Ask Pat: Private School taxes

Duke asked—

The two large private schools on opposite ends of the city are nearing completion. My question is will the City be receiving any property taxes from these schools? It’s my understanding the BC Libs exempted them from certain taxes.

Short version: no, they likely won’t pay property tax. But as always, there is a longer answer. And this needs a bit of a “this is how I understand things, and I think I am correct here, but am willing to hear any corrections if people have them and I will fix the record” warning.

There are two types of exemptions from paying property taxes: statutory and permissive. As you may have figured from the name, the first is set in provincial regulation, Section 220 of the Community Charter outlines uses that may be exempt from property tax: Provincial property, places of worship, cemeteries, fruit trees(!), private schools and other things. The general interpretation of this act is that the statutory exemption only applies to the building or ground used for the prescribed purpose, not necessarily the entire property.  So a church that has a large parking lot and/or adjacent housing on the same property may not get statutory exemption for those auxiliary lands, but just for the place of worship.

The permissive exemption is also what it sounds like: something cities are permitted to grant, but are not required to grant. There are limits to how we can hand these out, and they are listed in Section 224 of the Community Charter. This permission is generally limited to government-owned lands not caught up in Section 220, parts of lands exempted under S.220 that are not strictly exempted by S.220 (like the parking lot around a church), or lands used by a charity or public service that are used for a community service or charitable work, including sports clubs. The City may grant partial or complete exemptions on these lands, but it is generally limited by Section 25 of the Charter which prohibits the City from providing direct assistance to a business. Whew.

In practice, the City does a review of permissive exemptions (and reviews applications for new permissive exemptions) in September or October, and updates its Bylaw in time that those exemptions can be factored into our financial planning for the next year. The last time we reviewed them in New West was on September 17, 2018, and you can see in that report the list of to whom the City provides exemptions. Both John Knox and Urban Academy are listed as exempt under S.224.

Now back to the other part of your question, Back in 2015, the BC Liberal Government was led by a Premier who proudly boasted that her child attended the most exclusive private school in Vancouver (one that had a large swath of “Permissive Exemption” real estate) while also taking public school teachers to the Supreme Court to defend an illegal contract that kept her from having to staff public schools enough to meet reasonable classroom size standards. That government signed in to law Bill 29, which extended a Statutory Exemption to all of these ancillary lands around private schools are part of the school operation. Student housing, parking lots, skating arenas, the woods out back where the kids smoke pot; as long as they belong to the school, they are now exempt by statute.

Frankly, this change probably does not apply to either the new John Knox school on 12th street or the new Urban Academy school at Braid and Rousseau, because both are modern “urban school” designs, with very little footprint outside of the building site. The parking is underground and the play area on the roof, so there aren’t open fields of “accessory lands”. The shift from Permissive to Statutory exemption is probably irrelevant in this case, though I am not clear why the City gives them an S.224 exemption when a S.220 exemption probably applies.

That said, both schools are being built on lands that had significant commercial value, and paid commercial property taxes before the schools took over the sites. If we ballpark the two properties at (land value only) $3 Million each, then at 2018 taxation rates for commercial properties, the property tax they would pay to the City would be a little over $30,000 each per year if there was a non-exempt commercial property on that spot. Plus about $12,000 each in School Tax. Take from that what you will.

Council – March 11, 2019

Our Council meeting on March 11 had its share of pageantry and drama, and much of it was after the annual May Queen draw. Alas, I don’t have time to blog at length about what got me hot under the collar during the Opportunity for Public Comment, as meta as it may have been, and you will have to watch the video to get the full experience. Still we had a packed agenda that started with an Opportunity for Public Comment:

Draft 2019 – 2023 Financial Plan
As discussed in workshop and blogged about at length, we have a proposed 2019 budget and 5-year financial plan. As always, between the public workshop where we discussed at length and made decisions about the discretionary parts of the financial plan, we accept correspondence and have a public opportunity to comment. The e-mail correspondence we received on the Financial plan was about 38 pages (almost all of it comprising questions from a single person that staff patiently responded to as best they could). We also had about a half dozen members of the public come to speak, assuring that the voice of the middle aged white man was well represented. I agree strongly with some of the input we received – two delegates mentioned that cities and (in turn) property tax payers are being unfairly burdened for the cost of local infrastructure when there are more progressive taxation types such as income tax available to senior governments, though little of that trickles back to local governments. I also strongly disagree with a person who receives 30-plus pages of responses from staff then is given a public forum to ask questions of Council complaining that this is a secretive and closed process.

Anyway, the Financial Plan will need to come to us in the form of the Bylaw, which will occur in April. I will blog more about the final financial plan at that time.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Urban Indigenous Engagement around the development of the New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre
This is a short report on the efforts staff are taking to engage the local indigenous population in planning for the new Aquatic and Community Centre (the project name of the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre). It will be interesting to work through this framework and find what works and what doesn’t as we are going into a broader-reaching Truth and Reconciliation process in the City.

Recruitment 2019: Committee Appointments (SAC, NTAC, RJC, and ACTBiPed)
These are regular adjustments to various council advisory committees. People move, people (alas) pass away, and people shift their volunteer priorities, but advisory committees go on. We have named new representatives to these committees.

310 Salter Street (Port Royal Phase 6B): Development Permit and Development Variance Permit for Mid Rise Multi Unit Residential Development – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
One of the final pieces of the Port Royal development is an 87 unit 4- to 6-story residential complex on Salter Street. The proposed complex of three buildings meets the FSR and is smaller than the allowable maximum lot coverage, but requires variances for height and setbacks. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on this on April 8th. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Connaught Heights Park Playground Redevelopment – Preferred Option
The playground adjacent to Connaught Heights School needs to be refurbished. There was a pretty extensive child-centred community consultation, and a final plan is now proposed, for a mixed use playground to appeal to all ages nestled within the existing mature trees on site. The construction will take place while school is out for the summer, to reduce the impact on the students.

Vimy Heritage Oak Trees Proposal
There is an organization that preserves and propagates oak trees grown from acorns collected from Vimy Ridge shortly after the WW1 battle for the ridge ended. Working with the New West Heritage Preservation Society, there are two saplings to be planted on the front lawn of City hall to frame the Cenotaph and formal commemoration space.

2019 Environmental Grant Recipient – Project Scope Change
The plan to put together a documentary film on the history of the preservation of the Brunette River have been shelved for some creative and logistical reason. The City provided a bit of grant money for that project, but the organizers would now like to use those funds to create more educational multi-media materials on the same theme. I support this, as it is a story that needs to be told, and I think the mixed media proposal will reach a broader audience than the film.


We then had a couple of pieces of New Business:

Queen’s Park Sportsplex – Conceptual Design
After much too long of a wait, we have moved the Arenex replacement to final design. This has been a challenging project for several reasons, including details about insurance. The building that will start construction this spring in Queens Park will not have the old-timey charm of the Arenex, but will be a much more functional building for the primary user groups. The majority of the cost (about 80%) of the replacement will be covered by the insurance claim for the Arenex, though we will need to top it up a bit, mostly from a grant fund we have been holding in reserve for sports facilities in the City.

Climate Action in the City of New Westminster
This was a motion on notice form Councillors Nakagawa and McEvoy, which was well supported by a large delegation of community leaders from the Force of Nature Alliance. It is worth reading in its entirety:

WHEREAS The earth is currently on track to warm by more than 3 degrees Celsius; and

WHEREAS An October 8, 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that it is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than 2 degrees as previously understood, and that doing so “would require rapid, far- reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of
society,” and that we have until 2030 to undertake these changes; and

WHEREAS The IPCC report puts the benchmark for greenhouse gas reduction targets for corporate and community-wide emissions at 45% by 2030, 65% by 2040, and 100% by 2050;

WHEREAS The British Columbia government declared a provincial state of emergency in 2018 over record-setting wildfires; and

WHEREAS The Legislature of British Columbia and the House of Commons of Canada have acknowledged the growing crisis of climate breakdown by holding emergency debates following the release of the IPCC report; and

WHEREAS Local governments worldwide are taking action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and calling on senior levels of government for an urgent, emergency response; and

WHEREAS The costs to New Westminster for dealing with the impacts of climate change – including sea level rise – are significant; and

WHEREAS The most vulnerable members of our community are the most impacted by the effects of climate change; and

WHEREAS The City of New Westminster has been taking action on sustainability through the Environmental Strategy and Action Plan, Community Energy and Emissions Plan, and Envision 2032;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED

THAT Council recognize that climate change constitutes an emergency for the City of New Westminster; and

THAT Council direct staff to report back on how the following action items can be implemented:

1. Update existing City plans with new targets as per the IPCC report;
2. Increase ambition and/or accelerate timelines for existing actions under the Environmental Strategy and Action Plan and the Community Energy and Emissions Plan;
3. Consider new actions to help the City achieve its targets;
4. Consider new actions that would help reduce GHG emissions beyond the scope of the City’s current climate targets;
5. Track and report on community emissions;
6. Engage the community in discussion on how to drastically reduce GHG emissions with particular focus on those most vulnerable to climate impacts and most in need of support in transitioning to renewable energy;
7. More broadly communicate with the community about City emissions and targets;
8. Implement a carbon budget; and

THAT Council direct staff to include climate action for consideration within the City’s strategic plan that is currently being developed.

