Ask Pat: Recycling

This is not strictly an “Ask Pat”, but an e-mail I received from a resident. As the conversation was timely and I wanted to take the time to write a complete response, I asked the writer if I could copy the letter (with a little editing for space and to remove personal info) and answer on my Blog, and she agreed. So here goes:

Resident asked:

I would like to add my voice to the chorus of those New Westminster residents who are dismayed and, frankly, a little incredulous, that the recycling depot is being removed from our community. At a time when it seems the entire world is bending over backwards to reverse the damage of our disposable society, New Westminster is going in the opposite direction by making it harder for residents to do the right thing.

If one of the main motivators behind the decision was to save money, I suspect we are going to spend as much as we were going to save to appease the significant number of concerned (read “outraged” from much of what I’ve been reading and hearing) citizens. Council made a mistake by not having a proper consultation with residents about this. (And we know that the process was lacking simply by the number of us who were surprised by the move.) It seems as if burying the removal of a well-used community service in the construction activities of another much needed community amenity was purposeful. If not, it suggests that our respected Mayor and Council are really less dialed into the community than they care to think.

As reasonable as you thought the move and as short-sighted and backward as it seems to many of the rest of us, I do understand that we are stuck with it. In the interest of being more positive than negative (which may not seem to the case at this point in my missive), I would like to offer some constructive suggestions to get us back on track saving the earth. I understand from latest reports we only have 18 months, so I suggest we get cracking:

  1. Some of us with big yards cart up to 25 (!!) bags of leaves and miscellaneous crap that drop from the mature trees/yards. The quick jaunt to the depot will be no more, so how about unlimited pickup of yard / compost waste bags from September 1 to December 31.
  2. Start picking up glass, styrofoam, and plastic wrap in our blue bins (or another TBD bin). This is an obvious one. The condo I used to live in at least took glass, not sure why this is not possible in QP.
  3. Dedicated ongoing mini-stations (partner with existing NW businesses?) for batteries, cardboard, lights, paint, etc. This seems to work well with the Salvation Army and electronics but because of the increased density down at the water front, this is becoming a more difficult drop point.

There are a ton of smart, thoughtful people in New Westminster who will have more and better ideas than these. I have no doubt that the best solutions will come from residents. At this point, any attempts to placate an engaged and rather intelligent audience with platitudes about the “5 minute drive” to the new station may fall on deaf and already inflamed ears.

I would be delighted to learn how Mayor and Council are planning to develop solutions and would of course be prepared to contribute to the process.

Unfortunately, you are probably right that we have not effectively communicated the situation with the recycling centre. Of course, we also haven’t made any changes yet. We have, however, committed to long-term partnerships with adjacent communities to share some recycling costs a year down the road (as I talked about in this Council report) so the process of reviewing how we provide recycling services is ongoing. This is recognizing the space problem on the current CGP site, but we cannot ignore the other issues impacting our regional EPR systems.

Every time we make any change in the City, we are met with a loud chorus of calls to maintain the status quo, usually with little acknowledgement of the pressures behind the changes. And to that point, you are right, we should have done a better job communicating those challenges.

I take a bit of umbrage at the idea that Council has tried to bury this or hide the reality of the challenges in regards to recycling and space on the CGP site. We are still trying to understand what changes we need to make, and how we can support a system that works as well as possible for all users in our City. The idea that we are sitting in a back room trying to find the most devious way to undermine the environmental efforts of our own residents plays well in the barber shop or on a politically-motivated on-line petition, but is ridiculous on the face of it.

The location of the current recycling centre is problematic. We are committed to building a new 114,000+ square foot aquatic centre and recreation facility adjacent to the current Canada Games Pool. We have also committed to keeping the current pool and Centennial Community Centre operating and programmed during construction. That means that it will be a 2- or 3-year period where much of the existing parking for the CGP, CCC, and the Royal City Curling Club (which also hosts gymnastics programming and roller derby in the summer) will be covered by construction and construction staging. To keep these major community destinations operating during construction means impacts on the all-weather field, the current recycling centre, and even how Fire Rescue uses their space. As we move forward on construction planning, these compromises are still being worked out, but suffice to say space will be very much at demand on the site. The road accessing the current recycling yard will most certainly NOT be accessible for much of that period, as accessing it would require driving through an active construction site. This means status quo is not viable, so we need to look at what our other options are.

I want to address your suggestions, While recognizing that our recycling system (in New West, in BC, and across North America) has a bunch of inherent complications that are not clear to the general public. This is likely because successive governments have made (in my mind, misguided) efforts to make recycling as seamless and simple for the waste-generating public as tossing trash in the garbage was. This is based on a perverse idea that for North American consumers to “do the right thing”, it must be as easy as doing “the wrong thing”, and preferably cheaper. Unfortunately, responsibly managing our waste streams is neither cheap nor easy, and if we try to make it so, the responsible part inevitably goes away.

To modify an old adage: Cheap, Easy, or Environmentally Friendly. For waste management, you can pick any two.

So to the suggestions:

1: The removal of green waste from our garbage stream was and still is a good thing. The City supports it by allowing you to place paper yard waste bags (up to 50lbs per bag), next to your green bin for collection. This comes at a significant cost for the City (hassle + staffing + >$100/Tonne in disposal fees), but this is offset a bit in reduced cost compared to that green material going into the garbage. We are spending a bit more to do the environmentally friendly thing here and make it easier for residents who are fortunate enough to have a big yard. We are already doing what you are suggesting.

2: We can’t put glass, Styrofoam, and plastic bags in our blue bins. Simply, there are no services available in the Lower Mainland to separate those wastes at the MURF (“MUlti Re-use Facility”), and no market for the recycled materials that result. Your old condo may have had a separate glass receptacle, it may have had an older “Dirty MRF” contract that took glass, but dollars to donuts that contract no longer exists, or they may simply been taking the mixed waste to the landfill/incinerator. There are, however, several places in the City  and nearby (see below) where you can take Styrofoam or soft plastic, though these services are becoming strained as the market for the recycled material is shifting.

Some Cities (e.g. Vancouver and Burnaby) still take glass in separate curb-side bins. When New Westminster decided in 2011 to move towards comingled collection of recyclables I spoke out against it, because it was my opinion that we were sacrificing the longer-term more environmentally-friendly approach for the cheaper and easier in the short term ones. It is possible that I was under-informed at the time and that the change made perfect sense with where it looked like recycling was going in 2011. There is no doubt we saved a bunch of money in the last decade. But now we need to work within the limits created by that decision. I am almost certain that no-one in the City wants to spend the money to go back to curbside separation, just to make it easier to manage the glass waste stream.

