Council – June 22, 2020

We had a busy Council meeting on Monday, including our first attempt at a “remote” Public Hearing and Opportunity to the Heard, which was a bit of an adventure. I will talk about those in a follow-up post, and will here just get through the regular Agenda:

First off, we had to start by making it all legal:

Ministerial Order No. M192: Continuation of Electronic Council Meetings during the COVID-19 Pandemic
We have been meeting electronically during the pandemic, almost weekly since mid-March. There are procedural and legislative stuff we need to do to permit this, and the provincial government has facilitated that though Ministerial Orders. As the older MO 139 has been repealed and replaced with MO 192, we need to have a resolution to adopt this.

We recognize public participation in Council Meetings has been hampered, and local government in BC has always operated on a principle of transparency and giving space for public participation. This meeting has our first “Public Hearing” under new protocols, but we are still strictly operating through electronic and remote means. Staff are working on how to safely implement Open Delegations and a re-opening of the Council Chambers to public attendance and participation during the “reopening” phases of the pandemic response. In the meantime, we are doing what we can to assure the process of City Council and the decisions made are as transparent as possible, and the public have opportunities to provide feedback to Mayor and Council. As always, send e-mails, call us up. Drop us a line. We can’t be in the room together, but we need to keep the communication happening.

Then we had a Presentation:

Downtown Transportation Plan – Key Directions and Implementation Plan
The City’s Master Transportation Plan was adopted in 2015, but it had a pretty significant “grey area” around downtown. The overarching goals of the MTP (pedestrian priority, reducing car trips, etc.) still apply to downtown planning decisions, but the details of downtown are complicated. It was recognized in 2015 that more detailed work and more consultation with stakeholders had to happen to make Downtown fit into the bigger plan. For two years, we have been working on a Downtown Transportation Plan, and it would have been unveiled already if COVID hadn’t rudely intruded in March. This is the draft plan being passed by Council prior to it going out to stakeholders one more time. With a little tweaking, we can adopt in July.

There is a lot in here, so I’ll keep my points of interest short. The proposed plan outlines two types of bike routes: primary “All Ages and Abilities” routes and a network of secondary ones. I am more interested in completing this primary network than the sharrows & signage of the secondaries, and question whether 10th Street should even be on the secondary list, but the priority routes are good, and overdue. Especially Agnes Street Greenway, which has the potential to redefine Downtown New West to the same scale that Pier Park did.

There are some pretty exciting changes proposed for the bottom of 8th Street. This is the new great crossroads of our City, and it is a pedestrian crossroads. Unfortunately, cars still rule the space, making for crowded sidewalks and inconvenient traffic signals. The current design does not reflect current use. I lament some of the design choices we made in the last decade around putting parking garage entrances and loading bays on this street. I loudly lamented them at the time, and still lament them, as they make our job today recreating a safe, comfortable, and functional pedestrian space much harder. My only hope is that we can move faster on the proposed changes, and see them in our current 5-year financial plan.

I love this diagram:

This is a great acknowledgement that in a busy, dense, mixed-use urban area like Downtown, curb space is a valuable commodity. Arguably, it is even more valuable than road lanes, and often too valuable to waste on car storage. This prioritization of how that valuable space will be allocated is important, because the curb is where many transportation battles are fought, and we need to have policy guidance to inform how we address those conflicts.

Overall, this is a good document, with maybe a few tweaks. The big grey oval in the Master Transportation Plan still has a few smaller grey ovals within, but we are moving along.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Submission to the Department of Canadian Heritage Museum Assistance Program for COVID-19 Emergency Support Funding
We are applying for federal support to help with financial shortfalls at the Museum and Archives related to COVID though a targeted support program.

709 Cumberland Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement – for Preliminary Review
There was a heritage house near the Canada Games Pool that was knocked down by the owner in violation of its protection covenant a few years ago. A new owner now wants to repurpose the site, including bringing a heritage house from Royal Avenue and re-building the original heritage house. This will require a new Heritage Revitalization Agreement. There would need to be a few zoning relaxations (minimum lot size, FSR, and setbacks). This is an early check in to see if Council is OK for it going to public consultation, heritage review, etc., so more to come here.

