation of space for patios and decks, through streamlining applications and working to implement the changes in the Provincial Liquor rules announced last week by the Attorney General. I’m excited to see how we can support businesses in making our streetscapes more active and functional, including the re-allocation of curbside parking.

There are a few models of this – public parklets open to everyone that restaurant customers can use as a sort of place to sit with their “take out”; extended patios in the “Montreal Style” where they occupy much of the sidewalk, but an alternative boardwalk is installed in the parking lane to assure accessible 2m of sidewalk is maintained, or having a restaurant license a parking spot or two for food/drink service.

This isn’t as simple as we think, there are still provincial and City rules that need to be aligned, and food-primary, liquor-primary and liquor-manufacturing are three different provincial categories that need their own approaches. We also need to remember some “red tape” exists for a great reason- like assuring that street/sidewalk furniture doesn’t create an accessibility barrier for people who need the sidewalk, and assuring transit service is not disrupted, but Council was pretty clear to staff that we want the City to try to do this as quick as possible so restaurants can other businesses can make this part of their re-opening plans. If it takes two or three months, it will be too late to provide the assistance small business need right now.

Pop-Up Recycling Events
As the closure of the recycling centre was earlier than expected due to the Pandemic, and the construction of the new facility on the New West/Coquitlam Border is still ongoing, we have a gap to fill. The planned pop-up recycling events were delayed due to the Public Health Officer orders, but they can now be run, with the first one planned for May 30th at the Public Works Yard on First Street in Glenbrook North. Unfortunately, neither Recycle BC nor any other contractor will accept Styrofoam right now, so that cannot be included. Yes, our recycling system is broken, but add that to the pile.

And that was a Council meeting! See you next week!

Streets for People

I had a motion on the Council Agenda on Monday, which I said I would write about later. First the motion in full, then the rant:

Whereas the City of New Westminster established a Bold Step target to re-allocate 10% of automobile-only space toward sustainable transportation and/or public gathering use by 2030; and
Whereas the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant shifts in the use of public space, and “physical distancing” directives exposed the critical need for greater and more accessible pedestrian, active transportation, and public gathering space in the City; and

Whereas the recovery phase of the City’s pandemic response will put tremendous pressure on the City to address these inequities in public space, to assure that the freedom to move about and be active in public spaces not lost, and that our commercial districts are supported in finding creative ways to activate sidewalk and road space to excite customer support; and

Whereas urban areas around the world are currently demonstrating a commitment to reclaiming roads by rapidly converting automobile-only space to more equitable uses that better support neighborhood livability, commercial district viability, community resiliency, and public safety during the crisis and into post-Pandemic times;

Therefore be it resolved that:
The City of New Westminster move quickly in 2020 to expand road re-allocation toward pedestrian, cyclist, and public gathering space, using temporary measures where necessary with a mind towards more permanent solutions that can be applied after the period of crisis has passed;

And be it further resolved that:
The Transportation Task Force make rapid reallocation of road space a priority work item, are empowered to immediately apply temporary measures in 2020, and accelerate the timeline towards the 10% space reallocation goal set out in Bold Step 7 of the City’s Climate Action Plan.

In a rapidly growing city, the need for our streets to be public spaces where people can walk, shop, even recreate – as opposed to merely roads for the purpose of automobile throughput – has never been more clear. Intrinsically, we knew this all along. Every time we have opened up space for people to use at a human scale, people show up and take advantage of that space. When that space is lost again, we feel the loss. Yes, I’m talking street festivals and parades, but I’m also talking about the temporary closure of the east part of Front Street that brought people to use that space creatively for a summer, and the small calmed or reclaimed areas like the Front Street Mews and Belmont, or the pedestrian space reclaimed on McInnes.

Along comes a pandemic, and all of the sudden commuter traffic has reduced, and people are using space differently. People have shifted to walking more, there are noticeably more youth and families out on bikes, and the way we shop and assemble and queue use transit has changed. With people spending more time working at home or (alas) unemployed, there are more people outside using public spaces. Gathered in parks in small virtual pods of a few people, spread across the space. People want to be outside, but people are wary of being too close or crowded in public space. The only solution to this math is: more public space.

The City has reacted in some rapid ways to support these changes in the transportation realm. The report we received in the May 11 Council package outlines much of this: fixing the pinch point on the Central Valley Greenway at the north end of East Columbia, asking people to use the Quayside esplanade differently, making more space for safer use of the McInnes Overpass. And the obvious happened: every time we have opened up space for people to use at a human scale, people show up and take advantage of that space.

At the motion says, New Westminster has already set a goal to re-allocate 10% of road space by 2030 as one of our Bold Steps towards Climate Action. In light of current events and the radical change in the use of public space we are already seeing, the 2030 timeline no longer feels bold. In a city with as much road and as much pressing need for public space right now, we need to act faster.

And we are no alone in this, Cities from Vancouver to Montreal to London to Seattle have shifted the use of street space to make pedestrians, cyclists, and other street users more comfortable and safer.

New Westminster has a lot of road space, an excess of road space in many ways. We can demonstrate regional and national leadership not by changing our plans, but by simply re-setting the timeline for this work – the immediate shift of road space by temporary measures – paint, no post barriers, planters, delineators, and bollards. We can aggressively do this in the summer of 2020, with a mind to making these re-allocations permanent as capital budget and recovery allow.

My motion calls on us to do the things outlined in the Staff report, and more, and much more rapidly. Additionally, as much as I appreciate the great work transportation staff have done so far, I want us to also think about how we take this work out of the transportation realm, and expand it to thinking more holistically about how we can re-allocate space to support our business districts, support the arts community, support people finding new ways to connect socially while distancing physically, how the re-use of public space will be a keystone to the recovery from this crisis.

The summer of 2020 is going to be different. And coming out of the Pandemic, there will be transformations in how we live in our City. If we are bold and brave now, we can shape those transformations towards the more people-focused, more equitable, and more sustainable community we envisioned in our long-term planning. Like so many other needs in the community, the COVID-19 crisis did not create this need, but it did demonstrate the urgency of the need, and provides the opportunity for accelerated action to address the need that was always there.

I want this motion to be the start of a conversation – but getting mired in debate about priotization and compromises is the biggest risk to us actually getting change during this critical time. I will be talking out a lot in the weeks ahead about this, and I want to hear form the community about the visionary changes you want to see in your community, in your neighbourhood, on your street.

