Are we all enjoying the election?

Looking back, I haven’t actually posted much here about the election. I always get push-back from a few of the readers of this blog that they hate when I get all political and partisan, and just want me to report out on what the City is doing. Commonly, it includes some line like “you are elected to represent the *entire* City not just the lefties”! To which I feel I need to reference the parable of the scorpion and the frog. I’m a politician, I have been blogging about politics since long before I got elected. I have been partisan at times, and critical at times of parties and politicians I actually support. It would be disingenuous for me to put aside my understanding and opinions of public policy when the writ drops. caveat lector.

There is still a week to go, but so far the surprise of the election for me is the lack of surprise in this election. The NDP started with a substantial lead in the polls, and though there was some early correction-to-the-mean, there doesn’t seem to be much of a shift.

As we all learned in 2013, campaigns matter, and the BC Liberal campaign is somewhere between not-where-it-needs-to-be and full-on-dumpster-fire. The Green leader has deftly and swiftly shifted her party’s policy leanings to the left to take up some room vacated by the NDP, but it does not seem to be making an impact on the polling public. The Conservative collapse and retreat to their BC Liberal fall-back was predictable, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of last-minute tightening up of the front runners, if for no other reason than to keep viewers and voters awake. But the Libs need more than that. The knives coming out and discussion of Wilkinson’s leadership happening with a week still to go before the election is telling of a “broad tent” coalition without a guiding principle other than hating the other guys getting nowhere (something the NDP would be well served to keep in mind for next election).

One thing I have found interesting his election is (dispassionately?) observing the difference between incumbent campaigns and opposition campaigns. The Liberals especially have needed to re-frame their message significantly from three years ago, and austerity is not front and centre for anyone. But I still haven’t seen any interesting ideas challenging status quo this election. I suspect the NDP don’t need it, the Liberals are not capable, and the Greens are just not loud enough.

One media tool that hasn’t perhaps received as much attention this year as last election in my circles is the CBC Vote Compass. This data aggregator works a bit like a political Myer-Briggs test: you answer some questions to tell them what you think, and it spits back at you some summary of what you think after pressing it through some vague filtering mechanism. Mostly, it distills your complex political landscape into a pithy and compelling graphic that washes out all subtlety. Of course, I dutifully answered my questions and here is my politics sifted down to a single Cartesian point:

There are parts of this that feel accurate to me, no doubt because it was based on my own input. I think of myself as a little more left/progressive than the BCNDP (2020 version at least). The BCLibs supposedly-broad tent is well outside of my campsite; no surprise there. I also think of myself more socially progressive than the BCGreens (2020), but cannot rectify their allegedly being more economically “left” than I am.

I am going to skip over for now the entire can of worms that is drawing a divide between social policy and economic policy. It is, in the technical term, bullshit. Social policy *is* economic policy, and vice versa. Much smarter people than me have plumbed those depths, no point rehashing here. There is also a conceit in thinking that these two axes are the only ones, or even the most important ones, in people’s political narrative. Wherefore the Urbanist?

Instead, I want to pull up this image I dredged up from my archives of a Vote Compass I completed during the 2017 provincial election. I think it shows that not only is the Vote Compass a black box, but the apparently-simply graphic it outputs is not without its own political bias:

Though I have learned quite a bit (I think) in the last three years about reconciliation, have been challenged by BLM and related Canadian protests, and emboldened perhaps by the Climate Strikes, I don’t think my political ideas and ideals have shifted significantly since 2017. My position slightly left/progressive of the “center” of the NDP is probably as true now as then. But notice the axes around which the three parties have been aligned have shifted dramatically.

In the (upper) 2020 Compass, the NDP have been placed at the economic centre, when in 2017 (lower) they were well left of it – almost half way to the edge of the grid. The Liberals have in 3 years been pushed further right of the “centre”. Did the parties move, or the axes? Are these axes meant to represent some societal or political consensus? If not, then what are they?

The social axis is even more interesting. The Liberals are shown not shifting relative to this axis (which is arguable when comparing Christy Clark to Andrew Wilkinson in their ability to keep Laurie Throness quiet), where both the NDP and the Greens have been shifted markedly away from the “progressive” end of the spectrum towards the centre. I was bothered by where the Andrew Weaver Greens were placed on the 2017 grid, especially relative to the NDP because their policy and messaging simply did not reflect that, but the 2020 Greens under Furstenau have clearly staked out a more progressive agenda which simply isn’t reflected in this graphic.

The shift in Party poles vs. axes between the 2017 and 2020 CBC Vote Compass.

Put it all together, and the Vote Compass is showing a shift of all parties and me, or of the centre. Is this real? Is this an artifact of public opinion, of party policy shifts, of media bias, or just a freak of an algorithm?

Yes, I am reading too much into this. But political communications is all about reading too much into things. Now go vote.

Magic Bus

Here’s my get out and vote blog post, which often turns into a do more than vote blog post.

I heard from a few different sources this year a metaphor of democracy being like a bus, not a limo service. A bus doesn’t pick you up at your door, take the fastest route, and drop you at your destination. It can’t, because everyone else in your community needs the bus as well. The way public transit works is you find the bus that does the best job of getting you from where you are to near where you want to be, and take that ride. So it is with politics. It would be very rare for any party to promise 100% of what you want this or any election. It can’t, because government is a complicated thing with countless competing priorities, and governance is managing the balance between those priorities. Promising you everything means they will fail to deliver anything. You need to find the party (or candidate) that is going as close to the direction you want to go, and get on that bus. Because democracy is a collective action, even while voting is a solitary one.

I like that metaphor simile. But I want to expand on it, as is my wont.