Submission to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Green Municipal Fund (GMF) for Feasibility Study of Agnes Greenway
As mentioned above, we are working on the plans for the Agnes Greenway, and there is a federal infrastructure planning fund we can apply to for a grant to help pay for the design work. We are applying for this.

2019 Consolidated Financial Statements
This is the official submission we send off to the Province to comply with regulations around financial reporting; the audited financial report from last fiscal year. What details do you want? The City ended the fiscal year with $203M in fiscal assets and $153M in liabilities, which puts us $50M in the black (financially). We also have $705M in capital assets (buildings, roads, pipes, vehicles, lawnmowers, etc.). We took in $226M in revenue last year ($85M in the form of Property Taxes), and spent $195M, which means we added $31M to our accumulated surplus. We ended the year with $116M in financial investments, and $66M in long-term debt. We are in good shape financially, and are ready to invest in a significant capital program. Of course, COVID is throwing a wrench into this, but that is the task ahead of us.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Draft Recovery Action Plan for Council’s Consideration
We are working out the details of the recovery plan here for the City, now that it looks like the provincial government is leading that way. Of course, we will continue to follow provincial health and safety guidance, and need to be prepared for setbacks and second waves, but we also need to start supporting concrete moves to the post-COVID world.

The work is everything from re-designing how the City facilities work to permit physical distancing to determining which staff re-assignments need to occur when, and how and when to bring some auxiliary staff back, based on which services we can restart. This is a monumental amount of work, more so when you realize none of the staff have done anything like this before. We will make mistakes, but hopefully if we have strong principles and recognize everyone’s limitations, this can hopefully reduce, not increase, the anxiety and stress of re-opening the City.

For Council, the difficulty here is that we are still in uncertain financial times. Despite the good financial shape the City was in at the end of 2019 (see above), things have clearly changed for the general economy and for the cash flow of the City. At the same time, response to the emergency is going to require some investments – the community needs support in new ways, and we need to be ready to provide that support. If we approach recover with a mindset that we simply cannot afford to do these important things, the recovery will be more difficult. Finding the balance between cost savings and meeting the goals and expectations of the community is always the tension at the heart of this work. I will continue to challenge an austerity approach at any level of government when the community is in need.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
As we have done since late March, every meeting we get a reporting out from our COVID response working groups in the City. This is a good summary of the City’s work during the crisis. This includes work City staff has been doing to support vulnerable residents during this crisis, seniors, local businesses, and the general community through education.

Artist Selection – New Westminster Aquatic & Community Centre Public Art Project
The City’s Public Art program includes funding for art installations in all new major infrastructure projects. The Replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre project is a big piece of infrastructure, and the Public Art Advisory Committee has identified a successful applicant in the call for public art to enhance the building. A piece by James Harry will grace the public plaza on the west side of the building.

8 – 30 Capilano Way: Temporary Use Permit – Notice of Issuance
A company that rents out pinball machines to bars has been having a hard time of it during the Pandemic, as their customers are all closed. They want to open up their warehouse in the Braid Street Industrial Area to allow people to come there and play. This is not a business type permitted within the existing zoning for his property, so they are asking for a Temporary Use Permit, similar to what the other recently-opened arcade in town received. We had some discussion about whether this is appropriate use for the city’s limited industrial space, but a shorter Temporary Use permit seemed to meet consensus at Council.

There are some concerns about how an arcade would operate during the Pandemic, but apparently there are Phase 3 protocols for amusements. There will be both limited capacity, and no food or alcohol service. Council will receive public feedback on this application until July 13th, then consider the application at the Council meeting. If you have an opinion, let us know.

Front Street Temporary 2020 Summer Weekend Opening to Pedestrians and Cyclists
We need more outdoor space this summer, which will be, unfortunately, the summer without festivals. Previous closures of Front Street have permitted gathering, and great connections between Pier Park and Sapperton Landing Park. There have been suggestions this year that closing Front over the weekend may give people more reason to go outside and more space to enjoy outside. Unfortunately, the Railways will not permit access from the east end of Pier Park, but connecting Downtown to Sapperton Landing and creating a large flexible open space along the water all summer was supported by council.

