Declaration for Resilience (Part 4)

I have to wrap up my mid-August long read, as labour day is fast approaching. It’s been so gloriously nice outside, as it always is after the PNE rains pass, I have really been putting this off. I have some more time this week, so here we go. This is Part 4 of the City’s response to the Declaration for Sustainability in Canadian Cities that Council approved early in the month. The final section are ideas that arose during local discussions that seem to be gaps in the original declaration, or are particularly relevant to the Metro Vancouver / New West context. As these are not part of the original text, this section will only have the staff-suggested additions, with my comments after – as always, speaking for myself and not on behalf of Council or the City.

Provide funding, land, and regulatory environment to increase the supply of affordable rental housing and non‐market housing in all neigbhourhoods, particularly in transit‐oriented locations.
I expressed a bit of concern with us opening this section (and others below) with “funding”. In the plainest language I can offer – non-market housing is a senior government responsibility to fund, and municipal governments, with less than 9% of all tax revenues and already suffering from a significant infrastructure gap in everything from roads to sewers to recreation facilities and parks, municipalities cannot take on the financial burden of providing housing because senior governments got out of the business of building it in the Great Austerity Shift of the 1990s. If paying for building housing falls on us and property tax revenue, it will be inadequate and ultimately a failure.

That said, I do not think Cities can turn their backs on the desperate need for supportive housing, and we have a supportive role to play – assuring our regulatory and policy environment doesn’t prevent the building of affordable housing in all of our neighborhoods. Most of us can also provide public land (which New Westminster has been doing, even with our severely constrained land base), and we have been stepping in and providing capital funding and a tonne of staff resources, both of which are a financial burden on the City, but one where we have to step up if any supportive housing of any type will get built in the City. We also need to cajole and/or shame (whatever works) the provincial and federal governments to bring some of their significant resources to the table to address this ongoing crisis.

Increase housing supplement though income assistance or implement Universal Basic Income.
This is 100% outside of municipal jurisdiction. We are limited to advocating to senior governments to make this happen.

Require all municipalities to provide shelters and other services and supports to homeless populations.
Again, our role in the City is to assure we have space and coordination to provide shelter support to all of our residents. As we are on the “front line” of the living experience of the unhoused in our communities, we are probably best positioned to do this. But until senior governments provide the housing and health care supports to address the problem, this will continue to be an inadequate approach.

Develop culturally sensitive and inclusive policies to protect tenants, maintain and enhance existing purpose‐built rental housing and non‐market housing
This is an area I think New Westminster has truly showed leadership, both before I joined Council and in the last few years. The first step in addressing homelessness is to prevent people from losing their current housing. We have aggressively taken action on demovictions and renovictions, have created and supported a rent bank program, and have dedicated, hard-working staff in City hall coordinating the efforts of local non-profits and provincial programs. We have also brought a region-leading number of purpose-built rental on line in the last few years, and are leveraging non-market supportive housing in new developments.

Support the provision of mental health, and addictions services in all communities.
I’m going to stay on my picky point here and say support: yes; provide: no. Again, as the front line for many residents needing these supports, the City has a role to assure health care and services are available in the community through coordination, assuring our policies and Bylaws support them, and even providing space if needed. However, the services themselves are primary health care services that must be provided by the provincial government through the local health authorities and funded through the Health Act. Municipalities do not have the authority, the staff, the expertise, or the funds to provide this kind of primary health care.

Take action in responding to the provincial overdose crisis and require all municipalities to provide overdose prevention sites and safe drug supply programs
Again, this is a health care issue that fits squarely within the Provincial mandate – they have two ministries funded and staffed to address this. The City should support and absolutely not get in their way. These are primary health care concerns that we clearly need much more of in our community. We have been in a crisis state with a poisoned drug supply for too long, and we need accessible safe supply and provision for safe consumption in New Westminster immediately. We also need to advocate both levels of senior government to make these things happen.

Support the development of local and sustainable food systems including improving local distribution systems.
Support the development of long‐term food security plans that build capacity in the faith‐based and non‐profit sector, who are on the front line in supporting the food insecure.
Food security systems are things we rarely think about except in crisis, and COVID was one of those crises that demonstrated how tenuous our food supply systems are, and how many people’s personal food security is tenuous. I could go on at length about this, and have in the past and have a detailed answer when people ask why we pay more for domestic milk and butter in BC when there are cheaper alternatives across the border, and why we need to support Farmers Markets and local food systems.

Require new buildings to utilize low‐emission building heating and hot water systems including district energy and heat pumps. &
Require existing building retrofits to utilize low‐emission building heating and hot water systems including district energy and heat pumps.
In our Bold Step #3 (Carbon Free Homes and Buildings), we set the goals for 2030 for no new fossil fuel heating in new buildings or retrofits. We currently cannot mandate this, because we don’t have the authority in the Local Government Act. What we can do is require for any building going through rezoning, incentivize it for other buildings and retrofits, and finally, advocate to the BC government to include it in the Building Code or give local governments the authority to mandate it. We are working on all three.

Incentivize new buildings to utilize low‐emission cooking equipment &
Incentivize existing building retrofits to utilize low‐emission cooking equipment.
This is another big step. The era of the fossil-fuel stove may be coming to an end. Yes, there is nothing quite like “cooking with gas”, and FortisBC is looking at ways to bring non-fossil source methane and boosting hydrogen content to get the fossil out of fossil gas, but with new technology (induction stoves are pretty cool), but we are a long way from people replacing all of their household appliances. We can, however, incentivize in new builds and retrofits.

Invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure for use by the general public.
We have been doing this. I am the Chair of a significant Not-for-Profit that does a lot of this work. But I wonder if incentivizing the auto industry should really be a high priority action for Government when that same industry continues to proactively make our Cities less safe, less livable, and less sustainable. I’m going to chew over this one for a while…

Adopt circular economy practices to reduce waste.
Sure. But I’m not sure what the role of local government is here. We collect recycling because it is the “right thing to do” despite most of it going to the landfill or incinerator because there is inadequate economic incentive built into our supply chains to promote recycling. We have no regulatory authority to change how packaging occurs (the source of most of our recyclable waste) nor can we force local manufacturers, suppliers, or retailers take responsibility for the single use products and packaging they sell. We collect your trash, we are allowed to charge you for that service, we can cajole you to separate or comingle to create more distinct waste streams, but the recycling system is broken at a fundamental level, so we are pissing into the wind – and spending way too much money being cheap about it. But hey, we all feel better if our peanut butter jar goes in a blue box instead of a black one.

Support the creation of more waste‐to‐energy sources.
There needs to be a big caveat on this one. In the context of a Climate Emergency, Waste-To-Energy only makes sense if it is not reliant upon the conversion of fossil carbon to atmospheric carbon. Burning waste plastics is no different that burning coal if the source of the hydrocarbon is fossil fuels. I have talked about this in the past, and still feel strongly that WTE solves the wrong problem. There are forms of WTE that do not rely on fossil fuels, but the technology is pretty raw, and some local companies have gone broke trying to make it work. Sewer heat recovery and waste wood gasification are operating in the region as district energy sources, and are the types of WTE that should be supported.

Develop a plan to protect 50% of the land base of the region from development (currently 40%).
This is an interesting, if regional, goal. The City of New West is already developed, depending on how you define it, between 80 and 100%. There are simply no Greenfields for us to expand into. However, we have a role to play in curtailing regional development in assuring out Transit Oriented Development areas provide housing alternatives and livable communities that take the pressure off of undeveloped greenfield spaces in other communities.

Integrate natural assets into conventional asset management and decision‐making processes.
This topic was going to be the theme of a conference I was helping organize with the Lower Mainland LGA, until COVID shut us down. I could write quite a bit about this, but maybe it needs to go in its own blog post. In the meantime, look at the great work that is happening on this front on the Sunshine Coast.

Provide opportunities for voices of the marginalized to be empowered and advanced, inclusive of Indigenous people, racialized populations and lower‐income workers, ensuring all residents in the region are educated, aware and invited to participate. &
Develop a framework to ensure diversity, inclusion, equity and anti‐racism informs all government actions
These are two sides of the same coin, one outward looking (how do we get a more diverse cohort of our population to take active part in decision making in the community?) and one inward looking (are we actually listening and understanding the diverse voices of our community?). These are both things the City is supporting in policy and in practice.

