June 24 Public Hearing (Part 1)

We had a lengthy Public Hearing last Council meeting with 8 different items, so I’m going to talk about it in sections. and try to work through it over the long weekend. I’ll start with the last two items of the evening:

Zoning Amendment – Cannabis Retail Location: 532 Sixth Street Bylaw 8111, 2019 and
8. Zoning Amendment – Cannabis Retail Location: 710 Twelfth Street Bylaw No. 8109, 2019
These are the first two applications for cannabis retail locations that have reached this last stage of City approvals; one on 6th Street in Uptown and one on 12th Street.

We have spent more than a year and a half in the process that got us here. This link points you to the reams of public documents and conversations we have had about how best to synch our local land use and business regulations with the federal and provincial regulations, made no less easy as we were waiting for the details from senior governments to trickle in as we were going along. I wrote a few relevant blog posts along the way, and even answered some questions on my blog page. You can go there and search “cannabis” to follow along and see where my mind was as we went through things.

We had our first open Council Workshop back on October 30, 2017, a full year before federal legalization. Staff led us through a pretty detailed discussion about the issues, and you really need to watch the video from the workshop to get a sense of the discussion. It was clear that Council had varying concerns and levels of comfort with the legalization regime, but staff did a pretty good job of working us towards consensus on a framework for local regulations, which they brought back to us for another open Council Workshop on January 29, 2018 where Council once again found several points to disagree on, yet worked our way towards some early principles to build draft Bylaws on.

We then hired a consultant to put together some presentation materials based on the framework, and put it out to two Public Open Houses and a meeting with the local business community. The feedback was generally favourable. We had an on-line survey that was advertised in the local paper, at City Hall, and through social media, and received more than 300 responses. We held a Council Town Hall, inviting people to come in and tell Council what they think we need to do, not do, or adjust.

This feedback was drafted into a set of Zoning and Business Bylaw amendments, which were put to a Public Hearing, with all the notice that entails. We had two people come and speak to that Public Hearing – one telling us we were moving too slow, and one telling us we were moving too fast. Such is the nature of Public Consultation.

At this point, applications started coming into the City for retail locations. They were reviewed by staff based on the framework established, and 5 locations were approved (again, at a public meeting) to go to final approval. We received quite a few delegations at this point, mostly from proponents who had not been selected in their first round. The two applicants in front of us at this Public Hearing were the first to clear all of the required provincial regulatory hurdles to get to this final Public Hearing Stage.

So, after all of that, I do not take at face value a delegate at the Public Hearing who claims that this process was rushed, secretive, and failed to include public input. It is ridiculous on the face of it.

There were some concerns raised about traffic on the 12th Street site. However, the location is an existing retail space, and I don’t see how a cannabis retail location will present greater traffic concerns than a book store, a pub, or a coffee shop.

There are some requirements we agreed upon as a Council that I frankly don’t understand. The requirement for opaque windows is not congruent with vibrant retail street design. This and the “buffer from schools” are requirements based on an outmoded and Puritan idea that we can protect children from (alleged) evil by keeping that evil out of their sight. There is an extended meme in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy about “Peril-sensitive sunglasses” that riffs off of this idea. If the idea of keeping dangerous things out of children’s sight aligned with the real risks to the life and health of children, we would quickly resolve that there are no automobiles within 500m of a school. But I digress.

In saying that, I don’t want to act dismissive of the concerns raised by parents at the meeting. It was clear they are genuinely concerned, even scared, about what the legalization of cannabis means to their children. I empathize with their fears, but I do not share their fears. The substance has always been available to youth who want it, and I think this legalization and regulation process is actually going to make it easier to have rational, fact-based conversations about the substance, its risks and responsible use. I agree it is not appropriate for children to be using cannabis at the age when I started smoking pot (full disclosure: I haven’t touched the stuff in years), but even in my I’d-still-like-to-think-it-wasn’t-that-long-ago youth, parents were less able to have rational conversations about cannabis than they were about alcohol. I suspect that is because alcohol was present in most houses in some for or other and was visible in advertising and on the street, where cannabis was counter-culture and represented (dangerous?) rebellion. I hope that these conversations will change through legalization, but recognize there will always be people unable to move past the prohibition-based status quo.

The nuisance issue with cannabis is a real one, and still one local governments across Canada are going to be challenged to address. I think the nuisance issues will never be as bad as those caused by alcohol (cannabis typically just doesn’t lead to the loud, violent rowdiness that is associated with closing time at many pubs) but they will be different. But in our land use decision-making, I think the nuisance will be more about consumption in inappropriate places (parks, bus stops) and less about where the purchase occurs.

The Uptown location received the most correspondence: 362 pieces, by far most were in favour, suggesting they already have a well established potential client base. We had about 10 people speak to this application, most opposed. It seemed to me that most were opposed to the entire idea of cannabis retail, and the opposition to this location was a sub-set of that. The 12th Street location received a single piece of correspondence (opposed), and about 10 people delegating, with the majority opposed based largely on traffic concerns and parking concerns. In the end, Council moved to approve the two locations.

Council – June 24, 2019

We had a long day on Monday. I had a task force meeting at 9:00 am, and left City Hall just before midnight. 15 hours. And much of that was spent going through the Public Hearing topics. But I’m not going to talk about the Public Hearing here, because that is going to take a whole bunch of space and time and a little more thinking on my part about how to frame my responses to the events of the evening, so I’ll just deal with the info on the Regular Agenda, which began with three Opportunities to be Heard:

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8130, 2019
The City has been pretty aggressive at addressing the renoviction situation, after the situation was rising to crisis levels last year. I have to give kudos to our staff for finding creative ways to leverage the City’s limited regulatory power here to fill gaps in the Provincial regulations, while we wait for those regulations to hopefully be updated and strengthened. I am pretty proud that other cities are following the lead of New Westminster, and that tenants around the region are seeing better protection because of our actions.

As we are on the leading edge here, Staff have brought forward some improvements on the Bylaws we passed back in February to use our Business Licensing powers to regulate how evictions occur in the City. Learning from practical experience, these changes will make the Bylaw easier to enforce and more effective. This includes making the timing of the offence at the delivery of eviction (if that eviction is found to be non-compliant), to clarify that every day the situation is not addressed constitutes a new offence (allowing the City to pile up fines to create real deterrence), and other administrative changes.

No-one came to speak to the Bylaw, and we received no written submissions. Council moved to adopt the Bylaw.

Closing of a Portion of Boyne Street at 34 South Dyke Road Bylaw No. 8074, 2019
There is an unused road portion in Queensborough the City wants to close. That means there is a piece of land that is not a regular taxable lot, but designated as highway that belongs to the city. This piece of highway has never had need for a road on it, so it is vacant land. There is a development on one side of it, and another development happening on the other side, but the roadway is still “surplus” to the city’s needs.

As is policy in these cases, the road can be sold to the adjacent landowner and integrated into the development, as long as conditions the City needs are met. We need a bylaw to do this, to “raise title” on the land so it can be valued and taxed appropriately. No-one came to speak to the Bylaw, and we received no written correspondence. Council moved to adopt the Bylaw.

Development Variance Permit DVP00664 for 118 Regina Street
The owners of this heritage house in Queens Park want to put a 12-foot addition on the back to create a more livable back space in the house, but because the side of the existing house is closer to the property line than would be currently permitted, an addition to the back will also be too close to the property line, meaning a variance is required.

We had no speakers and no written correspondence, and Council moved approve the variance.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

NWACC Infrastructure Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 8073, 2019 – Results from Alternative Approval Process
The replacement for the Canada games Pool and Centennial Community Centre is going to require that we borrow money beyond a 5-year term, which requires special consent from the community. The City has two alternatives under the Community Charter – a City-wide referendum or this Alternate Approval Process (AAP) where we ask the City to tell us if they oppose the idea. If 10% of the public register opposition, we need to go to referendum.

I hate the structure of the AAP, always have, but that is the process available to us if we believe (as I do) that referendums are terrible way to choose what vital service the City – or any government – is able to deliver.

Anyway, the APP was completed as per the legislation, we had 41 people let us know they opposed the borrowing Bylaw (which is short of the 5,061 required to force referendum) so we can proceed with adopting the borrowing bylaw (below).

2018 Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report
The City samples your water to make sure it is safe to drink, because dysentery sucks. We have 13 sampling stations, and they measure things like coliforms and e-coli, chlorine levels, turbidity and metals. We collected more than 1,000 samples in 2018, and all passed quality criteria.

