Ask Pat: Noise

relic57 asks—

Living on the corner of 6th and Victoria, I am one of hundreds of people adversely affected by the relentless construction noise by not one, but two towers underway at the same time. Just as the first one is winding down, the next has started. This is now three straight years of daily noise, often six days a week. The latest, the so-called ‘Beverly’ on the site of the demolished Masonic Hall, is in its excavation phase. It’s bad enough to have to endure the mind-splitting pneumatic drilling through the workweek, but the contractors (nameless for now) have no compunction whatever starting up at 7:00 a.m. Saturdays as well. This is six days a week where the noise can be so intense I am driven from my apartment.

This is not fair to me or the many others living nearby. These developments are not altruistically based, but purely profit driven. If I were to engage in some activity that disrupts a business, I could be liable. But developers can do anything they want, anytime they want, and they can buy their way into disrupting the little guaranteed quiet time people now have with special permits.

I have commented on this on Twitter (and engaged you a couple of times on other matters) and once received a reply from Mayor Cote informing me that the construction noise bylaws were going to be revised this spring. It is now spring. Nothing has apparently changed.

I have lived in New West for four years. The first year was great, the most quiet area I ever lived in. Then the ‘Novare’ started up across the street. Now the demolition of the hall, and work on the ‘Beverly’, literally next door. By the time that is finished, the Bosa twin tower monstrosity on the waterfront will be underway (we can all look forward to the pile-driving echoing up the hill for months or years, can’t we?), and maybe, just for fun, city hall will finally approve the over-height 618 Carnarvon proposal as well, only a block away from me. All together, seven or eight straight years of noise in total, capped by the probable demoviction from my own cheap walk-up once the area is gentrified enough.

So, what’s up with the noise? These bylaws were written when they built one little tower a year around here, if that–not ten. People don’t all go to work elsewhere anymore–they work at home, or they work shifts, or they’re retired. Why put us through this? These towers won’t even ease the accommodation crisis. They’re all aimed at high or relatively high earners–even the rentals.

There is a lot to unpack here, which is part of the reason it has taken me so long to address this Ask Pat that arrived this summer. I will try to concentrate on the sentences ending in question marks, in order:

“we can all look forward to the pile-driving echoing up the hill for months or years, can’t we?”
The Bosa Project on the waterfront will indeed require the driving of piles. However, this issue was discussed with the developer as part of their rezoning process. They have committed to using secant piles instead of sheet piles where possible along the periphery of the excavation. This more expensive technology was used recently for the Metro Vancouver pump station project in Sapperton (the big hole in the ground to the east you can see from the SkyTrain), creating much less disruption to the neighbourhood. They are also going to use vibratory driving of structural piles where viable. This technology is quieter, but does have other concerns around low-frequency vibration and potential impact on adjacent properties, so a Geotechnical Engineer will have to choose when this approach is, or is not, appropriate. Long story short – pile driving will be getting quieter, but won’t be going away.

So, what’s up with the noise?
Construction is noisy. Pile driving is disruptive, but so is pretty much every other aspect of building a modern building – hammering, drilling, pumping concrete and running of heavy equipment. The City has a Construction Noise Bylaw that exists separately from our regular Noise Bylaw, because of the special needs of construction sites, and the (relatively) short-term nature of any single construction site.

A proposal to update in the Construction Noise Bylaw came to Council in July, after Council asked Staff to address public concerns coming from the driving of piles for the two properties on either end of the McInnes Overpass. The update proposal included reducing construction hours on Saturday (you can go here to read the Minutes of the meeting where this was discussed), and discussed the changes in pile driving technology I already mentioned. The final draft of the Bylaw has not yet come to Council. The report indicated that our mid-week construction noise allowance was similar to other cities, but most cities allowed later starts and earlier ends of the Saturday construction schedule. We don’t allow construction on Sundays (except in your own home). So if the Bylaw is updated, I would expect it will bring us more in line with our neighbouring communities.

Why put us through this?
There is a lot of construction going on in the City, which should be no surprise to anyone. The region is growing, and the Downtown Community Plan includes a lot of new suites in order to allow people to live near our highest-service transit hubs. Both the tower recently completed next to you and the Masonic Lodge project went through extensive community review, including Public Hearings three or four years ago. In the intervening years, the regional housing crisis has further eroded the available housing, especially rental housing. Both projects are dedicated rental buildings, bringing (respectively) 282 and 151 rental suites on-line in a market where vacancy is currently 0.3%. It is hard to argue these types of developments are not an urgent need in our community.

Again, I recognize my answer is not going to satisfy you. Aside from stopping or construction of new homes (worsening our regional housing crisis) or regulating construction hours such that their construction is further delayed (potentially extending the number of months that disruptive noise is created while delaying bringing buildings on-line), I’m not sure what solution I can offer. I am open to suggestions.

Ask Pat: Braids

Rudy asks—

Hey, Pat. Is the Braid section of the Brunette Fraser Greenway still planning on being constructed in then near future? I know the city webpage doesn’t seem to have been updated in over a year, and still states that it’s due to be completed by December of 2017. Has the uncertainty over the design of the Brunette Interchange project affecting this? To be honest, while I would appreciate this section being completed soon (as I bike from Sapperton through to United Blvd every weekday), it does sound like a bit of waste if the interchange ends up making all of this irrelevant in just a few years.

Short answer is yes, for the most part, though it should be done by now.