So there we are, that’s the Declaration. Now all we need to do is measure up to our best intentions.

Declaration for Resilience (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of my reporting out the City’s response to the Declaration for Sustainability in Canadian Cities that Council approved earlier in the month. Part 1 on land use planning is here, Part 2 on transportation is here. Part 3 covers the Built and Natural Environments. As in the earlier parts, I provide the original Declaration Text, followed by the adaptation for NW/MV context provided to Council by staff, all followed by my comments (not necessarily speaking for the City or Council, but my own take on it) for each clause of the declaration.

Embracing Sustainability in our Built and Natural Environment
15. Require that all new government‐owned buildings (federal, provincial, and municipal) be carbon neutral.
Require all new buildings that are government‐owned (federal, provincial, and municipal) or built using public dollars to be energy efficient and carbon neutral over their lifetime.
The City has previously set a LEED standard for new buildings, but we have started to move beyond LEED and reviewed other rating/evaluation systems for new buildings. We are currently on pause with the Canada Games Pool replacement due to COVID uncertainty, but the plans as developed included upgrading to a zero-carbon building and energy generation on site. It makes sense when we own our own near-zero-carbon electrical utility, and when lifecycle costs of higher efficiency buildings are usually lower in the long run.

16. End the dumping of untreated sewage outflows into lakes, streams, and waterways.
End the dumping of untreated sewage outflows into lakes, streams, and waterways.
Some may think this sounds like a simple or even archaic goal in 2020, what with our modern sewers and big sewer treatment plants, and we should spend our time in debates about the value of secondary vs. tertiary sewer treatment and resource recovery at sewer plants. However, New West is one of several cities in the Lower Mainland that still has “combined flow sewers” in some areas. As a result, we sometimes still discharge untreated (but highly diluted) sewage to fisheries habitat in the Fraser River. There are complex historic reasons for this, and the City is continually working on (and investing in) sewer separation, but at the current pace, it will be 2050 or later before we achieve this goal. Much of this is a cost issue, as doing this work is very expensive – we have about $25M in the current 5-year financial plan to do this work at that done-by-2050-or-so pace.

Whether we beat or meet that timing is contingent on a few things alongside our tolerance for high utility rates or debt financing. Much of the separation will be funded by and timed on growth, as it is generally older single-family-detached neighborhoods that still rely on combined flow sewers. There is also a direct cost to land owners for this work, as property drainage must be separated to match the upgraded municipal system, which we require homeowners to do (at their cost, usually in the tens of thousands of dollars) when replacing their house or doing major renovations.

So we are working on it, but it is not going to happen soon, though recent support from senior governments has helped the City accelerate their program, which is good. Arguably, the environment would benefit more from federal government funding aggressive sewer separation programs in Vancouver, Burnaby, and New West than it does from the feds funding tertiary treatment upgrades in the sewer treatment plants the diverted sewage goes to, but that isn’t how politics works.

17. Enact a funded, detailed plan to achieve a 40% urban tree canopy.
Enact a funded, detailed plan to achieve a 40% urban tree canopy, within the context of competition for new development, recognize trees as city assets with parity to other city assets and incentivize tree retention and large tree species planting with development.
A 40% tree canopy is ambitious for any urban area. To put that in perspective, New West’s current canopy city-wide is about 18%, and our “greenest” neighbourhoods are on the order of 33% (Queens Park and Glenbrooke). Our Urban Forest Management Strategy calls for aggressive tree planting and preservation of existing trees (including the new Tree Protection Bylaw), and we have a goal to get to 27% tree canopy by 2030 as Bold Step #6. I am OK with 40% as an aspirational goal, and indeed there is some research suggesting this is a best practice level to aim for (Halifax is one of the few significant Canadian cities that has this level of canopy), but for now we are enacting a funded, detailed plan to get to 27% City-wide, which will put us among the greenest communities in the Lower Mainland.

18. Ensure 100% of municipal operations are powered by clean energy sources.
Ensure 100% of all government operations are powered by clean, renewable energy sources.
We are fortunate to be in British Columbia where most of our electricity is zero-carbon, or at least very low carbon. That means the easiest way to move to clean energy sources is to plug everything in. It is easy for buildings, a little tougher for pools and ice rinks (the type of heating and energy needed lends itself more easily to gas), and really problematic for a lot of equipment. Even as electric cars are becoming ubiquitous, you simply cannot buy an electric pickup truck in Canada in 2020, never mind an electric dump truck or backhoe. Back-up electrical generators (important to many of our critical systems), firetrucks, street sweepers, cement mixers, vac trucks, etc., etc., are all seemingly decades from being available in fully electric forms. And then we need to talk about the infrastructure needs for our electrical utility to be able to provide power for all of these needs.

We have already made a commitment to get there in our Bold Step #1, and are picking the low fruit right now, while making bold choices about new buildings by no relying on fossil gas, but we are quickly approaching the bleeding edge. We need every community, and more businesses, to demand that the market provide electrical alternatives for many of the equipment choices above. Though I would love to blog some time about the City of Oslo is taking this a next step – forcing all construction sites to be electric-driven, but that is a big digression.

19. Require every new building in Canada built using public dollars achieves LEED status.
See #15 above
As mentioned above, we can go beyond LEED, but it is not currently within the City’s jurisdiction to (for example) force a brand new hospital being built in 2020 to go zero carbon, despite the fact it will be the largest point source emitter of Greenhouse Gasses for decades ahead in our community. But we can ask.

20. Require all new large office buildings to be emissions‐free.
Require all new large commercial, institutional and residential buildings to be energy efficient and carbon neutral, resilient to local climate change impacts, and located in Urban Centres or in appropriate locations along the Frequent Transit Network.
This is a similar thing, there is only so far we can go as a Municipality in adopting aggressive energy efficiency under the Step Code, and we are one of the more aggressive communities in the Lower Mainland. Vancouver is mandating an end to fossil fuels in buildings, but have their own Building Code that allows them to take that extra step. This item specifically says “large office buildings”, and it is a good idea to expand to all larger buildings that would likely go through a rezoning process, which gives the City an extra lever to pull, as we have lots of flexibility to make demands during rezoning.

I’m curious about adding energy efficiency as a shared priority with carbon neutrality, and I’m not sure I agree. If we have a relatively inefficient building that uses 100% renewable carbon-free energy, that is a clear win over a carbon-intensive by highly efficient building – burning no carbon is better than burning a little carbon. Every step towards efficiency increases up-front cost, and carbon neutrality may increase lifecycle costs (a gas is really cheap right now), so of the choices of which to require or incentivize, I’d err towards carbon neutral. The efficiency addition muddies this water a bit, I think.

Finally, the addition of Urban Centres and Frequent Transit Network leans back on the sustainable city planning aspects already covered in Part 1, but it is worth noting, if you have the most energy efficient office building in the world, but if it is out in an exburb and everyone has to drive a car to get there every day, you are kinda missing the point. This is getting me to think I need to write a critique about some of the decisions around the RCH expansion.


OK, this covers the entirety of the Declaration in its original form, but Metro Vancouver and City of New Westminster staff identified some gaps that would make this Declaration more meaningful to our specific context, and i will write about those in Part 4. But it is August and the sun is out, so I gotta get out there. You should too!

Declaration for Resilience (Part 2)

Further sunny-days blogging on New Westminster’s response to the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities that was endorsed by Council on August 10. I wrote previously about the Land Use items; this section is on transportation. Once again, each item will start with the original Declaration Text, followed by the staff-recommended adaptation for NW/MV context, followed by my comments:

Decarbonization of our Transportation Systems

7. Prioritize the immediate transformation of existing streets and roadways for active transportation – both for the immediate, post-pandemic recovery period and as permanent measures – by adding additional space for pedestrians and protected bike lanes in a contiguous ‘everywhere‐to everywhere’ network that makes cycling a safe mobility choice for every resident, in every neighbourhood.
Prioritize the immediate transformation of existing streets and roadways for active transportation and high quality public realm – both for the immediate, post‐pandemic recovery period and as permanent measures – by adding additional space for pedestrians and protected bike lanes in contiguous ‘everywhere‐to everywhere’ network that makes cycling, rolling (i.e. mobility devices) and walking a safe mobility choice for every resident, in every neighbourhood and without impeding transit operations or goods movement. Capitalize on opportunities to improve public life on streets (i.e. seating/social areas, event spaces, public art, outdoor retail and street trees).

