ASK PAT: Potash

Shaji asks—

This proposal to put a potash storage and transportation facility on the Surrey-side banks of the Fraser river seems absurd!

I have recent made the New West and the Fraser river my home and come to realize how much of it is surrounded with beautiful marshlands and resident wild life – despite the Fraser being a working river. I see seals bobbing their heads out of the water everyday from my window.

Our efforts need to be to preserve and clean up this beautiful surrounding; not further pollute it with such harmful proposed projects.

What is the City’s stance and influence on the proposed project?

Thanks again

The first I heard of a plan to move potash through Fraser Surrey Docks was when a few residents of Queensborough started sending me e-mails. The general theme of these e-mails was “What is the Port trying to pull here!?” Hopefully I can explain, although I have not heard a peep from the Port (officially or informally) about this project, so most everything I know you can read yourself at the Port’s information website about the project.

It appears that one of the world’s largest mining companies, BHP Billiton, wants to build a facility in Surrey to move potash off of train cars and into bulk carrier ships for export. Much like the previous coal terminal facility proposed for Fraser Surrey Docks, this facility will be required to go through the Port’s own Environmental Review process, instead of a Federal Environmental Assessment. This procedure exists because of legislative changes made by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that decimated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act – changes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government seems in no rush to address despite significant election promises to the effect. But I digress.

Upon hearing about this proposal, my initial questions were around what it means for the Coal Terminal project. That project has already been approved by the Port, although that approval is still being challenged in court. My cursory look at the proposed coal terminal drawings:

…and the drawings for the proposed potash terminal:

…suggest to me that they do not share operational footprint, except for some rail loop infrastructure. So I am operating under the assumption that potash terminal approval would not mean coal terminal termination. We should be so lucky.

So what do we know about potash? It is mined from evaporate deposits under Saskatchewan; it is mostly potassium chloride with less than 5% sodium chloride and trace amounts of other minerals; it is primarily used for fertilizer, although it is also used in metals refining and other industrial processes. It is no more toxic that table salt, isn’t flammable, isn’t carcinogenic, and isn’t a particularly nasty environmental contaminant in soil or water. There are some well-understood and generally well mitigated environmental impacts from mining. After spending a few hours reading up on potash and its handling, finding science-based sources I consider reliable and relatively unbiased, there is little in my Environmental Geoscientist experience that causes me great concern about this material being handled in or moved through my neighbourhood.

There will be impacts, no doubt. Train traffic, noise, light, and potentially dust (though potash is usually handled though a pretty closed system due it its solubility). The Port review process (as sketchy as it is) should provide us some ability to provide input to the Port about how we want these potential issues mitigated. You can learn about the project and review process by attending an Open House at the Fraser River Discovery Centre on Thursday evening, you can read the project materials here, or you can go to the BHP project site here and provide some feedback directly. For further research, I might reach out to some council colleagues on the North Shore where potash has been handled for years to see what concerns it has caused in their communities.

That said, you asked a specific question, with pretty simple answers: Council has not been formally asked to opine on the project yet (any more than any other stakeholder), haven’t received any reports, and haven’t really discussed it, so the City doesn’t yet have a stance on the project. Our influence as a stakeholder is limited – as we learned from the coal terminal project where our firm opposition did not prevent the project from being approved. I am sure we will participate in the review process, but it would be premature for me to speak on behalf of all of Council on what the City’s position will be.

As an aside, this proposal is apparently to move potash from a new mine outside of Saskatoon, specifically one that BHP Billiton announced they were in no rush to open as recently as August. I have no idea what that means to this project, but the timing does seem strange.

Green City?

Long-time readers (Hi Mom!) will remember that I got involved in this entire blog thing through an environmental lens. When I moved my constant beaking off onto the internet back in 2010, I had been involved with groups in New West and regionally who were trying to promote sustainability and environmental protection, in my profession, in the community, and in politics.