Sixth Avenue and Second Street Intersection – Open Delegation Response
We had a couple of delegates come to Council back in April to express concerns about a pedestrian improvement in Queens Park. Staff looked again at the changes, and have had discussions with the Neighbourhood Traffic Advisory Committee, the Queens Park Residents’ Association, and the NWPD, and have determined that the improvements planned are the best option for the site. With a City full of intersection improvements needed, the treatment here is the one that makes the most sense.

Glenbrook Ravine Park Invasive Plant Management Plan
Glenbrook Ravine is a green treasure in the City, but most people will not recognize that much of the green you see there represents invasive species that are actually terrible for the local ecosystem networks. Blackberry and English Ivy have completely proliferated in the ravine, where other invasives like Scotch Broom and Knotweed are still very limited in extent. Realistically, the limited extent invasive can be knocked out relatively easily, the proliferating ones cannot – but we can take efforts to reduce their impacts (i.e. stop ivy from destroying the alders),

Through ad-hoc efforts of community volunteers like Kyle Routledge and groups like the New West Environmental Partners, there have been some efforts to start addressing this problem, but the problem is bigger than these small efforts, and needs a long-term coordinated plan if it is going to make progress. This report outlines what that long-term strategy looks like!

228 Nelson’s Crescent: Housing Agreement Amendment Bylaw 8135, 2019 for Three Readings
We have a housing agreement with Wesgroup on the secured market rental building in the Brewery District, but the language of the agreement is making CMHC nervous, so we made a small modification so everyone is secure that the Feds will get paid if things go terribly wrong, I suppose.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion

330 East Columbia Street (RCH Project): Gas Service Installation on Brunette Avenue – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 Exemption
The hospital upgrade requires a gas line upgrade, which means digging up Brunette Ave in front of the Hospital. Because traffic on Brunette must flow, they are going to do this work at night, which requires an exemption from the Construction Noise Bylaw for a week in late August.

I voted against this. I’m not against the work getting done, but do it during business hours and let people sleep. Fully charged and feeling punchy after the Active Transportation Summit, I am feeling strongly that we need to start pushing back a bit against the assumptions of motordom. I’m ready to start voting against these small erosions and start prioritizing livability before traffic flow. The exemption was granted in a split vote.

Child Care Situation in Queensborough
Affordable, accessible childcare is a desperate need across the City and region, but in New West the need is most acute in Queensborough. Where most neighbourhoods in New West have childcare spaces exceeding the provincial and regional average, Queensborough stands out with only 11 spaces per 1,000 children (compared to the regional average of 18.5). For a variety of reasons, both private and non-profit daycare providers are not setting up in Queensborough.

This is just a status report, but the City and School District are going to work together to address this, and specifically ask the province to help us out. Council discussed the need to find some creative solutions, as the current model (and current funding models) simply is not providing the need.

Amendment to Subdivision and Development Control Bylaw Schedule “B” Design Criteria Sections 1, 3, 4, 5 and Part of 8
Looking at the title, does anyone have any idea what this report is about?!

Let’s see if I can break it down. We have a Bylaw that tells anyone who wants to build some things in the City what they need to do to connect that thing to the rest of the City – what kind of water, sewer, electrical, road, sidewalk, etc. connections the developer or builder will be responsible for to assure that everything works together when the building is complete, and the developer pays for their share of the costs, not downloading it onto taxpayers. Attached to that Bylaw is “Schedule B”, which describes in detail all of the designs the City requires. Parts of the Schedule, in turn, describe General Requirements, Storm Drainage System, Sanitary Sewer System, Water Distribution System, and the designs of road pavement. Not surprisingly, technology and engineering demands change over time, and so we need to update the Bylaw to reflect these changes, which we have not done, apparently, since 2006.

It seems arcane, but there are some nuggets in here. The biggest changes are in how we account for projected climate change impacts on rainfall patterns (we need to store more rain water locally or build bigger pipes to address more intense storms). Consistent with Metro Vancouver work, we are incorporating a “moderate climate change forecast” for 2050 (for most infrastructure) or 2100 (for high-risk or critical infrastructure) based on this report.

I have had discussions with people trying to build laneway or carriage houses, and one common complaint is that the rules for connecting to water and sewer do not seem to reflect the situation where we have two residences on a single lot. Some of the existing bylaws create problematic situations like having to trench across an entire property when there may be a closer second connection, or having to run a new sewer line under or through an exsiting building. Staff assured us that they are learning from the experiences of these early adopters, and these Bylaws have the adaptability to support these changes.

Q to Q Ferry Service Plan for Permanent Service
In the last year (May 2018 – June 2019) we had 80,000 rides on the QtoQ ferry, and the City subsidized the service by a bit over $700,000. Staff are asking us to enter into a new procurement for a permanent service, and though I am supportive of the QtoQ, I am challenged with the projected cost, based on the existing ridership.

I had hoped that we could extend for another year, and have some better discussions with potential partners like TransLink and the Ministry of Transportation, both of whom were at the Active Transportation Summit, and both of whom have been expressing interest in supporting more innovative and multi-modal transportation options like the QtoQ, while we continue to see if we can cost share or bring more cost efficiency to the system. However, Council voted to commit to a 5-year contract, in light of how that may provide more security for users and may result in us getting a better contract with a provider.

I do think there is room to continue those conversations with senior agencies and potential partners. In the meantime, some small service adjustments are proposed to make the system run more efficiently

2019 Council Remuneration
We once again sent the touchy issue of Council Remuneration to an outside agency for review, as we agreed to do 4 years ago last time this came up. They recommended that Council pay be increased by 15% to make up for the change in federal taxation regime, which removed the tax exemption from half of our pay, essentially reducing our take-home by 15%. Then we should continue annual CPI increases. This would make our pay fit close to the median of our comparator communities, and essentially make out take-home pay match what we got in previous years. I am happy with this recommendation.

The report also recommended an increased vehicle allowance, but that recommendation did not make it through to our report, as staff will be looking at it as part of a more comprehensive update of our council expense policy.

639 – 655 East Columbia Street: Preliminary Application Review for Infill Townhouses
This is a preliminary report on a potential land assembly and townhouse development on East Columbia right across from the Lower Hume Park entrance. There is quite a bit going on here, including designing a new entrance and intersection at Hume Park, preservation of two possibly-heritage homes and potential to “strand” one property at the extreme north end of New West.

I don’t know why preserving these two single family homes would be congruent with what the bigger goal is here – more affordable and flexible townhouse-type development. If we are going to talk about the cost of preserving these homes as providing community asset, I would rather it be more affordable housing and expansion green space adjacent to Brunette River – even a connection to the Interurban train on the south side of Brunette, and preservation of significant trees. .

Anyway, a preliminary report for review, and there is lots of work to do yet here.

City of Victoria letter to UBCM dated May 29, 2019 regarding restoring Provincial support for libraries
We received a letter from the City of Victoria requesting we support their request to the Provincial government, and we did so and will send a note to the effect. I hope they don’t get it in their head that we are over that whole stealing-of-the-Capital thing….


Finally, we had one Bylaw for Adoption:

New Westminster Aquatics and Community Centre Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 8073, 2019
This Bylaw, which gives Council the authority to borrow up to $93.6 Million for a term of 20 years to build the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre was adopted by Council. Things are getting real now.

And like I said, I will follow up when I get a chance with a reporting out of my experiences at the Public Hearing. Lucky there is a long weekend coming!

Council – June 10, 2019

We had a public-delegation-full Council Meeting on Monday, I never realized how much people in New West hate basketball (I’m going to look back at this blog post in a few years and have no idea what that joke is about). To see it all, you need to watch the video, because I only report here on what we get done, and we had an agenda to get through:

Uptown Belmont Street Parklet: Proposed Redesign
The Uptown Parklet has been successful, if you measure success by its intended purpose: making a public place where people can meet, rest, socialize, and share. As a public square owned by the public, it works, better than any other parklet in the City (and yes, there are others, in Sapperton, in the Brow). We are not quite Montreal, but animating public space is a goal this council supports.

Part of the problem with this success is that some people are bothered by other people using the space. There has also been a bit of a shift in the use of the space as the original astroturf got shabby and was removed, and there were some maintenance issues with the equipment in the space. This report outlines a plan to “refresh” the space to address the second problem, and a bit of a strategy to address the first problem.

Some residents of the adjacent residential buildings are bothered by nighttime use of the parklet, especially people leaving the local pub or drinking in the parklet at night, which has lead to a lot of noise complaints. Smoking is also (as in all of our parks) a problem. In short, some neighbours want the Parklet removed. These are both community behaviour problems that occur in all of our parks and public areas, and re-locating them is not a solution. Every time I go to the Parklet and talk to people using it, they tell me how much they appreciate it being there (though many say they want it fixed up). The drinking/smoking issues are best addressed through a combination of enforcement and education. We are working with the NWPD, the Uptown BIA and the neighbours to work on these issues, and Councillor Trentadue was right on the mark (IMHO) in saying we need to look at a little more “proactive” enforcement, and a little less relying on people to call the NWPD non-emergency line.