This action links directly to the City’s Master Transportation Plan, the Bold Steps for Climate Action, and the Streets for People motion, and we are on our way towards making it happen. This year there are a lot of “pilots” going on around town, much like in Vancouver and other communities on the Lower Mainland, and we are receiving both positive and negative feedback on them. But nothing can be clearer than the goal: less public space for cars, more public space for other uses.

We are not close yet to having the “everywhere-to-everywhere” bike network that we need, and this will require some significant shift in how we invest in roads infrastructure in the City. We have already made significant shifts towards walking and accessibility investments, cycling has lagged behind. With the advent of so many “new mobility” technologies (scooters, electric mobility aids, e-bike, and who knows what is coming next week), we need to be thinking about how they impact pedestrian spaces, and how we prioritize transit operations along the curb space. We need to fundamentally re-think the infrastructure we are building if we agree that driving a private automobile (which is only used for half of trips in the City) is not the centre of it.

My main push-back here against the revised wording is the way “goods movement” was lumped in as something we need to not impede. We all agree goods movement is an important part of our transportation realm, but this reads like we are not going to expect goods movement providers to aggressively adapt their practices, but will instead work around their status quo. If we are relying on larger and larger diesel semis to provide basic supplies to our City centre, if we are going to allow our surface streets to remain through-fares for moving containers from port to terminal, accept diesel trains idling and having ultimate right-of-way through our communities, then we are not going to meet our other goals around livability and safety on our streets. We need to bring the Goods Movement sector along and help them adapt to the new reality of decarbonized cities, not build these new cities with an asterisk around one sector of the economy.

8. Enhance bus service levels, recognizing that interim social distancing requirements will demand high levels of public transit service on existing routes, since passenger limits on buses will be required.
Enhance bus service levels, recognizing that interim social distancing requirements will demand high levels of public transit service on existing routes, since passenger limits on buses will be required.

This is not 100% on the City in our TransLink region, as we do not directly allocate funds or service levels for Transit, however, there is one thing we can do to improve service levels: give buses more priority on our streets. Queue-jumping lanes, transit-only lanes, and adapting our signals and other systems to assure buses are not stuck in traffic created by people who in cars. Alas, the bigger question about funding and building a more sustainable transit funding mechanism is bigger debate, and though we are (arguably) better in the TransLink region than any other transit region in North America, this is hardly a certainty going forward. We still have a lot of work to do towards truly sustainable long-term operational and capital funding models for the system.

9. On major arterial roadways, transform curbside lanes to dedicated Bus Rapid Transit Priority Lanes, to offer a higher level of service and to incentivize public transit usage as economies transition to normal.
On major arterial roadways, transform curbside lanes to dedicated Bus Rapid Transit Priority Lanes, to offer a higher level of service and to incentivize public transit usage as economies transition to normal.

As mentioned in the item above, dedication of priority lanes is something local government can do to make transit more reliable and efficient. There are not many opportunities for this in New Westminster, but even a few subtle planned changes around New Westminster Station may significantly impact reliability, and are being worked on now. I could go on a long rant about Queensborough transit service and bus queues at the freeway off-ramp, but maybe I’ll save that for a future blog post.

10. Enact an immediate and permanent moratorium on the construction and reconstruction of urban expressways, including those in process.
To avoid inducing new single‐occupancy vehicle demand, enact a moratorium on urban highway expansion, including those in process, and instead focus on Transportation Demand Management strategies including growth management.

This is really a provincial issue, as only the Ministry of Transportation has the financing to build new “urban expressways”/”urban highways”. However, I think this declaration should be used ot inform how we continue to engage on the Pattullo Bridge Replacement (where MOTI has essentially designed an urban expressway interchange smack in the middle of an Urban Area), and the ongoing- but not-seemingly-going-anywhere discussions of a Brunette Interchange replacement. What can we imagine these pieces of infrastructure looking like if they are to put into an urban context?

11. Enact congestion pricing policies, and dedicate 100% of the revenues to public transportation expansion.
Enact congestion pricing policies, and dedicate 100% of the revenues to public transportation expansion. Include consideration and mitigation of equity concerns.

This is long overdue, and a complete political non-starter. Road Pricing does everything that people across the political spectrum want done about traffic – it measurably reduces congestion (it may be the only thing that actually does), it funds alternatives, it internalizes the abhorrently externalized costs of driving. However, it doesn’t matter that it is clearly the best public policy solution, especially at this time, because no provincial government in British Columbia will have the guts to make that case and make it happen, because Bruce Allen and the AM radio angertainment industry will hate it.

12. Mandate a conversion timetable stipulating that 100% of taxi and ride‐sharing vehicles will be electric.
Mandate a conversion timetable stipulating that 100% of taxi and Transportation Network Service (TNS) vehicles will be zero‐emission.
This is again a provincial jurisdiction thing, and as I have lamented in the past, we have not even been successful at asking for more a more accessible Taxi and TNS fleet (yes, the change from “ride sharing” to “TNS” is important, there is nothing “sharing” about the TNS industry). The Passenger Transportation Board just doesn’t want to go there, and I am willing to bet that the Taxi and TNS industries will push back hard, as it may limit the number of hours in a day that a vehicle can be utilized, and that pushed back against their business model.

13. Commit to fully electrify public bus fleets.
14. Require the full electrification of public sector vehicular fleets
Commit to zero‐emission public sector vehicular fleets (including buses)

We don’t really buy public transit fleet vehicles as a local government, but we do have some influence over the operations of TransLink through the Mayor’s Council, and TransLink is working on increased electrification of their fleet.

That said, municipal governments have significant vehicle fleets – engineering and parks vehicles, police cars, firetrucks, and a variety of run-around cars. New West has set dome aggressive goals as part of our Bold Step towards a carbon-free corporation.


Following this will be Part 3: Sustainability in the Built and Natural Environment, when I get to it.

Declaration for Resilience (Part 1)

At the August 10 Council meeting, we endorsed actions addressing the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities.

This is a pan-Canadian (but admittedly very “urban”) movement that calls for a post-COVID recovery that doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the last century of city planning, but instead imagines a greener, cleaner, decarbonized economy, built on the foundation of how we build and operate our Cities. It is signed by people across the political spectrum and from local government politics, city planning, business, academia and environmental activism.

The report New West Council received also included some re-framing of the original 20 proposed policy changes to fit better into the Metro Vancouver / New Westminster context, and included some additional policy directions coming out of staff discussions at Metro Vancouver and within the City of New Westminster.

I thought I would take a bit of sunny summer time to go through this declaration and pick out some of the sometimes-subtle changes that local staff suggested, along with my own comments (speaking, as always, for myself, not for all of Council). This might get a little long, because there is a lot here, so maybe make a cup of tea and I’ll break it up to several blog posts (divided up by the major themes of the Declaration). Each section will start with the original Declaration Text, followed by the staff-recommended adaptation for NW/MV context, followed by my comments. I’d love to hear feedback about this.


Ensuring Responsible Use of Land

1. Update zoning policies to allow more households to access existing neighbourhoods by permitting appropriately scaled multi-tenanted housing, co‐housing, laneway housing, and other forms of “gentle density” to be built, as‐of‐right, alongside houses in lowrise residential neighbourhoods.
Update zoning policies to allow more households to access existing neighbourhoods by permitting appropriately scaled multi‐tenanted housing, co-housing, laneway housing, and other forms of “gentle density” to be built, as‐of‐right, alongside houses in low‐rise residential neighbourhoods, especially along the Frequent Transit Network and in Urban Centres.
Apply the principle of equity to land use decisions so that the appropriateness of land use is determined on the basis of its impact on society as a whole rather than only the applicant or immediate neigbhours.