There has been a plan to improve the connection between Braid Station and the Bailey Bridge, Canfor Avenue, and the rest of the Braid industrial area for cyclists and pedestrians for a couple of years. It’s been a pretty well-developed plan for long enough that I went to one of those run-up-to-the-election funding announcements for the money we got from the Federal Government to pay for part of this. The federal election of 2015. Here is my understanding of what has happened since:

After a year of design and consultation, which led to some pretty significant re-design, the plan was to do the work this summer. However, the changed plans were changed again when a significant sewer line under the road was found to be in unexpectedly poor condition, and in need of replacement. In general, we try to avoid putting fresh asphalt and curbs on top of a pipe you are going to have to dig up very soon, so the pipe work needs to come before the road improvements. To add fun to the mix, the portion of pipe needing the extra work is near the existing rail lines, which significantly increases the complications related to doing the pipe work. So the project was delayed, but will be moving forward, and we should see some work done this winter and spring (the City page has been updated!), pending interesting findings during excavation*.

As far as I know, the work should not be influenced by the Brunette Interchange work. The greenway section where works are planned will be a greenway for the foreseeable future, and the related driveway improvements for the adjacent buildings will need to be there to provide access to those buildings regardless of Braid/Brunette upgrades. The eventual interchange project may influence the ends of the greenway, or even intersect it, but the majority of the pedestrian/bike improvements will still be needed. As far as I know, we are good to go.

Rick asks—

Whatever happened to the Coquitlam-New Westminster Brunette Interchange joint task force? The announcement press release states that reports back to council were due by February 27.

These folks?

I have no updates since the news release of March. At that time, the Task Force had established some common interests, and we issued a letter to the Ministry to let them know where we found agreement, and to provide some opinions on the proposed interchange options. Perhaps not surprisingly, the work came to a pause shortly after that as we went into an election. I’m not sure the lengthy period between that election and a new Minister of Transportation being given a mandate expedited the work in any way. As the new Minister has a pretty full plate, I expect a moderate-priority project like this will be addressed after a few more raging fires are stamped down.

If I was to guess (and this is nothing more than a guess), I suspect we will hear something in the spring about next steps on this project, and the Ministry’s goals in light of the suggestions set forth by Coquitlam and New Westminster.

*one of the charms of a 150 year old City is that most times you dig a hole, you are surprised by what you find down there. These surprises apparently delay a large number of City projects, which gets me thinking about how we do contingency budgeting in this City needs a bit of a re-vamp.

Council – Nov 6, 2017

Our first November meeting included an afternoon Workshop where we dug into our utility funds, as part of our annual budget deliberations. Utility rates are going up, folks. As we try to buffer the impacts of higher costs from the suppliers of our water and electricity, and those that receive and manage our waste stream, we run the risk of eroding our reserve funds. There is a lot to balance here, but sustainability is our primary concern.

Once we got to our regular evening meeting, and its pretty lengthy Agenda, the following items were Moved on Consent:

43 Hastings Street: Housing Agreement (43 Hastings Street) Bylaw No. 7941, 2017 to Secure Six Affordable Housing Units – Bylaw for Three Readings
This is the housing agreement that will protect the affordability and rental nature of this affordable housing project in perpetuity. This project is a partnership between the City, Catalyst, and Community Living, and will provide affordable housing to families in need, and adults living with disabilities. It is a small project, and not the whole answer to housing affordability in our community, but it is an example of what the City can do with our limited land and budget when we partner with social service agencies already operating in our community.

Council moved to approve the Bylaw for three readings.

Sign Bylaw Amendment: Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw (Sign Bylaw) 7961, 2017 – Bylaw for Three Readings
These are three minor amendments to our relatively young Sign Bylaw, addressing when a new business can install a sign, a bit of a language clarification on insurance requirements, and a clarification of the definition of “temporary” sign. Nothing here strikes me as earth-shattering.

Council moved to approve the Bylaw for three readings.

232 Lawrence Street: Official Community Plan Amendment and Rezoning Application from Queensborough Neighbourhood Residential Dwelling Districts (RQ-1) to Comprehensive Development Districts (CD –74) – Bylaws for Consideration of First and Second Readings
This Bylaw amends the Official Community Plan and Rezones a piece of City-owned land in Queensborough to permit the building of a daycare facility. Council moved to give the Bylaw two readings, meaning it will go to Public Hearing in November, so I will hold my comments until then.

Users Fees and Rates Review Bylaws for 2018, Bylaws for Three Readings
We received reports on these fee increases last week. This is the rate changes returned on Bylaw format, which Council approved going forward for three readings.

The rate for a business license for a Tea Cup Reader has not been increased. Still a bargain at $46.93 a year.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 7962, 2017 for 3 readings
The City maintains a $3Million line of credit to prevent us running into a cash shortage as we process various payments. The law says we can’t borrow without Bylaw approval by Council, so we do this annually to keep everything on the up-and-up. Council approved this for three readings.

Mercer Stadium Skatepark Relocation- Preferred Location
The Skate park next to Mercer Stadium has to go, because the new High School is going to be built on top of it. Fortunately, it is pretty much at the end of its useful life, so the timing for building a new skate park is good, and we have reserves in the budget for this work. We just need to find a spot for the new Skate Park.

The City spent a year doing public consultation and options analysis (who can forget the City hiring a guy named Hippie Mike?) and now have a well-developed options strategy. If all goes as planned, we will replace the old skate park with a larger family-friendly facility at Queens Park, near the former Arenex site, and a smaller more “Urban” skate spot downtown under the Parkade.

We are now going to enter into a participatory design process. Frankly, none of Council knows much about skate park design, so we need the skating public to tell us what works. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

220 Carnarvon Street (Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church): Heritage Designation and Zoning Amendment Bylaws – Bylaws for Consideration of First and Second Readings
This little church downtown wants to expand a bit on its footprint to allow for a residential unit and a new Community Room. This requires a zoning amendment, which will come with Heritage Designation for the building. This project will go to Publci Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.