The following items were moved on consent:

Recruitment 2019: Committee Appointments (NTAC & Arts)
We are officially appointing a new representative to the NTAC from the new Victoria Hill Ginger Drive Residents’ Association, and a new representative to the Arts Commission.

800 Block Boyd Street: Road Paving – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 Exemption
They need to re-pave Boyd Street after gas line replacement. It will happen at night to reduce the traffic impact, and a construction noise bylaw exemption is required. Council approved this.

118 Regina Street: Development Variance Permit – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
A heritage house in Queens Park is seeing an upgrade to improve the livable space, while protecting the heritage value of the house. They require a variance for side setback (how close the side of the addition can be to the property line), to reduce it from 5 feet to 3.1 feet. This will go to an Opportunity to be Heard on June 24th; C’mon out and tell us what you think.

230 Keary Street (Building 8), 268 Nelson’s Court (Building 7), and 228 Nelson’s Crescent (Building 5): Brewery District – Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment to Convert Permitted Use on Building 8 from Commercial to Omnibus Use (including Residential)
Wesgroup would like to revisit the zoning language for the next phases of the Brewery District development. The want to make the currently-designated commercial density in Building 8 into “omnibus” zoning which allows a shift towards more residential and less commercial use, along with increasing the height of the building (but not the density – a narrower, taller building), in exchange for making all of buildings 5 and 7 into market rental properties. In short, 320 units currently approved for sale as condos would become secured market rental units in exchange for no increased density, but a shift from commercial to residential.

This is a preliminary report, and has some review to go through, including a conversation with the neighbourhood and eventually a Public Hearing if it gets through all the hoops. I’m a bit challenged by this developer one again going back to the neighbourhood to ask for more height, but I am willing to see how the public and committee reviews go here, and whether the addition of more market rental is valued.

UBCM Resolution in Support of Greater Investments in Municipal and Not-for-Profit Seniors Services and Supports
The UBCM meeting in the Fall will already have a couple of New Westminster resolutions, this one was brought to us by the Healthy Aging Municipal Caucus, of which the City is a member. We are asking, along with a few other municipalities, for the UBCM to coordinate a more coordinated approach between the three orders of governments and local not-for-profits to better fund initiatives to support seniors in our communities.

2018 Statement of Financial Information
Every year we produce a SOFI for the Provincial Government, along with a report from our Auditors telling them everything is on the up-and-up. We ended this fiscal year with $51M more in financial assets than Liabilities ($4M less than last year), but have $23M more in accumulated surplus (which includes the value of all of our buildings, sewer pipes, asphalt, light poles, desktop computers, etc. etc.). We exceeded our revenue targets by $5 Million (though we collected $1M less than anticipated in taxes), and spent $9M more than we expected. We have $128M in investments, and $59M in debt.

Also on there is the remuneration info – I got paid $46,434 for Council work in fiscal year 2018, and spent $5,719 on various expenses (mostly conference attendance at FCM, UBCM, and Lower Mainland LGA). You can also see a list with the names (ugh) of every employee who got paid more than $75,000 in wages and expenses last year, and the name of every supplier from whom we purchased more than $25,000 in goods. Compelling stuff!


The following items were Removed form Consent for discussion:

Funding for Tsilhqot’in Nation reconciliation
The City has a budget line for “international relations”, which has in the past supported several international-exchange initiatives with our City Cities in China, Japan, and the Philippines. Those types of junkets are becoming less common (I have never travelled overseas on behalf of the City in my 4+ years on Council, and there hasn’t been a full council exchange in many years). We are, however, entering a new kind of City-to-Nation relationship with First Nations communities across the province. The special relationship of New Westminster and the Tsilhqot’in Nation, based on a tragic history, has been a priority for Council, and has resulted in some great relationship building leading to a positive path towards reconciliation with this Nation.

The next step in this relationship is for our two communities to come together and have a commemoration ceremony with representatives of the Tsilhqot’in, and more visits by a Councillor or two to their Nation to talk about future activities. We are, in this report, approving taking some of the International Relations budget money to pay for this, and establishing that future expenses should come from a reconciliation budget.

2019 Council Remuneration
We once again sent the touchy issue of Council Remuneration to an outside consultant for review, as we agreed to do last time this came up 4 years ago. The consultant recommended that Council pay be increased by 15% to make up for the change in federal taxation regime, which removed the tax exemption from half of our pay, essentially reducing our take-home by 15% 9or “making us whole” so we have essentially the same take-home in 2019 as we did in 2018, then continue annual CPI increases. This would make our pay once again fit close to the median of our comparator communities.

They also recommended that we increase a vehicle allowance to match that of our neighbouring communities. This I disagree with. I simply don’t think we need a vehicle allowance in a City of 15 square kilometres with excellent transit service and walkability, and if we do have legitimate travel costs for our day-to-day work, it should be managed though our expense allowance, not as something we are given outright.

Regardless, Council moved to table the report, and we will have a fuller discussion of it next meeting, no doubt after careful consideration of Facebook comments.

Arts Commission: Request to Increase Arts & Culture Grant
We are going through a process of revamping our grant process, including some review of how grants are categorized. As we are also launching a new Arts Strategy, the Arts Commission is asking that the amount of money awarded to support arts in the community, and way it is awarded, be reviewed as part of this review. There is no specific ask for a specific amount here, but we will be getting a report back from staff.


We moved the following Bylaw,:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8123, 2019 for Residential Rental Tenure
This Bylaw that updates the Rental Tenure zoning for 6 properties that have always operated a rental in the city was adopted by Council.


We also had one piece of New business:

Motion: Gender, Diversity and Inclusion
Councillor Trentadue put forward the following motion:

That staff report back on the current breakdown of departments by gender, diversity, and people with disabilities, and
That staff report back on best practices that other governments, institutions and businesses have implemented to address gender parity, diversity and inclusion; and
That staff develop hiring practices that will meet the needs of a changing workforce and improve the balance of our employee make up; and
That staff develop metrics and a reporting structure that will confirm our success
or failure to address these issues; and
That staff develop City-wide policy to which all departments can adhere and that addresses not only the issues of gender parity, diversity, and inclusion but also the integration and support of all city employees with disabilities.

The City has always had the feeling that we are doing a good job at diversity in our workforce, but there are areas (such as in the trades) where we are definitely not keeping up with the diversity of the general workforce. This motion will ask staff to actually start tracking the diversity of our workforce, and report back with practices and metrics so we can assure that barriers to employment for underrepresented groups can be identified and addressed. This is going to make us a better operation, and Council unanimously supported it.

And that was the end of the meeting, but don’t forget to tune in or drop by on June 24th when we have (count ‘em) 12 Public Hearings and 3 Opportunities to be heard. Should be an action-packed event!

FCM 2019

The 2019 annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) was held in Quebec City at the end of May. I attended along with one other Councillor from New West and more than 2000 other delegates from across Canada. Here is a short version of what I saw during an action-packed three days.

Sessions:
The meat of any professional conference is the workshop sessions, where we can learn about the best practices, new ideas, and challenges of other municipalities across the country. I attended sessions all three days, including ones on the challenges and opportunities coming out of the upcoming federal election (read: funding!), the FCM National Funding Program update, 5G implementation, building diversity on our Councils, Smart City applications, and addressing affordable housing.

There was a lot there, but the last session was perhaps the most compelling, with a researcher from McGill talking about Short Term Rentals, their impact on Le Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal, and the challenges that City has run into in attempts to regulate it while their rental vacancy dips below 1%. It was compelling, and somewhat challenging…

One of these maps shows the AirBnB Listings in the Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal. the other is the *legally registered* AirBnB listings in that neighbourhood. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

Business:
These conferences also feature an AGM, where a few organizational Bylaw changes were discussed. Getting bylaw changes and annual financial reporting though with a delegation of more than 1500 people in the room was handled deftly by the table executive, using remote voting devices.

These devices were also used for voting on Resolutions. Compared to the UBCM or Lower Mainland LGA, there were very few resolutions, and most of them were aspirational asks more than specific requests for regulatory changes (cities are “creatures of the provinces”, so our regulatory interface with the federal government is slightly filtered). However, with minor amendments, all 9 resolutions were passed by the Membership.

