Uber alles

I have tried to avoid the social media storm that is the long-awaited arrival of large, legal ride-hailing operations in Greater Vancouver. Though I think this tweet sums up my feelings at the end of the day yesterday:

And eventually, during a transit ride home that I drafted my subtweety response:

So, it is clear that I am not excited about the arrival of Uber and Lyft, despite the almost constant media saturation and lobbying pressure from Uber Spokesfolks (in contrast, I have not received a single letter, e-mail, or phone call, or invite for a meeting from the Taxi industry on this topic). My tweet lead to a few questions from people who have never connected with me on social media before. It was also referenced in a local Reddit comment thread, so I drafted up a Reddit response. Apparently multi-platforming is the hot thing in media today, so I figured I would re-draft the Reddit response for a blog here, without even taking time to edit out all the damn brackets, because who has time? Here we go!

In response to concerns that Uber or Lyft are not available today in New West (or Maple Ridge or Delta), I need to clarify that ride-hailing companies will decide what areas they want to serve. It should hardly be surprising to anyone that they are concentrating on areas already served well with transit – those are the areas where there is a density of users and destinations to support the business case of ride hailing. Because it is the same business case that supports Public Transit in the neo-liberal model of service delivery.

The regulations created by the provincial government are really clear: local governments cannot prevent operation of ride-hailing within their borders. They can regulate the service by requiring things like business licences and set conditions for pick-up/drop-off in their road and parking bylaws, but they can’t just say “no”. In this sense, the Mayor of Surrey (in my humble opinion) is blowing smoke. He could, I guess, create a regulatory and licencing regime that is so difficult to navigate that no-one bothers, but I seriously doubt he has the enforcement personnel to make that effective. I guess time will tell how that works out.

New West is working with regional partners to set up a regional business licence system for ride hailing, we talked about it back in November, and the best update I have is that staff in the many municipalities are still hammering out the details. Unfortunately, the sausage-making of making harmonized regulations work between all these jurisdictions is difficult, and they really couldn’t get started until the provincial regulatory regime was made clear. Such is government.

My understanding (and I stand to be corrected here) is that ride hailing companies licensed by the Passenger Transportation Board to operate in the Lower Mainland can operate in New Westminster (and Surrey and Coquitlam, etc.) right now. There will be a period of shake-down as they get their drivers organized, their service areas worked out, and local governments get the licencing requirements (and enforcement processes) organized. It’s a new world, and there is nothing unique about this as these kind of choppy launches occurred in every single jurisdiction where ride-hailing launched.

My personal opinions about Uber and Lyft have very little impact on this. As I mentioned, back in November, New West Council set out the framework for staff about how we feel ride-hailing should operate in New West. Some parts of it I agree with, some I don’t. My concerns about labour rights, environmental impacts, road safety, traffic impacts, transit system impacts, and neighbourhood livability are based on a *lot* of research about impacts of ride hailing in other jurisdictions. It has also proven in other jurisdictions that most of the promises of ride-hailing (cheaper! more convenient! fun!) are false, and the entire business model is propped up by massive financial losses. The system itself is not sustainable, which makes me wonder why we are rushing into embracing it (see “media saturation and lobbying effort” above). I trust urban transportation experts like Jerrett Walker on this more than I trust the well-oiled Uber/Lyft marketing machine. The Taxi system is not perfect, but I have gone on at length (note this piece from several years ago) about how it is actually the arcane regulation of the industry that makes it not work the way we might like. But that’s another rant, and times have changed since I wrote that piece. Not for the better.

But that said, my (Council) job is partly to advocate for things that make the community stronger and more sustainable, but it is equally to assure the City is runs as effectively and responsibly as possible. Ride-hailing is here, (some) people want it, the local government job is to work to reduce the inevitable externalities and make it work as best as possible in our community. Of course, one of those externalities is that this “cheap” transportation option is going to cause your property taxes to go up. Uber and Lyft don’t pay taxes to the City, and regulation and enforcement are not free.

You may not like Uber or Lyft, but due to powerful lobbying and a brilliant international viral marketing program, you will be paying for it.

Community, Jan 24, 2020

OK, so maybe I already missed the mark on my soft promise of weekly updates on my council-related community activities, but let’s call them almost-weekly, and if we can keep ahead of fortnightly (although I love the term), and we can call this a success. It is going to depend on how many things I have going on, and how much time I have to write about them. Whish will result in this strange curve, because eventually I get to busy to write about them at all. And how much time I spend trying to use MSPaint to draw curves of phenomenon in my life:

Since my last of these community updates, we ran into snowpocalypse or snowmageddon or whatever, so a few events were cancelled. Most notably, I made it to the Queensborough Residents’ Association meeting just as the power outage caused a cancellation, and the New West Collective (a peer-to-peer support and networking group for local small businesses) wisely chose to delay their quarterly-or-so gathering until proper spring weather arrives.

Many may not know I am a member of the board of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which is an area association representing 33 local governments (municipalities and regional districts) from Hope to Vancouver to Pemberton. We had an executive meeting last week which was spent mostly on organizing our AGM and convention in Whistler. It looks like a great program is shaping up, and I look forward to reporting out on it in May.

We held the last meeting of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee last Friday. This committee operated for about a decade, and provided some valuable guidance to Council and staff on the Intelligent New West initiative. As Council re-organized the committee structures in 2019, this was one whose role was re-evaluated, as INW is now operational, the City has a Strategic Plan for INW and there are staff responsible for all three “pillars” of INW. The “council advisory” role under INW will now be part of the Economic Development and Advisory Committee’s mandate, but there are aspect of the INW program that will also fall under Public Realm, Public Engagement / Inclusion, and the Electrical Utility Commission. There were a few members of that Committee not happy with this direction, and Council will be reviewing how to assure that the INW Strategic Plan is measured and reported out. More importantly, the City needs to recognize that there is a real braintrust of people who understand the digital economy and how information technology is evolving regionally (and globally) as the Internet of things and 5G networks become our reality. New West has some unique advantages here, we need to be vigilant to make sure those opportunities are not lost.

Last week, the members of City Council and a few senior staff members attended a special training session as part of our ongoing Truth and Reconciliation work. We had Brad Marsden lead us in a workshop around improving our understanding of the history of Residential Schools and Colonization, and its impact on Indigenous and Urban Indigenous Peoples. This was a powerful and emotionally draining session, and I understand New West is the first “Mayor and Council” to take part.