I want to see rapid deployment of greenway treatments to finally address some of the gaps. I want to see expansion of sidewalks into car storage spaces so that people have comfortable space to walk in our commercial areas, and so our commercial businesses can be supported as they re-open by taking patios or merchandizing areas out on to the sidewalk. I want to see small chunks of our local streets closed to traffic and converted to active use for neighbourhoods that are going to be itching for social connection during a summer with no festivals. I want every student to have a safe route to walk or roll to school. I want us to stop laying pavement expanses on parts of roads that don’t facilitate safe speeds or safe crossing. And I’ll be going on at length about these things…

I wrapped my little speech at Council by quoting Gordon Price – the former Director of the City Program at SFU and City Councillor for the City of Vancouver:

Reallocation as a health response, a climate-emergency response, a neighbourhood planning response, and an active-transportation response – all of the above at a time when the difficult-to-do has become the necessary-to-do.

Because it is time, because it will make us a better City, let’s do this.

Council – May 11 2020

Another week, and other Council meeting. It didn’t look like that picture above, but I thought i would add that to remind us of the before-times. We are going to start moving towards a more regular schedule again soon (see below), but for now the updates keep coming so we keep meeting. As always, we are recording the audio stream (though we are meeting using video), so you can follow along the recording or see the agenda here. We started with a significant report:

Provincial Restart Plan and City of New Westminster Recovery Plan Presentation
We have talked a lot in the last two months about response to the pandemic situation, and as I suggested last week, we are starting to talk about what recovery is going to look like. As the Provincial announcements made clear last week, we are not past the danger phase, but with most of the response now planned and being implemented, it is time to start talking about what happens where we start moving to post-emergency operations. We had a lengthy reporting out from senior staff on what this looks like for Parks, Recreation, and the Library.

As with the rest of the emergency response, this is mostly following the lead of the provincial health officer’s directions, so we don’t have control over the pace here, only the choice of actions we will take. As the report says right up front – the City has three responsibilities – it is a regulator, it is an employer, and it is a service provider. All three roles need to be considered through this process.

There is a perhaps counter-intuitive issue with facilities opening sooner than the City anticipated in its financial modelling. Opening City facilities will mean some of the cost savings from them being closed will be lost, and potentially bringing some auxiliary staff back sooner than anticipated. This is likely to start to happen before the concomitant return of traditional revenue sources, so this could ironically make our financial situation worse, not better.

For now, some parks facilities will be opening up, and we will be monitoring how that kind of thing goes, and will be working in coordination with adjacent municipalities to try to make this entire thing not be so confusing that people will have a hard time complying. A good time to remind everyone that everybody is doing all of this for this first time, and we need to work together.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

COVID-19 Pandemic The New Normal: Council and Committee Processes
We are adapting the way we are running Council meetings again, this time taking away a few of the restrictions we put in when things were first hitting the fan in late March. We are also establishing a more reasonable schedule going into the summer to replace our current weekly meetings, and trying to get more “regular” business done instead of being all-emergency-all-the-time.

The Province has provided us some extraordinary flexibility in how we run meetings under a Ministerial Order (M139) so we can do business during the emergency, with physical distancing protocols, and outside of the Council Chambers if needed. This replaced the earlier Order (M083) which we were previously operating under, so we need a refresh in our procedures.

City Advisory Committees were suspended in April, and we are now looking at re-launching some of them electronically, especially the Board of Variance and Advisory Planning Commission as needed. Most committees, however, will continue to be suspended until the end of the summer. Unfortunately, Public Delegations are still difficult to organize and manage for staff, and will remain suspended. If you wish to address Council in the meantime, please send us an e-mail or letter, and contact the Clerk’s office if you have questions about how to connect.

We are also going to look at getting electronic Public Hearings happening. This will allow anyone with access to a computer, tablet, or telephone to take part in an on-line meeting. Of course, you can still provide input to public hearings by writing an e-mail or old-skool letter to Council. If the technical stuff can get worked out, we will likely have a Public Hearing for some backlogged projects in late May.

Sapperton Pump Station: 1 Cumberland Street – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
That big sewer pump station being built below Sapperton is almost done. This is a request to do some night work to remove a bulkhead within the “wet well” – work that has to happen in the middle of the night on a night when the weather has been dry for some time because it is much, much easier to do when the sewer flows are at their lowest. Council granted a nighttime construction noise exemption to permit this work.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our weekly updates from the operating Task Forces. We are still working on food security, a “Hey Neighbour” initiative to help forge social connections in multi-family buildings, the Friendly Caller program to help isolated seniors is going well, and we are partnering to open an emergency shelter at the empty gym attached to the Massey Theatre. Staff have reached out to most businesses in town, including door-to-door delivering support information in multiple languages to the businesses along 12th Street that don’t have the umbrella of a formal or informal BIA to help with communications. And this is just a few of the things City Staff are doing to keep our community connected and safe.

Also part of this was the need for us to approve spending $82,000 on two emergency food hamper programs. Because government is funny that way, we needed to approve the spending even if it is just flowing through us. I am burying the lede a bit here, as these were both the result of large grants provided by the Vancouver Foundation to local non-profit providers after the City helped with application and coordination. This is great news, as more than 1,500 food hampers will be delivered to those most in need in our community over the next 12 weeks.

COVID-19 At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force: Information and Resource Dissemination Actions
This is a reporting out on the numerous communications actions the city has taken, and tools that have been developed to assure that we are sharing information about the pandemic response and supports available, from a summary of financial supports from various government programs to a food resources calendar.

I do want to pull out of this an important initiative that came out of our Intelligent City program and a partnership with Douglas College. We are providing recycles WiFi-enabled devices and Wifi hotspots in the City. Of course, much info people need to get through the crisis is available on-line, and access to many program relies on internet connectivity to sign up or get vital information. However, lots of people in New West (especially those who most need the supports above) do not have a consistent connection to the internet. The Library is an important source of Wifi and devices/desktops to connect for many people, but it has been closed for almost two months now, as are other places where public (Anvil Centre) or private (Coffee shops) WiFi connections are available. At the same time so much information about the current crisis and supports available are easiest to find on the internet. Hopefully this program will help more people get connected.

COVID-19 Council Review of 2020 Community Grants Program
Many of the Grants the City awarded in 2020 will not be used, simply because they are for events that cannot happen due to the physical distancing requirements, and because some organizations that were awarded these grants will simply not have capacity to use them this year. Staff reached out to the awardees and did an informal survey to find out which grants will still be used (or were already used), which will not, and which the applicant would like to repurpose in light of the Pandemic situation. We are currently estimating we will still see a reduction of about 1/3 of the ~$1 Million (cash and City services) in grants awarded.