This speaks to something else I think we need to have better discussions about: recycling glass jars may not “the right thing” when it comes to recycling. Glass is inert (i.e. it does no harm environmentally when landfilled) and it’s value as a raw material is very limited outside of a few very niche product streams that are of questionable economic value and likely result in equal or more energy and resource use once full life cycle costs are considered. As we have a necessarily limited budget to manage waste streams, there may be better cost-benefit approaches as far as the environment goes than subsidizing the use of glass peanut butter jars. But I’m headed down a rabbit hole here, so let’s get back on track.

3: There are drop-off points around the City for these things, and many of them are indeed part of local businesses. London Drugs takes batteries. Save-on-Foods takes plastic bags, Rona takes paint, the EnCorp Return-it businesses take a variety of wastes that can’t go in your recycling bin. There is even a Metro Vancouver tool to map out where you can take any material if you want to recycle it (and there is an App for that, natch). Enter you city and your material, and out pops a map like this:

For plastic bags there are a lot of places, for Coffee Pods there are only a few (because coffee pods are evil and the environment got screwed the moment you bought them). The larger point, however, is that there is no single recycling stream, there are many. Even the current City recycling depot takes many things but not everything, and the replacement depot we will share with the Tri-Cities will take a wider variety of things than the current depot. In one sense, it will be easier because more things can go to the one spot. In another sense, it will be less easy, because it is further away for many people who are accustomed to using the current facility. Some of them may make the extra trip, some may decide to use another facility closer to them, depending on what they are trying to dispose of. Your example of the Sally Anne and electronics demonstrate that people have different motivations for using different spots (should these locations be near densified communities to allow non-auto-dependent drop off, or away from them because traffic in dense areas make drop off harder?)

Every recycling stream has its own inherent complications. Collecting plastic seems like the quick win, but it is really complex. There are varieties of plastics, and introduction of the wrong type of plastic (or a metal film attached to a plastic, or a shard of broken glass) into a stream can pollute it and remove most or all value that might be attained from recycling. Never mind when people inadvertently or ignorantly toss a little bit of organics or (gross) biohazard like a diaper or dog waste into the mix – often this means the entire load needs to go to the landfill. Because of this, the wholesalers of the recycleables will pay the city a little bit for some recycle materials, in the order of $100/tonne for most plastics, if there is a staff person attending the collection and assuring the load is “clean”. Without that attendant, we would likely need to pay $100 to have someone take that same tonne of material. And the material is as likely to be “recycled” into fuel for the local concrete plant as to be made into new consumer items. I don’t think that is the kind of recycling that most people would consider a good thing.

I guess a lot of this is addressing your final point, fully recognizing that some of my writing here may come across as dismissive or defeatist. I have been working in sustainability, rabble-rousing about trash, and wailing on-line about recycling for more than decade (I have been known to tour waste recycling facilities on my vacation even before I was elected to Local Government!), and I am still only beginning to learn the complications inherent in these systems. Meanwhile, the ground below our feet is shifting all the time. I can almost guarantee you Mayor and Council are not going to come up with some clever idea to make our waste stream easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Yes, New Westminster is full of smart, engaged people, but there are teams of engineers and planners in local governments, Metro Vancouver, RecyclingBC, and similar organizations across the continent working to address these complex issues. There are professional people whose entire careers are based on this work. I put my confidence in them to come up with solutions.

That said, the role of Mayor and Council is to help communicate these potential solutions, and to hear from our residents and businesses what kind of solutions they would like to see applied. We also need to sometimes explain why we won’t apply them if they ultimately don’t meet our goals, no matter how sexy they look in that Facebook video. The hardest part of our job is to be clear about the cost/ease/sustainability compromises of all the solutions offered (as translated to us by actual subject matter experts) so that the public can let us know if the balance we strike is the right one. I think we will find a way to help people get more of their waste into recycling, but it will definitely be looking different in the decade ahead than it does now.

Unfortunately, the compromises to be considered cannot be summarized in even this stretching-to-2,000 word essay, never mind a simple on-line petition. There are no simple answers, but we need to continue to work on addressing our waste stream, and to start having more serious conversations about the upstream management of materials before they enter our waste stream. We had it pretty good thing going for the last decade: organics recycling came on stream, and people across Asia were happy to take our mixed plastics and papers and electronic waste. We managed to keep the cost of waste management in the City down relative to other costs, in part because of these things. It is clear those good times are coming to an end, and costs are going to be going up because of regional and global socio-economic trends. I guess the bright light in the current inevitable move of the recycling centre – this shift of the status quo – is an opportunity to open this discussion about what the next phase is in managing our waste.

Bikeways now

We have had a couple of presentations to Council by the reinvigorated HUB Chapter for New Westminster. I have been a long-time supporter of HUB (through membership and donations), used to serve as a community representative on the Advisory Committee for Bicycles, Pedestrians and Transit (ACTBiPed), am now Chair of that committee, and even have my name attached to the city’s Master Transportation Plan as a community member of the Master Transportation Plan Advisory Committee, so I feel pretty close to this issue. I thought it was time to write a bit of an essay on where I think we are, and where we need to be going as a City when it comes to transportation. And it isn’t all good.

I need to start this by interject one of my usual caveats about how everything you read here is my opinion, coming out of my brain (or other internal organs, commonly spleen) and not official communication from the City. I am one member of a Council of 7, and they may or may not share my opinions on this stuff. There are staff in the City doing their jobs with much more engineering and planning expertise than me who may cringe in reading my relatively uninformed take. So nothing here should be taken to represent the thoughts, feelings or ideas of anyone or any organization other than myself.

The same goes for my random tweets that sometimes get picked up by the media. I was recently critical on-line of a change in the BC Parkway along my regular-job commuting route that made cycling along the parkway less safe for cyclists and pedestrians. After getting re-printed, I felt the need to state that I recognize New West has some work to do on this front as well, but I like to hope that despite our being slow at improvement, we are not actively making things worse. It is the pace of improvement that I want to lament now.

I am a little frustrated by our lack of progress on building a safe and connected cycling network in New Westminster. I understand a little more now in my role about why we have been slower to act than I like, but I think it is time for us to stop looking at lines on maps and start building some shit.

Up to now, work on the Master Transportation Plan implementation has emphasized things that I think needed to be emphasized in our transportation space – curb cuts, making transit stops accessible, and accelerated improvement of pedestrian crossings. these are good things that deserved investment to remove some of the barriers in our community that represented some obvious low-hanging fruit. We have also staffed up a real Transportation department for the first time, so we have engineers and planners dedicated to doing this work, and they have been doing some really great work.

