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.

Council – February 4, 2019

Another week, another long Council meeting, as we heard from the public about our efforts to address the renoviction issue. Again, there is much to say about the public delegation part of the evening, but I am going to hold that off for a follow-up post, while this one summarizes all of the other important stuff on the Agenda that you may have missed.

We started with Opportunities to be Heard on three issues:

Development Variance Permit for 381 Keary Street (DVP00659)
This property owner in Sapperton wishes to create a legal secondary suite, but their house has no back alley access, nor is there room beside their house for a driveway to a back parking lot. So they want to create a front yard parking pad, which is a violation our zoning. That said, Keary Street is one where almost every house already has a front driveway and many have front parking pads – actually, this house already has a parking pad over most of this area, so we are more permitting a non-conforming use that is common on the street.

We received three pieces of correspondence (two supporting the application, one against), and no-one came to speak on the Variance. Council moved to approve the variance.

Development Variance Permit for 341 Johnston Street (DVP00658)
This is one of those cases where a DVP is required because a proposed and reasonable subdivision of a lot will result in the frontage being less than 10% of the circumference of the property because of the unusual depth of the lot. This is one of those arbitrary rules that serves as a check on how lot lines are developed in the City, and one for which a variance is usually approved if the lot frontage is reasonable.

No-one wrote or appeared to address this variance, and Council moved to approve it. We also move that future parcels created from this property will be exempt from the same rule.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8085, 2019
This was the agenda item that got the most attention, and we had something like 30 delegations and even more correspondence on it, almost all in favour. I will write more about this in a follow-up post, but for now suffice to say we are taking some creative action to protect tenants from unnecessary renoviction in the City as part of our larger Rental Revitalization program.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Investment Report to December 31, 2018
The City has $163 Million in the bank, which is $6.6 Million more than at the beginning of last year. Our savings are in a combination of commercial bank savings accounts and Municipal Finance Authority investment funds. We are expected to make a little more than the $2.3 Million we budgeted in interest for this fiscal year.

I need to point out, this is more than the amount of debt we have issued, and we are making more on our investments than we are paying interest on our debts.

It is also important to note that most of this “savings” is not money we can take out and spend at will or use to reduce your tax rates this year. Most of it is restricted to a specific use, such as the $15 Million or so we have saved up to spend on the Canada Games Pool replacement, or the money we have collected from DCCs to invest in sewer upgrades when they are required. I wrote a primer on this here.

Major Purchases September 1st to December 31st, 2018
This is out three-times-a-year report on our major purchases, for those interested in the results of our public procurement processes, be that sole-sourced or tenured.

Recruitment 2019: Appointment to the Intelligent City Advisory Committee
We have named a representative from the Ministry of Transportation in Infrastructure to the ICAC This position exists for a couple of reasons: MOTI owned conduit and right of way through which much optical fibre stretches, and because intelligent transportation systems is a major area of interest for both the MOTI and the City.

Phase I Infill Housing Program: One-Year Update and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8067, 2019 – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The City passed a new Official Community Plan in 2017 after more than three years of intensive community conversations. Once the plan was passed, staff moved onto creating policies that will see the vision of the OCP realized – the “implementation phase” in planner-speak.

Part of the OCP vision was to see more gentle infill density to increase housing choice in the majority of our City that is still designated for single family detached homes. This includes encouraging small townhouse (strata tenue) and rowhome (freehold tenure) developments around the periphery of the SFD zones, and Laneway and Carriage houses within the SFD zones. At the time, we asked Staff to track the success of this, and report back to us on how the guidelines and policies were going – recognizing the land use economics can shift quickly and best laid plans can age quickly.

Short version: we have had 22 formal applications for laneway and carriage houses after more than 100 inquiries. Some are being built today. The townhouse/rowhome side is not moving very quickly, with two applications in process (representing up to 59 homes), though both have local gradient situations that require some adaption from the guidelines.

At the same time, staff are proposing some modest changes in the bylaws and guidelines. A couple would follow under the category of “housekeeping”, the rest are subtle changes in how FSR is calculated in one of these developments to meet the massing-control and other goals of the original guidelines while providing more flexibility for the builder and designer to make a livable space. These changes would need to go to a Public Hearing, so watch this space.

Keary Street Sewer Installation (Royal Columbian Hospital Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Installing storm sewer upgrades on Keary Street below east Columbia as part of the RCH project will require some nighttime work during late February and early March, but not on weekends. They need a Noise Bylaw exemption to make this happen.

Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8084, 2019: Rescind Second and Third Readings and Amend Bylaw – Consideration of Readings
We are getting sloppy. Once again we read the wrong version of a bylaw at first and second reading. So we need to rescind second and third, replace it with the right one, and do it again. We’re busy, stuff happens. Good to know we got it right the second time!

Development Services Fees and Rates Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw No. 8094, 2019: Bylaw for Three Readings
This is a follow-up to Bylaw 8084 where we do some housekeeping to assure the language is clear and the new requirements mesh well with existing regulations. Unless you are deeply engrained in the details of “Occupancy Certificates” and “Building Officials”, this may no impact your life.

Quayside Drive Speed Humps & Raised Crosswalks
Speed humps were installed by Metro Vancouver on Quayside Drive as a temporary measure in anticipation that the extended Front Street closure would result in heavier traffic and associated unsafe driving on Quayside Drive. Once they were installed, the City received both kudos and criticism from Quayside residents, as is to be expected. Some don’t like the rougher ride, some like the reduced speeds. Despite a few of them being installed in a way that actually made crosswalks less accessible (since fixed), the data indicated that the speed humps had a marginal effect on average and 85th percentile speeds, but did significantly reduce the number of excessive speeders. So in that sense, they work.

Given some mixed reaction from the neighbourhood, staff is going to go to the Quayside RA and to residents in general to decide whether the speed humps should stay or go.

European Chafer Management Program Update
The City is going to continue the subsidized nematode program to keep a few dozen private lawns tidy and unsustainably monocultural in the City for another year. Insert expressionless face emoji here.

New Westminster Urban Solar Garden – Installation of Second Array
We have reached the point where enough people have signed up for a second array for the Solar Garden project. This might be the coolest little community action thing I have ever had the pleasure to approve. It shows that people, when given the tools, want to take personal action to find local solutions to global issues. You can still buy a panel here, but act fast.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Pier West Development, 660 Quayside Drive – Construction Update
This is an update on the construction project on the waterfront that has been causing some disruption, both to the physical space and to the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood. I will probably write a follow-up blog on this, but the short version is that we all realized this was going to be a big and disruptive piece of construction, but recognized that the end result was going to be a great addition to our Riverfront. The developer and their construction contractors have had some challenges with the alternative pile driving strategy, and there were two incidents where the contractor on site violated the agreement they had with the City around construction timing, and both times Bosa was fined. They have subsequently worked with city staff to resolve the scheduling conflicts that resulted in the fines, and have taken efforts to reach out to the Downtown business community and residents. Meanwhile they are adapting their construction plans to address challenges as they arise in what is an incredibly challenging project – both in its technical nature and in the jurisdictional challenges.