I think it is appropriate that this is first in the list of actions, because zoning impacts how we allocate use of land across our Cities, and the way we do it now is failing to address equity, is failing to address climate impacts or housing form, and is 100% within the power of Local Government to change.

I want to start be addressing the phrase in scare quotes – “gentle density”. This is a code word, and one I have used myself in the past. It means “slightly more housing, only to the extent that it doesn’t cause too much opposition from the people already comfortable housed in our community”. I think inserting that phrase alone calls into question the commitment to applying the principle of equity to land use decisions. I’ll just leave it with that social justice trick of questioning the implied agency and ask “gentle to whom?”

That said, I had another problem with the local context re-framing of this point. It is clear from the original text that we are talking about single family detached housing here, and large neighbourhoods in urban areas where this is currently the only permitted form of housing. The Declaration says we need to challenge that assumption if we are to meet our sustainability goals, and I agree with that. To change this by inserting “Frequent Transit Network” and “Urban Centres” as the only places appropriate for this change, undercuts the actual intent. In its original form, this is challenging the paradigm that high-traffic corridors are not the only place for multi-family housing, and the change softens that call. We need to break the mindset that the only appropriate use of density is to buffer as-right single family detached houses from the noise and pollution of traffic corridors.

Recent discussions around development of 12th Street in New Westminster are a good example of this thinking. Some folks feel that commercial-at-grade with a few floors of housing above is appropriate to support a secondary commercial district like this. Others feel that there is simply too much commercial as is to be supported by the relatively low residential density of the neighbourhood, and more commercial will simply mean more vacant commercial space where housing would be more appropriate. I would argue that the problem is not the density on 12th Street, but the lack of business-sustaining density within that all-important 5-minute walk shed. Walk three blocks back from a health pedestrian-sustained shopping street in Montreal (for example), and you find moderate-density housing, not SFD suburbs in the middle of a City.

Walkable, functional, equitable neighbourhoods cannot be car-reliant neighbourhoods. And Frequent Transit Networks rely on a density to be supportable just as commercial districts do. So let’s expand our thinking to beyond “along Frequent Transit Networks” to “every neighbourhood within walking distance of a Frequent Transit Network”, and we are onto something, which brings us to the next item:

2. Commit to the creation of 15‐minute neighbourhoods in which it is possible to live, work, and shop, by among other things permitting corner stores, local retail, and live‐work housing, and by adding more local parks in all areas of cities
Commit to the creation of 15‐minute neighbourhoods (ie: complete communities) in which it is possible to live, work, play and shop, by among other things permitting child care, corner stores, local retail, and live‐work housing, and by adding more local parks equitably throughout cities.

This idea behind 15-minute neighbourhoods is that residents should be able to access most of their daily needs within a 15-minute walk, or within about 1,200m of their home. This could mean a 5-minute bike ride, a 10-minue roll in a mobility scooter, or a 15-minute walk, but the idea is that it reduces automobile reliance for most trips. Yes, people can and will own cars, yes, not everyone can live within 1,200m of their job so there need to be commuting options, but if shopping, schools, libraries, rec centres, parks and “third places” are close enough by, stronger communities are built. Of course, this also means there need to be enough people within that 15-minute walkshed to support the things we want to see there, which brings us back to density.

3. Restrict short‐term rentals to ensure that rental homes are not once again removed from the rental market post‐COVID‐19.
Regulate short‐term rentals to ensure that rental homes are not once again removed from the rental market post‐COVID‐19.

The shift from “restrict” to “regulate” is a subtle one, perhaps. I have been banging the drum about the need for us to address AirBnB/VRBO/etc. in the City for several years, but it has just never been seen as a priority for New West staff or Council. It is a bit challenging to enforce, and we do not receive a lot of complaints about it, so perhaps the urgency is not there, and the COVID situation has probably delayed any eventual STR crisis, but the impact on the affordable rental market is pretty clear. Add this to the pile of better rental regulation we need in the province, but this one is 100% within the power of local governments to enact – we can’t pass the buck on this one.

4. Remove all mandatory minimum parking requirements for any new building, to both signal a shift in mobility priorities, and to remove the costly burden of parking, on housing.
Remove parking minimums, enhance visitor parking and bicycle parking supply and include vehicle sharing option for any new multi‐family and mixed‐use building particularly along the Frequent Transit Network, to both signal a shift in mobility priorities, and to remove the costly burden of parking on housing. Consider the introduction of parking maximums in transit‐oriented locations.

I think the changes here are again subtle (removing “all”, then adding other qualifiers that may soften it a bit), but reducing the requirement to build off-street parking for new multifamily developments has been an ongoing process in the City, and one Council has asked staff to advance recently. There is no doubt about the data: we are building way more parking than we need in transit-oriented developments, and there are real costs related to this overbuilding – cost to the housing, and costs to society. I think the one part missing from this is the acknowledgement that off-street parking policy needs to be coupled with properly allocating and pricing on-street storage of cars, and one again, planning policy and transportation policy overlap.

5. Prioritize the use of existing municipally‐owned land for the creation of affordable housing that remains affordable in perpetuity, and for strategic public green space that supports increased density.
Prioritize the use of existing municipally‐owned land for the creation of affordable housing and non‐profit childcare that remains affordable in perpetuity, and for strategic public green space that supports increased density.

This is another area New Westminster is already moving on. We do not have a great legacy of City-owned land compared to some jurisdictions, but we have been successful at getting two small-lot affordable housing developments built in the last couple of years, a TMH supportive housing project just opened in Queensborough on City land, and we are looking at two other sites for upcoming projects. We have also been successful at leveraging childcare space with new development. The greenspace issue is a bit of a harder nut to crack in some of our neighbourhoods, but I hope the Streets for People motion and our Bold Step #7  on re-allocated road space will provide some unexpected opportunities here.

6. Enact stronger restrictions on urban sprawl, including moratoria limiting additional, auto‐dependent, suburban sprawl developments
Enact stronger restrictions on low density, auto‐dependent residential, commercial, and employment developments.
This doesn’t speak directly to New Westminster, as we are already a built-out community, and growth will generally be through density increases and towards less sprawl. However, it does induce us to move towards less car-dependent and sprawly communities as we look at new master-planned communities like Sapperton Green and the future of the 22nd Street area in Connaught Heights.


The next section will be on “Decarbonization of our Transportation Systems”, whenever I get to writing about it.

Council – Aug 10, 2020

We had a brief Council meeting on Monday to address some time-sensitive issues. It was pretty bare-bones, and I was Acting Mayor, so it was not the smooth production you may be used to. Here is the recording if you want to poke fun, or if you want to see the Agenda that started with the official receipt of our Annual Report for 2019:

2019 Annual Report
Every year, the City is required to put out an annual report, which includes our annual financial reporting and some measures of what the City accomplished in the previous year. Council moved to receive the report.

Obviously 2020 is a challenging year in ways we could not have predicted, but it is still valuable to look back at 2019, now that the numbers are in and note the achievements of the City, getting more done than any other City in the Lower Mainland, regardless of size. We sometimes forget New Westminster is a small municipality surrounded by much larger ones, but we continue to punch above our weight on things that matter, including housing policy, addressing poverty and homelessness, and taking meaningful climate action.

One of the bigger achievements of 2019 is clearly the 7 Bold Steps in response to a Climate Emergency. Turn on the news this week, and you can read about collapsing ice shelves in the Arctic, record heat and wildfires consuming 10,000 square km of Siberia, and (to those like me who follow climate science at greater depth) the recent report by Woods Hole researchers published in PNAS that demonstrated the RCP 8.5 CO2 emissions pathway, which was previously used as a “Worst Case Scenario”, has turned out to be the most accurate pathway for first half of the 20th century. We have a lot of work to do, and I’m proud to be part of a Council that put actions to their words, and set serious, concrete goals not just for 2050 Paris targets, but for 2030 so that we can no longer put off actions today if we plan to meet those targets.

We also took bold steps in 2019 to address the eviction crisis in the community. Once again New Westminster was a regional leader in housing policy, and I see that other Municipalities are now following our lead. This along with the 745 new purpose built rental units that came on line in 2019, are meaningful steps to take local action on ta regional housing crisis.