We have built some stuff! There are areas we have improved, and though they are better than what was there previously, I cannot believe anyone would look at some of this infrastructure and see it as truly prioritizing cycling, and (more to the point) few of them meet the mark that we should be striving for – All Ages and Abilities (AAA) bike routes that an 8 year old or an 80 year old would find safe, comfortable and useable. As I am learning in this role, each project has its own legacy of challenges – resistant neighbours, limited funding, tight timelines to meet grant windows, unexpected soil conditions. Every seemingly bad decision was made with the best intentions as the least-bad-of-many-bad-options. But we need to do better, and that means spending more on better. 

So, much to HUB’s points, there are a few projects I think the City needs to get done soon, and I hope we can find the capital to make happen, even if they are not as sexy as some region-defining transportation links, they are fundamental if New Westminster is going to take the next steps towards being a proper 21st century urban centre:

7th Ave upgrades The existing temporary protected bike lanes on 7th Ave between Moody Park and 5th Street are getting torn up right now as scheduled water main and service works are happening under that street. I am adamant that permanent protected AAA bike lanes need to replace them. This is the part of the established Crosstown Greenway that sees the most non-active traffic, and is probably the least comfortable part as it also sees its fair share of rush hour “rat runners”. The rest of the Crosstown Greenway could use some enhanced traffic calming, pavement re-allocation, and cyclist priority in some intersections, but it is this 300m section where true separated lanes are the only way all users will feel safe.

Connection to the High School Related to this, the new High School will be ready for students a year from now, and we have not done anything to assure that students of the school can safely connect to Crosstown Greenway and the adjacent neighbourhoods. The sidewalks along 6th and 8th are barely adequate now for the mass of students that pour out of the school when a bell rings, and the new site is going to be more constrained for parent drop-off and pickup, so the City needs to build safe connections. In my mind, that means separated bike route along 8th Street to Moody Park and widened sidewalks along 6th Street to 7th Ave, but I’ll leave the engineers and transportation planners to opine on what we need to build – I just want to get it built so that the new school is one that encourages students to walk, roll, bike, or scoot there.

Agnes Greenway Bikeway Another major construction project in town will be starting the fall (hopefully), and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. At that time, the Pattullo, which is the second-worst crossing of a river in the Lower Mainland for bikes (Knight Street is worse, and the tunnel doesn’t count) will be replaced with what could be the best active transportation crossing in  the entire region – and it will see a concomitant increase in use. There is a lot of work being done in the City with the Ministry of Transportation to assure people landing in New West by bike or scooter have decent connections to the existing network. At the same time, we need to fix the crappy connections people trying to move east-west past the bridge now have to deal with. Agnes Street should be that connection for most of our Downtown, should provide proper AAA connections for all downtown residents to QayQayt Elementary, and can be the foundation for the much-needed-and-never-quite-done Downtown-to-Uptown grade-reduced route. This is as key to New Westminster’s Active Transportation future as the Burrard Street Bridge and Hornby Street bikeways were to Vancouver a decade ago. We need to see that vision, do it right, and make this the one gold-plated piece of bikeway infrastructure to hang all of our other dreams upon.

Uptown/Downtown connection Much like the Burrard Bridge example, the connections to the Agnes Bikeway are as important as the Bikeway itself. The Agnes Bikeway will only be transformational if it connects safely to the “heart” of downtown, which is and will continue to be the corner of Eighth Street and Columbia. It also needs to connect to a proper AAA route across Royal. HUB and ACTBiPed have talked at length about potential lower-grade routes from Columbia to Royal using the same thinking as “The Wiggle” in San Francisco, and a preferred route has been identified. However, the solution above and below Agnes are both going to require difficult engineering choices and potentially more difficult political ones.

Priorities set, that brings us to the bad part. Roads are expensive, and completely re-configuring how a road works is really expensive. Moving curbs, adjusting drainage, digging up the road, bringing in proper fill materials, asphalt, concrete, street lights, power poles, moving trees, epoxy paint – it all adds up. Right now cities like Vancouver budget about $10 Million per kilometre of separated bike route installation on existing roads. Long-term maintenance costs are likely lower than the driving-lanes-and-free-car-storage we have now on these routes, but there is no getting around that up-front ding to the budget.

Using the thumbnail estimate from Vancouver, the priorities above could total up to $20 Million, and my dream is to see this happen within the timeframe of our current $409 Million 5-year capital plan. About $155 Million of that is utility upgrades (water, sewer, and electrical), and another ~$100 Million is for the replacement of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. Somewhere in the remaining $150 Million we need to think about the cost of reducing the fossil fuel requirements of our fleet, pay for the current City Hall upgrades and the completion of the animal care facility in Q’Boro, among other projects. We have serious costs coming up – those $150 Million are already committed. And everyone who doesn’t love bikeways is going to hate them more when I suggest $20 Million over 5 years is about a 1% tax increase. I already get grief from some cohort in the City because I “talk too much about bikes”.

Fortunately, we are not alone. TransLink is investing in Active Transportation like never before, both in its role as the regional Transportation Authority, but also in recognizing that people are more likely to buy a ticket for SkyTrain if their 15-minute walk to SkyTrain is replaced with a safe and comfortable 5-minute bike ride. The Province recently released their Active Transportation Strategy, and at least one Federal Party in the upcoming election is hoping to see more federal money pointed at more sustainable transportation options as a campaign plank. Time to strike while the irons are hot.

In New Westminster, I’m going to be making the case that in the year 2019, the creation of safe AAA-standard active transportation infrastructure is not a “nice to have”, but is an essential part of our Climate Emergency response and the most notable missing piece of infrastructure in New Westminster’s quest to be the most accessible and livable city in the Lower Mainland.

ASK PAT: Anvil theme!

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

Dale asks —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Deanna asks—

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

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

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

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

Intersections

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

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

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

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

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

Jane’s Walk 2019

I’m leading a Jane’s Walk on Friday afternoon.

Apologies it needs to be on a Friday evening and not in the weekend true, but I have to be out of town Saturday/Sunday, and promised a certain Mary I would put a walk on, so here we go.

For those not in the know, Jane’s Walks are a series of walks held on the first weekend in May in places around the world in celebration of Jane Jacobs’ contributions to making Cities more livable. There are probably a dozen walks in New West this weekend, and I highly recommend you pick a few and meet some neighbours.

My walk is going to start at 5:30pm on Friday at Moody Park pool, and we will wander east along the path through Moody Park and then 7th Ave towards Glenbrook Middle School. I’m not sure how far we will get, but depending on the conversation, we will walk for 60 or 90 minutes before our perambulations lead some of us, inevitably, to a pub.

The topic of the conversation I want to have with whoever shows up will be framed by the contentious (?) temporary bike lane installations on 7th Ave between Moody Park and 6th Street. There is a lot to say about that particular stretch (I’ve said some of it here and here), but the bigger question is – What does a true AAA (“All Ages and Abilities”) bike route look like in New West? What compromises are we willing to make in regards to loss of green space, loss of traffic space, loss of parking, to see a AAA route built? Can a AAA bike route ever be one where bikes share space with cars, or is total separation needed? How do those needs shift between – a trail through a park, a route along a busy street, and a quiet residential street?

