Budget 2021 – part 3

We had another budget workshop last week, and I’m sorry I’m so late getting to writing about it, but the usual level of chaos in my life was amped up a bit by too many meetings this week, including a chance to Fan-Boy on the two best “City beat” reporters in BC.

In the November 23rd workshop, Council took a first review of the Operating Budget. This is the money we spend day to day in the operations of the City. Not the buildings and equipment we use, but the staff in those buildings and the fuel for that equipment. And this is the budget that relates directly to the tax rate calculation for next year. One of the complicating factors in how we assess “the budget” is that we really have more than one. I have already talked about the Capital Budget and I already talked about Utilities, so I am going to ignore both of those as much as I can and talk just about Operations here.

The math form the 2020 budget looks like this:

So about 70% of our revenue in the general Operations Fund (aside from utility rates) comes from your property taxes. We also make money selling services (like concession stand hot dogs, swimming fees, and parking), a bit from senior government grants, more from “contributions” (casino money, etc.), and “Other” (which includes license fees, permitting fees, fines, interest on savings, an such). You can see the departmental breakdown of where the money is spent (in this case, shown without utility spending), and the breakdown of what we spend the money on (about 50% paying people, 35% buying stuff, 15% on financial stuff like amortization and interest).

2020 was (no surprise) a challenging year. Revenues fell short by almost $4 Million in sales of services (recreation fees, Anvil events, parking), an equal amount in lost Casino revenue, and about $1 million in other revenues. We also had significant operation savings, especially in staff costs related to not having to hire auxiliary staff to provide those suspended services like recreation classes, reduced training costs and suspensions of hiring at the peak of the Pandemic. We also had some unexpected costs related to the Pier Park fire and operating the Emergency Operations Centre for Pandemic response. The emergency Pandemic support money provided by the Province and Federal Government definitely helped and it looks like we are going to be in ok financial shape at the end of the year. We got through.

That said, we are not home and dry. To quote Ford Prefect, “We could not even be said to be home and vigorously toweling ourselves off.” The Pandemic is still here, and is still impacting our function and our finances. This makes modelling for 2021 difficult. We don’t know when revenues will come back, and certainly expenses are going to come back faster. We have to make some assumptions, and have to be conservative about those to keep ourselves from getting into financial trouble. We are assuming that $5 million of casino revenues are not coming back next year, that recreation programs and other sales of service will still be curtailed to the tune of $1.8M, and that we will be spending $550,000 on COVID response programs.

Once we set that as a baseline, we can project the “fixed” cost increases in the City related to already negotiated annual salary increases and inflation, which will be about $2.1 Million above 2020, and that our Capital Program as currently envisioned (mostly, that we break ground on the CGP replacement) will cause about $1.6 Million in debt financing costs. Staff have identified about $1 Million in operational efficiencies or savings, and have identified $3 Million in potential budget “enhancements” (new stuff we could do, or new staff we may need to meet the strategic goals set out be Council). Put that together, you end up with about a 6.3% tax increase in 2021. Yes, Council asked for  lot of stuff over the last year.

If we don’t want the tax increase to be that big, we need to cut some stuff from the budget, which is what most of the conversation from this point forward will be about. We spent some of the workshop discussion various “enhancements” and hearing reports from staff about their departmental operations and pressures that would either support or not those “enhancements”. When we get back together on December 7th, staff will have hopefully worked through those comments and come back with a draft budget that we can then start adjusting.

So all that to say, there is a *lot* of information in the public reports about the budget you can read here, and lots of it was related in the public meeting the video of which you can see here, and we have some work to do.

Budget 2021 – part 2

I wrote a bit about last week’s Council Workshop on the Capital Budget a few days ago, complete with some ugly pies. This post I am going to write about the second half of that presentation – the draft utility budgets for 2021.

As I have mentioned before, the City has more than one budget. The General Fund is all of the stuff we do to provide general City services, from parks and recreation to police and fire services to fixing potholes and supporting arts. The General Fund has a few funding sources including senior government contributions and fees related to permits or parking or fitness classes, but the bulk of it comes from property taxes. In that sense, it is the big fund that Council has close-to-unlimited authority to spend on providing a suite of services.

The Utility Funds are different, and are accounted differently. Outside of occasional senior government grant programs, all of what you pay for water, sewer, or solid waste, goes directly to paying to provide those services. No property tax is used to pay for providing those services, and paying for those services does not offset property taxes. (I am purposely putting our Electrical Utility aside, because it is unique in New West, as I’ve talked about before).

Utility rates are going up faster than property taxes. This is not because of Council largesse or pet projects, but because the cost of delivering these services is going up. To be more accurate, the cost for delivering these services *sustainably* is going up. More on that below.

I did some posts a couple of years ago that used a type of flow diagram to show what happens to the money you spend on your water, sewer, and solid waste bills. The numbers have gotten a little larger, but the proportions have stayed about the same, so the diagrams are still useful even if I don’t have the time or energy to update them right now.

Keep in mind that like all of our budgeting, the law tells us to create a 5-year budget plan. We update this plan every year, so even though we are currently looking to approve 2021-2025 budgets, we are really only approving the 2021 rate increases. The future rate increases are projected in order to inform our planning, but the rate increases in 2022 and beyond are really up to the discretion of future Councils. With that in mind, here is where we see the budgets going.

We foresee collecting just under $15 Million in water fees this year, compared to $13.7M in last year’s budget. That is about a 10% increase. Part of that will come from selling more water (the City is growing), and the rest from a 7% increase in water rates. Here’s where the money is projected to go:

Water is the money we pay Metro Vancouver for the water in the pipes. Operations is the cost of running the utility day to day (staff, materials, power, water quality testing, etc.). Capital is the cost of replacing or building new pipes, valves, meters, hydrants, and all the hard parts that keep water flowing. Transfers are the exchange of money between the Water Utility and the General budget of the City. The “City” buys water from the Utility to run city hall, arenas, the pools, watering flowers, etc. At the same time, the Water Utility uses City equipment and personnel to do some of their work – from billing to road crews, and because the Utility by law must be separate from the General fund, these transfers must be accounted for. Every year, the Utility uses a little more City services than it collects from us in water charges. Finally, Reserves are the money the Utility puts aside in a reserve fund for a variety of purposes, which I will talk about below.

We foresee collecting just over $24 Million in sewer fees this year, compared to about $22.5 Million in 2020. That is about a 7% increase. We are also projecting to collect another $3.6 Million in DCC money and capital grants (I talk about how that works here). That will predominantly come from a 7% increase in sewer rates. Here is where we expect that money to go:

With the same categories as water above (instead of paying for water, we are charged by volume by Metro Vancouver for the treatment of our waste water), you can see it is a little different. We are budgeting for a much bigger capital expenditure in 2021 for sewers, and we are actually going to dip a bit into our reserves to pay for that – which is why I put the blue box with the arrow above the line there to show the offset of costs from dipping into reserves.

Solid Waste
We foresee collecting $3.74M in users fees this year, compared to $3.35 Million last year (we also collect other revenue of a little under a million dollars in this utility) the utility rate increase works out to about 12%. Here’s where the money is projected to go:

You can see the solid waste utility works different that water and sewer. Though the per-tonne “tipping cost” of depositing waste at Metro Vancouver and private facilities is significant and going up, there is much more operational and transfer costs than other utilities. This is because of the nature of the work – we have collection trucks running 5 days a week that need crews and fuel. Also unique here is the fact we are running with a deficit in our reserves for solid waste, which will hopefully turn around by 2022, and this is not unrelated to why the rates are increasing so much.

I want to wrap this up by talking about our reserves. This is the money that each of these utilities have “in the bank” (well, Solid Waste has a deficit in the bank, but follow me here). We often talk about the main reason our utility rates are going up is because the cost of operating them is going up, but that is only partly true. We are also raising rates to build up our reserves.

The reason we have reserves is because they work like a buffer on the system. If we have an unexpected cost like extensive emergency repairs, a catastrophic loss, or have an opportunity to get a big matching fund grant from senior government that requires we are able to pay our half, a healthy reserve gives us that flexibility. Healthy reserves make our utilities *sustainable*. Currently, our reserves are in the order of 2-3% of the value of our assets. With increased awareness of the infrastructure gap so many communities are suffering, the current best practice is to keep reserves between 5% and 10% of the asset value. For this reason, we are continuing to build reserves in each of our Utility funds with an aim to get to that level.

This was a conversation we had in the workshop, and part of our finance staff’s work plan is to do a thorough analysis of our reserves situation as the City’s Asset Management plan is updated.