I also want to emphasize something that staff did that didn’t show up in this report, but a bulk of the work was done in 2019 – and that was a new and more transparent approach to the annual budget process. Public Consultation takes time, it costs money, and it takes a willingness to both teach and learn through discussion where people’s concerns are. Of course, the COVID crisis has forced some shift of those budget assumptions, but with a foundation of solid public consultation, we have built better trust, and better understanding, which allows us to pivot when needed. And bring that experience and knowledge into our work on COVID recovery which is so going to define our 2020. Again, kudos to staff for engaging in that work so effectively.

I’m proud of the work the City has done, and thank our staff for being bold and dedicated to seeing New West become the most vibrant, compassionate, and sustainable city it can.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2020 Declaration for Resilience to Canadian Cities: Feedback on Metro Vancouver Amendments to Meet Regional Goals
The Mayor endorsed a Declaration for resilience in Canadian Cities, and this is a report asking that Council endorse a suite of ideas and actions to meet these goals. As it is a pan-Canadian declaration, staff included a regional and jurisdictional analysis of the Metro Vancouver and New Westminster context for the goals.

There are a bunch of recommendations coming out of this, and we spoke a bit to minor tweaks that could be made to the declaration text to be specific to our local conditions. Council was able to provide a bit of feedback to staff on where some of the language could serve to be adjusted, but in no way did we “step back” from the goals, more we defined specifically how each reflects our own understanding of the City’s role in meeting the bigger goals. I don’t want to belabor it too much here, as this is overall really great document. Perhaps I’ll write a follow-up blog post about my personal take on some of the recommendations.

Small Sites Affordable Housing Initiative: Queensborough Recommended Proponent and Connaught Heights Next Steps
We talked earlier in the year about, and did some initial community consultation on, the next phase of the City’s ongoing Small Sites Affordable Housing program. This is where the City identifies available City-owned land for affordable housing, and hopes that BC Housing and a non-profit provider can do the heavy lifting of getting some affordable housing built. We already have two of these up and running (one Downtown and one in Queensborough), and were hoping to get at least one new project into the 2021 Funding window from BC Housing.

Staff identified two potential sites, one in Queensborough and one in Connaught Heights, and both asked for Housing providers to make proposals about how they would best use the site, and went out to the community to get feedback on the two sites and initial proposals. Staff then reviewed the proposals, and found a preferred approach for the Queensborough site. Staff were not able to recommend a preferred proponent for the Connaught Site, and recognized there needed to be some work done both with the applicants and with the community, and recognized the 2021 funding window was probably not viable for that site.

This also means we need some staff to put development of the Queensborough site into their work plan for the rest of 2020, which means a few of the other policy areas planning staff were working on will be delayed but a few months (or even up to a year), so they checked in with Council to make sure that was OK. Unfortunately, we are just not in a position right now to commit to funding more staff to get everything done as there remains some uncertainty around COVID recovery and the City’s financial situation, so a bit of policy work delay was seen as the most prudent path right now, and more affordable housing was seen as an appropriate place to prioritize staff time.

The Queensborough site will go through an expedited version of development review. It will go to both proponent-led and City-led public consultation, external and committee review including Design Panel, and a Public Hearing (hopefully) in early 2021. The proposal will no doubt shift through this process, but right now it looks to include 51 units in a three-story rental apartment building, with about 15 units “affordable” for moderate incomes, 25 with rent tied to income levels, and 11 “deeply subsidized” for very low incomes.

The Connaught Heights project needs more work, including clarifying the Crown Grant through which the City was given the land and how it impacts the available used of the site. The history of the land is interesting and somewhat complicated, and was something that came up through public consultation. There is more detail in the report here, but chasing the paper trail from 50 years ago was interesting!


Finally, we had this Motion that I brought to the meeting:

Cannabis and Edibles

THAT Council direct staff to bring forward the necessary amending bylaws to allow cannabis retails stores to sell edible cannabis products for off-site consumption and that staff not enforce the local prohibition of the sale of cannabis edibles for off-site consumption pending a decision of Council regarding such amending bylaws.

There are two cannabis retailers operating in the City (and a few more approved and going through the steps to get their doors opened). Upon opening, the two discovered that edible cannabis products were not permitted for sale in New West. The local retailers were surprised when our local Bylaw enforcement told them (correctly) that the City prohibits edibles.

The background is that edible products were not legal when we were putting the Bylaws together in 2018, though it was noted at the time that they would likely be legal some time in 2019. I’m not sure if we anticipated at the time that no retailers would actually be open until mid-2020. As a result, we are more restrictive than the federal government or the provincial government who both made edible products with appropriate labelling and controls to manage the extra public safety concerns, legal.

So, my goal here is to bring our business and zoning bylaw in line with provincial and federal regs as quickly as possible, and to allow the retailers to (if possible) ask the City’s bylaws enforcers to not enforce that part of the bylaw recognizing the unique situation here and the intent of Council. The motion was supported unanimously by Council.


And that was all we had for the meeting. I’m still basically avoiding the big Social Media platforms for August, so drop me an e-mail (as opposed to Twitter or Facebook) if you want to get in touch. Otherwise, get out and enjoy the sun in a safe, distanced, calm and kind way!

Break

Hey folks,

It is a strange time, and the energy in the air is strange. There seems to be a cumulative pile of stressors hitting people. Many are directly related to COVID, like concern for the health of loved ones, economic uncertainty, anxiety around public spaces, around work places and planning the return to school. Some are more abstractly connected, like the shift in work-life balance, a lack of festivals and events to pull us out of routine, the re-adjusting of social norms. People have been home to much, isolated too much, concerned too much. Fretting as our neighbor to the south appears to be burning itself down in strange and frightening ways, the reality of climate change hitting hard as the turning point in Arctic climate can no longer be ignored, we seem frustratingly unable, or unwilling, to address a growing pile of local crises: housing, poisoned drug supply, systemic racism…

In many ways, it feels like we are in a time when the status quo is shifting, and no-one is immune from the fear around that. Some like the status quo, or at least prefer it to the uncertainty that change brings. Others are doing the hard emotional and intellectual labour to try to assure that change goes in a good direction, to serve others, to serve themselves, to build a stronger community. Others just spend their time shit posting. We all adapt in the way we know how.

I have felt it. I recognize I am extremely fortunate through this. My family (knock on wood) is safe and healthy, I’m still (knock on wood) able to work, have healthy relationships that provide me support, can enjoy the long bike rides that keep my emotional chemistry in check. But with all that, I am more acutely aware these days of my mental health, of behaviours and thought patterns that are probably not productive, not making me happy or adding to my quality of life. I miss my friends, even if I am still kinda connected to them through social media and occasional walk-bys. I miss community events, group bike rides, chatting with folks at a pub, random social stuff that makes my community buzz for me. But aside from missing things, there is something else. Decisions are hard to get to. Concentration on a task is hard. Sleeping is weird. It is low-level anxiety creeping in on the edges. Not debilitating, but bothersome, so I guess even there I am luckier than some.

All this to say, I’m going to take a bit of a breather in August, and try to do some things a bit different. Mostly, that means I’m going to turn off my Social Media for the month. I haven’t done this since long before I was elected, so it will be a little strange. FOMO is a real part of my mental matrix, and I need to work on that.

We have a couple of Council meetings in August, and I will endeavor to blog those out soon after they happen, as I have for more than 5 years. But other than that, I won’t be responding to Twitter or Facebook, because I won’t be looking at Twitter or Facebook. You can always e-mail me at pjohnstoneATnewwestcityDOTca for City stuff, or at infoATpatrickdjohnstoneDOTca for regular-life stuff. I read them all, respond when I can. Have a good summer.

Be Safe, Be Calm, Be Kind. See you in September.

Ask Pat: That old house

Zack asks—

What is the future for the historic (and seemingly abandoned) house across from the grocery store in Sapperton? If it was revitalized and turned into a community space (like a small library?) it could be quite the hidden gem in Sapperton. Currently it is a dilapidated eyesore

Short answer is: I have no idea. It is private property, so much like every other house in the City, the answer to your question is pretty much up to the owner, not the City.