I don’t have much to add to that, except that I struggled with considering if we should do this before or after we had completed our Council Strategic Planning work to set out goals for the term. It was Councillor Nakagawa who convinced me that the Climate emergency needs to frame our Council goals, because vice-versa is how we have always operated as a City, as a province, and as a country, tacking on climate as just one more thing we need to deal with. This is the existential struggle of our age, perhaps the first truly global existential struggle. We need to act, and act with purpose.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Cannabis: New Retail Store Application Evaluation
As we discussed at some length last summer, the City has put together some guidance and community standards for cannabis retail operations that wish to open in #NewWest. After receiving 22 completed applications for these businesses, staff used a ranking system to prioritize 5 applications to be reviewed together as an initial tranche, one in each of Downtown, Uptown, Sapperton, 12th Street and Queensborough. These 5 will still need to go through a Zoning Amendment Bylaw, which should happen in April (no, not on the 20th), and if everything goes well with the City, the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, and the applicants, we should have our first stores opened by the summer.

There were many delegates who came to speak to this process, all of them representing businesses that did not make the scoring cut, or were ranked lower than their competitors. However, I hold the opinion that the process was clear and fairly adjudicated. This was not going to be an easy process, and the gold rush mentality about this new industry makes these conversations difficult. Although I think the process was more fair and accountable than the alternate “lottery” process for choosing first wave applicants, it was inevitable that some would not be chosen – even really good applicants. Everyone, successful and otherwise, put serious money and time into the application process, and as with cutting-edge entrepreneurs, really put their heart in it as well. The quality of the applications showed this.

The 5 applicants who got through this first screening will still need to go through Zoning and business license approvals, so there is some work to do yet, and there will be a Public Hearing, so I am going to hold my comments about individual applicants until then.

Interesting to note that there are still some issues to work out with the Province on regulation of these businesses. The LCRB wants these stores to have opaque windows, but for both community design and safety reasons, opaque windows are no longer favoured in retail zones. This is something we need to work out with the LCRB.

Naming of Two New Streets in Queensborough
We have two new streets being created in Q’Boro, so they need names. The Community Heritage Commission and Queensborough Residents Association were consulted, and the names Kamachi and Ota rose to the top of the selections, honouring the memory of two prominent families in the earlier history of the ‘Boro.

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbia Hospital Project): Update on Rezoning to Allow for the Renovation, Redevelopment and Modernization of Hospital Facilities
RCH needs to do a rezoning for the next phases of development on the site, which will require some staff and committee review of things like setbacks, height, density and massing, transportation requirements, and design elements. It will go through some committee review and public consultation in April. Phase 2 of the RCH Project is the big one –with a new Acute Acre tower that will be the largest building on site. Folks in Sapperton especially should spend a bit of time getting to know this project and its potential impact on their neighbourhood.

The movement of Ambulance access to the Sherbrook Street side of the building is sure to be something Lower Sapperton residents are going to have opinions on, but the maintenance of a pedestrian and cycling connection through the campus from the Sapperton SkyTrain Station to lower Sapperton is a positive idea.

I also took a moment to reiterate that East Columbia cannot be the primary road access for staff and visitors of this major acute care hospital. The community’s dreams of East Columbia as a great street supporting a vibrant commercial district mean we need to reduce this traffic load on that road, not increase it. The only alternative is for the regional traffic accessing the hospital (and adjacent commercial development at the Brewery district) to have direct access from Brunette Avenue, which would require a light-controlled intersection at Kearey, Allen, or Sherbrook. This will be a tough sell to regional traffic mongers like the Trucking Association and the Gateway Council, but regional traffic on regional roads is the primary plan for not just New Westminster and Sapperton, but for the entire Greater Vancouver region. This is a fight worth having, and we need to get Fraser Health on side with it.

Proposal for Public Realm Improvements in Brow of the Hill at 1010 Fifth Avenue
Another small parklet in the Brow of the Hill Neighbourhood, where the City has some of the greatest density and least access to public green space. Little hubs like this can really make an apartment-centric neighbourhood a home. I’m happy to support them, and happy that Councillor Nakagawa (a champion for the Brow before it was cool!) called for a more “green” design.

Quayside Tugger Pilot House: Removal and Replacement Project
With mixed feelings, I am sorry to report Tugger has to go. She served us well for 30+ years, but rusting structural elements are taking their toll. The underlying decking needs significant structural intervention, and that simply cannot happen without deconstruction and removal of the ol’ tetanus tug.

The good news is that a new play structure is planned and will be installed in his spring, thanks to support from the local Rotary Club in memory of long-time member Dr. Irwin Stewart (who provided $50,000 for the project), and Bosa (who are doing the deck repairs).

The design is a bit controversial, just as most every other playspace is when seen as a rendering and as a replacement for what we are used to. But I like the nod to the old tug, and the creative use of the main evidence that the Fraser is still a working river – a heaping barge – as the foundation for an all-ages tumble space.

Downtown Dog Off-Leash Area – Partial Relocation
The downtown off-leash area has been in place since 2009, but the land it is on does not belong to the City, and with a new building on part of the lot and a new memorial park planned for the site, we need to move the urban dog park.

We went through some public consultation, and dog parks are always exciting and challenging public consultations for a variety of reasons. However, the best current option is to put a dog run at Simcoe Park.

I am challenged by the idea that we won’t have a dog park below Royal Avenue. I am asking staff to continue to look for opportunities downtown, recognizing we don’t have much City-owned land in the downtown, but a lot of people in apartments have dogs, and need this service. I have a few ideas that I hope staff will explore, but I’m not going to share them now because I honestly don’t know the practicality of feasibility of either site, and I don’t an to set expectations. There is work to do here…


Finally, we adopted the following Bylaws

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw 8097, 2019
Cemetery Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8102, 2019
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw 8098, 2019
These Bylaws that represent our annual adjustment of various fees and charges in the City – almost every bit of revenue that we collect that isn’t taxation, were adopted by Council. Be sure to put “2019” on your cheques.

Controlled Substance Property Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8081, 2019
Noise Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8082, 2019
Construction Noise Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8083, 2019
These Bylaw amendments are housekeeping measures to update the language of older Bylaws to match new bylaws and senior government legislation. It was adopted by Council, so check your language.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8096, 2019
This Bylaw updates our electrical utility rates for 2019, and it was Adopted by Council on a split vote (Councillor Johnstone opposed).

(draft) Budget 2019

I guess we knew this was going to be a tight budget year for New Westminster, as it is for most Cities in the lower mainland. The shift in MSP / employer health tax has impacted many municipalities hard, which I will talk more about below. Combine that with our aggressive capital plan, regular inflationary increases in costs, and constant demand for new services, and the tax increase is higher than some would have liked this year. That said, I actually would vote to make it a little bit higher, and indicated so to Council. Here is my rationale.

The current proposal is for a 5.28% increase in property taxes. That is about a $117/year increase for the “average” household. For perspective, the “average” household in New West is a $1.2M house that went up in value over the last year by 9%, or about $100,000. Condos went up a little more than houses overall, so the tax increase for condo owners will be proportionally higher than for detached house owners. The City has no control over that, it is just how the market works.

For the purpose of explanation, it is helpful to break that 5.28% into component parts. The numbers below are my back-of-the envelope estimates drawn from the kinda complex budget documents (you can see a staff report here), and of course the budget has not been passed yet, so the numbers may change. All that to say nothing below represents official numbers or communications, but this is close enough to an accurate breakdown to foster conversation:

1.8% is directly attributable to the shift in the MSP and employer health tax. This could be viewed as downloading: increased local government costs that will be funding something that should be paid from provincial and federal coffers. However, I generally reserve that for when we shift the burden for a service to local governments, not just the cost – an oft-mentioned (by me!) example is underfunding the provincially-funded ambulance service so that our locally-funded Fire and Rescue staff need to cover the load. regardless of what you call it ,the effect is the same. We and other cities have challenged the province to not apply this to local governments, and we lost that fight. So here we are, and need to budget for it.

If you want to take a more positive look at (spin of?) this tax increase, remember that it is a result of phasing out of the MSP system. That means the $40 or so that this 1.8% costs the “average” household is easily offset by the $1,500 the “average” New West household saves in reduced MSP fees. If that is no help, then at least recognize this is a one-time event, and that there will actually be a slight reduction in City costs next year as the final MSP phase-out occurs. That means we will be starting the 2020 budget year ahead of the game by about $300,000.