Overall, a typical household in New West can expect to see their annual utility rates for water, sewer, and solid waste go up by $132 next year, or about $11 more dollars a month.

Budget 2021 – part 1

This week Council had a Workshop instead of a Council meeting. We have these intermittently to dig deeper into subjects than we have time to in a regular meeting. It also allows us to have more of a free-form conversation with staff than the strict structures of a Council meeting. This gives staff a chance to educate Council a bit on the inner workings of their departments, and gives Council a chance to provide more direct feedback. In the end, we usually give staff some “direction” for future work – somewhere between vague ideas and strict orders. This direction should, as best as possible, be reflected in the reports staff eventually bring back to Council for approval, which is sometimes a challenge as Council workshops are 7 people speaking and often providing contradictory direction. Such is the life of a senior management for a city.

The workshop this week (you can watch the video here) was our first discussion of the 2021 Budget, with both some preliminary Capital Budget work and some discussion of Utility Rates. I have written previously about the difference between the City’s Capital Budget and Operational Budget, and have also written about how Utilities are different the General Operations. Damn, I’ve written a lot of stuff about budgets over the years. Here we go again.

Like the rest of our budgeting, we do our Capital budgeting as a 5-year plan. That makes this conversation about framing a 2021-2025 Capital Plan, but 5-year plans are updated every year, so our emphasis is on the planned 2021 capital expenditure. Still, we project into 2022-2025.

I would continue to describe our capital plan as “ambitious”, because we are planning to invest significantly in capital in the next few years. This is in part due to a few of big-ticket items (e.g. the Canada Games Pool replacement and Massey Theatre refit) and partly because some of our strategic goals and climate action plans will require capital outlay in the next couple of years. The budget I talk about here is very much a draft, and will certainly change, but the first pass includes $202 Million in capital spending in 2021. Yikes.

For comparison, our previous 2020-2024 capital plan approved last year was for $475M over 5 years, front-loaded to include $135M in 2020. This brings up the first thing we need to talk about with Capital budgets: we rarely spend all of our capital plan in any given year. Most years I have been on Council, we have had an annual capital plans in the order of about $90M in the current budget year, and $60M in each of the subsequent 4 years. However, usually about $30M of that $90 million doesn’t get done in that year. This is because projects are delayed, because other priorities come up, partnership money doesn’t materialize in time, or any of numerous factors. For whatever reason, about a third of “this year” in the Capital Budget commonly sgets pushed forward into “next year”. Meaning next years capital budget will go from the forecast of $60M to $90M, and the cycle repeats.

2020 was obviously a unique year. It started off that way because our Capital Budget had expanded due to Council priorities and we anticipated about $135M in budgeted capital delivery in 2020. The Pandemic response caused that to go off the rails early in the year, and although we did/will deliver something like $50M in capital works, that means $85M in approved capital works have been pushed forward into 2021 Add to this the $117M in 2021 capital plan works (most of which was already in the 2020-2024 5-year plan) and you get $202M. Realistically, we will deliver about $142M of this and push $60M into 2022.

**It is probably worth pointing out again, I am using rough estimate numbers here. The bills for 2020 have not all come in yet, as the year isn’t over, and we have not settled on what the Capital Budget will look like as a Council yet. I am just relating the very-draft numbers we used to guide our deliberations in the workshop. None of this is fixed in certainty yet.**

In the report provided to Council there was a big spreadsheet that set out all of the planned capital expenditures as 500+ line items, from $2,000 for scheduled replacement of Emergency Radio batteries to $84,000,000 for the Canada Games Pool replacement. And yes, we went through them line-by line and have asked staff questions about many of them. We will be asking more questions line-by line, and many of those lines are going to change.

In the workshop, we went though various ways to “clump” this capital spending to make the big number relatable and better set priorities. The first big division is by “fund”. We have a General Fund that is all the stuff you pay for ostensibly through property taxes (parks, police, fire, roads, planning, bylaws, council, etc.) and we have Utility funds that are paid for through users fees (Electrical, Water, Sewer, and Solid Waste). That breaks down like this:

Putting aside the Utility Funds for a bit (until next post), we can break down the General Fund in various ways, be it through the function or departments where the capital will be spent:

Or through the types of things we are paying for with the capital funds (and here is where the clumping gets a  little more subjective – you may clump a little differently than me):

As we went through in the workshop, these can be further clumped by how much is spent on each Council Priority (this one clumps the utility capital in with the general fund capital, because Council Priorities end up in both):

Any way you slice it, $200M is a lot of pie. As you can see in all of these, the $84M for the replacement for the Canada Games Pool is the biggest item, by far. It is currently shown as a 2021 expense, and we will likely be making a decision on whether to commit that funding in 2021, but the actual bill is not likely to be paid all in one chunk in 2021. $84M in one year looks big, but in reality it will stretch out over a couple of years as we take money out of reserves and issue debt to pay the construction bills.

As we went through the spreadsheets at the workshop, different Councilors emphasized different priorities, and asked for more details on several lines. I suspect (and I am speaking only as one of 7 members of Council here, not on behalf of anyone else) I think this list will be whittled down a bit, and that there is no way we will have the operational capacity to get all of this capital work done in one year. The real numbers will become more apparent in December after some significant back-and-forth between Capital and Operational budgets.

Next time, I’ll talk a bit about the preliminary Utility Budgets and what we can (or can’t) do about ever-increasing utility rates.

Council – Nov 9 2020

We had a lot of business for the November 9th meeting. A bunch of items will go to Public Hearing, so more exciting meetings in the near future. We also had a couple of presentations and public delegations, which you can listen to/watch online if you are into that kind of thing, and a pretty large and slightly messy agenda due to late additions and timing around presentations, so everything here may not be in exact order. Maybe pour some tea, this is a long one:

We started with moving the following items On Consent:

100 Braid Street: Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment and Development Permit to Facilitate Provision of Secured Market Rental Housing with Art Gallery/Studio Space – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
Wesgroup owns the property at 100 Braid, and already has an approved plan to build a high rise mixed-use condo building. They are now proposing to instead build a purpose-built rental building in exchange for a significant (50%) increase in density. This would make for a taller tower (118 metres instead of 65), and would provide 423 rental units, 96 of which would be less-than-market as secured through the CMHC affordable housing program.

These less-than-market units would be just that – priced at a level below the market, but will not meet the City’s definition of “affordable housing”, which is stricter than the federal CMHC standard. One of the presentations you can enjoy if you watch the video is an outline with quite a bit of detail on how the CMHC program works.

This report, however, outlines the project that will be going to Public Hearing, and asks that Council approve the terms of a Housing Agreement that will secure the dedicated rental use of the units in the event that Council approves the final proposal. Council moved to approve those recommendations.

COVID-19 Recovery Public Engagement Input – Summary Report
Further to engaging the public on the City’s Pandemic strategy, we had a recent City-wide engagement and survey effort, and had something close to 1,300 responses, which is a pretty impressive for any non-dog-park-related survey. The report and resultant graphics are really worth checking out in some detail.

Themes coming out of the survey were general support for efforts to create more accessible public spaces (and desire for more covered outdoor spaces, public WiFi, and public washrooms), and significant concerns about homelessness and housing security. In general, people support efforts to improve pedestrian spaces in the City, value public spaces, and are encouraging us to push forward on environmental initiatives and reconciliation. There is much more in here, but this is a really valuable touchpoint I think for Council as we are half way through this somewhat-disrupted term. Our Public Engagement team is doing great work these days.

Extension of Sidewalk/Street Patios and Parklets to Support Business Recovery
We made some temporary changes in how we manage patios in the City, following up on the change in Provincial regulations on how restaurants and pubs can serve on patios, and to give food service providers more flexibility in how they adapt to the COVID world. With these temporary changes extended to next fall, the City is looking at how we can support winterizing these spaces if businesses want to go that step.

Budget 2021 – Upcoming Budget Workshops
Our budget 2021 engagement process is ongoing, and we are doing everything we can to make this the most transparent and public budget deliberation process the City has ever had. This has included more effort to “demystify” municipal finance, so that people are better empowered to have a meaningful engagement. There are going to be pressures on our 2021 budget related to COVID, but Council has still been clear (supported by some of that public engagement I talked about above) that we do not want to slow down on Climate Action or cut services that support the community at this difficult time.

Preliminary numbers are very preliminary, but inflation and collective agreements give us a 2.3% tax increase baseline, with various COVID and strategic plan pressures pushing us up over 7%. That said, it was just announced that the City is in line for about $6 Million in COVID relief grant money from senior government, which should help address some of the significant operational revenue gaps in our current budget.