602 and 620 Ewen Avenue and 257 Boyne Street: Development Permit Application to Allow a 16 Unit Townhouse Development – Issuance of Development Permit
This is one of the later steps on a very long approval process for this relatively small townhouse project in Queensborough. Council voted to approve the issuance of the Development Permit after some revisions after design panel, approval by the Q’Boro RA, and a public hearing for the zoning amendment back in May of 2016.

1102, 1110, 1116 and 1122 Salter Street: Development Permit Application to Allow a 78 Unit Residential Development – Issuance of Development Permit
This Development Permit issuance for this large townhouse project in Queensborough comes after the Public Hearing in May 2017, when Council approved the zoning.

Recommendations from the International Relations Task Force
The City is working on a reconciliation process, and these are some steps that are occurring at the same time. I’m a little concerned, based on the previous conversation the City, that the topic of the Begbie statue is going to dominate what needs to be a much larger conversation regarding the past, present, and future or our City. However, it appears to me that everyone involved is entering these discussions with open ears, and a genuine desire to seek consensus and understanding. I am looking forward to the conversation.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Proposed Potash Export Facility at Fraser Surrey Docks
A mining company is applying to the Port for permits to build a facility at Fraser Surrey Docks to move potash through their facility (I blogged some early comments about this already). To reiterate, this is early in the review process. At this stage, our best approach is to clearly define to the Port what concerns we may anticipate having, so that they can assure those impacts are addressed in the review process.

Potash is a pretty innocuous substance compared to almost any other bulk commodity – its not acutely toxic, carcinogenic, or flammable. As far as a nuisance, it doesn’t smell bad and in the forms used for shipping it is hard to generate a meaningful amount of dust. I think noise, light pollution, and dust are the impacts likely to concern our residents here, and we need to let the Port know we will be reviewing and commenting upon their studies in these areas.

Status of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project
In contrast to Potash, diluted bitumen is demonstrably nasty stuff for human health and the environment. Kinder Morgan has provided some revised route maps that put a significant portion of the pipeline immediately adjacent to the Brunette River on the New West – Burnaby – Coquitlam border.

In my opinion, building this pipeline along the Brunette River, through areas that were improved as compensatory habitat for other industrial construction, is an assault on our community, and an insult to the work of people like Elmer Rudolph from the Sapperton Fish and Game Club who spent decades returning the Brunette River to ecological health. This is one of the most valuable, and most threatened, ecological zones in the City, and we need to be vocal about our opposition to its being threatened like this.

Additionally, from a regional planning perspective, the triangle between Braid Station, the Brunette Overpass, and the Bailey Bridge is already highly constrained by rail infrastructure, riparian areas needing protection, and historic use. New West, Coquitlam, and MoT are challenged in finding a viable option to improve the transportation options though this area, and this pipeline routing will further constrain that already problematic situation. The NEB-regulated buffer areas around a high pressure pipeline moving half a million barrels of toxic and explosive hydrocarbons per day are, understandably, very constraining on other land use.

For these reason, we have to reiterate the proposed routing is simply not acceptable to New Westminster. I further requested that we cc our Member of Parliament about our concerns, as this pipeline is being built under Federal authority, and we need to let the alleged environmentalist running the country know about this crime.

Royal City Curling Club Funding Request
The RCCC applied for some financial assistance to help with some building capital improvements. I recused myself from this conversation. I don’t strictly have a conflict, I have no fiduciary interest and have not served on the board of the RCCC for 4 years, however I am a member of the club, and there is at least a perception of conflict if I advocate around the Council table for this project.

Proposed 2018 Schedule of Regular Council Meetings
Plan your social calendar accordingly.

Social Development Partnership Opportunities: New Provincial Government – Revised Attachment
There are many ways our local government can partner with senior government agencies to assure social development of the community is supported. We already have robust programs for homelessness, daycare, and social inclusion, and have worked hard to forge partnerships with senior government and not-for-profit agencies, but we simply don’t have the resources to act alone in making our community sustainable in the social pillar. Understanding where the new provincial government programs are heading, and identifying opportunities for us to make new partnerships is part of our larger strategy.

Density Bonus Program: Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Density Bonus) No. 7947, 2017 to Update Density Bonus Rates – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
We discussed this at greater length back in June 12, 2017. This is the program where we the development community may receive location-appropriate density rights above that envisioned in the OCP or Zoning Bylaw, in exchange for amenity money the City can use to build density-supporting infrastructure and community amenities, from daycare to public art. This program has been in place for 7 years, and this Bylaw adjusts the rates to better match the trends in regional development.

Council moved to give this Bylaw two readings, and send it to Public Hearing in November.

1084 and 1130 Tanaka Court and a Portion of the Tanaka Court Road Right of Way: Rezoning from M-2 to CD Zone
This is a vacant lot in the commercial area near Lowes, where rezoning is required to allow a three-story commercial building. This project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.

118 Royal Avenue: Rezoning and Development Permit Application – Preliminary Report
This project is in the early stages, but will result in a mutli-family townhouse or rowhouse project adjacent to the playing field beside QayQayt school (St. Mary’s Park) where there is currently a single family home. The report outlines some concerns I had about the orientation of the development relative to the playing field, and the established desire to create a greenway connection aside this site, but it is again early in the process and there will be committee and public review of these plans before we make any big decisions.