If you go to the City’s public on-line Interactive Map, you can see that it is actually on a slightly unusual lot that stretches up the hill quite a bit, and it is zoned for a Single Family Detached house (RS-1). The house itself looks a little dilapidated, but it is one of the oldest intact buildings in New Westminster, apparently built in 1877.  As far as I can tell, it is not in the Heritage Register, so it doesn’t have an specific protection, though I image any redevelopment plans would consider if it is preservable.

The City doesn’t really have much control over when or how a property owner plans to sell, fix up, or redevelop within their current zoning entitlement (i.e. replacing the single family house with another single family house). As long as the house is not a public health hazard and hasn’t had extensive work without building permit that violates the building code, the City doesn’t really have much power to force a homeowner to “fix it up” or do anything with it. Even the unsightly property Bylaws are more to do with housekeeping and untidy lawns than in keeping up the building paint, and these kinds of Bylaws are generally enforced only after complaints are received, and with a mind to encouraging compliance more than being punitive.

I don’t know the owner, or their plans. I could speculate that there may be a longer-term intent to develop the lot, as it superficially looks like a pretty attractive location for some mid-size housing, but no applications have come to Council in my memory, so I am only as able to speculate as you.

There are also no plans that I know of right now for the City to buy up properties like this, even if the owner was selling. Our already-aggressive capital plan for the next 5 years doesn’t leave us a lot of room for new buildings or programming spaces beyond what is already planned, and I’m afraid COVID may even slow plans more than accelerate them.

So the long version is also: I have no idea.

Calmer streets

Earlier in the year, I brought this motion to Council, asking that the City be bolder in finding ways to re-level the balance between car use and other users for public space in the City. We had already made commitments in our Climate Action goals that we are going to change how road space is allocated in the City over the next decade. Then along came COVID to shine a brighter light on some of the inequities in our communities, and cities around the world started acting more aggressively on road space reallocation as a pandemic response. The time was right for New West to accelerate the ideas in our Master Transportation Plan.

Early on, there was some rapid work to address pedestrian and active transportation “pinch points”, especially in the Uptown and on a few Greenways. The city was able to quickly create more safe public space downtown by re-applying the weekend vehicle closure plan of Front Street that we already had experience with. Uptown, the BIA asked the City to allow temporary weekend-only opening of some street space for lightly-programmed public space. Response has been pretty positive:

There is a bit of push-back on these interventions, as there always is when status quo is challenged in the transportation realm. Predictably, the traffic chaos, accidents, parking hassles and general mayhem that was predicted by more vocal opposition just didn’t occur. Staff is tracking actual data, but I have made a point to visit these areas often (COVID and working from home has made me into one of those walking-for-recreation types) and have been collecting admittedly anecdotal views of how these sites are working.

There are two more ideas that are being launched for the second half of the summer, and I want to talk about them because they came from different directions, but ended up in the same place, and are also eliciting some public comments right now (as was the intent!)

The City is piloting a “Cool Streets” program that identifies key pedestrian routes in the City for light interventions to reduce the through-traffic load and give pedestrians more space to stretch out. The way these streets were identified for the pilot is what makes this interesting, and speaks to one of my previous lives when I was briefly a GIS geek.

The goal to identify areas of the City where more vulnerable people have less access to green space, shade, and safe waling/rolling routes to parks and services. The approach very much aligns with the City’s Intelligent City initiative by using data-driven analysis to help make decisions. The City used its Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data set to identify areas that met the following criteria: higher population density, lower household incomes, larger proportion of seniors, and lower parks space per capita. Using GIS to “overlay” these layers, they identified area where many of these criteria overlap:

Once the “dense” areas of this map were identified, staff went through looking at the routes that combine connectivity to key destinations (parks and services), where grades were lower and where the most tree canopy cover was available:

They then identified priority routes for “green street” interventions (1, 2, and the west part of 3 in the map below), and extended these along streets that get to key destinations (the east part of 3 and 4):

The interventions here are very light. The roads are not “closed” to cars, but are calmed using ideas drawn from experiences in other cities from New York to Oakland to Toronto to Vancouver. The hope is to create truly traffic-calmed streets where local access by car is still available, but the space is open for people to share and program as they wish. Local streets acting like streets for locals, not as through-fares.

A second initiative was led by a community group in Sapperton. Concerned about some recent close calls on the part of the Central Valley Greenway that runs through lower Sapperton, they surveyed their neighbours and brought a proposal to staff asking if a pinching down of one block of the greenway could be trialed in light of the Streets for People motion. Again, the road is not closed, but signage was installed to discourage through-traffic and removable soft barriers installed.

Both of these interventions are temporary pilots. They cost very little to put in action, and provide valuable data to our transportation planners, while also giving the public a chance to see what changes would look like before we invest in more permanent or expanded road re-allocation.

In her great book Street Fight, Jeannette Sadik-Khan talks about successes in urban residential areas where more local and lower-key interventions like this have occurred. A major part of this is trying some things (lightly, quickly, and cheaply) as a form of consultation and data collection. This allows us to get past the baked-in institutional resistance to change that says everyone has to agree on paper before we even try the most minor change, and before we can test whether a change is a net good. The Summer Streets program in New York was her model of this – feared by many, embraced by almost everyone once implemented, with the fears proving unfounded in the long term.

All that to say, these light interventions are designed to elicit not just public participation, but public feedback. And I have received feedback already. I’ve received e-mail form people very upset that they were not consulted; e-mail form people predicting traffic chaos; and e-mail from people asking if they can do this on their street. My short answer to those questions are, respectively: this is the consultation; the sites selected were local streets, not traffic-challenged throughfares, but staff will be collecting data to assess the impacts on traffic; and not likely this year just because of timing, but if things go well, I hope these kinds of pilots can be expanded in 2021.

So, if you like this kind of intervention, let us know. If you don’t, tell us why. Staff have included in the analysis above other priority areas for Cool Streets that may be implemented in the future, including Downtown and the McBride commercial area in Glenbrooke North. As for the community-driven version, if you would like to see this type of intervention as a temporary or permanent feature of your street, start reaching out to your neighbors (maybe hold a social distance block party?) and talk about it. If you can gather enough interest, maybe the City can make something happen in 2021.  To me, local communities reclaiming space is a major part of making Streets for People again.

Ask Pat: Drinking in Parks

Jeremy asked—

With suggestions from public health indicating that we should be avoiding indoor gatherings this summer, are there plans in the works to allow for alcohol consumption in our parks this summer to encourage outdoor socialization? Also related to this, will parks be open later to discourage groups from going back to ill-advised indoor gatherings?

Agnes Street Bandit asks—

When is New West going to follow suit with North Vancouver, Penticton and much of Europe and allow some forms of drinking in parks? With concerns of social distancing and it becoming clear that COVID is unlikely to be spread outdoors it seems like a no brainer. Without a rule in place it seems like another luxury people with detached homes and a backyard have over folks in condos. Beyond the virus does this not add to making New West a more livable city where the citizens want to enjoy the parks and public spaces without worrying about getting a ticket? As North Vancouver Mayor Buchanan says “…[treat] adults like adults.”

I am actually surprised about these questions. My surprise is that more people aren’t asking and this hasn’t been a bigger topic of conversation in the New West. The shortest answer is that we didn’t prioritize this for this summer, with all of the other stuff going on. I suspect it will happen sooner than later, but not in summer of 2020. As always, there is a longer answer.


The Provincial government a couple of years back made changes to the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Act so that a Municipality could designate a public place, or part of it, as a place where liquor can be consumed. There are some details in here, and I am *not* a Lawyer, but the way I read it, the City could designate part of a park, all of a park, or even the entire City (everywhere that is Municipal jurisdiction, anyway) as a place where it is legal to drink a beer, wine, or cocktail.

There are rules under the Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation, which exists under a similarly-named Act (I blogged about the difference between Acts and Regulations a little while ago). This regulation says that if a City wants to designate such a place for public drinking, they need to post signs that show the outline of the place, the hours when drinking is permitted, etc.