There are workshops coming up in November and December to go through the Capital Budget, Utility rates, and Operating budget, with the goal of having a draft budget together by the end of December.

2021 Schedule of Regular Council Meetings
This is the preliminary schedule of council meetings, workshops, and Public Hearings for 2021. As always, subject to change as needs emerge. Mark your calendars!

TransLink/SkyTrain Guideway (22nd Street Station to New Westminster Station): Request to Extend the Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
SkyTrain rail replacement is an ongoing process to keep the now more than 30 year old system running. For obvious reasons, this work must occur when the SkyTrain is not running, so we are providing a night time construction noise exemption.

273 and 275 Sherbrooke Street: Development Permit – Consideration of Waiver
Back in 2012, E.Fry proposed to expend their services in Sapperton and went through an OCP Amendment and Rezoning to support that. It was a high-profile application at the time, with a couple of very lengthy Public Hearings, before Council almost unanimously supported the rezoning.

The proponent is now ready to go forward with the approved project, but in the meantime the City has adopted a new OCP, this property did not fall within a Development Permit Area, meaning that the proponent now ostensibly requires a Development Permit for something already approved for the site. Council is proposing to waive that DP process, in light of the significant public process and design review the project already completed. Notably, the proposed use (supportive housing for women and children) is a more urgent need now than even in 2012 when the project was approved.

835 Royal Avenue: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation – Bylaws for First and Second Readings and Heritage Register Addition
There is an old house you may not have noticed on the hill on Royal Ave. I used to live right across the street, and I hardly knew it was there, but it is one of the oldest intact houses in New West. The owner wants to preserve it through an HRA, stratify it into three units, and build a three-unit townhouse project on a subdivided back of the property.

This would go to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until after then.

631 Second Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation – Bylaws for Two Readings and Addition to Heritage Register
The owner of this small heritage house in Glenbrooke North wants to subdivide their lot and build a small infill house on the second lot while preserving the existing heritage house. The HRA request is related to the lots being compact, and the FSR for the two houses to be above what is currently permitted in the zone.

This would go to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until after then.

709 Cumberland Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The owner of this property in upper Sapperton wants to subdivide it, move a heritage house from downtown to one lot, and re-build a storied-and-destroyed heritage house on the other lot, add laneway houses, and preserve the heritage house by an HRA. This would exceed the allowable FSR for both compact lots, and require various other allowances.

This would go to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until after then.

EV User Fee Implementation at City Owned Public Charging Stations: Bylaw for Three Readings
On the recommendation of the Electrical Utility Commission, the City is following the lead of other municipalities across North America and starting to charge user fees for vehicle charging stations. This is not much of a revenue driver, when you amortize the infrastructure costs of the chargers, but it does create a more fair allocation of a limited resource, and improves access to the charging stations overall. Our pricing will be similar to that being introduced across the region – generally $1 or $2/hr for Level 2 chargers and $16/hr for the Fast Chargers at Queens Park, which is again consistent across the region.

Q to Q – Resumption of Service Plan
The Q to Q Ferry was one of the services the City cut back at the beginning of the Pandemic. Initially, there was little in the way of public health guidance on how to run it safely, and superficially similar to TransLink services and other passenger ferries like in False Creek and the Victoria Harbour, there were some challenges in understanding if people would use the service and what the cost issues related to adapting to COVID-safe operations were. Both of the False Creek ferry operators are now up and running (with reduced capacity), and the Victoria Habour ferries had some financial issues, but got a very limited operation going at the end of the summer before suspending for the winter. I need to note that those three services are very different than the QtoQ in that they run on calm water with much lighter boats, and in that they are self-supporting, run completely on fare revenue, while the QtoQ is significantly subsidized by local taxpayers on both sides of the river.

The resumed service will be limited to morning and evening during the week and shorter hours on the weekend. There are new details about payment and queueing and operations to keep everyone safe. We have to see if people show up, and will be closely monitoring usage. This has created quite the discussion in the community and in Council about the role of the QtoQ, and perhaps I’ll expand on that in a follow up blog post once the ferry is back up and running.

Westminster Pier Park Management Oversight Committee: Westminster Pier Park – Fire Recovery Update
This report provides a bunch of detail about the current situation with Pier Park. I had a professional interest in the challenges related to managing the demolition and environmental remediation of the debris (they are significant), but the bigger community interest is more about when can we open Pier Park again, what is all of this going to cost us, an when do we start the re-build?

Short answers are: probably early in 2021, as we have work to do to assure the park is safe and has emergency access; It is insured, but how that insurance plays out is going to be a long conversation negotiated with stakeholders as the clean-up alone with be counted in the $Millions; It is way too early to start talking re-build, as the pier is a complicated piece of jurisdiction involving the federal government, First Nations, the Port of Vancouver, and the rail companies. The parallels with the White Rock pier damage are superficial; this is a much larger and more complex situation in a part of the waterfront considered “Working River” by the Port. I really hope the community can be involved in visioning a replacement, but that is work for 2021 and beyond. Sorry, I just don’t see those 2 acres of deck being replaced any time soon.

We then had an on-table report and Presentation from staff:

COVID update from the Province
There were new orders from the provincial health authority, and we are in the Fraser Health region where the current COVID situation is… not good.

In short, we are cutting back on some recreation programs, and are making facemasks mandatory in all indoor City facilities. This is consistent with Public Health orders, and makes or a safer workplace for our staff, and safer public spaces for our residents.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update from the internal task forces coordinating the City’s response to the ongoing pandemic. Attached to this is an update report on Child Care stresses during the Pandemic, including the results of a survey of childcare operators across the city to determine how their Pandemic response and recovery is impacting their operations. Council also raised some concern about the slow pace of rolling our emergency housing space with wintery weather arriving right now.

404 Second Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation – Bylaws for Two Readings and Addition to Heritage Register
The owner of the butcher shop in Queens Park wants to expand the building, formalize the now non-conforming land use, and enter into an agreement to restore and preserve the building, in one of the more unusual HRAs in this week’s Agenda full of HRAs.

This would go to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until after then.

515 Fourth Street – Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation – Bylaws for First and Second Readings and Addition to Heritage Register
The owner of this modest heritage house in Queens Park wants to convert it to a duplex and build an infill house on the lot, then convert the property to strata ownership. This would require some relaxations for set back and parking, though the FSR (0.79) and number of residential units (3) would comply with existing entitlements in the OCP and the Development Permit area. This was an unusual application, in that it bounced around committees for a while, and the Land Use Planning Committee did not recommend it to Council, but the owner does have the right to be heard before Council to determine if there is any support for the proposal.

We had a bit of e-mail feedback from a few members of the Queens Park heritage community, and two delegations opposed to the application. It appears that the opposition was partly to the idea of stratification of HRAs (though the City has approved many stratified HRAs, at least 4 in the last three years), and partly just a feeling the plan was “too dense”, though again I have to note the density (measured by FSR), lot coverage, and massing were all within existing entitlements and guidelines.

The option before Council was to approve first and second reading, which would send the application to a Public Hearing. Council voted in a split vote to not give the application these readings, essentially ending the project as it is (I voted with the minority to support the application going to Public Hearing). The owner will need to bring something else to Council if they want to make changes on the lot that are not within the existing zoning.

Miscellaneous Zoning Bylaw Amendments: Zoning Bylaw Amendment Bylaw for First and Second Readings
Our Zoning Bylaw is a big, complicated document that is constantly being amended. As people read it or try to interpret it, sometimes they discover things that are inconsistent internally, places where it doesn’t match other City policies, grammatical errors, math errors, and such. When discovered, staff put these in a pile, and occasionally that pile comes to us as an omnibus Amendment Bylaw like this. There are a number of changes here, and they will all go to Public Hearing. If you have opinions about Massage Services permitting or metric conversion, or anything else in here, please let us know.

616 and 640 Sixth (Orr Development): Development Variance Permit, Housing Agreement Modification and Project Update
Back in 2019, Council approved the first new multi-family development in the Uptown commercial core in more than a decade. It was a notable Public Hearing because it was a combination of secured market rental and condo ownership, and led some people to critique those two tenure types having different entrances. Some characterized it as a “poor doors” situation, though there was no non-market housing component involved in the project.

The proponent has, apparently, been doing some number crunching since that approval, and has determined that making the entire building purpose-built-rental is a better plan for them. They also want to reduce (!) overall height by two stories, offset by a 6% increase in the floorplate of the tower, and reduce some of the parking required to better suit the needs related to rental tenure. This requires an update Housing Agreement and amendment to the Development Permit.