We had three Development Variance Permits that received public comment and were ready for Council approval:

DVP00678 to Vary Off-Street Parking Requirements at 1065 Quayside Drive
As I talked about last meeting, there is a high-rise in the Quay that houses an antenna for the 911 system, and its back-up generator needs replacing with a larger unit, which means the building will lose a parking spot for which they need a development variance permit, since their original development permit required a minimum number of parking spots. We asked if people had opinions about this, and we got 7 letters, mostly seeking clarification (which makes sense as this is a bit strange) but none strenuously opposed. Council moved to issue the DVP.

DVP00679 to Vary Off-Street Parking at 327 East Columbia Street
Also mentioned last meeting, a daycare in Sapperton wants to expand but doesn’t have sufficient parking for the zoning requirement for that expansion, so they want a variance to open with less than the minimum parking stalls. We asked for your input and didn’t get any correspondence. Council voted to approve issuance of the DVP.

DVP00681 to Vary Rear Yard Setback at 427 Fourth Street
Finally, we talked last meeting about this homeowner who wishes to put an addition on his house, but at least in part of a strange subdivision of his property dating back to 1912, this will result in his addition being too close to the back lot line (though it will be in line with the existing house), so this needs a variance. We asked for public consultation, and received two letters, both form neighbours, and both opposed due to proximity issues. I general agree with the staff assessment that the variance is minor, and is consistent with the existing landscape of the house. Council voted to approve issuance of the DVP.

Finally, we had one motion in New Business:

COVID-19 Data Collection Councillor Nakagawa

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster write to the provincial and federal Ministers of Health requesting that they collect disaggregated data including race, socioeconomic class, and disability that will allow for evidence-based health care and social program interventions; and
THAT the data are analyzed and interpreted with community leadership and input; and
THAT the data are collected with the intention of being understood as indicators of systemic and structural oppression to identify root causes of disparity; and
THAT this letter be forwarded to all BC municipalities asking to write their support as well.

I think the motion speaks for itself.

And that was it for our main business, but we had a Public Hearing and Opportunities to be Heard, which I will outline in a follow-up blog post.

Council – June 1 2020

Ugh. What a terrible time we are in. I’ve been trying to step back a bit from social media right now, the chaos is a good time for people to listen to voices other than mine. But I’ve been doing these reports since I started on Council more than 5 years ago, and as long as the City is doing work and Council is making decisions that impact your community, I feel the need to put these out.

As always, you should read the Agenda and Reports or go to the recording if you want the full story. Now more than ever, you need to be aware that everyone brings their personal filters to information, sometimes even unintentional ones, and that includes me. Every one of us has blinders in our view, and by their very purpose we cannot see them. It takes effort to understand the impact they are having on our own outlook. So here goes.

COVID-19 Draft Recovery Plan
This is our report on planning the City is doing to support the BC Restart Plan. It includes proposed timing for the reopening of City facilities, re-start of suspended City programs, and an outline of what kind of guidance will be used to inform safety protocols needed to make public spaces safe for residents and staff.

There is a bit of prioritization on assuring services essential for vulnerable populations, such as planning for opening Moody Park Outdoor pool and cooling centers in the event we have a heat wave. Some other facilities will be more of a challenge, and will need more work to fulfill safety and comfort requirements for users. Some will have to wait until the Fall (depending on what the pace of change is in the Provincial Health Authority requirements), and the QtoQ Ferry is especially challenging, and may not be running again until 2021.

There is more detail in this report, it is worth a read. Also, recognize this is the best laid plan as of the end of May, as the Province is entering Phase 2 of the recovery. It will surely be adjusted as the recovery is either accelerated or slowed depending on how the Pandemic evolves.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Inter-Municipal Transportation Network Systems (TNS) Business Licence Bylaws
I am still not happy with the damaging impacts to community and workers’ rights that are represented by the current structure of TNS like Uber, but there is nothing a local government in BC can practically do to stop them, and the only hope we have to regulate and manage some of these externalities is through business licensing. I think the Inter-Municipal Business License is the practical model to do this. We are a little late to getting this Bylaw approved here in New West, more due to our work load than any specific political direction, but we have a Bylaw matching 23 others already established across the region ready to test in an Opportunity to be Heard on June 22. C’mon out (virtually) and tell us what you think.