Physical Distancing on City Streets
This report talks about some of the great work our Transportation Department has done to open up pedestrian spaces in the City to help with physical distancing. It also outlines some of the next steps (and a few of the challenges along the way). Many may have noticed that Sixth Ave in Uptown had its sidewalks extended with temporary measures today. More to come, and of course I have a bunch to say about this, considering this motion came right after it:


We had two pieces of New Business:

Motion: Streets for People in 2020

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster move quickly in 2020 to expand road re-allocation toward pedestrian, cyclist, and public gathering space, using temporary measures where necessary with a mind towards more permanent solutions that can be applied after the period of crisis has passed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Transportation Task Force make rapid reallocation of road space a priority work item, are empowered to immediately apply temporary measures in 2020, and accelerate the timeline towards the 10% space reallocation goal set out in Bold Step 7 of the City’s Climate Action Plan

I put this motion forward, and will talk about it at length in one of my patented “I’ll have to write a follow-up blog post about this” follow-up blog posts about this.

Motion: Public Engagement Strategy for COVID Recovery

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff prepare a public engagement strategy for involving the community in COVID-19 recovery planning with particular focus on addressing systemic inequities and building a stronger, more vibrant and connected, climate change resilient community; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the plan proposes ways to address barriers to participation that have resulted in lack of representation by communities of colour, tenants and underhoused, lower income community members, disabled people, and other underrepresented groups that have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic.

Councillor Nakagawa put this motion forward, recognizing that we are starting the conversation about how things are going to change in Post-pandemic times. There is already a lot of talk about “the new normal”, which suggests that things were “normal” before and that the crises we have experienced throughout our community and social systems was solely a result of this virus. The pandemic only cast light on the cracks in our society that were there all along, and provided us a lens though which rapid action could be applied to, however temporarily, address them. It also provides us an opportunity to talk about whether we are going to allow things to go back to how they were, or whether a new path can be taken.

To get there, we need to have a bigger conversation with the community. Not the people who read this blog, or watch council meetings (though your input is always appreciated). We need to take this opportunity to talk to people most impacted by this crisis, most of whom we have not had a lot so success connecting with in the past. This is a Public Engagement challenge, but one we have some pieces in place to achieve through our Public Engagement Strategy.

And that was a Council Meeting.

Council – May 4 2020

We had an uncharacteristically short council meeting this week, at least the open part. There was a fair amount of good info and important stuff in the reports we read and received along with the Agenda, there was just not a lot of detail discussion among Council about it.

We started with this item Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our weekly reporting out by the task forces put together in the City to address the pandemic response. If you want to know what the City is doing, read this report for the latest summary.

Of course, these are just the extra things City staff are doing. There is still much “regular” business going on in the City. Buildings are being inspected, Bylaws enforced, police doing police work, fire department responding to calls, grass being mowed, planters being tended, financial reports being prepared and audited, trash being removed, etc. etc. All of these things still go on even as staff are having to adjust how they do them.

So when you look at this list of Task force works – it is above and beyond the usual work load. This includes coordinating food distribution by the Food Bank and other service agencies to assure the most vulnerable in our community at least have the dignity and security of a regular meal. There was a recent announcement that the Vancouver Foundation provided a huge grant to local food security in New West, and thanks to this work, 80 families will receive a weekly food hamper every week for three months to help get through the crisis time.

This means working with BC Housing to assure that those without a roof, or in threat of being without a roof have access to a safe, dry place where they can be connected with other resources they may need. This also means assuring that isolated seniors in the community who have been separated from their usual community supports due to physical distancing and their higher risk status have a friendly voice to talk to and someone who can ask them about their needs.

The City is also connecting with every business in the City to assure they know about the supports available to them from senior governments, to talk about their security or social distancing concerns, and to help them determine what kind of supports they are going to need in the recovery phase after this crisis passes so the City is ready to help with those supports. It means coordinating a Support Local campaign to assure residents know what businesses are operating, and need customers to support them now.

Then there is the education and enforcement part of managing physical distancing and the use of City spaces. There are staff reviewing daily the federal and provincial announcements, so that we are on top of the changes, and can change our operations and the info we provide to the public appropriately. There are City staff re-assigned to getting out into parks and public spaces to talk to residents, creating signage, adjusting our Bylaws so that enforcement was possible, making determinations about what uses are still OK, and which need to be adjusted, closed, or adapted. Staff have identified pedestrian areas that need to be improved to permit physical distancing and have made that happen. They have also been managing inquiries from the public through a special hotline, both to educate and to follow up on concerns the public may have.

None of this was in anybody’s work plan in February, none of it built into any departments budget. Our staff have, in my opinion, done a spectacular job adjusting to a new reality that is changing every day, and our community is coming through this strong. It isn’t over, but we can start to put some resources towards looking towards that time. We will be talking more about that next meeting.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw to Reflect COVID-19 Interim Development Review Process: Bylaw for Three Readings and Adoption
Last meeting, we talked about some changes to the development review process in light of the ongoing physical distancing requirements and limitation on meetings in City Hall. The cost of internal processes for reviewing developments falls on the developer on a fee-for-service basis, which requires a bylaw, which needs to be edited slightly due to some of the changes we approved last week. This report outlines the edits to that Bylaw which we adopted below.

618 Carnarvon (Urban One Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The property at 618 Carnarvon was given approval for development last year, and includes some work immediately adjacent to the SkyTrain guideway. Some of this work needs to happen at night when the SkyTrain is not running. Right now that is just a night or two of work to install a fence to keep the guideway and construction site separate. This requires a Construction Noise Bylaw exemption to permit the night work.

2020 Tax Rates Bylaw No. 8196, 2020
As we approved a financial plan last meeting, we must now establish formally the property tax rates for 2020 to match that financial plan. Property taxes will increase 3.1% this year, plus the 1% Capital Levy will be redirected to a reserve to specifically pay for COVID-19 emergency measures. As always, your personal tax experience will vary based on how your property value changed this year relative the average property value in the City. The average residential property value in the City dropped 7.1% last year. My own property dropped 0.3% last year, so I will be paying about 10% higher municipal property tax than last year.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8197, 2020
We had previously established some Electrical Utility rate increases this year to mirror BC Hydro rate changes, along with a shift from mirroring the old BC Hydro “Rate Rider” model to putting part of that into a special levy to help pay for some Climate Action plans within the utility. Due to the change in how BC Hydro is rolling out rate changes in light of the COVID-19 emergency, we are putting off those plans for now, and maintaining the same rates for 2020, which means we need to change the Bylaw again to go back to where it previously was.