This week I was also fortunate to be able to attend the first in a three-part public conversation about changing the conversation around social housing. Led by the Douglas College philosophy department, this series seeks to explore how we can have better public conversations about social and supportive housing in our communities:

The first session put the conversation in context with an introduction by Elliot Rossiter (who wrote this great opinion in the Record recently), followed by short presentations that talked about the history of housing in New West and Canada, from the criminalization of “vagrancy” in the City’s early days through the complex social programs that virtually eliminated homelessness as we know it in the decades after WW2, to the neoliberal shift and commodification of shelter that made “unhousing” of people a common occurrence for the first time. This was followed by a panel (including Councillor Nakagawa) talking about how we can improve the community conversation about providing housing, and move past the stigmatization of people who are victims of the complex systemic and societal failure that is poverty in Canada.

Sorry, Phil, but the “neolibralism” count I got from the panel was 7. All on mark, from people who actually understand the meaning of the term.

There will be two more talks in this series that are more about exploring potential solutions than naming the problems. If you care about justice, about local governance, or even about how your neighbourhood can have better conversations about housing, you should come out! It’s free!

Finally, in the last week I had a Canada Games Pool Task Force meeting, an Electrical Commission meeting, and a less formal meeting with one of the guiding lights in the New Westminster Environmental Partners, to talk about how they view our current recycling situation, and some great initiatives they are hoping to lead around raising the profile of the Brunette River as an ecological asset in New West.

Depot

As you may have heard, the current recycling centre adjacent to the Canada Games Pool has to close, and the services are being relocated to United Boulevard. For the best part of a year there has been a lot of discussion (mostly on social media) about what this means for our City’s commitment to recycling. Even the Record took the unprecedented step of making something that hasn’t actually happened yet their top news story of 2019.

Last Monday, there was both a report to Council from our engineering department on developments in the city-wide recycling program, and a number of people came to Council to delegate on the imminent closure of the recycling depot. Many of them came to speak in support of a an on-line petition promoted by a local political party asking that the current recycling centre be kept open. I find on-line petitions are a terrible way to gauge people’s opinions for several reasons, but this is an entirely different blog that I will maybe write someday. For now, I would rather address the report that came to Council and what I heard at the delegations.

First off, we need to be clear about why the current facility is closing. Through two years of consultation on the replacement of the CGP, it was clear that the community wanted the existing facilities to remain open and operational until the new centre is opened in order to maintain continuity in programs and offerings. This decision fundamentally shaped the new facility and the site plan.

Those conversations around the new facility answered the big questions (25m or 50m pool, one or two gyms? Daycare? Meeting rooms? etc.) and we settled on a fairly large structure – over 100,000 square feet. After a tonne of work by the architects and engineers, it was determined that the facility would not fit well on the parking lot to the east of the Canada Games Pool, and due to some utility issues and uncertain ground conditions related to the old Glenbrook ravine (which used to extend all the way to 8th avenue!), the only place where this large a facility fits is snuggled alongside the existing pool and community centre on the west side:

A rough drawing of the footprint of the new recreation centre (in white) and landscaping/entrance area (brown) that will be required for laydown during construction. This area (and much of the all-weather field to the top left) will be an active construction site. This is a rough drawing, I did it in MSpaint(!) based on drawings available here, please don’t use for navigation.

That means that the front parking lot will need to be excavated, meaning for two years the main road access to the current recycling depot would be a hole in the ground then an active construction site. Again, the engineers looked at a few options including shifting the one-way road adjacent to the fire hall to two lanes and providing temporary direct access off of McBride, but no solution was found that would meet safety standards our engineers demand.

This speaks a bit to the problem with on-line petitions. Several hundred people in New West signed a petition asking the City to do the one thing we could not do, unless we were going to turn our back on 2 years of public consultation and more than a year of architecture and engineering work. The author of the petition knew this, which is another example of how disingenuous politics are good at creating a scene, but not at finding solutions. Finding solutions is harder work.

Some have suggested that the recycling facility (even temporarily) be moved to the east parking lot. Staff have (of course) looked at this, and from what I hear, I cannot support that idea. The east parking lot has about 120 parking spots to support a recreation facility with more than a thousand visits a day, and a curling rink with a capacity of about 100. A parking spot for every 10 users is a very, very low number, and this is already certain to cause significant neighbourhood and user group stress during the building of the new facility. Moving even a shrunk-but-still-workable recycling depot to that spot would mean removing about half of those remaining spots. This challenges our earlier commitment to keeping the current facility functioning and accessible during constructions.

For all of the political hay-making and quoting of Joni Mitchell, this is just a question of geometry.

So the status quo is not viable. What do we do now? Some of the delegates provided some good ideas, and I think that it was useful to hear what types of recycling people are most stressed about. I think for many people in the City, the new joint recycling depot on the Coquitlam border with more services than our current facility, longer hours, and easier access to SkyTrain, will provide more convenience. I also recognize that for some people, this change represents a change to their established patterns and extra inconvenience.

We have not really had a robust conversation with the community about what that change looks like for them, and I recognize that was a communications and engagement failure on the City’s part. Over the last couple of months a few people have asked me questions about recycling, I have met a few for coffee, replied to some e-mails, tried to listen and learn (and have occasionally reported out on those conversations). During the delegations last Monday we heard a few interesting ideas, and there were also several people who came to delegate to say they fully supported the change. People had different recycling needs – some spoke of lawn clippings, some of Styrofoam and glass. Its clear most wanted to have a deeper discussion about what role recycling plays in our community, and asking for resources to make not just the City’s recycling system work better, but to assure our waste management systems are meeting our climate and sustainability goals.

Council heard that call for a better discussion, and staff heard it as well. The staff report that came to Council last Monday outlines a series of opportunities to provide the City some feedback and ideas on recycling (open houses, on-line polls), and I am spreading hearing rumours of the NWEP “Trash Talkers” group getting together and working to raise public awareness and gather ideas about the barriers to waste diversion, and strategies to address them.

Resilience

This was quite a week transportation-wise. We are headed into a second week with snow and ice on the ground, and even more forecast tonight, and like many of you, this has messed with my plans.

Monday was a Council day, so I spent most of it inside not thinking about how frightful the weather was outside. Tuesday I faced transit delays on my way into work, and transit chaos in my way home, but I managed to get to the QRA meeting in Queensborough for the 7:00 start, only to find the meeting cancelled due to a power failure. Wednesday was a true “snow day” where I did some work from home, but mostly went out every couple of hours to shovel Kootenay-quality powder off of my walk and driveway. Thursday saw more transit delays with some sort of “power rail meltdown” on Skytrain. Today was slushy with promise of more to come, but was actually a seamless transit day both ways, though ridership was notably higher than usual, as I assume fewer people wanted to risk the still-wintery roads on bikes and in cars.

