This Happened (v.5)

Yikes, too much going on since last time I reported out on my Council-adjacent activities, so I’ll keep this short. One paragraph each (scroll down to see if I keep that promise, kinda curious if I do myself…)

I am on the Lower Mainland LGA executive, and we had an executive meeting to move some business along, which was mostly about making some fundamental program decisions about the 2020 conference we are planning for the beginning of May. It looks like a great program, so if you are a Local Government elected type reading this (and who else would?) make sure you register!

I gave opening greetings as “Acting Mayor” at the 2020 Innovation Expo at Anvil Centre. This annual event is part of the Intelligent New West program, where we bring people working in tech and innovation in the private sector together with people from the public sector to talk about how the two can work together to build capacity and promote investment in science and engineering. One of New West’s innovative businesses – Landcor – was a major sponsor of the event this year, and the event was really well attended.

Last weekend, the City of New West also hosted the semi-annual Council of Councils meeting, where local elected types from accross Metro Vancouver get together to get an update on what Metro Vancouver is up to. I guess I should write a blog post about separately!

On the same day, a few of us from Council attended the annual Royal New Westminster Regiment Mess Dinner, which is an event I have never actually had the honour of attending before. I was lucky to be seated with some members involved in the Cadet programs, and it was great to hear about the work they do, and the role they play in the community.

I am now serving as Chair of two new Council advisory committees: Facilities, Infrastructure, and Public Realm Advisory Committee (“FIPRAC”) and the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee (“STAC”), and both had their opening meeting in the last two weeks. It occurs to me now that I need to write another blog post about this, and how we are envisioning our new advisory committees being more effective and efficient.

For reasons too complicated to get into here, I was able to tour the OceanWise laboratory at the Pacific Science Enterprise Centre, which is what we are now calling the old DFO laboratories in West Vancouver. I was there to learn about some of the work OceanWise is doing to better understand microplastic pollution in our marine environment. This is an emerging area of science, as the impacts of residual clothing fibres, tire dust, paint chips, and other microscopic plastic particles are not well understood, even as we are now recognizing they have become ubiquitous in our oceans, air and sediments, and are becoming more common in marine micro- and mega-fauna. We may be some distance from knowing if we have any policy levers to do anything about this, but the foundational science is being done to at least allow us a better understanding of the problem.

I am also the Chair of the Community Energy Association, a not-for-profit agency that helps communities across BC (and increasingly adjacent parts of Yukon and Alberta) set and achieve energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. We had a meeting last week where we approved a 2020 budget and set some priorities for special initiatives for the year ahead (including a new website, so enjoy this one while it lasts!).

I had a brief telephone interview with CKNW’s Jill Bennett on the morning of February 29th to talk about Council’s plans to undertake a master planning exercise for the 22nd Street Station area. It is interesting that a mention of reducing auto-dependency, even as a long-term plan in light of a Climate Emergency, triggers a strong reaction for people. Even as we continue to have a regional vision of less car dependency, the idea that we can create an area attractive to people who choose to not be car-reliant, even in a small underdeveloped area around a 30-year-old SkyTrain station, is treated with the level of incredulity expected if we were planning a moon base.

I was able to attend the small vigil/gathering at Hyack Square last weekend to show support for the Wet’suwet’en people and express hopes for respectful dialogue and a peaceful resolution for the current dispute. It was nice to see some local engaged residents come out, and I had some great conversations with people. Although there has been some positive news coming out of Victoria and Smithers as the two sides work towards resolution, the discussion on that day was mostly around how unhealthy and divisive the conversation was in the social and traditional media on this topic. Having a gathering of people support a more respectful model of discourse left me feeling more positive about our community. Thanks to the organizers for this!

There was also a successful fundraiser event thrown last weekend by the Rotary Club of New Westminster that brought a couple of hundred people to the Royal City Centre atrium to have a some snacks and taste craft beer from around the region as an excuse to raise money for two great organizations in the City, I’s on the Street and KidSport.

Finally, the Royal City Curling Club is winding its season down over March, and Team DeGobbi went into the playoffs in 12th seed, and won our first game against the #5 seed but then lost our second game to the 14th seed, so we have the long row to hoe if we plan to go deep in the playoffs. If you are wondering where I am Tuesdays and Thursday evenings…

This Happened (v.4)

I am really not good at keeping up with these, but here are a few things that kept me busy over the last couple of weeks.