We then went through a remarkably lengthy Bylaws shuffle:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7947, 2017 to Update Density Bonus Rates
As discussed above, this Bylaw to codify new Density Bonus rates was given two readings and will go to Public Hearing on November 27. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Heritage Designation Bylaw (220 Carnarvon Street (Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church)) No. 7958, 2017
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (220 Carnarvon Street (Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church)) No. 7959, 2017
As discussed above, these Bylaws to permit the expansion and historic protection of the small church in Downtown was given two readings and will go to Public Hearing on November 27. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

232 Lawrence Street: Official Community Plan Amendment;
232 Lawrence Street: Rezoning Application from Queensborough Neighbourhood Residential Dwelling Districts (RQ-1) to Comprehensive Development Districts (CD –74)
As discussed above, these Bylaws to permit the development of a daycare facility on City lands in Queensborough was given two readings and will go to Public Hearing on November 27. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Housing Agreement (43 Hastings Street) Bylaw No. 7941, 2017
As discussed above, this Bylaw to support an affordable housing development on City lands was given three readings.

Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw (Sign Bylaw) 7961, 2017
As discussed above, this Bylaw to make minor changes to our Sign Bylaw was given three readings.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7964, 2017;
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7967, 2017;
Cultural Services Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 7965, 2017;
Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 7963, 2017
These Bylaws to codify the proposed rate changes discussed ove the last couple of meetings were given three readings.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 7962, 2017
This Bylaw that permits our finance department to secure a line of credit to protect our cash position was given three readings.

Zoning Amendment (420 Boyne Street Animal Shelter) Bylaw No. 7944, 2017
This Bylaw to permit the development of a new Animal Care facility on City land in Queensborough, which was given a Public Hearing on October 30, was adopted by Council. It is now the Law of the Land.

Street & Traffic Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 7957, 2017
This Bylaw to make housekeeping and language changes the Bylaw that makes our streets and parking lots work was adopted. It is now the Law of the Land, please adjust your behavior appropriately.


Notice of Motion: Diversity Mandate for City Committees
I’m pretty excited to see Councillor Trentadue bring forward a Notice of Motion regarding diversity on our Council Advisory Committees. We will discuss next week!

CLI 2017

Concomitant to being on City Council, I am involved with more than a few other projects. Two of these are membership in the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council, and Board Member of the Community Energy Association. These two organizations collaborated last week to put on the first Climate Leadership Institute conference in Richmond. If you are a New Westminster resident, you paid for me to attend, so here is my report on what you got for your 1/3 of a penny each.

(I feel I need to mention here that it was a pretty intensive program, and I have dozens of pages of notes, so I need to do quite a bit of distilling. Everything below if my filtered impression of the program, and may not reflect another person’s experience, and every quote is a paraphrase from memory or scribbled notes!)

This was an interesting 2.5-day event that brought together local government elected officials from across BC, municipal staff working in energy and emissions policy, and subject matter experts across the broad spectrum of energy efficiency and climate change policy. The format was a repeated pattern of a keynote presentation, a panel discussion, then an intensive break-out conversation where the participants could share their local successes and challenges related to the topics covered by the panels. This schedule drove collaborative thinking, shared learning, and more than a little inspiration.

The first session was on communications – how do we lead productive conversations on this politically difficult topic? Aside from some pretty useful self-reflection on how we are communicating personally and on the social media (Do we spout facts, or talk about our beliefs? Are we open to being wrong? Are you silent for fear of being judged?) we heard from some organizations who are learning how to effectively lead conversations: the Pembina Institute, the BC Sustainable Energy Association, Clean Energy Canada. We also discussed current communication challenges related to climate policy: How do you talk to a denier – or do you even bother? Does “Decongestion Charging” mean anything to anyone? With so much bad info on Social Media, how to react?

My takeaways from this were not profound, except in that I recognize I have shifted a bit on this blog and in public from speaking my passions to speaking facts and pragmatics. I think there is a space for the latter – I strive to be factual – but it is the first part that matters, and makes people want to listen to or read my ideas. I gotta get that passion back…

The second session was opened by former Premier and Mayor of Vancouver Mike Harcourt. He gave a pretty interesting “inside basebell” historic run-down of the politics of Greater Vancouver’s regional transportation and infrastructure planning, from Expo86 to today. He spoke of the politician’s paradox – the need to have a long term vision and also deliver in the short term to get re-elected so that vision can be realized. In the end, we all fail, but can move the baton forward, and good work can get done (or undone) by those with the ability to project a vision.

This led to a panel discussion on policy creation an implementation within complex (and often political) organizations. It was less about specific ideas (although some ideas I’ll talk about later arose here), and more about how to champion ideas through an organization as complex as a City. Do we make climate action part of a strategic plan? What happens when your strategic plan gets old (as happens quickly in this fast-moving tech-driven policy area)? What point to making new plans if you haven’t the budget or political capital to see it implemented? We also talked quite a bit about how we measure and report out the results of climate policy, in order to assure our staff are accountable to our council, and our Council is accountable to the public that elect them.

The third panel brought together energy managers from North Vancouver, East Kootenay, Richmond, Campbell River and our own New Westminster to talk about initiatives unique to each community that was making a difference in the their community in reducing energy use or emissions. We were presented a variety of policy tools, technology approaches, and strategies – including the successes and the challenges. I did note that New Westminster’s Urban Solar Garden got quite a bit of interest from other regions and communities.

We had a couple of powerful presentations on the future of global energy systems and on bringing the changes home to our communities in meaningful ways. I really need to write a separate blog post about this, because it takes us to interesting places. In short, the world’s energy economy is changing much faster than we ever thought possible. Canada’s National Energy Board, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry and approves pipelines recently shifted their prediction of the year when Canada will hit peak oil. Last year, they said after 2040; this year they say 2019. Think about the meaning of that on every aspect of our economy. It’s happening, the only question is whether we will be ready. I’m looking at you, Jason Kenny.