When you rely on Transit, you don’t just jump on the first bus that comes along, or the bus your dad used to ride. If you don’t know what direction you want to go, it is tempting to hop on the shiniest bus. Without knowing the routes, however, you may be getting on a bus that suddenly turns down a strange road and leaves you lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Spend a few minutes looking at platforms (they are all available on line), look at a few candidates, see what hey have to say and what their resumes tell you about their priorities. Ask your friends who they support and why. Doing your research beforehand is a really important part of the voting process, and increases the chances you will be satisfied with your choice, win or lose.

That said, voting is only the first part. Public Transportation is public, because it belongs to us. So does our democracy. We have the ability, and I would argue the responsibility, to assure the routes available meet our needs. We need to engage in our democracy even when the election is not on to assure the direction the parties go reflect where we want to go.

That means holding elected officials to account and staying informed on their progress. It also means providing positive and critical feedback to the elected officials you support and their parties, be they in Government or Opposition. If you have time, get involved in that party you supported, plop down your $10 to join the party and help them make decisions about their policy direction. Help them select candidates. If you like Party X but don’t like their position on Y, you need to let them know. The best way to change their policy on Y – the best way to get the bus route moved closer to your destination – is to be an engaged member outside of the election cycle.

Finally, one of the unique things visitors note about Vancouver is our tendency to thank the bus driver as we disembark. I think it is important that we thank the people who make our democracy work. The candidates who put their ideas to the public test, and put themselves into the public light. I know it is not an easy thing to do, the praise is fleeting and the criticism is internalized. It is a sacrifice that needs to be acknowledged and appreciated. There are also teams of volunteers who make the campaigns run, from lawn sign installers to phone callers to pamphlet stuffers to financial agents. Our democracy wouldn’t run without them, but we rarely note their efforts. Thanks, everyone.

So get out and vote, but also do the rest of the work to be a good transit rider, and a good citizen. We are all on the bus together, so mask up, be informed, be engaged, and be thankful.


I don’t really remember when I first met Kevin, it was long enough ago. His brother and I were thrown together on a curling team at the Burnaby Winter Club back in the mid-90s, and have been curling together (off and on and the geography of our lives allowed) since. I suspect Kev joined us some time in the late 1990s, but I surely must have met him before that. I guess that doesn’t matter.

Kev and I were the same age, about the same skill level at curling, and I liked being his teammate. Both on the ice where our kinda-serious-but-not-good-enough-to-take-ourselves-too-seriously attitudes were aligned, and in the club after games. I may have been more serious back then, but he was probably more realistic. Through various men’s and mixed set-ups and in random bonspiels, Kevin and I played together a lot for a few years, almost always with his brother. When his time became more precious with family and stuff, he concentrated on mixed and we didn’t play together for a few years, but a couple of years ago, he joined us again playing men’s at the Royal City Club. Honestly, he was throwing better than ever.

Well, maybe not ever. There was that season at the Coquitlam Curling Club back in 2004 when we all seemed to come together in March. A team firing on all cylinders, we managed to win the Club Championship (a just-ok team in a just-ok club), and qualified through the regional club championship tournament to represent at the Pacific International Cup. At the time, this was about the biggest competition a club curler without dreams of Brier glory could qualify for. We played the national teams of Pacific Rim nations, and even won a few games. We weren’t just good, we were just good enough. Our hungover come-from-behind upset of Team Korea will probably be the highlight of my curling career. But that’s a story for over beers, shared often. We got the patch.

The thing is, the reason Kev was such a great teammate wasn’t the wins (they were too few and far between to sustain us), it was the celebration/ lamentation time of post-game beers. We always laughed, at ourselves, at each other. We debated the state of the world, and the obvious solutions. It is worth noting that Kev and I both had a lot of political opinions, free to share, louder as the night went on, but *never*agreed on politics. We had fun finding the flaws in each other’s ideas, sometimes sulked in our beers when it was us who got called out. Always we laughed.

For a while, we were members of what I sometimes called our Winter Triathlon Team: curling, hockey and poker. We played them all with varying skill, mostly as excuses to drink beer and scotch and bust balls. Kev was easily the best poker player of our group, just a solid, smart player of the cards without the aggressive bluster of his brother or my over-optimistic dumb luck. He was always just there with a surprising number of chips at the end.

This was offset by him being – and I apply no undeserved hyperbole here – the worst hockey player I have ever seen. He only seemed to be able to glide with one skate, pushing himself along with the other in a curler-type gait. He stopped when he got to the boards, the stick was really only there to provide a third point for balance. His zone play was similar to the tykes who play during the first period break at Canucks games, but he wasn’t as fast. Kev was bad at hockey, but he showed up every week and played, and we were lucky to have him on our team. We laughed.

Shortly before the entire Gong Show Hockey Club enterprise fell apart, he appeared not in the dressing room, but in the stands – and I still remember the game. His girlfriend wearing an engagement ring.

Kev, in those early years I knew him, didn’t have great luck in love. Girlfriends, but nothing that stuck. Then he met Jen, and it was over. They were married in a year, he traded his sports car (“more show than go”) for a minivan and the kids started arriving. I saw him less, but it was clear he was never so happy as when he was spending time with Jen and the kids. He grew up in a close family, they all worked the family business and his brother and his parents seemed like his best friends. Maybe its the Mennonite roots, but I think having his own family was the part of his life that mattered most to him. Being a dad was what he most wanted to spent time doing. You ask him about the kids, and you got that Kev smile. Contentment might be the right word.

When Kev got sick a couple of years ago, it looked really bad right away. Every cancer journey is different, and his was a fucking roller coaster. Bad diagnosis, great response to therapy, sudden setback, excellent response to a new drug, bad side effects, the whole shitty range. Through it all, he was forever pragmatic. It seemed he was the most positive guy in the room, and at times it looked like he may pull it off. In the end, best of science had no more help to give. He died at home this week in relative comfort with his family he loved so much by his side. There is some mercy in that.

