Council – Sept 21, 2020

Last week we had a special Council meeting. I wasn’t quick to report out on it, because it wasn’t a regular meeting, and it has been a busy two weeks. I was also not sure how to frame it here, because it is a little dull and procedural for anyone not involved. So I’ll use it to talk about Section 57 of the Community Charter, because I think it provides an interesting example of the powers of local government, the limitations on that power, and the discretion Councils have to wield that power.

First off, I don’t want to talk about the three properties that were discussed in the open council meeting on Monday. Though it is important that processes like this occur in an open meeting so that the City is transparent and accountable, I don’t feel it is appropriate for me to discuss the specifics of each case here. Short version is that three properties were found by staff to be in violation of City Bylaws and/or the BC Building Code, and after several attempts to bring the properties in to compliance, Staff asked Council for permission to put notices on the property titles under Section 57 of the Community Charter.

One role of local government in BC is assuring that building standards are maintained so that the buildings in which people live, work, shop, or play are safe for occupation. There are provincial codes for structure (buildings shouldn’t fall down), plumbing and electrical (buildings should not leak, shock occupants, and clean water coming in needs to be separate from sewage going out), and fire codes (buildings should not readily burst into flame, an if they do, people should be able to get out of them).

For the most part, it is during construction and renovation that inspections of buildings occur to assure these standards are met. Of course, many people choose to do renovations without getting appropriate permits (on purpose or out of ignorance of the law) and so not all buildings get the inspections they should. People often buy houses that have “unpermitted” improvements, potentially inheriting an unsafe condition. The soft regulation of secondary suites in the City means that many do not meet standards, especially for fire separation and escape.

Sometimes our fire or building inspectors become aware of these conditions, and they are compelled by their jobs to take action. That usually means telling the owner to fix the non-compliant situation. Our general practice as a City is to inform and incentivize remediation before enforcement. Staff first assure people are aware of the problem and are given the tools to fix it, then encourage them with ramped up urgency to get it done if they do not take measures to fix the situation. Staff have several tools in their toolbox to do this: a letter telling people to do the work, an official order (which is like a letter, but has the threat attached of fines if compliance is not met), all the way up to condemning a building so no-one can legally occupy it. The City can go so far in the most extreme cases to actually do the work to bring a building into compliance and send the bill to the landowner. Obviously, there needs to be a pretty significant life safety or other concern to go that far.

All of the properties discussed in Council last week had some level of enforcement on this spectrum, some for several years.

The step we are taking now is something in the middle of the spectrum. A Section 57 Order on Title is a note the City adds to the official property title registered in Victoria. This means that anyone who looks up the property title will be informed of the non-compliance. This serves two purposes. First it encourages the owner to fix the non-compliance, as the value of the property may be impacted, and it may even impact the insurance and mortgage costs for the owner. Secondly, it warns any potential purchaser that the building is not code compliant and the City knows it is not code compliant, and that the City is working to get it compliant.

Staff needs permission from Council to put a Notice on Title, and the property owner is able to appeal that questions (what we were doing at the meeting last week). The notices are much easier to remove than they are to apply. Do the required repairs and get it inspected by the city, and the City will remove the notice without needing to come to Council again. To be fair, the building repair work needs to be done, and that can sometimes be an expensive prospect, but ultimately the duty of our inspections staff is to assure people live in safe buildings, so getting those repairs done is always the goal.

Council – September 14, 2020

There is so much going on, I almost forgot to write this meeting up. We had a Council Meeting on September 14th, but it was the day after the fire and senior management and the Mayor were pretty busy with various activities around the emergency response, so we cut back on the Agenda, deferring many items to next meeting, and only moved things that were supported on consent or were time-sensitive.

We started with a presentation from the Fire Chief about the Pier Park Fire (which I am not going to try to summarize here, as it is now a few days old and much has evolved, but you can see the video here), then a Presentation from Fraser Health:

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital) Phase 2 and Phase 3 Redevelopment – Update from August 31 Meeting
Last meeting, Council pushed back a bit at Fraser Health on some of the transportation aspects of the RCH expansion projects. Not out of the blue, but based on a couple of years of attempts to shift the thinking of Fraser Health to meet community expectations. I talked about it in that post linked to above, but did not include Council’s request that the Hospital meet the City’s expectations (set out in our zoning Bylaw) for accessible parking allocation.

Fraser Health has come back with a response to our comments. I don’t want to dig too deep here, but you can watch the video if you want all of the details, but on the accessible parking requirement (The City requested 10% of parking be accessible, Fraser Health argues that 5% meets the needs of their customers), Fraser Health notes that this hospital will have much higher accessible parking standards than any other in the province, but more importantly, FH has made a commitment to undergo ongoing monitoring of parking and accessible parking need and adjust with demand.

On the seamless connection to SkyTrain, FH provided some updated drawings and designs that will not turn the hospital around, but will serve to assure an accessible, at-grade connection and appropriate entrance design for the corner of the Hospital near SkyTrain.

On the East Columbia vs. Brunette Ave traffic load concerns, I remain unsatisfied by where the project is, but am satisfied that Fraser Health hears these concerns, and that they will continue to work in good faith with our Staff, TransLink, MOTI, and other partners to develop better long-term transportation plans, and that we will encode this commitment in our Development Agreement process.

I’ve ranted enough about this, but I need to reinforce. My intention is not to stop or get in the way of building the Hospital, but to assure the project is built in a way that serves the community, and meets the stated objectives of the community and of the province. We cannot miss the opportunity to think about what our community and our province will look like in 10 year, 20 years, 30 years if we intend to take the actions that are behind our bold words around climate.

If there is any intention on the part of Fraser Health to act on the commitments this province has made, this country has made, and this city has made, to meet our Paris Targets, we cannot continue to use assumptions that Brunette Avenue will always operate as it does today – carrying 40,000 or 50,000 vehicles a day. We certainly cannot build infrastructure to reinforce those assumptions. If we do, we are just blowing smoke, literally and figuratively.

When I read that “The City is obligated to minimize any negative impacts to the people and goods movement capacity of the corridor”, I retort that the Province is under no such obligation, and they alone have the power to shift this obligation if need be to make this hospital fit better. I challenge this “obligation” as being counter to the obligation we have to future generations to leave them a viable planet. If the time when we are investing more than a billion dollars in infrastructure is not the time to make that shift – when is?

I appreciate and value the serious TDM commitments made by FH, and am comfortable with moving forward with rezoning, but still expect that Fraser Health will endeavor to address these core issues as we go through development agreements.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Appointment of Director of Finance
We have a new Director of Finance, and Council has to officially appoint her, because she has regulatory powers and such under the Community Charter.

Proposed Sister Community Agreement with the Tŝilhqot’in National Government
This has been in the works for a while, but the City of New Westminster is establishing a Sister City relationship with communities in the Tŝilhqot’in, as a demonstration of our desire for relationship-building with indigenous communities with which we have a shared history. Assuring that cultural exchange and shared learning can go on is a foundation of our reconciliation plan.

Recruitment 2020: Committee Appointments
Some council advisory committee people are changing roles within the organizations they represent, and new members are swapping it. It’s all very complicated, but we have to rescind the out, appoint the in!