427 Fourth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Rear Yard Setback
How refreshing to be looking at Development Variance Permits again. This heritage home on a uniquely-shaped lot in Queens Park that was strangely subdivided more than 100 years ago. The owner wishes to put an attachment on the house, but to continue the existing lines of the house, this requires a variance to be 7 feet closer to the rear fence than permitted (11 feet, as the existing house is, as opposed to 18 feet). At this point, we are issuing official notice that we intend to review this Variance request at the June 22 meeting. Let us know if you have concerns or comments.

1065 Quayside Drive: Development Variance Permit to Vary Off-Street Parking Requirements
Try to follow this one. There is an E-Comm 911 antenna on a high-rise in the Quayside. It (naturally) requires an emergency back-up generator. They need ot replace the generator, an the new one has bigger footprint than the old one. Its installation requires the removal of a parking spot, which is something counted in our zoning bylaws. This building, it turns out, is already 14 parking spots “deficient” according to our Bylaws (it has 126 spots and 10 visitor spots for 98 units) so the replacement of the generator requires a Development Variance to formalize the current deficiency of (now) 15 parking spaces. Council hereby issues official notice that we intend to review this Variance request at the June 22 meeting. Let us know if you have concerns or comments.

327 East Columbia Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Off-Street Parking
There is a Daycare development in a commercial building next to Sapperton Park that wishes to open with fewer off-street parking spaces that required under the zoning Bylaw, requiring a variance. Once again, this is just official notice that we intend to review this Variance request at the June 22 meeting. You can send us your opinions.

General Principles for Recommending Waiving of a Public Hearing and Consideration of Public Hearings for Three Bylaws: 909 First Street, 45 East Eighth Avenue, and Miscellaneous Zoning Amendment Bylaws
Public Hearings are difficult right now (they are often difficult at the best of times, and horrendous in the worst of times, but that’s another rant). Council has generally been in support of waiving some Public Hearings at this time, due to the difficulty of managing them and the need to provide procedural fairness to applicants in the City. But procedural fairness works both ways, and changing how hearings work requires that we develop a clear set of guidelines of when waiving is and is not appropriate. This report sets them out for Council approval.

That is, if the application is consistent with City policy or strategic priorities already established by Council, if the applicant responds effectively to public and staff feedback in reviews, and the proposal is consistent with the OCP, then Council will be asked to waive that hearing. All three hurdles need to be passed.

It is important to note that the Public Hearing is only one form of review of any project. Residents and other impacted parties have several other ways available to them to comment to Mayor and Council about whether they like or dislike any particular project. The Public Hearing also comes very late in the process, where potentially better forms of engagement happen earlier when clear issues or changes to the project can be addressed more effectively by applicants, or directed by staff.

There were two applications caught mid-process when the whole COVID thing came down, and we will not waive those Public Hearings, but will pilot a virtual Public Hearing process.

2019 Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report
The City collects more than 1,000 water samples from around our water system every year, and sends them for analysis of E.coli, coliform, HPC, chlorine residuals, metals, temperature, turbidity, and byproducts of the disinfection process (DBPs, THMs, and HAAs). We annually report out on this sampling program. The water is good.

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre (NWACC) – Project Status
There is more to talk about here, and I am sure this deserves a follow-up blog post, but here are the short version details for now. The City did not get an ICIP Grant for the Canada Games Pool Replacement. As per our earlier discussions about how much pool the City can afford without this senior government funding report, we are now concentrating on the 8-lane 50m pool model (with a second recreation pool) that is still significantly larger than the existing Canada Games Pool, but not the 10-Lane pool the Hyack Swim Club would have liked to see built.

We are ready to tender construction documents, but there is significant uncertainty in both the construction market and the City’s medium-term financial status due to the COVID crisis. For that reason, we are not taking the next step in sending this out for tender until at least the end of the summer, when we have a better handle on the financial status. At this time, this is the prudent thing to do.

