Gross

There was a weird event in Council last week, following something that got a little media news on the TriCities, if not much mileage here in New West. This week, New West Council moved to take a piece of  correspondence out of closed, which means I am now able to talk about it. I should probably add that to this post one of my semi-regular caveats that this blog is my writing and contains some of my opinions and should not be construed to reflect the official position of the City or the opinion of anyone other than me.

The first point here is to clarify why City Councils have in camera, or “closed” meetings at all. There is certainly a broader collection of topics talked about in Closed than suggested in the news report linked above. Pretty much every Monday, Council has a closed meeting, usually just before the regular or “open” meeting. At those meetings we talk about things that fall under Section 90 of the Community Charter, which you can read here in its full breadth. This is the Provincial Law that governs how local government councils operate, and Section 90(1) list the reasons a council may discuss items in closed, where Section 90(2) talks about where council must keep the topic in camera – a not-unimportant distinction.

The topics typically discussed in closed are ones you might expect – real estate negotiations, human resources issues, advice from our lawyers, or involving information about a member of the public that is subject to the privacy protection provisions of FOIPPA but also many things beyond that involving security of the organization, procurement, negotiations with senior governments, financial planning, and more.

Of course, there is very little the City can do that remains secret – we eventually have to make an open decision before we spend money or adopt a bylaw, so most things discussed in closed eventually end up in open reports. When we buy or sell a piece of land for example, we operate those negotiations in closed (to assure we have a competitive relationship with the purchaser/seller), but the final purchase/sale agreement comes to an open meeting and is publicly voted upon. The line item of the price we pay also ends up in a financial report. Review of appointments to City Commissions and Advisory Committees or hiring of senior managers necessarily contain a significant amount of personal information about applicants, so that information is kept in closed, though the final decision of whom to appoint is brought to an open meeting.

The decision whether a subject can or must be discussed in closed usually happens long before Council even sees the Agenda, and the City Clerk (whose skills include an encyclopedic knowledge of the application of Section 90, and who gets advice from the City Solicitor if there are any doubts) usually makes the call, though there may be discussion with Council. It is important to note in this case that Section 90 also applies to Metro Vancouver Board and the committees within, and if necessary, communications from the City to Metro Vancouver about those boards.

It is not unusual for municipalities to communicate with each other about how regional boards operate. The City of New Westminster sends representatives to Metro Vancouver boards and committees, agencies like E-Comm, the Fraser Health Authority Advisory Council, Municipal Finance Authority, and others. It should be no surprise to anyone who follows New Westminster Council that we have been pretty proactive at seeking diversity in the representation on those boards, just as we have for our own advisory committees, and that has included some communications with other Cities to coordinate equity-seeking actions.

But this is something different, something much less positive, but concomitant with creating a respectful and safe workplace for all persons.

At the time that New Westminster wrote this letter, the Mayor of Port Moody was indicating that he was ready to come back to work at Port Moody Council, though it was unclear if the legal case against him had been resolved, or what that resolution entailed. This return to work was, to use the technical term, a shit show. Debate about whether he should have returned to work made clear that the only person with the power to prevent him from doing so was himself. His Council and the residents of his community were powerless to remove a person facing a serious criminal charge.

During this time, it was not reported that Mayor Vagramov also returned to work on Metro Vancouver committees. This resulted in the situation where other regional leaders, often including a member of the New Westminster Council, had to sit in committee meetings beside a person charged with sexual assault while the case was still before the courts. That is not an acceptable situation to me, and it is clear from the letter we wrote that this was not acceptable to the majority of New Westminster Council. Unlike his decision to return to his regular Council duties, he serves at Metro committee at the pleasure of his Council, and it is within that Council’s prerogative to remove him from that position until his legal situation was resolved. New Westminster appealed to Port Moody Council to exercise that prerogative, to assure that all members of our Council and Councils across the Lower Mainland are able to exercise their duties in a respectful and safe workplace.

Yet another gross part about this is that someone in Port Moody leaked this letter to the media before it was released from in camera, which is likely a violation of the Community Charter, but I’m not a lawyer. Why they did it is unclear, but it smells of shitty politics. Ultimately, it was fated to come out to the public sooner than later, but by jumping the gun the person who leaked the letter put many people, including me, in the difficult spot of having to say “no comment” to the media when asked about it, because for us to comment on it would itself be a violation of Section 90.

So New West Council lifted the resolution and letter from closed this week, allowing us to speak about it. But in many ways it speaks for itself.

This is a gross situation, and it is far from resolved. Vagramov has not been “exonerated” as he claimed, and the way he and his lawyer shrugged off the original accusations with the “awkward date” language further the ongoing patterns of victimizing and the accuser by robbing her of a voice. This is not an act of apology, and shows a profound lack of self-awareness,  of judgement, and of understanding of  a power imbalance being asserted.

That there is no way to remove him from his position of power is problematic, but that is not something we can do anything about, and need to ask the provincial government to make changes to the legislation. That my colleagues in New Westminster and across the region, some of whom may have been victims of sexual assault and have felt this case more personally than I have, will now have to choose between serving beside Vagramov on a Committee, or removing themselves from committees. He should not have the power to force others to make this choice, and they should not be the ones stepping aside.

The letter from New West Council was written at a time before this matter was “resolved” in Vargamov’s mind, but I do not think it is resolved in the minds of many people. I think it is still appropriate to call on his Council to remove him from Metro Committees, and I hope that the provincial government can finally bring in some legislation to address these issues when they arise.

Council – November 25, 2019

The last council meeting of the month usually includes a Public Hearing meeting, and November 25th was no exception. What was different was we changed the timing so we had a full hour of meeting before the public hearing, which made it much easier for us to get some of the non-public-hearing work done and let some of our staff go home a little earlier. So my order of things may be a little off here, but the Agenda was something like this:

Proposed 2020-2024 Capital Program
We started off with a presentation on the (still very draft) Capital Plan to fit into the 2020-2024 financial plan. The biggest part of this work right now is not deciding what things we could do in the next 5 years, but what we are NOT going to do, because the Capital plan as presented in preceding months is simply too big. The NWAAC is blowing a $100 Million hole through the plan, and other things are going to need to be scaled back or deferred.

I will talk more about this in the months ahead, but more importantly, Council endorsed a public engagement plan to have the public help us set capital priorities, and hopefully get some feed back on where we see the budget going. How do we prioritize? This is a conversation Council has to have, and a conversation we need to have with the residents of New West.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

263 Jardine Street: Temporary Protection Order
The owner of a 1922 house in Queensborough wants to demolish it, and presumably replace it with a new house. The City has a policy that 60+ year old houses up for demolition pass through the Community Heritage Commission prior to demo approval, and the community has raised some concerns about the heritage value of this house. The CHC recommend we put a 60-day stay on the demolition order to try to convince the owner to not knock it down, or find alternatives.

Heritage Register Update
4 houses in the City that have received some sort of zoning entitlement through Heritage Restoration Agreements are being added to the Heritage Register.

Amendment to Water Shortage Response Bylaw
This is a housekeeping amendment to bring the water shortage fees and fines into the regular engineering rates bylaw so they can have synchronized annual review. This changes literally nothing except how we operationally account for the fees and the process required to change them in the future.

660 Quayside Drive (Pier West BOSA Development) – Status of Construction
This is an update on construction activities at the Pier West site on the waterfront. After some difficult issues arose last summer, Bosa has spent more time communicating with stakeholders in the neighbourhood and has worked out some of those issues. The overpass at Sixth Street is delayed by railway approvals (but coming along). There are still some “in river works” that need to happen this winter during the “fisheries window” when they will have the least impact on fish in the river due to seasonal migration. The eventual closure of Quayside Drive at Begbie is delayed until 2023, and will be limited to 6-8 weeks; the earlier scenario of a year or longer closure has been avoided though creative project management and some shifting of how the underground parking will be structured.

There have been some challenges maintaining accessibility through the site, as Bosa have committed to do until the Sixth Street overpass is completed. City Staff and Bosa are continuing to work through some of these issues, and Bosa has been fast to make necessary improvements when identified.

User Fees and Rates Review for 2020, Amendment Bylaws for Three Readings
After a review in principle last meeting, Staff have now sketched up the necessary Bylaws to adjust our Users Fees and Rates for 2020. The Shoe Shine Stand business license rate remains unchanged at $95.98 for up to 5 chairs, and $17.77 per chair for 6 or more.