I love transit, and I rely on it. Though it arguably provided safer and more reliable service than driving in those weather conditions would have, this week got me thinking about the resiliency of the system. During snow events, trains run slightly less frequently (with staff on board to help manage the controls in case of a weather-induced track intrusion alarm), and there are some issues with how the automatic doors manage ice build up, but much of the overcrowding and delay was related to the system running at 110% during a normal rush hour, and 25% more people show up wanting a ride during a weather emergency. The system feels fragile: it is on edge and under pressure on the best of days, and quick to disappoint when conditions veer from nominal (in the NASA use of the adjective).

Strangely enough (and this is definitely anecdote, not data), all of my bus rides this week were uneventful and reliable, if sometimes a little more crowded than usual. I even made a strategic mistake in route planning one day, deciding to use Canada Line-SkyTrain instead of a bus-SkyTrain option that would have allowed me to skip the “trouble spot” on SkyTrain. Aside from the issues around keeping up with road clearing and our ongoing trouble with maintaining universal accessibility at bus stops during snow conditions, it is the distributed and flexible nature of the bus system that provides the resiliency to our transit system that the SkyTrian back bone sometimes fails to do.

The Skytrain system has grown remarkably in ridership over the last decade, as has always been the regional plan for transit-oriented development. But until recently, there was no money or political will to invest in making the system grow to match this increase. That has changed when Jordan Bateman started stumping for contractors with new investments and proper funding of the Mayors 10-year plan, which includes significant SkyTrain capacity increases (bigger stations, new cars, reduced time between trains, etc.). But we are still playing catch-up, and I don’t think it is enough. Everyone is doing the best with the resources we have, but there is no escaping the simple math: the system is at capacity, ridership is exploding, we need more money to expand the system now, and we need consistent capital funding from senior governments to plan for future growth. That is the only way the system will become more resilient.

There is an ongoing discussion right now about the future of TransLink, and I (as always) have my own opinions about things like embracing-the-newest vs fixing-the-fundamentals spectra and the roles of different solutions, but I hope people who care enough to read this far in my post will go there and take part in the TransLink discussion.

I also hope as the Federal and Provincial governments continue discussions about spending billions on expanding road capacity on Highway 1, under the Fraser River, or even right here in our own neighbourhood, we can re-frame the discussion to talk about economic impacts of an unreliable transit system. The tunnel replacement and highway expansion is always talked about as an economic imperative – cars and trucks stuck in traffic are a negative cost. I argue that this picture right here shows the real economic backbone of the Province. 7.5% of the national GDP, almost half of the Provincial GDP is earned within 10km of this spot, and the real cost of congestion and traffic that looks like this is never accounted for:

But I want to say a couple of positive things about this week’s experiences in Snowmageddon.

I spent a lot of time this week on crowded platforms, stuffed cheek-to-jowl on lurching trains, and lamenting on Social Media about it all, but I have to say the human experience of it was way more positive than you experience when an accident on a bridge causes traffic chaos in the adjacent neighbourhoods. We’ve all seen the cursing, honking, banging-steering-wheel impotent anger of people trapped in traffic gridlock, some of us may have even felt it at some time. But my experience in the Skytrain mob was not like that at all, There were some long sighs, a muttered curse here and there, but it was mostly concert eye-rolling and “we are all in this together” comradery. And it is amazing how diffusing that energy is. The few times I was starting to feel a little hot under the collar because I-am-going-to-miss-my-important-meeting-I-am-an-important-person stress hormones or whatever, the feeling that we were all in the same boat, and the many lame humour attempts by my fellow straphangers got me out of my own head, and out of my own ass, and into the shared reality. Transit is a community that way. Beats the hell out of traffic on the worst day.

The real local positive this week was that the QtoQ Ferry ran pretty much as scheduled, and had a lot of new riders. As repeated snow-ice cycles made it hard for our road crews to keep up with Primary route clearing, never mind Secondary routes and local roads, a lot of people on the east end of Queensborough found the QtoQ to be a better alternative than to drive on snowy/icy roads and taking a chance on traffic chaos around the bridge. This itself speaks a bit to resiliency. A robust transportation system needs to provide alternatives, and the QtoQ is one of those “niche” solutions that takes the pressure of the entire system. I hope folks at TransLink see this story, and see in it the value of integrating more flexible solutions to local transportation needs (cough cough Gondolas cough).

Council – Jan. 13, 2020!

The first Council meeting of 2020 was a long one, though the agenda was fairly short. We had a proclamation, and had several open delegations on the both the 2020 capital plan and the recycling centre (along with other topics, as is the nature of open delegations) but this report as always is on the business of the day. I’ll talk in an future blog post about the recycling centre discussion (though this provides some background info), and the 2020 budget will no doubt be the topic of many discussions between now and May!

The following items were Moved on Consent:

263 Jardine Street: Temporary Protection Order Update
Back in November, Council approved a temporary protection order for a single family home in the Queensborough after the owner applied for a demolition permit and the Community Heritage commission requested that efforts be made to save the house for its heritage value. The temporary order gave staff time to connect with the owner and assure they knew of the various incentives and benefits of heritage protection. The owner, once fully informed, decided to go on with demolishing the house and building a new house, as is their right under the zoning entitlement. So Council is lifting the protection order.


The following items were Removed From Consent for discussion:

High Performance “Bond” for Energy Step Code Buildings at Level 3 and Higher, and Select Increases to Building and Development Fees – Bylaws for Consideration of Readings
This report is a proposal from staff to make a few changes to building application fees in the City. It includes a significant increase in the application fee for a “preliminary review” of a significant development project, the introduction of a performance bod for high efficiency buildings to assure they meet step code goals, and a few minor “housekeeping” bylaw language changes.

The preliminary review application fee is pretty significant – up to $5,000. But staff have consulted with the development community, and they see a real value in this “early check in” model for the review of major projects, and as it is an optional approach ot any development, it is not causing anyone to pull their hair out, which is interesting for any fee increase.

The Performance Bond is a good way to incentivize compliance, but not so high that it disincentives building new homes during an ongoing housing supply crisis. And it helps us meet our building efficiency goals for the community. Council moved to approve these changes being read into a Bylaw.