4.23% is direct growth and inflationary pressure – increased wage and supply costs related to just doing what we do every day. This goes up both because of because of inflation, and because the population City is growing at a rate of about 1.6% per year, so we need to do about 1.6% more stuff. Add to this inflation a little above the 2.0% projected CPI increase (don’t get me on a rant about how the CPI “basket of goods” does not fairly reflect the inflation of running a municipal government) and the projected 2.5 % wage growth across the region. Much of this increase is locked up in contracts with our staff, which have annual increases built into them. Of course budget time usually results in some on-line trolling of City workers. For the record, I no not think our staff is underworked or overpaid. Wages in New West are a little below the regional average for municipal governments for people in comparative roles, and our ratio of exempt staff to union staff is about 13%, which is slightly below the average of comparable sized municipalities (a fact that is directly counter to the rhetoric used by some during the recent election).

-2.46% That’s right, this is a negative. The growth part of above means that there are more properties / people to pay taxes and more services bought from the City. The taxes from new construction and increased other revenues allow us to actually reduce the overall tax rate by about 2.5%.

1.2% is related to new spending. This is all new staff positions and operational and capital costs related to things we do now that we didn’t do in the past. This is “discretionary spending”, the money we get to haggle over at this point in the budget cycle. And haggle we did.

The reality for us on Council is that people rarely ask us to do less. Every week, people come to Council asking the City to do something more, be it paint more crosswalks or plant more trees or give more to a local group to help run a festival or provide homelessness outreach. Nine times out of ten, we want to do it, and often I see the strained look in staff’s eyes as they are the first to recognize that we don’t have the capacity in our budgets or room in staff work plans to do this, and they are going to have to come back to Council with hat in hand, asking for the resources to fund what Council has already said we want them to do, or to ask us which of the existing programs or services we should cut. It is only the week of budget that everyone asks us to spend less, but aside from “finding efficiencies”, I never hear specific programs that people want us to cut.

The “nice to haves” in the budget reporting this year added up to more than $2 Million, and would have put us well over a 7% tax increase. This means we did not fund some of the things I would have loved see happen this year in the City.

To give you an idea of what kind of new spending we did approve, here are a few line items from the report:
• $122,000 (equal to 0.15% tax increase) to hire two new staff to ramp up the tree maintenance and planting program as we move forward with Urban Forest Management Program;
• $80,000 (0.10%) to bring in some expertise to guide us through our Truth and Reconciliation process;
• $225,000 (0.28%) to run the QtoQ ferry service year-round;
• $54,000 (0.07%)for a part-time Facilities Project Manager to help us make budget and timing on a couple of our bigger capital projects;
• $100,000 (0.13%) for a full time program coordinator to carry the Intelligent City program forward for one more year;
• $65,000 (0.08%) for a Special Events program coordinator to help for community partners to run events like Fridays on Front.

0.5% The final piece of the budget increase this year is the Capital Levy. We introduced this special line item last year as a buffer for our increasingly extensive capital plan. The big item is, of course, the replacement of the Canada Games Pool and the Centennial Community Centre, which will blow a $100 Million hole in our budget. This is a big enough story, and this is already a long enough blog, that I am going to hold off commenting more on the Capital Plan until a follow-up blog. Short version: I think we should be putting more into this Capital Levy and keep it at 1% this year, but the majority of Council did not agree.

What we have now is a proposed budget framework, subject to some last-minute number crunching and adjustments by finance staff. There will be a budget bylaw (and new 5-year financial plan) prepared, which will come to Council for deliberation, though the real debate happened in workshop last week (see the video here). Of course, we always invite public comment and delegations to come speak to the budget and let us know how much they appreciate the hard work staff and Council do to manage the City’s finances responsibly. Alternate opinions are also welcomed.

Council – Feb 25, 2019

The things we discussed in open workshop on February 25th will end up being more interesting than what we did in Council, but those will have to wait for subsequent posts. Partly because those things will come to regular council and I need to stick ti current business here, and we had a full agenda, starting with a Public Hearing:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8067, 2019 Phase One of Infill Housing Program
As part of the implementation of the Official Community Plan, we have created zoning language around design of infill housing – laneway houses and carriage houses. After review of several applications that have been coming in coming in since the program was started, staff are recommending a few changes of that language to allow more flexibility in design while still addressing the design, massing, and parking concerns that may be presented by these designs. We are also making a few housekeeping changes (i.e. making our access requirement consistent at 6.0m when it was made inconsistent by a rounding error). These changes require a change in the zoning bylaw, which we are required to test in a Public Hearing.

No-one wrote us to opine on the subject, and no-one showed up to speak to the Public Hearing, so Council moved to give the Bylaw third reading and adoption.


We then went on to a couple of Opportunities to be Heard:

Development Variance Permit DVP00660 for 1050 Boyd Street
The new Toyota dealership located next to Boyd and Howes wants to put fascia signs on more than one face of their building, and have a taller freestanding sign than strictly meet the limits of our sign bylaw. The highway-offramp location is not typical of New West, and that is why their design really doesn’t fit neatly in our Sign Bylaw, and why they are looking for a variance. No-one wrote to council to opine on the variance, and no-one came to speak against it. Council voted to approve the variance.

Commercial Vehicle Amendment (Taxi) Bylaw No. 8091, 2019
This Bylaw increases the number of permitted taxi licenses in New West, consummate with the number permitted by the Passenger Transportation Board. Not enough, and not enough accessible taxis, in my opinion, but this will marginally improve service and reliability of taxi service in the City. No-one wrote to us or came to speak to the Bylaw, and Council moved to approve it.


The following items were moved on consent:

New Revenue Sources
It’s budget time, and we are reviewing many aspects of how we collect and spend money. Part of that is reviewing our non-taxation revenue sources: fees we charge for every service from building inspections to swim passes. Many are adjusted annually to match CPI, while others are given a more detailed review that tries to balance the sometimes-conflicting goals of cost recovery and being a price that reflects the regional market for similar services.

This report covers a variety of engineering fees, including parking in the downtown parkades going up in price for the first time in several years. We are also doing a bit of a revamp of development fees as that department is seeing increased work load with more complexity in the types of applications they see, and there is a general feeling that more of the cost of that work should fall on the applicants in the development community than the general taxpayer.

Revised 2019 City Partnership Grant Recommendations
The City’s Partnership Grant process is getting more and more difficult to administer, as we are reaching towards a half million dollars in annual granting and the dozens of applications are all for things we want to see happen in the City. The battle to manage within our budget inevitably means saying no to many worthy organizations and potentially great programs. The good news? We are giving a combined $493,000 to 22 organizations supporting the arts and varied social services in our community. These are all true social profits for our community, and I hope you will support them with your time or money (whichever you have more of), and help them keep our community connected.

Recruitment 2019: Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) Appointments
The EDAC needs community members, so we appointed them! Thanks to the volunteers who give their time and energy to help us help the local economy.

Recruitment 2019: Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) Appointments
The Youth Advisory Committee needs a few more appointees for the year – so here they are getting appointed!

Recruitment 2019: Community Heritage Commission Representative on the Heritage Grant Program Committee
We have a volunteer committee that evaluates heritage grant applications, and one spot is reserved for a representative from the Community Heritage Committee, and here they are, appointed by Council upon recommendation from that Commission.

Light Industrial Zoning Districts (M-1): Text Amendment to Permit Electrical Utilities – First and Second Reading
The City expropriated a piece of light industrial land in Queensborough upon which it intends to build an electrical substation. The zoning does not currently permit that use, so we need a zoning text amendment to fix that.

Housekeeping Amendments to Three City Bylaws (Controlled Substance Property Bylaw No. 6679, 2001; Noise Bylaw No. 6250, 1999; and Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992): Bylaws For Three Readings
Here we go with some omnibus changes to Bylaws under the category of “housekeeping”. We are not changing how the Bylaws work, you won’t notice any changes, this just updates the language and makes sure the language is consistent with language found in more recent Bylaws and with shifts in other regulations.

Royal Columbia Hospital Project: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Work at Royal Columbian is going to require digging up East Columbia Street to install electrical conduits, water pipes, and the such. Staff figure the best way to avoid traffic chaos of closing the street during the day is to allow some night work noise exemptions so the work can happen outside of business hours. They are asking for a noise Bylaw exemption for a few days in March and a few days in April, which Council approved.

Hey Neighbour Collective
This is an interesting program that has some solid academic backing and has proven to work in Vancouver where it was piloted. The idea is to improve social connectedness and public engagement in multi-family buildings. Anyone who has read “The Happy City” knows that creating social connections and engaged neighbourhoods in multi-family buildings is sometimes challenging, but is very much doable with the right kind of intervention. Council voted to approve this program on the recommendation of the Community and Social Issues Committee.


These items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Sanctuary City Designation: Process and Proposed Next Steps
Back in January, Councillor Das put forward a motion requesting the City work towards Sanctuary City status. This report outlines the path the City will take to implement that recommendation including work with external agencies and the Multiculturalism Advisory committee. Council added that the NWPD be brought closer into the process, as their participation in this program will be vital to its success.