Electrical and Engineering Utility Amendment Bylaw report
After a review in principle back in the November 4 meeting, Staff have now sketched up the necessary Bylaws to adjust our Utility fees for the next year. Water (7%) Sewer (7%) and Solid Waste (12%) increases are what was projected last year, and reflect our current 5-year financial plan so no change there. Electric utility will be going up 3.8%, which is from the already-project 2.8% increase plus a 1% increase to the Rate Rider which (along with half of the existing 5% Rate Rider) be directed to a Climate Action reserve fund to pay for some of the Climate Action initiatives in the community.

Justice Committee Terms of Reference – Unit Coordinator of the New Westminster Victim Assistance Association
We are adjusting the terms for this committee to assure a member of the New Westminster Victim Assistance Association is included.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Tourism New Westminster request for financial support for Municipal Regional District Tax application
Our local Destination Marketing Organization has an opportunity to implement a local 2% – 3% tax on local hotel rooms, as is common throughout BC. This fund would go directly to fund the Tourism New West operations, and would finally establish consistent funding for their operations. They are requesting some seed money to set up the most robust application. This one-time request will come from existing budget in the CAO’s office.

Council Procedure Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8162, 2019 – Second and Third Readings
We are making a subtle change in how our Public Delegations work, mostly to assure time-sensitive business can get done on Council nights and to help assure delegation space at council remains accessible to as many people as possible. Hopefully, things will run a little more efficiently in the New Year.

230 Keary Street, 268 Nelson’s Court and 228 Nelson’s Crescent (Brewery District): Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Text Amendment) for First and Second Readings and Housing Agreement Amendment Bylaw for Three Readings
Wesgroup is hoping to shift some land use in the next phases of the Brewery District development. They are not increasing density, but want to shift one building (Building 5) from a mix of market rental and strata condo to all market rental, and shift the next building (Building 7) to mostly Market Rental with a smaller commercial/office component, then switch the final all-commercial/office building (Building 8) to be switched to up to 2/3 residential, with the remaining commercial/office. This would also include a significant change in the shape of Building 8 (taller and narrower) but no net increase in density.

I expressed some concerns about how this change will impact some of the other goals we have for Building 8 (i.e. the building of accessible and seamless access between the SkyTrain Station and RCH) and how these changes would impacts the assumptions for traffic impacts and parking needs built into earlier approvals on the site. I was mostly interested in better understanding how our processes to secure commitments around these items fit in this slightly unusual process.

This Bylaw amendment will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold off on further comment until then.

Ride-Hailing: Guiding Principles for Responding to Ride-Hailing
The ride-hailing legislation by the province both gives to and takes away from some powers local governments have in how we regulate businesses and road use in our City. For example, we cannot (sorry Mayor McCallum and Councillor Jackson) stop ride-hailing companies from operating in our City, or even regulate the number of vehicles operating. We can, however, require business licenses for anyone operating on our community, and regulate things like pick-up and drop off rules.

As we are now required to adjust our regulatory environment, staff sought Council support for a set of guiding principles to outline how they should go about putting that regulator environment together.

Not speaking on behalf of Council now, but I believe the rules for ride hailing services should be similar to taxis: they need a business license to operate (and we should take part in any initiative to develop inter-municipal business license agreements with the rest of Greater Vancouver), and that we should regulate pick-up and drop off to assure that public safety, especially that of vulnerable road users, is paramount. I also believe that usage data would be a vital tool to allow municipalities to manage the negative road and traffic system impacts of ride hailing seen in other cities, and it is important that Cities that want it have access to this data.

As far as I can tell, we do not have the regularly authority as a local government to require accessibility standards for the fleet, but this is something we should advocate towards, and I agree with the Provincially proposed approach that a tax be placed on non-accessible rides to fund accessibility upgrades, but I have no idea if this is even functionally possible. We are also unclear if there is even a legislative ability to do per-trip fees, like the City of Vancouver is proposing.

In the end, Council agreed to the guiding principles staff put together to provide a framework for legislation. Staff will continue to work with our neighboring communities to try as best we can to assure that there is some sort of coordinated approach here, as we all agree a patchwork of local regulations will be both hard to enforce, and confusing for the public.

Period Promise Campaign
The City of New Westminster is following the lead of our own School District and a few other communities like the City of Victoria in assuring that Civic Facilities that have washrooms and distribute free toilet paper and paper towels, also provide fee menstrual products. The cost of this program is low in the scale of our public facilities operation budget, but reflects the need to for equity in our public service offerings. In hindsight, it is remarkable it took us this long to think this is right.


We had a single piece of Correspondence with a follow-up action:

Metro Vancouver letter dated November 4, 2019 regarding consent to Metro Vancouver Regional Parks Service Amendment Bylaw No. 1290
We are a member of Metro Vancouver, and therefore part owner of the Regional Parks. There is a park on the edge of Metro Vancouver in Langley that overlaps into adjacent Abbotsford (“Aldergrove Regional Park”), and we need to agree to allow Metro Vancouver to maintain a park that is not, strictly, within Metro Vancouver. 2/3 of Metro Vancouver communities have to consent to this idea, and New Westminster formally consented to it.


We also had to Late Additions to the Agenda:

318 Columbia Street life safety
Bylaws brought to our attention a commercial property that had some unapproved residential units in it that presented some life safety issues. They updated us on some proposed enforcement actions, and will work with the building owner to bring things into compliance.

Closed motion letter to Port Moody
This is a weird one. New West Council was communicating with another municipality over some board appointment issues, and someone in that municipality provided to the media information about closed correspondence, which is clearly a violation of Section 90 of the Community Charter. This put members of our Council in a difficult situation where we were asked to comment about closed deliberations, which would have put us in violation of the Charter. So our Clerk decided it was best to release the correspondence from closed so that we were free to discuss it. I will write more about this in a future post. It’s gross, but here we are.


We then held our Public Hearing and addressed the Bylaws being considered:

Official Community Plan Amendment (Removal of Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area Related Protection from Seven Properties) Bylaw No. 8156, 2019
This Bylaw would wrap up the largest part of work related to the Heritage Conservation Area in Queens Park. When the HCA Bylaw was adopted, there was a division between protected heritage houses and unprotected non-heritage houses. There were 86 properties (out of ~700) that were old enough to qualify for heritage protection, but had other confounding factors that made it difficult to determine at first pass if they qualified to be protected. We have since been going through a systematic process to move all of these to Protected or Not Protected, based on their heritage merit, potential to achieve zoning entitlements, and building condition.

At a second more detailed screening back in 2018, 33 were removed from protection based on heritage merit, and 6 more are recommended for such removal now after a third level of screening. Of the 47 remaining, one more is recommended for removal due to zoning entitlement issues, which would move the remaining 46 into fully protected status.

We received several pieces of correspondence, some opposing any removals, one opposing a specific removal, a few agreeing with removals, and a few asking to have their property added to the removed list. The public delegations were mostly representing that last group, with a few showing support for the HCA process that got us this far.

Council Gave the Bylaw Third Reading and Adoption after the Public Hearing.

Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw (1111 Sixth Avenue) No. 8145, 2019 and
Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw (1111 Sixth Avenue) No. 8146, 2019
This project would remove the small office-type building that is adjacent to the historic Shiloh Sixth Avenue United Church and replace it (and the empty parking lot next door) with a larger 4-story building with underground parking. There would be a sizeable (114 spaces!) childcare facility in that new building. In the meantime, a conservation plan would further protect the adjacent Shiloh Church building according to a conservation plan.

We had a few people come to speak to Council, mostly concerned about the impact on the alleyway and the ability for it to handle the inferred traffic increases related to the Daycare. None was strongly opposed, just worried that the City address these impacts.

Council moved to support Third reading for both of these bylaws.


We then had Opportunities to be Heard on some variance permits:

Development Variance Permit DVP00670 for 221 St Patrick Street
The applicant wants to raise their house to make the basement space 8’, which means lifting the house by 1.2 feet. The house is already 0.7 feet above allowable height limit, this will put it 1.9 feet above, which is not out of scale with adjacent properties. No-one came to speak to Council on the matter, and Council moved to approve the variance.

Development Variance Permit DVP00671 for 330 E. Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital)
The Hospital needs wayfinding signage, and it doesn’t meet the strict guidelines of our sign bylaw, so they need a variance. No-one came to speak to Council on the matter, and Council moved to approve the variance.