At the time, New West Council was making significant shifts towards better environmental policy. A few of the newer members of Council, led by some young whippersnapper named Cote, were putting environmental issues on the agenda. The City was adopting environmental policies, hired an Environmental Coordinator, and was moving into developing a sustainability framework that would become Envision2032.

The City of New West considers itself a leader in environmental initiatives, however I have yet to see a local government that doesn’t consider itself a leader on this front. That may sound critical, but it is really more a reflection of the sometimes poorly-defined and always evolving concept of environmental sustainability. Local governments (like most organizations, and most people for that matter) emphasize the good things they are doing and progress they are making, but are commonly blind to the things they are not doing. When it comes to something like environmental sustainability, consistent re-evaluation of goals and metrics is the only way to avoid comfortable smugness.

Recognizing this, the City is inviting you to help us move forward on environmental policy. Council has asked staff to review what we are doing, and what we can do better – both a gap analysis and reality check. And we are asking you to help.

This week (October 25th!) there will be a Public Event called Royal City / Green City, where we are going to get people into a room to talk about where our environmental policies are, and where they need to be. We are bringing together some subject matter experts to provide inspiration, and perhaps to push us in uncomfortable directions. We will also be asking all attendees to react to what they hear, and push the City. It is completely free and open to everyone, whether you work, live, study or play in New West. We do ask that you register ahead of time so we can properly plan for the numbers who will arrive, because this will be an interactive event. You can register here:

Maybe to get the creative juices flowing, I want to challenge the three- (or increasingly four-) pillar idea model of sustainability. This has become the standard model of suggesting sustainability is a balance between three competing forces – protection of the environment, growth of the economy, and maintenance of societal standards. Diagrammatically, it usually looks like this (copied from Envision2032):

This has always caused me to itch, because I have never felt it accurately reflects the interdependence between the three pillars. Without a sustained environment, we cannot have an economy or a society. Take that one pillar away, the other two disappear. Similarly, our economy exists within, and is defined by, the structures of our society. It cannot exist without a societal structure, which is, in turn, defined by the environment in which we live. In my mind (and I’m not the only person to suggest this) the three pillars should be drawn like this:Actions, technologies, and organizations impact our economy, which in turn shape our society, which in turn impact the greater natural environment. When we shape policies, when we evaluate the worth of technology or price individual actions, we are using economic tools to adjust the shape of our society. If that re-shaping supports the protection of the natural environment in a way that doesn’t constrain future societies from access to natural resources, then we can call those actions “sustainable”.

Clearly, I’m not a philosopher, so come out on October 25th and tell me how I am wrong!

on Data

This isn’t exactly an Ask Pat, but I was asked a question on Facebook comments thread discussing the new Crosstown Greenway changes along 7th Ave, and I needed more than a Facebook post to answer:

I read two questions here, tied up into one. Paraphrased, the first is “How many cyclist injuries or deaths are there in the City to justify all of this money spent on bike lanes?”, and the second, perhaps more nuanced, is “What data justifies spending money on all these new bike lanes”.

I didn’t answer the first question, because I think it is a terrible question, but never got around to explaining why I feel that way. If we have a spike in deaths or injuries, it may be an indication that we have a problem that needs immediate attention, but we don’t wait for those spike if we can anticipate and prevent incidents. A raw count of deaths or injuries as the sole driver of infrastructure investment is not responsible governance.

The actual data being asked for is hard to come by. Local governments do not (to the best of my knowledge) collect these stats in any kind of comprehensive way for public consumption. ICBC presumably still collects stats, but their reporting out has become pretty inconsistent, and their crash maps for New Westminster have not been updated since 2013 (for Pedestrians and cyclists) or 2015 (for cars) and cannot be filtered by injury/death/property damage: 

Anecdotally (and off the top of my head) I can think of two cyclist and three pedestrian deaths in New Westminster in the last few years (there have surely been more). One of them I am comfortable in calling an “accident”, a second was clearly an act of negligence on the part of a pedestrian. The rest were just as clearly acts of negligence on the part of the drivers of a vehicles, resulting in the death of 3 innocent road users. I have also spent the last year watching a good friend struggle through recovery from a near-fatal cycling crash where he was clearly a victim of a negligent driver. New West is not unique here, as across the region, there is news every day of cyclist endangered by the negligence of drivers.