Community Events and Festivals during COVID-19
This will be a summer with fewer events. No parade, no bike race, and if there is a revamped “Fridays on Front”, it will be later in the summer, and we wouldn’t know what it will look like yet. However, there is still going to be some activity around Canada Day. No fireworks, and distributed events as opposed to big gatherings, but something.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Public Engagement Strategy on Recovery Planning and Post-Pandemic Vision
To help inform the above-referenced recovery planning, the City is launching a public engagement initiative to connect with residents about the shape of our recovery plan, with an effort to identify inequities in how we have engaged in the past.

This is actually a natural follow-up to the Public Engagement Strategy the City developed a few years ago, but have not until recently fully funded and resourced. There were some plans this spring to concentrate on Climate Emergency response as an opportunity to do more directed engagement, but as we have moved so much of this resource over to COVID response that it seems there is little staff capacity to do this.

This is going to take some resources to do right, and will eat up some engagement bandwidth (i.e. the public can only engage so much with the City before they get back to the other things they need to do in their lives), so finding the balance between this initiative and existing Climate Emergency engagement initiative is the question. And one we will continue to work on.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Speaking of moving resources over the COVID response, here is our weekly report on what our task forces have been up to. As with last week, there is a gradual transition to maintenance and recovery going on, after so much exceptional and amazing work has been done by the staff of the City.

Sidewalk/Street Patios and Parklets to Support Business Recovery
Patios and Parklets are getting fast tracked, both because they support the economic recovery of our hard-hit commercial and restaurant sectors, and because they support the Streets for People motion to re-think how we use our streets and sidewalks to accommodate physical distancing and the needs of active transportation users.

There will be a fast-racked “temporary” application process for those who want to set up immediately, which will cover them until the end of October and get them through the busy summer season and what we hope is the bulk of the recovery time. This coincides with recent changes in Provincial regulation to permit alcohol service on expanded patio areas as a temporary measure. There are several changes here, including amending our Zoning Bylaw to allow them to repurpose parking on their own land to patio space, if that is the path they want to take. There would also be an opportunity for establishments to re-purpose street parking in front of or attached to their business to full service patios.

We are also accelerating the installation of public parklets in select locations. These would not have “restaurant service”, but would support take-out seating. We will work with the adjacent restaurants of food service businesses to have them help with day-to-day maintenance (trash clearing, for the most part) of the parklets.

The big take-away point here is that the City is doing everything we can to accelerate this this process and make the most out of recent changes of provincial regulations – we want to get out of the way and let businesses find out how to make this work best for them.

Stage 1 Sustainable Transportation Zoning Bylaw Amendments for Two Readings – Bylaw 8184, 2020
Land use policy is transportation policy, and vice versa. Our Zoning Bylaw includes regulations that directly impact sustainable transportation opportunities. It has been a while since we did this type of review to assure those regulations are concordant with our Master Transportation Plan goals and principles. This first stage will be improve the clarity and administration of those Bylaws, future stages will bring more significant changes in how we regulate parking requirements.

We then went through a slightly less rhythmic on-line version of the Bylaw reading process, including Adopting these Bylaws:

Sidewalk Café Encroachment Amendment Bylaw No. 8204, 2020
This Bylaw that supports patios as talked about above was given three readings adopted by Council. Get your sunglasses out!

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1935 Eighth Ave) Bylaw No. 7846, 2019 and
Heritage Designation (1935 Eighth Ave) Bylaw No. 7847, 2019
These Bylaws that support subdivision of a residential lot in the West End and permanent protection of the heritage house in the lot were given Third Reading back in 2019, and are now adopted, making them the law of the land and forever preserving a single family house 300m from a Skytrain station in 2020.

And that is all we have for now. Take care of each other folks.

Council – May 25 2020

Sorry, there is too much going on and no time to sit down and bash out these notes. Amazing how busy we can be when we rarely leave our house. We had a Council Meeting on May 25, as always, follow this link to the Agenda and reports for more information, because the stuff below is (inevitably) a view through my filter, and not official positions of anyone other than me:

The following items were Moved on Consent:

At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force: Food Security Planning and Responses During COVID-19 Recovery
This was actually a tough one for me. One of the local food service organizations has lost its senior government funding. Until another founder (potentially a charity?) can be found, they have asked the City to help. So we have the choice of seeing people go without needed food or stepping in to help. Standing by while people go hungry seems like the worst outcome, so I will support this temporary measure. But not without calling out senior governments who get 92% of tax revenues, and are completely failing here such that local food security teams are forced to go hat-in-hand to charities to assure people have access to food. I’m not the fiscal conservative on Council, but how much blood are we expecting to get from this stone?