Politics:
We had speeches from the leaders of 4 Federal Parties, all trying to sell their vision for how the Federal Government and local governments can work together – and why their success in the upcoming election is paramount to that. In the order they appeared:

The Prime Minister, unless I missed it, never referenced the leader of the Conservative Party, but at least twice directly referenced the suddenly-not-popular Doug Ford. Hard to tell if he was just trying this out because of recent news, or if this is the strategy, but the short message is: If you vote for the Conservatives, Scheer will do what Doug Ford is doing, and will cut funds to local governments for the services you need. Other than that, he attaches himself to popular mayors in the audience, promises to work closely with Cities, and not let pesky provinces get in the way (which is probably another shot at Kenney and Ford, but seems a challenge to our model of Federalism).

Scheer’s speech was a long exercise in coded words and dogwhistles, but in the end I guess they all are. He fears infrastructure funding will lead to deficits (strange thing to say to 2,000 municipal leaders looking for handouts), never mentions climate (though he does care deeply about the environment), but he hates the Carbon Tax because it “punishes innocent families”. His approach to housing is to let the market do its thing with less red tape (ugh, the market is what got us here!), and his solution to the opioid crisis is to somehow “hold China accountable..” I might say the entire thing was ugly, ignorant, and offensive, but I may betray my bias.

Jagmeet Singh was the first leader to open with a land acknowledgement, and the first to speak without a teleprompter. He had notes, but riffed off of them freely. His speech was good if unpolished. He promised a lot (pharmacare, broadband, infrastructure funding, removing barriers to post-secondary education), but to me the most telling part was that he was the only leader to link climate action to inequality and the need for a just transition away from fossil fuels. That was the message I wanted to hear (and increasingly, that is the message among people looking for climate action in Canada), and he delivered it clearly without equivocation.

Elizabeth May was the last speaker, she also opened with a land acknowledgement, and spoke without notes at all, best I could tell. Though the eldest leader, she spoke more than others about the need to listen to the youth and the duty we have to them (a very different message than the Trudeau and Scheer platitudes about “supporting families”). She spoke passionately about the Climate Emergency, and drew allusions to Dunkirk and Churchill. Though her speech lacked the substance of the other leaders, she was easily the most inspiring of the speakers.

If you want to watch the speeches yourself, you can scroll down the FCM Facebook page, where they were live streamed and are still available.

Overall:
FCM is a funny bird. It is much larger than our regional and provincial associations, and much like the Federal government, it at times seems disconnected from the day-to day. Though the message is reinforced all along that the Feds care about local government, and how local government is the order of government that has the most connection to people’s every day life, the FCM runs the risk of being too far from our everyday as to sometimes challenge me to think about local applications.

Jagmeet Singh made the comment during his Q&A that his father used to say “If the Federal government stopped working today, no-one would notice for a month, The provincial government might be missed after a week or two, but if the local government went way, you would notice almost immediately.” Water, sewer, roads, waste, parks, these things we interact with so ubiquitously that we take them for granted, and because in Canada we tend to deliver them really well, we take the system that delivers them for granted.

Part of the peculiarity of FCM is that it is a strangely rural conference. Canada has never been as urban as it is now: our biggest cities are growing fast, and our small towns are (with some notable exceptions) stagnant or hollowing out. Yet the 2,000+ delegates at FCM overwhelmingly represent smaller towns and rural areas. There are more members from Saskatchewan than from any other province, and the three Prairie Provinces have more members than Quebec and Ontario combined:Breakdown of the number of UBCM members by province, which clearly does not correlate with population.

Therefore the issues of rural areas (e.g. unmet demand for Broadband service) dominate the conversation over the issues of urban areas (e.g. unmet demand for public transit). There is a “Big Cities Mayors Caucus”, and I’m sure Naheed Nenshi gets more access to Trudeau than the Mayor of Podunk, Saskatchewan, but at the delegate level, the imbalance is palpable.

This was perhaps made more distinct by the phenomenon of organized (and no-doubt industry-sponsored) campaigns to get the “Support Fossil Fuels” message across getting larger every year. A booth handed out literally thousands of “Support Canada’s Energy” t-shirts, which was no doubt a challenge to the continued efforts at FCM to get the federal government to help local governments shoulder our disproportionate burden for greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation. We may have been at a bilingual conference in Quebec City, but Canada’s Two Solitudes are divided on different lines today than they once were:

So perhaps the most inspiring meeting of this year was an impromptu meeting organized by Rik Logtenberg, a new Councillor for Nelson BC to start a “Climate Caucus”. A group to coordinate local government calls for support in addressing the Climate Crisis. It was not part of the regular program, but was spread by word-of-mouth, and we had a packed room (standing room only!) representing a diversity of Canada. No free industry-supplied t-shirts, just people getting together to talk about shifting our thinking and supporting each other in the tough work ahead:

In the end, that is the best part of taking an opportunity like FCM – the power of networking formally and informally with elected officials across the nation that are trying and doing and sometimes failing the same way you are, so we can learn together. Scheming over beers has always been a powerful force for change.

Taxes 2019

If you own a home in New West, you should have received your annual tax bill in the mail in recent weeks. If your assessment went up by the city-wide average of 9.03%, then your tax bill went up over last year by 5.28%. If your assessment went up by more than 9.03%, then your tax bill went up more. Conversely, if your assessment went up by less than 3.7%, or if it went down, then your tax bill this year is lower than it was last year. I tried to show how this works in this blog post from a couple of years ago (with the numbers from a couple of years ago, mind you).

It seems an appropriate time for me to update some of my older posts comparing New West tax rates to others around the region. I’ve done this a few times in a few different ways for several years on this blog (here, here, and here, for example), and no matter what type of analysis you do, it is clear that some local pundits continue to perpetuate terminological inexactitudes when they claim that New Westminster has the highest taxes in BC, or Canada.

Recognizing my own suspicion of bias, all of the data below comes from the BC Government reports that annually compare tax rates and burdens across all local governments, and have been doing so for a while. Of course, this data is from 2018 (Cities are only now submitting 2019 budget numbers to them), but this is the best source to compare numbers across the province. You can read them all here and make your own comparisons if you don’t like my ham-fisted Excel skills.

I am going to reiterate a point I have made before: there are many ways to compare taxes between jurisdictions. Vancouver and Surrey collect more tax overall than New West, because they are much larger. West Vancouver has lower mil rates because their average house price is much higher, Creston has a much higher mil rate because its average house value is much lower. Even the use of “typical house value” to compare taxes is biased, because some cities like New West have more people living in rental and condo buildings than some others, so a “typical house” is much larger and more expensive than the median or average household occupies. So to answer the primary question: do New Westminsterites pay more municipal taxes than residents of other municipalities, I think the fairest comparison is taxes collected per capita:

Source: BC Government statistics, Schedule 703_2018

Of the 161 Municipalities in BC, ranked from highest taxes to lowest, New Westminster (orange bar above) is ranked #71, between Parksville (#70) and Saanich (#72). In 2018 we collected $77.7 Million in taxes from just under 74,000 people, making our per capita tax rate $1,051. Province-wide, $4.76 Billion in municipal taxes was collected from 4.3 Million people, making the province-wide average about $1,150 (red dashed line above). So New Westminster residents paid $100 less per year, almost 10% less, than the average resident of BC. Our tax increase in 2019 will eat into this gap, pushing us up by about $50, but at the same time, almost every other Municipality in the province increased their taxes at a rate between 2 and 7%, so our position will not shift substantially.

Naturally, there are massive differences across the province on the proportion of taxes paid by industry and businesses, and the level of services provided by the Municipality. The Lower Mainland is a bit different than the rest of the province in the level of services we supply and the cost of delivering those services, so it may be fairer to only compare New West to our Metro Vancouver cohort:

Source: BC Government statistics, Schedule 703_2018

New Westminster ranks 13th out of 21 GVRD municipalities in taxes collected per capita. The GVRD Municipalities collect about $2.6 Billion in Municipal taxes from 2.56 Million people, for an average of $1019 per person (the red dashed line). New Westminster collects slightly more (3% more) than this average. This has changed over the last couple of years for two main reasons: New Westminster’s Capital Levy we are using to fund our aggressive capital renewal plan (lead by the replacement of the Canada Games Pool) and the regional trend where there is a much higher rate of population growth in the relatively low-tax municipalities of Surrey and Maple Ridge compared to slower growth in Vancouver and (especially) the North Shore. We can talk about correlation/causation here, because it might not be what you think…

Council – May 27, 2019

Our May 27 meeting was a little strange. Anticipating a large Public Hearing turnout and concomitantly late meeting along with a very long agenda, Staff decided to hold an afternoon session to assure we got through the agenda items. So things were a little out of order. For the sake of tradition, I am going to report out based on the normal sequence (Public Hearing then Regular Meeting starting with Consent Agenda).