The current secant pile work will be going on until March, and it is possible that the impact drivers will be operating one or two days a week during regular construction hours during this time. Bosa are working with the City to maintain accessibility to the River Market and the Pier Park, and have set up a project website to communicate with the community, and are even holding a community meeting next week (follow that last link for details) to let the neighbourhood know what is going on.

Royal City Taxi Ltd./Queen City (Bonnie’s) Taxi Ltd: Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw No. 8091, 2019 to Add Vehicles – Bylaw for Three Readings
Once again the local taxi companies are applying to the City and the Passenger Transportation Board of the province to add vehicles to their fleets so you won’t have to wait a half hour for one to show up. Royal City Taxi was permitted 9 new vehicles, none of which is required to be an accessible vehicle. Queen City Taxi was permitted 2 new vehicles (they applied for three). Neither of which is required to be an accessible taxi.
The justification of the Passenger Transportation Board for the lack of new accessible taxis was, essentially, that 17% of the local fleet is accessible, and both of these operators have 17% or more of their fleet accessible, which is perfect circular reasoning. Unfortunately, it did not address the concern raised by this Council last year (brought to our attention by the Access Ability Advisory Committee) that the local accessible fleet is inadequate. Council even wrote them a letter to the effect, asking them to increase the accessible fleet next time they g o through this exercise.

Clearly they were no compelled by our letter, so we are going to send them another one, asking them why not. Because that would be the polite thing to do.

Short Term Rental Regulation: Proposed Approach and Next Steps
The issue of Short Term Rentals (AirBnB, VRBO, and the such) has been bubbling along below the surface for a couple of years. I even hosted a Metro Conversation in New Westminster on the topic two years ago, where we talked frankly about the opportunities, and potential problems, related to this “disruptive” industry and the regulation of it.

Vancouver recently passed a set of regulations for STRs in their community, and a few other communities from Nelson to Victoria have taken somewhat different approaches to the regulation. The City of New West has decided to take the Vancouver model, and use that as a framework to be adapted through a public consultation process in order to make a modified set of regulations to fit our situation. This will be going out to the STR operator community and the public, so watch this space!

Restorative Justice Committee: Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Motion for Support of the Indigenous Court System
Council is taking a motion to the UBCM asking the federal government to invest in a restorative justice and community based court system for indigenous peoples, as part of a larger effort to address the systemic flaws in our existing justice system that sees indigenous people incarcerated at an unbelievably higher rate than the rest of the Canadian Population.


We read a bunch of Bylaws including adoption of the following:

Bylaw Notice Enforcement Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw No. 7960, 2019 and
Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw No. 8077, 2019
These Bylaws that clear up our ticketing bylaws and update our fines for a variety of offences, including some of the ones that make our pedestrian spaces less safe, as discussed at the January 28 meeting, were adopted by Council.

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.

Council – Jan 28, 2019

Our January 28th meeting started with a well-attended public hearing, which I am not going to talk about here, because the topic deserves another blog post on its own. So, other than the Public Hearing and resultant Bylaws, we started our regular Agenda with approving the following items on Consent:

Alternative Approval Process for Electric Utility Infrastructure Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 8041, 2018
We need to build a new electrical substation in Queensborough. The electrical utility needs to borrow up to $30Million to do that. Since it will take more than 5 years to pay that loan back (as it will be paid back out of the profit we make in electrical sales), we need authorization from the public to draw that loan. I hate the Alternative Approval Method, but it is the only tool given to us under the Community Charter to get this important infrastructure built, so here we are.

If you are opposed to the City’s electrical utility borrowing to build a substation, and are an eligible voter (New West resident or property owner, Canadian Citizen, over 18, etc.) you will have a 30+ day period to submit your opposition to the City. Come to the front desk at City Hall and fill out the form before March 11 at 7:00pm.

Recruitment 2019 Appointments to Advisory Committees, Commissions, Boards and Panels
This is the official release of the residents and stakeholders selected to serve on council Advisory Committees and other boards and panels in the City. If you applied for any of the above, look for your name here! If you don’t find your name, please don’t take it personally, we literally have hundreds of applications, and most of them were really good. It is hard to say “no thanks” to someone who is willing to stand up and take part in their community this way, but committees of 30 don’t work. Please apply again next year, as we are always trying to balance out experienced committee members with new brains to keep things fresh.

If you were named to ACTBiPed, Access Ability, the Electrical Commission, the Intelligent City Advisory Committee, I’ll see you at City Hall!

Recruitment 2019: Appointment of Council Representatives and Co-Chairs to 2019 Advisory Bodies of Council
This is some last-minute shuffles of Council Advisory Committee chairs and co-chairs, as the new Council figures out their schedules and attempts to find some kind of balance.

Recruitment 2019: Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) Rescindment
One of the appointments to the youth Advisory committee has to change, on account of the Terms of Reference.

Disposition of City Owned Lands: Road Allowances in the Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node
The City is proposing to sell off two slices of roadway that are not, strictly, roadway, as they have never been opened up and paved and otherwise made road. These are both part of a larger vision for the Queensborough Triangle – a piece of land that has been under development review for a number of years. The City first advertised this land being potentially for sale through a public RFP in 2017, and staff entertained a few offers. They are now ready to move forward on the sale

2019 Community Grant Recommendations – Additional Information
Coming off of our approval of community grants, there were two items that were removed from the regular approval process to get more information about the applications and applicants. We moved the staff recommendations to provide some funds to a tumbling club, and to move New West TV to a different category and find a more appropriate way to support them.

2019 Festival Grant Recommendations
We spend a lot of money on Festivals in this City. But that said, the #1 positive thing people say about New West these days is that they love that so much is happening in this City. Every one of these Festival Grants is supporting a program or event that is primarily NOT run by the City, but by other organizations in the city, large and small. The City provides engineering and support services (though we need to account for them here as “in kind donations”), and we give a little bit of cash, concentrating the latter on supporting new up-and-coming events over more established events which we encourage to adopt more of an self-supporting model over time. Alas, New Westminster is a small City, and all of these organizers and events compete for limited sponsorship dollars.

Support festivals! Show up, spend money in their booths, send out social media messages about the event. And if you own a business, think about sponsoring the events that make New Westminster the funnest City in the lower mainland.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Amendments to Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) Terms of Reference
The Terms of Reference of the EDAC is being adjusted to make the committee work better in the context of the new Economic Development Plan for the City.