We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Tax Rates Bylaw No. 8196, 2020
As discussed above, this Bylaw that sets our Property Tax rates for 2020 was adopted by Council.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8197, 2020
As discussed above, this Bylaw that re-adjusts our Electrical Rates for 2020 was adopted by Council.

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8198, 2020
And again as discussed above, this Bylaw that changes the language in our Development Fees Bylaw to match the recent changes in process was adopted by Council.


And that was a meeting, short & sweet. I promise there will be more exciting conversation next week, as I plan to start talking about this.

ASK PAT: River Road trees

Denis asks—

Hi Pat, I was cycling along River Road in Richmond for the first time in quite some time this morning and noticed that the trees between the road and the Fraser had been cut along a ~0.5-1 km stretch, perhaps (my memory is fallible!) just to the east of the CNR bridge? I was sad to see that this had been done when I can’t think of any real need — any idea why this was done and whose approvals were necessary? I’m thinking this stretch is actually in Richmond rather than New West, but I figured if anyone would know or could find out about this it would be you!

Hey Denis! Long time no see, hope you and yours are well! This is a little outside of New West, but quite a few of my cycling friends have asked this question, so I’ll take a stab at answering. Besides, I probably owe you a noteworthy number of favours.

Indeed there is a ~1 km-long stretch of River Road in east Richmond just west of the rail bridge where a significant number of trees and pretty healthy looking habitat was recently clear cut. Where this used to be the view riding along there:

It now looks like this:

There is a pretty simple reason for why it was done. The City of Richmond has an ongoing program to improve and solidify the dike system that keeps Richmond (and Queensborough!) livable and farmable, and this is part of that program. With funding support from the Provincial and Federal Governments, the entire dike-and-drain system for Lulu Island is being upgraded. This means raising some areas of dike to meet new 100-year projections for sea level rise and seismically upgrading parts of the dike where sloughing or liquefaction is likely during a significant earthquake. It also means upgrading the internal canal/ditch/watercourse network and pumping infrastructure that not only keeps the rainwater from flooding within the dike, but serves as an important emergency reservoir and drainage system to reduce damage in the unlikely event of a breach of the dike.

I am not an engineer, but my understanding is that there is some stability and lift work being done on this stretch of dike, and the (primarily) cottonwoods were determined to be both a threat to the soil density and in the way of the soil improvement work that needs to occur, so they needed to go. There is more info here at the City of Richmond website.

Your second question is a bit harder to answer, and I can only really answer in generalities, because I was not involved in this specific project, and I’m not a Professional Biologist. So take everything below as referring to “a typical project like this” and not referring to this specific project, because it is complicated and I don’t want to second guess actual professional people who might have been involved in this project. Geologists talking Biology always get something wrong, but I have spent some of my career peripheral to this type of ecology work, so here is my understanding.

The City has rules about cutting trees and protecting habitat. If you wanted to do this type of clear-cut to build a house or a warehouse or a dock, you might run into that. But a City-run project regulated by a provincial diking authority for life safety reasons would likely be exempt from those types of Bylaws.

Provincially, there is a law called the Riparian Areas Regulation that requires municipalities to regulate the protection of “riparian areas”, which are the lands adjacent to a fish-bearing or fish-supporting stream and provide shade, habitat, nutrients, etc. to the critters that live in and near the stream. In general, RAR does not apply in tidal waters, and the Fraser River here is tidal. So that leaves the Feds, and the biggest, baddest, environmental hammer in Canada: the federal Fisheries Act.

This used to be simple. Back in, say, 2011, work like this would constitute a HADD – “Harmful Alteration, Disruption or Destruction of fish habitat”. Section 35 of the Fisheries Act said you couldn’t do that without specific authorization. That authorization was hard to come by, but if the work was important like upgrading dikes, expanding the Port, or building an oil pipeline, you could get approval that would come along with a bunch of restoration work. If you were working in tidal waters or in the riparian areas near tidal waters, the onus was on you to prove to well-trained and independent scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that your work did not constitute a HADD, and if it did, they were going to make you fix what you broke.

Naturally, that was a bummer to some people who liked to build things in and near fish habitat, like oil refineries and pipelines, or if you wanted to hold a good ol’ Country Hoe-Down in a sensitive habitat. So the Harper Conservatives ripped HADD out of the Fisheries Act. Instead of protecting habitat, your only responsibility is to not cause “serious harm” to a fish. They also canned a great many of those well-trained DFO scientists who would actually be the ones able to determine if there was harm. So for several years, reviewing a project like cutting down all the trees on a 1km-long stretch of Fraser River foreshore was left to an on-line triage system run out of Regina, and evidence to support that review could be provided by pretty much anyone – no requirement for a Professional Biologist to provide assessment to determine if this was a bad thing for fish, or any other part of the ecosystem. Some environmentalists complained at the time. 

Now, the Liberal government put the HADD back into the Fisheries Act late last year, and with it there was a return of authorizations under Section 35. There is still an issue with limited resources in the DFO to provide those authorizations, and I honestly have no idea what the triggering mechanism is compared to how it was pre-2012, or whether a project like this would trigger it. It may have received review through the old triage system prior to the changes in the Act, it may have had full DFO Section 35 review.

Anyway, it looks bad now, and to my untrained and non-biologist eye like a HADD, but this is important dike work making Lulu Island safer from flood and earthquake, so it would very likely have received a DFO authorization, and a compensation plan to improve the habitat value of the river would be required. The City of Richmond mentioned a plan to plant more than twice as many trees as were removed, so there will be a habitat win here eventually. Hopefully, they are also looking at improvements to River Road along with the Dike improvements, to make it a safe place to ride bicycles. But that’s a whole different rant.

Council – April 27, 2020

We had more of a regular longer-agenda meeting this week, though of course many of the topics were not “normal”, and we did things on-line, so normal as normal can be. Again, if you go here you can read the agenda and reports, and even listen to a recording of the meeting to see where the conversations went.

We started with two presentations on the City’s budget:

Financial Plan, 2020-2024
As discussed last week, we have a 5-year Financial Plan ready to go to Bylaw. This is a slightly pared-back budget compared to the earlier version presented before the current chaos arrived, with a somewhat less ambitious capital plan and all new spending suspended other than funds already committed, reflecting the uncertainty of the times. People asking for a “property tax freeze”, this is about as close as we can get while maintaining legal and contractual obligations.