On the last day, there were break-out sessions that explored in depth some of the topics not yet covered by the conference (in my case, we talked about food security, and the role that food systems play in our community energy and emissions goals). We also had presentations from the Provincial Government, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Real Estate Foundation of BC, all of who outlined grant opportunities local governments can use to develop studies, to implement new programs, or even for capital costs that will result in reduced energy use and emissions.

Finally, a theme I took away from the entire conference was one of timescales. On one hand, we need to think long-game in energy reduction and community emissions. We cannot replace our vehicle fleet in a year, or our building systems in a decade. On the other hand, things are moving fast. Electrical vehicle technology is growing at an exponential rate, as is building insulation and energy system technology. The prices for what was until recently “bleeding edge” technology are dropping fast, as China invests heavily in solar systems and vehicle tech is pushing storage systems forward. Where putting off infrastructure improvement was once fiscally prudent, the pay-back time for more efficient systems is shifting that equation.

As much as we need to think long-term, there has never a better time than now to take real action.

Council – Oct 30, 2017

Our Council Monday was a long one that ended fairly early, with Task Force meetings in the morning and a mid-day workshop that included some pretty comprehensive debates for people alleged to be accused of group think (alas).

Our evening Agenda started with a Public Hearing:

Zoning Amendment (420 Boyne Street Animal Shelter) Bylaw No.7944, 2017
The proposed replacement Animal Shelter requires that the lands upon it is proposed be rezoned to allow that use. This requires a Public Hearing. We received no correspondence on this, and no-one showed up to speak to the matter. Council moved to refer this to the regular council meeting immediately to follow. At the beginning of that meeting, Council moved to give the bylaw Third Reading.

Our regular meeting then offered an Opportunity to be Heard:

Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw (Increase Taxi Permits) No. 7943, 2017
Once again, one of the taxi companies in New Westminster recognized their felt was inadequate to meet the needs and expectations of their customers, and applied to the Passenger Transportation Board for the right to add move vehicles to their fleet.

And once again, the PTB permitted them a number of licenses inadequate to meet customer demand. What is even more disturbing to me is that Royal City Taxi were refused the number of Wheelchair Accessible Taxis they applied for. I cannot dream of a rational reason why the province would deny a taxi company the ability to provide more accessible service. It is irrational and offensive. The system is broken.

Here we are again. With one hand the Province is suggesting misnomered “ride sharing” services should be brought in to provide customer service while their own archaic regulations and bureaucracy prevent the established companies from providing the service the community demands. It is enraging.

Anyway, one step in the process is that council needs to approve the allotted increases through a Bylaw. One person came to speak during this Opportunity (neither for nor against, but asking a question), and council moved to approve the application through adoption of the Bylaw.

The following items on the Agenda were Moved on Consent:

Recruitment 2018: YAC Appointments
Absolutely the most fun and most inspiring Council Advisory Committee, the youth of this City have great ideas and have no problem speaking up for what they believe in. This is the second tranche of appointees for 2017-2018.

City Sponsorship for Miscellaneous Residents’ Association Expenses
The 10 Residents’ Associations and one Community Board in town play a really important role in the City – we specifically ask them to provide a forum for discussion of development projects, and as a conduit for communications between City /hall and neighbourhoods: not the only conduit, but an important one in that they are self-organizing and arms-length.

As such, it is important that they are seen as impartial and accountable to their community, but they can also be more effective if given a bit of help for minor expenses like photocopying and room rental. This is not a lot of money, and we need to find a balance between not wasting time and money on a bureaucratic process, and still providing accountability for public money.

I think this request is modest ($200 per organization per year maximum), and a good investment in community involvement.

User Fees and Rates Review
Every year, staff review users fees for the various services that the City does on a cost-recovery basis or as partial cost recovery, like permit approvals for new developments. There generally increase on rate with the consumer Price index (“inflation”, which is about 1.5% this year), though some increase more to reflect either new costs or industry trends when the City is competing with the public sector (like electrical hook-ups).

Council moved to approve these rate changes in principle, and staff will now go and draft the appropriate bylaw changes.

306 Gilley Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement – Preliminary Report for Information
This is a preliminary report for an infill density project in the Brow of the hill Neighbourhood that includes permanent protection of a heritage house. This will go through several layers of review, including a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Recommended Riverfront Connection Concept and Next Steps
This is another important link in the Riverfront vision, separate from, but connected to the Q2Q connection (see below). Creating a low-level connection between Sapperton Downtown has long be thought to be impossible, mostly because the railways will not allow any public use within a buffer zone of their rail lines, and in places the rail line is right on the shore. Staff identified an option that was used in Portland along the Willamette River where similar freeway development created a barrier to sustainable transportation connections, and a floating walkway has provided a stable connection for more than decade.

This could become an iconic project not just for the City, but for the region’s relationship with the Fraser River. We are moving to Partner with TransLink to do some more detailed engineering and design work. Early days yet, as this connection will not be done for at least 5 years with the current Pattullo project timeline, but a promising idea.

Q to Q Demonstration Ferry Service Outcomes and Next Steps
This is staff reporting out on the Q2Q Q to Q Ferry demonstration project that occurred over the summer. By pretty much any measure, the demonstration showed there is a desire to have a connection here among a large number of residents and business owners, and they paying a little for it didn’t seem to hurt that desire. There is a lot of data in the report, our task now is to figure what this means moving forward.