Member of Parliament Peter Julian throws a heck of a Lunar New Year event every year, and this Year of the Rat was no exception. Being at the Nikkei Centre in Burnaby, it attracted more Burnaby folks than New West, but there were a bunch of cultural displays from around southeast and east Asia, mercifully short speeches from the elected types, and general good feelings all around.

The same day, New Westminster was able to cut the ribbon on one of our significant facility investments of the last few years: a new Animal Shelter in Queensborough. The old shelter was small and pretty, uh… lived in. The new shelter has enough capacity to accommodate the cats, dogs, and various smaller animals that find themselves abandoned in New West, and the dedicated staff and volunteers finally have appropriate workspaces to do their compassionate work.

The opening was really well attended with hot dogs (natch) cake, music, face painting, and tours of the facility. The Mayor and I both took our bikes to the opening, and enjoyed a QtoQ ride back on a cold but sunny day. It was good to see the service being used, even a few full boatloads. Not perfect for the few people has to wait 15 minutes for the next sailing, but a good sign for the popularity of the service.

The 2020 Push Festival included a couple of shows at the Anvil Centre, and I was able to attend one called “What you won’t do for love”. This was kind of a play with video montages, but more of a staged read-through of a play still in development. It was the story of David Suzuki and Tara Cullis, told in an engaging format centered around them telling vignettes from their history together at a dinner party. The themes were (of course) about life-long activism and conscience-raising about the environment, but it also talked about a relationship between two life loves, partners, and conspirators.

I have talked about David Suzuki and my mixed feelings about him before in a review of an earlier documentary about his life, and have been at events where he has spoken before, but I have never seen him act as vulnerable or deferential before as when he was sharing a table with Cullis. Perhaps their stories leaned a little heavily on the lateralization of brain function as a determinant of personality (ugh), but the conceit allows them to talk about how they rely on each other and work together. My mixed feelings aside, it was an interesting and informative event with a fair amount of emotional baggage attached, and the almost-full-room crowd was definitely engaged!

In the less performance category, there was a stakeholder workshop for the proposed Hume Park Master Plan. People from (mostly) Sapperton and identified user groups (Lacrosse, Rugby, HUB cycling, etc.) were asked about how they view Hume Park, what they would preserve, and what they would change. I am not a common user of Hume (though I ride my bike through it often!) so I was mostly there to listen and learn about what is most valued in the Park. I also learned that Fred Hume was not only the Mayor of New Westminster, but went on to be Mayor of Vancouver (though he lived in West Vancouver!), founded the radio station now known as 102.7 the Peak and the Vancouver Canucks, and is in the both the Hockey and Lacrosse Halls of Fame. Yikes.

We also had a series of consultations over the last couple of weeks on waste and recycling service. Not sure if you heard, but the recycling centre by the Canada Games Pool has to move to accommodate the construction of the new pool, which is anticipated to start in the next couple of months. This doesn’t mean the City is abandoning recycling, only that we are going to have to change how we deliver recycling. This consultation was meant to help staff understand what the main drivers of recycling are, and what barriers there are to recycling.

At the event I attended, there was a lot of discussion, some people disappointed about the movement of the current yard, some not that fussed about it, and mostly a lot of curiosity about things like collecting curbside glass or limits on green waste. I only wish the participation represented a more representative example of New West residents.

A few of us also attended the announcement at Pier Park that the main contractor has been hired for the Pattullo Bridge replacement project, which I already talked about here.

Aside from that, I had a couple of Task Force meetings, lunch with Councillor Dupont from Coquitlam to talk about Lower Mainland LGA business at a busy River Market, and a meeting over coffee with a couple of members of the New West Fire and Rescue service to touch bases on some of their opportunities and concerns.

I also got a couple of sunny bike rides in!

This Happened (v3)

I think I found the right title for my “community” posts, because this is really just a run-down of things that happened that I happened to be near as opposed to things that happened because of me or things I made happen, though some of those may happen to slip in. Passive voice -me is not what it is all about! Since this is the third in my recent resurgence of this topic, I’m starting at v3. Don’t @ me.

Events this last week had a distinct volunteer-and-community-builder feel.

The annual Civic Dinner is an event where we ask the many volunteers to City committees, task forces, commissions and other roles to come together and break bread. It is a fun night (see above), and one previously known for sometimes too long but nonetheless sincere thank-you speeches from all the councillors. A few years ago when this started to verge towards hours of speeches, the shift was made to councillors recording a short video. This makes it easier for everyone to sit through, but also gives us more time as councillors to circulate during dinner and thank folks personally. It also afforded people one last opportunity to laugh at the beard.