The Public Hearing had three items:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8113, 2019 (315 and 326 Mercer Street)
The proposal here is to rezone two properties in the “eastern node” area of Queensborough. They are currently zoned light industrial, but will become part of the mixed use commercial area at the heart of the triangle of lands that connect Port Royal to the rest of Queensborough, finally bringing some retail to the east end of Q’boro.

The APC approved the rezoning, it is consistent with the Queensborough Community Plan and the long-term vision for the eastern node. We received no correspondence on this, and two people came to speak to the matter, one the proponent, the other mostly concerned with North Vancouver traffic. Council moved to give the rezoning Third Reading.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8099, 2019 for 1209-1217 Eighth Avenue
This rezoning will create a special zone to allow a 22-townhouse development in the West End just off of 12th Street. The project is consitent with the new OCP and design guidelines we have adopted for infill townhouse development. It has been through the Design Panel, the APC approved the project, and it was reviewed by the RA and a public open house with no significant issues raised. We received no correspondence on the project, and no-one came to speak on the matter. Council moved to give the zoning amendment Third Reading.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8123, 2019 for Residential Rental Tenure
This is essentially the same rental tenure zoning bylaw we passed back in the end of January, which applied the new Rental Tenure Zoning designation to 6 buildings in the City that have always operated as rental. Unfortunately, our staff determined that some of the information the City circulated during the original notifications for the zoning change was inaccurate, so in practicing an abundance of caution and procedural fairness, it was decided to do the process again, and do it correctly this time. At the same time, a couple of minor changes to the language of the Bylaw are included, to make the intent clearer, to correct a reference to the Societies Act, and to more clearly exempt commercial properties. Again, none of these change the effect or intent of the Bylaw adopted back in January, but serves to procedurally make it clearer.

We received 238 (!) pieces of correspondence on this, more than 200 of them as copies of a vaguely-worded form letter of unclear origin that clearly circulated around the province and appeared to support more rental buildings being built. We also had a few people who were directly impacted by the January bylaw come and speak against it (as opposed to against this specific change). Council moved to support giving this amendment third reading.


Our regular meeting included a lengthy consent agenda, and the following items were Moved on Consent:

Short Term Rental Monitoring Program
We have been talking about Short Term Rentals regulations for a while, but it has never found its way to the top of the priority list for our planning staff work plans. Recently Vancouver introduced a set of regulations, and much like other jurisdictions that have introduced local regulations (Nelson, Tofino, etc.), there have been challenges regulating these activities. It appears that successful enforcement relies on data sharing partnerships with the STR enabling corporations (AirBnB, VRBO, and others), and those providers are reluctant to enter those partnerships on anything but their own terms.

However, if we are going to formalize and regulate STR, we need to understand how it is operating in the City, and what the actual problems are that we need to manage. Staff is being directed here to launch a coordinated monitoring program, to determine how STR is operating in the City, and what the negative impacts and economic benefits are for the community. More to come here!

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No.8130, 2019: for Consideration of Three Readings
Much like the other Rental Protection Bylaw that we moved in Public Hearing, this change in business regulations to protect people from unnecessary renoviction needs a bit of adjustment now that staff have tried to exercise it. This is not the least bit surprising considering we are breaking new ground on rental protection here – no-one has done this before us (though a few other communities have followed our lead).

There are a few changes here, and the report lays them out, such as clarifying that this is one of those Bylaws where every day the issue is not rectified constitutes another offence (as opposed to there being only one offence when a person is evicted) and some language changes. This will go to an Opportunity to be Heard on June 24. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Safety Update for Clothing and Donation Bins in New Westminster
This is a follow-up on an earlier report about the safety of clothing donation bins. Staff followed up with all operators of clothing bins in the City (none are on City Property), and confirmed that they have retrofitted or replaced their bins such that the types that caused the deaths in Vancouver are not operating in New Westminster.

Soil Deposit and Removal Regulation Bylaw No. 8106, 2019
The City is creating a new Bylaw to better regulate the movements of large quantities of soil. This has some practical engineering uses (controlling run-off from dirt piles, protecting storm sewers and preventing flooding, etc.) and environmental benefits (mitigating the spread of invasive plants and contaminated soils). There were some minor changes since first reading to better fit into the current provincial regulatory framework, and it will now to go to the appropriate Provincial ministries for review.

2019 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
This is our regular update on snow pack and flood risk. The snow pack is slightly below average, and melting slowly despite higher-than-seasonal temperatures (probably because of less-than-seasonal rain), and there is no elevated risk of flood right now.

Bylaw No. 8074, 2019 Closing a Portion of Highway on Boyne Street at 34 South Dyke Road
Another unopened piece of road allowance in Queensborough that is surplus to the City’s needs. To remove it from “road” designation, we need to pass a bylaw. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on June 24th. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Investment Report to April 30, 2019
The City has money in the bank, mostly reserves we have put aside for capital projects that are on tap, like the Canada Games Pool replacement and the Massey Theatre refurbishment, but also less sexy things like DCCs we collected from developers to pay for sewer capacity increases we will need to build. We made about $1.2 Million of income from the interest on these investments.

Major Purchases January 1st to April 30th, 2019
As I talked about in a previous blog post, we need to report how we spend the City’s money. Three times a year we put out a report like this that shows what we spent money on above $50,000. This includes the winners of our public procurement competitions, so if you didn’t get that City contract you wanted, you can see who did and how much we pay them.

632 Second Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation – Bylaws for Consideration of Two Readings
The owner of a currently empty house in Glenbrook north wants to subdivide the lot and build an infill house on the lot, in exchange for restoring the heritage house to bring it back into good repair and have it permanently protected. This will go to Public Hearing on June 24th, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

647 Ewen Avenue: Official Community Plan Amendment, Heritage Revitalization Agreement, Heritage Designation – Bylaws for Consideration of Two Readings
The Slovak Hall is an old public assembly building in Queensborough that fell into some disrepair. A proposal to redevelop the site was modified to allow protection of the Hall by reimagining it, and sharing the lot with some townhouses. This needs an OCP amendment, which is a bit of a complicated process, but here we are. This will go to Public Hearing on what is starting to look like a busy June 24th meeting. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Restorative Justice Committee re The State of the Indigenous Court Facility in New Westminster;
Restorative Justice Committee re The State of Legal Aid and Lack of Funding ; and
Restorative Justice Committee re Communities Embracing Restorative
Action (CERA) and the Police Board

The RJC brought these three motions forward to advocate for better funding and support for restorative justice in the City, mostly calling on senior governments to support this program better.

Multiculturalism Advisory Committee re Christchurch, New Zealand Terrorist Attacks
The MAC is asking that the City formally send support to Christchurch.


The following items were Removed From Consent for discussion:

Surplus Road Allowances (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node): Road Closure Bylaw No. 8093, 2019 and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8092, 2019 – Bylaws for Readings
Related to the rezonings in the Eastern Node we discussed at Public Hearing, these two unused road allowances in Queensborough are proposed to be closed. These are legally “roads”, in that they are not titled lots, but there was never a road installed on either. One has a significant drainage watercourse, and the other is brush. As part of the Queensborough Eastern Node development, the watercourse will be re-aligned and new roads will be developed through this area. This requires a Bylaw to “close” the roads, which will come to a Public Hearing on June 24. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

1031 Quebec Street: Metro Vancouver’s Annacis Water Supply Tunnel Project – Update
Metro Vancouver supplies clean potable water to a couple of million people every day, and they (we?) spend a lot of money on infrastructure works to make this happen. Ongoing capacity improvements to deal with population growth South of the Fraser include building a new water crossing between New West and Surrey, in the form of a deep bored 2.6m tunnel. That tunnel will, for a variety of technical reasons, come to (near) the surface in an empty lot at the bottom of 11th Street.

After the work is done (it will take a few of years), the lot will have an underground chamber, and there will be a public amenity on top – some sort of park and interpretive facility is likely. This report shows some preliminary designs for that park space. Council asked for more trees. .

331 Richmond Street (Richard McBride Elementary): Rebuild Update
Richard McBride School is going to be replaced. The District and the Province are working out the design ideas for the site, which is a little constrained in that the new school needs to be built while the existing one is being operated. The proposed plan will also require a couple of zoning variances to fit on the site.

There are some details we need to work out with the School district around how parking and on-site dropoff occurs. Richmond is a greenway, and with all due respect to parents world-wide, school drop-off areas are among the most dangerous locations vulnerable road users. This space where a greenway passes in front of an elementary school is not an appropriate place for parents to drop off children, and I hope we can find some vision here to make it safer for all.

I am also a little concerned about the province seeking variances to avoid some of the offsite requirements. When anyone builds a new development in the city – be that a new residential development, the new hospital, or a new commercial building – the City has requirements for how the transportation links (roads and sidewalks), sewers, streetlights, telecom connections, etc. are addressed through that development. As much as I appreciate that a school is a valuable public amenity, the province should not be downloading those costs onto local governments, they are part and parcel with construction of a new building. There are some discussions to have here.