To my (not unbiased) thinking, we have demonstrated that there is a need for a pedestrian link between the Quay and Queensborough, and I am still of the opinion that a bridge is better link than a ferry. That said, I am not ready to promise things without a plan to pay for them, and the bridge is proving to be more expensive than our community can pay for with other capital expenditures more pending. Again, the fixed link idea needs to continue to be developed, but a ferry is likely much more feasible in the shorter term.

So we are looking at another phase of ferry trials to figure out how to solve a few of the problems highlighted by the demonstration project. We don’t own adequate docking infrastructure at either end, we need to secure some water rights and agreement with the Port, and we learned the challenges involved in making a ferry accessible with 10 foot tide ranges. I’m not convinced we will ever be able to provide “100% full accessibility” in a service like this – every barrier we remove for one user group creates another barrier for others – but we can make it more accessible, akin to the work being done in False Creek to make their smaller ferries accessible.

More to come here, but I expect we will have another trial service next spring.

Street and Traffic Bylaw 7664, 2015 – Housekeeping Amendments
Council moved to support these three “housekeeping” changes to our Bylaw in order to better support car sharing services in the City, in order to codify our parking fee exemption for those with Veterans plates, and to provide stronger enforcement of sidewalk clearing in the event of snow. Unfortunately, this will not be in place in time for tomorrow’s snow!

We then moved on to Bylaws:

Street & Traffic Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 7957, 2017
As discussed above, housekeeping changes to our Street & Traffic Bylaw were given three readings.

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 7955, 2017
As discussed at our October 16 meeting, this Bylaw to support changes in the City’s Parks and Recreation fees was adopted. It is now the Law of the Land.

We then followed up our usually-meeting-ending Bylaws summary with the Issuance of a Development Permit:

Issuance of Development Permit DPQ00179 for 630 Ewen Avenue
This is the final development permitting step for the Affordable Housing project on City lands that had a Public Hearing back in June. On to building permits!

Finally, as a late piece of New Business, we received a report on our activities at the 2017 UBCM. I have already reported out on this here, here, here and here. It was a good event, and I hold lots of hope for us working collaboratively with the provincial government!

Campaign on

We are one year from voting in local elections, and based on increased activity in the local blogosphere and a perceptible sharpening of local social media jabs, we can safely assume the silly season has begun.

The more serious campaign news this week is that the provincial government has provided a heads-up on how to organize our 2018 campaigns. We knew there were going to be spending limits, but it is good to have some certainty on the ending of Corporate and Organized Labour donations.

New campaign spending limits based on the voting population were established early this year with amendments to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act. In 2018 New Westminster, Mayoral candidates will be limited to about $45,000, and Councillors to about $23,000.

After some speculation, and more than a little uncertainty, the provincial government introduced yesterday proposed legislation to ban donations to local election campaigns by Corporations and Labour Unions. It is safe to assume that the Green Party will support the legislation (it is something they have called for), so we can now say the playing field for the next election is set.

To get an idea what this means in New West, you can look at how money was raised last election. The data is available at the Elections BC site where financial disclosure forms for 2014 are still posted.

Starting with the Mayoral election, you can see that in aggregate, most fundraising was from businesses:

However, the main candidates did vary quite a bit in how they raised their funds. Candidate Cote, by far, collected the most from individual donations in 2014 (twice that of all other candidates), and received the bulk of available labour support (though only a little more than ¼ of his funding). In contrast, Mayor Wright received most of the business support, and was in turn mostly supported by businesses. Both main candidates spent more in 2014 than will be allowed in 2018, and neither collected enough from individuals to meet the proposed maximum spending amount.

In aggregate, Council candidates collected most of their funding from individuals. Labour provided less than 1/4 of the funding, and business less than 1/5. (I’m going to avoid talking about the couple of candidates who were mostly “anonymously” supported):

Individually, only two candidates (yes, I’m one of them!) got even close to the proposed 2018 spending limit. Notably, both of us were also within the top 3 in fundraising from individuals:

Although the ranking of overall spending closely parallels that of fundraising from individuals, there is no doubt that the gap between the biggest and lowest spenders was widened by business and labour contributions. Based on that trend, it is probably safe to assume that the removal of so-called “big money” from local elections will result in more equality in campaign fundraising/spending. This is a good thing.


My equivocation is part of the reason why I haven’t taken a vocal side in the “Ban Big Money” rhetoric. I absolutely think it is a good thing in the long run for democracy, however I was elected under the old system, and received the benefit of business and labour contributions. Now I have a potentially bigger advantage: incumbency.

There is no doubt in council elections that incumbency is an advantage. One way to overcome that burned-in advantage is to raise more money and run the kind of super-organized and hit-all-the-bases campaign we all dream of running. It could be argued that having used a “big money advantage” to get a seat, my now campaigning to take that potential opportunity away from others is, well, self-serving. And that always made me feel a bit itchy about actively campaigning for this change.

In the end, this is where we are for 2018, and I’m glad we all have lots of heads-up about what the rules are going to be. Game on.

Ask Pat: Arenex Replacement

TM asked—

I understand that an interim structure is going to be built in Queens park as a temporary replacement for the Arenex. Is there any idea how much this new structure will cost and how much money will remain for a future building? As well, will the cost of demolition and 24/7 security monitoring of the old site be deducted from the money received from insurance?

I’m going to be a bit less definitive than usual in answering your questions, because City hasn’t made all of the decisions on this yet.