I had to run out right as the video started (my curling team awaited!) but I tried to circulate before and connect with everyone. If you served on a committee with me (or any committee for that matter), and I missed you, apologies, but know I really do appreciate the hours of work and valuable advise the volunteers in that room provide to staff and Council. And many of you I will see again as the new committee season starts now!

On Friday, there was the opening of the new temporary exhibit at the New Westminster Museum, “An Ocean of Peace”. This exhibit celebrates 100 years of Sikh community building in New Westminster, mostly around the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar on Wood Street. This exhibit was assembled by collecting the stories and artifacts of people who live in our community – not only the leaders and founders, but the everyday people who have for several generations made New Westminster and the surrounding areas home. The opening was incredibly well attended, with generous food provided by the Gurdwara. It is worth while heading down to the museum in the next couple of months to the temporary exhibit space and learn a little more about the history (and current life!) of New Westminster.

Saturday was the annual Festival of Volunteers at Royal City Centre, brought to you by New Westminster Volunteer Connections. This small event attracts a lot of not-for-profit organizations to set up booths and let people know what volunteer opportunities exist in the City ,and generally promotes the good works of local non-government agencies. I had great chats with my friends from HUB (who have a revitalized and active local New Westminster group). Pride New West, the New West Hospice Society, the Arts Council, and many other groups that keep the social and advocacy life buzzing in New West.

Thursday there was a well attended social put on by the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Fraserside Community Services. The Chamber is really stepping up their “making connections” program in the community, and it was great to see an event hosted at Fraserside. They have been working for more than 40 years in New Westminster to help people with barriers to community integration and employment achieve a fuller life, with job placement, housing support, counselling, and more. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy was there as well to talk briefly about the challenges of her portfolio, and the work ahead, and a brief profile of the many, many programs Fraserside provides from their CEO Lynda Edmonds (who was smiling every second, except when I took this picture!)

Finally, I attended my first meeting with the Glenbrook North Residents Association as their “council Liaison”. It happened to be their AGM, so I got to watch the cut and thrust of RA elections. We also talked a bit about how the RA wants this new “Council Liaison” role to work, and I answered a few questions about the Canada Games Pool, the recycling Centre and (of course) traffic. The GNRA seems to have a strong, engaged executive base, and I encourage folks between Avenues 6 and 10, and Streets 6 and McBride to join them at a meeting (it’s Free!) and learn more about what is happening in your neighbourhood.

Community, Jan 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community – Jan 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This happened…

I was lucky to be able to join Jagmeet Singh on a small group bike ride around downtown Vancouver yesterday, as part of his whistle-stop on the west coast going into next week’s NDP leadership vote.

Although many Canadians only know Singh from the strange racist thing that happened at one of his campaign events last week*, I have been aware of his work as one of the brightest lights in Ontario politics for a couple of years, but recognized his national potential (admittedly late to the story) after his appearance on Sook-Yin Lee’s podcast last year.

My take-away from the ride is that Singh, in person, did not disappoint or surprise. He was affable, sincere, and charming. He seemed to be balancing the strangeness of being suddenly-recognizable in a City he hardly knew. It was fun during the bike ride to watch as pedestrians and other cyclists did the double-take and smiled or pointed when they recognized him (or to quote one woman I rode by slowly:”Oh My God, is that him!?”). The ride participants talked to him about very Vancouver issues – the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, the decade-of-BCLiberal-rule-crisis – and he seemed to know the right questions to ask, which in his current position and given the setting, is much better than acting like he has all the answers. He was clearly enjoying the conversations, pausing only occasionally to look out from the Sea Wall and remark at how much beauty there was in this City (jaded Vancouverites: “Meh”).

And, for the record: nice three piece suit, tie, polished shoes, and an upright Brompton with a well-worn Brooks. He hardly broke a sweat.

I’m looking forward to putting his name on my ballot next week.

*a couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were lamenting the NDP leadership race wasn’t getting the media attention the Conservative one did. It was suggested (half-jokingly) that this is because the race lacked the batshit racist craziness of the CPC race. Is that irony?