Bylaw Notice Enforcement Housekeeping Amendment Bylaw No. 7960, 2019 and New Municipal Ticket Information Bylaw No. 8077, 2019: Bylaws for Consideration of Three Readings
Included in this report is a bit of information about the two types of power our Bylaw Officers have: the Bylaw Offence Notice (BON) process which is limited to a $500 fine and is basically an in-house operation that is adjudicated at City Hall, and a Municipal Ticketing Information (MTI) process, which is adjudicated by the courts, but can include a fine up to $1000. The City almost exclusively uses the BON model since it was introduced to the City in 2009.

Every time we make and adjustment to a Bylaw that changes the type of offences or fines, we also need to amend the Bylaw that regulates these fines so the two are congruent. These amendments pile up to make the Bylaws unwieldy at times, and internal inconsistencies sneak in. So staff does these housekeeping edits to fix some of those inconsistencies.

While we are at it, we are boosting the fines for refusing to allow inspection of property (the cost of the City going to a Justice of the Peace to get an Entry Warrant is going up), and are adding Transit Police to our Bylaws to give them more flexibility to enforce City Bylaws around transit stations (i.e. smoking).

Happy to report we are also increasing fines for motorists that do things that impact pedestrian safety such as driving or stopping on a sidewalk or failing to yield for a pedestrian (which aligns well with our Master Transportation Plan). I support this move, but think we are actually not going far enough

[Trigger warning – War on Cars rhetoric coming!] According to the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit, and corroborated by research out of the City of Vancouver, the #1 cause of pedestrian injury and death is vehicles failing to yield in a crosswalk where the pedestrian had the right of way. Pedestrian collisions result in more than 2,000 injuries and 50 deaths on average every year in BC – all of those preventable and the majority to no fault of the pedestrian. I think a $125 fine for this violation is not high enough, compared to a $200 fine for blocking traffic or for fixing your car while it is parked in front of your house. I also feel the fines for other significant pedestrian hazards, such as parking too close to a crosswalk or an intersection, are too low. As an aside, I also suggest the word “jaywalking” needs to be removed from our Bylaws. The term itself is pejorative towards vulnerable road users, and has racist and classist roots that do not fit well with modern thinking about the residents of our city.

I appreciate the changes being made, and supported the recommended changes. But I wanted Council and staff to recognize that one of my goals for this council term is to prioritize pedestrian safety through education and enforcement so we can meet the goals of the MTP. This will include review of enforcement activities and fines related directly to creating safer pedestrian spaces. [Off my soap box].

Official Community Plan Implementation: Work Program for endorsement
We want to do it all. New Westminster, despite our visions and dreams, is still a relatively small municipality, and we need to allocate and prioritize resources based on our relatively small tax base. This includes prioritizing the workload of our planning staff. It is a busy time in the city, the OCP implementation is coming along at the same time as we are pushing the envelope on rental protection and affordable housing and development is happening at a pace that requires careful review. This report is about our Planning staff setting priorities for their work plans for the next couple of years, and giving Council a change to weigh in on whether the priorities are aligned with Council’s expectations.

We ended up sending back this report with a few recommendations about what our priorities are, specifically some of the policy work around creating infill density guidelines for duplexes and triplexes was identified as something some on council don’t want to delay on. I was a little challenged, because setting priorities is hard, for staff and for Council, and we cannot afford to do it all. We are going through some strategic planning work on Council right now, setting goals for the term, so perhaps that process will help inform this a bit before it comes back to Council. But the question will ultimately be – do we do a little less, or do we add more resources?

Queen’s [sic] Park Traffic Calming Review
Our engineering staff do these neighbourhood-level traffic reviews on a regular rotating basis, and Queens Park (the neighbourhood, not Queen’s Park the Park) came up in 2017-2018. After public consultation, on-site analysis and data-gathering, more public meetings, and engineering analysis by an external consultant, some modest proposals are presented to help address what are, in the grand scheme of things, pretty modest traffic management issues.

Not surprisingly , the 85th percentile speed on some of the wider roads exceeds the posted speed limits.

I did raise some questions about whether road narrowing was considered in a few places where road widths are really wide (i.e. Second Street at Queens Ave is 18m wide – crazy wide for what is ostensibly a two-lane road), and though it may cost more than simply installing a 4-way stop, it may improve the pedestrian experience while adding to the “friction” of the road that results in lower travelling speeds.

There is also an interesting trial proposed here – closing the bottom of Park Row to deal with high speeds on that road, and a difficult intersection and pedestrian space where Second Road, Park Row and Royal Ave all meet. I generally like the idea, but recognize that the impact on local residents and on Bonson Road (which is really just an alley) will take some monitoring.


Among our Bylaw readings was Adoption of the following:

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8080, 2019
This Bylaw that updates the fees we charge for various engineering fees was Adopted by Council. Consider yourself CPI updated.


Finally, we had a single piece of New Business:

Sanctuary City
Council agreed with Councillor Das’ motion asking staff to report back on the feasibility of establishing New Westminster as a Sanctuary city. This seems an easy and appropriate step towards making our City more inclusive.

That was the end of a long night, and I will follow up with a post about the Public Hearing.

Council – Jan 14, 2019

The Happy New Year 2019 edition of New Westminster City Council had a packed Agenda, and started off with a presentation on Innovation Week, which is coming in the beginning of March and is something you should definitely check out.


We started our Council Action by moving the following items on Consent:

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act Report for 2017 and 2018
This is our annual report on how staff managed Freedom of Information requests and Privacy inquiries. The FOI applications are trending downward over the last few years, at least partly because we have an Open Data portal that makes more data accessible to the public without having to engage the FOI process. The other side of that equation is that we have more and more privacy protection concerns, and have to be pretty cautious with how we manage information so we don’t violate the “Privacy Protection” part of the Act.

The best news is that staff are processing the FOIs in a timely manner, and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner seems happy.

New Westminster Aquatics and Community Centre Loan Authorization Bylaw and Temporary Borrowing Bylaw
We need to get Loan Authorization Bylaws lined up so we can move ahead on the Canada Games Pool replacement project. Because of how the borrowing laws for local governments in BC work, we are preparing for two types of loans. First is a Temporary Loan Bylaw which will allow us to borrow cash to pay the bills as we are going along, which must be paid back within 5 years. The second is a longer-term Loan Authorization that allows us to amortize the costs of the project over 20 years. We will use this second one to pay off the first one once we have everything completed.

The plan is to secure the authority to borrow up to $93.6Million. This is, essentially, the maximum project cost ($114M) less the reserves we have saved up for the project ($20.4M). That does not mean we will spend all of the $93.6 Million, in fact we are going through this process right now to facilitate application for a Federal Infrastructure Grant. If we were to get that grant, it would come right off of this loan amount. We are also relatively early in the detail design of the new facility, and where cost savings can be found, they can also reduce this amount.

The Loan Authorization Bylaw will have to go through the Alternative Approval Process – meaning that we will ask the public whether they feel this is an appropriate expenditure (albeit through ha less-than-ideal negative-option process). So expect to hear more about this in the coming months.