Alternative Approval Process – Grimston Park Amendment Bylaw No. 8219, 2020
There 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. There is a hunk of land at the foot of the ramp that the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure needed to lease to land the ramp, and we now need to transfer the property to the Province. Discharging property designated a Park by Bylaw actually requires the approval of the voters, either by referendum or the Alternate Approval Process. So we have to launch that process and 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.

Pre-1900 Heritage House Policy: Update to Rolling Date
As part of the City’s heritage protection policies, any building from 1900 or earlier that is subject to a permits triggers a heritage review to determine if there is a heritage value to the building that may be lost through the permitted activity. This report is suggesting that policy be changed from “any house from 1900 and earlier” to “any house 100 years old or older. This would mean extra reviews for about 1,000 buildings in the City, about 15% of which are already protected.

Investment Report to August 31, 2020
The City has money in the bank, more than usual because the province has deferred the date when we need to send them the School Tax money, and because we have deferred some capital projects on account of the COVID. Some of our funds are up, some of them are down, but overall we made $3.8M in interest over the year.

License to Occupy BC Hydro Lands for Pollinator Meadow
We have been working on Pollinator Meadows in the City, finding places to plant mixes of pollinator-friendly species of plants to provide habitat and food for birds, bees, and other species. A great site for this is the unutilized greenspace in Connaught Heights that belongs to BC Hydro. We need a license agreement with them to modify their property for this purpose. I really love this initiative, as it represents one of the few ways we can support healthier ecology in a fully urbanized city.


We them adopted a couple of Bylaws:

Parks and Recreation Fees Amendment Bylaw No. 8212, 2020
This Bylaw that sets our parks and rec fees for the next year was adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (45 East Eighth Avenue) No. 8189, 2020
This bylaw that amends the zoning bylaw to permit a “missing middle” townhouse development in Massey Victory Heights, was adopted by Council.


We also had one time-sensitive piece of New Business:

MOTION: Universal access to no-cost prescription contraception

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT
the City of New Westminster write to the Provincial Minister of Finance, the Provincial Minister of Health, the Premier of BC, and the local MLA supporting universal no-cost access to all prescription contraception available in BC under the Medical Services Plan; and THAT
this letter be forwarded to all BC municipalities asking to write their support as well.

This Motion supports two resolutions at the 2020 UBCM conference which will occur next week, and Council unanimously supported it.


And that was it for a relatively quick meeting. Better days ahead.

Riverfront fire

I’m hearbroken.

That’s about all I could tweet last night, typo and all, in true Twitter style.

At the time, I was walking back down from the middle of the Pattullo Bridge with Councillor Nakagawa, hoping like the many hundreds of people in downtown New West to get a better view. Not for prurient fascination; just trying to account what we were losing, to support our hope the flames would end. And the loss started to hit me.

When we got to the site after exchanging frantic texts, the W was engulfed in smoke and flames as firefighters tried desperately to get water onto the site. This was a shocking vision. Love it or hate it (and few are indifferent), WOW New Westminster has become iconic – a vital part of our skyline and our brand as a City. Still balanced there, thin steel cables holding it up, it seemed only a matter of time before it was gone.

We were able to catch peeks from Columbia Street or the Parkade as the flames moved along the aged creosote timbers to the Urban Beach, creeping under the deck, veiled in its own oily smoke, then surging out of gaps with unbelievable intensity, so orange as to be red. We could see the firefighters tearing through the fence, but water was not going to stop this, not with tar-soaked wood capped by asphalt.

It became clear the best possible outcome was the fire being stopped at the end of the “timber wharf”, and that the decking change under the grass field and the gap between sections will give firefighters a chance to stop the downriver spread. Even this was uncertain, as the fire at the gap was substantial and burning fiercely. If it didn’t stop there, it seemed all would be lost.

Former Mayor Wayne Wright was in the growing Parkade crowd, looking on. He was visibly shaken. It was Mayor Wright and the Council before me who made the brave move to buy this land, to dream big and complete a City-defining vision against some vocal and sometimes malicious opposition. We shared a few words, but I know if my heart was breaking, his must have been tenfold.

I chatted on the phone with Ruby Campbell, former City staff member who did so much of the hard legwork of getting the funding model together, the partners onside, and managed to get bitter Federal and Provincial political opponents together for a friendly Grand Opening event to celebrate the achievement of all – and God did it rain that day! So many stories were made in this park between that day and now.

I sat in the Park on Saturday, slightly cooler than I might have liked under the sepia skies as I worked on my Council package on a laptop and watched people of every age, shape, and size use the park. Of course I took a picture, the picture at the top of this post, because you always want to show this park off to your friends.

This loss is for the entire community, but it is also personal.

Before I went home last night to shower the tire fire smell off, I stopped once more to check that the W was still there. The fire at that end had been pretty tamped down, more white smoke than black, and the W was indeed still standing. Amazing.

I got home, and a friend was raging on Twitter about 2020. A friend with a big heart who has felt many of the impacts of this year’s compounding disasters more than some others. He asked “is it okay to be crying over a park?” That is how much this place is part of our home. It is our living room, a parlor and a back yard and a playroom. Friends replied – he wasn’t the only one crying. People around the region sent us notes sharing our grief for the loss of a park.

It’s hard to put things in any kind of perspective this year. So much strife and anger in the air. Death is around us in a way generations have forgotten. This very weekend, our eyes have been watered and lungs scratched by the smoke of entire communities lost down south of us, tens of thousands of homes burning to the ground. But that doesn’t make it wrong to feel a personal loss, to remember the things that matter to us every day, and mourn still if they are taken away.

This morning news was more reassuring. Thanks to the firefighters working in incredibly challenging conditions with limited access, unknown deck conditions, needing SCBA to protect them from the creosote smoke, the fire was indeed contained to the Timber Wharf, and damage to the western half of the park was limited. We all owe a thanks to the New West Fire Department and crews from across the region who faced these challenges, and limited the loss to our community.

The Riverfront still belongs to New West. We will make it a place for people again. Of course the deck is still burning, and we don’t know what this looks like yet, but I cannot imagine our community turning its back on the river again. When the fire is out, we will get to work.

Projections

I want to talk about this picture.

Because it triggered for me something that has been banging around in the back of my head for a few years, and I have not really known how to relate it. When it arrived a few years ago thoughts like this were too catastrophic to fit into our world view. Maybe our world view is changing, but I’m not sure about it.

At the time, I was on the Metro Vancouver Utility Committee, which is a committee of local elected officials that get together to discuss the operations of the water and sewer infrastructure of the region and review capital plans for the Metro Vancouver Board. (This has been replaced after the 2018 election with separate Liquid Waste and Water committees). As was our mandate, we were doing long-term planning for the region’s water supply. Really long-term, like 50 – 100 years.

This is important, because major water infrastructure like our three big reservoirs, the dams that support them, and the pipes and pumps and stuff that move a billion litres of water around every day is really expensive stuff. Once installed, it may be in the ground for a century or longer. In a rapidly-growing region with land constraints like Greater Vancouver, big decisions about how, where, and when we invest in this infrastructure are important.

To inform that planning, we needed to include projections about climate change. Beyond just being hotter in the summer, and the potential for less snowpack, we need to consider impacts on ENSO and other global climate systems that may drastically shift when and how much rain falls in our watersheds so we are capable of storing the right amount. We had science types who study this stuff in universities for a living providing models for us.