In short, a Sanctuary City is one where all residents are provided access to services regardless of their immigration status – or lack of immigration status. There are people in our community who may be reluctant to seek a variety of services, be it calling the police to report a crime, seeking health care, or even applying for a permit, because they may carry fear that exposing themselves to officialdom may impact their immigration status, or even cause them to be jailed or deported. This may seem absurd to many Canadians, but a portion of our immigrant community comes from places where governance and corruption exist in a very different space, and they may have good reason to mistrust people in positions of authority. We want to assure all residents have equitable access to municipal services, and that no-one should live with fear separating them from vital services.

Light Industrial Mixed Use Zoning Districts (M-5): Text Amendment to Permit Public Utilities – First and Second Reading
Metro Vancouver is boring a new water main under the Fraser River, and it will terminate and connect to a pumping station on a lot they expropriated on the Lower 12th Street area. The lot is zoned light industrial, but this specific type of utility operation is not named in the applicable use for M-5 zoning. So a text amendment or re-zoning is required, and staff figured the text amendment was minor enough that it was the easier way to go.

My only question was about the property tax implications. A lot like this pays taxes if it has an industrial or commercial operation on it, I want to know if Metro pays taxes to the city at that rate, or what the impact is if they get a different rate. Staff surprisingly did not have the answer on hand, so hopefully will clarify this before third reading.

660 Quayside Drive (Bosa Development): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The Bosa project on the waterfront is continuing to adjust how they manage the most challenging part of the project – driving a secant pile wall adjacent to fisheries habitat with uncertain ground conditions within a rapidly-closing fisheries protection window. I have a bit of experience in this type of work, and can attest it was much easier to manage (with better protection of habitat) before the federal government disassembled FREMP. Alas, there appears to be no interest in the new government for cleaning up that environmental review mess either… wait – I went off on a tangent there

We continue to get complaints about impact driving, but not on the vibratory driving of the secant piles. This request to do non-impact-driving works outside of regulated construction hours in order to reduce the amount time spent impact driving is a reasonable request, and I think a net good for the community. I hasten to remind people – they could, under the existing bylaw, be doing 100% impact driving, 8 hours a day 6 days a week, but have spent a considerable amount of time and effort to reduce that impact in response to community concerns, and to reach out to the community to manage conflicts. To characterize this as “pushing us around” is, in the technical term, bullshit.

Proposed Speed Hump Policy
The use of speed humps to reduce speed in our residential neighbourhoods is something we receive occasional calls for. They are often seen as a bit of a panacea for other traffic-related concerns, when in reality, they are only one tool that needs to be fit into context of other interventions (traffic diversion, road narrowing, speed enforcement, education).

That said, the City receives almost constant requests for new speed humps where residents feel they have a spot speeding problem, so the Neighbourhood Traffic Advisory Committee and staff took on the task of developing a policy about when these requests would be reviewed, the process used when a request is received to determine if the intervention makes engineering sense, and then to prioritize installations of new humps within the available budget, based on that data.

Council bounced this back to staff, only because the public consultation part of it seems to emphasize homeowners, actually to the exclusion of renters. Almost half of residents of New West are renters, and we have been trying to better engage them – they care just as much about safe streets and traffic management as homeowners, so this need to be jigged a little to assure they are given a voice.

1968 New Westminster Salmonbellies Lacrosse – BC Sports Hall of Fame Induction Recognition
The 1968 Salmonbellies were one of the greatest lacrosse teams ever assembled, apparently. They are already in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, but are about to be indicted into the BC Sport Hall of Fame, and the City is going to honour them at a reception at the Anvil Centre.

2019/2020 Electrical Utility Rates
The Electrical Commission is recommending a 2.8% increase in electrical rates. I do not support the recommendation, and would have preferred a 1.8% increase. This was discussed at some greater length in the afternoon workshop, where I went off on a pretty lengthy rant. I will write another blog post to follow up on this to explain my rationale, as it gets pretty philosophical, but short version is I was not supported by the majority of Council on opposing this.

Festival Grant Committee: Request for additional funding for Sapperton Day Street Festival
I recognize the value of Sapperton Day, and have enjoyed it for the many years it has been running. However, having just gone through the Festival and Partnership granting process where we gave out more than our ~$600,000 in budgeted grant money, Council was not in the mood to re-open the process and add another $25,000. To the best of my knowledge, Sapperton Days did not apply for this funding back in December when every other festival organization did, which led the Grant Committee (of which I was a member) to understand that they were satisfied with the $11,100 grant in cash and city services they were already granted for 2019 as part of the 3-year agreement with the City. I am hoping staff can connect with them around how to make things work within their existing budget, or they can work on alternative funding models, but to throw $25,000 more at them at this stage would be unfair to every granted festival in the City, not to mention the ones we found we just didn’t have the budget to grant in 2019.


We then did our readings of bylaws, and many went through first, second, and third, but there are the Bylaws for Adoption:

Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8084, 2019
This was the Bylaw we rescinded and fixed after second reading, and adjusts some of the fees and fines under the building bylaw. Council approved it, and it is now the Law of the Land.

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8094, 2019
This Bylaw adjusts some of the fees we charge for various development process, permit application and the such. Council approved it, and it is now the Law of the Land.


We then addressed a bit of New Business, as is becoming the trend:

Motion: Neighbourhood Learning Centres
Councillor Das brought forward this motion to ask staff to work with the School District to provide an update on “Neighbourhoods of Learning Pilot Project”, and to update us on plans for an integration centre as part of the new high School neighbourhood learning space plans.

Motion: Creation of Office of the Renters Advocate
Councillor Puchmayr brought forward this motion after Councillor Nakagawa raised the need for an independent provincial Renters Advocate at a recent community forum. The idea is that the advocate could work on the same models as the Advocate for Youth or Seniors Advocate to hold the government accountable for how their various programs and initiatives are impacts in housing affordability and the availability of rental housing in the province. For increasing numbers of our working population, renting isn’t a wacky phase of life, but their only foreseeable access to housing. New West will bring this motion to the Lower Mainland LGA and the UBCM, hoping to get more communities to call upon the province to make this a reality.

Ask Pat: Omnibus edition!

I had a few Ask Pat questions in the queue, and it being Family Day Long Weekend and all, I figured I would answer them all in one fell swoop. Have a question about the City, Council, Politics, music or fashion? Hit the red button up there to the right and send it to me, and more likely than not will answer it, hopefully before you forgot you even asked it!

RK asked—

I was in Winnipeg this last Christmas for a few days, and when I visited the public market at The Forks, I saw they had craft beer/wine stall set up in the main food court area, where people could buy a drink (served in glassware) and then enjoy it at any of the tables in the market, not just a roped-off area. Are you aware if there are legal restrictions on such a business opening in the River Market? It seems like a great and space-efficient way to not only add more life to a market but also complement the existing food-service businesses. And perhaps it was just the time of day that I was there, but I didn’t notice any roaming gangs of drunkards smashing up the place or terrorizing young children.

I’m not one to speak for the River Market. They are a private business with a business model that works for them. They have been pretty successful at activating the Market Hall, and I have enjoyed many, many events there over the last few years. It is also one of our community’s great “Third Spaces” where you never know who you will meet or the conversation you are going to have when you get there.

I also may not be completely up to date on the changes to BC liquor laws as they pertain to public spaces, but I think the Market would probably be able to license the common spaces as you suggest. However, this would very likely limit their flexibility in how they operate the space, and strange things like security measures and temporary license suspensions to accommodate special events would probably be more hassle than it is worth. The owners and operators of the Market are pretty entrepreneurial and creative, so the best evidence I have that the inherent hassles make it not worth doing is the fact they are currently not doing it.

That said, have you been to Fridays on Front? There was even a Christmas Edition under the Parkade this year. There were shifts in provincial liquor laws that allowed this to happen, and it took a bit of vision to put New West at the leading edge of activating those changes. I think the Downtown BIA (with some support from the City) has done a great job demonstrating that public market spaces can have an open license for adult beverages available without chaos ensuing. I’m old enough to remember the craziness that used to come with public drinking in BC in decades past, and the cost of managing that craziness made some great events go away (I’m looking at you Seafest Vancouver Seafest, Pentiction Peachfest, White Rock Sandcastle festival). I think the attitude around beer and wine have changed as our society has matured, though the transition away from puritan prohibition-era liquor controls is a slow one.

And as of the leading edge of current regulation, there are no special event licenses envisioned for cannabis, but I’ll hold that conversation off for a future post.


JJ asks—

are you the person that sides with justin trudeau of political correctness? Jaywalking the word to be remove? Stop the left wing removement!