Council Remuneration
Here we go again. Being an elected official responsible for budgets means you need to, at some point, authorize your own wages, and take the shit show that comes with it. Our current policy was adjusted by the previous Council, and involves a review every 4 years (i.e. once per Council term) to compare compensation to a representative cohort across the region. As there is a bit of a spanner in the regular works this year when the federal government made a significant shift in how local government elected officials wages are taxed. Most (all?) municipalities are increasing Mayor and Council wages to “make them whole”, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about how to handle this.

The recommendation by staff here is that we send this out to an independent HR consultant who can apply HR industry guidelines and make a recommendation about what compensation levels Council should get, and how we should implement future changes. This will be a public report, and at arms-length to Mayor and Council, which I think is the only fair and accountable way to deal with prickly topics like this.

Multi-Family Residential Rental Tenure Zoning: Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8078, 2019 – For Consideration of First and Second Readings
The City has had a moratorium on conversion of purpose-built rental multi-family buildings into Strata properties (“stratification”) since 1978, part of our long-term commitment to protecting affordable housing within our legal ability to do so.

New zoning powers were granted by the province last year that mean local governments can now limit land use in some residential zones to only include rental-only tenure. There are several properties in the City that were built as purpose built rental, some even receiving zoning benefits or support from CMHC because they were rentals, but are not subject to the moratorium due to a variety of historic factors. The City is moving to rezone them as rental-only, in an effort to assure they are not converted. At the same time, we are pre-applying rental zoning to a tract of City-owned lands in Queensborough to help inform future use of the lands.

This will be going to a Public Hearing, which I suspect will be a spirited one.

381 Keary Street: Development Variance Permit to Permit a Parking Space to be Designated in the Front Yard – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
This property owner wants to have a legal secondary suite, but has no back alley, and not enough sideyard to put a driveway to the back yard. As the City has a policy against front yard parking in residential areas, they need a DVP to permit a front parking pad. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on February 4th if you have any concerns, C’mon out and let us know what you think.

341 Johnston Street: Development Variance Permit to Permit Lot Frontages of 8.9 Percent of the Perimeter – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
This property owner wants to subdivide their property in Queensborough to create two 32.5ft-wide lots, but because their lot is150ft deep, that means the frontage will be less than 10% of the total perimeter, so a DVP is required. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on February 4th if you have any concerns, C’mon out and let us know what you think.

Energy Step Code and Building Bylaw Amendments: Bylaw for Consideration of Three Readings
We are moving forward with Step Code implementation. This sets the energy efficiency levels (as classified by the BC Building code) of new buildings being constructed on New Westminster. We have already adopted a Bylaw for single family homes, and are now bringing in a phased program for multi-family and commercial buildings.

One interesting wrinkle here is that we will allow a slightly less efficient building to be built if it’s primary thermal energy source is a low-carbon source (like ground source geothermal or sewer heat recovery). This recognizes that the GHG emission reduction is the most important part of energy efficiency, as GHG are the most pressing concern. Council moved to give this Bylaw three readings.

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre Grant Application for Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program
We are applying for the grant. Although the combined Federal/Provincial infrastructure program will fund up to 73% of eligible projects (40% from the Feds, 33% from the Province), the entire program is only $134 Million to be spread across BC, so the chance of us getting funding at that level is pretty remote. BC is a big province, New West is 1.5% of the population, every community has needs and many have projects they want to get built. Do the math.

The good news is that this project meets all of the criteria for a hefty grant. It literally checks every box: cultural, recreational, and community infrastructure improvement, it is a significant GHG-reduction project, it is a service to vulnerable populations, and it is developed to a point where we can be assured that the project can be completed. So we are going to ask for the maximum funding for which we are applicable, and see where it goes.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8080, 2019
There was a clerical error in the amendment to the Engineering User Fees Bylaw we passed back in late 2018. This amendment corrects that error.

Tree Protection Bylaw Administration: Update on Staffing Pilot Project and Potential Amendments and Incentives
The tree protection Bylaw is still being adjusted to make it work better. We have moved the administration of Tree Permits within City hall to make it more transparent to applicants when tree permit are required, and to help trigger to staff when tree protection measures are required. We are also making it easier for a resident to use a consulting arbourist in the cases where an arbourist is needed, and are creating a bit of a reliance model so we don’t have the City arbourist doing redundant work.

This is a work in progress, and Council remains committed to the tree bylaw, to tree protection, and the urban Forest Management Strategy, but that doesn’t stop staff from working on making the bylaw work as smoothly, efficiently, and transparently as possible.


We gave a bunch of Bylaws readings (Which I am not going to list in these reports anymore), but only one was a Bylaw for Adoption:

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment (Cannabis) Bylaw No. 8076, 2018
This Bylaw adjusts our development fees bylaw so that we can collect the appropriate fees for the development of cannabis retail outlets in the City. It was adopted by Council.


We then had an extraordinary amount of New Business:

Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign
This Motion form Councillor Nakagawa was bolstered by a delegation from the Lost Voices campaign – young adults from our community who are immigrants to Canada, most of them not yet citizens but long-time Permanent Residents who would like to have a voice in how their adopted City and School District are run. They are asking cities to campaign to the province (through the UBCM) to extend local government voting rights to Permanent Residents.

Council agreed to take this issue to UBCM on their behalf, where I am sure it is going to be a spirited debate.

Clothing and Donation Bins
This is once again a topic that popped to the top of regional interest as yet again (in another community) a person died by getting trapped in a clothing donation bin. Some Councils have banned them outright, which I think is a knee-jerk reaction. As proposed by Councillor Trentadue, we have asked staff to report back to us immediately with steps we can do to improve safety. This may result in us banning some types, and we did make it clear to staff that they should not wait for us if they feel they need to act to protect public safety. However, I know we will also be hearing from agencies that rely on the donations, and from those who feel a safer bin design is possible.

Proposed Rental Housing Revitalization Initiative
Some of the most affordable housing in New Westminster is the housing most under threat: our older purpose built rental stock. This is where the risk of demoviction is highest (see the Rental Zoning item about) and this is where we are seeing a distressing amount of rennoviction. We have struggled to create policy to prevent rennoviction in the City within our limited powers, but our Planning and other staff have brainstormed and come up with some potential actions the City can do to prevent these rennovictions from making people in our community homeless.

There is a lot to digest here, and some of it is in relatively preliminary form, but the multi-prong approach includes a Rental Replacement Policy that will formally dictate how much and what type of rental tenure housing will have to be built if a developer plans to demolish a purpose-built rental building. We are also looking at using our Business Licensing powers to make rennoviction more difficult. Finally, we are going to look at a Rental Revitalization Program to make it easier for owners to perform necessary upgrades, efficiency improvements and repairs to our lower-cost rental stock without the need to evict the current tenants.