I need to emphasize, I don’t have a lot of answers here, other than what is informed by my “gut feeling” (which is no better than anyone else’s) about what is safe for cyclists. I would love if people discuss and think about these questions along the way, and try to discover for themselves what the friction points are that prevent rapid shift towards a full integrated and safe bike network. If you read my blog regularly (Hi Mom!), you may be interested in coming along. After all, what better way to spend a sunny evening walking through your neighbourhood, meeting some neighbours, and talking about ways to make your community safer and more livable?

C’mon out, bend a Councillor’s ear. Meet a neighbour. Take a walk. Love your City.

Miner improvements?

I went on a bit of a rant last week in Council on pedestrian crossings, and it is worth following up a bit here to expand sometimes on the things I rant about. In this case the subject was something we can all agree on – making pedestrian spaces safer in the City – but the details of the discussion outline how difficult it can sometimes be, even when everyone is on the same page. The hill on Richmond Street provides a great case in point about how we want to do things differently, but are stuck with a bad legacy to clean up. And that costs.

The Fraserview neighbourhood is somewhat unique in New Westminster. Most of our community is based on a well established and dense street grid that reflects how humans move around their communities – a layout that is “human scaled”. The Fraserview neighbourhood was developed out of the abandoned BC Pen site in the 1980s, which was the Canadian peak of auto-oriented suburb design. This is not the fault of the council or staff of the time, or of the people who live there now, but a result of where we were and how we valued space as a society in the 1980s.

The buildings on this map are coloured by the decade they were built. See Sapperton and Queens Park with a blend of ages and traditional dense street grids, Fraser View with 1980s houses (red) and 1990s condos (blue) with the suburban road scheme so sexy at the time.

At the time, New Westminster built this strange little auto-oriented suburb in the gap between two dense urban community centres. Since the primary built form was “house with a garage facing the street and a private yard in the back” (note this is a generally unusual built form in New West!), the streets were designed with the same exact mindset – they will be used to move cars between garages, and not much else.

This resulted in some road design ideas that were the opposite of current thinking. Instead of straight lines and a dense grid to connect pedestrians, we build a meandering “arterial” road connecting capillaries of culs-de-sac. Of course these are ostensibly “family neighbourhoods”, so we kept the speed down to 50km/h by putting up a sign, and left plenty of road space for road-side parking and car passage. The curvy hill part of Richmond has wide 20m right-of-way between property lines, but the road profile part (travel lanes and sidewalk) are a pretty typical 14.5m. This feels wider partly because the sidewalks are less than the 1.8-2m wide we would shoot for in 2019, there is no buffer space between the sidewalk and the road, and the parking spots along the road are unmarked and not very heavily used. Add this up, and you have no visual “friction” giving drivers cues to slow down. Wide roads tell people to drive fast, it is human nature.

This is how the road was built in the late 1980s:

I like to think if we were building the road today, it would more like this:

But that is just a representative cross section. There is another issue that makes the pedestrian experience even more uncomfortable. If you look at the intersection of Richmond and Miner, where staff were asked to evaluate placing a crosswalk, you see the corners are rounded off to facilitate higher turning speeds:

The technical term for this shape is “Corner Radius”. In this diagram you can see the curb follows a curve with a radius (blue) of about 8m, and the effective turning radius (tracing the track a vehicle would actually use for a right turn) is closer to 15m. By modern standards, this is a crazy wide corner, more suited for a race track than an urban area. Reading up on modern urban streets standards, curb radii smaller than 1m are not uncommon, and radii bigger than 5m (15 feet) fall under the category of “should be avoided”.

The impact of such a wide radius is bigger than just facilitating faster turns, it also creates a variety of sightline problems. See how far back the stop line is on this corner? How far around the corner can a driver practically see? This results in the confusing stop, creep forward, peek, make aggressive move intersection action that opens up opportunity for driver error. This is made worse when there is no clear demarcation of where the parking zone ends near the intersection. Our Street and Parking Bylaw says you can’t park within 6m of the nearest edge of an intersecting sidewalk or crosswalk, but it is less clear where that 6m buffer is when the sidewalk geometry is like this. moving the stop line further forward creates a conflict with pedestrians trying to cross the street at a rational place – where the curbs are closer.

For pedestrians, these big radius corners increase the crossing distances, expanding the time that someone (especially a young child or senior citizen, who travel slower) is exposed to traffic. Crossing Richmond Street at this intersection, the distance between curb cuts is almost 20m, where the sidewalks are only 11m apart a few meters outside of the intersection:

So what do we do? There are lots of useful guides like these great NATCO manuals that show how an intersection like this can be made safer for pedestrians. We can narrow the road at the intersection, paint new crosswalks, and reduce the turning radius through curb bulges:

But my bad painting skills here represent couple of hundred thousand dollars in concrete, road paint, asphalt, curbs, soil, planting and storm drain realignment (never mind a complete re-design of Richmond Street to pull it into the 2000s as I showed in the cross sections above; that would cost millions). And this is one intersection in a City with more than 1,000 intersections, some better designed than others, some more used than others, some with worse safety records than others. I want to change this specific intersection tomorrow, but who is going to come to Council and ask us to raise property taxes by 0.3% to do it? And why do it here and not at the intersection that bugs you in front of your house?

All this to say that some changes are going to be made to Richmond to improve pedestrian safety, and three other intersections (8th Street at 3rd Avenue, 12th Street at Queens, 6th Avenue at 11th Street) that have been prioritized for this year’s Pedestrian Crossing Improvement program, totaling about $200,000 in work. The work is, necessarily, incremental, and because of that it is never enough, and never fast enough.

Be safe out there folks.

Active Transportation

I know I haven’t blogged about this week’s Council meeting yet, I haven’t had time to edit and get the post up. It’s coming, I swear. In the meantime, I want to get this out, because it has been in my outbox for a little while and it has suddenly become time sensitive.

The Provincial Government is asking the public about active transportation. I have been known to criticize the Ministry of Transportation in the past about their approach to “cycling infrastructure”, but I am going to hope that this is the start of a new approach. You have until Monday to answer their questions!