The subject matter experts were able to, I think, provide a pretty good summary of what we know, what we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know about the climate are we project to 2100, about 80 years in the future. There were several chuckles around the table from comfortable elected people “I’ll be dead then! Har Har!” which is its own telling moment, but I digress.

Scientists being science types, they spent a lot of time talking about uncertainty. There are a variety of models, none of them perfect, and subtle adjustments of what we put into the model can have big impacts over decades. Will the world meet the Paris Agreement goals? Will the economic growth of the last decades continue? Will Elon Musk invent the Mr. Fusion? All of these are external things climate scientists cannot predict, but they can make projections based on different amounts of greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere. From those they can infer the impact on temperatures, sea and air circulation patterns, feedbacks positive and negative. They have several different models, and into each they can add several emissions scenarios, and they end up with scores or hundreds of different results.

These projected results are not random, though. They cluster. They reinforce each other as often as they differ. In the report we were given, there were three distinct clusters in projecting the temperature impacts of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Greater Vancouver. As is the wont of planners and engineers, they hope for the “best case”, plan around the “middle case”, and have contingencies for the “worst case”.

Looking at a “middle case” for 2100, they made some iterations around our watersheds, how the hydrology of them will be impacted, how spring rains vs. summer rains impact storage need. All to figure how we will assure we can supply water to a City of (I can’t remember the number now, but for the sake of moving the discussion along let’s say it was) 4 Million people. Great, we put our stake in the ground, and have something to plan around. If things change, we will adjust, but this is the point we adjust from.

I put my hand up. “If the annual temperature increases by that much, what does that mean for the trees we are protecting in the watersheds? Can they tolerate that change?”

The answer was “outside of our current scope”. Not the topic of this discussion. We moved on to reservoir design options.

But it doesn’t take much research to discover that, even in the “middle scenario” provided, we are looking at temperatures that are outside of the habitat range of the Douglas fir, the western hemlock, the sitka spruce, the red cedar. The trees will likely die.

Sitting in Metro Vancouver’s offices, you could look over at the North Shore Mountains. It was hard to imagine what Vancouver will look like in 2100 with those trees dead or dying. To most of us, those green mountainsides reaching to rocky peaks define Vancouver. So much so that the City has expensive and complicated “view cone” programs to assure that people’s view of that green expanse is protected by policy. I’m not sure anyone is really thinking about what it means if they are gone.

Maybe it’s too hard to imagine. Just another bummer on the pile, and I’ll be dead by then. Or maybe our current sepia-toned sky should prompt us to imagine why we have made this choice.


Thanks to Mr. Mathew Bond for permission to lament over your photo.

Ask Pat: Variety pack!

I have some questions that have been sitting in the queue for an embarrassingly long time, so let’s blast through these:

Christa asks—

Has the City ever considered ending the New Westminster Tennis Club’s lease in Tipperary Park so that the clubhouse facilities could be used by the larger public? It would be a great facility for so many non-profits and/or community events.

The Tennis Club is one of several organizations that lease City-owned space (at little or no cost) to operate a non-profit society that provides some identified benefit to the City. Off the top of my head: the Tennis Club, the Curling Club, and the Lawn Bowling Club all operate buildings (the assets belonging to the club members) on City-owned land. The City sees this as a benefit because the club members (through their dues, volunteer boards, and sometimes paid staff) provide recreation opportunities to residents and visitors that the City doesn’t have to pay to provide. There are other buildings in the City (again, off the top of my head, the Art Gallery in Queens Park, the Bernie Legge Theatre, the Hopper Building) that belong to the City, but are used primarily by one non-profit community group, again for a purpose valued by the community. Each probably has its own history and reason for the tenure being what it is.

In my time on Council, there has never been a discussion about taking these places back from the organizations that operate them, though occasionally we have had discussions about lease terms, or are sometimes asked to consider some capital support for building maintenance (I don’t remember the tennis club ever asking us for support).


MoreEVOsPls asks—

I have been an Evo member for quite some time, yet, as I stand here (in front of MY strip of sidewalk, btw), there is no Evo in sight. If there has not been Evo parked in front of my house for more than 72 hours, will the City relocate one to my personal residence?? What is the city doing to displace private cars with Evo cars on our roadways? 😉

I see what you did there.


Ola asks—

I was wondering if you can tell me about the noise levels around Nelson’s street at Sapperton.

Not sure which noise you are talking about. Brunette is a regional truck route and a part of the Major Road Network, so changing the use of those roads is a regional issue. There is also some ongoing development of the last phases of the Brewery District mixed-use development going on, which will no doubt be a noisy construction affair, just as building the current Nelson Crescent buildings was.

However, I suspect the biggest issue is late-night train horns as trains cross the level crossing at Cumberland and Spruce. You can go to the City’s Whistle Cessation page to see the details of the work we are doing to get those whistles silenced. I wrote about this a few years ago, and yes I am frequently hearing from people about it. I still cannot give you any real timeline for when those crossings will see cessation of whistles, they are complicated from a design and safety point of view, and we need to get partners onside rowing the same way (TransLink in the case of Spruce, Metro Vancouver in the case of Cumberland, and no less than Transport Canada, 5 rail companies and assorted other rail agencies for both) and investing their time and energy. It took time Downtown, we are almost there in Quayside, we have some complicated crossings in Queensborough (but thankfully only one rail company to deal with there), but the three crossings in Sapperton are definitely the hardest nut to crack.


DM asks—

What’s going on with the new <EDITED> housing unit to be built in the 800 Blk of 6st.?Across from new high school.

Generally, inserting what could be read as a racial slur gets the question tossed into the delete file, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, as I can’t square the possible racist implication of the term with this application, so maybe I am missing context.

I have not reviewed the application in detail because it went to the Land Use and Planning Committee, not all of Council. As it is a preliminary application that will, if it progresses, likely see a Public Hearing that involves not just a Rezoning, but a change in the OCP, I am keeping an open mind to the merits of the application. I will say that deeply affordable housing is hard to come by these days, and not many applications come before us looking to build affordable housing at this scale in New Westminster, so I think it is worth us having the conversation about it.


Lisa asks—

I am wondering if instead of having city workers mow the grass on boulevards and ditch sides the $ and labour could be put to more needed uses such as cleaning playground equipment regularly and making park facilities more accessible while still maintaining 2 meter distances. My 12yr old suggested there could be hand washing stations like at petting zoos. Of course there are logistics, and perhaps issues surrounding union described job descriptions, so that’s why I’m asking. What is the reason something like what I described cannot be done? It seems like a better use of already stretched resources, that servers a greater need.

I guess I would say those sorts of re-allocations of staff did occur all through our COVID response, and many kudos need to go to staff and their unions, who completely changed their work life and took up the charge to do things they were never expecting to do. Back in January, no-one in the City was a pandemic ambassador helping people navigate parks area restrictions, how they would stretch the pedestrian space of the McInnes overpass, how they would operate our many public washrooms under a public health order or coordinate Zoom Public Hearings. For a while there, everyone was making it up as they went along.

To your example, there was definitely some shifts in how things like grass maintenance occurred, and there were staff shifted to new cleaning tasks. However, it turns out that mowing grass was really important to COVID response, because so many people were going outside in small groups and picnicking in numbers like we never had before – no doubt a result of limited sit-down restaurant service and people being home more often and needing to get out for fresh air. The last 6 months have been full of lessons like this. The discussion of how much and how often to clean playground equipment was definitely a discussion with public health officers, and our management staff had to do the risk-management math relative to just closing equipment down for a few weeks. These were tough decisions, but when you are in public service, putting public safety is always paramount.