Zoning Bylaw Work Program to Address Sustainable Transportation and Accessibility Objectives
Zoning policy is transportation policy, and vice versa. Smart growth means building transit-oriented communities where people have a lower risk of using a car, or even of owning a car, and a lower risk for being car-dependent for their everyday lives.

This is a heads-up from staff of some policy work for which Council has been asking for a while, to update the type and amount of off-street parking we require in new development to better reflect our strategic plans, our Master Transportation Plan, and the Climate Emergency goals. As this is preliminary, there is policy development work to be done, and bylaw changes will come back to Council, but I wanted to assure staff were thinking along the lines of looking a signficiant reductions in parking requirements for our transit-oriented development areas, and are thinking about end-of-trip facilities for both bicycles and e-bikes, and how those are managed in Condo buildings. The current “required bike room” bylaws do not always assure safe storage is available for residents and renters in multi-family, and this is will be an increasing need in our community as we start to transition to a car-light community.

Child Protection Policy and Procedures
This is a follow-up report on work our staff have been doing to update training and practices in all public buildings to better protect children from harm and exploitation.


We also had an Opportunity to be Heard on a Variance:

Development Variance Permit DVP00672 for 312 Fifth Street
As mentioned in a previous meeting, this heritage restoration project went sideways. Though the house will still be more or less preserved, there has been enough modification of the building materials that the restoration no longer meets nationally-recognized heritage conservation guidelines, so the benefits afforded the owner through the Heritage Restoration Agreement were rescinded. The work on the house still requires a couple of minor variances, and therefore we have to have an Opportunity to be Heard to assure the public has an opportunity to opine on those variances.

We received a single piece of correspondence (a neighbour’s letter of support) and no-one came to speak the variances. Council moved to approve these variances.


We had some Bylaws to adopt:

Sign Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8132, 2019
This Bylaw Amendment, which we gave Three Readings back on December 9th, makes some changes to our Sign Bylaw in order to reduce the need for variance applications and bring the Bylaw more in line with recent practice in regulating signs. Adopted by council, and now it’s the Law of the Land!

Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation (312 Fifth Street) Rescinding Bylaw No. 8171, 2019
This is the official removal of Heritage Designation and removal of the benefits provided the homeowner by the HRA, related to the variance application earlier in the meeting.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (647 Ewen) Bylaw No. 8068, 2019
Heritage Designation Bylaw (647 Ewen Avenue) No. 8069, 2019

This is the Bylaw that formally protects the Slovak Hall and provides the HRA that supports the development of a small townhouse development attached to the hall. Adopted by Council, and now the law.


Finally, we had an item of New Business:

Motion: A Welcoming and Inclusive City
Councillor Nakagawa brought forward this motion asking staff to look into several different potential ways to improve consultation in the City, and make the work that Council does more accessible to more people. Some of it is right along the line of our Public Engagement Strategy and Work Plan that came out of the Public Engagement Task from last term, others are somewhat more general accessibility and inclusion ideas that should make for a more welcoming and inclusive community. This motion asked staff to report back with ideas of how to implement these. Council voted unanimously to support the motion.

Community – Jan 12, 2020

I hope to get back in to the practice of posting weekly (or so) on the things I have done that are Council-job-related and happenings-around-town aside from the Exciting! Monday! Night! Meetings! you all watch at home. This is because people have often asked questions along the theme of “how much time does it take?”, or “What does the job involve?”. I had always hoped to use my little pulpit here to open that part of the job up a bit, and then I got busy and it fell by the wayside, but I’ll try again.

Of course, “Council work” includes a bunch of reading of reports, independent research, and countless e-mails and conversations on the street with residents, business owners, and others. Lots of times, you wake up in the morning thinking about it, and go to sleep at night thinking about it. You sit in the pub and chat about recycling, friends corner you at the curling rink and ask you about dog parks, the barber fills you in with the latest happenings during your trim. I’m a social guy, and I love to talk, so I don’t want that to come across as a complaint, but his makes it hard to “count the hours” of the job. Is it full time or part time? The only answer is that it is a job that expands to the time available to it.

Still , here are some of the things I have been up to:

The funnest event in my week was going to the New Media Gallery to see the Cartooney show currently going on. I am embarrassingly late getting to this show (I usually try to get to the openings of new NMG shows), and I need another visit. You really should book out a full hour for this show so you can enjoy the full cycle of Andy Holden’s “Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape” because it is hilarious and insightful. The other 5 pieces are also worth taking the time to chew on, so get there before February 9th when the show closes!

This week we held a Capital Budget workshop where a few dozen residents and stakeholders in the community came to look at the work done so far by staff and council on the 2020-2024 budget. This evening workshop outlines council’s strategic plans and the goals of the Climate Action strategy, and then gave details about the capital expenditures the City is looking at making over the next 5 years, hoping that residents can provide feedback about priorities. There were spreadsheets of numbers, and some pretty intense discussions:

This was, by far, the most public engagement in our budgeting process has ever had, and I don’t know of any other City in the lower mainland doing anywhere near this much outreach. some even seen to disdain this type of public participation. If you were not able to attend, there is still an on-line survey you can do, and of course you can come to Council for open delegation and tell us what you think.

This is a bit of an experiment, putting all of the data out there early in hopes that people will read what is pretty detailed data bout the City’s finances, and provide informed and meaningful feedback. If you are reading this blog, you probably care about this stuff, so please take some time to read the info, and provide us some feedback. It not only makes it easier for us to make better decisions, it shows that this kind of engagement is valued by the community.

I had two informal meetings this week, one with a member of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee to talk about the future of that file as the ICAC’s work gets rolled into the Economic Development Advisory Committee’s workplan (as part of the overall consolidation of advisory committee work). I also met with representatives of the Queensborough Residents’ Association executive, as I have been assigned to act as Council liaison to the QRA, and I wanted to get their idea about how they think this will work best. This liaison-to-RAs is a new thing, and I am really cognizant that RAs belong to the residents, not to Council, so I am putting a bit of a burden on them to define the bounds of my participation, and to make sure that communication works in a way that serves their needs.

Bad measures

I try not to be one to rise to the bait.

In my role as an elected official, there are voices you are best to just ignore. Part of this is something I have talked about before around not punching down – an elected role is a bully pulpit, and it shouldn’t be used to ridicule people who have less access to information or less understanding of what my job actually is. There is also a second part, though, where disingenuous arguments are used by political opportunists – those who know better – but responding to them just throws attention toward them, and we enter some weird Streisand Effect peril.