The City’s Financial Sustainability and Changes to City Services and Major Projects – COVID 19 Implications
This report is a broader discussion of the City’s potential financial position as this crisis unfolds. We have had many discussions in both open and closed Council as we have worked to better understand revenue impacts, human resources effects, and the service changes that are resulting from the state of emergency. It is clear this is uncharted territory for us, and for every local government. City staff have been doing heroic work (and they are all humans like you and me, feeling the same stresses about their families, their livelihoods, the future of their community, which has not made this work easier) trying to assure we have the necessary information to make our best estimates about where we are going, so we can make as informed decisions as possible.

Staff have developed a few revenue models based on how long the current public health restrictions go on, and how fast the economic recovery is. There is a best case and a worst case, and staff further developed the “medium” case. This scenario would see about a $50 Million drop in cash flow in the second quarter of 2020. Some of these revenues would be lost forever, some only deferred until later in the year or 2021. We expect (again, in this moderate scenario) that we would be missing $35M in cash flow over all of 2020, and a little more than $11M of revenue would be gone forever.

We have already done some work to prepare to operate with the reduced cash flow, the overall lost-forever revenue will take significant changes in plans. The report outlines where $11M in reduced expenses might be found: reduced shifts to auxiliary staff, freezing hiring for vacant positions and reducing overtime spending primary among them. We would also be putting off some contracted work, and seriously reducing our supplies and materials budget.

As far as the Capital Budget goes, staff have worked through the capital plan and prioritized projects scheduled for 2020. Some will have to continue because they represent business continuity, life safety, and core operations. Some are possible to delay three months or longer to assist with the cash flow situation, and some are going to be punted down the road further.

Each of the 10 departments in the City have presented some cost savings plans to reflect the above, and a short report is attached from each. There is a lot of detail here about programs that are considered essential, and those that are being delayed.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

TransLink/SkyTrain Guideway (22nd Street Station to New Westminster Station): Construction Update
This is just a note to update Council that the delayed work being done on rail and rail pad replacements between 22nd Street Station and New West Station is finally going to start up, and occur in April and May. This may mean some noise at night for nearby residents.

2020 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
This is our update on snowpack in the Fraser Basin as is usual for this time of year to allow us to plan if freshet floods are more or less likely this year. It looks like snow packs are higher than average and quite a bit higher in the mid-basin areas. The flood risk is higher than usual, but the weather for the month ahead will be the determining factor. Our emergency services have done a bit of prep work (dike inspections and sandbag procurement), but no-one is panicking yet.

Statistical update from the New Westminster Police Department
This is an interesting statistical report on the impact of the pandemic on crime rates. Counts of reported offences of most types for March 2020 are below 2019, and property offences for 2020 are below the 5-year average, though persons offences are slightly above the average. Bucking the trend, thefts from vehicles are going up, as are break-and-enter offences.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Six Task Forces
This is our weekly update on what the six working groups on COVID response are doing.
Again, I encourage you to read these reports, and I don’t want to transcribe them here. There is a lot going on in the City to address the impacts of the crisis, and it is interesting as they are starting to transition from the figuring-things-out to the get-things-done phases.

Parks Regulation Amendment Bylaw No. 8193, 2020 – A Bylaw to Amend Parks Regulation Bylaw No. 3646 in response to the COVID-19
A few may have noticed that not all residents are taking the closures and limits to use of some parks infrastructure as seriously as others. Some equipment and areas, such as tennis courts and playground equipment, have been closed because their use was not consistent with physical distancing requirements. Unfortunately, some people have taken to ignoring these closures, even going to far as to remove fencing and cutting locks to access some facilities. As is not unusual, 95% of people will respect community safety measures if they are provided good information as to why and how; for them education is the key. The other 5% need enforcement or at least the threat of enforcement.

We can use trespassing laws to enforce closures, but they are harsh, and are therefore more difficult to enforce. We are instead adapting the Parks Bylaw and ticketing bylaw to clearly define the offence and make it easier for Bylaw Officers to issue tickets for scofflaws. There will also be new signage installed informing of the fines and the increased intent to enforce them. We also had a bit of a conversation about assuring the fines were not used punitively, but were reserved for serious scofflaws that were clearly not interested in respecting the public health concerns of the community.

COVID-19 Pandemic: Food Security Planning and Responses
This crisis had been hard on people in the City who are food insecure. The Food Bank and other organizations have had to change how they operate to address physical distancing protocols. Fortunately, there are a great number of organizations providing for the food security of those in desperate need, and the City is helping them coordinate their programs. The Salvation Army, the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar in Queensborough, Prupose society, Union gospel Mission, and even a few businesses are helping out with hot meals and food hampers, along with the Food Bank operating out of Tipperary Park alongside the Farmers Market every Thursday. This was a report for information, but we had a bit of discussion about upcoming opportunities for the City to further expand this program during this time of need.

Covid-19: Interim Development Review Process
The development review process has slowed down in the City. This is a problem for several reasons, not the least being the ongoing housing crisis and rental availability crisis, but also is a problem for homeowners wanting to do significant renovations and other projects in the City for things like childcare and services. There is also the concept of procedural fairness – if you own a property in the City, you have a right under provincial law to fair process and the City has a responsibility to do whatever they can to provide it.

Staff have still been working these processes internally, but some need to come to committee or Council for their next steps. Not a problem for Council 9we can do this work in our now-regular virtual meetings), but many committees are not meeting, and public engagement is difficult. Public Hearings are especially difficult as provincial legislation was developed with personal appearance in Council Chambers the default Public Hearing participation method. We can debate (and have!) whether this is the right process in the internet age, but we are kinda stuck without better guidance from the provincial government.

This report outlines a few adjustments, including some of the City Advisory committees meeting virtually, and putting the onus on developers to demonstrate ways they are performing Public Engagement through mail, media, or other methods during the physical distancing era. We have a few very active Residents Associations with long contact lists, which may help in this case, but there is more work to be done here. Finally, staff will be reporting back in May on potential new guidance on Public Hearings after consulting with the provincial government.

Waste Reduction and Recycling Community Engagement Results
The closing of the recycling centre next to the Canada Games Pool and integration of some of our recycling services with neighboring communities has resulted in a lot of conversation about recycling in the City. This is happening at a time when regional and global recycling systems are going through major transitions, resulting in the “bottom falling out” of most recycled material commodity markets. Still, people want to recycle, and it is difficult right now to re-negotiate contracts with product stewardship agencies that would take recycled materials, or set up new or temporary collection systems.