Finally, there are some maintenance tasks you just have to do. Some open watercourses (“ditches”) need to be cleaned on a regular basis to maintain a base level of water storage and protect communities from flooding. Freshly-planted trees need a lot of watering, and established trees a lot of pruning, and as we put these tasks off, there is a compounding cost as the trees then need replacing. So much of what staff do is essential service if we want to have a livable community, and when COVID protocols made changes in how staff teams work, it is a real challenge to keep up. A day missing in a trash pick-up cycle is noticeable for weeks and staff scramble to catch up. As Newman says: the mail never stops, Jerry.

#BestNeighbourhood

This summer a few of us engaged in a bit of fun radio hijinks, as local CBC reporter datacruncher and ranker of all things Justin McElroy let loose his most recent bracket-style crowdsourcing campaign to determine, once and for all, the Best Neighbourhood in Greater Vancouver.

Of course, empirical data clearly puts the Brow of the Hill at the top, making the entire enterprise redundant. But this is not about empirical data, it is about framing a conversation about the neighbourhoods where we live, where we would like to live, and what we value in our communities. Though most people likely voted for their home because of civic pride and the tendency is to cheer for the home team, there was also an idealization of other places where we don’t live. What is it about Steveston (where the vast majority of the voters don’t live, and most rarely even visit) that made it our collective favourite?

The bracket form of the competition caused most of us to change the horses we were riding several times, as each week more neighbourhoods were eliminated. I (of course) voted Brow early on for both the empirical reasons and because of my homer tendencies. But I also felt the need to vote for the two neighbourhoods for which I am the designated City Council representative – Glenbrooke North and Queensborough. Gotta support the team. This did not go well for me, or them, as my support seemed to the quickest path to elimination in the contest. But I did learn along the way, and the more I thought about it, the more I found myself making the case for Sapperton.

I made up a very short mental list of the things I want in a neighbourhood. Walkscore, local shopping, services and employment, housing variety, socio-economic diversity, access to transit, low risk of car reliance, closeness to a curling club, a local pub, access to local green space, and mindful and engaged community members. Sober reflection had be considering Sapperton meets or beats the Brow on most of these measures.

But there is the less tangible. A couple of weeks ago, we went out for an evening walk on a Saturday and dropped by ABC Brewing for electrolytes, then found ourselves on East Columbia at 9:00pm. It was vacant. Most of the restaurants were closed or closing and there was just no-one out and about. We grabbed a (great!) donair from a take-out spot and chilled in the Parklet as the evening cooled off, but East Columbia was a quiet as our backyard. One part I love about being in a City is seeing other people, the energy that comes from sharing the evening streets. Downtown New West is not Bourbon Street, or even South Main, but a few patio drinkers and people walking to the theatre or home from the sunset at Pier Park make it feel alive most pleasant evenings – otherwise why not just go live in the woods? Or Pitt Meadows? Being in the Brow makes Downtown a 5-minute walk away on a Saturday night.

Thing is, this is *my* list. Other people want other things. I don’t have kids, so school catchment isn’t important to me. Some people want quick access to the freeway so they can drive to… wherever all those people on the freeway are driving to all the time. Some want to have a 4-car garage facing a cul-de-sac, others need to be on the beach, or want to be surrounded by Victorian and Edwardian houses. There are a million measures, some tangible, some not, that make up Neighbourhood Character*, making the search for the “Best” a fun distraction, but ultimately meaningless.

That said, I thought the paths the polls took were interesting, and there may be some insight to be found in how we as a larger region (or at least, the CBC-listening cohort in our region) view our communities. Queens Park was the longest-lasting New West neighbourhood, likely because it has a familiar name and aesthetic to the 95% of voters who do not live in New West. I mean, no-one in Burnaby or Surrey knows what the hell a Brow of the Hill even is.

When the contest got down to the Final Four, I rode a bike to the neighbourhoods to get some real-time input on what the appeal of each may be. I am aware I may get sounding petty judgy in the next paragraphs, but these are my opinions, based on the measures and persona filters I admit to above.

I honestly find very little to distinguish between Steveston and Fort Langley. Both are “historic” town centres that lean heavily on that colonial heritage as a means to define themselves. Though both have pleasant walkable commercial centres that are bustling on a sunny weekend, you know that the majority of people having fish and chips or ice cream cones came here as regional tourists, and don’t live in the neighbourhood. These are neighbourhoods where battles for neighbourhood character are fought fiercely. The still-vacant-a-decade-later “marine” retail spots in Steveston, and the recently-razed-by-a-city-Councillor properties in the Fort Langley are evidence that idyllic doesn’t come easy, and not everyone agrees on what defines the space.  Ultimately, both are great places to ride your bike to and stop for coffee or lunch, but it’s not long before I’m ready to ride home.

Pitt Meadows is a fast-growing auto-oriented suburb sprawling from the crossroads of a regional highway and an archetypal stroad. There are beautiful polders and dike trails and access to nature, and there are endless 3,500-square-foot 2-car-garage houses on cul-de-sacs with alphanumeric names. The core of the community is densifying with increasing housing diversity, but it is clear that the automobile rules the shape of the neighbourhoods and shopping centres. It is wide-open, pretty green, and very tidy looking, but with a walk score in the 30s, not my jam.

Mount Pleasant was the surprising Vancouver finalist, which may reflect McElroy’s craft-beer-data-oriented fan base, or may be the result of people down-voting the more obvious alternatives like the Drive or Kits out of spite. But I pass through Mount Pleasant regularly on bike commutes, and have always loved the vibe. An interesting mix of housing, easy access to commercial streets on Broadway, Cambie, and Main and ample breweries thereabout. Mount Pleasant Park on a sunny Sunday is a chill green oasis filled with picnicking people hipper than me, the food truck right there. There is no beach, and density increases still cause local angst, but this may be as Lotus Land as anywhere else in Vancouver. Given the choice of the final 4, this is the neighbourhood I would choose, for all the urban amenity reasons that make me love the Brow and Sapperton.

And it may not be your thing. If one thing is clear, it’s that what we value in a neighbourhood is as personal and varied as the neighbourhoods themselves. Some fetish built form, some the vibe of the denizens. Some want big back yards, some want active front porches, some want balconies with views…

But the Brow is the Best.


*“Neighbourhood Character” is a phrase we hear at every Public Hearing, and it eventually arrives whenever there is a discussion of zoning and land use in the community. The point that there is no clear definition of it, or that everyone has their own unique definition of it, makes it equal parts a powerful idea and completely meaningless.

RCH, TDM, LOS. Oh My!

I raised some concerns about the Royal Columbian Hospital expansion project in Council this week, and I thought it would be worthwhile expanding on the issue here. This is a unique development in the City, and that takes a bit of unpacking what a rezoning really is to explain where we are now. So background before gripes:

Usually, a rezoning in the City is a negotiation between a private land owner (commonly a development company) and the City. They want to build a building that doesn’t meet current zoning, usually bigger than permitted or a different use than permitted. The City looks at a rezoning proposal as an opportunity to negotiate value to the community. We ask what the benefits to the community may be (housing, affordable housing, amenities, tax revenue, infrastructure renewal, etc.) and what externalized costs may be involved (traffic, sewer capacity, green space loss, etc.). The job of the rezoning process is to maximize those benefits to offset those externalized costs. If we ask too much, the developer can’t pay the cost, so they take their ball and go home. If we ask too little, we are eroding the community and passing costs on to future generations.