Fifty-one years isn’t enough time.

Budget Survey

The City’s Budget is something everyone has an opinion on, even those who don’t think of it in that way. When people say “the City should fix the sidewalks”, “do more about homelessness”, “get back to the basics” or “extend the Hume Pool season”, they are making comments about the budget. However, few discussions around services put budget at the centre of the item, except at the time of the year when the Council is asked to set a tax rate for the year ahead.

We have always asked people to comment on the budget, and every year there is a public report and Opportunity to be Heard on the final budget decisions (always framed around “next year’s tax increase”), but this is commonly after all of the heavy lifting of putting the budget together has happened, and the details of how we got there are not transparent enough for meaningful input.

The result of this, as I have previously joked, is that the community spends 11 months asking the City (and Council) to do more things, then spends a month telling us to not raise taxes to fund those things. Local governments really aren’t able to operate at deficits, so this form of feedback is not particularly useful for guiding policy. Part of that is because much of how the City’s budget works is arcane, and we need to change this.

One effort the City has undertaken in the last couple of years has been to try to make our budgeting process less arcane. Followers of this Blog (hi Mom!) know this is an interest of mine – I spend probably more time than is useful talking about taxes and busting some of the myths about how New Westminster taxes compare to our cohort. Past of that effort was my own research to better understand how our budget works so I can make more informed decisions about it. Thing is, Municipal finance is a complicated thing.

This was identified a few years ago as an area where the City should improve its Public Engagement efforts, and over the last couple of budget cycles we have been changing how we ask for input to the budget. Doing it sooner, adding an education component to guide more useful feedback, and trying to get a more diverse group of residents and stakeholders involved in the conversation.

We are at the beginning phases of the 2021 budget process. It starts around now and works towards a final budget being prepared in early May. This is obviously a different year than most, as both our revenues and our expenses were very different than we projected prior to the pandemic. Rectifying that in our 2021 budget, and understanding how to project forward with an uncertain pandemic recovery is going to be a challenge. However, we are still ramping up our public engagement on this topic. If you are the kind of person who read this far into this blog, you probably are the kind of person who has feedback to the City on the budget process.

Here is what you can do:

Go to the city’s Budget Engagement website. There you will see links to background information you may want. You will also find links to:

Watch the webinar and/or read the power point deck, again to provide a bit more background, and to hear a Q&A session with residents asking questions you may have had.

Most importantly, fill out the survey! There is a relatively quick survey to get your initial feedback about how the City should prioritize spending in the year ahead, and to see how the public feels about that services/costs balance that the City is always trying to manage.

As I mentioned above, the City is really trying to get a wider variety of feedback on this stuff. I know there are a few people out there who fill out every public engagement opportunity the City has (sit down, Brad!), but I am hoping those of you who are reluctant to spend 5 minutes on an online survey will take the time, or that you vocal types will, after filling it out yourself, pass this on to some other people in your household or social circle to add diversity to the voices we hear from. The survey is open until October 18th, so this is a great family Thanksgiving activity!

All I’m asking for…

Transportation is one of the biggest files in provincial government. Though annual operational spending on the operations of transportation (transit, ferries, roads total just over $2 Billion) in BC is an order of magnitude lower than the Big Three of Health, Education, and Social Services, the combined annual capital expenditure of transport and transit (also about $2 Billion) is actually higher than any other service area in provincial government.

Transportation spending and policy also have huge impacts on two of the issues that all (rational) parties agree are top-of-the-heap right now: housing affordability and climate action. So why is there so little meaningful transportation policy, aside from stuck-in-the-1950s asphalt-based solutions? The two major parties do admittedly spend a little time arguing about who will build the shiniest new freeways or save drivers the most on their insurance costs, and the Greens transportation policy is a vapour-thin “support” for sustainable transportation. It’s dismal.

This is not to say the two major parties are equivalent on transportation. Far from it. The BC Liberals spent 16 years doing everything they could to punt transit spending down the road, including wasting everyone’s time with a referendum to decide if we would fund such a basic public good while racing to fund the biggest freeway boondoggle in BC history, and promising to fund another. The NDP, for as much as I hate their stubborn refusal to understand road pricing and its necessity in growing and constrained urban areas, have at last prioritized transit expansion.

The best evidence for this is that the TransLink area is receiving much more federal capital funding per capita than any other region in Canada right now, partly because we had the shovel-ready “green” projects, but mostly because our Provincial Government quickly committed to matching funding at a scale no other Province would. SkyTrain to Langley and UBC fans may (rightly, in my mind) argue this is still not enough or soon enough, but it is more than any other region in the country is building right now.

But that’s not what I’m here to whinge about.

As vital as transit is to our growing region, it is the Active Transportation realm where we are falling behind our global cohort. This last year has made it painfully clear to local governments in urban areas. As we shift how we live, shop, and work in the post-COVID recovery, and as there has been a quiet revolution in new technology for local transportation, cities simply cannot keep up. We spent the best part of a century reshaping our Cities around the needs of the private automobile, but we won’t have decades to undo that. We need to quickly re-think our infrastructure, and re-think our policy regime if we are going to meet the demands of the 21st century urban centre and our commitments to address GHG emissions. This is our challenge. The province could help.

I see no sign that any provincial government understands that, and none look prepared to address it. The NDP are the only one that has put together stand-alone policy on active transportation, so kudos there, but it simply does not go far enough. No party in this election is talking about helping local governments make the transportation shift that we need to make, or what the vision forward is.

So now that we are through the first part of the election and are deep into the lets-try-to-keep-them-awake-with-Oppo-research-mud-slinging second act, I thought I would sketch out my ideal Active Transportation Policy. Free for the taking for a Provincial Party that cares about the transportation needs of the 65% of British Columbians who live in large urban areas (though these policies may be even more useful for the people who live in smaller communities less able to fund their own Active Transportation initiatives). Share and enjoy!