Of course, I acknowledge the obvious point that cyclists and pedestrians also sometimes act negligently, and cause accidents. However studies have shown that accidents causing injury or death of pedestrians and cyclist are in the vast majority, caused by the actions of drivers, most notably not yielding right-of way while making turns.

That said, we are talking about infrastructure, and part of designing and investing in transportation infrastructure is in making it harder for people (drivers or vulnerable users) to be negligent, and to reduce the potential impacts of any negligence on vulnerable road users. We can do this through design that reduces conflict points, improves visibility, slows cars, or puts barriers between vulnerable users and the vehicles that endanger them. At some level, this should be the primary goal of all transportation engineering. But perhaps I am already digressing too far from the point, so let me answer more succinctly:

We don’t measure the need for a bridge by counting the number of people drowning in a river.

The second question seems to be more relevant to how governance works: What kind of data do we use to make transportation investment decisions?

The City passed a Master Transportation Plan back in early 2014, and it sets out priorities for the City’s transportation investments. It was developed in context of a bunch of other planning documents, including larger regional plans like the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and the TransLink Transport 2040 regional transportation plan, both of which the City participated in. Internally, we have our own Official Community Plan (currently being updated), a relatively recent Sustainability Plan, and a variety of other strategies to make the City more equitable, safer, livable, and sustainable.

These plans all point to making active transportation modes (pedestrians, cycling, and transit) easier to access, safer, and more comfortable, as an important strategy towards the larger regional and local community development goals. This was reflected in our Master Transportation Plan with an established hierarchy for our transportation system:

In an ideal world, our transportation spending would reflect that hierarchy, but we are not there yet. This year, we will spend something like $4 Million* on asphalt, mostly to make roads smoother for drivers. At the same time, we will spend about $500,000* on sidewalk improvements and maintenance (which represents a pretty significant proportional increase over previous years), and the Crosstown Greenway improvements that started this entire conversation will cost us less than $125,000*. By any measure, the hierarchy in the MTP is aspirational, as travelling by car is still the preferred mode for a little more than 60% of residents.

(* all budget estimates, very close to reality, but not exact numbers) 

So the City has a well established and regionally-supported goal to encourage active modes, mostly by making them safer and more comfortable for all users. The only question left is what evidence do we have to suggest making active modes safer and more comfortable encourages their use, or provides the livability, sustainability, and inclusion goals the City is after?

I could start with Montreal, or Copenhagen, or Medellin, or even Vancouver. I can refer you to books by Jeanette Sadik-Khan or Charles Montgomery. We are not inventing a new wheel here (we are too small and too fiscally conservative a City to do that), but we are taking the best of what other jurisdictions have already demonstrated to work, and are warned by failures in other jurisdictions.

If you want to dig in to the academic underpinnings here, I can link you to resources about how protected bike lanes save lives and reduce injuries, and studies showing that communities where people are encouraged and supported in choosing active modes are happier, healthier, and more inclusive ones. Perhaps most importantly, I can show you the data that building proper infrastructure increases the number of cyclists, which actually correlates with cyclist safety much more than does helmet use (for example):

The Crosstown Greenway improvements are very small part of our transportation budget (less than 3% of this year’s budget for road improvements), and has numerous potential benefits to the community at large. As the City’s first foray into modern separated bikeway design, it may have a few kinks to work out, and it may take a bit of time for drivers to get their head around the new layout, but it is based on well-established design principles, and is a big step towards creating a safe, effective, and all-ages cycling network in the City.