If you are too busy to write your own thing, you can go to HUB and fill in their form letter, but as an elected person, I like to receive input that brings something new – a 1000-person petition is not as powerful as 100 personal letters that each bring different nuance. So I encourage you to take a few minutes and fill in the answers yourself. If you want some inspiration, here are my answers I will submit this weekend:

Question 1: What does active transportation mean to you and how does it fit into your life?
Active transportation means healthier, safer, happier communities where youth are safe to ride a bike to school and the elderly are comfortable walking to the grocery store. It is about replacing fossil fuel dependence with transportation independence. When we build the infrastructure to support active transportation, we give more people the freedom of choice in how they move around their community, reduce their reliance on volatile international oil markets, keep more of their money in the local economy, build resiliency in our communities and connections between neighbors.

Question 2: What are some of the challenges in your every day life that prevent you from moving towards using active transportation modes? What are some of your concerns about active transportation?
As an active transportation user, and a local government decision maker, the biggest challenge I face is addressing the “gaps” in our systems that make active transportation less safe and less comfortable. I am lucky to live in a compact, dense community where most services are a short walk or bike ride away, but so many of my neighbours still feel it is unsafe to make the journey unless surrounded by two tonnes of steel, which in turn reduces the perceived safety for other community members.

Too much of our active transportation infrastructure is developed as baubles attached to the side of new automobile infrastructure. Sidewalks, crosswalks, overpasses, cycling lanes, and transit supports are evaluated in how they support or hinder adequate “Levels of Service” for automobiles, while the high LOS goals (fast, uninterrupted vehicle travel) acts to make active transportation space less safe and less comfortable. An overpass over a busy road is seen as a pedestrian amenity, when it actually serves to provide more space for automobiles to have unrestricted travel. The trade-off is usually a longer more difficult journey for a pedestrian and introduction of a new barrier for people with mobility challenges. We need to see active transportation alternatives as a solution to community livability, not as a hindrance to the flow of traffic.

Even the language of “transportation” vs. “active transportation” reinforces the idea that using your feet and your own body to move around is somehow lesser than – a secondary consideration to – using an automobile. I have to explain to people that I use transit to get to work, I use a bike to run errands, I walk to City Hall, like that is some sort of radical action instead of a rational and normal way for a person to live in on a modern urban city. Let’s switch that default, for the good of our communities, the good of our budgets, and the good of our planet.

Question 3: What is the most important action that government could take to promote active transportation? What is unique in your community or region that needs to be considered?
Of course, funding. Local governments are straining to provide services as our infrastructure ages. We receive 8% of the tax revenue in Canada, yet own more than 50% of the infrastructure. This inequity is sharpest when it comes to transportation infrastructure. Billions flow for highways and bridges that direct automobiles into our communities (with, admittedly, the requisite active transportation baubles attached), but the local improvements to help us move around within our communities are tied to expectations about “Level of Service” for those automobiles. The cycle is vicious.

My community has one of the highest active transportation mode shares in the province. New Westminster is a transit city, it is an easy city to walk in and the revolution in electric assist bicycles means that residents no longer need to be athletes to manage our hills. We have some of the lowest car ownership rates in Canada. This is not an accident, the City has a dense urban fabric that puts most services near where people live, we are concentrating our growth around these transit hubs and working to make our pedestrian spaces safer and fully accessible. Yet we are choked by through-traffic that makes all of our active transportation spaces less safe and comfortable. This load means we need to spend millions of dollars every year in maintaining our asphalt to provide the level of service through-traffic expects, while struggling to find the thousands of dollars to build better cycling, pedestrian, and transit-supporting infrastructure.

We need help making our transportation system work better for our community, but as long as that transportation funding is tied to our ability to get cars moving, to provide high automobile “levels of service”, we are putting out fires with gasoline.

Council – March 11, 2019

Our Council meeting on March 11 had its share of pageantry and drama, and much of it was after the annual May Queen draw. Alas, I don’t have time to blog at length about what got me hot under the collar during the Opportunity for Public Comment, as meta as it may have been, and you will have to watch the video to get the full experience. Still we had a packed agenda that started with an Opportunity for Public Comment:

Draft 2019 – 2023 Financial Plan
As discussed in workshop and blogged about at length, we have a proposed 2019 budget and 5-year financial plan. As always, between the public workshop where we discussed at length and made decisions about the discretionary parts of the financial plan, we accept correspondence and have a public opportunity to comment. The e-mail correspondence we received on the Financial plan was about 38 pages (almost all of it comprising questions from a single person that staff patiently responded to as best they could). We also had about a half dozen members of the public come to speak, assuring that the voice of the middle aged white man was well represented. I agree strongly with some of the input we received – two delegates mentioned that cities and (in turn) property tax payers are being unfairly burdened for the cost of local infrastructure when there are more progressive taxation types such as income tax available to senior governments, though little of that trickles back to local governments. I also strongly disagree with a person who receives 30-plus pages of responses from staff then is given a public forum to ask questions of Council complaining that this is a secretive and closed process.

Anyway, the Financial Plan will need to come to us in the form of the Bylaw, which will occur in April. I will blog more about the final financial plan at that time.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Urban Indigenous Engagement around the development of the New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre
This is a short report on the efforts staff are taking to engage the local indigenous population in planning for the new Aquatic and Community Centre (the project name of the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre). It will be interesting to work through this framework and find what works and what doesn’t as we are going into a broader-reaching Truth and Reconciliation process in the City.

Recruitment 2019: Committee Appointments (SAC, NTAC, RJC, and ACTBiPed)
These are regular adjustments to various council advisory committees. People move, people (alas) pass away, and people shift their volunteer priorities, but advisory committees go on. We have named new representatives to these committees.

310 Salter Street (Port Royal Phase 6B): Development Permit and Development Variance Permit for Mid Rise Multi Unit Residential Development – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
One of the final pieces of the Port Royal development is an 87 unit 4- to 6-story residential complex on Salter Street. The proposed complex of three buildings meets the FSR and is smaller than the allowable maximum lot coverage, but requires variances for height and setbacks. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on this on April 8th. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Connaught Heights Park Playground Redevelopment – Preferred Option
The playground adjacent to Connaught Heights School needs to be refurbished. There was a pretty extensive child-centred community consultation, and a final plan is now proposed, for a mixed use playground to appeal to all ages nestled within the existing mature trees on site. The construction will take place while school is out for the summer, to reduce the impact on the students.

Vimy Heritage Oak Trees Proposal
There is an organization that preserves and propagates oak trees grown from acorns collected from Vimy Ridge shortly after the WW1 battle for the ridge ended. Working with the New West Heritage Preservation Society, there are two saplings to be planted on the front lawn of City hall to frame the Cenotaph and formal commemoration space.

2019 Environmental Grant Recipient – Project Scope Change
The plan to put together a documentary film on the history of the preservation of the Brunette River have been shelved for some creative and logistical reason. The City provided a bit of grant money for that project, but the organizers would now like to use those funds to create more educational multi-media materials on the same theme. I support this, as it is a story that needs to be told, and I think the mixed media proposal will reach a broader audience than the film.