This is the second one, and here I am rising to the bait, because someone who knows better is being very, very silly, and trying to make narrative out of it. He is doing this specifically because he knows that most people don’t recognize the flaw in his argument, but having worked in City Halls himself, he knows perfectly well how disingenuous he is being. Since he already has many platforms, I don’t mind calling him out.

When Daniel Fontaine started a blog to specifically criticize New Westminster Council, it wasn’t a surprise. The blog is a little light on content (hey, blogs are dead as a media!) but the hook is something he calls the “unanimeter”. This ostensibly measures how often New West Council votes unanimously on motions, apparently an effort to prove we are all one like mind.

Anyone who watches Council meetings, especially our (always free on video) afternoon workshops, can hear that we are rarely of one mind. But that is not the point I want to push back against. The inference in the Unanimeter is that if we had a few people like Daniel on Council, we would have more split votes, which would mean, in an underpants gnome type of causation, better democracy. But measuring split votes is based on a flawed understanding of how a City Council works.

Currently, Daniel has pegged the “Unanimeter” at 96%. We have, apparently, voted unanimously 96% of the time on motions brought to vote in 2019. I don’t know if this claim is true, as he doesn’t really provide back-up to this claim, and I’m not interested in doing his math for him. But more importantly, he also doesn’t provide any kind of “ideal” number, because he knows the idea underpinning this is ridiculous.

Does anyone think a Council that is always arguing (0% unanimous) is a better one? How many people on the Council have to vote against the majority for democracy to be served? One? Three? What exactly are we measuring here? 

Still, to the people Daniel is trying to misinform, 96% sounds bad. So I thought I would do a bit of my own math to see how bad that is compared to other (supposedly better, by the underlying conceit) councils.

For example, New Westminster has a School Board made up of 7 Trustees. Five of them ran together as a slate (full disclosure – with me!), one ran as an independent, and one ran on Daniel Fontaine’s team. They are, by all accounts, doing a great job. The School District is managing money well, building new infrastructure, and showing provincial leadership on some important issues. If these positive results are related to the diversity of representatives, and this can be measured by a Unanimeter, surely their Unanimeter would count lower than New West Council? I went through the publicly available minutes for SD40’s Board for 2019, and guess what? 96% unanimous votes. (numbers below).

But that is a School District, surely  City Council is a different animal? I went back to 2008 to look over the minutes of the most diverse Council for which New West has an online record. This Council was chaired by Mayor Wayne Wright, and included three “labour endorsed” City Councillors (Cote, Harper, and Williams). There were also three long-serving Councillors who were definitively NOT labour-endorsed: Calvin Donnelly, Bob Osterman and Betty MacIntosh (who is still a Facebook critic of everything this Council does). Going back through their minutes from 2008, how did this democracy-serving Council work? 96% unanimous votes. (numbers below).

To demonstrate why this is especially disingenuous coming from Daniel is that we can all remember he worked in Sam Sullivan’s office when Sam was the Mayor of Vancouver. Daniel helped the increasingly-unpopular NPA Mayor manage a Council of 5 NPA members, 4 Vision Vancouver members, and a COPE member. Luckily, their 2008 minutes are available online as well. Guess what? This fractious and oppositional Council made up of three parties with no love of each other and representing very different political alignments was unanimous 92% of the time. When you dig deeper into the minutes, you see most of the “defeated” votes were on amendments to motions that were subsequently approved unanimously by Council. If you adjust for this anomaly, the Unanimeter tips to 96% (numbers below).

Short version: The Unanaimeter is useless at measuring… the thing Daniel claims to be concerned about.

Now, there may be an argument that majority government is a bad idea, but if Daniel is making that argument, the Unanimeter is not supporting it. There may be an argument that this Council makes bad decisions, or that the voters made a big mistake when they gave the people who are on this Council more votes than they did to Daniel. I would like to hear Daniel make those arguments, because at least they will be based on something other than an ill-informed meme that only serves to misinform voters.

I’ve always been transparent about my decision-making on Council, and anyone is free to watch our meetings and ask Council questions. Part of the reason I do this blog (though blogs are a dead media!) is to help people be informed enough to engage meaningfully with Council. Sometimes people use this to call me on what they think is a bad decision on my part, or on the part of Council, and I encourage that. Sometimes I change my mind.

But what I won’t do is the easy thing – throw meaningless votes away to shift the numbers on a voter-insulting meme like the Unanimeter. It would be easy, and it would disarm Daniel, but it would be silly, and it would be disrespectful to the people I serve and the work the Council is doing.

Links to the sources are above, but here is my math, please check it! 

Year of the Beard

I’ve been taking a serious year-end break. I took a couple of weeks off work, got out of town just after the last Council meeting. I’m taking a social media break as well, though I do hazard a short lurk once in a while to assure myself #NewWest still exists. I brought a few City documents on the road with me, and I am spending a bit of down time reading capital budget stuff (January is coming on soon!)but it’s been nice to turn most things off for a bit, ride my bike, sit on a beach, and chill with @MsNWimby.

That said, the week between Christmas and the New Year is ripe for these “year in review” things, so here goes mine. 2019 was a strange and interesting year, and I have a hard time summing my 2019 up.

One big change for me personally in 2019 is a change in my work/life balance. I went back to more regular “work” outside of Council. When elected in 2014, I was working full time. After almost two years of increasingly strained attempts at making it work, I had to be honest that I was not giving the attention or energy my 40-a-week professional job deserved, and decided to quit. For the balance of my first Council term I was doing a bit of consulting work, but nowhere near full time. Being honest about the effort and time I could put in with this council work (and my volunteer work with the CEA, CSAP, and LMLGA), I had found a couple of clients that offered the right level or workload, though I think @MsNWimby would have liked a more equitable contribution to household expenses.

In early 2019, I had an opportunity to take a real job working in my field that was half time – a solid 20 hours a week at a proper professional wage. It is work I am very familiar with so the learning curve was easy to get past, and I was able to provide value right up front. The employer is super flexible, and we have a great relationship around planning a work load for the weeks ahead, so I can assure scheduling conflicts are avoided. It all seems very “millennial” in work conditions, but it is working for everyone, and I am staying connected in my field. It has been a fun team to get to know as well, and the work is really interesting. so all’s good!