Volunteers

As I noted a little earlier, this summer has been pretty active in New West. This last weekend the trend continued with the annual Pride Street Party. There were community groups booths, three stages with entertainment, an active kid’s area, beer gardens, food trucks, and local restaurants and beer gardens were filled to overflowing. While other parts of the City and the world were having confrontations about inclusiveness and diversity, thousands of people filled Columbia Street to celebrate victories won for inclusion and understanding, and had fun on a sunny afternoon.

It was a great day in New West, and one that would not have been possible without an army of volunteers.

New West Pride Society is a volunteer-run society that organizes and executes the entire event. The City helps with a grant through our festival grant program, and many sponsors step up to pay for everything from volunteer t-shirts to stage rental and advertising. However all of the actual work, the organization, the year of planning, the hundreds of tasks on event day, everything is done by volunteers.

It isn’t just Pride. The New West Farmers Market, the New West Cultural Crawl, The New West Grand Prix, the Hyack International Parade,  Pecha Kucha NW, the New West Film Fest, the events that make the City come alive, are run largely on the backs of volunteer labour. Lots of Volunteer labour.

No surprising point to this, just a short post to give an extra “Thanks” to the volunteers that make this City so full of great activity – from the Presidents of Societies that work all year long, to the folks who show up on game day to sell tickets or pick up litter. I hope that everyone who enjoyed an event this year will think about volunteering for next year’s version of whatever event they enjoyed (and it doesn’t have to be just one). It doesn’t take much time (many hands make light work), you might get a T-shirt (see banner), and it makes the event even more enjoyable for you. You can say “I helped make this happen”, you will help create more opportunities to enjoy the summer with your friends, and you will more likely than not make new friends.

Friday on Front

Yikes. That was a crowd.

I had a slight sense that our little Grand Opening on the Front Street Mews was going to have a big turnout. It had all the elements – a new public space, nice weather, music, and a Beer Truck. Still, I think the turnout was about 5x planning estimates. Which is a good problem to have, I guess, although I was among those who spent a lot of time in the beer line up…

Fortunately, most people were happy to see the crowd and the space, the open liquor licence model didn’t seem to cause any problems, and the spill-over meant it was hard to find an empty restaurant or pub seat in Downtown. Which I guess is the ultimate goal.

Again, there are many people to thank for making this event happen – Kendra and her Downtown BIA team, City staff who helped organize, the Arts Council and NW Farmers Market for the boothy goodness, and all the Happy New Westies who showed, once again, that we can have fun outside, show up in numbers, and not create problems.

I cannot believe this used to be three levels of parking.
I cannot believe this used to be three levels of parking.

Music by the River

The City tried a bit of an experiment on Thursday Night. We permitted the Arts Council to offer a few hours of free music at the Pier Park, set up a few artisan booths, and (gasp) offer beer and wine for sale in an open-licence model that allows families to sit together and responsibly enjoy a drink without the hassles or unnecessary barriers of the traditional “Beer Garden” area.

Hanging out with three happy EDs who do so much to make New West the place to be!
Hanging out with three happy EDs who do so much to make New West the place to be!

And whattya know? Hundreds of people showed up. Several of them politely stood in lines a little longer than expected to buy a glass of beer or wine and waited longer than expected for a hotdog or burger while most just enjoyed the sunny weather, the cool vibe, and their community. The music was electronic and new pop, but the crowd was a remarkably diverse mix of young and old. Many thanks to Stephen and his Arts Council crew for putting this on, to Alex at Superb Real Estate Group for pitching in some sponsorship, and to New West for once again showing up to prove we are ready to enjoy our public space.

Music by the River will happen every Thursday in July.

Rent Bank Launch

It was a great day today for the official launch of the New Westminster Rent Bank.

Members of City Council met at the Purpose Society with the organizers and financial backers of this program. The City’s role was to help with logistics and provide a modest grant to help with administration costs, but the real leaders of this initiative are the 6 community Credit Unions in New Westminster who agreed to provide funding for loans, and the two women here who made it happen:
20170706_153512Judy Darcy saw the need for temporary support to prevent homelessness for a number of working poor in our community, and Nadine Nakagawa did so much of the work required to identify partners, get a team together, and push this project forward. Without their energy, and their passion for making New Westminster a more inclusive, sustainable community, this initiative wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

This is not *the* solution to homelessness, but it is one measure that can make a huge difference in preventing homelessness at a very low cost to the City and the funding partners. Kudos to everyone inolved.