There is going to be quite a bit of talk about this over the next few months, but I am happy that our staff are finding creative solutions to protect the most vulnerable part of our current housing spectrum – the important gap between subsidized housing and new market rental.


Happy New Year, New West!

Council Top Three!

This is regular pre-council list of what I think are going to be the most important three items on our Council agenda on Monday* in no particular order, so you can decide if you want to tune in.

#1: Grant Allocations
We are making our awards of the Amateur Sports, Arts & Culture, Child Care, Community, Environmental, Heritage and Partnership grants for 2019. We had $710,000 in the budget for these grants, and $1.6 Million in requests. Tune in to see what the Grant Committees recommend, and see if Council agrees!

#2: Update on the City’s Snow and Ice Response Preparations
With winter upon us, we are receiving an update report on how the City responds to snow and ice removal. I have shared my concerns in the past that our response (plow and de-ice roads, but but rely on the neighbourliness of our residents and business owners to do the same for our sidewalks and bus stops) does not reflect the transportation priorities set out in our master transportation plan, or other policies in the City meant to support seniors or people with disabilities.

#3: Small Dog Off-Leash Area Trial in Moody Park
This is actually a pretty basic upgrade to park facilities, but few things are as conflict-inducing than off-leash parks. The need for a small dog area in Moody Park is not under dispute, but the design details and questions about where to locate it in the very constrained park have proved to be contentious in the past.  

*normal footnote: The funny thing about Council: it is almost impossible to predict what three items will rise to the top and get the most debate/ public feedback / media coverage. These are only my guesses, and I am only one of seven. For a full prediction of the entire Council agenda, go to the agenda!

Council – Dec 3, 2018

Proving my prognostication skills are as terrible as I always suspected, here is my report on this week’s Council meeting. You can follow along on the Agenda here, and note that I thought those new business items were just Notices of Motion, not topics of discussion this week, which is kinda how I missed them earlier. I’m such a rookie at this.

We started the Meeting with an Opportunity for Public Comment:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8062, 2018
This Bylaw provides us the authority to borrow the money we need to build the proposed Canada Games Pool replacement. We do not yet have a detailed design, and our cost estimates at this point are “Class D” and put the project at about $100 Million, or $114 Million if we expand the facility to provide all of the competition-supporting changes that the swim club was asking for. The rush here is the timing of the Federal government infrastructure grant process, and the requirement that we have a financing plan in place and approved prior to us completing that application.

We had one person ask a few questions regarding the structure of the Five-Year Financial Plan and the planned structure of the loan if and when the City decides to go forward with the project. There will be a *lot* of discussion of this project in 2019 as the design and planning come along and we get all of the details of financing the largest capital project in the city’s history together. In the meantime, Council gave this amendment three readings.


The following items were Moved on Consent without discussion.

New Westminster City Council Indemnification Bylaw
The City’s Solicitor is updating some of the practices in the City, including clarifying the limitations of liability for Council. This is a little meta to how Council operates, but as the executive to a large organization, we have some protection from legal liability if we make decisions in good faith that have bad results. This protection is much less robust if we act dishonestly or in violation of the law.

Engineering User Fees and Utility Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8071, 2018
We talked about utility rates last meeting, and I have been writing a few blog posts about it. This is the Bylaw that makes the water, sewer, and solid waste rates for the next year official, and we gave the Bylaw three readings.

DCC Expenditure Bylaw No. 8072, 2018
Development Cost Charges are money the City collects from developers that the City is required by law to spend on designated infrastructure improvement projects directly related to the impacts of population growth. If we need to replace the water pipes under your street due to it being old and leaky, that is paid for out of your utility rates (through utility reserve funds, usually). However, if we have to build a bigger water pipe to accommodate the new multi-family building on your block, the marginal cost of that expansion is paid for with DCCs collected from the developer of that multi-family building. Like everything else in this City, we need a Bylaw to permit the pulling of the money out of the DCC accounts and spending it on the projects.

For example, there are a couple of drainage projects in Queensborough, one related to Ewen Street redesign, the other a major pump station at the end of Wood Street. They are going to cost a combined $6.4Million. About $4.5M of that (or 70%) will be paid for out of our reserves (ie. paid by all users), while $1.9M (or 30%) will be paid by DCC funds collected through density increases in Queensborough.

Council gave the Bylaw, which authorizes the spending of a little more than $3 Million of DCC funds on various projects.

Code of Conduct for City Council
We have not operated with a modern Code of Conduct for Council. This is something many Cities have adopted, partly because of increased expectations for respectful workplaces, and partly from observing examples from other cities where the municipal operations were hampered by poor conduct on the part of a few disruptive Council members. So, no sign of problems here, just our City Clerk being proactive as part of our general effort to make City Hall and Council function as well as possible. Council move to approve the Code.

Recruitment 2018: ICAC Appointment
The School Board representative to the Intelligent City Advisory Committee is changing due to some staffing shifts at the School District. Moved!

2018 Heritage Register Update – Addition of Five Properties and Removal of One Property
The Heritage Registry is a database of significant heritage assets in the City (mostly single family homes) that have statements of significance, and the owners are able to avail themselves of some special provisions of the BC Building Code to support the protection and preservation of the buildings. Some (not all) are protected from demolition or modification. New houses granted property rights through Heritage Restoration Agreements are commonly added to the Register every now and then, and this time, a building demolished after a fire a couple of years ago has been stricken from the Register.

Recreational Cannabis: Nuisance Monitoring Program
As I’ve said a few times, the biggest hassle we are going to have to deal with as a City with the legalization of cannabis is the inevitable complaints about exposure to second-hand smoke. I am of the opinion that the actual nuisance will not be increasing substantially (because I don’t think legalization is going to come with a substantial increase in users), but I am confident the number of complaints will as people are less sensitive to how their personal use impacts others. Staff have some tools in place, but will provided this report to let us know they will be collecting data and will report back to us about how the nuisance issue plays out in the City.

SkyTrain Stations (TransLink): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
SkyTrain works often involve working at times when the SkyTrain is not running, for some pretty obvious reasons, which usually requires a construction noise bylaw exemption. We are granting one until December 24th, then again starting in January so TransLink can wire up their new announcement system.

Pattullo Bridge Seismic Upgrading: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
As plans for a replacement for the Pattullo bridge proceed, the old structure is still going to carry traffic through to 2023. TransLink has concerns about its ability to withstand high seismic and wind loads events, and want to install an early warning system to close the bridge in the event of a bad event. The work to install some of this will have to happen at night to not impact drivers. So they came to us for a construction noise exemption.

CP Rail Pipe Crossing Agreement – Proposed Watermain Crossing on Braid Street
We need to replace a piece of water main, and it goes under railroad tracks. So we need to get separate approvals from all three rail operators. This is the CP one. This is also related to the reason why the sidewalk improvements along Braid have not been completed to date. The water line thing has to happen first.