I also spent a bit of time in 2019 volunteering on the local federal election campaign. This was mostly a good news story – Peter Julian is an easy Member of Parliament to support, he had a great team working for him, and it is fun to knock on doors and make phone calls when you are stumping for such a popular guy!

The disappointment side of the 2019 Federal Election, personally, is a regret that I didn’t spend more time over in Coquitlam/Port Moody helping Bonita Zarrillo’s campaign. I have known Bonita from local government stuff for a few years, and was really excited to hear she was going to represent the NDP in Fin Donnelly’s riding. She is passionate, smart, caring, and hardworking, and she loves her home in the Tri Cities. In the end, she lost a squeaker to a parachuted-in ultra-conservative who failed to meaningfully campaign when she arrived. To see such a brilliant local leader lose to a party-issue hack form central casting is sad. To me a Member of Parliament is representative of your community in Ottawa, not a representative of the Party in your community. I feel disappointment that I didn’t have the foresight to invest more of my volunteer time to help Bonita, when she just needed a few hundred votes to get over the top. Sorry Bonita, but I am glad we are still working together in Local Government in the Lower Mainland.

In the local political realm, New West Council had probably the most quietly challenging year I have ever experienced. From my seat, it seemed there were very few big splashes, yet we pushed some really bold stuff forward. I have felt a tremendous amount of personal growth in how I approach the work, and the organization’s growth in some of the functional changes we are making at City Hall and in Council Chambers. We are making the organization more efficient and effective, though some of this is a bit out of sight for all but the vigilant council-watcher. This is alongside the real progress and growth reflected across the organization on files like climate and reconciliation. I think our Strategic Plan is (perhaps) too aggressive in wanting to achieve much more in a short time period than will be easy for a City our size. That said, I can’t disagree with the bold vision created, and hope we can continue to build the political will to be the most progressive and forward-looking local government in the province, if not in Canada. The shift represented by our Council and Staff’s embrace of aggressive climate actions is an encouraging example of progress that can be made when we are all on the same page, and I’m glad this community is still pushing us forward on that front.

In looking back at the direction we are forging, I find myself using words like “aggressive” and “bold”. Still, it feels like we are being given the clear political push from the public to get this work done. The community is telling us they can be just as bold as this Council, and perhaps through us providing transparency and a clear set of underlying values and vision, I am more confident in our ability to make this progress.

It is a bit funny, but you sometimes need to go outside to see how good things are inside. Our Council has ways of disagreeing – even new ways different than the last Council –and can drive each other nuts with our 7 different ways of approaching solutions, but if our paddles sometimes cross, we are all at least rowing the same direction. It is mostly at regional or provincial conferences where our cohort reminds us that New West is functional and punching way above its weight in the local government actions, and we do it while avoiding so much of the hijinks afflicting other less-functional Councils around the region. They get headlines, we get work done. That is a good feeling.

2019 had challenges, but I think the year ahead will be more challenging. We are deep into Capital Budget discussions right now, and are asking for the public’s help in setting those priorities. Translating an aggressive capital plan into a sustainable operational budget is the hard work part. We will be having some conversations not just about the things we want to do, but our vision for the 5 years ahead is going to have to include some conversations about what we are not going to do, or are going to stop doing. And New Westminster is not as good at letting things go as we are at starting new things (and by that I mean Council, City Staff, and the Public!). These conversations will be at times hard, but worth while. I’m looking forward to the work!

With all of this going on, I hardly had time to ride my bike for recreation, my blog here has been suffering from lack of attention (but blogs as a media are deader than dead, so who knows the future of this?), and my garden was a pretty dismal failure, except for all the tomatoes. I also found myself intentionally stepping back a bit from some things in 2019, mostly because of my new work & commuting schedule: fewer of those “I should make an appearance” events, and less patience for social media. I’m not sure what to make of my nascent impression that our local political challenges have become pettier, despite the good work we are doing (see above). I am not sure if that is a product of the changing social media landscape, or just the natural result of me settling in after five (5!) years of elected life. Or maybe I’m getting older.

Which brings the big personal news – I turned 50 in 2019. I’m not sure how that happened, but it just kinda snuck up on me and now I am looking down the second half of middle age. @MsNWimby threw a hell of a party, and I really haven’t taken the time to thank everyone who came out to celebrate. 50 makes you ornery, I guess. Or gives you a ready excuse to be so. Thank you for the great party, and for being a great support network for me and @MsNWimby.

Let me wrap my 2019 in review by thanking the wider network of great people in New West working to build this unique, progressive, compassionate community. There are so many people in this town who are doing so much to make it a great place to live. My Council colleagues are constantly challenging and surprising me, and the Mayor has really grown into a strong leader who earns more respect every day. There are true leaders in the School District, in the Arts community, in our BIAs and local businesses, in the many service agencies that make New West tick. Please keep up your good work, though it may feel you are fighting against the tide, your contributions are noticed and appreciated. If I have one resolution for 2020, it will be consciously spending less time worrying about the boo-birds on Facebook, and more time expressing gratitude to the many people around New West actually working every day to make this community so great. Happy New Year!

Council – Dec. 9, 2019

Our last Council meeting of 2019 included and afternoon workshop where staff presented some framework ideas on a new Inclusionary Housing policy – you housing and policy wonks might want to catch the video and see what the City is dreaming up! That will all come to regular council as the program is put together, so I’m sticking to regular Council business here. Our evening Agenda started with two presentations:

Theatre Strategy for approval
The City owns two performing arts theatres, and will own three in the near future when the Massey Theatre is exchanged to the City from the School District as the new High School is built. With a total of 1761 city-owned theatre seats and three stages, this is a pretty significant investment for a City of 72,000 people. Making the most of this asset, and the important relationships we have with non-profit operators of these theatres, is the goal of this strategy.

The big goal is to have a thriving theatre scene, from students learning the performing arts to dedicated local amateurs, regional professional productions and major touring acts (I still can’t believe I saw Nick Cave in New Westminster!), assure that our non-profit partners have the tools they need to remain financially solvent, and assure the theater assets are maintained. There are a myriad of cultural benefits and business spin-off from this, and I’m glad to see council support the strategy.

Queen’s Park Sportsplex Update
At long last, the Sportsplex is being built. This has been a long journey – much longer than most would want. We had some delays getting the insurance claim worked out, we bounced around the idea of a temporary building, and expanded gym space at the NWACC caused us to re-evaluate some of the programming needs, then we had a failed procurement for our first version of the replacement. But at long last we have a solid plan for a modern, high efficiency, uber-accessible multi-purpose building, and the beams are being installed as you read this. It will be ready to open in the spring to finally give those activities that have been displaced a stable home.