[Sic] Dude, if you think Justin Trudeau represents some sort of left wing of Canadian politics, we are not conversing from the same frame of reference. My disappointment in his election in 2015 was very much tempered by the knowledge that Harper was headed for a long-overdue trip to the political wilderness, but I was also disappointed that Mulcair decided to tack towards the centre and got “out lefted” by Trudeau on the campaign trail (though that was not the only NDP campaign mistake last election). Clearly people were ready to move left politically, and voted for progressive ideas like legalization of cannabis (done), electoral reform (shamefully abandoned), and feminism (the jury is out on this one). Predictably, Trudeau swung right after the election and abandoned many of the most left-progressive ideas upon which he campaigned, from climate action to reconciliation, and his record is almost indistinguishable from Harper’s Conservatives on these files. Gord Downie would be disappointed. I am becoming less and less of a Trudeau fan as time goes on, and look forward to calling him out on his failures in October, but I will not make the mistake of looking for him to my left.


FB asked—

If i find someone isn’t sorting garbage and i take a picture as proof is it violating his personal information or privacy?

I’m not a lawyer, and know better than to give legal advice. If you have a problem with how someone is managing their waste stream , and suspect that they are contaminating the recycleables or compostables, there is good reason for you to take action, because this type of contamination costs the City money, or your Strata potentially lots of money, depending on how your waste is managed. I might suggest that friendly attempts at education might get you further than surreptitious incrimination. They may just not know better, as the rules for waste sorting are sometimes complicated and constantly shifting.

If this is going into the City’s waste stream, you can contact our Engineering Operations folks at 604-526-4691 or engops@newwestcity.ca. If you are in a Strata or a rental, please let your building manager know and ask them to take action. It is their job, and they will save money in the long run if they have a well-organized waste stream that assures as much waste as possible is diverted from the landfill.


Jenni asks—

How do I find out information about previous renovations done to my home before I purchased it? The previous owner simply said that all of the work was done before they purchased the home. Is there an archive of building or renovation permits that I can search?

Hey, I actually know the answer to this one! The City has an online tool where you can search for all kind of details about the property you own, or snoop on your neighbor if that is more your thing, because permits are public information, and the City has a pretty open approach to sharing data that belongs to the public.

If you go to the City’s website, and look for “Property Inquiry” under the Online Tools section, you get a slightly-ugly but super-functional interface that allows you to get an online report that tells you all sorts of info about your property. For the fun of it, I searched for my house and found a bounty of info about my lot size, the amount of tax I pay, and even that the Business License for my consulting hussle is up to date (redacted a bit to make it one step harder for stalkers to find out where I live):

You can also get a list of all the permits for the property:
Here I can see three permit numbers: the original building permit was from 1940, my rear sundeck was built in 1987 with a valid permit, and I can see the permit I took out for my bathroom renovation project I did two years ago.

Of course, there are no permits there for the renovation of my basement that probably happened in the 1980s, or of the attic conversion that happened around the same time, or of the transition my house clearly went from knob-and-tube electrical to modern insulated wiring. It is possible that permits were not required, or the owner at the time didn’t get a permit, or the City has lost the records. This just to say that the City knows what the City knows, and you should not assume the data you get from these searches is a definitive record of the work done in your house.

Ask Pat: Protecting Trees

Someone asked—

I’m curious about the tree protection bylaw that was introduced a few years back. The amount of protection barriers around the city is quite high and frankly questionable. The city of New Westminster neither supplies the materials to build these barriers, nor do they facilitate the recycling of either wood or barrier fencing. In fact, the orange barrier fencing is not recyclable at any Metro Vancouver transfer stations. How have we come to having to contribute substantial, single use construction waste, both plastic and wood, to landfills in order to protect trees that in many cases are not in harms way. I challenge someone to accurately estimate the amount of waste we are creating. We are cutting down trees, so we can build a barrier around another tree and then throwing the wood away . It’s all a bit of a head scratcher imo.

Yep, that is a good point.

First off, let’s go over how we got here. New West adopted an Urban Forest Management Strategy back in 2016. At the time, the City’s tree canopy was measured to be about 18% of landcover and trending downwards. The City set a goal to increase this cover to the North American average of 27% over 20 years. To do that, we need to do two things: Stop cutting down so many trees (during a time when we are densifying our neighbourhoods!) and plant more trees. The Tree Protection Bylaw is primarily about the former, but if well administered will also help with the latter.

When the City introduced the Tree Protection Bylaw, we did so building on the existing Bylaws that exist around the region. Why re-invent the wheel when other nearby communities have already taken a test drive? This allowed us to get out of the gate quicker, but also resulted in a few parts of the Bylaw that didn’t really work so well in our local context, so we have been making some changes to the Bylaw as we go along, and have made some adjustments in how it is implemented. This happened in a context where (frankly) not all of Council was on board agreeing that a Bylaw was needed, or felt that the protection provisions were too strict. I don’t agree with that position, because I think trees are fundamentally important to the livability of our community – the more the better – and the cost of protecting them is easily offset by the cost benefit to the community.

One of the aspects common to most tree protection bylaws is tree protection fences at construction sites. The idea is that a fixed temporary fence line to protect the branches and critical root zones of protected trees when construction happens around them. This is to stop the occasional (usual accidental) bumping over of a tree by an excavator, or the excavation of tree roots required for the tree to remain healthy. Sometimes they are located away from any visible excavation work, however this is likely because they are located in a location identified as a likely laydown area for building supplies or fill or drive alleys for construction vehicles – loading critical root zones can be almost as damaging as excavating them.

These fences – staked-in lumber with polypropylene safety fencing – is pretty typical of these bylaws. It uses materials typical to construction sites (i.e. doesn’t introduce something builders aren’t used to) and are relatively durable and cheap to put together. They do, admittedly, look a little overkill in some applications, but they are definitely on the cheap & easy solution side of things.

However, you do point out rightly that they seem pretty wasteful. Most scrap lumber at construction sites is kept out of the standard waste stream, it is commonly “recycled” into wood products used to fire turbines and generate steam or electricity. The polypropylene, however, seems destined to the landfill. I’m not sure it is a substantial proportion of construction waste for a typical project, but there is no reason for us to add more.

I have had a preliminary discussion with city staff about this to understand the need a little more, but will follow up to see if there has been any effort to explore alternatives. I suspect temporary modular fencing might be much more expensive (so we will get backlash from builders already irritated by the need for tree protection), or if the City can suggest alternative materials, or even provide at a cost-recovery rate recyclable materials that meet the needs of the Bylaw, the industry, and homeowners. Thanks for the idea.

Bylaw 8085

For the second week in a row, we had a Council meeting where many people came to speak to a bylaw that is meant to reduce the incidence of renoviction in the City. Ironically, this week’s bylaw has much more far-reaching implications than the very limited rezoning discussion of the previous meeting, but we had nary a landlord or members of the development community come to speak against this move. We did, however, have a large number of people come to speak about the real human impacts of renoviction in our community, and remind us why these kinds of aggressive actions are needed.

As a bit of nuance, this was not a Public Hearing as constituted by the Local Government Act, like we had last week. This was an Opportunity to be Heard. We effectively operate these like a Public Hearings in New West, but they don’t have the same regulatory baggage. In short, it is a non-regulatory opportunity for the public to either send us a letter or come and speak to Council on a point of public interest.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8085, 2019
As I said about last week’s Bylaw to protect 18 properties in the City with Rental Tenure Zoning, we are going to need many more tools to address housing affordability in the City. This step is another bold measure that will give the City more ability to protect people who are precariously housed. This and last week’s bylaw are part of a larger Rental Housing Revitalization Initiative that will provide both metaphorical carrots and sticks within our legal authority to protect safe, secure, and affordable housing in the City and hopefully mitigate the current rental crunch and its impact on lower-income residents.

The step being adopted here is to use a tool that is not typically considered when dealing with land use tenure: our business licensing powers. Cities typically look at demo- or reno-viction through a planning context, which invokes zoning or building bylaws. However, it happens that all businesses operating rental buildings in the city require a business license to do so, and we have great flexibility in how we administer our business regulations, as long as they are fair to all businesses. Our staff have found a creative way to apply these regulatory powers to create new protections against renoviction.

Nothing on this Bylaw prevents renovation of older rental stock buildings. Instead, the Bylaw requires that the building owner provide the City a demonstration of the efforts they have taken to accommodate the residency needs of tenants prior to the City providing them a permit to perform a major renovation that requires tenant displacement. This may include providing them alternative accommodation, providing them priority to rent the same unit after renovation, or other methods to assure the resident is not made homeless. This also gives the City the ability to determine if a renovation even requires tenant removal or not.

The City can apply fines and/or a business license surcharge if these conditions are not met, and those charges may be built upon each other. We can even pull a business licence if the violations are egregious enough. Of course, exceptions are considered for life safety improvements, immediate repairs necessitated by an emergency or natural disaster, or other reasonable causes.