That said, they were done as a bit of a trial, and I encourage everyone to let the City know what you like and don’t about the design – and provide suggestions about how the City could improve upon the design.

POST SCRIPT: I swear I did not read the New West Record that came out today before writing this post… 

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.

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.

LMLGA 2017

The day after the election that isn’t over yet, most of your City Council carpooled up to Harrison Hot Springs to attend the annual meeting of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association. It was a packed 2-1/2 days, but here’s my quick summary of what we got up to while representing New Westminster.

The LMLGA is an “area association” that operates under the umbrella of the Union of BC Municipalities, and acts as an advocacy, information sharing, and collaboration forum for a large area, stretching from Boston Bar and Pemberton to the US border, including all of the communities of the lower Fraser Valley and Howe Sound. It represents a large, diverse region comprising dense urban centres, resort municipalities, and the majority of BC’s farms. For an organization centered around Greater Vancouver, it has a strong and effective presence from the Fraser Valley and Howe Sound regions, which makes for an interesting rural/urban mix.

The meeting has three components: the typical convention-type workshops and networking sessions, the Resolutions Session where the membership votes on advocacy issues, and the AGM with all the budget-approving and electing-officers fun.


I attended several workshop sessions, but two stood out for me, both which will probably blow up into stand-along blog posts:

“Running a City like a Business” was a discussion of this oft-used, but poorly understood phrase. The discussion seemed to revolve around the idea that local governments are not “customer focused” enough, which presumes that business hold a lock on customer service (ahem… United Airlines). The discussion seemed to also focus too much (IMO) on delivering Economic Development service, which boiled down to (and I paraphrase) “treating businesses in a business-like manner is good for businesses”, which seemed like a banal argument.

What I found more interesting was the discussion of how cities manage risk, compared to your typical business. As a rule, local governments are incredibly risk adverse, and have a structural resistance (throughout Councils, Staff, lawyers, and their policies) to trying something new just to see if it works. There was also some thought-provoking ideas around how slow Cities are to evaluate their performance and course-correct – something an effective business needs to be constantly doing to remain effective. I think everyone recognizes there are good reasons why these two characteristics exist (think about the effort we put into public consultation), but at times we may use this conservatism as accepted practice when perhaps a more dynamic approach to change would work.

“FCM–RAC Proximity Initiative” was a wide-ranging dissuasion of proximity issues between rails and communities, and between port-related industrial activity and other land uses. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Rail Association of Canada have created a set of development guidelines that local governments may use to reduce the noise, vibration, and safety impacts of rail operations on nearby residential development. Not many cities have yet picked up these guidelines, but they are a useful guide that deserve a closer look. At some point soon I am going to write a ranting blog post about working with the railways, but that would take us pretty far off the rails (1) today, but I will summarize by saying that being a good neighbour sometimes requires more action than strictly following the letter of the law, and good neighbours meet each other half way.

There were 27 resolutions debated at the meeting, and the majority of them passed. They ranged from asking the BC Government to change the building code to require outdoor fire sprinklers on balconies for 4-story wood-frame residential buildings (passed) to a request that the province start up a Municipal Lobbyist Registry to provide transparency and accountability at the local government level that already exists for the provincial and federal level (also passed).


The three most hotly-contested resolutions were remarkably diverse topics:

Criminal Records Checks for Local Government Elected Officials This resolution called on the Provincial Government to make criminal record checks part of the nomination process for those seeking local government office, reasoning that many people volunteering or working for local governments are required to provide these checks, but us elected types have no such duty. The arguments against wondered what problem we are trying to solve, raised privacy issues, and suggestions that this would create a barrier to participation in electoral politics for those with minor offences or those who had long-ago served their debt to society. The resolution failed.