Amendment to the Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw (resubmitted)
This is a second shot at updating our Parks and Recreation fees, as we do annually, after a few recommendations came from Council last meeting. Council moved to approve them this time.


We then adopted a few Bylaws

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8038, 2018
As discussed last meeting, This Bylaw that allows us to borrow a bit of money if we need to spend a little bit more cash than we strictly have on hand to get past short term (less than a year) cash crunch was adopted by Council. I have no idea if staff ever use this flexibility, but they are definitely happy to have it.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8058, 2018
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that formalizes the annual CPI-related increases in Engineering Fees to assure cost recovery was adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment (1102, 1110, 1116 and 1122 Salter Street) Bylaw No. 8034, 2018
As discussed back in June, given Third Reading on July 25th, and just approved by the Ministry of Transportation, this Bylaw that supports the development of a combined townhouse, rowhome and detached house development in Queensborough was adopted by Council.


Now for those New Business items I thought were Notices of Motion:

Poverty Reduction
Council resolved that: the City of New Westminster support the Coalition’s ABC Plan for an accountable, bold and comprehensive poverty reduction plan for BC; and that this council advocate to the provincial government to develop and implement a provincial poverty reduction strategy that includes the measures within the ABC Plan before February 2019, with the commitment that this council will work with the provincial government in implementing this plan.

This is a motion to ask the Provincial government to include the framework and items in the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s “ABC Plan” for an Accountable, Bold and Comprehensive poverty reduction plan for BC. Beyond just a good idea at a good time, it is important to realize that although the costs of poverty often fall on municipalities to manage, the causes of poverty are firmly in senior governments’ jurisdiction. We do what we can in New Westminster to mitigate the effects, but the root causes will need serious senior government action.

Truth and Reconciliation
Council resolved to endorse the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action; the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and that the City use the Declaration as a framework for truth and reconciliation.

The City has been working on a reconciliation plan since 2017, and are quickly entering a phase where Council will and the public will be engaging in conversations, and the City will be opening opportunities for truths to be shared. We have taking a cautious approach, but based on the messaging of the recent election campaigns, we will be integrating reconciliation into our strategic planning for the term. In the meantime, it is timely that the City endorse the principles that will provide the framework for those actions.

All on Board Campaign
Finally, Council also resolved to endorse the #AllOnBoard Campaign; the City write a letter to the TransLink Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, the TransLink Board, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction asking TransLink to work with the provincial government regarding funding and developing a plan that will provide free public transit for minors (ages 0-18), and reduced price transit based on a sliding scale using the Market Basket Measure for all low-income people regardless of their demographic profile;
and that the City write a separate letter to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation and the TransLink Board asking them to 1) require TransLink adopt a poverty reduction/equity mandate in order to address the outstanding issue of lack of affordability measures to ensure those who need public transit the most can access the essential service of transit, and 2) to request TransLink immediately and without delay amend existing by-laws and cease ticketing all and any minors for fare evasion as the first step towards the full implementation of free transit for children and youth 0-18, and allow low-income adults to access community service and/or culturally appropriate restorative justice community service as an alternative to the financial penalty of a fare evasion ticket;

I have been an outspoken supporter of providing free transit for youth, and the All on Board campaign has pushed this issue forward in recent months.

My only caveat with this motion is my concern that poverty mitigation efforts undertaking by TransLink do not come at the cost of reducing transit service or increasing fares for other users. Reducing accessibility to or reliability of public transit will ultimately hurt those with lower incomes worse than those who have access to other options. I will not support sliding scale or subsidized transit passes for the lowest income categories if it comes at the cost of increasing fares for the next economic tiers. It is not progressive or fair for the marginally poor to be asked to subsidize the poorest sector of society. The provincial government must fund any low-income transit subsidy from general revenue. It is the only just way to address this issue.


Clearly, we have a new Council, one ready to jump in with two feet and get some things done. It should be an exciting term!

Council Top Three!

This is regular pre-council list of what I think are going to be the most important three items on our Council agenda on Monday* in no particular order, so you can decide if you want to tune in. Honestly, I don’t see any specific item this week raising a rancorous debate – maybe there will be some good delegations? Anyway, here are my guesses.

#1: Five-Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8062, 2018
This is the first sure sign that the Canada Games Pool project is moving ahead – and that it is going to cost the City a lot of money. The timing here is that the application window for the federal / provincial grant we would like to help pay for this project is closing in January, and we need to have proof that we can finance this project before that happens. So we need to include the updated finance plan in our 5-year Financial Plan, then go to the public for authorization for long-term borrowing. This amendment is the first step in this process.

#2: Code of Conduct for City Council
This should finally put an end to all of the swearing and back-stabbing at Council! Just kidding. This is more staff recognizing that we have not operated with a modern Code of Conduct for some time. This is something many Cities have adopted, partly because of increased expectations around respectful workplaces, and partly from observing examples from other cities (cough, Nanaimo, cough) where the municipal operations were hampered by poor conduct on the part of a few disruptive Council members.

#3: Recreational Cannabis: Nuisance Monitoring Program
With the legalization of cannabis, the City has recognized that our biggest hassle is likely to be nuisance complaints related to smoking in public places. There are both provincial and municipal laws that apply here, and enforcement of smoking has never been easy. Staff have a plan to track complaints and enforcement efforts in a systematic way to help us figure out methods to address it.

*normal footnote: The funny thing about Council: it is almost impossible to predict what three items will rise to the top and get the most debate/ public feedback / media coverage. These are only my guesses, and I am only one of seven. For a full prediction of the entire Council agenda, go to the agenda!

Utilities 2018 (Part 1)

I read this headline, and my best reply is: Yep, I share your frustration.

I hear the concern expressed by residents in New Westminster when they see utility costs are going up at rates much greater than inflation. However, I am challenged in trying to find an alternative approach that balances operational costs while planning for long-term sustainability of the utilities. Its not from a lack of concern or empathy for the impact of rate increases, it is more about responsible management of the budget in a way that doesn’t threaten the financial sustainability of the utilities.

A 7% annual increase (adding up to a 40% increase over 5 years) sounds like a lot, and is clearly well above CPI, which is predicted to be between 2% and 2.5% for the next few years. However, the cost to operate our utilities is also increasing much faster than CPI. The best I can do here is unpack some of the details.

Let’s put aside the electrical utility for a bit, because Council sent those proposed changes back to staff for some more work, and we will be having (I suspect) a deeper conversation about those rates in a future meeting. That leaves the three utilities every City deals with: Water, Sewer, and Solid Waste. Here are the changes as proposed:

All the numbers I use in this post are from the utilities report we received last Council meeting. You can read it all here, starting on page 19.