Development Variance Permit DVP00669 for 550 Sixth Street
The CIBC at Sixth and Sixth wants to update their signage, and though it is very similar to the exiting signage, it doesn’t meet the strict guidelines of our sign bylaw, so they need a variance. No-one came to speak to Council on the matter, and Council moved to approve the variance.


Finally, we adopted the following Bylaw:

Development Cost Charge Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 8159, 2019
This Bylaw releases money from our DCCs (the money developers pay us to pay for utility and other upgrades related to development-related growth) to pay for several of the infrastructure upgrades they paid for.

One more Council Meeting until Christmas!

Shaping our future

Expanding freeways doesn’t remove congestion.

This should not be a controversial statement. But somehow, urban planners, transit advocates, and climate activists still have to point this out to local government and provincial leaders, who have for the most part replied by saying some version of “Yeah, but this one is different”. Denial is an expensive vanity in light of the Climate Crisis.

The world around, growing cities have added capacity to congested road networks to find that the larger road networks are just as congested, and the surrounding areas made less livable because of that congestion. This is not conjecture or legend, it is a measurable certainty well established in the literature. Continued application of lanes has never, ever proven to solve the problem. I risk belaboring the point here, but if you need convincing, spend 5 minutes (or 5 hours!) Googling “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion”, or your pick of paradoxes: Braess Paradox, Jevon’s Paradox, Downs–Thomson paradox. They all, from different angles, explain that adding road lanes makes congestion worse for everyone. Always.

So, taking those things as read, I don’t have to go into the myriad of reasons why the 10-lane bridge plan for the Massey crossing was a bad idea. As I may have mentioned in the past, it was an idea built on a foundation as shaky as Fraser Delta silt. This was obvious during the Environmental Assessment of that lamentable plan. It was found wanting, and required such a contraction of inferred impacts that it literally ignored traffic impacts 100m from the intersection pictured above. It was clear that the only benefit to building it was a political one in a riding held by an independent on the south side of the link. It was no surprise that when the political imperative went away, that half-baked mutli-billion dollar scheme needed to be cancelled.

Here we are two years later. A very-slightly-less-terrible option is being legitimately floated (immersed?), and the same arguments for expanded road capacity are being trotted out like they are long-held truths. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I’m engaging in a bit of wrathful Patsplaining here because I have been banging this drum for a long time, as an advocate for sustainable transportation, as a professional who worked on the Environmental Assessment process of the previous 10-lane bridge proposal, and as an elected official expected to show leadership in my community. This project has been part of my life for almost a decade, and I lament we still have completely failed to address the underlying issues. After all of this time, the political conversation is no more truthful than it was almost a decade ago. Same as it ever was.

The plan to replace the Massey Tunnel with an 8-lane immersed tube is a bad one. Every bit as bad as the 10-lane bridge. Fundamentally wrong for all the same reasons as the bridge, such that they are effectively the same project. There is no defensible reason to oppose the big bridge and now support the big tunnel. To point: it is a massive waste of money that will not solve the problem it is alleged to solve, but will instead take away from efforts to address real crises in our region.

The current tunnel does not meet current seismic codes, that is not a point of debate. Like a shocking amount of our public infrastructure, even life-critical infrastructure, it was not built with a 21st century understanding of seismic risk. There is something very visceral about being one of the unfortunate dozens in the tunnel at the time of a major earthquake that does not have the same effect when we think about the dozens of schools, office buildings, bridges and other structures that are at risk, so this makes a compelling case for doing something. Upgrading or replacing a piece of infrastructure to meet current risk standards should be a priority, no argument there. We may quibble about where to prioritize a tunnel over, say, the 270 schools still on the “to do” list. However, to continue the unfortunate whataboutism of using schools as a comparison, building a much larger facility to accommodate future growth is a different discussion than whether we should replace or fix up a school. Seismic upgrades do not require doubling capacity.

If building more lanes doesn’t fix congestion, you may ask, what does? Experience from around the world tells us there are only two models to significantly reducing road congestion. The Detroit Model (massive economic collapse and depopulation) is probably something only a few fringy cranks want to promote and I want to be clear I disagree with this model for the Lower Mainland.  That leaves the Nordic Model: road pricing and serious investment in the alternatives. Invest in rapid expansion of rapid transit, and price the roads to pay for it. One will not work without the other, you need to do both. This combination is the only thing that we know will work, anyone telling you otherwise is lying. No government can claim to be progressive, to be addressing road congestion, or to be committed to climate action unless they are doing these two things.

Why do I care, here in New Westminster, and why should you care? I assert that aside from the Port Mann fiasco, this project will be the most important region-shaping project of our generation. More than SkyTrain to UBC or rapid transit to Fleetwood (and likely at much higher a cost), the expansion of road capacity and entrenchment of a Motordom-oriented development model South of the Fraser will define our region. And the current definition makes us look antiquated and negligent. The tunnel will not only shape our region in a less sustainable way, it will take away limited resources that can must be applied to sustainable transportation approaches if we can ever hope to reach our regional livability goals, or Paris climate targets. But who is going to stand up in our region, and show the leadership needed to push back against this bullshit-driven boondoggle?

Ask Pat: Pier Park overpass

Harvey asks—

What’s happening with the new Pier Park overpass. It was originally announced to be completed in the Fall 2019 but now it appears as if no work is being done.

The overpass at the foot of 6th Street will provide pedestrian and cycling access to the west side of Pier Park prior to the closure of the through-a-construction-site access currently provided, which needs to be closed because that construction site will spend more than a year being a hole in the ground. The idea is that there always needs to be a second access to the park to compliment the current 4th street overpass and elevator.

It was originally going to rely on an elevator for accessibility, like the 4th Street one, but our experience with that elevator has been infamously problematic, first with some design issues delaying opening, then with ongoing vandalism that puts the elevator out of service periodically. The ramp was seen as a better choice for the west side, giving people more and different options (for some people, long ramps are a barrier, for others, elevators are). There has also been a long-standing complaint at Pier Park that it lacks shady areas in the heat of summer, especially for kids to play. To meet accessibility guidelines for grades (less than 5%, with regular “landings”), the ramp must be quite long. By building a light, airy structure with a wide platform, the ramp also provides shade for a redesigned children’s playground that will be in the center of it.

Now to your question. The new overpass is a partnership between the City and the developer of that soon-to-be-a-hole-in-the-ground-before-it-can-be-rebuilt-into-a-permanent-park as one of the conditions of the rezoning. Early plans to have the overpass open in 2019 ran into some permitting problems between the developer and the railways. There are 4 rail companies that need to sign off on a new overpass spanning those lines. These four Purveyors of the National Enterprise have head corporate offices in Montreal, Calgary, San Francisco and Fort Worth and combined annual revenues just under $60 Billion, so getting them all to set aside a little time to sign off on a pre-approved design for a little ol’ overpass in New Westminster is sometimes a challenge. Arranging for a window of time to lift a span over their rail lines that doesn’t interfere with their operations or possible operations is also a challenge. Especially as their empowering legislation (the Rail Safety Act) essentially puts them in a power position more akin to the Jedi Council than than any level of government, never mind the power usually granted to publicly-traded multi-national corporations operating in our communities. This means these highly profitable corporate entities not only choose not pay property taxes for the lands used in our community, they are also not required to comply with noise or nuisance bylaws, or any laws that establish community standards. They are not even expected to pay for the basic infrastructure required to keep their operations in our community safe, instead passing those costs on to the local governments they don’t pay those taxes to. They even have their own armed police force operating inside our community with no accountability to local or provincial police oversight. So each and every one of them has veto power, and they rarely feel any specific rush to respond to requests from communities or third parties trying to make good things.

Didn’t see that rant coming did you? It’s been building up.

Anyway, the overpass will be built as soon as the developer and the railways can get their regulatory thing figured out, hopefully by the spring, and then the access to the west side of the park will be via the Parkade entrance at the foot of 6th Street, and probably 2 years later, the underground construction part of the development to the west of Pier Park will be done enough that pedestrian access at the west end can be re-established on the waterfront.

ASK PAT: Noise bylaws

CG asked—

Noise bylaws. Why are the allowable hours different for construction (which I presume includes homeowners working on their property) and for other noise?

Because that’s the way things have always been! That as bit of a tongue in cheek, but the real answer to why the City (and most other cities) do most things the way they do. However, in this case I can see why the bylaws are set up this way.