The following items were moved by Council On Consent:

New Guidelines for Residents’ Associations
As part of our ongoing efforts to improve community engagement and make our Committee and Council Advisory systems work better, we are making a new commitment to our 12 Residents Associations at the same time as we are disbanding the existing RA forum. Instead, we are assigning each RA a Council Liaison, which will change every two years (I was assigned to Glenbrooke North and Queensborough for the first 2-year term). The role of Liaison is not rigidly defined, and I will be reaching out to “my” two RAs early in the New Year to see how they want this new relationship to work. We will also have an annual RA forum with all of Council, where Council meets with representatives of the 12 RAs. Finally, the City will continue to provide a very modest $200 operating grant to any RA who asks for it, to help with minor administrative costs like maintaining a website or creating leaflets.

705 Queen’s Avenue: Proposed Temporary Use Permit – Results of Applicant Led Consultation
Westminster House wants to expand their operations in the Brow of the Hill to provide more supportive housing for women. They had an open house that was widely advertised and poorly attended, with the only attendees showing support of the project. The Brow of the Hill RA also expressed support. This report is only on the results of that consultation and informs the ongoing Temporary Use Permit application, which came to an Opportunity to be Heard later in the meeting (see below).

Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Zoning Amendment Bylaw to Rezone Three Non-Conforming Properties to Duplex Districts (RT-1)- Bylaw for Two Readings
For reasons unknown (but ripe with inference and allegations of how Council operated in the 1980s), three duplex houses in Queens Park were re-zoned to single family in 1987. They all have duplexes on them now, and through the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area work, this mis-zoning was identified. The owners of these houses are supportive of the City changing the zoning back to the appropriate category for these three properties only. It is still a Rezoning, which will require a Public Hearing, so I will hold further comment until then.

312 Fifth Street: Bylaw No. 8171, 2019 to Rescind Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 7979, 2018 and Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 7980, 2018 – Bylaw For Three Readings and Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard for Development Variance Permit
There was a Heritage Revitalization Agreement on a property in Queens Park, where the homeowner promised the City to restore and preserve a heritage house in exchange for some variances and extra zoning entitlement to build a larger-than-normal laneway house. Subsequently, the work done on the heritage house broke that agreement, and has resulted in the heritage benefits of the project being lost to the community. So the City is taking away the entitlements granted.

A the same time, there was some work done as part of that HRA that is now difficult to undo, so we need to go through a Variance process to allow the porch on the house that is already mostly built to remain. That requires an Opportunity to be Heard, which seems a strange waste of everybody’s time, but such is the law.

97 Braid Street: Extension of Temporary Use Permit for the Royal Columbian Hospital Temporary Off-Site Parking Lot
That big parking lot by Braid Station is to support the work happening at RCH (there are shuttles that run between the two). It is there on a Temporary Use Permit, as the Sapperton Green development works its way through design and approvals. The TUP needs to be extended for another three years.

Development Review Streamlining: Proposed Improvements in Support of Reallocating Resources to Council Priorities
We are updating some of the processes in our Planning department to make things work more efficiently, better manage employee workload, and hopefully provide better customer service. This is kind of an omnibus report outlining various changes:
Completed and Proposed Improvements to Development Review
Process and Regulations
This would allow staff to amalgamate reports when there are two different application types on one project, e.g.: an affordable housing project that need a rezoning and a housing agreement; reduce the review steps for small projects of less than 5 units; remove the neighbourhood consultation step from laneway house projects where the project meets zoning regulations; and simplify secondary suite requirements while maintaining life/safety standards)
Sign Permit Application Improvements: Sign Bylaw Amendment Bylaw
No. 8132, 2019 – for Three Readings
This would update our sign bylaw to reduce the number of variance applications required.
Official Community Plan Update and Development Permit Process Improvements: Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw No. 8151, 2019, Development Approval Procedures Amendment Bylaw No. 8152, 2019, and Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8153, 2019 – For Consideration of Readings This would update our OCP to introduce some of the streamlining effects, including delegating some Council powers to the Director of Development Services; change the Land use Designation (not the zoning) of 4 properties that are not operating as currently designated; align some of the language between the OCP, and the Queensborough Community Plan; and update some planning and development permit fees.

Brewery District (Wesgroup Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
We need to change how we do this. We have 90,000 vehicles a day streaming through the Brunette Ave corridor. Any reduction in lane capacity will, according to staff, grind the entire region to a halt and compromise the safety of untold workers and residents. So when road works have to happen (and they do), we need to do it at night. Then I hear form angry residents because someone is operating a backhoe in front of their house at 2am, and they need to sleep. So what to do?

Currently we grant that exception, let them work at night, because keeping traffic flowing is more important that people getting sleep. I still don’t believe that reflects our values as a community, and believe that traffic flowing is just as dangerous and disruptive to my community and traffic constricted. I content more people are injured and killed by free flowing traffic than speed-constricted traffic, but I appear to be the only person who feels this way.

The proponent here says they are going to take great effort to work quietly, the Hospital and others are concerned about traffic impacts, and the last phase of night work in this area did not result in complaints. And at some point when our engineering staff suggest to you serious safety concerns, you have to listen. Council voted (on consent) to give the variance.

Budget Process: Capital Program aligned by Council’s Strategic Priorities
This bundle of reports and tables provides some of the background data staff will use to lead the public conversations about our Capital Budget that is ongoing now. This compliments the data we got last meeting, and the Climate action budget priority info provided below. If you have feedback to Council about the Capital Budget (and I know you do!) you will be able to go to an open house and/or fill out an online survey you can find here.

Mayor’s Transportation Task Force: Royal Columbia Hospital Redevelopment – Parking Requirements and Pedestrian Connectivity to Sapperton Skytrain Station
We are working with Fraser Health on the RCH rezoning, and the Mayors Transportation Task force has put forward some strong recommendations on how to address some of the City’s transportation and climate change priorities in the new buildings. The first design has not seemed to hit the mark (from a City perspective) on accessibility or designed-in active transportation features. So we sent some suggestions to Fraser Health. I maybe would have pointed out that getting people out of cars is a public health intervention, but maybe that is a bit too on-nose.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Capital Budget 2020-2024 Climate Action Memos
This report provides a bit more detail on a couple of parts of the Capital budget numbers we were given last meeting, with more discussion of the climate action targets, and how the “climate impact” of funded projects is weighed against other important maintenance-of-operations needs. Not everything in the plan will be a climate action – maintaining a retaining wall (for example) may not have a climate impact, but failing to do so may result in a structural failure and risk to the City, so risks like this need to be balanced. This is a crude example, but the same logic can be applied to many City operations, some of which even have negative climate impacts.