Varied taxation rate for the Residential Class Currently, all residential properties within a local government taxation zone have the same “mil rate”, and inequitable increases in assessed property values results in unequal taxation – essentially people in apartments pay less into the system than those in single family detached homes, though they consume the same amount of the things taxes are meant to pay for – roads, fire, police, parks, etc. This resolution called for a split of residential tax classes to “single family” and “multi-family” – much like Industrial zoning is currently divided between “light” and “heavy” industry. The counter argument was that this created unforeseen complications, and that unequal representation may result in this being used to incentivize single family houses at the cost of denser land uses. The resolution failed.

Right to Dry The request was for a change to the Strata Act to make it illegal for Strata to forbid the drying of clothes on balconies of strata buildings. This was a surprisingly controversial issue not because of a fiery debate (some spoke of it as an energy saving measure, others didn’t want to take rights away from Stratas) but because of the long process of having a standing head count vote, including a proxy voting controversy(!), that ended with the resolution losing in a tie vote. Such is democracy.


Finally, the AGM went smoothly, with the new executive including a wordy and swarthy new City Councillor for the City of New Westminster as the newest Officer at Large. Because I have so much free time…

larrycurlymoe

Voting for…

I have written a few things about this election, and recognize that (perhaps reflecting our social media environment) much of it is about what I am voting against. This post I’m going to avoid all of that and speak only about what I am voting for have already voted for.

I voted for change. Real change that can start on May 10th.

I voted for a leader that works with a team and speaks with people. One of my first impressions of John Horgan at a rally last year was that he called attention to his team. He talked less about himself and more about the accomplishments of David Eby, of Melanie Mark, of Judy Darcy. A good manager (and really, that’s what a Party Leader is) is one who gives his team the tools they need to get their work done, and supports them in that work. In watching his interactions with his team, that is exactly the kind of guy John Horgan is. He also speaks to – and listens to – people, no deposit required. He does not turn away from a dissenting voice, whether giving a heckler at a public event a chance to speak his peace, or following up with a party supporter like me when he makes a campaign promise I don’t support. I want my province and its government to be well managed, and John Horgan seems to me to be the kind of manager I would work for.

I voted for a balanced and costed platform that doesn’t over promise, but delivers solutions to critical issues on a realistic timeline. Real change includes a long-overdue coordinated provincial approach to day care that will ultimately result in a universal $10/day plan. Real change means turning electricity planning and rate forecasting back to the BCUC, the independent agency of subject experts working specifically to keep politicians from milking BC Hydro for short-term benefit. Real change means investing in health care to bring residential care up to the government’s own established standards. Real change means a respectful and accountable approach to Truth and Reconciliation that goes beyond lip service. Real change is attainable, starting next week. Time to stop putting it off.

I voted for a stronger democracy. We need campaign finance reform, reducing the influence of corporations and unions on the way our province is run, and reducing the cost of elections by reducing the money available for all of those noisy attack ads. We also need electoral reform, so that a vote for the party you want is more meaningful even if your party cannot form a majority. These changes can be delivered in the next term, moving BC from the “wild west” of elections to a modern, functional democracy.

I voted for a party that will support our region by putting our region’s biggest issues at the front of their platform. The Mayor’s Council (a diverse group of NDP, Liberal, and Conservative politicians) have made a clear choice this election, endorsing the NDP approach to regional transportation, including supporting the 10-year vision for transportation investment. I cannot help but believe that our affordable housing file will be better managed under David Eby, who has been the most passionate and pragmatic political voice on this issue for the last 4 years. The opioid crisis needs to be treated as the public health emergency it is, not with sympathy and naloxone, but with the resources needed to save lives and get people out of the cycle of addiction.

I voted for a party that will represent the diversity of British Columbia. The NDP are running a group of candidates across the province that represent the diversity of the Province. We also need a party that will measure our economic success not by increases in wealth for the most fortunate, but by how that wealth invests in the future of the province. A minimum wage that provides dignity, removing punitive cuts to those with disabilities, investing the seismic upgrading of schools, returning to the business of supportive housing… the list goes on. We are a rich province, we will continue to be a rich province because of our wealth of resources (natural and human) and our fortunate location in the evolving world. It is time we started acting like a wealthy province and invest in our people.