Note the “Average Single Family Household” cost is an average, and your experience will likely be different. Many people in multi-family have their own commercial solid waste services, so pay nothing to the City for that. The sewer and water rates are flat rates to Single Family detached houses, but metered charges to multi-family dwellings. This is an estimate of the impact to the average household, not your exact bill.

Still, next year this average household will likely pay on the order of $100 more for utilities, and by 2023 pay $600 more a year than they pay now – that is $50 extra a month.

To get a sense of why the rates are going up, here is where the City spends that utility money:

In all three utilities, the majority of the cost is what I slightly misleadingly labelled “Metro Charges” – the money we pay to other agencies to supply the water or to take away and responsibly manage our waste streams. Metro Vancouver provides clean, treated, and pressurized water and charges us per cubic metre delivered. Similarly, Metro Vancouver takes our waste water and sends it to the treatment plant at Annacis Island, where it is treated to be safe for disposal into the Fraser River, again charging us per cubic metre. Solid waste is slightly more complicated because organics, recyclables, and “garbage” go to three different streams, and some of those are costing us more than others.

The other costs are related to how we deliver those utilities. Salaries are pretty clear – that is what we pay people to do everything from performing repairs to pipes to processing your bills. Contractors also do similar tasks, but are usually related to projects like replacing a length of watermain under a street or designing a new billing system. You may note that Solid Waste has proportionally much more salary cost because we need people to drive around in trucks and empty your bins – Solid Waste is inherently more of a “service” delivered by people than one relying on capital sitting in the ground in the form of pipes. Supplies are the paperclips, toner fluid, and rubber gloves that staff need to do the jobs above. Note this category is limited to things that are consumed, as opposed to things like trucks and new pipes that are capitalized and included with our Amortization, but let’s not dig too deeply into the capital budget right now (I’ll talk about it more later) .

It is telling that 83% (water), 80% (sewer) and 62% (solid waste) of our expenses for these utilities are external, and for the two big ones, are going up much faster than the rate increases we are anticipating for the next 5 years:

If we extend the pie charts above over the 5 years of the financial plan, we can see that not only are those external costs the largest portion of our costs, they are increasing at a much greater rate than the other expenses:

So utility rates are going up, because the main cost driver for the utilities are going up. What we can do about it?

Inevitably, someone is going to raise the issue of salary costs – it is unavoidable when talking about government. CUPE contracts that provide decent wages and work conditions, along with decent CPI-level wage increases won through collective bargaining, seems to elicit anger in some members of the public. However, public service wages are not a significant cost driver here, because they make up less than 10% of the cost for delivering utility service in the City. If we were somehow able to cut all salaries in half (those orange areas in the chart above), your utility costs would go down less than 6%. Such a drastic move would not even offset a single year of utility increases, and we would be back to regular increases in year two, with a much less effective utility due to the lengthy labour dispute and loss of staff.

Some will note that our “revenue” for utilities is much higher than our “expenses” for Utilities, and this is where we get to the other part of the equation: the capital budget. This is the money we need to re-invest into the utilities every year to keep them functioning, and to build towards sustainability. In the larger scheme, it is capital investment that explains why those Metro Vancouver rates are going up so much.

But that will have to wait until the next blog post…

Council – Nov. 19, 2018

Our first real meeting of the new term was full of interesting Agenda items, but we managed to get through them fairly quickly, even before the Public Delegations began.

The following items were Moved on Consent without discussion:

Queensborough Electrical Substation Loan Authorization Bylaw and Temporary Borrowing Bylaw
It is time for the Electrical Utility to build a new substation in Queensborough to deal with increased loads on that side of the river. The Electrical Utility is self-funding, so the capital cost of the substation (approximately $30 Million dollars) will be paid by electrical customers through their regular electrical bill, which requires that we borrow the money and amortize the cost of the construction over 20 years. The City cannot borrow money beyond the 5 years of our financial plan without specific authorization from the province and the public. So we are starting that process.

There are actually two Bylaws here. One will allow us to temporarily borrow up to $30 million dollars (“temporary” being within the 5-year financial plan) to provide the electrical utility access to the cash they need to hire contractors to do the work and pay them at the time they need to hire and pay contractors. The second is to do a long-term (and hopefully lower-rate) infrastructure loan through the Municipal Finance Authority so we can amortize up to $30 Million debt over 20 years. In short, we pay the contractor with the first loan, then pay off the first loan with the long-term loan, because it will cost less in the long run.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8038, 2018
Let’s for a few moments do the dangerous thing of comparing municipal finance to your household finances. The City has a chequing account to pay for day-to-day operations. From salaries to asphalt to photocopy fluid, it all gets paid from this chequing account. Much of the money going into that account arrives in a short period of time around Tax time, but much of it trickles in over the year through fees, senior government grants, etc. We are required (by law) to balance our budget at the end of the year, but it is possible that at some point through the year we may be in a negative cash position because we need to write more cheques in, say, April, than the money we take in that month. In this case, we may need to borrow money for a month or two until those tax cheques start arriving. As a City, we cannot borrow money without a Bylaw authorizing us to do so. So every year, we pass this “revenue Anticipation Borrowing Bylaw” which gives our finance staff the authority to borrow in the short term so we don’t go overdraft.

618 Carnarvon Street: Development Variance Permit No. DVP00656 to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
There is a development property in Downtown that installed signs that, by the most generous interpretation of the Sign Bylaw, do not comply. When staff informed the developer of this, they applied for a variance.

There is a bit of nuance here, because the printed copy of the sign is within the size allowed by the Bylaw , but the very large white space of the sign is not. In theory, the developer could have painted the wall white (which is exempt from the sign Bylaw) and put a regulation-size sign up and the result would be indistinguishable from the current situation. Alas, after the fact, a variance is the best way to deal with this, and there will be an Opportunity to be Heard at the December 10, 2018 meeting. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8058, 2018
There was a typo in the Bylaw we gave Third Reading last month, so we are going to rescind that Third Reading, and do another one with the edited Bylaw.

1209 – 1217 Eighth Avenue: Rezoning and Development Permit Applications for 22 Unit Infill Townhouse Project – For Information
This is a preliminary information report to let Council know that this project is going through reviews and public consultation. The project is the first larger Infill Townhouse project that Council has seen since the changes in the OCP, so there will be some curiosity about how the project develops. As the project will eventually work its way to a Public Hearing, I will hold my comments until that time.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2019 – 2023 Draft Financial Plan – Utilities
Right back at it in the first meeting of the new Council, and we need to keep the process for the new budget rolling.

Utilities are self-supporting in the City. Water, sewer, and solid waste are paid for through utility fees, including a significant amount of money put aside in their capital reserves in order to fund ongoing and anticipated capital upgrades to the aging infrastructure. The Electrical Utility is slightly different, because it makes a profit and pays a dividend to the shareholder (the City) every year.