The “regular” Noise Bylaw in the City says no-one in the City can make a sound that “…disturbs, or tends to disturb, the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort, or convenience of the neighbourhood or persons in the vicinity” unless that noise is specifically permitted by the Bylaw. There is another part of the Bylaw that says sounds can further not exceed some legislated level (60dBs in the day, 55dBs at night), but the Bylaw is written so that even a sound under those prescribed levels could be considered disturbing.

Most people (including me, but I listen to a lot of the Pixies) have no idea what a decibel is, but there are lots of on-line examples that will tell you 60dB is about regular conversation level, 55dB is about the noise level of a coffee percolator, and 110dB is a jet engine. I’m not sure those help.

There are various exemptions in the Bylaw for things like “power equipment” which can be used within certain hours, so leaf blowers can continue to disturb the many for the benefit of the few. There are also obvious exemptions like emergency vehicle sirens, street sweepers, parades, concerts, and the such, some requiring specific authorization, some not.

Like most Cities, New Westminster has a different Bylaw regulating noise made at construction sites. This is because construction sites are (usually) temporary in nature, and they are places where noise is made outside of the regular standards that would apply in a community. We relax regulations for construction sites because of their ephemeral nature, and because we, in general, want things to be built. However, we limit construction noise hours to those typical of business (daytime and Saturdays). We have recently made some changes to the bylaw to reduce those hours and bring us more in line with adjacent cities, and to more tightly regulate pile driving.


It has taken me forever to answer this, but funny that this ASK PAT raises two different things that have been on my mind a lot recently: whether predictable sleep is more important than predictable traffic, and Oslo, Norway. I promise this will make sense.

A few months ago, I did something I had not done before. I voted against a nighttime noise variance for a road construction project. The City often hands these out to utility companies, Metro Vancouver, or construction companies to allow them to do noise-generating construction work at night because the work involves digging up a major road. The thinking is that the traffic chaos caused by digging up a road during the day is worse for community well being than some people near the construction site not being able to sleep at night. I voted against this one variance because I wanted to challenge that idea – maybe the livability of my community is served more if residents can get a night’s sleep than it is if regional through-traffic is inconvenienced. I made some comment about this being my new position on these variances.

Of course, in governance, when you make a strong proclamation of principles like that, something else comes along a challenges it immediately. In this case it was a request to close Front Street in a way that would impact Quayside Drive and River Market at a time when they are already dealing with significant traffic disruptions that is hurting their business. Is a good nights sleep for one night more important than a day’s traffic chaos *and* another hit at a keystone business in the City already reeling from the impacts of adjacent construction? Then we recently got a request for nighttime work for track maintenance along the Skytrain line which we approved. Is a good night’s sleep more important that providing timely maintenance to a regional transit line where there are literally not alternative routes? In the end, I voted “no” and “no” to those two questions and voted to allow the night work. Then around the same time, I once again said that traffic disruption on Brunette Ave is not reason to keep people living near Brunette up all night for three days, and Council agreed.

This is not to say I was right, it is to say governance of complicated, and guidelines are not standards. I can see how this looks like inconsistency (nay, hypocrisy?), but balancing various community standards is part of the reason why these variances have to come to Council in the first place. The answers ultimately require some kind of compromise of one community standard to satisfy another, and as much as I’d like to think I am consistent on what I think our standards should be, there are subtle differences in every application.

Now, what does this have to do with Oslo? A friend of mine who happens to be the Mayor of another BC City was recently on a tour of Oslo where the city has developed a progressive procurement strategy. The City has said that all City construction sites are going to have to shift away from using diesel equipment. No more diesel excavators or cement mixers. No more diesel generators to spin the hydraulic pumps or air compressors or drill rigs or cranes. Through a combination of wiring up the sites for electricity and battery tech on equipment, they have major building construction happening without burning fossil fuels.

My friend noted one thing first while visiting the site – how quiet it was. Aside from the folks next to the drill rig (busting rock still makes noise), no-one as wearing ear protection. The sound of shovels and nail guns and saws are still there, but the difference was (apparently) profound in how the construction site integrates in to the neighbourhood.

I think we are a decade behind Norway on progressive policy like this. The City of New Westminster doesn’t have the procurement power of the city of Oslo (The “County of Oslo” apparently procures about 10% of the construction in the entire nation), and you know, socialism and all, but it is interesting to challenge our own assumptions about what are reasonable community standards. It is also interesting to think that so many GHG-reduction strategies have spin-off benefits that make our community more livable. Dare to dream.

UBCM 2019

This year’s Union of BC Municipalities meeting was a crazy week for me, and I didn’t report out right away because I got behind on e-mail and council stuff and my other work and enough excuses I have a bit of time this weekend so here we go. Being a month and a half after actual event, I will try to keep this short, and if you want to hear longer details about what happens when a couple of thousand local government types get together and talk policy, you will have to buy me a beer, I guess.

Yes, there is a socializing/networking part to UBCM like any convention. It is often inspiring to meet your cohort from other Municipalities, like the super cool and visionary leadership of the District of Squamish.

The annual UBCM conference has several different elements for most participants, but I am going to skip past the AGM and appointment of executive stuff that is pretty inside baseball. The big three elements, and the reason we are all there, are the resolutions, the workshops, and the meetings. With so much going on, it is impossible to attend them all, but here were my experiences this year:

The Meetings: The City of New West had official meetings with several Ministers and senior provincial government staff to discuss specific issues. We share the load between my Council colleagues a bit on these meetings, so I was not able to attend them all. I did get to take part in the meeting with the Premier to discuss some aspects of our capital and strategic plans, and ways we thought the province could help us achieve them (and, of course, how us achieving them helps the provincial government meet some of their goals!). I’m not sure of the Premier deciding to put on his Victoria Shamrocks cap as he saw the New West contingent enter the meeting room was a good sign. New West Council also met with Ministers to discuss the future of the Massey Theatre site, the state of Indigenous Courts in New West, and the urgent need for support in building Child Care in New West.

I also serve a role on the executive of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which is kind of a professional association for local government elected officials and acts as a sort of local chapter of the UBCM serving the Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley, and Sea to Sky areas. The Lower Mainland LGA has its own resolution sessions at our spring conference, and the Executive takes the highest-priority resolutions from the conference and requests meetings with the appropriate Ministers to lobby on the resolution topics.

Through this process, I was able to attend a meeting with senior officials in the Ministry of Environment, calling on them to match Local Governments’ commitment to climate action by declaring a Climate Emergency and consummate acceleration of their efforts to get BC in line with the emissions targets in the Paris Agreement. I took part in a meeting with the Attorney General asking for better support for the Indigenous Court System, with the Ministry of Transportation reiterating our need to make it easier for Local Governments to reduce speed limits within our jurisdictions, and with the Minister of Finance to discuss expansion of the vacancy tax and speculation tax programs. Finally, we had a meeting with the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation where he and his staff outlined the Province’s intentions in introducing UNDRIP legislation.

The Resolutions:
This is the part of UBCM where the group collectively calls on senior governments to change policy or provide funding. The UBCM resolutions session is a bit of a gong show, not in the least because there were more than 200 resolutions on the agenda this year. As the meeting has a fixed schedule, there was no chance we would get through them all. Some are moved through a “consent” block, but some others take a long time to work through as amendments and debate are inevitable, especially when talking about potentially divisive topics like whether we are killing the planet and maybe should do something about that.

Yes, they literally throw you on the Big Screen when delegating on resolutions. It’s true what they say about TV adding 5 pounds to your beard.

New Westminster had seven (7!) resolutions, but only 6 were being considered:

B80: Declaration of Employee Compensation as Part of Annual SOFI Reporting was endorsed by the Membership. This was covered a bit here, and I was happy to hear that the members of UBCM supported this move to reduce harassment in our workplaces, especially for our public-facing workers.

B109: Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign call to open up voting in local elections to Permanent Residents was endorsed by the membership after a hearty debate lead by Councillor Nakagawa, and framed brilliantly by Councillor Sharmarke Dubow of Victoria.

B174: Investments in Local Government and Not-For-Profit Seniors’ Services and Supports;
B184: Creation of the Office of the Renters Advocate;
B194: School Bus Safety; and
B207: Support of Indigenous Court System.
None of these resolutions made it to the floor for debate. Simply put, the resolution session ran out of time, before these items got to the floor. We had about 220 resolutions (plus more than 60 “C” category resolution, see below), and only got through the first 168. These resolutions are “referred back to the Executive”, which means for the most part, they will disappear into a black hole. Some we may try to bring back next year.