Clearly, RCH is different than other “developments”. This is a provincial government project, a significant health asset for our community, and an important development for the entire region. RCH is also the City’s largest employer and the heart of the Sapperton community. The City wants an expanded RCH, the expanded health care capacity, and the good jobs that come with it. We want the spin-off economic effects of health services and support businesses in the neighbourhood. To balance that a bit, Fraser Health has a significant investment in the physical assets on site, and moving the hospital out of Sapperton is not something anyone would seriously consider. so this is already a torqued negotiation.

On top of this, it is important to remember that Municipalities, and our Bylaws, exist at the pleasure of the provincial government. Fraser Health (as an agency of the provincial government) is going through our rezoning process because that is the community expectation codified in bylaw, and it is the right thing to do to assure their work addresses the needs and wants of the community. However, they don’t strictly need our approval. They can grant themselves an exemption to our bylaws and build what they want. But I take on good faith that their desire is to meet the needs and expectations of the community they serve, and going through the rezoning process is an example of that.

In the review of first and second reading of the rezoning on Monday, I expressed my opinion (speaking for myself, not all of Council, of course) that Fraser Health failed to meet the expectations of the community, and indeed their own policy goals, in how they designed the transportation realm around the new hospital. Along with the rest of Council, I voted to support First and Second reading, but I added an amendment making some specific asks of Fraser Health, and tried to make clear my support for further readings will be contingent on how they address these serious concerns.

OK, on to the gripes.

Royal Columbian Hospital is the only hospital in British Columbia built immediately adjacent to a rapid transit station and on a regional Greenway. Beyond that, it is located in a City that has made serious commitments to Climate Action, has signed onto the Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities, and has both an Official Community Plan (OCP) and a Master Transportation Plan (MTP) that speak to moving us past motordom. Yet, the largest employer in the region has brought us a plan that serves to entrench the private automobile as the primary form of transportation to a facility meant to serve the region for decades ahead. That is a failure to set a building into appropriate context, a failure to design, and a failure to lead.

It is 2020; we need to do differently.

Since Fraser Health first brought plans for the hospital upgrades to us a couple of years ago, the City has pointed out a fundamental design flaw. The building literally turns its back on the Skytrain station. Though the project team as tried to address this issue by creating a somewhat uninspired back entrance plan where pedestrians can go through a parking garage entrance and find and elevator to a back hallway, the plan for access shows pedestrians and transit users are an afterthought to the transportation plan.

Indeed the hospital is being built immediately adjacent to a SkyTrain Station – less than 30m from the weather-sheltered exit from the transit station. However, a pedestrian walking or rolling  to a primary entrance must travel 500m, up a hill, around the entire bulk of the building, and through a parking lot. Attempts to make this route universally accessible (with a grade less than 5%), would add significant distance in the form of switchbacks to this route. It also involves an at-grade (non-signalized?) crossing of a road that is both designated a truck access and a vehicle access to the parking garage. So it is on Transit, but turns its back to transit.

I have also spent a couple of years relating concerns about the potential impacts this project will have on East Columbia if we don’t do it right. The City’s clear and long-established plans call on East Columbia through Sapperton to serve as a “Great Street”. According to our Master Transportation Plan “Great Streets require planning and design that goes beyond the typical street function of supporting through traffic. Planning and designing Great Streets means providing characteristics that make streets destinations – places for people to be, instead of places to move through”.

I appreciate the work Fraser Health and City Staff did to assure the streetscapes along East Columbia are mixed mode and modern, but that is spackle over a flawed foundation. We need to re-align this map to assure that Brunette Avenue – acting as the regional road and regional truck route it is and is meant to be – becomes the primary connection to the Hospital for large trucks bringing goods to the hospital, and for drivers who choose to drive to the hospital from the wider region. Simply put, East Columbia cannot achieve the goal of being a Great Street if it is expected to carry the bulk of this regional traffic.

That means we need to change Brunette Avenue, and that is something that will require partnerships with TransLink (who should get this) the Ministry of Transportation (who will need to be dragged kicking and screaming), as this part of Brunette is both Major Road Network and a regional truck route. Senior Government transportation staff are going to say that installing a safe intersection at Brunette in the vicinity of the Hospital will impact Level of Service for all the through-traffic that the route serves. I do not doubt that, but wonder again whether we are using the right measures to assess the function of our transportation network. Fraser Health should be making this case to these provincial agencies, not the City. But here we are.

With all of this in mind, I asked that the City ask Fraser Health to commit to three things before adoption of the rezoning:

• A seamless and universally accessible connection to the SkyTrain Station befitting a primary entrance to the hospital as part of to the current design;
• Developing a plan to shift all transport truck access from E Columbia to Brunette Avenue; and
• Developing a plan to shift the primary access for regional automobile traffic onto Brunette Ave instead of E Columbia.

Now, an argument could be made (indeed was made in Council) that this was all too late and we cannot ask Fraser Health to change course on such a major project at this late stage. If we are unreasonable now, are we jeopardizing the entire project?

Allow me to retort.

Nothing I said at the meeting should be a surprise to the Project Team, or to Fraser Health. Every opportunity I have had to talk to Fraser Health about this project over the last few years – at ACTBiPed consultations, in the Transportation Task Force, at Council presentations, in their open houses, I have made these points. They have heard it reinforced by our Advisory Planning Commission and through our transportation planning staff. This policies driving this are baked into our City’s planning and transportation documents. We have been banging this drum all through the consultations, Fraser Health has been dancing to a different beat.

This is doubly frustrating because this is also at odds with Fraser Health’s own direction in regards to the role of motrodom in Public Health. Fraser Health knows that climate change is a public health challenge that is exacerbated by automobile dependency. As the region’s leading trauma hospital, RCH is fully aware that automobile dependency is a leading cause of traumatic injury, and automobiles are the #1 cause of death for young people in Canada and around the world. Sedentary lifestyles, asthma exacerbated by air pollution, urban heat island effects, the direct and indirect health impacts of the social and economic harm posed by automobile dependency, etc. etc. That cars are bad for public health is not a controversial idea.

So what role does such a large employer and a large service provider in the community have in moving past motordom?  When it comes to a rezoning and developing a new asset for the next century, they should look at the clear goals set out in Official Community Plans and Master Transportation Plans and try to address those. When that developer is a provincial government and provincial Health Agency, they should also determine if their plans address the Provincial Government’s own stated goals about climate, about auto dependency, about smart growth and sustainable communities. When they all coincide, we shouldn’t need a pipsqueak council using zoning laws to force/cajole community investments towards those goals.

I do recognize that Fraser Health has made some commitments to Transportation Demand Management (TDM) related to the hospital expansion project. However, those seem to have been driven by a need to address the cost of building parking, and making the case for parking relaxations. I fully support those TDM measures, and appreciate to commitment, but the design of the building and surrounding transportation network does not enhance these TDM measures, and undermines their ultimate effectiveness.

They can do better, and we need to do better. It is 2020, and the planet is in peril. This is the decade we change the status quo to address climate, or the decade where we abandon future generations to their fate. If we choose the latter here, we are going to need a bigger hospital.