There will be an open house on June 5 at McBride. Show up and let them know what you think!

Cannabis: Retail Locations – Summary of Application Review Process
The City went through an evaluation process to filter through the first tranche of applications for cannabis retailing in the City. Perhaps not surprisingly, applicants who were not successful in this first tranche were mostly not satisfied with the process that did not place them on the top of the list. We asked staff to review some specific complaints we received, and I am satisfied with the report they are providing here.

This process is taking much longer than (most of us on) Council are happy with. Currently, we are waiting for the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch for their next steps in approval, then will go to Public Hearing on these specific applications. I had hoped that we could accelerate this process and provide more certainty to the applicants by scheduling Public Hearing and allowing those LCRB requirements to be conditions of the Adoption (like we do with many, many other Provincial Government requirements related to new developments), but Council voted against this for reasons I simply don’t understand. We did, however,  move to open up a separate review process for Provincial Cannabis stores, as we recognize that any concerns for Public and Private retail are fundamentally different.

Quayside Drive Parking Strategy & Motor Vehicle Speed Management
A tradition almost as sacred as May Day is Quayside Parking demand studies. As the development spread west along Quayside Drive over the 1990s, paring ratios were increased because it was apparent that no matter how much parking was built, it never seemed like enough. Studies in 1990, 1992, 2001 and 2017 show that there was actually enough parking, it was just poorly distributed.

There are 198 on-street parking spots on Quayside, most with no restriction on their use, meaning that some vehicles sit for months in the same spot. That said, peak usage is 86% occupation – which means at any given time, 15% of spots are available, which is actually the established ideal ratio. Scans of license plates suggest that slightly more than 33% of the cars parked on the street are registered to Quayside residents. At the same time, off-street Visitor Parking occupancy is around 55%, though it varies greatly complex-to-complex.

This study makes 4 recommendations. One we are not going to pursue (removing or consolidating bus stops to make more spots) for hopefully obvious reasons. The others were taken to consultation in the neighbourhood, and were generally approved of by a majority of residents, so the City will move forward with them.

1002 – 1004 and 1006 – 1008 Third Avenue: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designations: Bylaws for Consideration of Two Readings
Those two unique brick duplexes at the corner of 10th street and 3rd Ave are being restored. Though the restoration changes are internal, the owner is agreeing to do this through a HRA process, providing permanent protection to these unique heritage houses. This will go to Public Hearing on June 24th, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

616 and 640 Sixth Street: Zoning Amendment Bylaw and Development Permit: Bylaw for Consideration of Two Readings
This project in uptown would be, surprisingly, the first new mutli-family approval in Uptown since 2011. The owner of the current building would like to replace it with a 29 story tower with a 3-story mixed-use podium. This includes 142 strata units and 95 secured Market Rental suites (meeting and exceeding our Family Friendly Housing requirements for 2- and 3-bedroom suites), with 12,000sqft of commercial at grade. Since first proposed a couple of years ago, the project has iterated quite a bit, including a shift of some of the residential density from strata to rental. This will go to Public Hearing on June 24th, C’mon out and tell us what you think.

There was a robust discussion about the separation of entrances between the rental and strata portions of the residential tower. A discussion worth listening to on the video, if only because it is interesting to see how council works through a sticky subject like this. I often disagree with my Council colleagues, but I really respect the way we can hash these ideas out and hear one another when working towards resolution, especially on a topic like this where it seems simple at the surface, but it is actually a complex issue that requires consideration.


We had a lot of Bylaws to give a lot of readings to, but only one for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment (630 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 8035, 2018
The Temporary Modular Housing Project at 630 Ewen received third reading for the necessary zoning amendment back in July of 2018, but it finally got through all of the local and provincial government hoops to be adopted now. And we moved to adopt it.

And with that, we called it an evening!

ASK PAT: Anvil theme!

The Anvil Centre edition! I have three questions on two topics:

Dale asks —

I was heartened to see that the recent budget includes a line item related to signage for the Anvil Centre. The building has been up for 3+ years and has thousands of people traveling by it on foot, bicycle and vehicle with no indication at all as to what the heck is going on inside. The budget item sets aside $100,000 “to work with a sign expert to determine more effective signage outside the Anvil Centre”. Please tell me that the $100k will include more than the expert consultation. Also, why not have a competition for the signage which would probably give a better outcome and will also provide publicity for the Anvil Centre?

I had two very similar questions arrive on this, and the short answer is yes, the $100K is the entire budget for the signage project, and will include more than just the planning and design. Hopefully this will result in signage and wayfinding to draw more people into the Anvil when things are happening inside.

There is a point to be made here about how we set out budget for projects like this. Municipal finance is sometimes a terrifying thing, because it involves various layers of policy, regulation and reporting, and it all must be kept transparent for obvious reasons. The diversity of things we spend money on, the need to not demonstrate favoritism or bias when purchasing, our requirement to enter contracts in service delivery, and the relative reluctance to face risk in spending run up against the fact that every check and balance takes time and staff resources that make everything less efficient. It is more complicated than that last sentence, and these complications – all designed to make government more accountable to the people they work for – are a big reason why people who say “a City should run like a business” are only indicating that they have no idea how government works.

If I ran an underwear store in Downtown New West, and I wanted to change my signage, I would call a few places to see who could provide such a service. I might get some quotes, and choose the lowest bidder, or I might call my uncle Ernie who has a sign company and give him a discount on boxer briefs if he could bang a few signs out for me at cost. I may even decide to go to the artisanal organic sign company up the block because the owner is a neighbor, gives generously of her time and energy to community-building, I like keeping my money local, and I don’t mind paying a little more for a quality product when I know the person who I am buying from. I may buy one less sign, or a slightly smaller one, because that is all I have in my budget right now, or I may go for a bulk discount and go a little over my budget to get a lot more. The purchase process is dynamic, I can act fast in response to the market, and my personal preferences. And no-one needs to know how much I spend on signs, except maybe Revenue Canada when I report the signs as a business expense at the end of the year.

Local Governments can’t do this. Our ability to “sole source”, or buy from a preferred person, is generally limited to smaller-cost items purchased irregularly. To buy anything substantial or enter into a longer-term supplier agreement, there needs to be a budget line. Depending on the cost, it may need to go all the way up to Council to approve the purchase as part of the annual Financial Plan or a Financial Plan update, as was the case for the Anvil signage program. It is outside of regular operating costs, and big enough that staff need to come to Council to ask for budget room to do the work. Problematically, they likely cannot do much more than some preliminary cost estimates before that ask (i.e. they cannot enter a contract, even a “Contract A”, without budget authority), but spending less than the budget will be easy while spending more than the budget difficult.

Once budget is approved, staff is then required to go to the market and ask for bids. Depending on the type of project and the estimated budget, that may mean going out to get three quotes, or it may mean a much more formal open procurement process like you see listed here in BC Bid. This process is regulated by our internal policies in order to prevent favoritism, to make us complaint with proper public process, contract law, and trade agreements like the Agreement on Internal Trade and the Northwest Partnership Trade Agreement. So, yes, there is a competition for the work required by practice and law.

Strangely, there is no actual statutory obligation for local governments to procure goods and services through this competitive process, and the trade agreements above are not legally binding on Local Governments, yet we are creatures of the Province, and are expected to follow these guidelines, or be subject to legal challenges or expensive arbitration by bidders who feel they were aggrieved by us not following due process. There is also a bunch of contract law around this the exists in parallel to legislation, but I am getting way deeper into the law than I am qualified to opine upon. Short version is: we have policies and practice in place to assure that public funds are spent transparently without undue bias ,and suppliers have a fair chance to compete for projects.

This, of course, often puts us at a significant competitive disadvantage when purchasing compared to underwear store guy above. If the market knows you need to buy something and exactly what you are willing to spend, you are entering into a negotiation with one hand tied behind your back – especially when it comes to purchasing a specific property or very specialized services with limited suppliers. This is why the City is able, under Sections 90 .1 (e) and (k) of the Community Charter, to discuss things like business negotiations in a closed meeting, although the eventual expenditure must be approved in an open meeting.

There is another strange part of municipal finance that is partially a result of this cumbersome process – every year we underspend our capital budget. For some reason the Koch Brothers anti-tax brigade never talk about this when complaining about our budgets, but that heads us down another long hallway…


Deanna asks—

One of those little things, three years ago there was a number of red seats and tables in front of the Anvil Centre, then they disappeared over Winter and never returned. I really liked those seats and often sat there enjoying a coffee I purchased up the street. I do often wish they were back, the benches further up are too close to the street/traffic for me. Any chance we can get the red tables and chairs back? 