Much like the previous Bylaw, this change will not stand alone, and indeed the few criticisms I have heard of the Bylaw are based on thinking that it does. We cannot stop renovating our older building stock, or the most affordable housing in the City will eventually become the least livable. This is why these Bylaws exist within the framework of a wider Rental Housing Revitalization Initiative. The entire program includes an updated Rental Replacement Policy to create clear guidelines for the development community about how and when we would address the replacement of any rental stock lost through development, and an incentive program through fee and tax reductions to encourage and make more affordable the renovation of older buildings.

This is a comprehensive program that will help assure there continues to be market rental in New Westminster that is safe and livable, but stays at the affordable end of the market rental scale. This, in turn, is enhanced by the admittedly less-affordable new rental stock that is coming on line in the City which will help on the supply side and hopefully put downward pressure on market rent costs. Of course, this also relies on all three levels of government working together to bring more non-market housing on line, because “the market” will never supply the type of affordable housing needed by those 500+ families currently on the waiting list for supportive housing in New Westminster.

The work goes on. Housing affordability is a pernicious problem and we are indeed in a crisis situation in the Lower Mainland. I am proud to sit on a Council where we support taking bold action, and thank our staff – planning, business license, and legal – who have worked to find creative ways for the City to address the problem. Mostly, though, I want to thank the residents of New Westminster who live in rental buildings (44% of our residents!), some of them in somewhat precarious financial situations, for uniting and bravely bringing your voices to Council so that we have the political support to do the right thing, and so that the rest of your community can understand why the need for bold, progressive housing action exists.

Council – February 4, 2019

Another week, another long Council meeting, as we heard from the public about our efforts to address the renoviction issue. Again, there is much to say about the public delegation part of the evening, but I am going to hold that off for a follow-up post, while this one summarizes all of the other important stuff on the Agenda that you may have missed.

We started with Opportunities to be Heard on three issues:

Development Variance Permit for 381 Keary Street (DVP00659)
This property owner in Sapperton wishes to create a legal secondary suite, but their house has no back alley access, nor is there room beside their house for a driveway to a back parking lot. So they want to create a front yard parking pad, which is a violation our zoning. That said, Keary Street is one where almost every house already has a front driveway and many have front parking pads – actually, this house already has a parking pad over most of this area, so we are more permitting a non-conforming use that is common on the street.

We received three pieces of correspondence (two supporting the application, one against), and no-one came to speak on the Variance. Council moved to approve the variance.

Development Variance Permit for 341 Johnston Street (DVP00658)
This is one of those cases where a DVP is required because a proposed and reasonable subdivision of a lot will result in the frontage being less than 10% of the circumference of the property because of the unusual depth of the lot. This is one of those arbitrary rules that serves as a check on how lot lines are developed in the City, and one for which a variance is usually approved if the lot frontage is reasonable.

No-one wrote or appeared to address this variance, and Council moved to approve it. We also move that future parcels created from this property will be exempt from the same rule.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8085, 2019
This was the agenda item that got the most attention, and we had something like 30 delegations and even more correspondence on it, almost all in favour. I will write more about this in a follow-up post, but for now suffice to say we are taking some creative action to protect tenants from unnecessary renoviction in the City as part of our larger Rental Revitalization program.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Investment Report to December 31, 2018
The City has $163 Million in the bank, which is $6.6 Million more than at the beginning of last year. Our savings are in a combination of commercial bank savings accounts and Municipal Finance Authority investment funds. We are expected to make a little more than the $2.3 Million we budgeted in interest for this fiscal year.

I need to point out, this is more than the amount of debt we have issued, and we are making more on our investments than we are paying interest on our debts.

It is also important to note that most of this “savings” is not money we can take out and spend at will or use to reduce your tax rates this year. Most of it is restricted to a specific use, such as the $15 Million or so we have saved up to spend on the Canada Games Pool replacement, or the money we have collected from DCCs to invest in sewer upgrades when they are required. I wrote a primer on this here.

Major Purchases September 1st to December 31st, 2018
This is out three-times-a-year report on our major purchases, for those interested in the results of our public procurement processes, be that sole-sourced or tenured.

Recruitment 2019: Appointment to the Intelligent City Advisory Committee
We have named a representative from the Ministry of Transportation in Infrastructure to the ICAC This position exists for a couple of reasons: MOTI owned conduit and right of way through which much optical fibre stretches, and because intelligent transportation systems is a major area of interest for both the MOTI and the City.

Phase I Infill Housing Program: One-Year Update and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8067, 2019 – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The City passed a new Official Community Plan in 2017 after more than three years of intensive community conversations. Once the plan was passed, staff moved onto creating policies that will see the vision of the OCP realized – the “implementation phase” in planner-speak.

Part of the OCP vision was to see more gentle infill density to increase housing choice in the majority of our City that is still designated for single family detached homes. This includes encouraging small townhouse (strata tenue) and rowhome (freehold tenure) developments around the periphery of the SFD zones, and Laneway and Carriage houses within the SFD zones. At the time, we asked Staff to track the success of this, and report back to us on how the guidelines and policies were going – recognizing the land use economics can shift quickly and best laid plans can age quickly.

Short version: we have had 22 formal applications for laneway and carriage houses after more than 100 inquiries. Some are being built today. The townhouse/rowhome side is not moving very quickly, with two applications in process (representing up to 59 homes), though both have local gradient situations that require some adaption from the guidelines.

At the same time, staff are proposing some modest changes in the bylaws and guidelines. A couple would follow under the category of “housekeeping”, the rest are subtle changes in how FSR is calculated in one of these developments to meet the massing-control and other goals of the original guidelines while providing more flexibility for the builder and designer to make a livable space. These changes would need to go to a Public Hearing, so watch this space.

Keary Street Sewer Installation (Royal Columbian Hospital Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Installing storm sewer upgrades on Keary Street below east Columbia as part of the RCH project will require some nighttime work during late February and early March, but not on weekends. They need a Noise Bylaw exemption to make this happen.

Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8084, 2019: Rescind Second and Third Readings and Amend Bylaw – Consideration of Readings
We are getting sloppy. Once again we read the wrong version of a bylaw at first and second reading. So we need to rescind second and third, replace it with the right one, and do it again. We’re busy, stuff happens. Good to know we got it right the second time!

Development Services Fees and Rates Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw No. 8094, 2019: Bylaw for Three Readings
This is a follow-up to Bylaw 8084 where we do some housekeeping to assure the language is clear and the new requirements mesh well with existing regulations. Unless you are deeply engrained in the details of “Occupancy Certificates” and “Building Officials”, this may no impact your life.

Quayside Drive Speed Humps & Raised Crosswalks
Speed humps were installed by Metro Vancouver on Quayside Drive as a temporary measure in anticipation that the extended Front Street closure would result in heavier traffic and associated unsafe driving on Quayside Drive. Once they were installed, the City received both kudos and criticism from Quayside residents, as is to be expected. Some don’t like the rougher ride, some like the reduced speeds. Despite a few of them being installed in a way that actually made crosswalks less accessible (since fixed), the data indicated that the speed humps had a marginal effect on average and 85th percentile speeds, but did significantly reduce the number of excessive speeders. So in that sense, they work.

Given some mixed reaction from the neighbourhood, staff is going to go to the Quayside RA and to residents in general to decide whether the speed humps should stay or go.

European Chafer Management Program Update
The City is going to continue the subsidized nematode program to keep a few dozen private lawns tidy and unsustainably monocultural in the City for another year. Insert expressionless face emoji here.

New Westminster Urban Solar Garden – Installation of Second Array
We have reached the point where enough people have signed up for a second array for the Solar Garden project. This might be the coolest little community action thing I have ever had the pleasure to approve. It shows that people, when given the tools, want to take personal action to find local solutions to global issues. You can still buy a panel here, but act fast.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Pier West Development, 660 Quayside Drive – Construction Update
This is an update on the construction project on the waterfront that has been causing some disruption, both to the physical space and to the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood. I will probably write a follow-up blog on this, but the short version is that we all realized this was going to be a big and disruptive piece of construction, but recognized that the end result was going to be a great addition to our Riverfront. The developer and their construction contractors have had some challenges with the alternative pile driving strategy, and there were two incidents where the contractor on site violated the agreement they had with the City around construction timing, and both times Bosa was fined. They have subsequently worked with city staff to resolve the scheduling conflicts that resulted in the fines, and have taken efforts to reach out to the Downtown business community and residents. Meanwhile they are adapting their construction plans to address challenges as they arise in what is an incredibly challenging project – both in its technical nature and in the jurisdictional challenges.

The current secant pile work will be going on until March, and it is possible that the impact drivers will be operating one or two days a week during regular construction hours during this time. Bosa are working with the City to maintain accessibility to the River Market and the Pier Park, and have set up a project website to communicate with the community, and are even holding a community meeting next week (follow that last link for details) to let the neighbourhood know what is going on.