I voted for a great MLA. Judy Darcy is someone I am proud to support. She works hard, she works collaboratively, and she treats all people with respect. She is loud when she has to be, and is quietly collaborative when that approach is needed. She is supremely optimistic about her city, about her province, and about the positive role of government. I have seen her work hard in New Westminster, and speak loudly in Victoria. She has brought positive initiatives to New Westminster, even while in opposition. I know she will work just as hard for us when she is in government, and New Westminster will have a voice in Victoria that will be heard.

Most importantly, I voted. Please get out there and vote for the result you want to see.

Ask Pat: Medicine Hat

Alice asks—

Is there any reason the Medicine Hat approach of reducing Homelessness in their city can’t be applied to New Westminster? I know it has been said senior gov’t needs to step up but the Medicine Hat strategy involved very little additional funding from senior gov’t. Their population and homeless population appear to be in line with New West.

This is one of the areas of the City’s operations where I have had to climb a pretty steep learning curve. We have Councillors and a Mayor with much more knowledge of this than I do (and some pretty stellar staff, as a bonus), but I’ll take a dive at answering this with that caveat in mind, and keep myself open to correction from those with more knowledge.

Essentially, the Medicine Hat model is based on “housing first” – the idea that if we can first get homeless people into shelter, regardless of how temporary it is, we can get them services they need and start the process of moving them to more permanent and sustainable housing options, and (this is the bigger hope) access to services to help them manage the underlying cause of most homelessness – disabilities, trauma, exploitation, and mental health concerns including addiction. This has been standard operating procedure in New Westminster for a decade or more. So why is Medicine Hat different?

Medicine Hat is a rural community, so it’s 61,000 residents are surrounded by farms and wilderness. New Westminster’s 70,000 people are in the middle of an urban population of 2,500,000 people. New Westminster needs to work along with its neighbours and operate within that reality. That is both an advantage to New Westminster, and a disadvantage.

In Medicine Hat, the most recent homeless count put their numbers at about half the average of the province of Alberta on a per-capita basis. The numbers provided in 2016 news stories estimate there were 875 people moved to supportive housing over the six years of their aggressive program – one for every 70 residents. Extrapolate that to Greater Vancouver, and we would need to facilitate 36,000 supportive housing units in the same period – 6,000 per year. To make this work, the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society received $3.9 million from the province of Alberta (plus about 10% that amount from a combination of the federal and local governments). It is clear the province of Alberta, even during difficult financial times, fulfilled their constitutional responsibility to provide housing. Extrapolate that to the Lower Mainland, and this becomes another boring post about lack of Provincial resources and the terrible priorities of the BC Liberals…

However, there is a persistent problem we have in the Lower Mainland that makes us stand out, and with which “Housing First” is of limited help: the flow of people being forced into homelessness by our out-of-scale housing costs, the erosion of our housing support programs (including the Co-op Housing model), lack of resources for people at risk (aging out of care, coming out of incarceration, or leaving protracted medical care), and our ongoing lack of rental vacancy. To avail oneself of “Housing First” assistance in BC, one first has to be homeless, which is like addressing gun violence by buying bandages: it has a value and is measurably effective, but does not address the source of the problem. This is a terrible way to organize public resources, but more importantly, it completely dehumanizes of the actual problem.

Which brings me back to the Medicine Hat miracle I keep reading about in the news. Considering it is not particularly groundbreaking in approach, and aside from the resources put into it, it’s success is not outstanding compared to many municipalities (including New Westminster), I wonder about the narrative of its success. I do not want to take even the tiniest bit of credit away from the City, the not-for-profits, or programmers (paid and volunteer) who put their lives work into helping less fortunate people, but there is a part this makes me twitchy.