Shine Bright New West Holiday Initiative
The traditional Christmas Tree lighting at Hyack Square can’t really happen this year, as we don’t want to be having large group gatherings. So in working with the BIAs, staff from Special Events division and Economic Development have another plan to “light up” the town during the Christmas season. Light displays around town by businesses, supported by the City, and planned self-guided walking tours so you and your bubble can enjoy without the issues around crowds.

The majority of Council supported this new model, but some concerns were raised on whether while expanding the program beyond just Downtown, we were spreading it a little thin, and perhaps we wanted to add more funding to assure that each commercial district has sufficient funding to make for a successful program, so we approved in principle, and asked staff to come back with expansion plans if appropriate.

It’s going to be a different Christmas this year, folks, I hope you can find a new way to make it fun with your family and friends, and can support local businesses who are going through as challenging as time as ever.

Tobacco Free Water Pipe Smoking Premises (Hookah Lounges)
The City received requests to consider a Hookah Lounge, though no formal location or application was received. This is not compliant with the City’s regulations or with provincial regulations around indoor smoking in businesses, and we simply didn’t have a zoning or business permitting to allow this use

Council approved the staff recommendation to not change our Bylaws to permit this use, mostly based on the recommendations from Public Health. The only municipality that does allow Hookah Lounges (Burnaby) has signaled their intent to change that allowance in the near future. Not permitting indoor Hookah use in commercial businesses is consistent with the City’s approach to tobacco, cannabis, and vaping regulations.

We then had two items that were discussed in a closed meeting, but we are now Releasing from Closed:

British Columbia Youth Parliament (BCYP) Nomination – 92nd Parliamentary Session (Originally closed because of privacy of potential candidates)
The City has the ability to nominate a local youth to take part in the BCYP, and we are doing so!

Port of Vancouver Lands at 430 Canfor and Traffic Management (Originally closed because it may involve details of negotiations with senior governments)
It was moved that staff report back to Council on the traffic impacts of the change of land use at 430 Canfor, measures by the Port to assure traffic related to the current use is not creating an unsafe condition for other road users, and on opportunities for the City to address any safety concerns related to traffic with the Port of Vancouver.
In short, the property is Port of Vancouver land, so we don’t have any jurisdictional control over its use, but there have been some concerns raised that the type of use (essentially, a park-and-ride for workers at various TMX work sites) is having negative traffic impacts, so we are asking staff to work with the Port and the operator on site to look into this.

We then Adopted the following Bylaws:

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw (Amusement Arcade) No. 8228, 2020
This is one of the smaller bylaw changes that would need to occur to permit the formalization of the arcade use for a site in Sapperton, and it is now the law of the land.

Engineering Fees and Rates Bylaw Amendment No. 8230, 2020
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No., 8232, 2020 and
Cultural Services Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8241, 2020
These are the Bylaws that set our fees for service for the next year as part of our annual budgeting process. Now adopted by Council!

Finally, a bit of New Business:

Litter Receptacle Optimization Initiative
I resolved that:

THAT Staff provide an update report on the litter receptacle optimization initiative introduced to Council on October 2019, outlining any operational savings and metrics on the impact to street litter and illegal dumping.

A little more than year ago, staff provided a report for information about plans to change how they deal with litter receptacles in parts of the City. This included the removal of some problematic receptacles where people were dumping domestic garbage, and a new plan for addressing and tracking litter in the commercial districts. At the time, Council had some questions about the plan, but staff indicated they would be tracking the program and report back to us.

In short, it was expected that reducing trash cans in some public places may actually reduce litter and illegal dumping. Some people (including me) were incredulous of this idea, but staff did reinforce this was based on experience in other jurisdictions, and becoming a well-accepted practice. As counter intuitive as it is, I had to draw parallels between this idea and our modern understanding of how increasing road space actually makes traffic worse, which is an established, if counterintuitive, idea that I have learned to understand. So I was willing to suspect my incredulity and see where this plan from staff went.

In the year since, I have heard members of the public express concern about the lack of trash cans and increased litter. My admittedly anecdotal impression is that litter is increasing in our commercial areas, maybe related to these actions, maybe related to change in behaviours around the Pandemic, or maybe it is just confirmation bias on my part. So I would like, a year later, for staff to report back to us what metrics they have been collecting, share any data they have about litter in the City, and any recommendations they may have to address litter and waste management in our public spaces. Council moved to support this.

And then, whew, we were done.

Council – Oct 26 2020

Our Pre-Halloween Council meeting was not the least bit spooky, but there was some important stuff on the Agenda. We had a workshop earlier in the day to work through some topics that will be on future agendas, but this meeting started with a bit of Old Business:

MOTION: Street Naming
Councillor Das brought the following motion forward in a previous meeting, but because of some scheduling issues, we only got to it now:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT city staff bring a report to council that includes a review and update to the current naming policy, with clear direction on the name selection criteria and name selection process.

There have been at least two previous motions of a similar nature in my time on Council, one asking about updating our very, very dated street naming guidance document, another asking for a review of naming policy for all City facilities. We have not seen those reports yet, so this will hopefully prompt some quicker action.

The first thing to consider is the policy guidance we use when naming a new street, square, public space, or building, as we semi-often have to do, and it seems a little ad hoc each time. The second aspect is what to do if there is a community call the change the name of an existing City asset. It would seem a simple thing to change the name of (for example) McBride Boulevard to Woodsworth Boulevard, but what does it mean for the dozens of businesses and households that now have to change their addresses? What is the formal process for that (land title office, etc.), and what are the costs? Is there an expectation that the City compensate property owners who have been impacted? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, and we really should before we even entertain street name modernizations.

With a few Council amendments to clarify aspects of the issue Council wanted the report to cover, it was moved unanimously.

The following items were then Moved on Consent:

Approval of Terms of Reference: Reconciliation, Social Inclusion and Engagement Task Force
Late last year, Council changed our advisory committees and Task Forces up, and have a new Reconciliation, Social Inclusion and Engagement Task Force (RSIETF). This report provides the Terms of Reference for that Task Force as proposed by the Task Force members.

Release of Resolution from Closed Meeting Related to Approval for Grant Application to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program – Community, Culture and Recreation Infrastructure Stream: New Westminster Aquatic and Community Hub – Active Transportation Greenways and Outdoor Play Areas
There is some stuff we talk about in closed because it involves commercially sensitive negotiations and agreements with senior governments. But if the result of these discussions result in us needing to spend money, they have to show up in the budget, so the resolution needs to be removed from Closed. In this case, we are releasing that we intend to apply for a grant for some work related to the NWACH (the weirdly-acronymic working name for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre replacement), and we are authorizing staff to enter into a finding agreement with senior government should we be successful.

457 East Columbia Street (Arcade): Rezoning and Liquor Primary Application – Bylaws for Readings
The arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor license. It has been a somewhat difficult application because it doesn’t fit neatly into any regulatory box for either the City or the Province, and licenses like this need to fit neatly in a box or the province just won’t play and the City quickly gets itself buried in paperwork as we try to guide a business through the process. We now need to amend three separate bylaws to make it work. This was further delayed just before the COVID disruption by a change in direction by the Liquor Branch over the type of license that should apply. The arcade has been operating for a couple of years on a temporary license while they get these detail worked out, no doubt causing quite a bit of stress to the operators, as a liquor license will improve their business plan.

The project has done its community engagement (again, a provincial requirement for a new Liquor Primary license) and the three Bylaw Amendments have been drafted. Council gave the Bylaws preliminary readings, and will consider adoption on November 30th. If you have opinions, let us know.

610 Sixth Street (Royal City Centre): Grease Trap Removal and Replacement – request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Save-On Foods needs to replace a critical part of their sewer infrastructure, and it has to happen at night. They need a construction noise variance to do so.

221 Townsend Place: Heritage Revitalization Agreement – Preliminary Report
There is a house on a unique lot tucked away in Queens Park that has “significant aesthetic and scientific value” (which is a use of the word “scientific” that is laughable, but I digress) where the owner would like to subdivide the lot and insert another infill house, in exchange for HRA preservation of the existing house. Essentially, they are building a full size house similar to adjacent houses on the yard portion of the property instead of a laneway house, and are subdividing.

This is a preliminary report, and will go to further public and committee review, so let us know if you have an opinion.