Water and sewer increases are pretty much what we have been anticipating. The cost of capital improvements and maintenance locally (the higher-than-inflation increased cost of replacing old pipes in this super-heated construction market) and regionally (we are building many new and improved sewer treatment plants and water supply infrastructure, as both federal standards and public environmental expectations are higher than ever before) means these rates will continue to grow slightly faster than CPI for the foreseeable future.

No doubt 7% increase a year looks like an unsustainable path for many homeowners – this culminates to a 40% increase over 5 years, but the regional water rates are anticipated to go up 62% in the same time, and sewer rates by 64%. So our local rate increases are actually lower than the regional trends.

Solid waste increases have been very modest over the last few years, even below CPI, but those good times appear to be coming to an end. There are some significant problems in the regional solid waste system, including issues with managing the organics stream (with a major Richmond facility shutting its doors in 2019) to ongoing issues with provincially-regulated EPR programs dealing with plastics and printed paper. The amount was pay per household in relatively modest for the level of solid waste service we receive, but with increases averaging 10 percent over the next 5 years, we may want to have another conversation about waste reduction and diversion education, and perhaps enforcement, to reduce tipping costs.

Now on to the tough one. I am not currently willing to support increasing our electrical fees above what is charged by BC Hydro to customers across the borders in Burnaby and Coquitlam. The electrical utility provides a dividend to taxpayers in this City, which is one of (not the only) benefits of having an electrical utility. However, it is much harder to argue that we should continue to offset property taxes by expecting electrical customers to pay *more* than the market rate for electricity. I think that represents a change in practice (if not policy) that requires more discussion around Council.

In the end, we moved to approve in principle the other utility rate increases (staff will now draft the appropriate Bylaws, so we can still debate some of the details), but I asked that the Electrical Utility bring back more options for Council in regards to electrical rates, including an analysis of what it looks like if we peg our rates to BC Hydro rate increases.

2018 General Local Election – Report of Election Results
This is the required-by-regulation report of final numbers for the election. The only new news here is that the turnout of registered voters was 29%, In the end, the turnout of registered voters was 29% turnout is slightly below the previous election but not anomalous. This report will be followed up in a later report with a more comprehensive review of how the election went and we can have a discussion then about voter engagement, poll issues, or budget needs for the next election.

420 Boyne Street (Animal Shelter): Consideration of Development Permit for Issuance
The City still plans to build a new Animal Care Facility and tow yard in Queensborough, and just like everyone else, we need to apply for a development permit to do so. Having Adopted the required Zoning Amendment back in October, and the building complying with that zoning, this shouldn’t be too complicated. The RA has no objections and the Design Panel supports the project with some minor adjustment of the cladding. I had a few questions about the pedestrian realm and roads around the new building, but as far as the DP itself, it’s ready to go!

41 Duncan Street (Child Care): Development Permit and Development Variance Permit – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
The development approved recently for 41 Duncan Street included a building that is intended to be a childcare facility. A DP and DVP are required to put that landuse there. Again, this stage reviews some of the form and character of the building and clarifies the amenities, parking facilities, and such things that will support the final building. This has been through the RA and design panel, and will go to a public Opportunity to be Heard on December 10, 2018. C’mon out and let us know what you think.

Front Street Sewer Upgrade (Metro Vancouver): Request for Extension of Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The sewer project that keeps on going is delayed a bit longer. Some of the work they need to do has to happen at night because that is when sewer flows are lower, so they are asking for a noise variance until the end of the year. I moved that we not give them an exemption from December 24th to December 31st. It’s Christmas, people are at home more and trying to enjoy time with their families. In the end Council moved to grant the variance until December 23, and if they need more time they can come back to us after January 1st.

Integration of the Regional Disaster Debris Management Guideline with the City of New Westminster Emergency Response Plan
This was a really interesting report for me (but perhaps not for everyone?) In the event of a major disaster, management of debris can be a huge logistical issue, and it is difficult to plan this kind of thing after the event when you have piles of debris everywhere. A little regional coordination and pre-planning will help a lot in the event of a seismic event, building collapse, tornado, or other derbis-inducing event. My concerns were mostly around liability and how our responsibilities under the Environmental Management Act are relinquished in the event of emergency action.

I might have geeked out a bit (sorry, staff), but am glad to see that this work is being done, and the region is being proactive planning for the certainty of a major incident.

Amendment to the Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw
We are doing our annual review of fees. There were some election discussions at looking at making some changes to some Parks and Rec programs to make them more affordable, so Council asked staff to come back with a few adjustments of these proposed rate increases, especially around how the toonie program is supported.

There is also some good news in here about staff looking at a system where liability insurance can be provided at a very low cost to “unaffiliated” community group that may want to use Community rooms in our Rec centres and such. This is actually a significant barrier to some small users groups who lack meeting space, and I hope we can make something work here for them


We then had a couple of items Added to the Agenda:

Appointment of Chairs to 2019 Advisory Bodies of Council and Organizations
With a new Council Term comes new responsibilities. I am going to continue to chair the Access Ability Advisory Committee and ACTBiPed, am going to Chair the Intelligent City Advisory Committee, and join the Electrical Utility Commission. I will also continue on the Canada Games Pool Replacement Task Force and Transportation Task Force, and an joining the Riverfront and Public Realm Task Force. Outside of the City I am serving as the Chair of the Community Energy Association, and as second vice President of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association. So that should keep me busy.

Re-Appointment to the New Westminster Municipal Police board
Our Police force is regulated under the Police Act by a Police Board, the members of which are appointed by Order in Council by the Attorney General of BC, but City Council must nominate the appointee and send that recommendation to the AG. We are recommending the re-appointment of a current member.

Appointments to the New Westminster Library Board
Similar to the Police, the Library is regulated by a Provincial Act, but we are able to appoint the members to the Library board without asking the province for permission. We are appointing Councillor Trentadue and a community member to the board for two-year terms.

*I have decided this term to skip talking about all of the Bylaws we give various readings during these reports, its really not that exciting, gets long sometimes, and you can read the details in the Agenda. I will only report on the Bylaws when we adopt them, so you know when they become the Law of the Land and your compliance is expected.

We then Adopted some Bylaws:

Tree Protection and Regulation Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8052, 2018; and
Development Services Fees and Rates Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8053, 2018
These Bylaws that formalize the updates to the Tree Protection Bylaw that were given Third Reading back on October 1st were adopted by Council.

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8061, 2018;
Cultural Services Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8060, 2018;
and
Fees Amendment Bylaw No. 8059, 2018
These Bylaws that formalize the updates to our planning and engineering fees to keep up with inflation and changes in operational costs that were given Third Reading back on October 1st were adopted by Council.

Housing Agreement (813-823 Carnarvon) Amendment Bylaw No. 8056, 2018
This bylaws that secures affordable housing will be offered for the life of the recently-approved building in Downtown was adopted by Council.

And other than a few announcements and Public Delegations (that you will need to watch the video to learn about), we were done for the evening!