The Provincial MOTI should have a separate fund for Active Transportation infrastructure in municipal areas. Using the projected cost of a single freeway expansion project (the Massey Tunnel replacement) as a scale, $4 Billion over 10 years is clearly something parties think is affordable. This would represent about 15% of MOTI capital funding over that decade.

If handed out through grants to appropriate projects to local governments across the province on a per-capita basis, that would mean up to $57 Million for New West – enough to complete a true AAA separated cycle network, triple our annual sidewalk and intersection improvement program, and still have enough left over to pay for the Pier-to-Landing route. It means Burnaby would have the money to bring the BC Parkway up to 21st century standards and connect their other greenways, it would mean Richmond could finally afford to fix the bucolic death trap that is River Road.

Give the Cities the resources to make it happen, and it would make British Columbia the North American leader in active transportation infrastructure. For the cost of one silly bridge.

Active Transportation Guidelines
Update and adapt the Active Transportation Design Guide with new sections to address new needs in transportation: new devices, new technologies, and reduced speeds of automobiles.

Make the guidelines standards that local governments must meet to receive funding above, and make requirements for all new MOTI infrastructure in the Province. No more bullshit hard shoulders as bike lanes, fund infrastructure that works.

Repeal and replace the 1950s Motor Vehicle Act following the recommendations of the Road Safety Law Reform Group of British Columbia, starting with the re-framing as a Road and Streets Safety Act to emphasize the new multi-modal use of our transportation realm.

Immediately reduce the maximum speed limits on any urban road without a centreline to 30km/h, and give local governments the authority to increase this limit where appropriate.

Introduce measures to regulate and protect the users of bicycles, motorized mobility aids, e-bikes, scooters and other new mobility technology, including a Safe Passing law and regulations towards the clear separation of cycles and motorized cycles from pedestrian spaces along with clearly mandated rules and responsibilities for use to reduce conflict in multi-use spaces.

Implement driver knowledge testing with licence renewal. The Motor Vehicle Act has changed in the 30 years since I was last asked to test my knowledge of it (self-test – what are elephant feet, and what do they mean?) and it will be changing much more in years to come. Written/in office testing for all drivers with every 5-year renewal is a first step, and road testing for those with poor driving records will do a lot to bring back a culture of driving as a responsibility not a right.

Fund cycling and pedestrian safety program in all schools, similar to the cycling training the City of New Westminster funds through HUB.

A comprehensive review of the fine and penalty structure for Motor Vehicle Act (or it’s replacement) violations, to emphasize more punitive measures for those who violate the Act in ways that endanger vulnerable road users.

Empower local governments to install intersection and speed enforcement camera technology and provide a cost recovery scheme for installation of this type of automated enforcement for municipalities who choose to use them.

That’s it. Engineering, education, and enforcement. Operational costs are mostly directly recoverable, and the capital investment is not only small compared to the MOTI capital budget, it is in scale with the mode share of active transportation in urban areas. The legislative changes are not free, but the resultant savings to ICBC and the health care system of reduced injury and death should be significant.

We can do these things. We should do these things. Our cities will be safer, more livable, and less polluting. This is an area where BC can lead, we just need someone willing to lead.

Council – Oct 5, 2020

It was a busy September, and one that went by fast, but now that Council has its groove back, we went so far as to have Public Delegations for the first time since society fell apart back in March. We also had a relatively tight agenda:

The first item was Unfinished business postponed form the post-fire meeting of September 14:

Overdose Prevention Site and Safe Supply Program: Update
The City has been addressing the Overdose / Poisoned Drug Supply Crisis in the limited ways we can as a local government. Much of this is not readily visible to most residents, such as supporting making Naloxone more readily available in the community and changing the way first responders respond to overdose reports. Fundamentally a public health concern, we recognize that the provincial government needs to lead here and have the resources of two Ministries to apply to this challenge. However, we have a New Westminster Overdose Community Action Team established in 2018, and have been taking many measures informed by them, which are reported out in this staff report. Clearly, it is not enough.

With this in mind, I was grateful to receive a report in Council from representatives of Fraser Health to talk about their role, and hoe we can work together to implement proven life-saving measures of overdose prevention sites and a secure safe supply. These are vitally needed in New Westminster (and indeed around the region), as the illicit drug supply is still poisoned and the risk for people who use these substances is still increasing. It appears that funding will be made available for a combined safe consumption site and health contact centre, and the search is currently on for a non-profit provider. No location has yet been determined, and there will likely need to be a Temporary Use Permit or Rezoning to facilitate this use, so more to come. There are also ongoing shifts in how the safe supply program is being rolled out, and this fundamental shift of how we address opioids and stimulants in our community could be the thing that turns the tide on the death rate related to the poisoned supply.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Release of Resolutions from Closed Meeting Related to DreamsWon Project Proposal
Not much to say about this. A Developer has some (at times unclear) ideas about a major development in the Fraserview area, and has been communicating with people in the neighbourhood about it. However, the City has not yet received a formal application on that project, so we can’t really respond – and certainly cannot enter into any kind of partnership deal with the developer – until we get a submission to the planning department, preferably one that meets the requirements for a Pre-Application Review.

Small Sites Affordable Housing Initiative: Connaught Heights Next Steps
As part of our Small Sites program where affordable housing projects have been built on City lands in Downtown and Queensborough, staff evaluated two bare City-owned lots in Connaught Heights to see if a project could fit there. Turns out that the Crown Land Grant for one of the pieces of property was not registered on Title in the 1960s (therefore, a preliminary title search by the City did not disclose it), and was not discharged as planned back in the 1970s (for reasons unknown). So the property at 2038 Ninth Ave is encumbered. Short of buying the land grant out, it would be hard for a non-profit housing provider to use this land for an affordable housing project. So staff is going to go back to applicants to see if a smaller project can be penciled out on the adjacent unencumbered piece of land. If not, then we will put our energy and time into other sites in the City (though we are running out of City-owned lands to put housing on).