This would also be a good time to explain to folks that some discussions that take place between the City and suppliers (like insurance companies, building contractors, etc.) may be protected by Section 90 of the Community Charter. Under Provincial Law, there are some types of negotiations that happen between the City and private businesses that are necessarily kept secret so as to not put the City in a poor negotiating situation, expose the City to liability, or undermine the confidence of potential suppliers. The results of these “in-camera” discussions are always made public if and when a decision is made (we cannot spend any money without including it in our publicly-released financial documents, and our procurement processes are always released), but during the negotiations, it is commonly required to keep things under wraps. By Section 90, talking about “in-camera” discussions, even providing some details about what topics were discussed “in-camera“, is illegal until those discussions are raised out of “camera”

With that caveat in mind (whats with all the Latin today?) we did make an announcement back in June (which is around the time you sent in this Ask Pat – yes, I am sorry for not getting to it until now!) that we would fast-track the building of a “temporary” structure to replace the bulk of the Arenex functions, and that building should be operational in the summer of 2018. It will be about twice the size of the Arenex, which should make it a more usable space for some of the gymnastics programs, with some leftover space that may have flexible uses. This building should cost less than the insured replacement value of the Arenex, but at this point, I can’t really provide you exact numbers around this, because I haven’t seen those numbers.

An interesting point coming out of the work staff have been doing is that these “temporary” suspended steel structures have a design life of better than 20 years. They can last significantly longer with maintenance investments. The bigger advantage to us is that the site prep work is simpler than building a new “permanent” structure, and what you may lose in flexibility during the design and procurement stage, you get in efficiency of getting a building on-line. So it is possible that this “temporary” structure will provide gym spaces and other space for decades to come.

The City also went through a bit of a consultation process with stakeholders and an on-line survey back in May to guide us towards permanent solutions. The main questions were around how the Arenex loss should inform our plans for a Canada Games Pool replacement. I think CGP planning after the extensive consultation completed last year is coming along well (I am on the Mayor’s CGP Task Force), and I suspect we will be in a position to make some public announcements about that program before the end of the year. By then, we will have a better understanding about what programming will go where during the CGP/Centennial Community Centre replacement works, and where things will be when the work is completed. A “temporary” Arenex replacement opens up several options to maintain program continuity during the construction phase.

On our last question, I can only speak in generalities, but I have learned quite a bit since this event occurred about how the City insures its major assets. Insured building replacement value (which may or not be the true cost-of-replacement of the structure) is generally separate from other line items related to loss or damage to a building like business interruption,  demolition, contents, engineering reviews, liability, etc. Hence, coverage for security or demolition costs would not be deducted from the replacement cost of the building, just as ICBC would not typically deduct the cost of providing a rental car from your car’s replacement value if your car was stolen.

ASK PAT: Potash

Shaji asks—

This proposal to put a potash storage and transportation facility on the Surrey-side banks of the Fraser river seems absurd!

I have recent made the New West and the Fraser river my home and come to realize how much of it is surrounded with beautiful marshlands and resident wild life – despite the Fraser being a working river. I see seals bobbing their heads out of the water everyday from my window.

Our efforts need to be to preserve and clean up this beautiful surrounding; not further pollute it with such harmful proposed projects.

What is the City’s stance and influence on the proposed project?

Thanks again

The first I heard of a plan to move potash through Fraser Surrey Docks was when a few residents of Queensborough started sending me e-mails. The general theme of these e-mails was “What is the Port trying to pull here!?” Hopefully I can explain, although I have not heard a peep from the Port (officially or informally) about this project, so most everything I know you can read yourself at the Port’s information website about the project.

It appears that one of the world’s largest mining companies, BHP Billiton, wants to build a facility in Surrey to move potash off of train cars and into bulk carrier ships for export. Much like the previous coal terminal facility proposed for Fraser Surrey Docks, this facility will be required to go through the Port’s own Environmental Review process, instead of a Federal Environmental Assessment. This procedure exists because of legislative changes made by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that decimated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act – changes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government seems in no rush to address despite significant election promises to the effect. But I digress.

Upon hearing about this proposal, my initial questions were around what it means for the Coal Terminal project. That project has already been approved by the Port, although that approval is still being challenged in court. My cursory look at the proposed coal terminal drawings:

…and the drawings for the proposed potash terminal:

…suggest to me that they do not share operational footprint, except for some rail loop infrastructure. So I am operating under the assumption that potash terminal approval would not mean coal terminal termination. We should be so lucky.

So what do we know about potash? It is mined from evaporate deposits under Saskatchewan; it is mostly potassium chloride with less than 5% sodium chloride and trace amounts of other minerals; it is primarily used for fertilizer, although it is also used in metals refining and other industrial processes. It is no more toxic that table salt, isn’t flammable, isn’t carcinogenic, and isn’t a particularly nasty environmental contaminant in soil or water. There are some well-understood and generally well mitigated environmental impacts from mining. After spending a few hours reading up on potash and its handling, finding science-based sources I consider reliable and relatively unbiased, there is little in my Environmental Geoscientist experience that causes me great concern about this material being handled in or moved through my neighbourhood.

There will be impacts, no doubt. Train traffic, noise, light, and potentially dust (though potash is usually handled though a pretty closed system due it its solubility). The Port review process (as sketchy as it is) should provide us some ability to provide input to the Port about how we want these potential issues mitigated. You can learn about the project and review process by attending an Open House at the Fraser River Discovery Centre on Thursday evening, you can read the project materials here, or you can go to the BHP project site here and provide some feedback directly. For further research, I might reach out to some council colleagues on the North Shore where potash has been handled for years to see what concerns it has caused in their communities.

That said, you asked a specific question, with pretty simple answers: Council has not been formally asked to opine on the project yet (any more than any other stakeholder), haven’t received any reports, and haven’t really discussed it, so the City doesn’t yet have a stance on the project. Our influence as a stakeholder is limited – as we learned from the coal terminal project where our firm opposition did not prevent the project from being approved. I am sure we will participate in the review process, but it would be premature for me to speak on behalf of all of Council on what the City’s position will be.