Council – Aug 31, 2020

We had a pretty long agenda in our first meeting after a summer break like no other. It was, again, a remote meeting (and more about that below), so you can hear the recording if that is your thing. Otherwise, here’s what we talked about based on my memory. Right off the start we had a presentation:

824 Agnes Street Commemorative Park Design – Preferred Design Concept
There is a City-owned space in Downtown about the size of a small single residential lot that has operated most recently as a dog park, but has a much richer history. It was once an important location in the community for residents of Chinese descent. The City has leveraged adjacent development to fund improvements to the area to build a proper public park space. It is a bit of a challenging space, with a significant grade change making it hard to assure the park is universally accessible. But the city led a few stakeholder and public meetings and went through various design concepts. We have now settled on a final design that reflect the history of the site while being an accessible, functional, public greenspace Downtown.

This is the design concept, but we don’t yet have a timeline on the park’s development, as we have no funds set aside for the park re-design. Those funds will only arrive through the approved development process for the adjacent property, as that developer is paying the bills here.


We then moved the following items on Consent:

805 Boyd Street (Queensborough Landing): Proposed Text Amendment to the Large Format Commercial District (C-10) Zone to include Self- Improvement School as a Use – Preliminary Report
A tutoring business wants to operate in the Queensborough Landing commercial complex, but the existing zoning language does not include that use, so Council is considering updating the zoning language to allow it. This is a preliminary report to let us know that Staff will do the work needed to bring it to us. Let us know of you have an opinion.

811 Columbia Street (Plaza 88): Development Variance Permit Application to Vary the Sign Area and Channel Lettering Provision for the Sign Bylaw to Permit a Fascia Sign for Landmark Cinemas
Landmark Cinemas wants to add a swoosh to their existing sign to align with their existing branding, but the sign will be a little bigger than permitted by our sign bylaw, but not really a substantial change to the sign they already have. But it needs a Sign Bylaw variance, so that process is beginning and Council will make a decision next Opportunity to be Heard. If you have an opinion, let us know!

219 and 221 Manitoba Street: Heritage Register Addition and Heritage Designations – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
Two heritage homes have been oved to this newly subdivided property in Queens Park, and we are now adding them to the Heritage Register so they will be there forever. This will go to a Public Hearing – if you have an opinion, let us know.

Imposition of Remedial Action Requirement for 1823 Hamilton Street
This is a difficult situation where a homeowner has been non-compliant with City bylaws for several years, creating (in the opinion of neighbours) a persistent nuisance, and (in the opinion of our building bylaw staff) an unsafe condition. A roof that has been tarped for years, unfinished exterior walls, scaffolding, and an unpermitted retaining wall are all points of contention, but the real issue here is that the work on the property began in 2007 without an appropriate permit, and has been non-compliant since at least 2013. The owner has refused to take remedial action, and cannot find a qualified engineer to sign off on the work. Last year, Council finally issued a Remedial Order, and a Hearing was given to the property owner. However, the work to make the property compliant is still not completed, nor is there any evidence it has seriously begun.

Staff is now requesting the authority to tender the work, have it done, and send the owner the bill.

Applications for Grant Funding to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities – Municipal Asset Management Program and UBCM Local Government Program Service 2020 Asset Management Planning Program
The City is doing a comprehensive Asset Management Program, and there are grant funds available from FCM and UBCM to help pay to get this work done, so we are applying.

2021 Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw Amendment
We annually review our Parks and Recreation fees through Bylaw amendment. Generally, we try to adjust fees to match inflation every year, but the overall strategy is to recover costs for most services, while assuring our fees are not out of scale with adjacent municipalities. Generally our fees for most things (like ice rental in our arenas) are at the lower end compared to adjacent communities or for-profit providers. For obvious reasons, this is not the year to be making big changes other than a simple CPI increase so we don’t lose pace with inflation.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular report out form our 5 COVID-19 response Task Forces. There are more details in the report, but these are two items that were raised for discussion:

Vulnerable Populations: The Food Bank is losing its current church space, and will be looking to relocate ASAP. The current proposal is Tipperary Park as a compliment to the Farmers Market, and the Farmers Market is looking at relocating to Tipperary for the winter. That may work out well, but Council raised some concerns about moving the foodbank outdoors in winter weather. Staff will be bringing us a report on their work to secure a space for this vital food security service.
Business and Local Economy: The patio program that we launched to support food service establishments during COVID coincided with a Provincial program that expires in October. We need to provide some clarity to businesses about how/if we are going to extend past October, and if/how we are going to look at supporting the accommodation of temporary shelter, heaters, etc. to extend the patio program over the winter, or at least survey businesses for interest? Staff will be bringing us a report.

Planning for Potential “Second Wave” of COVID-19
A Second wave of COVID-19 may be upon us already, it is almost certainly going to hit us, and staff is planning for it. The “phases” of restart from the pandemic shutdown are dictated by the provincial health authorities (we are in Phase 3 right now), but it is not yet clear how the province will (or won’t?) respond to a second wave. So the City has developed three scenarios with a response plan for each. “Managed Outbreaks” would be a scenario where we stay at Phase 3 and react in a directed way to outbreaks if they occur within our staff or in a public facility to contain and manage the outbreak. “Rollback to Phase 2” is a scenario where the health authority moves us back up the shutdown scale because of bad regional case numbers, and “Rollback to Phase 1” is the same, but worse.

There is much more detail in the attached report, and there are lots of intra-departmental details across the City. Suffice to say, we are planning for the bad, the worse, and the worst, while hoping for the best. Everybody is doing this for the first time, so challenges ahead, but I am feeling like we are about as prepared as we can be.

Open Delegations and Opening Council Chamber to the Public in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Council operation is one part of the re-opening plan that needs a bit of special consideration. In general, we need to figure out how to get the public back into the Council conversation, both as part of Public Hearings, and generally as our traditional Open Delegations. As Council continues to meet remotely, the challenges many have with on-line communications and video conferencing have to be addressed.

Regular Council meetings go on, we do them through video conference, and recordings are available, so the conversation is still open and in the public record, but it is hard for the public to participate. One of our challenges is that the Council Chamber is a limited space, and we can never predict how many people want to attend a Public Hearing, and we are not legally able to limit the number of people. Our past practice of allowing anyone to attend and get 5 minutes on any topic as an Open Delegation makes it even harder to plan. So we are going to continue to hold Public Hearings with electronic participation so we don’t have to worry about Social Distancing, and do our best to accommodate people’s uncertainty with the technology.

As for Council attending chambers, we had a good discussion about it. I went into the meeting thinking this had to be all or none, to keep the conversation level and fair, with my preference towards all. But it became clear to me through the meeting that I am in a very low risk group, don’t live with vulnerable people, and my risk tolerance is higher than some others. I think it is difficult for us to compel people who perhaps are not as low-risk as I am to attend if it is not within their comfort zone, and further should not be making people declare their personal or health situations that may impact their comfort zone. So I generally agree that we can continue to meet remotely until we have more certainty around the management of risk.