Metro Vancouver Sewer Inspections: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Some types of sewer work can only happen at night when flows are low. We need to give a Construction Noise exemption to allow that work to happen at night when flow are low.

User Fees and Rates Review
Aside from taxes, the City collects fees for various things, from cemetery services to parking meters. We review all of these fees every year and they are adjusted to keep up with inflation (e.g. increasing Highway Use fees by 2% in 2020), to better reflect the cost of providing the service (e.g. increased cost for replacement garbage carts this year), or just to better reflect policy goals behind the fees (increasing annual permit fees for preferential car storage on public space as per Council’s 2019 policy review). We need a Bylaw to officially set these fees for the 2021 budget year.

Recruitment 2020: Appointment of Grant Committee Members
The City has streamlined its Grants process, and now has three grant streams. When applications for these grants are received, we have a Committee of citizens review them with the help of staff and make recommendations to Council on how to allocate grant funds. We had a call for volunteers, and have no appointed members to those committees.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our regular report on the Task Forces we set up to address COVID response in the City sees that many of them are winding down activity or are just tracking along as needed. One concern is that funds from senior governments that were supporting some of the programs for vulnerable populations are starting to dry up, and we will need to make decisions about continuing some of these programs.

Update to Interim COVID-19 Food Truck Policy
We will continue the reduced Food Truck program until spring. I’m a little disappointed that we are not more supportive of street activating initiatives at a time when people are shifting how they use public spaces. I fundamentally don’t believe that a healthy Food Truck economy in the City takes away from other food service businesses, but actually enhances them by creating a more vibrant food scene. My view of this is that we went through a multi-year community and business engagement process to set the Food Truck Program up, and I hate shifting gears on it just as it starts to build steam. That said the request here is to extend the step-back until the spring, and continue to allow the few Food Trucks that are already licensed to continue to operate with minor restrictions. I hope by the spring when we are next going to review this policy, we hear more from the community about what food trucks and street activation by local businesses mean to the community. In other words, if you like food trucks, better let Council know.

Relocation of Digital Signage as a Result of the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project, and Related Public Outreach Program
I hate these signs. I said so back (before I was elected) when they were installed, and I’ve not wavered from that. They are eyesores, an intrusion into our public realm, and create strange political controversy whenever someone decides to advertise something that offends other people but nonetheless meets federal advertising guidelines which ends up putting City leaders or bureaucrats in to the role of moral arbiter of free speech. Mostly, it offends me that public resources are used to suck up cheap advertising revenue to pay for public services because we won’t raise taxes to pay for those community services. But indeed they pull in revenue, $1.4M in 2019 (which is equal to about 1.6% of property taxes we collect in the City). So here we are.

As the Pattullo construction is happening, we need to move one of the signs. Staff and the sign operation company found a location that met the needs of the contract, but this relocation still presents to me problems, as the new location to me appears to shine into the residential properties in a way the previous location did not. Council asked staff to do further review to determine if there are better options.

Finally, we had a couple of Bylaws for Adoption:

Heritage Designation (219 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8065, 2020
Heritage Designation (221 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8070, 2020

As discussed last Public Hearing, these Bylaws that afford permanent Heritage Protection to two homes re-located to a recently-subdivided lot in Queens Park were adopted by Council.

Next council meeting is after Thanksgiving and after another significant event. Until then, be safe, be calm, be kind, and vote!

CEERS 2020

We had a report at the September 28th Council meeting that I mentioned in my blog, but skipped past the details of, because I think it was too important a report to bury in a long boring Council Report. This is the Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy (CEERS).

The City has two roles in addressing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting the Paris Agreement goals that the city, the province, and the nation have all stated they intend to meet. One is making it possible for our community (residents, businesses, industry) to meet the goals, which is addressed through a Community Energy and Emissions Plan (“CEEP”). The second is managing our own so-called corporate emissions, those created by the City in operating its own buildings and fleet. The CEERS is our updated plan to deal with this second part.

This CEERS replaces an older plan that was adopted in 2008 and reduced our emission by 12% over the last decade. CEERS 2020 outlines the strategy to get us to our newly stated and ambitious goals – reduce emissions to 45% below our 2010 baseline by 2030 as the first step towards a 100% reduction by 2050. I think the most important part of any climate policy is that we set goals within a viewable horizon – ones we need to take action on *now* to achieve, because as bold as 100% by 2050 is, the 30 year timeframe gives too much cover to those willing to kick climate action down the road.

This Strategy lays out a clear path to get our building and fleet emissions to our 2030 goal. Replacing the Canada Games Pool with a zero-carbon building will be a huge step, but there are 13 other buildings in the City that would see energy and emissions reduction measures. This would reduce our building emissions by 55%, and would pay us back in energy savings within 10 years. We are also going to be taking a much more aggressive approach to electrification of our vehicle fleet to reduce those emissions by 30%, both by buying electric vehicles, and by updating our infrastructure to provide charging to these vehicles. With these two strategies and continues improvement on smaller-emission sources like street lighting and wastewater, we can get to our 45% goal by 2030.

That doesn’t mean we will be done by 2030. We will then have the harder work to do to find a path to carbon-neutrality that we are aspiring towards in our Bold Step #1. Things like deep retrofits of some other buildings in the City, exploring alternate energy sources (renewable gas, hydrogen, solar, etc.) and creating an offset program through reforestation or other strategies. We can also anticipate that technology will catch up to our goals in the decades ahead. For example, it is simply not viable to have all-electric or hydrogen fuel cell fire truck fleet today, but we will be relying on those types of changes to emerge after 2030 when our deeper reductions are needed. So if we are going beyond just picking the low-hanging fruit now, we are still harvesting the ripe fruit.