Google any story of the Medicine Hat Homelessness approach, and you hear some version of the same narrative: how the “fiscally conservative” Mayor was convinced to support the program, because it turns out paying to put people in housing saves the City and the Province money in the long run. Now, this is true; so well established it isn’t even a point of debate, but quotes likes this fire my cynicism gland:

“It makes financial sense. That’s how I had my epiphany and was converted. You can actually save money by giving somebody some dignity and giving them a place to live.” – Mayor Clugston

The fact that a leader describes his decision to provide basic human dignity to marginalized residents of his community in terms of its ability to turn fiscal profit is abhorrent to the way I view governance and society. Maybe he is just saying that to keep the Randian libertarians in his town off of his ass, or perhaps it speaks deeply of the state of western Canadian politics and the erosive influence of Calgary School neo-liberal fiscal policy projected by “Think Tanks” like the Fraser Institute on governments at all levels… I’m about to go on a long rant here, so perhaps I will save that for a future blog post… but this economically-driven “come-to-Jesus moment” narrative sound more like cowardice than visionary leadership to me.

Short version is we, in New Westminster, are regional leaders in providing housing support to our homeless residents, and I will hold our success up against Medicine Hat’s any day (not that this is a contest – when it comes to supporting marginalized populations in this country, we are all losing). New West is forging partnerships with senior governments and investing in supportive housing, and we are providing City lands to develop innovative housing solutions. We have incredible staff and NWPD liaisons partnering with an amazing suite of not-for-profit agencies to address the multiple causes of (and solutions to) homelessness at a person-to-person level. We did this before it was sexy, and perhaps we don’t brag enough about it. More importantly, I would like to think we do it not becasue of some fiscal bottom line calculation, but because homeless people in New Westminster are citizens of New Westminster, who deserve representation for their elected officials, and should have the same access to support, dignity, and opportunity as everyone else.

Ask Pat: The Sub

Eric asks—

Ahoy Capt. Re: Das Sub

Great the Quayside playground is up for a needed rebuild. Has “what do we do with the submarine” come up?

After all this item has quietly slipped into historic artefact/ community heritage resource status.

We all know it came from Expo ’86. What might not be as well known: it was from a West Edmonton Mall attraction (at the time the mall had more working subs than the Cdn. navy); at Expo it was part of the brilliant public art piece Highway ’86 by James Wise of SITE, a cutting edge design firm all us young architects were in awe of.

The sub was the largest of dozens of transportation, including a tricycle and an aeroplane, all painted matte grey and set on an undulating grey asphalt “road”.

How about we hand the sub over to the Public Art Cttee. to reprise/resurface it in a new location? Our local transpo crowd – including a certain councillor- might get right into it.

Yes, the topic of saving or moving the semi-Sub has come up. Staff have even spent a bit of time looking at potential options. However, at the risk of sounding like a boo-bird, I need to point out some of the significant technical challenges staff have related to me about trying to save and/or move the Sub.

The Sub can’t stay where it is. The storm drainage pipe under it needs to be excavated and replaced, that is not an optional thing, but something the City needs to get done before compete failure of the pipe and related flooding. Try trying to remove the sub in one piece presents several challenges (not to mention the unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase). It will need to be separated from the foundation built to support it, and the entire concrete-over-steel structure would have to be lifted and moved, which if not done with great care (read: expense) may end the entire “in one piece” part of the discussion.

20170308_112210(0)

The Submarine itself would need extensive restoration if it was to be made a permanent art installation, as the steel is not in great shape based on the concrete delamination and spalling – the piece was built for a 6-month installation 30 years ago. The modifications of it to install it in the park (removal of the wings, installation of the railing) probably didn’t help, nor did the various coats of paint that are now peeling off of, regardless is whether the concrete overcoast comes with it or not. We currently have no budget for, and have not even had evaluated, the form of this restoration, however safe to say it will be significant.