The red chairs that were in front of the Anvil were part of a larger City pilot a couple of years ago to try to set up a few cheap/quick seating areas around the city. The same chairs popped up in other places, including the Uptown Parklet, in front of the Queensborough Community Centre, and out back of City Hall. They have also been moved around a bit to different places, to see what sticks as far as making some of our public spaces ”stickier”. Unfortunately, the front on the Anvil was one of those spaces where the chairs didn’t really work out. A few people liked them (obviously including you!), but many found the spot too hot in the summer and not well connected to anything else, while there were some trash issues that required some management. So when the Downtown BIA wanted some help with seating for Fridays on Front, those tables and chairs were lent to them, and you will see them being used in the Front Street Parklet area.

As always, this leads to another conversation related to Dale’s question above: the public activation of the ground space around Anvil Centre. Bringing this new cultural centre into operation has been a slow and iterative process. There are many parts of it that are running exceptionally well (YEA New Media Gallery!), some that have really ramped up in a good way in the last little while (YEA Theatre programming!), but there is also some more work to do, and I think making the ground floor (inside and out) a welcoming community space that contributes to a lively downtown street scene continues to be a challenge. Council is aware of this, as is the staff at Anvil. The opening of Piva’s patio is a great addition, but that fact that they are across the street from a vacant lot is still a problem, as is the design of 8th Street that does little to draw people out of Plaza 88 onto the street, but I’ve been banging that drum for (Oh. My. God. Was this 8 years ago!?) a long time.

We have work to do there, but after all this time, I wonder if we can get it done.

Lower Mainland LGA 2019

Last week I attended the Lower Mainland LGA’s annual conference. You paid for me to go there*, so as per my tradition, I like to report out on some of the highlights of what I saw and what I did.

The Lower Mainland Local Government Association is an organization that brings local government elected people together from across the “Lower Mainland”. Our Membership includes every Municipality and Regional District between Hope and West Vancouver, between White Rock and Pemberton. Every year we hold a two day conference over three days, and this year it was in Harrison.

The opening session included a notable speech by the Speaker of the House. Unexpectedly, this led to some media attention. In hindsight, it was bold for the Speaker to provide a speech to a room of elected officials and frame the speech around how elected officials are hated and not trusted, mostly because they are not good leaders. As a call to arms to be better leaders, or to take the role of leadership seriously (as most of the members assembled were new) it was a puzzling approach.

In this context, where your audience’s back is up, it is easy for some questionable examples and ham-fisted allegory to be received in the worst possible light. It was unfortunate, and ultimately failed to deliver the message that the speaker was hoping to deliver. The resultant media buzz was perhaps out of scale with the event, but the knives coming out so quick might have said more about why fewer people choose to put their names forward for leadership… but I digress.


Day two began with a moderated session about the Past and Future of the regional plan, or even of Regional planning. Gordon Price began with a description of the emergency that led our region to begin regional planning (the flood of 1948), and drew a parallel and contrast to our current slow-burning apocalypse, challenging us to ask whether we are planning to deal with it. “never waste a good apocalypse”. Patricia Heintzman and Patricia Ross brought perspectives from the Sea-to-Sky and the Fraser Valley – both addressing themes of responsible planning and the future of the environment and outlines some successes and challenges at the metaphorical edges of the metropolis, while Rhiannon Bennett reminded us that the growth of the region, planned or otherwise, did not occur in a vacuum, but on lands that provided prosperity to her people for several thousand years.

This was followed by a Munk-style moderated debate featuring four elected officials on the topic of Climate Action. Nadine Nakagawa and Christine Boyle debated in favour of the motion “We need a Canadian version of the Green New Deal” against Laura Dupont and… uh, me. At the end of the hour, we essentially tied (we didn’t move anyone in the crowd one way or the other) but we did manage to have a robust discussion around the strengths of different approaches to addressing climate change, and the role local governments can play.

Day two is the day we do the AGM, and Elections for the Lower Mainland LGA, followed by our Resolutions Session, where members debate various resolutions calling in senior governments to make changes in legislation or policy to make local governments work better. There were 34 resolutions, most of them approved, some with amendments, and you will have to wait until the full report comes out on line to see what went through and how.

New Westminster sent 4 resolutions forward:

Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign: Therefore be it resolved that UBCM request the Province of British Columbia make the necessary changes to allow Permanent Residents to vote in municipal elections in municipalities in British Columbia.

This and a similar resolution by Port Moody were supported.

#AllOnBoard Campaign: Therefore be it resolved that the #AllonBoard Campaign be endorsed and the TransLink Mayors’ Council, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction be asked to work with the provincial government and local governments to develop a plan that will provide free public transit for minors (ages 0‐18), free transit for people living below the poverty line (as identified by market basket measure, in line with the BC poverty measures), and reduced price transit based on a sliding scale for all low‐income people regardless of their demographic profile.

This and similar resolutions by Vancouver and Port Moody were supported.

Office of a Renters Advocate: Therefore be it resolved that the LMLGA and UBCM seek support of the Provincial Government to create an Office of The Renters Advocate, to monitor and analyzes renters’ services and issues in BC, and make recommendations to government and service providers to address systemic issues caused by rental shortages, renovictions, demovictions and housing affordability.

This resolution was supported by the membership.

Support of the Indigenous Court System: Therefore be it resolved that UBCM, FCM and LMLGA lobby the Canadian Federal and Provincial Governments to fund and expand the Indigenous Court System.

This resolution was also supported by the membership. So New West was 4 for 4 on the resolution front this year!


Friday began with addresses from representatives of the three Parties in the provincial legislature. Leader Andrew Wilkinson spoke for the BC Liberal Party, Deputy Leader Jonina Campbell for the BC Greens, and Selina Robinson the (apropos) Minister of Municipal Affairs for the BC NDP.

The highlights for me on Friday were the two sessions moderated by Justin McElroy of the CBC and stuff-ranking fame.  The first had Minister Robinson, Metro Vancouver Chair Sav Dhaliwal and UBCM President Arjun Singh talking about the work of local governments (remember, most of the elected folks in the room have only been in office for 6 months), and how to work together with senior governments to get things done. The second was a panel discussion on the future of regional transportation with the Chair of the TransLink Mayors Council, the Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District, the MLA for the Sea-To-Sky region, and ELMTOT-friendly MLA Bowinn Ma.

Overall, the Lower Mainland LGA is an opportunity for local elected people to get together and talk about the challenges we see on our communities, and the innovative ideas we are using to overcome these challenges. I got to spend time chatting with the new Mayor of Squamish about her concise new Strategic Plan (one page, straight forward, and full of easy-to-measure goals!), to ca Councillor in Abbotsford about the challenges rolling out the Abbotsforward plan, to Vancouver Councilors about their (crazy?) new Council dynamic. I got to complain and brag about New West in equal measure. It is this networking with peers and connections we make that I value most from this meeting every year.

  • *I’m on the Executive of the Lower Mainland LGA, so part of my cost of attending was covered by the organization. Also, my attendance required me to take three unpaid days off of my regular work, so MsNWimby argues that she paid a substantial part of my costs as well…

Intersections

I’m disappointed we didn’t get some of these stepped-up intersection speed cameras in New West. Speed cameras in intersections that can automatically ticket speeders are a good idea, one that can only be opposed by those who like to speed through intersections at illegal speeds, selfishly endangering everyone around them.

Why not New Wet? Apparently the intersections where these cameras were activated were those ranked highest in accident history and  speed issues. Perhaps the silver lining here is that this suggests our intersections are relatively safe by those measures compared to other areas in the Lower Mainland. Though I recognize just by saying that I am going to see comments on social media with people listing their least-favourite intersection. Mine is shown in the picture above.

But hopefully this is the just the first phase of the program, and we may see more cameras in the future. I would also hope that the next phases look not only at raw speed or 85th percentile or accident history, but we may expand the warrant analysis to emphasize intersections where vulnerable road users are more common. Yes, Accidents between speeding cars can be expensive, and often leads to injury or death. but a speeding car hitting a pedestrian is almost always fatal. While injuries and deaths of people inside cars is going down, injuries and deaths of pedestrians is going up. Technology like this can correct that trend.

On the good news side, New West has begun to make changes that were suggested by the Walkers Caucus last year, and are implementing a program of standardizing (and lengthening) the timing of pedestrian crossing light signals. Starting with the pedestrian-activated signals such as the one on Sixth Ave at 14th Street, which have already been adjusted to allow sufficient time for more people to cross safely. The ACTBiPed is also spending some time this year looking at the use of “Beg Buttons” in the City. Despite some lengthy critiques of these in Urbanist circles, there are places where pedestrian-controlled signals serve to make the pedestrian experience safer and more convenient, and there are places where they definitely prioritize car movement over pedestrian movement, in direct contrast to the priorities set out in our Master Transportation Plan. Teasing out these differences, and howto fix it, is an interesting topic, and one we hope to review and create some policy recommendations to Council.