There is a lot of great policy in here aside from the just some purchasing. We are going to start internally pricing carbon at $150/Tonne. This means we will account for our internal emissions, and use that value to inform our purchasing programs for new equipment. This value (about $650,000/yr based on 2020 emissions) will go into a Climate Reserve Fund to help pay for carbon reduction projects. This both provides internal incentive for departments to find lower-emission approaches (as the cost comes out of your departments budget) and provides us a clear fund and budget line item to apply to emergent projects.

Overall, the cost of implementing this plan is about $13.5M, though much of it is already in our 5-year capital plan. To put that number into context, we annually spend about $700,000 on fossil fuels (gasoline, diesel, propane) for our current fleet, and energy to heat and service our two dozen buildings (pools, rec centres, City Hall, etc.) is about $1.2 Million per year. It doesn’t take complicated math to recognize that reductions in these costs will rapidly offset the capital costs invested today. With interest rates as lows they are, and senior governments telegraphing their intent to support this type of green infrastructure renewal with grants, the time is now. The City Council of 2030 will be saving a lot of money because of the commitment we make today.

We are going to get there. We can get there. To delay any further would be irresponsible.

UA Public Hearing

We had another public hearing last week, this one on a Wednesday. As we were still getting our remote public hearing process smoothed out, and we were not sure how many people were going to show up for a few of these items, staff decided the prudent more wat to split the hearing into two nights to assure more people had the opportunity to take part.

In the end, it went really smoothly, and both people “Zooming” in and those phoning in seemed to navigate the process well, so that’s a positive. Now for the ranty part:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8211, 2020 re 466 Rousseau Street: Urban Academy
The application was to change the language of the zoning bylaw specific to this site to allow an increase in student space for the relatively new Urban Academy private school from 450 students to 550 students. This would include a small addition to the top floors of the building which are consistent with the existing zoning, and the use is already consistent with the OCP – so the application was really about student numbers, not building shape or use.

We received about 50 pieces of correspondence, and had about two dozen people speak to the Public Hearing. The overwhelming majority of both were parents of students at Urban Academy who supported the increase. The smaller number of people who opposed the project were Lower Sapperton residents who universally spoke about traffic issues related to the existing school.

I am not worried about the changes in the building, as they are consistent with the Official Community Plan land use designation for the site and density permitted under the existing Comprehensive Development District.

My read of the traffic study is that UA is mostly compliant with the conditions set out in the previous rezoning, though a small number of non-complaint members of the community are creating some issues on Rousseau Street. I cannot help but point out that this is the issue in every school in New Westminster, be it public or private. Like most residents, I see it every day in school zones, and we hear constant complaints from neighbors and concerned parents that *other parents* cannot be trusted to follow rules or respect public safety when dropping off or picking up their kids at schools. In my (bike) commute, the most dangerous place is always the school zone I have to pass through. That is clearly not unique to this school, or the New West. What is unique is that UA is committing to more action to address it than any other school in our community. I have no confidence it can be fixed in any school in our community until people in cars stop driving dangerously, but the trend is moving the other direction on that front, so what can we do?

What we cannot do is stop providing schools because drivers cannot be mindful of the vulnerable road users around them. I think this school (along with all the others) have work to do to improve compliance. I think that we need stronger enforcement of driving laws by the police and greater penalties for these seemingly harmless “little” violations of traffic laws that accumulate into a dangerous situation as part of a larger effort to shift driving the culture back to one of responsibility instead of privilege. I would 100% support making all street parking (including pickup and drop off) illegal on any street abutting a school property and the School district funding the kind of Transportation Demand Management for their staff that we are asking of Urban Academy and Fraser Health. But if people get angry about school drop off safety, wait till you see how they react if we take away an iota of free car storage.

Other people’s cars suck. That is the one constant in local government. Everyone wants traffic “fixed”, but very few are willing to accept the solutions. or to even accept that they are the traffic they want fixed. Based on the outrage many comfortably car-reliant UA neighbours expressed when the City dared to even slightly reduce the incentive to drive on a single block of an adjacent street, the bigger solutions seem very far out of reach for us. All that to say, we are not going to fix traffic by preventing this school from having more students, and 100 more students is not going to make the traffic any more dangerous.

Now, onto the slightly more veiled comments made during the public hearing about private schools. I don’t like them. I am irritated that public funds support them, and infuriated that Christy Clark changed the rules so we cannot collect property taxes from them. But there is clearly no provincial party brave enough to do anything about that, so they are here to stay. What I will not accept is people asking a local city council to put impediments into their path as some sort of valid way to address this issue.

I think it is inappropriate to use zoning as a way to block a perfectly legitimate business from operating because we don’t like the brand of cars the customers drive. My role as a City Councilor in reviewing a zoning application is to manage land use. We have already agreed that “school” is an appropriate land use for this site, and if we agree that 550 students is an appropriate size of school for the site, then raising concerns about the erosion of public education is a policy download to a city council that already has enough to do, and is something you should instead be demanding from your provincial government. There’s an election on, this is a great time to make that case. If you start a petition, let me know where to sign.

Ultimately, this is a zoning and land use question. We have already agreed it is appropriate for a school, I feel that an urban campus 400m from a SkyTrain and major transportation hub is the right place for a school this size, and so I supported the bylaw. Council voted in a split vote to support the application.