Of course, all of the other rules we have around booze would still apply – you cannot be a minor in possession of alcohol, you can’t be driving an automobile, you can’t be performing brain surgery, and you cannot be intoxicated. Remember, the rule that allows public drinking does not allow public drunkenness.

To designate this place-to-drink, the City needs to pass a Bylaw that fits the criteria set out by the province. A few cities have done it in selected areas of some parks, notably North Vancouver City and Port Coquitlam. Vancouver ran into a typically-Vancouver problem because they have a unique governance structure where the Parks Board strictly has *jurisdiction* over the parks, but the language in the Act specifically says a “Municipality or Regional District with jurisdiction may…” and the Parks Board is neither of those, so they need to get some special clearance from the Province because the legality of the Bylaw could be challenged and that would be a bit of a hassle… so they are working on it. But I digress.

If New Westminster wanted to pursue this, we would need to pass a Bylaw. That is neither a simple nor a particularly complex process. We would have to do all the legal stuff to make sure it is functional (see Parks Board, above) and decide where and how to appropriately designate and sign the place, but we have professional staff who can do this work. That said, when we mess with Parks space and how it is used or allocated, we need to talk to the community and user groups first. I have been through enough Dog Park consultations to know that people in New West take their park space very seriously, and changes need to be approached with a bit of caution and a lot of conversation.

I know that sounds like I’m slipping into bureaucrat speak, especially if you are one (like me) that likes the idea of having the occasional beer or goblet of wine during a picnic. But there is work to do here on two fronts, and we haven’t done the work yet.

First are the legislative questions. One example I can think of is: how does this impact Special Event licensing? If a group wants to have an event (as commonly happens in our City in normal times, like Music by the River or the Pecha Kucha at the Queens Park Bandstand) where alcohol is served with a special event license, can we still do that if this is a designated “bring your own booze” area? There is a provincial rule that says a place cannot have two licenses at the same time, so is “open for drinking” considered a license? We don’t want to put unexpected barriers in place to community groups who use our space for events, and if we designate the Bandshell (for example) as an area where drinking is OK, does that preclude youth events at the Bandshell? These are technical questions, so we should be able to get straight-forward answers as we work through them, but that takes a bit of time and legal review.

What will take more time is talking to the community about where and how much. I have spent enough time on other continents where Protestant alcohol rules are not as common, and could imagine opening all of New West to open carry without chaos breaking out. However, in my role I need to hear from and respect the voices of others who don’t share that feeling. Our goals as a community include being as inclusive and welcoming as possible. We need to consider how this change would impact everyone in the community.

Some people simply don’t want to be around others drinking alcohol. It may be a religion thing, it may be related to trauma people have experienced around alcohol use, it may be people going through recovery from addiction, it may just be people would rather not be in that space. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from, everyone has a right to reasonable access to public space. When we change the standards for public behaviours in a community – and how we use laws to enforce those behaviours – it needs to be the community driving it. We need to find the balance between how different people want to use public space, especially as those wants are often contradictory. some don;t want booze near playgounds, some parent specifically want to be able to have a beer while watching their kids use the playground. The balance is often hard to find.

There is an interesting equity lens on this, as well. How is our current prohibition on public drinking enforced, and how would a more permissive set of regulations (you can have a beer on this side of the line, not on that side) be enforced? We need to talk to our Bylaws and Police staff to talk about enforcement and complaints-response strategies, because our anecdotal history here is that youth and marginalized populations are enforced very differently than white 50 year old middle class picnickers like me.

So with that background, I can say with confidence it’s not going to happen this summer. There was no community push to have it happen this summer, and with the large number of things going on through our Pandemic response, it simply wasn’t a priority. To the best of my knowledge, no staff have it on their current work plan to start this process. Depending on how things go with recovery this fall, we may be able to task staff with doing this work for the 2021 summer season. As always, I cannot speak for all of Council, so I’m not sure how a proposed change would be received, but I think opening up public spaces to responsible drinking is the inevitable direction. I just can’t give you a timeline.

Council – July 13, 2020 (pt2)

The last New Westminster Council meeting before the summer break had a long Agenda. I reported out on the first half a couple of days ago, here is the rest, starting with the items Removed from Consent for discussion:

Update on the City’s Recovery Plan
This is a report on the things we are planning for the fourth quarter of 2020 as part of the anticipated recovery from the pandemic response, set out by the City’s 7 main operating departments. There is a lot of detail in here, and every department is being guided by Provincial Health Orders and the priorities set out by Council in previous meetings.

The biggest news here for many is that the Library will be re-opening in early August, with some adjustments to service and new safety protocols (including an early opening hour exclusively for seniors). Most parks and rec facilities will be gradually re-opening and programming resuming through Q4, but the pace of this will rely on how the public health response shifts. We are still very much still in the middle of the Pandemic, and we cannot anticipate what the case rate or risk will be in October, so this will be a plan in motion.

As each Municipality is interpreting orders a little differently, and each community has different priorities and financial situations, I predict we will spend much of the rest of 2020 with members of every municipality saying some version of “Community X is doing Y, why don’t we do Y?” This will be a challenge to manage form a communications point of view, but seems inevitable at this point.

Anvil Theatre Fees & Charges Bylaw
We are adjusting the fee structure for theater and rental spaces in the Anvil Centre to support re-opening and modified use relating to Phase 3 recovery. As this is a City Fee for service, we need to set the fees in a Bylaw. This biggest part of this change is not that the fees are changing, but that we are giving the Manager of the Theatre more flexibility to introduce scaled fees in response to reduced capacity related to COVID-19 without having to come to Council to get variances.

Interim COVID-19 Food Truck Policy
Some may remember the conversations we had back in 2015 and 2016 about a Food Truck policy in the City. There was a really extensive program to review the community interest in food trucks, to identify potential conflicts, and develop a program that balanced the interests of this emergent business with those of the existing business community. We created a program that took limited uptake, at least in part because it was seen as onerous for operators. We also took some flak for being “no fun” because we didn’t have the food trucks that other communities seemed to enjoy.

Now that people are spending more time enjoying outdoor spaces, possibly because of the pandemic, we have a few more applicants going through the onerous program. Some business owners have expressed concern, as they themselves are suffering and don’t want to see competition showing up in a way that impacts their type of business.

We had a pretty lengthy Council discussion on this. My thinking was very much that we spent 2 years putting together a program that was transparent to all stakeholders and the public. Changing that program now based on a few complaints seems arbitrary and reactionary, and is not in line with the work that people did in 2015 and 2016 in good faith to put together a comprehensive program. It also feels unfair to the operator who went through all of the necessary City hoops and challenges in good faith to get approval to operate as clearly laid out in our Bylaws if we now move the goalposts. If we are going to favour one business type over another, we better have clear policy and make it transparent why we are acting.

Staff made a series of recommendations, trying to thread this needle a bit, and Council agreed to some but not all of them. In the end, we are going to suspend for the summer granting new licenses for operations on City lands, but let existing licenses continue and allow licenses on private property to continue. We are also asking staff to see if they can encourage operators to not locate on a few conflict-causing spots.

909 – 915 Twelfth Street: Official Community Plan Amendment, Rezoning and Development Permit Application
This is a preliminary report on an application to build a 5-story residential building at the corner of Twelfth Street and London in the Moody Park Neighbourhood. It would replace a used car lot and two smaller commercial buildings with 40 homes, including “ground oriented” two-story units. The proposal is to build a highly energy-efficient building (Step Code Level 4). This would also require the purchase of a piece of City land that provides laneway access to one of the existing businesses.

There was some discussion about the role of commercial at grade along this part of 12th Street. This has been an ongoing discussion as far back as the OCP update, and staff are working on a 12th Street Retail Strategy. Everyone agrees that the unique character of 12th Street retail is something we want to help support, but there is some difference in opinion about what the best way to support it is. Storefronts are good, empty storefronts that can’t be leased are bad. Homes along the corridor are good to bring more local customers, but this also needs to be balanced with the need for commercial space. The answers here are neither easy nor obvious.

This is a preliminary application, and Council agree (in a split vote) to allow the application to move forward to public consultation and committee review. If all goes well for the proponent, this would eventually come to a Public Hearing, so no decision has been made yet on the project itself, and I am sure there will be a bunch of conversation about this. If you have opinions, let us know!