That said, over the months before the pandemic, the City ran a series of community events to collect info about peoples recycling needs and desires. This is the reporting out of the results of that engagement. Glass, Styrofoam and soft plastic are the three top identified materials that were challenging to recycle. No surprise those are the three materials that are most difficult to recycle once collected by the City. Some concerns were also raised about green waste.

For green waste, the City allows unlimited curbside collection (in kraft paper bags) and the City covers the cost of depositing green waste at the Coquitlam transfer station until the new facility on the New West/Coquitlam border is opened. Curbside and free drop-off are both available, take your choice.

The report outlines the potential for adding curbside glass pickup. This would require new containers, and a bit of additional labour cost. Glass is worth very little in the recycling market (the ~125 Tonnes we would expect to collect per year would yield something like $10,000), so the resultant cost per single family home is estimated at about $11 per year. Council asked staff to look into this a little more and develop a detailed proposal for Council to consider.

Staff is also going to look into more options for soft plastic and Styrofoam, beyond the three current locations in the City where they can be dropped off. I am less optimistic about this, as these products have no value right now, and the cost for us to collect and get them to RecycleBC is probably prohibitive.

I see a structural problem here in how the “Extended Product Responsibility” (EPR) model run my RecycleBC works. Recycle BC is an industry-led consortium that is empowered by provincial law to facilitate recycling, and the cost of processing recycled materials is meant to be borne by industry and worked in to the purchase price of products. When you buy this packaging material, you pay for the recycling of it; that is how the EPR system is meant to work. But if you are expected to pay more (through property taxes or utility fees) to get the material to the recycling centre, you are effectively paying twice for recycling.

This become a political discussion between the City and the provincial government, and cannot be disconnected from nascent efforts to limit of ban single-use plastics and non-recyclable materials in the province. More to come here, but probably no-one had bandwidth to dig too deeply into it until after the COVID times.

2020 Property Tax Payment Due and Penalty Dates
The City is recognizing that many residents may be in a difficult financial situation this spring, Council is approving a waiving of late penalties until October 1st. The due date for your taxes is still July 2nd, and if you have the ability, please pay them then, as it reduces the risk that the City will have to borrow money to cover temporary cash flow. If you are not able to pay until October 1st, the penalty we usually charge (5% on July 2nd, another 5% on September 2nd) will not be applied in 2020.


We then Adopted a few Bylaws:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2020 – 2024) Bylaw No. 8183, 2020
As discussed at length for the last 4 months, and detailed above, the Financial Plan Bylaw was approved by Council.

Parks Regulation Bylaw Amending Bylaw No. 8193, 2020
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 8194, 2020 and
Municipal Ticket Information Amendment Bylaw No. 8195, 2020
As discussed above, these Bylaws that provide ticketing and fining power to Bylaw Officers for scofflaws ignoring parks closure signage and warnings were adopted by Council.


Finally, we had one piece of New Business

Graffiti Removal Councillor Puchmayr

BE IT RESOLVED THAT during this pandemic crisis, while many local businesses are closed and not able to provide a higher degree of vigilance, that the City of New Westminster waive the current graffiti remediation policy and deploy a graffiti remediation crew to deal with new graffiti as quickly as possible.

This idea was referred to the two task forces that are operating to support Business Continuity and the Education and Enforcement aspects of the pandemic response.


And that ended the new strange (face it, this is not normal) meeting for the week.

Ask Pat: Petitions & Letters

OK, I’m lying a bit. This wasn’t the result of someone hitting the red Ask Pat button, but a question I got asked on Twitter that I thought deserved a longer answer than Tweets were good for. And I must be housebound because 1,500 words later here I am writing an intro.

I have been peripherally involved in some of the campaigning to secure emergency funding for TransLink during this crisis. Mostly by using my platforms to connect people and amplify the ask. (For example: Go here and here and sign a petition and write a letter). An engaged New West resident asked me, perhaps rhetorically, how effective are petitions and form letters in getting action from governments? Is this kind of action useful? So I thought I would answer that here as best I can. TL;DNR: All correspondence matters, the more personal the better. 

Perhaps as a caveat – I do not consider myself a brilliant campaigner. In my life of being a rabble-rouser and then elected guy, I have relied on smarter and/or better trained campaigners. There are library shelves of theses on this topic, people whose entire career is based on engaging the public and driving political action. They may laugh or cry reading what I write below, but you asked me, not them, so I’ll do my best to answer and not worry about the tears of others.

I would say any communication with elected officials is better than none. Your elected representatives need to know and be reminded where you stand on issues that matter to you. They receive correspondence all the time, and though there are many things impacting their decision making, there is something about receiving constituent correspondence that makes any (thinking) elected representative consider their assumptions. If they disagree with you, they are going to be forced to think about why they disagree, and this may result in a more nuanced consideration of a matter. If they agree with you, you have provided them another arrow in their quiver when they have to make a case against the (inevitable) correspondence they will receive on the other side of the issue. So if you care about something, let them know, because a person on the other side of the issue is likely doing the same.

But the real question was about the effectiveness of petitions and form letters coming out of campaigns like I linked to above? To qualify my answer yet again, that depends on what you mean by effective, and how big they are.

I don’t think electronic petitions like those at Change.org change the minds of many elected types. Any petition would have to have huge results to shift elected people away from ideas that were otherwise defended by good public policy or other important political drivers – no petition project exists in a vacuum. I suppose there are some populists who would say “1,400 people signed this! We need to react!”, but for a decision to get to that point there must already be a solid public policy driver, and in a City with 70,000 residents, it is hard to tell what number of self-selected signatures it would require to represent a true plurality of opinion.

This is exacerbated by petitions being strictly directed communications, and are sometimes based on facts that are (to be polite) separated from the decision-making points at hand. If I launched a petition “New West should fix traffic now!” I could probably get a lot of signatures, especially if I had a little money to throw towards a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram campaign. This would be easier if I worded it so I could rely on signatures from people who want roads expanded to “get traffic flowing” and those who want to further restrict through-traffic to make sidewalks and crosswalks safe for pedestrians. So it would be effective at saying “somebody should do something”, and may be perceived as putting elected types on the hot seat, but it is not going to change anyone’s mind about any specific approach.

So why would I do this? Electronic petitions collect names and e-mails, and sometimes other information, from people who fill them out, so they are a quick data source for people running campaigns. In being easy for the general public to engage with, they give an opportunity to get people thinking and interested in a topic. If you are piqued by an on-line prompt, you are more likely to take a further step, be it forward a tweet or like a Facebook post, send a form letter, or even talk to your friends about the issue. So I think petitions like this are more effective at getting non-activist people engaged than they are at changing elected people’s minds.