C14: #AllOnBoardCampaign. This was the City of New West joining the call on the Province to make transit more equitable by removing fares for those under 18 years of age and to address the punitive structure of fare evasion fines for youth and those with low or no incomes. As a “C” category resolution, it was put aside in favour of another resolution that was thought to materially address the same topic. In this case, the UBCM resolutions committee saw Resolutions B113 and B114 by Burnaby (which addressed youth and restorative justice in fines, and increasing the low-income transportation subsidy, respectively) as being a more comprehensive approach to the issue, which is, in the technical term, bullshit. So we will have to go again next on this one with a better-structured resolution.

Alas, the resolutions session at UBCM is both exciting and frustrating. I can’t help but feel there needs to be a refresh of how resolutions are prioritized, and how the session is managed, as letting half of the resolutions die on the floor for lack of time is unsatisfactory to everyone. There is also a strange dichotomy of debate on the floor. I pledge next year to do a “slippery slope count” for how many times that phrase is used in an argument to not make change because it implies some sort of endorsement of much larger change. Not only is the “slippery slope” a logical fallacy – indeed I think it is the only logical fallacy we actually name while we make it – I think it is too often used to defend a status quo that even the delegate admits is not functional. Ah, governance.

Workshops:
This is the most typical “conference” part of the conference, where there are workshops and forums that let local government types find out what is happening around the province, what legislation is changing, what we could do better or stop doing badly so we can be better at our jobs.

Yes, passenger vehicles are a complex legislative framework in Canada and BC. And it is all going to have to change.

I attended a Policy Session on Ride Hailing “Passenger Directed Vehicle Services” legislation that was a bit of a hot mess, as it is clear that the provincial government is trying to responsibly regulate an industry whose business model is based on lack of regulatory oversight, and the audience’s essential message was “I want” despite the regulatory hurdles – which is a weird piece of cognitive dissonance for elected officials. I attended a Plenary on BC’s Energy Futures where the need to take immediate and meaningful action on climate was moderated against not asking a few “resource dependent” communities to change.Yes, this is a Panel on Energy Policy in local government featuring some powerful and intelligent local leaders, and some guy from Langley who was there for undefined reasons.

I was at the Large Cities Forum, where the dominant topic of conversation was clearly the housing crisis and the housing affordability crisis. I attended a workshop in the changing face of waste management and recycling as this area is shifting fast as the amount of waste we are generating is starting to increase again at the same time as global markets for recycling products is shrinking, and what that means for the targets we have set. I also attended a Cabinet Town Hall on Infrastructure investment.

there are always lots of bar charts at UBCM, and like every Homer ever, I am always looking to see how we measure up, even in the bad news statistics.

We heard addresses by the Premier (well done, funny at times, nothing ground-breaking, and clearly more directed towards the more rural communities present), the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Green Party. The star of the room, however, was Selena Robinson, who as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is clearly getting a lot done and is building a lot of respect across party lines for the work she is doing.

I took part in the BC Municipal Climate Leadership breakfast with members of the Council and representatives from all three Provincial parties to discuss the alignment of local and provincial goals towards climate action. I am also the Chair of the Community Energy Association, so I was tasked with a bit of Awards Ceremony MCing, as the Minister of Energy and Mines handed out Climate and Energy Action Awards to local government across the province that have done exceptional work or are breaking new ground on reducing energy use and GHG emissions in their community.

So, yeah, looking back, it was a busy three days.

Council – Nov 4, 2019

We had a shorter Agenda in our Council Meeting this week, but a couple of important pieces were presented right at the beginning as Presentations:

Strategic Plan
Our Strategic Plan was presented by the Mayor himself. This was formally adopted in a meeting more than month ago, but we never had a chance to describe it in detail because that was a busy and long meeting. This outlines our vision, our strategic priorities as a Council, and some of the measures we will use to guide our decision making through to the end of this term. As we start delving deeper into discussions of our budget in the months ahead, this is our guiding document. You can read the entire document here.

2020 Climate Action Budgeting Framework and Ten Year Carbon Targets: New Westminster’s Seven Bold Steps
This report answers the oft-repeated question: What does a declaration of a Climate Emergency really mean?

When Council moved to support this declaration we gave staff clear direction: We want the City to set emissions goals that get us to where the Paris Agreement says Canada has to be, and we want staff to be bold in telling us what that transition looks like. We also wanted to make clear for the public where we are going so that operational and budget changes made in light of this declaration fit within a context.

This report outlines some ambitious goals for the first 10 years of this transition, with the hope to get our emissions down by 45% by 2030 by prioritizing the biggest sources of greenhouses gas emissions in the City. It includes 7 Bold Steps, each with a clear measure for 2030.

But more than these 7 steps, it is clear from this report that Climate Action is an all-hands-on-deck operation. It will be part of every departmental work plan, and our city ide priorities are going to be viewed through a climate lens. It is also going to come with some costs in the short term that we are going to have to bake into our financial plans. We will have, in the 2020-2024 Five Year Financial Plan, the first carbon-focused budget for the City.

I’m clearly not done talking about this, and as we go through the implementation of these ideas and shift in our budgeting, there will be a lot more discussion, but overall I am excited about this work. And note that by happy coincidence, the things that will change in the City to reduce emissions are also things that will make the City a more livable and healthy place: fewer cars burning less gas, more efficient housing, a more robust energy grid, and more green spaces.

2020 Utility Rates
As we are going through work on our budget, it is time to set some utility rates for next year. We have four utilities in New West, and the biggest cost driver in all of them is the cost of the stuff the utility provides – be that water, sewage treatment, tippage fees for solid waste, or wholesale electricity. I had fun drawing flow diagrams last year to show where this money goes, which you can see here.

The proposed increases for water/sewer/trash are consistent with what we talked about last year (we do this as part of 5-year plans), so nothing changed here.

The Electrical Utility, however, is proposing to shift how the 5% Rate Rider is managed. Instead of going into general utility revenue (like the BC Hydro Rate Rider that it was originally modeled on) we are taking a portion of the rate rider revenues to fund a Climate Action Reserve to fund the acceleration of some climate actions.

These are the proposed rate changes, and Council supported them in principle. This will now get baked into a Bylaw and Council will review again.


We then moved the following items on Consent:

Completion of Appointment of Members to the new Grant Committees
We talked last meeting about re-alignment of committees, but skipped over the Grant Committees, as they are a bit unique – they exist to provide community input to the job of sifting through our many grant applications to determine who gets those grants. We are also assigning a senior staff member to each of those grant committees to help guide the process from a policy side.

Recruitment 2020: Appointment of Chairs to 2020 Advisory Bodies of Council and External Organizations
This is our annual appointment of Council members to Advisory Committees, and internal and external boards. With the change in committee structures, there is quite a bit of shifting around here. I’m on the Electrical Utility Commission, the new Facilities, Infrastructure and Public Realm Advisory Committee, and will Chair the Sustainable Transportation Committee. I will also be a member of the Environment and Climate Task Force, the Facilities, Infrastructure and Public Realm Task Force, and the Sustainable Transportation Task Force.

TransLink/SkyTrain Guideway (22nd Street Station to New Westminster Station): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Translink is doing some guideway maintenance of the SkyTrain, which simply cannot happen during the day when the rails are energized and have trains running on them. They need a construction noise exemption to do this work.

Provincial Housing Needs Report Program
The provincial government now requires local governments to do annual Housing Needs Assessments. I was ready to get all huffy about downloading work, but the Provincial Government also provided funding to do the work! More good news is that Metro Vancouver is going to coordinate collective data collection to inform these reports as part of their work plan. So we are going to apply for the provincial funding to pay for the part of the report we need to do, and join our metro partners in the group data collection. I love it when governments work together.