We then had a couple of pieces of New Business:

Queen’s Park Sportsplex – Conceptual Design
After much too long of a wait, we have moved the Arenex replacement to final design. This has been a challenging project for several reasons, including details about insurance. The building that will start construction this spring in Queens Park will not have the old-timey charm of the Arenex, but will be a much more functional building for the primary user groups. The majority of the cost (about 80%) of the replacement will be covered by the insurance claim for the Arenex, though we will need to top it up a bit, mostly from a grant fund we have been holding in reserve for sports facilities in the City.

Climate Action in the City of New Westminster
This was a motion on notice form Councillors Nakagawa and McEvoy, which was well supported by a large delegation of community leaders from the Force of Nature Alliance. It is worth reading in its entirety:

WHEREAS The earth is currently on track to warm by more than 3 degrees Celsius; and

WHEREAS An October 8, 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that it is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than 2 degrees as previously understood, and that doing so “would require rapid, far- reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of
society,” and that we have until 2030 to undertake these changes; and

WHEREAS The IPCC report puts the benchmark for greenhouse gas reduction targets for corporate and community-wide emissions at 45% by 2030, 65% by 2040, and 100% by 2050;

WHEREAS The British Columbia government declared a provincial state of emergency in 2018 over record-setting wildfires; and

WHEREAS The Legislature of British Columbia and the House of Commons of Canada have acknowledged the growing crisis of climate breakdown by holding emergency debates following the release of the IPCC report; and

WHEREAS Local governments worldwide are taking action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and calling on senior levels of government for an urgent, emergency response; and

WHEREAS The costs to New Westminster for dealing with the impacts of climate change – including sea level rise – are significant; and

WHEREAS The most vulnerable members of our community are the most impacted by the effects of climate change; and

WHEREAS The City of New Westminster has been taking action on sustainability through the Environmental Strategy and Action Plan, Community Energy and Emissions Plan, and Envision 2032;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED

THAT Council recognize that climate change constitutes an emergency for the City of New Westminster; and

THAT Council direct staff to report back on how the following action items can be implemented:

1. Update existing City plans with new targets as per the IPCC report;
2. Increase ambition and/or accelerate timelines for existing actions under the Environmental Strategy and Action Plan and the Community Energy and Emissions Plan;
3. Consider new actions to help the City achieve its targets;
4. Consider new actions that would help reduce GHG emissions beyond the scope of the City’s current climate targets;
5. Track and report on community emissions;
6. Engage the community in discussion on how to drastically reduce GHG emissions with particular focus on those most vulnerable to climate impacts and most in need of support in transitioning to renewable energy;
7. More broadly communicate with the community about City emissions and targets;
8. Implement a carbon budget; and

THAT Council direct staff to include climate action for consideration within the City’s strategic plan that is currently being developed.

I don’t have much to add to that, except that I struggled with considering if we should do this before or after we had completed our Council Strategic Planning work to set out goals for the term. It was Councillor Nakagawa who convinced me that the Climate emergency needs to frame our Council goals, because vice-versa is how we have always operated as a City, as a province, and as a country, tacking on climate as just one more thing we need to deal with. This is the existential struggle of our age, perhaps the first truly global existential struggle. We need to act, and act with purpose.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Cannabis: New Retail Store Application Evaluation
As we discussed at some length last summer, the City has put together some guidance and community standards for cannabis retail operations that wish to open in #NewWest. After receiving 22 completed applications for these businesses, staff used a ranking system to prioritize 5 applications to be reviewed together as an initial tranche, one in each of Downtown, Uptown, Sapperton, 12th Street and Queensborough. These 5 will still need to go through a Zoning Amendment Bylaw, which should happen in April (no, not on the 20th), and if everything goes well with the City, the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, and the applicants, we should have our first stores opened by the summer.

There were many delegates who came to speak to this process, all of them representing businesses that did not make the scoring cut, or were ranked lower than their competitors. However, I hold the opinion that the process was clear and fairly adjudicated. This was not going to be an easy process, and the gold rush mentality about this new industry makes these conversations difficult. Although I think the process was more fair and accountable than the alternate “lottery” process for choosing first wave applicants, it was inevitable that some would not be chosen – even really good applicants. Everyone, successful and otherwise, put serious money and time into the application process, and as with cutting-edge entrepreneurs, really put their heart in it as well. The quality of the applications showed this.

The 5 applicants who got through this first screening will still need to go through Zoning and business license approvals, so there is some work to do yet, and there will be a Public Hearing, so I am going to hold my comments about individual applicants until then.

Interesting to note that there are still some issues to work out with the Province on regulation of these businesses. The LCRB wants these stores to have opaque windows, but for both community design and safety reasons, opaque windows are no longer favoured in retail zones. This is something we need to work out with the LCRB.

Naming of Two New Streets in Queensborough
We have two new streets being created in Q’Boro, so they need names. The Community Heritage Commission and Queensborough Residents Association were consulted, and the names Kamachi and Ota rose to the top of the selections, honouring the memory of two prominent families in the earlier history of the ‘Boro.

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbia Hospital Project): Update on Rezoning to Allow for the Renovation, Redevelopment and Modernization of Hospital Facilities
RCH needs to do a rezoning for the next phases of development on the site, which will require some staff and committee review of things like setbacks, height, density and massing, transportation requirements, and design elements. It will go through some committee review and public consultation in April. Phase 2 of the RCH Project is the big one –with a new Acute Acre tower that will be the largest building on site. Folks in Sapperton especially should spend a bit of time getting to know this project and its potential impact on their neighbourhood.

The movement of Ambulance access to the Sherbrook Street side of the building is sure to be something Lower Sapperton residents are going to have opinions on, but the maintenance of a pedestrian and cycling connection through the campus from the Sapperton SkyTrain Station to lower Sapperton is a positive idea.

I also took a moment to reiterate that East Columbia cannot be the primary road access for staff and visitors of this major acute care hospital. The community’s dreams of East Columbia as a great street supporting a vibrant commercial district mean we need to reduce this traffic load on that road, not increase it. The only alternative is for the regional traffic accessing the hospital (and adjacent commercial development at the Brewery district) to have direct access from Brunette Avenue, which would require a light-controlled intersection at Kearey, Allen, or Sherbrook. This will be a tough sell to regional traffic mongers like the Trucking Association and the Gateway Council, but regional traffic on regional roads is the primary plan for not just New Westminster and Sapperton, but for the entire Greater Vancouver region. This is a fight worth having, and we need to get Fraser Health on side with it.