Public Hearings afford different challenges as well, as the room has to be set up differently (partly because we cannot limit participants), so we are going move Public Hearings to a different date – The Thursday before the regular Monday Meeting where the item will receive consideration for Third Reading. This is another challenge that we can talk about later (the inability for Council Members to hear new evidence between Public Hearing and Third Reading), which perhaps ironically, makes it possible that Council will look like they are being non-transparent about their opinions on a contentious project specifically because they are required by law to respect that process, but that’s a hit we will have to take, I guess. Again, we are doing this for the first time, so some patience will be required.

466 Rousseau Street (Urban Academy): Zoning Amendment Bylaw Text Amendment – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The private school on Sapperton, which was permitted in 2017 and opened just last year, is now looking to expand their operations. They want to expand their 4th and 5th stories by a total of 6,500 square feet (a 13% increase in floor space) to accommodate 100 more students (a 22% increase). There would not be an increase in overall height above what is currently permitted for the site, the expansion is within their allotted zoning envelope, but the population increase is outside of the zoning language, and needs changing.

The proposal went to the Sapperton Residents Association in pre-Pandemic times, and mail-dropped invitations to neighboring homes for an open house in 2019 had no response, with 7 people showing up for a follow-up open house in February. The Sapperton Residents Association has send a letter to Council listing concerns about the school, all related to pressure on free public parking space and people in cars acting irresponsibly on public streets causing risk to other people, as usual. Staff have some recommendations on how to make the road space of Rousseau safer, and it will be interesting to see if the community supports them.

This is proposal that will go to Public Hearing in September, so I won’t make too many more comments. If you have opinion, let us know!

100 Braid Street: Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment and Development Permit to Facilitate Provision of Secured Market Rental Housing with Art Gallery/Studio Space
Right next door, the Wesgroup development of the 100 Braid Street property is also looking to move ahead. The proponent wants to change the proposal that was approved in 2016 by shifting to a Purpose Built Rental building instead of condos. In exchange for this, they are asking for a 50% increase in density, an increase in height of 80%, and a parking relaxation. This would bring the unit count up to 424 residential rental units. They are also hoping to make some of the units (about 20%) less-than-market if they can get CMHC support for this – though they will not meet the City’s definition of “below market”, so will not meet the criteria for supportive “affordable housing”.

Council had some questions and concerns about whether the community benefit (shift to PBR from condos, and a less-than-clear affordability component) is really worth the increased density granted. I raised a concern last time this came to us about the loss of mature street trees on City lands to support this development. The Staff report indicates the developer will pay a tree removal fee, which will allow for the sooner planting of 100-150 trees as part of our urban Forest Management strategy. That seems like a significant tree benefit in the longer term.

In the end, Council agreed to let the proposal move forward to committee and public review prior to further Council discussion and likely a Public Hearing in the future, so perhaps through that process some of the amenity vs. density math with clarify. If you have opinions, let us know!

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital): Zoning Amendment Bylaw for Phase 2 and 3 of the Redevelopment Plan – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
You may have noticed RCH is going through a major renovation – near replacement at double the capacity. As this is a Provincial project, a significant regional health asset, and the City’s largest employer, the relationship between Council and the “developer” is different than most. As they come to ask to ask for a zoning amendment for Phase 2 and 3 (the major expansion of the main building), there is some question what the City’s power actually it.

If this was a private developer building a commercial building, we would make some very specific asks in regards to how their building fits into the neighborhood, and would, through the City’s zoning powers, have the ability to force them to make changes, up to the point where they just take their ball and go home if we ask too much.

Fraser Health is not going to take their ball and go home, they have a significant investment in the physical plant at RCH, and much to Richard Stewart’s chagrin, they are not going to move the hospital to Coquitlam. You would think that gives the City a lot more power to control how the Hospital fits in our neighborhood. But you would be wrong, because a municipality is ultimately the “child of the province” and if the Province cares to do so, they will just tell us to get bent and build what they want.

So here we are. The Province wishes to go through the right procedures to get a zoning amendment. There is a lot involved in this that the public would not usually see (be it the province or a regular developer) like determining how much sewer pipe the new facility will need how much water supply and electricity and how much the developer will pay to install that increased capacity. But there is also a lot the public will see, like the scale and shape of the building and the transportation connections, so we spend a lot of time in Council arguing about and negotiating these conditions. I contend that this project is failing those requirements in the transportation realm.

I had a bit of a rant on this, and will repeat it in a follow-up blog post, but in summary we gave the project First and Second reading, and I made clear to Fraser Health and staff the kinds of changes I want to see Fraser Health agree to if I am going to support Third and Fourth reading on this.

At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations and Seniors and Persons with Disabilities Task Forces Funding Request for the Remainder of 2020
This task force was set up early in the pandemic Response to assure that the people in our community most at risk from the pandemic and those with the least resources to address those risks, were being supported. There were some (ultimately, very small) costs related to some of the responses that came out of this taskforce, and there will be some more costs related to keeping some efforts ongoing (though scaled back as we move through stages of recovery).

Cannabis Retail Locations: Updates and Bylaws for Readings
We are making a few changes to the local Bylaws that regulate cannabis retail location in the community, some that I spoke to last Council meeting. We are changing the Bylaws to allow the retail sale of edible products (to catch up to the federal regulatory change), and are allowing transparent windows now that the Province has allowed this change. This will bring cannabis retail more in line with the look of other types of retail in the community. Both of these are easy for me to support.

It looks like one of the currently-permitted operators ran into some trouble getting up and running due to some apparent conflict with the building owner(s), so they have withdrawn their application. As our original intake process dictated, this leaves the “Uptown” business area with no current applicants. The other two Uptown applicants that passed initial screening back in 2018 were asked if they were still interested, and only one of them was able to move forward, so we have provided them the opportunity to apply.

Contrary to some social media speculation, this will not replace the (still-COVID-closed) Rivers Reach Pub, but will be located next door, adjacent to the beer and wine store. As this application will go to a Public Hearing, I won’t comment further at this time. Drop us a line if you have an opinion.

141 East Columbia Street: Site Specific Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment to Allow for Health Related Office and Retail Use (Including Pharmacy) – Preliminary Report
The owner of this Sapperton property is hoping to operate a pharmacy, as the current restaurant is not renewing their lease. The zoning language doesn’t specifically allow a pharmacy in the space, so we need to change that zoning text to allow it. This is a preliminary report, and will go to some review, so more to come here. Let us know if you have an opinion.

Downtown Transportation Plan
This neighborhood traffic plan in our most traffic-constrained neighborhood started in late 2017, and the last steps were a bit borked by COVID. Although the bulk of the planning preceded the Climate Emergency response by Council, the Pandemic response (and Streets for People motion that followed), and the Declaration of Resilience for Cities, the direction of the plan mostly supports those initiatives. I think staff did a great job bringing this plan together, and it is written in such a way to address those late-emerging ideas. I carry a bit of a concern that the proposed rate of implementation may not be aggressive enough to meet those larger goals, but that will be on Council to put the money where our mouth is here and get this shit done. The Agnes Greenway and the changes to lower 8th Street are the top priority for me, but maybe I’ll follow up with a more detailed blog post about it.

Streets for People in 2020 – Update
This is an update on the many small shifts in our transportation realm that rolled out in the last two months and includes areas where staff have been really poactive at making shifts in how some of the changes were implemented over time. Like most on Council, and I’m sure staff, I have received some public feedback, both good and bad, and it is human nature to concentrate on the negative feedback, but I think there is instructive value to all of the feedback, and appreciate the nods in here to organizing the feedback into actionable responses.