Royal City Taxi Ltd./Queen City (Bonnie’s) Taxi Ltd: Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw No. 8091, 2019 to Add Vehicles – Bylaw for Three Readings
Once again the local taxi companies are applying to the City and the Passenger Transportation Board of the province to add vehicles to their fleets so you won’t have to wait a half hour for one to show up. Royal City Taxi was permitted 9 new vehicles, none of which is required to be an accessible vehicle. Queen City Taxi was permitted 2 new vehicles (they applied for three). Neither of which is required to be an accessible taxi.
The justification of the Passenger Transportation Board for the lack of new accessible taxis was, essentially, that 17% of the local fleet is accessible, and both of these operators have 17% or more of their fleet accessible, which is perfect circular reasoning. Unfortunately, it did not address the concern raised by this Council last year (brought to our attention by the Access Ability Advisory Committee) that the local accessible fleet is inadequate. Council even wrote them a letter to the effect, asking them to increase the accessible fleet next time they g o through this exercise.

Clearly they were no compelled by our letter, so we are going to send them another one, asking them why not. Because that would be the polite thing to do.

Short Term Rental Regulation: Proposed Approach and Next Steps
The issue of Short Term Rentals (AirBnB, VRBO, and the such) has been bubbling along below the surface for a couple of years. I even hosted a Metro Conversation in New Westminster on the topic two years ago, where we talked frankly about the opportunities, and potential problems, related to this “disruptive” industry and the regulation of it.

Vancouver recently passed a set of regulations for STRs in their community, and a few other communities from Nelson to Victoria have taken somewhat different approaches to the regulation. The City of New West has decided to take the Vancouver model, and use that as a framework to be adapted through a public consultation process in order to make a modified set of regulations to fit our situation. This will be going out to the STR operator community and the public, so watch this space!

Restorative Justice Committee: Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Motion for Support of the Indigenous Court System
Council is taking a motion to the UBCM asking the federal government to invest in a restorative justice and community based court system for indigenous peoples, as part of a larger effort to address the systemic flaws in our existing justice system that sees indigenous people incarcerated at an unbelievably higher rate than the rest of the Canadian Population.


We read a bunch of Bylaws including adoption of the following:

Bylaw Notice Enforcement Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw No. 7960, 2019 and
Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw No. 8077, 2019
These Bylaws that clear up our ticketing bylaws and update our fines for a variety of offences, including some of the ones that make our pedestrian spaces less safe, as discussed at the January 28 meeting, were adopted by Council.

Bylaw 8078

The Public Hearing on Monday was well attended, with a couple of dozen people presenting on both sides of the issue. We received a significant amount of correspondence going into the public hearing, and some media attention after. I am going to try to outline here what decision Council made, and talk about my motivations for voting the way I did. You might want to put on some tea.

The Bylaw being debated, Zoning Amendment [Multi-Family Residential Rental Tenure] Bylaw No. 8078, 2019, changes the zoning of 18 properties in the City to a new designation called “Residential Rental Tenure”. This new zoning type was recently permitted by the provincial government to provide local governments another tool in addressing housing affordability. Twelve of the properties are City-owned lands, and no one raised any concerns with this. However, the remaining 6 are multi-family buildings that have always operated as rental buildings, and though each building is owned by a single entity (Corporation or Limited Partnership), they have carried Strata title for many years. This detail is important to what the City is trying to achieve here by this slightly clunky method, and that requires some background.

The City has had a moratorium on stratification since the mid-1970s, which means buildings operating as rental in the City have not been able to shift their title to Strata and convert to condos. This was enacted to protect the affordable rental housing stock in the City, and has been largely successful. Last year a building in the Brow of the Hill that had operated for 40+ years as a rental was sold, and the new owners renovicted the tenants and sold off the condos as individual units. When the City looked into this apparent violation of the moratorium, it was discovered that the building had always been titled as Strata, though all of the units belonged to a single owner who had operated as a rental. The moratorium did not apply, and there was nothing the City could do to prevent (effective if not literal) stratification of this rental building.

In doing this research, staff discovered that there were 6 other buildings in the City, representing about 250 rental suites, where a building was built as purpose-built rental before the Strata Title Act was implemented in 1966 or was stratified at the time of construction and has operated as a rental building since that initial construction. These six buildings could potentially do a similar conversion to condo units, violating the spirit of the moratorium, and the City would not have any ability to prevent this.

The reasoning behind applying the new zoning to these 6 buildings was to create a disincentive to the stratification of these buildings (I use that term recognizing the buildings are already strata title – so perhaps “effectively stratify” would be a more accurate description?). The property owners who delegated to Council, and their supporters from LandLord BC and the development community, argue that this was an arbitrary “downzoning” of the properties, that the City has stolen value from the property owners in a capricious way that will chill the market for future development in the City. The tenants and their supporters who delegated were glad that the City was being creative and proactive in preventing eviction of renters from their affordable homes.

But don’t let me put words in their mouth, you can watch the video here.

I have spent a couple of weeks thinking about this Bylaw and its implications, reading 50+ pieces of correspondence, and listening to Public Delegations. In this, I have compiled a long list of things I would like to say about it, but risk veering off onto a long stream-or consciousness rant about affordable housing and things that we within and outside of the City’s jurisdiction and how those often do not overlap so well with things that are within our duty to our residents. That may still happen below, but I am going to try to keep this short (Too Late!) and hit on only three points.

1: This Bylaw does not stand alone. This Bylaw is one tool the City has, and we are applying it in a very limited way to address one small part of the vast spectrum of housing affordability. It isn’t going to make new apartments more affordable and it is not going to protect all affordable apartments from renoviction. It wasn’t meant to do those things. It is going to create a disincentive for renoviction for 250 rental homes in our community. Whenever the City or another government does any small move to address a regional housing affordability crisis, the public response gets bogged down in “whataboutism” about the other problems we are not solving. The housing crises are a complex problem affecting every level or housing, and it will take a combination of tools to make housing secure for everyone in our City.

2: This action was not arbitrary. Much of the rhetoric from the development community and other opponents of this Bylaw suggested this was an arbitrary act by Council that this was applied in a random way, and would send a chilling message to developers that New Westminster was no longer a safe place to invest in new rental housing because this may happen to them. That is hyperbolic and not reflected by the reality of what this Bylaw does, or how this Council operates.

The Bylaw was applied to 12 City-owned properties to send the signal to the community and future councils that the priority for those lands should be purpose-built rental and affordable rental. It was also applied to 6 privately-owned properties that are not protected by our 40-year-old moratorium on conversion of rental buildings to condominiums. Although it does not change the tenure of the current buildings, it does remove some incentive to convert these buildings into condominiums like happened to the building I mentioned above.

We have a current incentive program to encourage developers to build purpose-built rental in the City. It has been somewhat successful, and there have been something more than 1,000 new rental units opened in the City over the last year. All of these developments occurred because the City offered the developer some incentive to make it economic for them to build the rental, in exchange for the developer entering in to a “Housing Agreement” with the City, which secures the use of the building as a rental for (typically) 60 years. We are expanding our incentives for building non-market affordable housing as part of new developments, and you see the initial results of that now. There is no reason why this more recent Bylaw to limit future use of 6 stratified buildings that have always operated a rental, has any impact on how those incentivized rental developments occur. The economics for those developers has not changed.

3: There was a reason to act. Renoviction has been the one part of our affordable housing crisis that we have not yet found tools to address, and you would have to have been in media blackout not to know how this issue has been impacting our community. If you need a primer, read this, or this, or this, or even this.

I know that the owners of the buildings impacted by this Bylaw have assured us that renoviction was not part of their plan for their properties. Thee UDI and LandLordBC representatives came to Council and said none of their members ever do renovictions. Everyone who came to Council to argue against this Bylaw said that they would never support renoviction – they all agree it is an unacceptable situation. Yet renovictions are happening in our City, in at least 15 buildings representing more than 340 units – 340 affordable homes – in the last three years. And it is pretty obvious why.

As an elected official, I hear form these residents. I live in the Brow of the Hill, these people are my neighbours. I see them at coffee shops, and they literally knock on my door and ask me what the City can do to help them. For the last couple of years, I have pointed them at City resources, connected them with our Social Planners and other support organizations, tried to made sure they knew their rights, and the responsibilities of their landlord. I tell them we are advocating to the provincial government to get more tools to help them. I tell them we are making progress, that more tools are coming, and I hope they can hold on. Looking at my neighbour Laverne when she tells me about the real fear she has about becoming homeless after 28 years in the same apartment and telling her there is nothing I could do but she should try to hold on hits me hard. This shit gets personal really fast.

I didn’t get into this job to be a housing advocate. I am an environmentalist, a sustainability guy, an active transportation advocate, someone who wants to see activation of our public spaces. Those were my fights to have. But if four years on this job doesn’t make you an affordable housing advocate, you have no soul. so now this is the fight I have to have.