100 Braid Street: Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment, Development Permit and Housing Agreement Principles – Preliminary Report
A couple of years ago, the developer Wesgroup and Urban Academy partnered to buy a piece of land near Braid Station and build a new school, with the plan outlined at the time that the other half of the property (the current 100 Braid Studios) would be developed into high-rise residential development in the nearish future. This is a preliminary report indicating that future is approaching. The original rezoning supporting this was completed in 2016, and as market forces and incentives have changed, Wesgroup wants to revisit the zoning. This is a preliminary report, so it is yet to go to public consultation or external review.

They are currently approved to build a 213-foot (21 storey) tower with ~250 strata units, they now would like to build a 390-foot (35 storey) tower with 424 secured market rental suites. There is some provision for below-market rentals, but that is contingent on CMHC support, and is not a commitment being made that is aligned with our Affordable Housing program – it is more a commercial decision made by the applicant. They also want to reduce the number of off-street parking stalls.

Council asked some questions about the Affordable Housing aspect, and about how the Art Space would be managed. The proponent wants to remove some mature trees on City lands to improve “buildability”, and I want to assure that the City is appropriately compensated for this in recognition of our overall strategy to improve the City’s tree canopy. However, it was the uncertainty about the Affordable Housing commitments and how it would or wouldn’t work that ended up compelling Council to ask Staff to fill a few information gaps with the proponent prior to this application moving on to the next steps in public and stakeholder consultation. If you have an opinion, let us know, but there is more work coming on this one.

Emergency Response Centre Update and Relocation Options
The City has been helping administer an Emergency Response Centre to help people without secure housing during the Pandemic. BC Housing has done the real work, the School District really stepped up to permit the use of the unused gym at Massey, and a housing provider bent over backward to get a dry roof over a few dozen people who would have otherwise gone without. There were some neighbourhood concerns raised, and the housing provider took measures to help address those. The good news story here is that people got help when they needed it as an emergency response.

Due to site constraints, the centre cannot be expanded beyond its original permit expiration on July 11th, and the people more recently housed there have been provided alternative housing, some in New West, some not. Meanwhile BC Housing is looking for alternative locations for this type of emergency transitional housing in New West to meet local needs. The un-used Corporate Inn building on 12th Street is being considered, but would need to go through some City reviews under a Temporary Use Permit, and the owner would have to agree to a lease. Let’s see where this goes.

Small Sites Affordable Housing Initiative: Next Steps
The City has had some success with a few small affordable housing projects on our ever-diminishing City-owned lands. We have been looking at a few other sites that belong to the City and don’t currently serve any longer-term strategic purpose. Two appropriate sites have been identified, and we asked affordable housing providers to submit ideas about how they could turn these fallow sites into much-needed affordable housing. The City recently took these initial proposals to neighborhood consultation.

It is important to note – there are no developed projects for either of these sites. The goal is to include what the City calls “below market” (for households earning between $30,000 and $75,000 – think two people working minimum wage jobs) and “non-market” (income below $30,000 a year, akin to one minimum-wage worker or person living on social assistance). Details around size/shape/form of buildings, number of residents at each level of affordability are all still up in the air and subject to the development model the housing providers are giving to the City. If a preferred applicant is found for one or both sites, that would mark the start of the development application process. There are lots of details to work out here, and we will need to balance the community benefit, neighbourhood concerns, and financial viability for housing providers, so there is no certainty these will get built. Work to do!

Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project – Application to Deposit Plan – Charge Holder
I had to google what this is. Seriously – “Application to Deposit Plan”? What does that even mean? What happens if I don’t approve? Do we have any negotiation ability here? If we don’t sign this thing, does the bridge not get built? Should we be asking them for money for this? If we have no decision to make, no options, I cannot imagine any value to this coming to Council. This job is silly, sometimes.

So I took the excuse to ask staff if we are planning to have an open meeting with the Pattullo Bridge project team to discuss some concerns raised in the community around the active transportation links for the bridge. That meeting looks to be coming at the end of the summer.

Uptown Streetscape Vision – Big Ideas and Public Realm Elements
This is a report for information on the long-awaited Uptown Streetscape update. This will define some design principles and larger goals for the transportation realm in the commercial area of Uptown, to support the “Great Streets” vision outlined in the Master Transportation Plan. That’s lots of planning talk for how we want the area to look and work. As we do street improvements and landowners redevelop lots, this will guide what we build, or let them build. The vision can be summarized as more active transportation space, more active sidewalks, better allocated curb space, improves accessibility (universal accessibility as a goal) and more green.

This was somewhat developed before the current COVID temporary measures for road space re-allocation Uptown, but the temporary measures can definitely help inform traffic management implications of these changes. One of the bigger elements is the introduction of a Pedestrian Scramble at 6th and 6th – an intersection where part of the traffic cycle is a period where all crossing traffic is stopped, and pedestrians are free to cross in any and all directions. Most people asked liked the idea, the Uptown BIA has concerns. Improvements of the Belmont Parklet and connecting NWSS to the Crosstown Greenway are also part of the math here.

There is much more here, and it will take time to realize the full vision, but some improvements will be seen in the not-to-distant future.

Cool Streets 2020 – Pilot Project
This is a cool program, along the line of some “slow street” program being implemented around the world right now. Staff have done some work to identify areas and locations where light, quick, cheap interventions can make the transportation realm work better. During the summer, people can lack access to the cooling effects of green space, especially those who live in higher density neighborhoods with limited parks space. Doing a bit of GIS data-analysis, staff identified areas in the City with higher population density, higher seniors population density, lower incomes, and lack of parks space overlap, then identified the “greenest” routes through those spaces. These are identified as “cool streets” – in the temperature sense, not the Fonzie sense. Staff will put in some cheap interventions to those routes signage, “local traffic only” barriers, etc. to encourage people to walk, roll, even sit along these routes. Giving streets to people in 2020. Also cool in the Fonzie sense.

Request for Proposal Re: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Anti –Racism Framework
The City is continuing to work on our internal inclusion work, ensuring we are working towards having a workplace that reflects the community it serves, and addresses systemic barriers within our employment and business practices. This is a body of work that is probably best done by an external consultant working for out HR department, both because of capacity issues and because something like this would probably benefit from the review being arms-length. This is just a report to Council that an RFP for this work is going out and a chance to review the request.


We then had a Temporary Use Permit to issue:

TUP00023 for #8 – 30 Capilano Way
As mentioned in a previous meeting, The owner of a pinball-refurbishing and renting business wants to operate part of their business as an arcade so people can play the games they usually rent out to pubs and stores. This would be a non-conforming use in an industrial-zoned area. As the owner indicates they only want to do it to get over the COVID hump for his business, he is applying for a TUP. He initially applied for a 3-year TUP, and Council last meeting suggested a 2-year TUP would be more appropriate.

We received two pieces of correspondence from neighbouring businesses, both expressing support. Council moved to approve the TUP.


We then adopted a few Bylaws:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2019-2023) Amendment Bylaw 8207, 2020
As talked about earlier in the agenda, the updated 5-Year Financial Plan was adopted by Council.

Anvil Theatre Fees and Rates Bylaw No. 8209, 2020
As talked about earlier in the agenda, the shift to Anvil theatre charges in light of pandemic recovery needs to be in a Bylaw, and here we adopted that Bylaw.

Deferral of Tax Sale Bylaw No. 8210, 2020
As discussed earlier in the agenda, not having a tax sale in 2020 needs to be codified in a Bylaw, and here we adopted that Bylaw.

Inter-Municipal TNS Business Licence Agreement Bylaw No. 8187, 2020
As discussed at some length in earlier meetings, the Bylaw that empowers the coordinated multi-City business licensing scheme for ride-hailing businesses is now law here in New West.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (230 Keary Street, 268 Nelson’s Court, and 228 Nelson’s Crescent) No. 8164, 2019
As discussed last year, and given Public Hearing back in January, the zoning amendment changes to bring more secured market rental to the Brewery District was adopted by Council now that the agreements have been worked out.

And that was a meeting complete, except for a couple of extraneous Motions, which I will talk about in yet another post, when I get to it.