Now is the time to have a bigger conversation about these changes, and the City is working on a an aggressive schedule for September to talk to the public and stakeholders about what worked, what didn’t and how folks would like to see the streets operate differently in the future. It should be a great conversation with the community.


We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8212, 2020
As discussed above, our Bylaw that makes annual changes to recreation fees was given three readings and adopted by Council. Make your own CPI adjustments please.

Soil Deposit and Removal Regulation Bylaw No. 8106, 2019
Municipal Ticket Information Amendment Bylaw No. 8127, 2019 and
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 8126, 2019
As discussed way back last May, this Bylaw the updates our regulations on how large soils movements in the City are managed during development is now Adopted, along with the amendments to the ticketing and enforcement Bylaws that empower the fines in the first. I’m digging it.


And that was the meeting for August, see you after Labour Day!

Protectors

There is something else that has been going on in New West (and right next door in Burnaby) for several weeks that is not getting nearly enough attention. There have been a small group of people, led by Dr. Tim Takaro, leading a peaceful occupation of the Trans Mountain Pipeline right-of-way through the Brunette River riparian area. If you live in New West, or if you are concerned about the role your federal government plays in addressing Canada’s shameful climate change legacy, you should care.

It is possible in 2020 that many of us are feeling “protest fatigue”. After the Climate Strikes of last fall, the actions in support of the Wet’suwet’en in the spring, the seemingly unstoppable 24-hour news of protest and counter-protest around Black Lives Matter and Indigenous rights movements, the nation south of us in such a downward spiral, all while we are living under the fogbank of a global pandemic – how many people have capacity for another call to action or protest against injustice right now? For anyone who even gives even the littlest shit about the state of the world and future generations, it can all feel crushing. Not because this doesn’t matter, but because everything freaking matters.

Some people I talk to about this are lamenting (or sometimes celebrating) that the pipeline is fait accompli. The Federal Government has dropped its your money into it, the pipe is bought, the court cases are exhausted. Even as the dark reality of questionable financial viability dawns on us, and the guy who bought the pipeline slinks from office to find other opportunities to mess with global capital, the sunk cost fallacy is pushing us forward into a $12.5 Billion investment in stranded carbon assets. But that’s global macroeconomics and climate denialism, what does that have to do with us here in little old New West?

As I have talked about before, the new Trans Mountain pipeline is going to move more than half a million barrels a day of oil products through the Brunette River, just meters from the New Westminster border, and just before the Brunette flows into New Westminster and discharges to the Fraser immediately upstream of our waterfront. I say the new Trans Mountain Pipeline, because here in the Lower Mainland, they are not “twinning” or “expanding” the existing pipeline, they are routing a second pipeline kilometers from the existing one (which will still pump away as it always does). The new route passes through the most sensitive riparian area of the Brunette: a river that a small group of underappreciated local heroes spent decades bringing back from an industrial sewer to a place that hosts spawning salmon again. The new pipeline is proposed to dig through the very riparian area that supports those salmon and a rich diversity of other flora and fauna, one of the few remaining natural streams in the urban sprawl of the Burrard Peninsula.

So here we are again, another small group of dedicated people protecting a legacy for generations. With time a’ticking and construction equipment staging, they are occupying the space in the hopes that their presence will prevent the felling of trees and clearing of brush and digging of trenches. There has not been much mention of this protest that has been going for more than a month, aside from a couple of early news stories when Dr. Takaro initially went into the trees.

The protest came to the attention of New West council as the occupants were using lower Hume Park for staging some of the activity, it being the nearest open public assembly place to the protest site. Although the actual occupied site is in Burnaby, the crossing of North Road and the Brunette River is a jurisdictionally-challenging spot, where Burnaby, New West, and Coquitlam meet and the federal railways have some policing powers (don’t start with me about how multinational corporations have armed policing powers in Canada –that’s another rant for another time). So it is worthwhile to point out that the three municipalities have taken varying approaches to the TMX expansion.

New Westminster was an intervenor in the Environmental Assessment, strongly opposed the project and its re-location to the Brunette watershed, and have supported legal challenges to the project. Burnaby’s opposition to the project has taken them to the Supreme Court of Canada. Coquitlam has said “show us the money”.

As a City Council, we have received no formal correspondence from the pipeline project team since the federal government took over the project. After formally opposing it for a list of technical reasons in 2017, we received a letter in response from (then) Minister Sohi in 2018 letting us know they received our letter, but they had just bought the entire project, so they are moving ahead.

My reasons for opposition to this project are informed by my participation in the original Environmental Assessment process in a technical role, and honed by my role as an elected official in an impacted community. I have been at this long enough that I remember the Harper-led federal government listening to our concerns before telling us they don’t care, then tearing up the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Fisheries Act to prove the point. In hindsight, that seems more honest than the Trudeau-led federal government lying to us about accountability, promising to end subsidizing oil and gas, and then throwing our chips down on the biggest oil company bailout in Canadian history. I wonder where Minister Sohi is now, after so much was invested in trying to protect his lonely Alberta seat.

Anyway, I’m ranting.

The protest is ongoing in the woods just west of the North Road, south of the Highway 1 overpass, but you may see a few people spending time staging or handing out information in lower Hume Park. Drop by and say Hi if you are in the area, send them some support if you like. Maybe you might want to let your elected representatives know if you think building a pipeline to expedite bitumen sand development in the face of a Climate Emergency is a thing you want them to spend your money on in 2020, or whether you value healthy salmon habitat in your community.

Back at it

Back at it!

We had our first Council meeting today after a shortish summer break. We have yet to get through the Labour Day weekend, but back to work we are.

I want to use this blog post to point out a couple of things that happened in August that we kinda fun. For me, anyway.

I had a great chat with Christine Bruce, who runs a radio program called “Totally Spoke’d” on CICK radio (and the interwebs, or course, because it is 2020). The program is about cycling and active transportation advocacy. Christine invited me on to talk about the increased fines for dooring recently applied by the BC Government, which I talked to the New West Record about here.

Christine was an informed and fun person to chat with, and I think the conversation was a great introduction to the issue and the reasons the province made the changes. It was also a launching point to a bigger discussion about the tonne of work we have yet to do to make cycling spaces – and all active transportation spaces – safe and comfortable in urban areas. Have a listen here!

I also had a long chat with Dean Murdock (which he artfully edited down to a tight 20 minutes) who produces and hosts the Podcast Amazing Places. Dean is a former City Councillor from Saanich and is leading conversations in Greater Victoria about making public spaces better. He wanted to talk about the original capital’s Streets for People initiatives, and the efforts New Westminster is making to re-balance our public space allocation between storage-and-movement-of-automobiles and all the other uses the space can be used for. You can hear that conversation here, or wherever your favourite Podcasts are cast from. And unless you are my Mom, you will probably find more interesting episodes of his show than mine, Dean is definitely worth a follow.

Finally, I couldn’t help but stick my nose into the CBC’s Best Neighbourhood conversation/competition. Along with my fellow Browhillian Councillor Nadine Nakagawa, we made a compelling case (I think) for the Brow of the Hill. Enough that after we lost to much less worthy places, we were back on CBC to talk about the Brow. We were there to talk about how we define a great neighbourhood, and what we value in the pace that we live. It was all in good fun, but I think I’ll dig into a longer conversation about this “contest” for a follow-up Blog Post.