Proposal for Public Realm Improvements in Brow of the Hill at 1010 Fifth Avenue
Another small parklet in the Brow of the Hill Neighbourhood, where the City has some of the greatest density and least access to public green space. Little hubs like this can really make an apartment-centric neighbourhood a home. I’m happy to support them, and happy that Councillor Nakagawa (a champion for the Brow before it was cool!) called for a more “green” design.

Quayside Tugger Pilot House: Removal and Replacement Project
With mixed feelings, I am sorry to report Tugger has to go. She served us well for 30+ years, but rusting structural elements are taking their toll. The underlying decking needs significant structural intervention, and that simply cannot happen without deconstruction and removal of the ol’ tetanus tug.

The good news is that a new play structure is planned and will be installed in his spring, thanks to support from the local Rotary Club in memory of long-time member Dr. Irwin Stewart (who provided $50,000 for the project), and Bosa (who are doing the deck repairs).

The design is a bit controversial, just as most every other playspace is when seen as a rendering and as a replacement for what we are used to. But I like the nod to the old tug, and the creative use of the main evidence that the Fraser is still a working river – a heaping barge – as the foundation for an all-ages tumble space.

Downtown Dog Off-Leash Area – Partial Relocation
The downtown off-leash area has been in place since 2009, but the land it is on does not belong to the City, and with a new building on part of the lot and a new memorial park planned for the site, we need to move the urban dog park.

We went through some public consultation, and dog parks are always exciting and challenging public consultations for a variety of reasons. However, the best current option is to put a dog run at Simcoe Park.

I am challenged by the idea that we won’t have a dog park below Royal Avenue. I am asking staff to continue to look for opportunities downtown, recognizing we don’t have much City-owned land in the downtown, but a lot of people in apartments have dogs, and need this service. I have a few ideas that I hope staff will explore, but I’m not going to share them now because I honestly don’t know the practicality of feasibility of either site, and I don’t an to set expectations. There is work to do here…


Finally, we adopted the following Bylaws

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw 8097, 2019
Cemetery Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8102, 2019
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw 8098, 2019
These Bylaws that represent our annual adjustment of various fees and charges in the City – almost every bit of revenue that we collect that isn’t taxation, were adopted by Council. Be sure to put “2019” on your cheques.

Controlled Substance Property Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8081, 2019
Noise Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8082, 2019
Construction Noise Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8083, 2019
These Bylaw amendments are housekeeping measures to update the language of older Bylaws to match new bylaws and senior government legislation. It was adopted by Council, so check your language.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8096, 2019
This Bylaw updates our electrical utility rates for 2019, and it was Adopted by Council on a split vote (Councillor Johnstone opposed).

Bylaw 8085

For the second week in a row, we had a Council meeting where many people came to speak to a bylaw that is meant to reduce the incidence of renoviction in the City. Ironically, this week’s bylaw has much more far-reaching implications than the very limited rezoning discussion of the previous meeting, but we had nary a landlord or members of the development community come to speak against this move. We did, however, have a large number of people come to speak about the real human impacts of renoviction in our community, and remind us why these kinds of aggressive actions are needed.

As a bit of nuance, this was not a Public Hearing as constituted by the Local Government Act, like we had last week. This was an Opportunity to be Heard. We effectively operate these like a Public Hearings in New West, but they don’t have the same regulatory baggage. In short, it is a non-regulatory opportunity for the public to either send us a letter or come and speak to Council on a point of public interest.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8085, 2019
As I said about last week’s Bylaw to protect 18 properties in the City with Rental Tenure Zoning, we are going to need many more tools to address housing affordability in the City. This step is another bold measure that will give the City more ability to protect people who are precariously housed. This and last week’s bylaw are part of a larger Rental Housing Revitalization Initiative that will provide both metaphorical carrots and sticks within our legal authority to protect safe, secure, and affordable housing in the City and hopefully mitigate the current rental crunch and its impact on lower-income residents.

The step being adopted here is to use a tool that is not typically considered when dealing with land use tenure: our business licensing powers. Cities typically look at demo- or reno-viction through a planning context, which invokes zoning or building bylaws. However, it happens that all businesses operating rental buildings in the city require a business license to do so, and we have great flexibility in how we administer our business regulations, as long as they are fair to all businesses. Our staff have found a creative way to apply these regulatory powers to create new protections against renoviction.

Nothing on this Bylaw prevents renovation of older rental stock buildings. Instead, the Bylaw requires that the building owner provide the City a demonstration of the efforts they have taken to accommodate the residency needs of tenants prior to the City providing them a permit to perform a major renovation that requires tenant displacement. This may include providing them alternative accommodation, providing them priority to rent the same unit after renovation, or other methods to assure the resident is not made homeless. This also gives the City the ability to determine if a renovation even requires tenant removal or not.

The City can apply fines and/or a business license surcharge if these conditions are not met, and those charges may be built upon each other. We can even pull a business licence if the violations are egregious enough. Of course, exceptions are considered for life safety improvements, immediate repairs necessitated by an emergency or natural disaster, or other reasonable causes.

Much like the previous Bylaw, this change will not stand alone, and indeed the few criticisms I have heard of the Bylaw are based on thinking that it does. We cannot stop renovating our older building stock, or the most affordable housing in the City will eventually become the least livable. This is why these Bylaws exist within the framework of a wider Rental Housing Revitalization Initiative. The entire program includes an updated Rental Replacement Policy to create clear guidelines for the development community about how and when we would address the replacement of any rental stock lost through development, and an incentive program through fee and tax reductions to encourage and make more affordable the renovation of older buildings.

This is a comprehensive program that will help assure there continues to be market rental in New Westminster that is safe and livable, but stays at the affordable end of the market rental scale. This, in turn, is enhanced by the admittedly less-affordable new rental stock that is coming on line in the City which will help on the supply side and hopefully put downward pressure on market rent costs. Of course, this also relies on all three levels of government working together to bring more non-market housing on line, because “the market” will never supply the type of affordable housing needed by those 500+ families currently on the waiting list for supportive housing in New Westminster.

The work goes on. Housing affordability is a pernicious problem and we are indeed in a crisis situation in the Lower Mainland. I am proud to sit on a Council where we support taking bold action, and thank our staff – planning, business license, and legal – who have worked to find creative ways for the City to address the problem. Mostly, though, I want to thank the residents of New Westminster who live in rental buildings (44% of our residents!), some of them in somewhat precarious financial situations, for uniting and bravely bringing your voices to Council so that we have the political support to do the right thing, and so that the rest of your community can understand why the need for bold, progressive housing action exists.

Bylaw 8078

The Public Hearing on Monday was well attended, with a couple of dozen people presenting on both sides of the issue. We received a significant amount of correspondence going into the public hearing, and some media attention after. I am going to try to outline here what decision Council made, and talk about my motivations for voting the way I did. You might want to put on some tea.