805 Boyd Street (Queensborough Landing): Proposed Text Amendment to the Large Format Commercial Districts (C-10) Zone to Permit a Self-Improvement School Use – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The Queensborough Landing big-box retail extravaganza has a few empty spots, and a Kumon Learning Centre wants to open up in one of the vacant boxes. This doesn’t strictly fit the existing zoning, so they are asking for an amendment to the zoning language to allow it. It is perhaps emblematic of the entire zoning process that they had to do a “parking analysis” to determine that they had almost a thousand extra parking spaces. Parking, it’s like a drug.

We are going to waive the public hearing here and gave the project two readings. If you have opinions, send them to us.

2019 Corporate Greenhouse Gas Emissions Update
Every year, we report on our corporate greenhouse gas emissions as part of our CARIP requirements. Our 2019 emissions were significantly less than 2018, and other than the 2017 hiccup year, we are doing a pretty good job of reducing corporate emissions – 16% below our 2010 baseline though our population and level of service has increased since then. This was on track with our previous goal, but the curve is going to have to bend much faster to get us to our 2030 target of 45% below 2010 levels by 2030. Our new CEERS will get us there.

Residential Yard Trimmings Collection and Disposal Information
It’s raking leaves season. It is important to remind residents that they should put grass, leaves, and trimmings they cannot compost on their own property or use for garden bedding into their green bin, and if they have too much for their green bin, they can put them into kraft paper bags placed next to their Green Bin. There is no limit on the number of kraft bags the City will collect for free. If you have a really large number that don’t fit easily in your regular pick-up area, contact Engineering Operations at the City, and they will arrange a special pickup for you. At no cost. Free. You can also drive your green waste to the recycling depot in Coquitlam, but why do that when we will pick them up for free?

Edit: note the above applies to single family detached only. Multi-family units that use the City’s service for green waste disposal are not, apparently, supposed to use it for yard trimmings.

User Fees and Rates Review for 2021, Amendment Bylaws for Three Readings
Here are our rates and user fees for everything from cemetery and sewer services to business licenses. Did you know we have a $76.48 charge for a business license to operate a cigarette vending machine? When is the last time you saw one of those!?

New Normal Staff Committee: 2021 Operating Budget – COVID-19 Impacts
We have a staff committee reviewing City operations and trying to plan through the next phases of the pandemic response, including a potential “return to normal”. That seems, unfortunately, still a way off, and we need to plan the 2021 budget assuming the same revenue issues that we had this year, potentially through to 2022. Even so, many operations of the City are returning, some at significantly increased cost due to pandemic safety measures, and with reduced cost recovery potential. In other words, the financial hit of COVID is still coming, and will continue for a while.

Management Oversight Committee: Westminster Pier Park – Fire Recovery Update
This is a report of the clean-up and recovery from the Pier Park fire, now that we are a month in. The clean up is complicated for a variety of environmental and jurisdictional reasons, and will be expensive. We have insurance coverage for most if not all of it, but there are a variety of details that need to be worked through both as we complete the clean up and start the planning for the post-clean up.

Right now, a significant issue is that the gate by the big W was an important emergency vehicle access to Pier Park during the dig at the Bosa site. It is hard to open the park and invite the public down there when we are not sure we can get a firetruck or ambulance onto the site if needed. We are working through some scenarios to fix that situation, so more to come.

Connaught Heights Residents’ Association Petition, 2035 London Street and 2038 Ninth Avenue, aka ‘Connaught Village Green,’
We received some correspondence from representatives of the Connaught Heights RA where they express concern that they have not been consulted about potential Affordable Housing projects in their neighbourhood. I feel the urge to reply in a similar Open Letter format to refute some of the claims being made. I want to be careful not to speak for all of Council or the City here, but in short: suggestions that we have been anything other than transparent about this process are false, and disrespectful to the staff who have worked hard and spent hours engaging with representatives of this RA. More to come.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our regular update on the task forces the City has running in City Hall addressing Pandemic response. If you want the details of how the City is addressing the evolving needs of the community as we teeter on a second wave, the details are here.

Police Motion – Workplan and Budget for Endorsement
Back in June, we had a joint meeting between the New Westminster Police Board and City Council, and a pretty long and detailed resolution was moved by both parties that encompassed a range of potential reforms for policing in New West. Some are actions that can be taken locally (primarily by the Police Board and Police department – as Council has a very limited role here), and some are more reliant on the Provincial government making reforms to the Police Act and shifting policy and funding in areas of health, addictions, and anti-poverty.

This report provides a bit of a project plan to get these various actions implemented over the next year or so. Some aspects (exploring a pilot project in New Westminster to shift how crisis health management is addressed) will be quicker, some (i.e. those that rely on the Provincial review of the Police Act) will be a bit further down the road. More to come!

2020 City Grants: Highlights and Impact
This is a reporting out on the 2020 Community Grant program. One of the big shifts Council has done this term is to move some of the politics from our granting process by moving more of the application evaluation and award selection process over to staff with less Council input. As a governance model, this makes for more transparency and equity.

The City awarded about $950,000 (combined cash and in-kind services) in grants to 73 organizations doing great work in the arts, sports, community economic development and social support. All of this in a year where many programs were disrupted by COVID, with some programs (like festivals) simply not allowed to go forward while others were strained to provide mission-critical services to vulnerable populations. On a per capita basis, New Westminster is one of the most generous cities in direct grants to organizations in the community, but we are also fortunate to have so many effective not-for-profits in the community working hard to improve the livability or our community. Our grant program is successful because of them.

2021 Budget Process – Proposed Framework
This report outlines our public engagement process for the 2021 budget. Over the last few years, we have been increasingly ramping up public participation in our budgeting process, and we have one of the most open, transparent, and participatory budgets of any City in the lower mainland. We have already started the 2021 consultations, with more than 1,000 people taking part in our budget survey and hundreds watching out budget webinar.

The survey responses were interesting, and I rush to note this was not a scientific survey of randomly selected citizens, but a self-selected survey of what we would think of a “more engaged” cohort of citizens. Still, >1,000 is a good sample size outside of a dog park survey, and the results are at times interesting.

Appreciated the work staff are doing here, and the webinar to provide some context for the survey. I did think there are some things we could explain better – we generally do a poor job differentiating between utility fees for utility operations and other services funded by taxes. If people think maintaining water and sewer infrastructure is a high priority for tax spending, they are not understanding that virtually none of their property tax goes to that. In that sense, even the term “infrastructure” is conflating and confusing – a term so broad as to be sometimes meaningless.

I also don’t think the financial constraints related to COVID have been as clearly reported as I would like. It has been a challenge, as I recognize the sand has been shifting through the summer and fall. But we have been conservative in our spending because of that uncertainty, though much of our discussion of this has been more qualitative than quantitative – we have identified places where revenues are down and where costs have changed, but we have not had a robust discussion around those number yet. That is our work in the months ahead.

It is interesting that climate action ranked fairly low in the priorities list, and I’m not sure what that means in how we roll out a program to make some pretty fundamental shifts in how we manage greenhouse gas emissions in the City. I feel like a bit of a broken record saying it, but the Climate Action we are striving towards right now will for the most part save us money in the long run, so putting it in a budget priority is tough. I think it also tells what we have all known to be true: people want to take action on climate, they just don’t want to pay for it.

The other big part of this report that separates 2021 from previous years is that we are moving many of our budget timelines up in the calendar. By getting some work done earlier, we can have the best part of a draft budget out by the end of December instead of the February-ish thing that has become our standard.

We had two items that were late On Table Additions to the Agenda:

Release of New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre (NWACC) – Project Status Update
This is another release from closed and another ungainly acronym for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre Replacement Project (we really need to get those figured out). The short story here is that the pause in the process for the pool replacement project has now been unpaused and we are getting our ducks in a row to go to procurement.

There is more to talk about here, and as I mentioned above, we are not out of the woods as far as COVID impacts on our operations, but at some point we need to decide to pull the trigger on the pool or go very far back on the drawing board and lose not only momentum, but much of the value we have invested in planning and design. We are also going to face some decisions about very necessary and very expensive repairs to the existing Canada Games Pool in a few years as major building and mechanical components reach end-of-life. If we don’t have a new pool ready by then, we run the risk of not having a pool for a significant period of time. So it is time for us to test the construction market in these uncertain times and get a procurement process going. Hopefully, we will be able to give a final go-ahead in January, losing only a couple of months to the COVID delay.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism Framework –Statement of Work
This is the report coming out of the discussion we had in the afternoon Workshop outlining the work plan for the DEIAR we are planning to implement in the City. Good stuff here, and a wide-reaching public engagement process in the community is going to be rolled out over the net month. Please join in and let us know what you think!