Council – Sept 28 2020 (pt2)

We had two (2!) Public Hearings this week, one on Monday along with our Regular Meeting, and another on Wednesday. Here is the business conducted on Monday:

Heritage Designation (219 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8065, 2020 and
Heritage Designation (221 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8070, 2020

This is a bit of a complicated project, several years in the making. The owner of a property in Queens Park had an anomalously large lot, with a preserved heritage home on the Queens Ave end. The owner went through a long process to subdivide the lot into three parts, with two smaller lots facing Manitoba Street, then re-located two heritage homes (one from another part of Queens Park, one from Vancouver) to those lots.

The uniqueness of this project led to Heritage Revitalization Agreements and Designation as being good tools to manage it from a planning perspective. This step is to formally designate the two new properties as Heritage and formalize the Heritage Conservation Plans.

We had no speakers to this Public hearing and received no correspondence on it. In the meeting following Public Hearing, Council moved to support Third Reading of these Bylaws.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Retail Location – 320 Sixth Street) No. 8217, 2020
The owner of the Pub and Liquor Store at 320 Sixth Street applied for a cannabis retail location back during the first call for applications. The process the City went through at that time was to “fast track” one application per commercial district, and this application was one of three that met all of the criteria for Uptown. However, it was outscored in evaluation by another applicant, and it was not approved at the time. A year later, that other applicant has told the City they are not proceeding due to issues with their landlord, so in the spirit of the original intention of the process, the City asked the other two applicants for Uptown if they were able to resume their application process. Of the two, this was the only short-listed applicant able to move forward at this time.

This application would see part of the liquor retail location re-purposed for cannabis sales, as it is not permitted for liquor and cannabis to be sold through the same doorway, it is ok for it to be sold through adjacent doorways. Because government.

We received five pieces of correspondence opposed to this application, a couple opposed because of adjacency with incompatible uses, one for unstated reasons. We had a half a dozen people address Council, staff and ownership of the existing pub in favour, one neighbor and a few representatives of the District Labour Council opposed. In my 6 years on Council (yes, I was endorsed by the District Labour Council in both elections), this is the first time I recall members of the District Labour Council indicating their position in regards to a Council vote.

Regardless, Council voted to endorse this zoning amendment. I voted in favour because it is an appropriate location for this type of land use, and met the criteria that we set out previously for Cannabis retail. In the subsequent meeting, we gave this Bylaw Third Reading and Adoption.

After the Public Hearings, we had two Opportunities to be Heard

Business License Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Edibles) No. 8216, 2020
This is the change to the Business License Bylaw that was needed to bring how we regulate cannabis retail in line with federal and provincial regulations in regards to the sale of edibles. Playing a bit of catch-up here.

We received no correspondence on this, and no-one came to speak to Council on the issue. Council voted to adopt the Bylaw.

Development Variance Permit DVP00682 for 811 Columbia Street
The owner of the Landmark Cinema wants to replace their existing signage with a slightly different one. Though it is very similar to the existing one, and the same size overall (though an extra swoosh is added), it doesn’t conform with our Sign Bylaw, and a variance is required.

We received two letters in opposition from neighbouring residential property owners who were concerned about the light intrusion. But the new sign will not be (meaningfully) larger or brighter than the existing sign. No-one came to speak to the item, and Council voted to grant the variance.

We had a second Public Hearing on Wednesday, but I haven’t written that one up yet, so next time…

Council – Sept 28 2020 (pt1)

We were back to business at New West Council in another virtual meeting, this one including a Public Hearing that went fairly smoothly overall for such a challenging format (and I will talk about those in my next post). But first we went though a significant agenda.

We started with some Unfinished Business deferred from the meeting two weeks ago:

Council endorsement of Tourism New Westminster’s application for the Municipal & Regional District Tax and Five-Year Strategic Plan
This has been a long time coming. Tourism New West has been limping along doing great work with uncertain funding, and the City has been stepping in for several years with support funding to keep them operating. Most municipalities have access to a “hotel room tax” (officially, a Municipal and Regional District Tax) to fund tourism promotion programs, but there has been some resistance in the local hotel sector to support this. Those hurdles have been cleared, and now TNW can rely on a more secure funding source, and can activate a more robust long-term plan.

This also opens up a potential for the City to start collecting MRDT from online accommodation providers operating in the City (VRBO, AirBnB etc.) which can be directed to our Affordable Housing programs. But more detail to come to that, because it is not clear to me how we collect taxes from a business sector that is not strictly legal in the City.

COVID-19 Pandemic Emergency, Second Wave Operational Response & Business Continuity Plan
Each department in the City has put together an Operational Response and Business Continuity Plan (ORBCP) to address the risk of second wave impacts and shifting Public Health directives. Plans have been developed on scenarios where the Province stays at Phase 3 for a while with some managed outbreaks, and scenarios where the Province moves back to Phase 2 or Phase 1.

There is A LOT here, a great 145 page read if you are into operational plans, because the City has a lot of operations. Hopefully none of it will see operation, but it is important to get this stuff figured out beforehand so we can assure we have the resources required and ability to react to second, third, or subsequent waves. The vaccine is still a long way off, folks.

Advisory Committees during COVID-19 Pandemic
These are a bit complicated. Many advisory meetings had to be cancelled during the pandemic, and it is around now we would start planning for replacing committee members. Staff recommended we simply do a one-time roll-over and ask all current appointees if they want to serve for another year and avoid the entire overturn work load.

Brewery District (Wesgroup Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The ongoing construction at the Brewery District is going to include undergrounding of electrical wires along Brunette Ave, which is work that has to happen at night because Brunette Ave has to be closed. And who cares about livability when traffic has to flow?

Environment and Climate Advisory Committee: Importance of Advancing the 7 Bold Steps
We have an advisory committee to on climate action, and they wanted to send a message to Council: We need to not lose momentum on the 7 bold Steps, despite COVID and potential financial uncertainty. I agree with them.