705 Queen’s Avenue: Temporary Use Permit for Group Living Facility – Preliminary Report
Westminster House provides residential programs for women recovering from addiction. They run several support houses in residential areas in New Westminster. This is another house they would like to use for the same purpose, but need a Temporary Use Permit because the type of service they provide doesn’t strictly fit the zoning. This is a preliminary report, and the application will go to public consultation and an Opportunity to be Heard, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

550 Sixth Street (CIBC): Development Variance Permit to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
The Bank at 6th and 6th wants to replace their fascia signs, and though they are basically consistent with what is there now, they but they would not comply with the Sign Bylaw, so they are asking for a variance. This will go to an Opportunity to be Heard, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital): Development Variance Permit to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
Perhaps not surprisingly, our Sign Bylaw also doesn’t reflect the unique signage needs of a Hospital, so RCH is applying for a variance for the signage on their new building, and some wayfinding signage around the campus. This will go to public consultation and an Opportunity to be Heard, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

221 St. Patrick Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Height Limit – Consideration of Opportunity to be Heard
This property owner in Queens Park wants to lift their house to make an underheight basement in to a livable space. This requires a variance because the height of the house would be about two feet higher than currently allowed. This will go to an Opportunity to be Heard, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Special Limited Category Study Completion – Official Community Plan Amendment for Consideration of First and Second Readings and Direction on Proposed Zoning Bylaw Amendment
This is our ongoing refinement of the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area. In the original Bylaw, we had 86 properties in the “special study” netherworld between protected and not protected. Through further study, 33 of those were removed from protection, leaving 53. Through yet again, another level of evaluating the remaining houses, we are now looking at removing 7 more, leaving 46 which we would move into the protected category, which requires an OCP amendment.

We also had a request to formalize the zoning of a duplex in Queens Park, and identified two more that are in the same state – long-standing duplex, without the consummate zoning. Duplexes are exempt from protection in the QP Heritage Area, but all three of these duplexes are too young to subject to protection anyway.

This will, as you may have guessed, be going to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

DCC Expenditure Bylaw No. 8159, 2019
Development Cost Charges are money we collect from developers to pay for infrastructure upgrades identified to be required because of the increased density that comes with development. To release money from the DCC reserves to pay for that infrastructure work, we need an authorizing bylaw, which this is.

1111 Sixth Avenue (Wisdom Forest Early Learning Centre): Official Community Plan Amendment and Heritage Revitalization Agreement – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The Shiloh Church on Sixth Ave near 12th Street is a designated heritage building, but the owners want to replace the accessory building beside with a new building to host a childcare centre. Because the property is designated, that need an OCP amendment to make this happen. This will go to Public Hearing on November 25th, C’mon out and tell us what you think.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Amendment to the 2020 Schedule of Regular Council Meetings
We are going to adjust how we do Public Hearing days, starting our regular meetings at 6:00 and starting Public Hearings at 7:00. This has a couple of advantages. We can get some priority work done before the Public Hearing starts, reducing the amount of staff who have to stick around late into the evening for longer Public Hearings, and it gives people with busy schedules an commutes a little more time to get to City Hall if they want to take part in the Public Hearing. We will try this out a few times, and I suspect it will work better.

User Fees and Rates Review
As part of our annual budget work, we review our fees for everything from cemetery plots to renting studio space to connecting your house to electrical service. Each department compares the fees to the actual cost to provide the service, and compares us to other municipalities and comes up with recommended changes. Most changes are linked to CPI (a 2% increase this year). One thing going up more is the charge for car storage in public space, which we talked about last meeting. We also removed the charge for casket services for infants, which I think is a subtle nod to being a more compassionate City.


We then did our usual multiple-reading bylaw exercise, which included moving Adoption fo the following Bylaws:

Delegation Bylaw Amendment No. 8163, 2019
This Bylaw that shifts some language in the Bylaw that delegates some of Council’s responsibility to senior staff so they can do their jobs without waiting for us to meet and review everything was adopted by Council.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8158, 2019
This Bylaw that allows the City to borrow up to $3Million in the very short term to keep us from going overdraft, which we renew every year and hardly ever use was nonetheless adopted by Council.

Street and Traffic Amendment Bylaw No. 8160, 2019
This shift in how we define “truck” to better coincide with neighbouring communities was adopted by Council. Keep on Truckin’, but please stick to regulated Truck Routes.

Public Hearing- Oct. 28, 2019

Of course last Council meeting was a long one less because of all of the business I reported earlier, and more because there were Public Hearings on 4 items:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (837-841 Twelfth Street) No. 8139, 2019
This project would see a 5-storey residential building built where there is currently an empty lot on 12th Street at Dublin Street. This is a project that has shifted a lot over the time it has been through public and committee review, including reducing from 6 stories and a shift in unit mix. It landed at Public Hearing with 29 residential units, 8 of them being three-bedroom and 21 being two-bedroom, with 4 units ground-level townhouse style units facing 12th Street. It would also meet “Step 4” of the BC Step code making it the most energy efficient multi-family building in New West.

We had no written submissions, but two neighbours came to speak with concerns about the massing, and about the impact of pile driving during construction (this issue was raised during public consultation, and the builder provided a geotechnical report indicating there would not be pile driving required during the construction).

Council moved unanimously to approve giving this project three readings.

Zoning Bylaw Amendment (540 Ewen Avenue – Cannabis Retail Location) No. 8108, 2019
This was the application that had the most delegations for the evening. The application is to permit the sale of cannabis in an empty retail storefront in Queensborough. This was the first of two cannabis retail applications for review this evening (with three other locations – Uptown, 12th Ave and Queensborough Landing already approved), but it certainly was the most contentious application we reviewed. We received something like 600 pieces of correspondence on this application, with more than 500 of those individually signed copies of a form letter in opposition. Of the other correspondence, it was evenly mixed between people in favour and those opposed. We had about two dozen people delegate to Council, with a few more in favour than opposed.

Much of the discussion both for and against seemed to be re-litigating the case for cannabis legalization. One of my council colleagues wisely pointed out that the fears people have about cannabis legalization are based not on ignorance or prudishness, but on the legacy of a century of Canadian government, schools, police, and other “authorities” telling people that cannabis was evil and one of the most dangerous things their kids could ever be exposed to. People are afraid of cannabis because they have been relentlessly told to fear it their entire lives. That the federal government has now made it legal, and is not investing any time or energy undoing those narratives has essentially set people up, and communities up, for these conflicts of conscience.

Even in much of the discussion of this specific location, much of the concern was related to fears of the product. It shouldn’t be near a toddler daycare, 150m is not far enough from a playground, and a general idea that people will feel “unsafe” near the store. I did have more time for people concerned about noise and nuisance in a location that is near several residential properties, but the application is being made by a local business owner with deep roots in the community and experience running a nearby neighbourhood pub and is experienced at managing these type of issues, helped assuage some of these concerns for me.

On the bigger issue of cannabis retailing, I do hear people’s fears and concerns. It has been decades since I was a cannabis user (hey, I grew up in the Kootenays!) but I am aware how ubiquitous it is in British Columbia. I don’t believe it is a harmless product, but I think the potential for harm is much lower than alcohol or tobacco, and those harms are best managed through a legalized and regulated industry, not through prohibition. Pot exists, and is not going away, lets allow a regulatory regime suck all of the cool out of it and saturate the black market out of it, and it will be easier to address the externalities.

So I voted to support this location, and in a split decision, Council voted to approve the location.

Zoning Bylaw Amendment (71 Sixth Street – Cannabis Retail Location) No. 8107, 2019
This second Cannabis Retail application of the night did not draw quite as much response as the first. The location is in a corner store location on Sixth Street and Agnes in the Downtown. We had 5 written submissions, and about a dozen people came to speak to the Public Hearing, about evenly mixed between those in favour and those opposed. There were some difficult delegations, as the conversation moved to a bigger discussion of the current addiction and fentanyl crises, though the understanding of what the role of Cannabis regulation (and other aspects of “safe supply”) was not really explored at length.

In the end Council voted unanimously to support this application.

Official Community Plan Amendment (318 Fourth Street) Bylaw No. 8147, 2019
This application was to remove a house from protection under the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area. The house is old enough (1908) to merit protection, but there is a process through which people can apply to have the protection removed through a combination of limited heritage merit, low potential for restoration, or unreasonable impairment of zoning entitlement. There is a scoring system developed to guide evaluation of the merit of these applications, and houses that score 61% or higher are not recommended for removal. This house scored 60%, which means it is recommended for removal by staff, but is obviously right on the edge, and ultimately, this decision is up to Council. Because removing protection requires an amendment of the Official Community Plan, they must go to Public Hearing.

We had 14 written submissions on this application, almost all opposed to removal of protection. We also had 11 people come and delegate to Council, all excepting the applicant opposed to removal.

The argument for removal was that the homeowner wanted to build a different style of house, and did not feel that the exiting house could be renovated in an affordable way to meet his family’s needs. This 0.47 FSR house on a 7000 SqFt lot could be replaced with a slightly larger (up to 0.50 FSR) house. With the incentives available through the HCA program, an extension or carriage house totaling more than 0.70FSR could be built with preservation of the house. I would argue that his zoning entitlements are much better (by 1,600+ Square Feet) with preservation.