That said, there is a second request here for the city to help with some coordination in the food security role. Again, assuring people in poverty have food is probably something best handled by the province, but we definitely are best positioned right now to provide local coordination. I think this is an appropriate use of Affordable Housing Reserve fund and an interim measure.

516 Brunette Avenue: BNSF Railway Telecommunication Tower – Statement of Concurrence
BNSF wants to build a communications tower on their property in Sapperton. The City has no power to regulate this, but BNSF are required to let us know they are doing it, and we have at least theoretical ability to take any concerns to Industry Canada. However, there are no concerns being raised by the City.

Bosa Development: 660 Quayside Drive – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
A new pedestrian connection to Pier Park at the end of 6th Street is being provided in partnership with Bosa, and it requires a span over the rail lines along Front Street. That span needs to be installed with a crane, and due to traffic and rail safety concerns, that work needs to happen at night. There will be some disruptions of traffic and work during one late Saturday night in June or early July. Council approved a noise bylaw exemption to allow this to happen.

2020 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
Still keeping an eye on the snowpack, as freshet flooding is still possible. Some higher-than-average April temperatures helped remove some snowmelt, reducing flood risk a bit, but it is noteworthy that snowpacks in the mid- and upper-Fraser basins is among the highest ever recorded at this time of year, so there is still significant risk of flooding depending on how the weather between now and late June turns out. The City is doing some flood preparation work and dike patrols, just in case.

Major Purchases January 1 to April 30, 2020
Here is our every-four-months report on significant purchases the City has made, and the results of our open procurement policy. Want to know how we spend money, the details are in here.

Investment Report to April 30, 2020
This is our regular report on how our investments are doing. The City has significant reserve funds right now because we have been putting money aside for a couple of large projects, most notably the Canada Games Pool, and a pretty typical delay on delivery of a few capital projects. The City earned $1.3M on its investments over the year ending April 30. Notably the TSE Index went down 10% over that same period. We will naturally be impacted by the general market downturn related to COVID, but the City is required by law and by policy to be very conservative in its investment strategy, so our risk is lower than most.

2019 Filming Activity Update
Film revenue in the City was a little down in 2019 compared to the average over the previous 5 years but there were still 140 filming days in the City with almost $800K in revenue.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five COVID-19 Task Forces
This is the regular report on our COVID response, organized by Task Force. Want to know what the City is doing, it is here. The general trend these days is less organizing and preparing, more operations and planning for a transition to a recovery or post-Pandemic phase.

Education and Enforcement Task Force: Lessons Learned and Proposed Reprioritization
Right up front, I think the Covid Compliance Hotline was a positive initiative – it is unfortunate that the local media (social- and traditional-) chose to use a pejorative in referring to it, but it was effective at reducing the load on Police and 911 calls and providing people a place to address their concerns. It also provided an opportunity to educate the public at a time when many are clearly feeling anxiety, no doubt ramped up by so much bad information circulating through local media platforms where there is no editorial control to filter it. It also allowed the City and its communications staff to better understand where the anxieties were in the community so we can assure we are being effective in our response.

We are transitioning to more of a “personal responsibility” phase, with more expectation that people will be self-policing and less need for direct staff intervention across the City. The presence of compliance officers and Champions in public spaces, along with the rapid response to signage and communication was really excellent, but staff now feel we can scale back a bit.

We are still going to communicate and track compliance. I read a comment last week that came ti mind during this discussion: “Public health policy is predicated on the idea that common sense doesn’t scale up to society, because it’s individually defined, and often self-interested. ‘Common sense’ won’t protect other people from your selfishness. You can’t run a government on “just use your common sense””. – Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley

Sidewalk/Street Patios and Parklets to Support Business Recovery
The City is moving forward with support for re-allocation of space for patios and decks, through streamlining applications and working to implement the changes in the Provincial Liquor rules announced last week by the Attorney General. I’m excited to see how we can support businesses in making our streetscapes more active and functional, including the re-allocation of curbside parking.