Local ban on rodenticides
Councillor Nakagawa put forward the following motion:

THAT New Westminster City Council supports a complete ban on anticoagulant rodenticides on all City of New Westminster properties; and
THAT the City writes to the Province requesting that they ban anticoagulant rodenticides; and
THAT council directs staff to communicate the harmful impacts of anticoagulant rodenticides to residents and businesses in New Westminster and to share information about alternatives.

This is pretty straight-forward, and aligns with actions happening in municipalities across the province, with some advocacy from the SPCA and ecology groups. Council was unanimously supportive.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update on the workings of our Pandemic teams in the City. Lots of detail in here, read if you are interested. We are looking at a possible COVID testing site in the City, have a new home for the Food Bank, etc. lots here to read if you are interested!

Extension of Sidewalk/Street Patios and Parklets to Support Business Recovery
Like several other communities, we are extending the patio program that was initially intended to expire at the end of October to align with the Provincial liquor license “TESA” changes. We are extending for a year (to October 2021) which aligns with recent updates ot the TESA, and gives us time to put together a more permanent solution through Bylaws. We are also making it easier to install awnings/shelters and heaters. There are a few public safety issues here that staff need to work through on a case-by-case issue with the owners, but we are giving them the authority to do that.

Re-opening Council Chamber to the Public
We are still figuring out how to unpack the changes that the Pandemic caused to how Council meets. We are going to continue to meet virtually, as it is working well and is really the best way to assure we are keeping our staff safe, and deal with the Public Health orders. Remember, public gatherings of over 50 are still restricted, and if we let one person in, we need to let anyone in, and that means we have no way to assure that a group that assembles is less than 50 people. We can’t say “only the first 50 can come in”.

So we are going to do Public Hearings and Opportunities to be Heard virtually (as we did today), giving people the ability to video-conference in or phone in. For people who are not comfortable with those technologies (phones?), we will have a process where they can come in to City Hall and staff will record a video or audio presentation for them to present in the Council Meeting.

Alternative Approval Process – Grimston Park Amendment Bylaw No. 8219, 2020
As mentioned last meeting, here were some land transfers related to the re-configuration of the Queensborough Bridge connections back in 2008, and the installations of the new car underpass on Stewardson last year that need formalization, and we need “opinion of electors” for this. So we are launching Alternate Approval Process to ask if people have opinions about this. If 10% of the voting population (a little more than 5,000 people) fill out forms to express concern about this, we go to referendum. It’s a silly process, but that’s the law. If you want us to have a referendum on this, please let us know.

Corporate Energy & Emission Reduction Strategy 2020
The City has two roles in addressing greenhouse gas emissions and our responsibility to meet our Paris Agreement goals and plan for a zero carbon future. One is managing our “corporate” emissions – those created by the City in operating its building and fleets, the other is our “community” emissions – those created by the residents and businesses in the City. This update strategy is our plan to deal with the first. I think I’ll write more about this in a follow-up blog, but good stuff here.

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital) Phase 2 and 3 Redevelopment – Update from September 14 Meeting
This report is a follow-up on our discussion about RCH’s rezoning, and some concerns raised around the transportation connection to the hospital. We are moving along with the rezoning process, but we are continuing to address these issues through the Development Agreement being hammered out between the City and Fraser Health. The reality is we are not going to be making significant changes to the design of the hospital, but FHA are dedicated to significant TDM measures, and the City and FHA will continue to track and address transportation impacts as the project proceeds.

Major Purchases May – August 2020
Every 4 months, we put out a list of all of our major purchases, so you can know what we spend our money on, and so our procurement practices are made more transparent, you can see what sole sourced vs what was tendered trough a competitive bid. The list is a little shorter than usual, as this was peak-Pandemic time, and many projects were stalled for obvious reasons. Still, look at these line items, and you will see government is freaking expensive.

Remembrance Day and Community Events
We need to start planning for events, and deciding what we can and cannot do as we continue to experience pandemic restrictions. Of course, we cannot cancel Remembrance Day, but we will hold a small ceremony at the Cenotaph, and ask that people watch on line instead of attending. We will also light a Christmas tree, but won’t have a lighting ceremony. Let’s hope we can all see each other in 2021.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Permissive Property Tax Exempt Properties – Review of Application Results
There are some lands in the city where we are not permitted to collect property taxes, like churches and (thanks Christy!) Private Schools. There are a second category of properties where the City exercises permissive tax exemptions: we agree not to charge them property taxes because we deem their activity on that property to provide some community benefit, like a seniors home or sports facility or charity.

We have taken the general practice for quite a while to not extend these permissive exemptions, but to continue to grandfather organizations that have received them. That said, we do receive new applications, and are asked to consider them. Annually we review all existing and proposed new exemptions. No changes here.

Correspondence from New West Farmers Market
The Farmers Market are plugging along, but are facing significant challenges with the COVID restrictions and ongoing need to adapt their business plans. They are looking for a little help from the City, which we are referring to our Grant programs.

We then had some Public Hearings and Opportunities to be Heard, but this blog is already too long, so I will post about them in a follow-up. Instead I’ll skip down the Bylaws we adopted that weren’t ones that went to Public Hearing:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Edibles) No. 8215, 2020
The changing of the Zoning Bylaw language to align with federal and provincial regulations in regard to the sale of edibles at cannabis retail locations was adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Removal of Cannabis Retail Location – 532 Sixth Street) No. 8218, 2020
The changing back of a Bylaw from an Uptown property that was approved for cannabis retail, but the owner was not able to make work, was adopted by Council.

Finally a bit of New Business:

One-time grant to Resident Associations Mayor Cote
This motion from the Mayor is a response to a request he received from a couple of RAs to help them pay for legitimate expenses resulting from their need to move their meetings on-line. Approved unanimously by Council.