The public consultation on our Capital Budget is ongoing, if you want to ask questions or provide input on these priorities – a survey will be open soon! We are going to have to make the hard decisions early in the New Year.

Recruitment 2020: Appointments to the New Westminster Library Board
The Library Board provides governance oversight for the city of New Westminster’s single most used public facility. This is an important volunteer role, and I really appreciate the folks who step up to provide this service to the community. Three re-appointments re-appointed!

Release of Items from Closed Meetings
This report is from our Clerk to clarify some of the procedural hiccups that happened at the end of last meeting. Nothing went “wrong”, but there was some procedural confusion, and the City Clerk is a bit of a stickler about procedure, because that is her job and because it matters.

Things in Closed (or more correctly and jargon in camera as I wrote about recently) are there because they contain sensitive information, sometimes sensitive to the business interests of the City, sometimes because they involve private citizens whose privacy should be protected as much as possible. This sometimes creates a situation like last week where Council makes decision in closed, but staff needs to action that decision, which requires the item be brought in to open. Ideally, there is an opportunity for staff to communicate with the private citizen before it becomes an open item so that they are the first to know – no-one wants to read on Twitter that their personal business is being discussed in Council. Staff do their best to make sure residents and business are informed before these items hit open meetings.

The Clerk has recommended a process to make release of information from a Closed decision work more smoothly in future meetings, but the suggestion that only the resolution passed in closed be read by the Mayor caused me some issue. By my reading, this would mean we were able to tell the public the result of a decision, but were not able to discuss the details, because they would all remain in closed. The more common practice now is for the Clerk to produce an open report that strips the sensitive or Section 90 restricted information so it was clear to Council what were able to talk about to the public and what we aren’t. This report did not make clear that distinction, so we sent it back to the clerk for a bit more work.

TransLink/SkyTrain Communications Upgrade: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
TransLink needs to do electronics and communications systems upgrades in the City’s 5 SkyTrain Stations. By obvious necessity, much of this needs to happen when the trains are not running, which means at night, which is outside of permitted construction noise hours in New West. They are applying for a single Construction Noise Variance for 4 stations, each of which has a 3- to 4- month construction schedule.

They are doing what they can to reduce the noise generated, and are going to be doing direct mail-out communications to the neighbours immediately adjacent to the stations. I requested that Council receive a report after the first phase of work (the 22nd Street Station work) is completed detailing the complaints, mitigation undertaken, and lessons learned, so we can be assured that complaints are being responded to and issues addressed where possible. Councillor McEvoy asked that they give a wider buffer around Christmas. Council approved with these two conditions.

Proposed Child Care Facility Ownership and Management Policy and Provincial Child Care Funding Update
Cities are getting deeper into childcare. We have a provincial government willing to help fund childcare (which is a nice shift), but it will fall on Cities to support childcare through amenity contributions and grants. New West does both. We are also granting City-owned property and investing capital funds to get them operating. We need to set some policy about who we are going to partner with for these City-subsidized operations. This policy will outline how those services should be supported, based on their structure and the level of City involvement. If childcare is in a City building, we will have a lease relationship to the provider managed by Parks; if it is a stand-alone building on City owned land, the City will retain ownership of the land and building with a lease managed by Engineering; if the child care is in a mixed-use development as an amenity, the lease will be managed by the Engineering department.

Inevitably, the City being involved in this is going to increase your taxes, because this is a new service area and we are going to have to have staff to manage it.

Neighbourhood Traffic Advisory Committee: Advisory Committee Structure Changes and Future Engagement with Residents’ Associations
The NTAC is no longer going to meet. This is a shift in how we manage communication about traffic issues in the City, and we are getting away from using a committee structure to manage parochial traffic issues. We are integrating all transportation types into the new Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee (“STAC”) whose work will be aligned with the Mayors Transportation Task Force and the Master Transportation Plan.

The NTAC made a few suggestions on how the City can still engage with neighbourhoods through these changes, including assuring broad neighbourhood representation on STAC. They also recommended the City do more to acknowledge the efforts of our community volunteers, which is a good point. Council moved to accept the recommendations, based on the approaches staff recommended.


We then had an Opportunity to Be Heard:

Temporary Use Permit TUP00021 for 705 Queen’s Avenue
As mentioned above, Westminster House wants to expand operations to a new residential house in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood. This requires that the City wither do a zoning amendment (because running a recovery residence does not fit approved land use of the house) or do a Temporary Use Permit for up to three years. This latter process is temporary, but much quicker and easier for the proponent.

We had a single piece of written correspondence in support of the application, and four members of the public came to speak in favour of the project. The public consultation (see above) did not raise any red flags. Westminster House do great and really important work, and are the most respectful residential neighbours one could hope to have. Council was very supportive of this application.


We then had a significant number of Bylaws to adopt:

Council Procedure Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8162, 2019
This Bylaw amends the one that governs all of the procedures in how our Council Meetings work. We are instituting some streamlining – including reducing the amount f time Councilors can speak on a single topic – and the Bylaw was adopted by a split vote. Get out your stopwatches, folks!

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment (Fees) Bylaw No. 8165, 2019,
Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw (Schedule B) No. 8167, 2019,
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8157, 2019,
Cultural Services Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8166, 2019,
Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment (Rates) Bylaw No. 8174, 2019, and
Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw (Schedule A) No. 8173, 2019,
These Bylaws that adjust our various fees and non-tax revenue, updated every year as part of our budget process, were adopted by Council.

Water Shortage Response Amendment Bylaw No. 8170, 2019
This Bylaw that brings our water shortage response fees and charges in line with the rest of our engineering charges to make administration easier was adopted by Council. It can’t be New Orleans every night, folks.

Official Community Plan Amendment (Queensborough Residential Low Density) Bylaw No. 8122, 2019
This is the final adoption of the OCP amendment for a development (a combination of preserving the Slovak Hall and building adjacent townhouses) that was approved through the Public Hearing process back on June 24, 2019.


And that is the end of business for 2019. I hope everyone has a good holidays. I am going to take a bit of a Social Media break for the rest of December, though I may get a chance to pump out a few blog posts, I’m just not sure if the mood will strike. See you all in 2020!

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.