Form letters are better, I think. Though it is sometimes irritating to receive 30 emails in an afternoon with the same subject heading, they usually provide a name and contact of the sender, which gives the elected person the chance to respond or engage. They also tend to be clearer in their ask, as they have to be in order to get people to attach their names to them.

It is important to recognize that some campaigns and campaigners are seeking your contact information for their own purposes. You are sharing data: your name, your e-mail, your postal code, etc. with the campaign organization, and it is not always clear how that data will be used. I recently received a series of form letters from a campaign that used your postal code to determine who your local Council was, then sent and e-mail to the Mayor and Council in your area asking that they be vigilant in not allowing face recognition software to be used in the City. I noted the irony of a person concerned about digital security willingly providing their name, postal code, e-mail address, and political opinions to an anonymous letter generator.

That said, small local grass-roots organizations like I linked to above with clear mandates and clear messages are not likely to do anything that makes their burgeoning supporter base upset, like mis-using their data. I am one to usually presume good intentions unless one has acted disingenuously in the past, but it never hurts to ask the organization if they collect data and how it is used, and for the organization to have and respect an opt-out if you don’t want your data shared or to receive further correspondence from them.

From the elected person’s point of view, even the most diligent correspondent has a hard time responding to the 200th exact-same letter. I try (and sometimes succeed) to reply to every e-mail I get, but form letters tend to get a form-letter-like response. I do scan them to see if the writer has added a personal touch to it, and try to reply to that personally. But again, every elected person is going to manage this correspondence differently. If you have the time and energy, personal emails are much, much better, and I prioritize those for responses. As a decision-maker, one well-made personal argument is more likely to convince me than 100 identical form letters, regardless of how well they frame the concern.

So overall, the more personal the better, but all correspondence is important, and if all you can manage is a petition or a form letter, it is better than staying silent on an issue. All of them serve as a demonstration of how broad a support base is for any idea. It also helps an elected person who may want to take a positive action demonstrate that there is some level of support for that action. I will give you a clear and real example from my life.

I want more and better cycling infrastructure in New West. No surprise there, I was beaking off about it for a few years before getting elected, I included in every conversation during my elections, and have talked about it at Council whenever appropriate. Although I think the majority of Council supports this goal, I do at times feel I am shouting into a void. It is “Patrick going on about bikes again.” It’s OK, as you can tell by this blog post, I like to drone on.

Currently, we have limited the use of the Quayside boardwalk for cycles, because more people are using the boardwalk for daily exercise, space is constrained by physical distancing requirements, and given these pressures, bikes really aren’t appropriate there. Staff have recommended Quayside Drive as an alternative, and added some “share the road” signage. I don’t think that is adequate, and think we should close parking on one side of the road during the crisis and make a dedicated cycle route safe for 8 year olds and 80 year olds to replace the one we lost on the boardwalk.

If we do this, we will not doubt hear from people – angry letters to Council and to the Editor, maybe even a petition, demanding that free storage of cars is the best use of public land, as it always has been. Why would staff prioritize my idea, why would the rest of Council prioritize it, just to make Patrick happy when there is no demonstration of public support? I know it is the right thing to do, most of Council may agree it is the right thing to do, but with no public support, why prioritize this now and face the backlash? Everyone is busy, there are a thousand things to do in crisis response, this simply isn’t a burning-enough issue while the room is on fire. A petition or a few dozen letters from concerned citizens who want a safe place for their kids to ride a bike may demonstrate that this isn’t a fantasy in one Councillor’s brain. it may demonstrate that the inevitable backlash is worth it.

Thing about representative democracy: in the end people are more likely to get what they ask for than what they assume should be. So use your voice.

Council April 20, 2020

Yes, we had a Council meeting this week. It was again on-line using video chat software, and we have a recorded version if you want to read the agenda and follow along at home. Here is my recollection of what we did.

Draft 2020 – 2024 Financial Plan
Well, here we go again. The City spent an unprecedented amount of time and effort this spring doing public outreach, holding meetings and open houses, inviting residents and businesses in to talk about the budget. We provided tables, spreadsheets, lists of priorities, and visions for the future. Then we asked New Westminster to respond – tell us what we got right, and where we were missing the mark. We go a lot of feedback, and were ready to put together a budget that provided not just the normal financial plan, but a vision for how the City was going to do things differently on important files like Climate, Transportation, Childcare and Housing.

Then a month ago, all hell broke loose. Grumpy face emoji.

By legislation, we are required to provide a 5-year Financial Plan to the province in May, and to get there we need to write it into a Bylaw, and pass that Bylaw through the appropriate process. The Financial Plan is a complicated document based on well-established accounting principles and best practices established by the Public Service Accounting Board and reviewed by independent auditors every year. That said, it is always (by its nature and purpose) the best available estimate of the City’s financial position over the next 5 years. Some revenues and expenses in this budget we have complete control over, some we don’t.

All that to say this year is a very difficult year to make those estimates. We are preparing this financial plan in the middle of a crisis, likely at the cusp of a significant recession. It is challenging to project what the impact of this will be with the conservative certainty that needs to rest in a financial plan. Compared to what we looked at early in 2020 and sent for early public consultation, the biggest change now is to reduce the amount of money we are committing to new initiatives, and to pare back on capital expenses until we have some more certainty. The tax increase will not be as big as originally proposed, but we are not yet able to account for many of the other lost revenue in 2020, because we simply don’t know yet what it will be. Odds are that there will be further reductions in expenses (i.e. there are a lot of auxiliary staff not working as of this week, and we will be hiring fewer contractors in the coming months as work priorities change) and significant reductions in revenues (Casino, recreation fees, parking fees, etc.).

As a major part of financial projections like this are projecting past trends into the future, the disruption we are seeing now throws that for a loop. The only thing we know for sure right now is that that things will be different than we guessed, and this Financial Plan will no doubt be updated as that certainty arrives. Until then, we need a 5-year Financial Plan to hang the Bylaw on, and this is the best one we have at the time.

As proposed (and this has yet to me formally adopted by Bylaw), the tax increase for 2020 will be 3.1%. That means the average Strata apartment household will pay $33 more in 2020 than in 2019, and the average single family house $74 more. We are also shifting focus to move the 1% Climate Action Levy over to an Emergency Fund to address unanticipated costs related to the pandemic response. That is an extra $14 (apartment) or $29 (Single Family house).