In the end, the house is intact, and there was no compelling evidence provided that preservation was particularly onerous. Arguably, this is the type of house that the incentive programs were developed to encourage the preservation of, and I believe the spirit of the HRA was reflected in its protection. Council moved unanimously to not permit removal.

Council – Oct. 28, 2019

We had a long council meeting this week after a full day of meetings made longer by the awareness that it was glorious and sunny outside and more rational people were frolicking in sun. The Mayor did not see the wisdom in my suggesting we move the meeting to a hiking train nearby, so doomed to Council Chambers we were. The meeting was made longer by a couple of Public Hearing topics that had significant public input, but I am going to skip past those (watch for the next blog post) and just get to the Regular Council Agenda:

After the Public Hearing we started our regular meeting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Development Variance Permit DVP00666 for 331 Richmond Street (Richard McBride Elementary)
The replacement school at McBride needs a few variances, because the unusual nature of the building and it’s zoning. We received a bit of correspondence, and had two people come to the Opportunity to be Heard about the height variance. Many homes on School and Devoy Streets do have spectacular views up the Fraser River due to the steep grades in upper Sapperton, and are concerned a three-storey school blocking that. The variance requested, however, was less than 4 feet over the allowable height, and with the grade of the school site and surrounding roads, I am of the impression the change in visual impact will be minor. And we need to replace the School.

Council voted to approve the variance.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Recruitment 2019: Committee Rescindments
We have had a couple of members of committees change their life situations and have to leave some committees, as commonly happens. We do this official rescindment so their lack of presence doesn’t have a big an impact on the quorum requirements for the volunteer committees

A Bylaw to Amend Delegation Bylaw No. 7176, 2015
This Bylaw defines the things that staff (our CAO or her delegate) can decide that are typically within Council purview. We are updating this Bylaw for the first time since 2015, mostly to update the names of departments and job roles that have shifted. The biggest difference is shifting the awarding for Grants from a direct Council decision to a staff decision based on Council policy guidance, which should remove some of the politics from the process.

City Small Sites Affordable Housing Projects: Recommended Sites for Two New Developments and Calls for Proposal
The City has supported small-lot affordable housing projects by providing grants of City-owned land to providers able to put housing there. This addresses one of the major hurdles to affordable housing in the lower mainland – the high cost of land. Unfortunately, the City of New Westminster simply doesn’t own very much land, so these opportunities are limited. Staff have, however, identified two undeveloped City-owned properties where housing may be appropriate; one in Queensborough and one in Connaught Heights. We will now reach out to Affordable Housing providers to see if anyone has the resources to put housing on these spots.

404 Salter Street (Summit Earthworks): Update on Port of Vancouver Permit Review Process for Soil Transfer Facility
These two related projects on Port of Vancouver lands in Queensborough are raising some concern in the adjacent neighbourhood. The lands are within Port jurisdiction and designated industrial by the Port, so the City has little to no jurisdiction over their use, we are essentially a “stakeholder” in the consultation much like the neighbours. We have asked the Port for some feedback on some significant points (traffic impacts, dike improvements, rainwater runoff management, etc.) and we will see where this goes. If you have concerns or want to learn more, the Port’s information page is here.

Development Approval Process Streamlining: Proposed Changes to Development Permit Process and Official Community Plan Updates
We have been working on shifting some of the established ways we run City Hall to make things more efficient and to stop getting in our own way on some of the strategic goals the City has. Staff in Planning have identified some practices in the how we do development approvals that make it smoother, quicker, and more consistent for applicants, the public, and staff. Some changes are internal practices that don’t need any official approval, but some others require that Council amend the OCP. Those latter ones are outlined here, and will need to be put into a Bylaw, and will need a Public Hearing after a bit of public consultation about what the changes mean in a practical sense. Council moved to approve this going to a bylaw.

909 First Street: Rezoning and Development Permit – Report for Information
This applicant would like to build a compact 4-unit townhouse development on a large single family lot behind the City Works Yard in Glenbrooke North. The site coverage is less than what would be regularly permitted, and the FSR is well within permitted, so no variances are expected from the Infill Townhouse and Rowhouse Design Guidelines. This is the first development of this type in this neighbourhood, though, so this is a “check in” report to Council to raise any red flags before it goes to public consultation and the rigmarole of committee reviews and eventually a Public Hearing if it gets that far. Council raised no concerns.

2018 Corporate Greenhouse Gas Emissions Update
The Greenhouse Gasses produced by our corporate activity (running garbage trucks and police cars and lawnmowers and swimming pools and libraries, etc.) have gone down in the 10 years since we established a Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Plan, even as our City has grown. In 2008 we set the target of a 15% overall reduction from 2007 levels by 2017. We managed to make that reduction 12.6%, or just short of the target, for 2018. However, this is not a consistent number, as our overall emissions change every year based on things like the amount of snowclearing we need to do.

This is a look back, but we are now, through our Climate Emergency action plan, looking at some very aggressive targets in the decade ahead, ultimately aiming to be truly zero carbon by 2050. There is a lot to unpack here, and our accelerated Climate Emergency approach is going to be reported out soon, so stay tuned, planet-watchers!

Street and Traffic Bylaw No. 7664, 2015 – Revision to Harmonize Truck Definition
Like most cities, we have a Bylaw that regulates how our roads operate above and beside the boundaries of the Motor Vehicle Act. Unfortunately, there are parts of these Bylaws that vary from other Cities (they should all be like us!), and one of those is the definition of “truck” for truck routes. We are aligning these through the regional committee of engineers from all of these cities (“RTAC”). So we need to update our Bylaw to make that alignment work. Adjust your truck definitions accordingly.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8158, 2019
Every year, about this time, we update our borrowing authorization so that we can borrow some cash in case it is needed between the end of our spending year and when the next pile of tax payments come it. We have authorization to borrow up to $3M as a kind of “line of credit” for one year, but we are unlikely to use it.


The following items were, late in the evening, Removed From Consent for discussion:

Amendments to the Council Procedure Bylaw No. 6910, 2004
We talked last meeting quite a bit about proposed changes in the Council Procedures Bylaw, and this following some workshopping and a lot of hand-wringing over what works and what doesn’t with our current structure The changes are subtle, but will hopefully act to remind everyone involved that time in Council meetings is expensive and valuable, and that we need to make this time as equitable as possible so a greater diversity of voices can be heard. Council moved (in a split vote) to bring this Bylaw to a public Opportunity to be Heard on November 25. C’mon out and tell us that you think.

New Advisory Committee and Task Force Structure
We are changing the Committees and Task Forces that provide advice to Council. There is a tonne to say here, and this is already a long agenda, so I will only give a bit of a summary here and will talk more about it in a stand-alone blog post. The City currently has 38 (!) committees, way more than any other City in the region, and these committees eat up a lot of staff and volunteer time. We want to make sure we are getting the most value from that time, and have pared the committees down to those that directly relate to Council’s strategic plan, and those where lived experience and technical expertise do not exist in our staff or council to assure we are hearing voices that need to be heard in order for us to move forward on priority areas.

We are amalgamating some committees, moving some into internal staff-only working groups, and are starting a new committee. We will be reducing our total count of volunteer committees and staff task forces to 27 (with a couple of the amalgamated ones running for one more year to wrap up some ongoing projects).

Compassionate City Charter: Recommendation from Community and Social Issues Committee
The New West Hospice Society has done great work raising awareness and support for compassionate dying in New Westminster, but their great public profile raising may belie the point that there are no hospice beds currently offered anywhere in New Westminster. We, as a community, have a lot of work to do!

Hospice is, fundamentally, a health care issue that should be a regular part of our health care system, and that is 100% on the provincial government, but the City has found some resources to help the Hospice Society do its great work in the City. I am happy to continue that level of support (including grants and resource assistance with things like the Festival of Loss and Healing), but some of the wide reaching expectations in the Compassionate City Charter are not within our current budget or work plans, and likely exceed what would typically be expected of a City of 70,000 people. Council moved to support the principles of the Charter, and to continue to provide assistance to Hospice within existing budgets, and to continue the discussion about some of the larger goals and deliverables.

Five-Year Approach to On-Street Parking Fees & Rates
It has been a long time since the City did a comprehensive review of the pricing for car storage on public lands. We have not done a serious review during my time on Council, and with ongoing implementation of our newish Master Transportation Plan and further work on bringing in policies congruent with the Climate Emergency declaration, it is well worth us reviewing how car storage fits in our larger strategic visions for the City.