The Bylaw being debated, Zoning Amendment [Multi-Family Residential Rental Tenure] Bylaw No. 8078, 2019, changes the zoning of 18 properties in the City to a new designation called “Residential Rental Tenure”. This new zoning type was recently permitted by the provincial government to provide local governments another tool in addressing housing affordability. Twelve of the properties are City-owned lands, and no one raised any concerns with this. However, the remaining 6 are multi-family buildings that have always operated as rental buildings, and though each building is owned by a single entity (Corporation or Limited Partnership), they have carried Strata title for many years. This detail is important to what the City is trying to achieve here by this slightly clunky method, and that requires some background.

The City has had a moratorium on stratification since the mid-1970s, which means buildings operating as rental in the City have not been able to shift their title to Strata and convert to condos. This was enacted to protect the affordable rental housing stock in the City, and has been largely successful. Last year a building in the Brow of the Hill that had operated for 40+ years as a rental was sold, and the new owners renovicted the tenants and sold off the condos as individual units. When the City looked into this apparent violation of the moratorium, it was discovered that the building had always been titled as Strata, though all of the units belonged to a single owner who had operated as a rental. The moratorium did not apply, and there was nothing the City could do to prevent (effective if not literal) stratification of this rental building.

In doing this research, staff discovered that there were 6 other buildings in the City, representing about 250 rental suites, where a building was built as purpose-built rental before the Strata Title Act was implemented in 1966 or was stratified at the time of construction and has operated as a rental building since that initial construction. These six buildings could potentially do a similar conversion to condo units, violating the spirit of the moratorium, and the City would not have any ability to prevent this.

The reasoning behind applying the new zoning to these 6 buildings was to create a disincentive to the stratification of these buildings (I use that term recognizing the buildings are already strata title – so perhaps “effectively stratify” would be a more accurate description?). The property owners who delegated to Council, and their supporters from LandLord BC and the development community, argue that this was an arbitrary “downzoning” of the properties, that the City has stolen value from the property owners in a capricious way that will chill the market for future development in the City. The tenants and their supporters who delegated were glad that the City was being creative and proactive in preventing eviction of renters from their affordable homes.

But don’t let me put words in their mouth, you can watch the video here.

I have spent a couple of weeks thinking about this Bylaw and its implications, reading 50+ pieces of correspondence, and listening to Public Delegations. In this, I have compiled a long list of things I would like to say about it, but risk veering off onto a long stream-or consciousness rant about affordable housing and things that we within and outside of the City’s jurisdiction and how those often do not overlap so well with things that are within our duty to our residents. That may still happen below, but I am going to try to keep this short (Too Late!) and hit on only three points.

1: This Bylaw does not stand alone. This Bylaw is one tool the City has, and we are applying it in a very limited way to address one small part of the vast spectrum of housing affordability. It isn’t going to make new apartments more affordable and it is not going to protect all affordable apartments from renoviction. It wasn’t meant to do those things. It is going to create a disincentive for renoviction for 250 rental homes in our community. Whenever the City or another government does any small move to address a regional housing affordability crisis, the public response gets bogged down in “whataboutism” about the other problems we are not solving. The housing crises are a complex problem affecting every level or housing, and it will take a combination of tools to make housing secure for everyone in our City.

2: This action was not arbitrary. Much of the rhetoric from the development community and other opponents of this Bylaw suggested this was an arbitrary act by Council that this was applied in a random way, and would send a chilling message to developers that New Westminster was no longer a safe place to invest in new rental housing because this may happen to them. That is hyperbolic and not reflected by the reality of what this Bylaw does, or how this Council operates.

The Bylaw was applied to 12 City-owned properties to send the signal to the community and future councils that the priority for those lands should be purpose-built rental and affordable rental. It was also applied to 6 privately-owned properties that are not protected by our 40-year-old moratorium on conversion of rental buildings to condominiums. Although it does not change the tenure of the current buildings, it does remove some incentive to convert these buildings into condominiums like happened to the building I mentioned above.

We have a current incentive program to encourage developers to build purpose-built rental in the City. It has been somewhat successful, and there have been something more than 1,000 new rental units opened in the City over the last year. All of these developments occurred because the City offered the developer some incentive to make it economic for them to build the rental, in exchange for the developer entering in to a “Housing Agreement” with the City, which secures the use of the building as a rental for (typically) 60 years. We are expanding our incentives for building non-market affordable housing as part of new developments, and you see the initial results of that now. There is no reason why this more recent Bylaw to limit future use of 6 stratified buildings that have always operated a rental, has any impact on how those incentivized rental developments occur. The economics for those developers has not changed.

3: There was a reason to act. Renoviction has been the one part of our affordable housing crisis that we have not yet found tools to address, and you would have to have been in media blackout not to know how this issue has been impacting our community. If you need a primer, read this, or this, or this, or even this.

I know that the owners of the buildings impacted by this Bylaw have assured us that renoviction was not part of their plan for their properties. Thee UDI and LandLordBC representatives came to Council and said none of their members ever do renovictions. Everyone who came to Council to argue against this Bylaw said that they would never support renoviction – they all agree it is an unacceptable situation. Yet renovictions are happening in our City, in at least 15 buildings representing more than 340 units – 340 affordable homes – in the last three years. And it is pretty obvious why.

As an elected official, I hear form these residents. I live in the Brow of the Hill, these people are my neighbours. I see them at coffee shops, and they literally knock on my door and ask me what the City can do to help them. For the last couple of years, I have pointed them at City resources, connected them with our Social Planners and other support organizations, tried to made sure they knew their rights, and the responsibilities of their landlord. I tell them we are advocating to the provincial government to get more tools to help them. I tell them we are making progress, that more tools are coming, and I hope they can hold on. Looking at my neighbour Laverne when she tells me about the real fear she has about becoming homeless after 28 years in the same apartment and telling her there is nothing I could do but she should try to hold on hits me hard. This shit gets personal really fast.

I didn’t get into this job to be a housing advocate. I am an environmentalist, a sustainability guy, an active transportation advocate, someone who wants to see activation of our public spaces. Those were my fights to have. But if four years on this job doesn’t make you an affordable housing advocate, you have no soul. so now this is the fight I have to have.

Here we have a case where staff have identified affordable units that are potential targets for eviction, and the provincial government has provided us a tool to address that risk. All this during a housing crisis that is hitting New Westminster hard. We have been talking about the crisis for a few years, it is time we started acting like it is a crisis. The provincial government is taking steps, and so are we (including considering a few more bold moves at the February 4th Council meeting). The only way we will get out of this crisis situation is by challenging the status quo and taking action when it is available to us. The status quo is residents on our city being priced out of the City – priced out of one of the most affordable cities in the lower mainland. And I cannot stand still while that happens.