Finally, we had one Bylaw for Adoption:

Permissive Tax Exemption Bylaw No. 8220, 2020
The Bylaw that allows permissive property tax exemptions for a variety of non-profits and community service agencies was adopted by Council.

And that was the work for the night. See you in November, Happy Halloween. Stay safe, stay spooky.

Council – Oct 5, 2020

It was a busy September, and one that went by fast, but now that Council has its groove back, we went so far as to have Public Delegations for the first time since society fell apart back in March. We also had a relatively tight agenda:

The first item was Unfinished business postponed form the post-fire meeting of September 14:

Overdose Prevention Site and Safe Supply Program: Update
The City has been addressing the Overdose / Poisoned Drug Supply Crisis in the limited ways we can as a local government. Much of this is not readily visible to most residents, such as supporting making Naloxone more readily available in the community and changing the way first responders respond to overdose reports. Fundamentally a public health concern, we recognize that the provincial government needs to lead here and have the resources of two Ministries to apply to this challenge. However, we have a New Westminster Overdose Community Action Team established in 2018, and have been taking many measures informed by them, which are reported out in this staff report. Clearly, it is not enough.

With this in mind, I was grateful to receive a report in Council from representatives of Fraser Health to talk about their role, and hoe we can work together to implement proven life-saving measures of overdose prevention sites and a secure safe supply. These are vitally needed in New Westminster (and indeed around the region), as the illicit drug supply is still poisoned and the risk for people who use these substances is still increasing. It appears that funding will be made available for a combined safe consumption site and health contact centre, and the search is currently on for a non-profit provider. No location has yet been determined, and there will likely need to be a Temporary Use Permit or Rezoning to facilitate this use, so more to come. There are also ongoing shifts in how the safe supply program is being rolled out, and this fundamental shift of how we address opioids and stimulants in our community could be the thing that turns the tide on the death rate related to the poisoned supply.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Release of Resolutions from Closed Meeting Related to DreamsWon Project Proposal
Not much to say about this. A Developer has some (at times unclear) ideas about a major development in the Fraserview area, and has been communicating with people in the neighbourhood about it. However, the City has not yet received a formal application on that project, so we can’t really respond – and certainly cannot enter into any kind of partnership deal with the developer – until we get a submission to the planning department, preferably one that meets the requirements for a Pre-Application Review.

Small Sites Affordable Housing Initiative: Connaught Heights Next Steps
As part of our Small Sites program where affordable housing projects have been built on City lands in Downtown and Queensborough, staff evaluated two bare City-owned lots in Connaught Heights to see if a project could fit there. Turns out that the Crown Land Grant for one of the pieces of property was not registered on Title in the 1960s (therefore, a preliminary title search by the City did not disclose it), and was not discharged as planned back in the 1970s (for reasons unknown). So the property at 2038 Ninth Ave is encumbered. Short of buying the land grant out, it would be hard for a non-profit housing provider to use this land for an affordable housing project. So staff is going to go back to applicants to see if a smaller project can be penciled out on the adjacent unencumbered piece of land. If not, then we will put our energy and time into other sites in the City (though we are running out of City-owned lands to put housing on).

Metro Vancouver Sewer Inspections: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Some types of sewer work can only happen at night when flows are low. We need to give a Construction Noise exemption to allow that work to happen at night when flow are low.

User Fees and Rates Review
Aside from taxes, the City collects fees for various things, from cemetery services to parking meters. We review all of these fees every year and they are adjusted to keep up with inflation (e.g. increasing Highway Use fees by 2% in 2020), to better reflect the cost of providing the service (e.g. increased cost for replacement garbage carts this year), or just to better reflect policy goals behind the fees (increasing annual permit fees for preferential car storage on public space as per Council’s 2019 policy review). We need a Bylaw to officially set these fees for the 2021 budget year.

Recruitment 2020: Appointment of Grant Committee Members
The City has streamlined its Grants process, and now has three grant streams. When applications for these grants are received, we have a Committee of citizens review them with the help of staff and make recommendations to Council on how to allocate grant funds. We had a call for volunteers, and have no appointed members to those committees.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our regular report on the Task Forces we set up to address COVID response in the City sees that many of them are winding down activity or are just tracking along as needed. One concern is that funds from senior governments that were supporting some of the programs for vulnerable populations are starting to dry up, and we will need to make decisions about continuing some of these programs.

Update to Interim COVID-19 Food Truck Policy
We will continue the reduced Food Truck program until spring. I’m a little disappointed that we are not more supportive of street activating initiatives at a time when people are shifting how they use public spaces. I fundamentally don’t believe that a healthy Food Truck economy in the City takes away from other food service businesses, but actually enhances them by creating a more vibrant food scene. My view of this is that we went through a multi-year community and business engagement process to set the Food Truck Program up, and I hate shifting gears on it just as it starts to build steam. That said the request here is to extend the step-back until the spring, and continue to allow the few Food Trucks that are already licensed to continue to operate with minor restrictions. I hope by the spring when we are next going to review this policy, we hear more from the community about what food trucks and street activation by local businesses mean to the community. In other words, if you like food trucks, better let Council know.

Relocation of Digital Signage as a Result of the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project, and Related Public Outreach Program
I hate these signs. I said so back (before I was elected) when they were installed, and I’ve not wavered from that. They are eyesores, an intrusion into our public realm, and create strange political controversy whenever someone decides to advertise something that offends other people but nonetheless meets federal advertising guidelines which ends up putting City leaders or bureaucrats in to the role of moral arbiter of free speech. Mostly, it offends me that public resources are used to suck up cheap advertising revenue to pay for public services because we won’t raise taxes to pay for those community services. But indeed they pull in revenue, $1.4M in 2019 (which is equal to about 1.6% of property taxes we collect in the City). So here we are.

As the Pattullo construction is happening, we need to move one of the signs. Staff and the sign operation company found a location that met the needs of the contract, but this relocation still presents to me problems, as the new location to me appears to shine into the residential properties in a way the previous location did not. Council asked staff to do further review to determine if there are better options.

Finally, we had a couple of Bylaws for Adoption:

Heritage Designation (219 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8065, 2020
Heritage Designation (221 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8070, 2020

As discussed last Public Hearing, these Bylaws that afford permanent Heritage Protection to two homes re-located to a recently-subdivided lot in Queens Park were adopted by Council.

Next council meeting is after Thanksgiving and after another significant event. Until then, be safe, be calm, be kind, and vote!

CEERS 2020

We had a report at the September 28th Council meeting that I mentioned in my blog, but skipped past the details of, because I think it was too important a report to bury in a long boring Council Report. This is the Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy (CEERS).

The City has two roles in addressing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting the Paris Agreement goals that the City, the province, and the nation have all stated they intend to meet. One is making it possible for our community (residents, businesses, industry) to meet the goals, which is addressed through a Community Energy and Emissions Plan (“CEEP”). The second is managing our own corporate emissions, those created by the City in operating its own buildings and fleet. The CEERS is our updated plan to deal with this second part.

This CEERS replaces an older plan that was adopted in 2008 and reduced our emission by 12% over the last decade. CEERS 2020 outlines the strategy to get us to our newly stated and ambitious goals – reduce emissions to 45% below our 2010 baseline by 2030 as the first step towards a 100% reduction by 2050. I think the most important part of any climate policy is that we set goals within a viewable horizon – ones we need to take action on *now* to achieve, because as bold as 100% by 2050 is, the 30 year timeframe gives too much cover to those willing to kick climate action down the road.

This Strategy lays out a clear path to get our building and fleet emissions to our 2030 goal. Replacing the Canada Games Pool with a zero-carbon building will be a huge step, but there are 13 other buildings in the City that would see energy and emissions reduction measures soon. This would reduce our building emissions by 55%, and would pay us back in energy savings within 10 years. We are also going to be taking a much more aggressive approach to electrification of our vehicle fleet to reduce those emissions by 30%, both by buying electric vehicles, and by updating our infrastructure to provide charging to these vehicles. With these two strategies and continued improvement on smaller-emission sources like street lighting and wastewater, we can get to our 45% goal by 2030.

That doesn’t mean we will be done in 2030. We will then have harder work to do to find a path to carbon-neutrality that we are aspiring towards in our Bold Step #1. Things like deep retrofits of some other buildings in the City, exploring alternate energy sources (renewable gas, hydrogen, solar, etc.) and creating an offset program through reforestation or other strategies. We can also anticipate that technology will catch up to our goals in the decade ahead, making the next steps a little easier. For example, it is simply not viable to have all-electric or hydrogen fuel cell fire truck fleet today, but we will be relying on those types of changes to emerge after 2030 when those deeper reductions are needed. So if we are going beyond just picking low-hanging fruit now, we are still harvesting the riper fruit.