On-street vehicle parking is a valuable resource in urbanized communities, especially in commercial districts, around major institutions, and near rapid transit stations.” I may need to take an entire blog post to deconstruct this single sentence. I actually want to write a novel that deconstructs this sentence… but I digress. The point staff is getting at is that space for car storage is at a premium, so it has a value, and we need to price it appropriately to allocate that space, or it will not work well. To know if it is working well, we need to be clear about what we want from street storage of cars (aside from “MOAR!”)

The report outlines a good set of guiding principles: On-street parking should be priced equal to or higher than off-street, to encourage cars being stored off of the street; using a car should be transparently more expensive than using Transit; and Parking Permit rates should act to encourage use of private land for private car storage. I agree with all of these.

The report has suggested (and Council agreed) that we increase our rates for street storage of cars, especially since our meter rates are now lower than the regional median (often much lower than dense parts of Vancouver, Richmond, North Van, Burnaby) and on-street meters are currently cheaper than off-street garages. Part of this increase will be a Climate Action Levy (or something similarly named) to be dedicated to a Climate Action Fund in the City to pay for initiatives that reduce our community or corporate GHG emissions.

Drainage Improvement Program and Ditch Enclosure in Queensborough
Open drainage watercourses (“ditches”) in Queensborough are a long-standing issue. During the last election, they were easily the #1 issue in the part of the community where they are still present. We had a pretty comprehensive review of them back in 2015, and this report updates that a bit.

I think this is yet another topic I need to write an entire blog post about, because the answers are not simple. But some of the present issues with open ditches can be addressed without the monumental cost of installing complete covered storm sewers across the island. There are also places where open drainage is always going to be present because the flood storage capacity and resiliency offered by them cannot be replicated with underground storm sewers, not to mention the ecological habitat values of some of the canals.

We were shown pictures, and anyone who walks down there during the winter rain season recognizes that the drainage system is not operating in a way that encourages walking, or even guarantees access to some houses. This is related to downstream drainage capacity, sometime to illegal modifications of the ditches to widen driveways or provide street-side parking. Ultimate long-term fixes will sometimes require complete regrading of properties that have houses on them now.

This is a report for information coming out of a public delegation a few weeks ago, and there are some details here about the longer-term planning for drainage infrastructure in Q’Boro, and some operational strategies to address maintenance and illegal filling.

Brow of the Hill Neighbourhood Park Site Acquisition (1009 Cornwall Street)
The City does things like real estate transactions in camera for good reason – you can’t negotiate a business transaction like this in public, but it is great to be able to announce that we were able to secure a fair price for the undeveloped lot in the middle of the Brow of the Hill which the community definitely showed an interest in us acquiring as a passive park area. No big plans for it yet, but the City will do some minor maintenance with a bit of a passive park model.

Multiculturalism Advisory Committee: Formation of a Multicultural Festival Working Group
The Multicultural Festival on July 1st has become a mainstay of the City’s Canada Day celebrations, but it has up to now been run on a shoestring by a volunteer group from the local Philippine community with some grant support from the City. Our MAC is putting together a working group to see if they can provide more direction ans support to make the event more sustainable.


We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Permissive Tax Exemption Bylaw No. 8150, 2019
This is our annual Bylaw to grant permissive property tax exemptions to charitable and civic uses in the City.

Zoning Amendment (886 Boyd Street) Bylaw No. 8100, 2019
This Zoning Bylaw amendment is to allow an electrical substation in the M-1(light industrial) zone so we can build a new substation in Queensborough to make the grid there more robust. We gave this a Public Hearing back in April, and have now adopted the Bylaw. Law of the land, folks.


Finally, we had one piece of New Business:

Motion: Renaming Begbie Square and Begbie Street
Be it resolved that New Westminster Council proceeds with removing the name of Begbie Square and begin a process to identify an appropriate new name for this important civic space;

Be it further resolved that through the City’s examination of our street naming policy that we review the name of Begbie Street; and

Be it further resolved that through our reconciliation process the City find a way to acknowledge, recognize and tell the history of the wrongful conviction and execution of the six Tŝilhqot’in chiefs in Qunellemouth and New Westminster.

This motion removes the name Begbie from the Square in front of the Courthouse, for reasons similar to this. The changing of a street name is a bit of a more complicated legal process, as people have addresses and such, and we have not yet completed the work on our new Street Naming Policy, so this motion does not change Begbie Street, but prioritizes its place in the policy once we get that developed. I was happy to support this motion, and Council supported it unanimously, but humbly.

#ELXN2019

The election is over, and it ended with a bit of a whimper. I have been immersed in this election for a few months and have many resultant notions bouncing around in my head, so better to get them down on paper bits so I can sleep again at night. That said, I am not much of a political pundit, and am willing to lose an argument over beers on any of the points I raise below. If nothing else, it will be fun to read in two years when everything I say below is proved wrong.

I was not too surprised by the nationwide result. Even the day before the election I was thinking (and MsNWimby can attest to my many shifts of opinion about this) that a Liberal majority was still in the cards, based mostly on their apparent strength in the 905 and the Maritimes. Against my own advice, I allowed the poll aggregators to sway my betting pool entry, and under-guessed their strength. The full strength of the BQ surge was not something I saw coming through, and was more of a surprise to me than the fully-expected but nonetheless-satisfying no-show by the racists (may we never speak their name again). Scheer won the 32% Conservative base, and not a single vote more. I suspect he will be replaced as Leader before he gets another chance. Make no mistake, that is the long game of Jason Kenney’s silly “Alberta will separate” rhetoric, and when Kenny’s knives come out for Scheer, it is going to be a milk bath. May’s campaign was also likely to be her last, though she picked up a seat (notably in a jurisdiction where the only clinic offering abortion services is closing due to lack of public funds – coincidentally?), she is clearly bumping up against the ceiling of support she can bring the party, and needs to step aside for some new vision.

I already publicly threw my lot in with Jagmeet and do feel he was the breath of fresh air in this election, but I’m not going to sugar-coat a loss of 20 seats by pretending it is a victory. There are bright lights across the country, and the NDP indeed did elect members in every region, but 24 seats is a disappointment. That a terrible ultra-conservative parachute candidate with no apparent ability to remember her own party’s platform eaked out a victory over a dedicated hard working ass-kicker of a community leader like Bonita Zarrillo may be my biggest disappointment of the night. If the surge branded as the #upriSingh really extended past the base, Bonita would have taken that riding, as would have Ruth Ellen Brosseau in Berthier-Maskinong and Svend Robinson in North Burnaby. The poll surge was visible, but it may have reflected only the base coming back to camp after a bit of time in the wilderness. Singh’s growth may have just represented the progressive faith that many lent to Trudeau last election coming back to the NDP, as more people recognize that Trudeau’s “progressivness” is as skin deep as his Indigenous-themed tattoo.

The NDP gained come power in this loss (what is the opposite of Pyrric Victory? Lavenic Defeat?). I think the result that gives Liberals and NDP together that crucial 170+ seats is one that will lend itself to some stability (along with the inevitable Conservative milk bath mentioned above). In contrast to a formal coalition, a Confidence and Supply Agreement as was worked out in BC may be a positive path forward, if the peoples in the backrooms of both federal parties are mature enough to get that work done. But is suspect minority rule will be the model, with the opportunity to make some positive progressive change through this, including finally seeing the Liberals honour their many promises on National Pharmacare. Any talk of a potential referendum on Electoral Reform would have to be tempered by the recognition that such a measure would be doomed from the start, and would only serve to entrench the inequity that gives the NDP 7% of the seats with 18% of the vote.

Locally, Peter Julian was no surprise, and it should be no surprise as he is an eminently electable guy, a hard worker, and a strong campaigner. Will Davis had an impressive lawn sign budget, but no other visible demonstration of a campaign or local bona fides, aside from leveraging the New West Progressive campaign “machine”. Megan Veck was another capable spaceholder for the Conservatives in town, aptly drawing their 20% vote base. Suzanne de Montigny showed up at every event, and put in a serious effort, but the positive Green campaign narrative was hampered by her random attacks on the NDP, culminating in a social media accusation of “corruption” in the last weekend of the campaign because she got an anonymous phone call she didn’t agree with. So aside from a couple of notable all candidates events no-shows by both Davis and Veck, there wasn’t much of a local campaign story, and the general lack in vote shift reflected that:

Percentage of vote in New Westminster – Burnaby riding, 2015-2019 Federal Elections.