Here we have a case where staff have identified affordable units that are potential targets for eviction, and the provincial government has provided us a tool to address that risk. All this during a housing crisis that is hitting New Westminster hard. We have been talking about the crisis for a few years, it is time we started acting like it is a crisis. The provincial government is taking steps, and so are we (including considering a few more bold moves at the February 4th Council meeting). The only way we will get out of this crisis situation is by challenging the status quo and taking action when it is available to us. The status quo is residents on our city being priced out of the City – priced out of one of the most affordable cities in the lower mainland. And I cannot stand still while that happens.

Council – Jan 28, 2019

Our January 28th meeting started with a well-attended public hearing, which I am not going to talk about here, because the topic deserves another blog post on its own. So, other than the Public Hearing and resultant Bylaws, we started our regular Agenda with approving the following items on Consent:

Alternative Approval Process for Electric Utility Infrastructure Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 8041, 2018
We need to build a new electrical substation in Queensborough. The electrical utility needs to borrow up to $30Million to do that. Since it will take more than 5 years to pay that loan back (as it will be paid back out of the profit we make in electrical sales), we need authorization from the public to draw that loan. I hate the Alternative Approval Method, but it is the only tool given to us under the Community Charter to get this important infrastructure built, so here we are.

If you are opposed to the City’s electrical utility borrowing to build a substation, and are an eligible voter (New West resident or property owner, Canadian Citizen, over 18, etc.) you will have a 30+ day period to submit your opposition to the City. Come to the front desk at City Hall and fill out the form before March 11 at 7:00pm.

Recruitment 2019 Appointments to Advisory Committees, Commissions, Boards and Panels
This is the official release of the residents and stakeholders selected to serve on council Advisory Committees and other boards and panels in the City. If you applied for any of the above, look for your name here! If you don’t find your name, please don’t take it personally, we literally have hundreds of applications, and most of them were really good. It is hard to say “no thanks” to someone who is willing to stand up and take part in their community this way, but committees of 30 don’t work. Please apply again next year, as we are always trying to balance out experienced committee members with new brains to keep things fresh.

If you were named to ACTBiPed, Access Ability, the Electrical Commission, the Intelligent City Advisory Committee, I’ll see you at City Hall!

Recruitment 2019: Appointment of Council Representatives and Co-Chairs to 2019 Advisory Bodies of Council
This is some last-minute shuffles of Council Advisory Committee chairs and co-chairs, as the new Council figures out their schedules and attempts to find some kind of balance.

Recruitment 2019: Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) Rescindment
One of the appointments to the youth Advisory committee has to change, on account of the Terms of Reference.

Disposition of City Owned Lands: Road Allowances in the Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node
The City is proposing to sell off two slices of roadway that are not, strictly, roadway, as they have never been opened up and paved and otherwise made road. These are both part of a larger vision for the Queensborough Triangle – a piece of land that has been under development review for a number of years. The City first advertised this land being potentially for sale through a public RFP in 2017, and staff entertained a few offers. They are now ready to move forward on the sale

2019 Community Grant Recommendations – Additional Information
Coming off of our approval of community grants, there were two items that were removed from the regular approval process to get more information about the applications and applicants. We moved the staff recommendations to provide some funds to a tumbling club, and to move New West TV to a different category and find a more appropriate way to support them.

2019 Festival Grant Recommendations
We spend a lot of money on Festivals in this City. But that said, the #1 positive thing people say about New West these days is that they love that so much is happening in this City. Every one of these Festival Grants is supporting a program or event that is primarily NOT run by the City, but by other organizations in the city, large and small. The City provides engineering and support services (though we need to account for them here as “in kind donations”), and we give a little bit of cash, concentrating the latter on supporting new up-and-coming events over more established events which we encourage to adopt more of an self-supporting model over time. Alas, New Westminster is a small City, and all of these organizers and events compete for limited sponsorship dollars.

Support festivals! Show up, spend money in their booths, send out social media messages about the event. And if you own a business, think about sponsoring the events that make New Westminster the funnest City in the lower mainland.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Amendments to Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) Terms of Reference
The Terms of Reference of the EDAC is being adjusted to make the committee work better in the context of the new Economic Development Plan for the City.

Bylaw Notice Enforcement Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw No. 7960, 2019 and New Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw No. 8077, 2019: Bylaws for Consideration of Three Readings
Included in this report is a bit of information about the two types of power our Bylaw Officers have: the Bylaw Offence Notice (BON) process which is limited to a $500 fine and is basically an in-house operation that is adjudicated at City Hall, and a Municipal Ticketing Information (MTI) process, which is adjudicated by the courts, but can include a fine up to $1000. The City almost exclusively uses the BON model since it was introduced to the City in 2009.

Every time we make and adjustment to a Bylaw that changes the type of offences or fines, we also need to amend the Bylaw that regulates these fines so the two are congruent. These amendments pile up to make the Bylaws unwieldy at times, and internal inconsistencies sneak in. So staff does these housekeeping edits to fix some of those inconsistencies.

While we are at it, we are boosting the fines for refusing to allow inspection of property (the cost of the City going to a Justice of the Peace to get an Entry Warrant is going up), and are adding Transit Police to our Bylaws to give them more flexibility to enforce City Bylaws around transit stations (i.e. smoking).

Happy to report we are also increasing fines for motorists that do things that impact pedestrian safety such as driving or stopping on a sidewalk or failing to yield for a pedestrian (which aligns well with our Master Transportation Plan). I support this move, but think we are actually not going far enough

[Trigger warning – War on Cars rhetoric coming!] According to the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit, and corroborated by research out of the City of Vancouver, the #1 cause of pedestrian injury and death is vehicles failing to yield in a crosswalk where the pedestrian had the right of way. Pedestrian collisions result in more than 2,000 injuries and 50 deaths on average every year in BC – all of those preventable and the majority to no fault of the pedestrian. I think a $125 fine for this violation is not high enough, compared to a $200 fine for blocking traffic or for fixing your car while it is parked in front of your house. I also feel the fines for other significant pedestrian hazards, such as parking too close to a crosswalk or an intersection, are too low. As an aside, I also suggest the word “jaywalking” needs to be removed from our Bylaws. The term itself is pejorative towards vulnerable road users, and has racist and classist roots that do not fit well with modern thinking about the residents of our city.

I appreciate the changes being made, and supported the recommended changes. But I wanted Council and staff to recognize that one of my goals for this council term is to prioritize pedestrian safety through education and enforcement so we can meet the goals of the MTP. This will include review of enforcement activities and fines related directly to creating safer pedestrian spaces. [Off my soap box].

Official Community Plan Implementation: Work Program for endorsement
We want to do it all. New Westminster, despite our visions and dreams, is still a relatively small municipality, and we need to allocate and prioritize resources based on our relatively small tax base. This includes prioritizing the workload of our planning staff. It is a busy time in the city, the OCP implementation is coming along at the same time as we are pushing the envelope on rental protection and affordable housing and development is happening at a pace that requires careful review. This report is about our Planning staff setting priorities for their work plans for the next couple of years, and giving Council a change to weigh in on whether the priorities are aligned with Council’s expectations.

We ended up sending back this report with a few recommendations about what our priorities are, specifically some of the policy work around creating infill density guidelines for duplexes and triplexes was identified as something some on council don’t want to delay on. I was a little challenged, because setting priorities is hard, for staff and for Council, and we cannot afford to do it all. We are going through some strategic planning work on Council right now, setting goals for the term, so perhaps that process will help inform this a bit before it comes back to Council. But the question will ultimately be – do we do a little less, or do we add more resources?

Queen’s [sic] Park Traffic Calming Review
Our engineering staff do these neighbourhood-level traffic reviews on a regular rotating basis, and Queens Park (the neighbourhood, not Queen’s Park the Park) came up in 2017-2018. After public consultation, on-site analysis and data-gathering, more public meetings, and engineering analysis by an external consultant, some modest proposals are presented to help address what are, in the grand scheme of things, pretty modest traffic management issues.

Not surprisingly , the 85th percentile speed on some of the wider roads exceeds the posted speed limits.

I did raise some questions about whether road narrowing was considered in a few places where road widths are really wide (i.e. Second Street at Queens Ave is 18m wide – crazy wide for what is ostensibly a two-lane road), and though it may cost more than simply installing a 4-way stop, it may improve the pedestrian experience while adding to the “friction” of the road that results in lower travelling speeds.

There is also an interesting trial proposed here – closing the bottom of Park Row to deal with high speeds on that road, and a difficult intersection and pedestrian space where Second Road, Park Row and Royal Ave all meet. I generally like the idea, but recognize that the impact on local residents and on Bonson Road (which is really just an alley) will take some monitoring.


Among our Bylaw readings was Adoption of the following:

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8080, 2019
This Bylaw that updates the fees we charge for various engineering fees was Adopted by Council. Consider yourself CPI updated.


Finally, we had a single piece of New Business:

Sanctuary City
Council agreed with Councillor Das’ motion asking staff to report back on the feasibility of establishing New Westminster as a Sanctuary city. This seems an easy and appropriate step towards making our City more inclusive.

That was the end of a long night, and I will follow up with a post about the Public Hearing.