There are a few models of this – public parklets open to everyone that restaurant customers can use as a sort of place to sit with their “take out”; extended patios in the “Montreal Style” where they occupy much of the sidewalk, but an alternative boardwalk is installed in the parking lane to assure accessible 2m of sidewalk is maintained, or having a restaurant license a parking spot or two for food/drink service.

This isn’t as simple as we think, there are still provincial and City rules that need to be aligned, and food-primary, liquor-primary and liquor-manufacturing are three different provincial categories that need their own approaches. We also need to remember some “red tape” exists for a great reason- like assuring that street/sidewalk furniture doesn’t create an accessibility barrier for people who need the sidewalk, and assuring transit service is not disrupted, but Council was pretty clear to staff that we want the City to try to do this as quick as possible so restaurants can other businesses can make this part of their re-opening plans. If it takes two or three months, it will be too late to provide the assistance small business need right now.

Pop-Up Recycling Events
As the closure of the recycling centre was earlier than expected due to the Pandemic, and the construction of the new facility on the New West/Coquitlam Border is still ongoing, we have a gap to fill. The planned pop-up recycling events were delayed due to the Public Health Officer orders, but they can now be run, with the first one planned for May 30th at the Public Works Yard on First Street in Glenbrook North. Unfortunately, neither Recycle BC nor any other contractor will accept Styrofoam right now, so that cannot be included. Yes, our recycling system is broken, but add that to the pile.

And that was a Council meeting! See you next week!

Streets for People

I had a motion on the Council Agenda on Monday, which I said I would write about later. First the motion in full, then the rant:

Whereas the City of New Westminster established a Bold Step target to re-allocate 10% of automobile-only space toward sustainable transportation and/or public gathering use by 2030; and
Whereas the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant shifts in the use of public space, and “physical distancing” directives exposed the critical need for greater and more accessible pedestrian, active transportation, and public gathering space in the City; and

Whereas the recovery phase of the City’s pandemic response will put tremendous pressure on the City to address these inequities in public space, to assure that the freedom to move about and be active in public spaces not lost, and that our commercial districts are supported in finding creative ways to activate sidewalk and road space to excite customer support; and

Whereas urban areas around the world are currently demonstrating a commitment to reclaiming roads by rapidly converting automobile-only space to more equitable uses that better support neighborhood livability, commercial district viability, community resiliency, and public safety during the crisis and into post-Pandemic times;

Therefore be it resolved that:
The City of New Westminster move quickly in 2020 to expand road re-allocation toward pedestrian, cyclist, and public gathering space, using temporary measures where necessary with a mind towards more permanent solutions that can be applied after the period of crisis has passed;

And be it further resolved that:
The Transportation Task Force make rapid reallocation of road space a priority work item, are empowered to immediately apply temporary measures in 2020, and accelerate the timeline towards the 10% space reallocation goal set out in Bold Step 7 of the City’s Climate Action Plan.

In a rapidly growing city, the need for our streets to be public spaces where people can walk, shop, even recreate – as opposed to merely roads for the purpose of automobile throughput – has never been more clear. Intrinsically, we knew this all along. Every time we have opened up space for people to use at a human scale, people show up and take advantage of that space. When that space is lost again, we feel the loss. Yes, I’m talking street festivals and parades, but I’m also talking about the temporary closure of the east part of Front Street that brought people to use that space creatively for a summer, and the small calmed or reclaimed areas like the Front Street Mews and Belmont, or the pedestrian space reclaimed on McInnes.

Along comes a pandemic, and all of the sudden commuter traffic has reduced, and people are using space differently. People have shifted to walking more, there are noticeably more youth and families out on bikes, and the way we shop and assemble and queue use transit has changed. With people spending more time working at home or (alas) unemployed, there are more people outside using public spaces. Gathered in parks in small virtual pods of a few people, spread across the space. People want to be outside, but people are wary of being too close or crowded in public space. The only solution to this math is: more public space.