But as you can see above, making our intersections safer and more comfortable for pedestrians is going to take more than signal timing and activation timing. This is why I support intersection camera, and further suggest we need to step up enforcement in the good old fashioned cop-with-a-ticketbook format if we are going to change drivers behaviour.

Council – May 6 , 2019

Aside from the newsworthy event of the evening, we had a pretty light agenda for our first May meeting, which was probably good in light of the diverse and lengthy public delegations we heard.


We started by moving the following items on Consent:

New Westminster Reconciliation Consultant and Framework Development
As I alluded to last week, Council has been unanimous in support of reconciliation, and in taking a thoughtful, intentional, and respectful approach to the work. We have endorsed the Calls to Action in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and are dedicated to establishing a respectful and comprehensive dialogue with the community about New Westminster’s unique role in the colonial history of Western Canada. Before we were part of Canada, we were the capital of the colony – this is the place where the Royal Engineers, the armed force enforcing colonialization – was stationed. This is the place where Governors Douglas and Seymour presided over colonial administration, this is also a place where Qayqayt people rested on the river, and a place honoured in many stories of Sto:lo people.

This report outlines the framework to do that work that has been established after months of work by staff and consultants, rising out of several discussions with Council. It has been said, as recently as last week at Council, that Truth needs to come before Reconciliation, and the only way to arrive at that truth is through dialogue, through telling our stories, and hearing the stories of others. But this is often the hardest part. How do we create spaces where people feel free to have frank and sometimes challenging discussions? And how do we decide whose stories are vital to our local dialogue, in a place with such a protracted history, a place that in many ways wears that history on its sleeve. How do we have those discussions in a way that doesn’t cause people to close their ears? These are not easy questions, and we will not always hit the mark in answering them. But we will try, and we committed to doing it with care and intention.

Of course, for the second week in a row, we tossed this framework aside, so I really don’t know what is coming next.

Amendments to the 2019 Schedule of Regular Council Meetings
We are adjusting some Council schedules to add a Public Hearing to the September 9 meeting. However, since Public Hearings are night when we don’t have Public Delegation, staff recommended moving our regular Queensborough meeting to October, because it would be weird to go to Queensborough and not do Public Delegation while we are there.

Recruitment 2019: Seniors Advisory Committee (SAC) Appointment
One of the agencies with a representative on the Seniors Advisory Committee is changing members, which apparently we need to approve. So done.

315 and 326 Mercer Street (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node): Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8113, 2019 – For Two Readings
Two properties within the “Eastern Node” – an area in Queensborough at the east end of Ewen Avenue that bridges the gap between Single-family-house Q’Boro and Port Royal – need to be rezoned to align with the land use planned for the entire Eastern Node master plan. These lands will eventually bring some neighbourhood-serving retail and services to Port Royal. This application will have a Public Hearing on May 27. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Multi Family Rental Residential Tenure Zoning: Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8123, 2019 – Consideration of Two Readings
The City strives to be transparent and accurate in communicating how our Bylaws work, and in that interest we clarifying some of the language around how the recent change to the Rental Residential Tenure. We are not changing the zoning per se, but staff thought it best that this adjustment be through a full public process with full notice because of the sensitivity of the topic. There will be a Public Hearing on May 27, so I will hold my comments until then.


The following item was Removed from Consent for discussion:

Child Care Update: Proposed City and School District Facilities
Access to childcare has been at near-crisis levels in New West for a long time, and we are not the only City in the Lower Mainland feeling this crunch. The new provincial government has some new funding available, and there are some new School District projects coming along that make this an opportune time for the City to partner and make more spaces available. If this all comes together, we will have almost 150 new childcare spaces opened in our most underserved areas of Queensborough and Sapperton. This will provide a mix of infant, toddler, and after-school care, though council did not e that after school care is a vital need not being served right now, especially in the East End.

The money is coming from several sources: the City and the School district are applying for Childcare BC New Spaces Fund grants for a few projects, the City already received a Child Care Major Capital Funding Grant, we also have Community Amenity Funding from a developer, and will pull some money from our internal reserves. The City, School District and a developer are all contributing land and buildings to house these childcares. Council moved ot endorse this strategy.


Our regular Bylaws dance included adopting the following:

Tax Rates Bylaw No. 8105, 2019
The Bylaw that officially sets our tax rates for 2019 was adopted.

Uptown New Westminster Business Improvement Area Parcel Tax Bylaw No. 8112, 2019;
Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Area (Primary Area) Parcel Tax Bylaw No. 8114, 2019; and
Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Area (Secondary Area) Parcel Tax Bylaw No. 8115, 2019
These Bylaws that set the rates for the BIA parcel taxes was adopted.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (218 Queens Avenue) Bylaw No. 8064, 2019
The HRA Bylaw that allows a subdivision and protection to three heritage houses in the Queens Park neighbourhood was adopted by Council.

We then had one piece of New Business:

Removal of Judge Begbie Statue
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED
THAT the City of New Westminster remove the Judge Begbie statue from its position of power in front of the Provincial Court house; and
THAT the City of New Westminster engage in a conversation with the Tsilhqot’in Nation about the history and legacy of Judge Begbie and the effects his decisions had on generations of their people; and
THAT the City work with the Museum and Archives, the community, and the Tsilqot’in Nation to find an appropriate place for the statue; and
THAT the City of New Westminster engage in a process of consultation to find an appropriate place to tell the history of the Chilcotin War.

I spoke against the motion, recognizing some may perceive that as my being opposed to or obstinate towards our reconciliation process. However, I am acting only based on what wiser people have told me about having a truthful and open approach to reconciliation, and based on that, I fear this action is the kind of thing that can set us back. Nothing I heard in the delegations tonight assuaged those concerns. So I guess I need to unpack this a bit, in fear I did not express myself adequately at Council.

I have been told that Truth must come before Reconciliation. That means before we take arbitrary actions, we engage our community and those people impacted by those actions – especially the people we seek to honour with our actions – in a respectful conversation. We listen to their stories, we share our experiences, we open our ears before we lift our tools. Then we lift those tools together.

I hope, perhaps naively, that we can build a respectful space where our community can have these conversations, and come out the other end with better understanding. However, we have clearly not yet had these conversations. As a city, we have not yet begun to hear, to share, or to learn. Instead we, as a City, spent the weekend bickering on Facebook then spent two hours in Council speaking past each other – with no-one in the room speaking from the Tsilhqot’in, no one speaking from the QayQayt, from the Kwikwetlem. No-one in that meeting expressed that they were speaking from an indigenous experience.

There were many there who seemed to speak for them, but we did not want to take time to hear from them.

At the same time, we managed to close many people’s ears in our community to the discussions we are going to have to have in New Westminster – difficult discussions in light of our unique role in the colonization of British Columbia. Not just the home of Judge Begbie, but the home of Governors Douglas and Seymour, home of the Sappers, a City named by the Queen of England and head of the Anglican Church. We are surrounded by colonial baggage, and cannot dispatch it all, even to put all of it in a context that fits our modern idea of justice will be hard work. Hard work we need to do. It will be made harder if we choose to divide with our early actions, opening the opportunity for those to undermine the intent by lobbing ideas from trenches at each other. Every delegate speaking at Council tonight was respectful and considered, and I thank them for that. But how many of them listened to the people “on the other side”? Tried to put their minds to where that person was coming from? Were we really all there with open ears? Was this a dialogue?

When the John A McDonald statue was removed last year in Victoria, it was done following a year of conversation with the “City Family”, the inclusive framework used for reconciliation for their City. A year-long process of deliberation, dialogue and truth-sharing brought them to the point where they understood the meaning of the act, and were ready to share that meaning in a fulsome way with the larger community. We are not there yet. Yes, they had “backlash” when the statue was moved, but at least they could, with integrity, say “we have heard your concerns, we have considered your concerns, we take this action with due respect to your concerns, because we believe it moves the conversation forward”. Can we honestly say that?

If we are going to work with integrity and an open heart, and build the willingness to act meaningfully, I hope we can get to the place where the Begbie Statue, the John Robson plaque on City Hall, the Tin soldier, and other symbols in the City that have different impacts depending on the lens they are viewed through, can be addressed in a way that heals, not in a way that divides. We are not there yet, so I could not support this action at this time.

We have so much work to do. I ask that everyone keep an open heart and open ears.


And that was the business of the night. Happy May!