We have nowhere to put the submarine. If we remove it, we would need to find a place to store it where it can be protected from the elements, and where restoration work can happen. Unless a generous benefactor with spare warehouse space was to come along, I’m not sure where we can do this.

Finally, and this is, unfortunately, the biggest issue with all of the above – we have very little time to get the pipe replacement work done. As much of the drainage involves an excavation within the wetted area of the river, the work needs to be done within a “fisheries window” – a short period of time when Fisheries and Oceans Canada have given us permission to do the work in order to minimize the disruption of fisheries habitat and the injury of fish. Again, this is not something we have any control over, and that is creating a very, very tight timeline for the work, and it will be starting very soon. An extra week or two to design, coordinate and execute a potentially delicate removal plan for a piece we have no long-term plans for would be perilous. Never mind trying to find the (estimated – with significant contingency) tens of thousands of dollars to do the removal work.

As for the Heritage value, there already was a preliminary assessment of the Sub. The value is considered very limited and “sentimental”, but not representing a significant heritage artifact. Its provenance is not New Westminster, and it is separated from its context. Although there are legends about a connection to West Edmonton Mall, in reality the submarine was the only machine of the 200 that made up the Highway 86 installation that wasn’t a real, operating machine before it was installed. It is a semi-sub; half of a fake boat. The “U” in this U-boat stands for “Unecht”. You get the message.

That said, on kitsch value alone I’m not opposed to the idea, and wish we had more time to allow someone passionate about such a plan to cook up a solution to the above concerns. Problem is, this project has been discussed and on the books for many months (including a few public consultation rounds and public meetings), and the topic of saving the submarine has not been put forward as an important component of the engineering work or playground replacement. I also touched bases with a few people in the Publci Art realm, and they were… underwhelmed. Unfortunately, we are now well past the eleventh hour, and jeopardizing the timeline and budget of the planned work for the site at this point would be irresponsible.

So in sumary, I’m going to suggest this is an interesting idea, likely impractical, definitely costly, and probably undoable considering the pressures on the City to get the engineering work at the Quayside done. I would suggest the submarine is finally heasded off towards the sunny horizon it has pointed at for more than a generaiton: the metal recycling and junkyards south of the Fraser.

20170308_112433

Demoviction Conversation

Amongst the joys of my job as a City Councillor is collaboration with other elected types around the region who are trying to solve regional problems in new ways. I’m also a bit of a data geek, so I love getting new information and learning from people much smarter than me who have innovative approaches to problems.

In the interest of bringing these things together, I am working with some pretty cool colleagues to develop a “MetroConversations” series. We had a successful first event in New Westminster last November, and have plans to expand and grow the program in 2017. The second in the series is happening in Langley City next week, hosted by the brilliant and telegenic City Councillor Nathan Pachal

The topic is as relevant in New Westminster as anywhere in the region: How do we replace an aging stock of rental buildings without displacing people who rely on an affordable rental building stock?

There has been a lot of talk about this in the City of Burnaby, and although they get a (perhap unfair?) majority of the press, this is truly a regional concern. The City of New Westminster has done a lot to incentivise the building of family friendly apartment housing, secured rental housing, and other housing forms in the hopes that we can eat away at the affordability monster. We also have a huge stock of condo and rental buildings, mostly in Brow of the Hill and Sapperton, that are aging and don’t meet modern building standards. At some point, replacement of this stock is going to create a Burnaby-like situation, unless we take a proactive approach to the issue. That said, who knows what that proactive approach looks like?

This MetroConversation will feature people who have a better idea of what works and doesn’t when it comes to managing our affordable housing stock – actual subject matter experts who view the issue from diferent angles. As always, this will be an interactive conversation, not a boring set of speeches. Bring your questions, bring your ideas, and help add to the conversation in the region.

The room is relatively small (we want an intimate conversation) so please be sure to register to make sure you can get a seat, we totally expect to sell out.

MCbanner