Projected utility increases for water, sewer, and solid waste are not going to change from what was announced earlier. These utility funds cover their own costs purely through rates, don’t earn any profit or dividend for the City, and the balance of their costs (utility rates from Metro Vancouver) are not changing, so that part of the financial plan will stay the same for now. The electrical rate increase has been pared back to reflect the situation at BC Hydro, so out increases are in line with theirs.

These are the numbers that will go into the Bylaw language. If you have feedback to Council about it, drop us an e-mail.


The following items were Moved on Consent by Council:

Closing Open Council Meetings to the Public
These council meetings have been held on-line, but there has always been a staff member present in the Council Chambers taking part in the call, transmitting it to the chambers, and the chambers has always been open to the public – because that is the law. This means we have to have staff overseeing access to the chambers and present during the meeting, and it may be little surprise that no-one has attended.

Under the Emergency Powers the province has giving the City the ability to hold open meetings without the public present, and we are exercising this. Meetings will still be available online, and streamed on the City’s video archive. Agendas will be available on-line and at City Hall.

This effectively means the “public delegations” part of council meetings will be suspended for a while. This does NOT mean that we will hold Public Hearings without public input. We are required for some Bylaws to have these hearings, and staff is working on the technology and processes required to allow public input that meets the requirements of the Community Charter. More will come on this in future meetings.


The following item was Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the 7 Task Forces
This is our regular report on the 7 working groups addressing the priority response areas for the City. If your question is “what is the City doing?”, this is where the answer is. Again, I don’t want to go through line by line, it is worth reading to see how multi-faceted the response is, and if you want to hear the discussion around these items, please listen to the recording.

I do, however, want to call attention to several businesses and organizations that are working with the City and together to help people who need help at this time. The Food Bank and Farmers Market have been working together to get people food at Tipperary Park every Thursday. The Sukh Sager Gurdwara in Queensborough has continued its long tradition of providing free meals to the most needy, and both Greens & Beans and Truffles Catering have been contributing meals to seniors and others in need at this time. It is heartwarming to live in a community that cares with its actions, not just its words. Thank you.

Resolution to Support Transit
Finally, the following resolution was passed unanimously by Council in support of a call from the Canadian Urban Transit Association:

That New Westminster City Council endorse CUTA’s request to the Government of Canada for emergency funding to provide immediate liquidity to transit operators and on-going funding to alleviate revenue loss as ridership rebuilds;

I have already probably said enough about this, but if you feel like you want to add your voice, I would encourage you to check out the efforts of the SaveTransit coalition and Abundant Transit BC. You can follow those links to ways to can amplify their voices and help keep transit solvent.

#SaveTransit

There is a lot of bad news right now. Though we have reasons to be optimistic that BC will beat the curve, we cannot and should not ignore the fact people are suffering and people are dying. The disease is clearly worse than the cure. At the same time, many aspects of the cure are also causing significant stress and harm, and as health care professionals and disease researchers struggle to reduce the impact of the disease, we need everyone to be diligent about managing social distancing protocols and their impacts.

Today, my biggest concern is the Transit system. And it was apropos that this was the Google Doodle today:

Yes, small businesses are suffering. Many are closing, some not returning. Yes, some people are having a hard time meeting rent or mortgage payments. Yes, those who have been marginalized in our society – the precariously housed, people with disabilities, people with addiction – will suffer the most. All three orders of government are working to address these issues. There are also a lot of people working in previously-undervalued jobs who are keeping our society together. Grocery clerks, institutional cleaning staff, food processing and supply chain workers, truck drivers, warehouse staff, general labourers in any of the dozens of industries that are still operating. Many of them are being paid much less than a living wage.

Every day, despite an 80% drop in ridership, more than 75,000 people a day rely on TransLink to get them to their work, to shopping, to their appointments, and to do the things that are keeping our society operating.

Today it became clear that TransLink is in trouble, and those rides may go away as soon as next month. TransLink is losing $75M a month, and it will simply run out of cash to pay the salaries and the gas and electricity to run the system unless they get some kind of relief very soon. Unfortunately neither the provincial or federal governments have yet stepped up to provide that emergency relief, and are slow to commit that they will do anything.

The situation is dire for public transit systems across North America, but TransLink is somewhat unique. For a system its size, it relies more heavily (about 60%) on fare-box revenue than most in the North American context (most bus-based systems are around 40%). The other primary source of revenue – a regional gas tax – is also down more than 60%, while smaller revenue sources like the parking taxes are similarly vaporizing. Despite some ill-informed critique from anti-transit crusaders, TransLink runs a tight ship, so the reserves they are currently running on will not last much longer, and borrowing to run operations would be disastrous. The only option is an orderly deconstruction of the system unless emergency funds arrive.

The Federal Government has declared transit services essential, but they are not stepping up to fund it in an unprecedented emergency. Even the oft-absent US Federal government has committed $25Billion nation wide to keep transit systems afloat, including almost $500M for Sound Transit in Seattle, a system much smaller than we have in Greater Vancouver. TransLink is similarly not eligible for the Federal Wage Subsidy Program that is allowing Air Canada and WestJet to keep employees on the job. Senior Governments recognize that solvent airlines are an important part of keeping the economy rolling, and will be vital to recovery, but they have not yet demonstrated that they feel the same way about a public transit system like TransLink (which, I note, moved 5x the number of passengers last year than Air Canada).

This has come to a head right now, according to the Mayor’s Council, because a multi-modal integrated public transit system is a complicated thing. They are considering the need to scale back and reduce service right now, because a full scale-back will require several weeks. TransLink is currently burning through reserves, and will need to use those reserves to shut down and (eventually) to restart. They also note a re-start will take as long, or longer, than a shut down. In other words, if there is a serious deconstruction due to this liquidity crisis, it will take 4 to 8 weeks to get the system back up and running again once this is all over. And all this time, TransLink will not be earning enough revenue to fund the scale-up. It is crunch time.

It is bad enough to think that the people cleaning your hospitals, the people checking your groceries, the people putting your Amazon diaper order into the delivery truck, will not be able to get to work next month. It is worse to think that when this whole thing is over, the economic recovery will be dragged down by two months of not having a functional transit system in a major City. We cannot let this happen.

We need the Federal and Provincial Government to come to the Mayor’s Council immediately, and work out what value the transit system is providing to the community at this time, and the value it will bring to our eventual economic recovery, and they need to bring the money. Please connect with your MLA and your MP and spread the word that Transit is as vital to the operation of our City. Send them a short, respectful e-mail asking that they include public transit as one of the essential services that need their support right now.