As an aside, this proposal is apparently to move potash from a new mine outside of Saskatoon, specifically one that BHP Billiton announced they were in no rush to open as recently as August. I have no idea what that means to this project, but the timing does seem strange.

on diversity

On Saturday, local government elected types met in North Vancouver for a Council of Council meeting. For a great write-up of what the meeting is and what we discussed, surf over to Nathan Pachal’s great South Fraser blog. I want to talk about another conversation that came out of the CofC.

At the event, Councillor Trentadue leaned over to me and made the observation (I paraphrase) “Crazy how little diversity there is in this room”. This lack of diversity was also noticed by others covering the event, noted in a few tweets:

I had an afternoon meeting for the Lower Mainland LGA, and side-bar conversations with a few of the Councillors continued on this theme, partly because some members of LMLGA are working on an event to discuss the general lack of “civility” in civic politics, and how that creates barriers to full participation. The story of Mayor Read of Maple Ridge announcing she will not stand for a second term was also fresh in our minds. It would be puerile to assume these issues are not interconnected.

But it go us to talking about the why. Is it the electorate not voting for diversity, or is there something structural in the job that prevents diversity? That seems like something that should be easy to figure out.

I quickly went to the CivicInfo 2014 election results database to ask the question – do we not vote for women, or are women not running? Of the 19 local governments in Greater Vancouver that report on the (binary, natch) gender of candidates (Vancouver and Bowen Island do not provide this data) for Mayor and Council, the data gives us this:

For Council, 33% of candidates were women, and 38% of those elected were women.

For Mayor, 16% of candidates were women, and 16% of the winners were women. Perhaps more tellingly, there was a woman on the mayoral ballot in only 7 of 19 communities (three were elected).

As a first-level approximation, we can suggest that voters, when given the opportunity, vote for women at least as commonly as for men. However, there are half as many women running for Council, and a paltry one-in-six mayoral candidates are women. If it isn’t the voter’s fault that local government is so dominated by men, what is it about the job that so biases those who apply for the job? I have my own suspicions, but maybe I’m not the right person to answer that question?

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no data collected on whether candidates identify as persons of colour, members of a First Nation, or have disabilities. It is harder to tell if it is the voters that account for the shade of the average Council of Council room.

I should note that it was pointed out to me recently (through a letter to Mayor and Council) that there is a general a lack of diversity in our Council Advisory Committees, and that the City does not appear to be taking any specific actions towards increasing that diversity (hey, apply for a committee now!). It is also recognized that the current Public Consultation and Public Hearing model is dominated by, well, the dominant demographic. I don’t have the answers here, but strongly feel we need to broaden public participation at the community level first if we are going to see more diversity in elected roles. Unless we do, it is hard to call our society “democratic”.

Green City?

Long-time readers (Hi Mom!) will remember that I got involved in this entire blog thing through an environmental lens. When I moved my constant beaking off onto the internet back in 2010, I had been involved with groups in New West and regionally who were trying to promote sustainability and environmental protection, in my profession, in the community, and in politics.

At the time, New West Council was making significant shifts towards better environmental policy. A few of the newer members of Council, led by some young whippersnapper named Cote, were putting environmental issues on the agenda. The City was adopting environmental policies, hired an Environmental Coordinator, and was moving into developing a sustainability framework that would become Envision2032.

The City of New West considers itself a leader in environmental initiatives, however I have yet to see a local government that doesn’t consider itself a leader on this front. That may sound critical, but it is really more a reflection of the sometimes poorly-defined and always evolving concept of environmental sustainability. Local governments (like most organizations, and most people for that matter) emphasize the good things they are doing and progress they are making, but are commonly blind to the things they are not doing. When it comes to something like environmental sustainability, consistent re-evaluation of goals and metrics is the only way to avoid comfortable smugness.

Recognizing this, the City is inviting you to help us move forward on environmental policy. Council has asked staff to review what we are doing, and what we can do better – both a gap analysis and reality check. And we are asking you to help.

This week (October 25th!) there will be a Public Event called Royal City / Green City, where we are going to get people into a room to talk about where our environmental policies are, and where they need to be. We are bringing together some subject matter experts to provide inspiration, and perhaps to push us in uncomfortable directions. We will also be asking all attendees to react to what they hear, and push the City. It is completely free and open to everyone, whether you work, live, study or play in New West. We do ask that you register ahead of time so we can properly plan for the numbers who will arrive, because this will be an interactive event. You can register here:

Maybe to get the creative juices flowing, I want to challenge the three- (or increasingly four-) pillar idea model of sustainability. This has become the standard model of suggesting sustainability is a balance between three competing forces – protection of the environment, growth of the economy, and maintenance of societal standards. Diagrammatically, it usually looks like this (copied from Envision2032):

This has always caused me to itch, because I have never felt it accurately reflects the interdependence between the three pillars. Without a sustained environment, we cannot have an economy or a society. Take that one pillar away, the other two disappear. Similarly, our economy exists within, and is defined by, the structures of our society. It cannot exist without a societal structure, which is, in turn, defined by the environment in which we live. In my mind (and I’m not the only person to suggest this) the three pillars should be drawn like this:Actions, technologies, and organizations impact our economy, which in turn shape our society, which in turn impact the greater natural environment. When we shape policies, when we evaluate the worth of technology or price individual actions, we are using economic tools to adjust the shape of our society. If that re-shaping supports the protection of the natural environment in a way that doesn’t constrain future societies from access to natural resources, then we can call those actions “sustainable”.

Clearly, I’m not a philosopher, so come out on October 25th and tell me how I am wrong!