There is a lot of great policy in here aside from just purchasing changes. We are going to start internally pricing carbon at $150/Tonne. This means we will account for our internal emissions, and use that value to inform our purchasing programs for new equipment. This value (about $650,000/yr based on 2020 emissions) will go into a Climate Reserve Fund to help pay for carbon reduction projects. This both provides internal incentive for departments to find lower-emission approaches (as the cost comes out of your departments budget) and provides us a clear fund and budget line item to apply to emergent projects.

Overall, the cost of implementing this plan is about $13.5M, though much of it is already included in our 5-year capital plan. To put that number into context, we annually spend about $700,000 on fossil fuels (gasoline, diesel, propane) for our current fleet, and energy to heat and service our two dozen buildings (pools, rec centres, City Hall, etc.) is about $1.2 Million per year. It doesn’t take complicated math to recognize that reductions in these costs will rapidly offset the capital costs invested today. With interest rates as low as they are, and senior governments telegraphing their intent to support this type of green infrastructure renewal with grants, the time is now. The City Council of 2030 will be saving a lot of money because of the commitment we make today.

We are going to get there. We can get there. To delay any further would be irresponsible.

UA Public Hearing

We had another public hearing last week, this one on a Wednesday. As we were still getting our remote public hearing process smoothed out, and we were not sure how many people were going to show up for a few of these items, staff decided the prudent more wat to split the hearing into two nights to assure more people had the opportunity to take part.

In the end, it went really smoothly, and both people “Zooming” in and those phoning in seemed to navigate the process well, so that’s a positive. Now for the ranty part:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8211, 2020 re 466 Rousseau Street: Urban Academy
The application was to change the language of the zoning bylaw specific to this site to allow an increase in student space for the relatively new Urban Academy private school from 450 students to 550 students. This would include a small addition to the top floors of the building which are consistent with the existing zoning, and the use is already consistent with the OCP – so the application was really about student numbers, not building shape or use.

We received about 50 pieces of correspondence, and had about two dozen people speak to the Public Hearing. The overwhelming majority of both were parents of students at Urban Academy who supported the increase. The smaller number of people who opposed the project were Lower Sapperton residents who universally spoke about traffic issues related to the existing school.

I am not worried about the changes in the building, as they are consistent with the Official Community Plan land use designation for the site and density permitted under the existing Comprehensive Development District.

My read of the traffic study is that UA is mostly compliant with the conditions set out in the previous rezoning, though a small number of non-complaint members of the community are creating some issues on Rousseau Street. I cannot help but point out that this is the issue in every school in New Westminster, be it public or private. Like most residents, I see it every day in school zones, and we hear constant complaints from neighbors and concerned parents that *other parents* cannot be trusted to follow rules or respect public safety when dropping off or picking up their kids at schools. In my (bike) commute, the most dangerous place is always the school zone I have to pass through. That is clearly not unique to this school, or the New West. What is unique is that UA is committing to more action to address it than any other school in our community. I have no confidence it can be fixed in any school in our community until people in cars stop driving dangerously, but the trend is moving the other direction on that front, so what can we do?

What we cannot do is stop providing schools because drivers cannot be mindful of the vulnerable road users around them. I think this school (along with all the others) have work to do to improve compliance. I think that we need stronger enforcement of driving laws by the police and greater penalties for these seemingly harmless “little” violations of traffic laws that accumulate into a dangerous situation as part of a larger effort to shift driving the culture back to one of responsibility instead of privilege. I would 100% support making all street parking (including pickup and drop off) illegal on any street abutting a school property and the School district funding the kind of Transportation Demand Management for their staff that we are asking of Urban Academy and Fraser Health. But if people get angry about school drop off safety, wait till you see how they react if we take away an iota of free car storage.

Other people’s cars suck. That is the one constant in local government. Everyone wants traffic “fixed”, but very few are willing to accept the solutions. or to even accept that they are the traffic they want fixed. Based on the outrage many comfortably car-reliant UA neighbours expressed when the City dared to even slightly reduce the incentive to drive on a single block of an adjacent street, the bigger solutions seem very far out of reach for us. All that to say, we are not going to fix traffic by preventing this school from having more students, and 100 more students is not going to make the traffic any more dangerous.

Now, onto the slightly more veiled comments made during the public hearing about private schools. I don’t like them. I am irritated that public funds support them, and infuriated that Christy Clark changed the rules so we cannot collect property taxes from them. But there is clearly no provincial party brave enough to do anything about that, so they are here to stay. What I will not accept is people asking a local city council to put impediments into their path as some sort of valid way to address this issue.

I think it is inappropriate to use zoning as a way to block a perfectly legitimate business from operating because we don’t like the brand of cars the customers drive. My role as a City Councilor in reviewing a zoning application is to manage land use. We have already agreed that “school” is an appropriate land use for this site, and if we agree that 550 students is an appropriate size of school for the site, then raising concerns about the erosion of public education is a policy download to a city council that already has enough to do, and is something you should instead be demanding from your provincial government. There’s an election on, this is a great time to make that case. If you start a petition, let me know where to sign.

Ultimately, this is a zoning and land use question. We have already agreed it is appropriate for a school, I feel that an urban campus 400m from a SkyTrain and major transportation hub is the right place for a school this size, and so I supported the bylaw. Council voted in a split vote to support the application.

Council – Sept 28 2020 (pt2)

We had two (2!) Public Hearings this week, one on Monday along with our Regular Meeting, and another on Wednesday. Here is the business conducted on Monday:

Heritage Designation (219 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8065, 2020 and
Heritage Designation (221 Manitoba Street) Bylaw No. 8070, 2020

This is a bit of a complicated project, several years in the making. The owner of a property in Queens Park had an anomalously large lot, with a preserved heritage home on the Queens Ave end. The owner went through a long process to subdivide the lot into three parts, with two smaller lots facing Manitoba Street, then re-located two heritage homes (one from another part of Queens Park, one from Vancouver) to those lots.

The uniqueness of this project led to Heritage Revitalization Agreements and Designation as being good tools to manage it from a planning perspective. This step is to formally designate the two new properties as Heritage and formalize the Heritage Conservation Plans.

We had no speakers to this Public hearing and received no correspondence on it. In the meeting following Public Hearing, Council moved to support Third Reading of these Bylaws.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Retail Location – 320 Sixth Street) No. 8217, 2020
The owner of the Pub and Liquor Store at 320 Sixth Street applied for a cannabis retail location back during the first call for applications. The process the City went through at that time was to “fast track” one application per commercial district, and this application was one of three that met all of the criteria for Uptown. However, it was outscored in evaluation by another applicant, and it was not approved at the time. A year later, that other applicant has told the City they are not proceeding due to issues with their landlord, so in the spirit of the original intention of the process, the City asked the other two applicants for Uptown if they were able to resume their application process. Of the two, this was the only short-listed applicant able to move forward at this time.

This application would see part of the liquor retail location re-purposed for cannabis sales, as it is not permitted for liquor and cannabis to be sold through the same doorway, it is ok for it to be sold through adjacent doorways. Because government.

We received five pieces of correspondence opposed to this application, a couple opposed because of adjacency with incompatible uses, one for unstated reasons. We had a half a dozen people address Council, staff and ownership of the existing pub in favour, one neighbor and a few representatives of the District Labour Council opposed. In my 6 years on Council (yes, I was endorsed by the District Labour Council in both elections), this is the first time I recall members of the District Labour Council indicating their position in regards to a Council vote.

Regardless, Council voted to endorse this zoning amendment. I voted in favour because it is an appropriate location for this type of land use, and met the criteria that we set out previously for Cannabis retail. In the subsequent meeting, we gave this Bylaw Third Reading and Adoption.

After the Public Hearings, we had two Opportunities to be Heard

Business License Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Edibles) No. 8216, 2020
This is the change to the Business License Bylaw that was needed to bring how we regulate cannabis retail in line with federal and provincial regulations in regards to the sale of edibles. Playing a bit of catch-up here.

We received no correspondence on this, and no-one came to speak to Council on the issue. Council voted to adopt the Bylaw.

Development Variance Permit DVP00682 for 811 Columbia Street
The owner of the Landmark Cinema wants to replace their existing signage with a slightly different one. Though it is very similar to the existing one, and the same size overall (though an extra swoosh is added), it doesn’t conform with our Sign Bylaw, and a variance is required.

We received two letters in opposition from neighbouring residential property owners who were concerned about the light intrusion. But the new sign will not be (meaningfully) larger or brighter than the existing sign. No-one came to speak to the item, and Council voted to grant the variance.

We had a second Public Hearing on Wednesday, but I haven’t written that one up yet, so next time…

Council – Sept 28 2020 (pt1)

We were back to business at New West Council in another virtual meeting, this one including a Public Hearing that went fairly smoothly overall for such a challenging format (and I will talk about those in my next post). But first we went though a significant agenda.

We started with some Unfinished Business deferred from the meeting two weeks ago:

Council endorsement of Tourism New Westminster’s application for the Municipal & Regional District Tax and Five-Year Strategic Plan
This has been a long time coming. Tourism New West has been limping along doing great work with uncertain funding, and the City has been stepping in for several years with support funding to keep them operating. Most municipalities have access to a “hotel room tax” (officially, a Municipal and Regional District Tax) to fund tourism promotion programs, but there has been some resistance in the local hotel sector to support this. Those hurdles have been cleared, and now TNW can rely on a more secure funding source, and can activate a more robust long-term plan.

This also opens up a potential for the City to start collecting MRDT from online accommodation providers operating in the City (VRBO, AirBnB etc.) which can be directed to our Affordable Housing programs. But more detail to come to that, because it is not clear to me how we collect taxes from a business sector that is not strictly legal in the City.

COVID-19 Pandemic Emergency, Second Wave Operational Response & Business Continuity Plan
Each department in the City has put together an Operational Response and Business Continuity Plan (ORBCP) to address the risk of second wave impacts and shifting Public Health directives. Plans have been developed on scenarios where the Province stays at Phase 3 for a while with some managed outbreaks, and scenarios where the Province moves back to Phase 2 or Phase 1.

There is A LOT here, a great 145 page read if you are into operational plans, because the City has a lot of operations. Hopefully none of it will see operation, but it is important to get this stuff figured out beforehand so we can assure we have the resources required and ability to react to second, third, or subsequent waves. The vaccine is still a long way off, folks.

Advisory Committees during COVID-19 Pandemic
These are a bit complicated. Many advisory meetings had to be cancelled during the pandemic, and it is around now we would start planning for replacing committee members. Staff recommended we simply do a one-time roll-over and ask all current appointees if they want to serve for another year and avoid the entire overturn work load.

Brewery District (Wesgroup Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The ongoing construction at the Brewery District is going to include undergrounding of electrical wires along Brunette Ave, which is work that has to happen at night because Brunette Ave has to be closed. And who cares about livability when traffic has to flow?

Environment and Climate Advisory Committee: Importance of Advancing the 7 Bold Steps
We have an advisory committee to on climate action, and they wanted to send a message to Council: We need to not lose momentum on the 7 bold Steps, despite COVID and potential financial uncertainty. I agree with them.

Local ban on rodenticides
Councillor Nakagawa put forward the following motion:

THAT New Westminster City Council supports a complete ban on anticoagulant rodenticides on all City of New Westminster properties; and
THAT the City writes to the Province requesting that they ban anticoagulant rodenticides; and
THAT council directs staff to communicate the harmful impacts of anticoagulant rodenticides to residents and businesses in New Westminster and to share information about alternatives.

This is pretty straight-forward, and aligns with actions happening in municipalities across the province, with some advocacy from the SPCA and ecology groups. Council was unanimously supportive.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular update on the workings of our Pandemic teams in the City. Lots of detail in here, read if you are interested. We are looking at a possible COVID testing site in the City, have a new home for the Food Bank, etc. lots here to read if you are interested!

Extension of Sidewalk/Street Patios and Parklets to Support Business Recovery
Like several other communities, we are extending the patio program that was initially intended to expire at the end of October to align with the Provincial liquor license “TESA” changes. We are extending for a year (to October 2021) which aligns with recent updates ot the TESA, and gives us time to put together a more permanent solution through Bylaws. We are also making it easier to install awnings/shelters and heaters. There are a few public safety issues here that staff need to work through on a case-by-case issue with the owners, but we are giving them the authority to do that.

Re-opening Council Chamber to the Public
We are still figuring out how to unpack the changes that the Pandemic caused to how Council meets. We are going to continue to meet virtually, as it is working well and is really the best way to assure we are keeping our staff safe, and deal with the Public Health orders. Remember, public gatherings of over 50 are still restricted, and if we let one person in, we need to let anyone in, and that means we have no way to assure that a group that assembles is less than 50 people. We can’t say “only the first 50 can come in”.

So we are going to do Public Hearings and Opportunities to be Heard virtually (as we did today), giving people the ability to video-conference in or phone in. For people who are not comfortable with those technologies (phones?), we will have a process where they can come in to City Hall and staff will record a video or audio presentation for them to present in the Council Meeting.

Alternative Approval Process – Grimston Park Amendment Bylaw No. 8219, 2020
As mentioned last meeting, here were some land transfers related to the re-configuration of the Queensborough Bridge connections back in 2008, and the installations of the new car underpass on Stewardson last year that need formalization, and we need “opinion of electors” for this. So we are launching Alternate Approval Process to ask if people have opinions about this. If 10% of the voting population (a little more than 5,000 people) fill out forms to express concern about this, we go to referendum. It’s a silly process, but that’s the law. If you want us to have a referendum on this, please let us know.

Corporate Energy & Emission Reduction Strategy 2020
The City has two roles in addressing greenhouse gas emissions and our responsibility to meet our Paris Agreement goals and plan for a zero carbon future. One is managing our “corporate” emissions – those created by the City in operating its building and fleets, the other is our “community” emissions – those created by the residents and businesses in the City. This update strategy is our plan to deal with the first. I think I’ll write more about this in a follow-up blog, but good stuff here.

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital) Phase 2 and 3 Redevelopment – Update from September 14 Meeting
This report is a follow-up on our discussion about RCH’s rezoning, and some concerns raised around the transportation connection to the hospital. We are moving along with the rezoning process, but we are continuing to address these issues through the Development Agreement being hammered out between the City and Fraser Health. The reality is we are not going to be making significant changes to the design of the hospital, but FHA are dedicated to significant TDM measures, and the City and FHA will continue to track and address transportation impacts as the project proceeds.

Major Purchases May – August 2020
Every 4 months, we put out a list of all of our major purchases, so you can know what we spend our money on, and so our procurement practices are made more transparent, you can see what sole sourced vs what was tendered trough a competitive bid. The list is a little shorter than usual, as this was peak-Pandemic time, and many projects were stalled for obvious reasons. Still, look at these line items, and you will see government is freaking expensive.

Remembrance Day and Community Events
We need to start planning for events, and deciding what we can and cannot do as we continue to experience pandemic restrictions. Of course, we cannot cancel Remembrance Day, but we will hold a small ceremony at the Cenotaph, and ask that people watch on line instead of attending. We will also light a Christmas tree, but won’t have a lighting ceremony. Let’s hope we can all see each other in 2021.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Permissive Property Tax Exempt Properties – Review of Application Results
There are some lands in the city where we are not permitted to collect property taxes, like churches and (thanks Christy!) Private Schools. There are a second category of properties where the City exercises permissive tax exemptions: we agree not to charge them property taxes because we deem their activity on that property to provide some community benefit, like a seniors home or sports facility or charity.

We have taken the general practice for quite a while to not extend these permissive exemptions, but to continue to grandfather organizations that have received them. That said, we do receive new applications, and are asked to consider them. Annually we review all existing and proposed new exemptions. No changes here.

Correspondence from New West Farmers Market
The Farmers Market are plugging along, but are facing significant challenges with the COVID restrictions and ongoing need to adapt their business plans. They are looking for a little help from the City, which we are referring to our Grant programs.

We then had some Public Hearings and Opportunities to be Heard, but this blog is already too long, so I will post about them in a follow-up. Instead I’ll skip down the Bylaws we adopted that weren’t ones that went to Public Hearing:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Edibles) No. 8215, 2020
The changing of the Zoning Bylaw language to align with federal and provincial regulations in regard to the sale of edibles at cannabis retail locations was adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Removal of Cannabis Retail Location – 532 Sixth Street) No. 8218, 2020
The changing back of a Bylaw from an Uptown property that was approved for cannabis retail, but the owner was not able to make work, was adopted by Council.

Finally a bit of New Business:

One-time grant to Resident Associations Mayor Cote
This motion from the Mayor is a response to a request he received from a couple of RAs to help them pay for legitimate expenses resulting from their need to move their meetings on-line. Approved unanimously by Council.