The City has reacted in some rapid ways to support these changes in the transportation realm. The report we received in the May 11 Council package outlines much of this: fixing the pinch point on the Central Valley Greenway at the north end of East Columbia, asking people to use the Quayside esplanade differently, making more space for safer use of the McInnes Overpass. And the obvious happened: every time we have opened up space for people to use at a human scale, people show up and take advantage of that space.

At the motion says, New Westminster has already set a goal to re-allocate 10% of road space by 2030 as one of our Bold Steps towards Climate Action. In light of current events and the radical change in the use of public space we are already seeing, the 2030 timeline no longer feels bold. In a city with as much road and as much pressing need for public space right now, we need to act faster.

And we are no alone in this, Cities from Vancouver to Montreal to London to Seattle have shifted the use of street space to make pedestrians, cyclists, and other street users more comfortable and safer.

New Westminster has a lot of road space, an excess of road space in many ways. We can demonstrate regional and national leadership not by changing our plans, but by simply re-setting the timeline for this work – the immediate shift of road space by temporary measures – paint, no post barriers, planters, delineators, and bollards. We can aggressively do this in the summer of 2020, with a mind to making these re-allocations permanent as capital budget and recovery allow.

My motion calls on us to do the things outlined in the Staff report, and more, and much more rapidly. Additionally, as much as I appreciate the great work transportation staff have done so far, I want us to also think about how we take this work out of the transportation realm, and expand it to thinking more holistically about how we can re-allocate space to support our business districts, support the arts community, support people finding new ways to connect socially while distancing physically, how the re-use of public space will be a keystone to the recovery from this crisis.

The summer of 2020 is going to be different. And coming out of the Pandemic, there will be transformations in how we live in our City. If we are bold and brave now, we can shape those transformations towards the more people-focused, more equitable, and more sustainable community we envisioned in our long-term planning. Like so many other needs in the community, the COVID-19 crisis did not create this need, but it did demonstrate the urgency of the need, and provides the opportunity for accelerated action to address the need that was always there.

I want this motion to be the start of a conversation – but getting mired in debate about priotization and compromises is the biggest risk to us actually getting change during this critical time. I will be talking out a lot in the weeks ahead about this, and I want to hear form the community about the visionary changes you want to see in your community, in your neighbourhood, on your street.

I want to see rapid deployment of greenway treatments to finally address some of the gaps. I want to see expansion of sidewalks into car storage spaces so that people have comfortable space to walk in our commercial areas, and so our commercial businesses can be supported as they re-open by taking patios or merchandizing areas out on to the sidewalk. I want to see small chunks of our local streets closed to traffic and converted to active use for neighbourhoods that are going to be itching for social connection during a summer with no festivals. I want every student to have a safe route to walk or roll to school. I want us to stop laying pavement expanses on parts of roads that don’t facilitate safe speeds or safe crossing. And I’ll be going on at length about these things…

I wrapped my little speech at Council by quoting Gordon Price – the former Director of the City Program at SFU and City Councillor for the City of Vancouver:

Reallocation as a health response, a climate-emergency response, a neighbourhood planning response, and an active-transportation response – all of the above at a time when the difficult-to-do has become the necessary-to-do.

Because it is time, because it will make us a better City, let’s do this.

Council – May 11 2020

Another week, and other Council meeting. It didn’t look like that picture above, but I thought i would add that to remind us of the before-times. We are going to start moving towards a more regular schedule again soon (see below), but for now the updates keep coming so we keep meeting. As always, we are recording the audio stream (though we are meeting using video), so you can follow along the recording or see the agenda here. We started with a significant report:

Provincial Restart Plan and City of New Westminster Recovery Plan Presentation
We have talked a lot in the last two months about response to the pandemic situation, and as I suggested last week, we are starting to talk about what recovery is going to look like. As the Provincial announcements made clear last week, we are not past the danger phase, but with most of the response now planned and being implemented, it is time to start talking about what happens where we start moving to post-emergency operations. We had a lengthy reporting out from senior staff on what this looks like for Parks, Recreation, and the Library.

As with the rest of the emergency response, this is mostly following the lead of the provincial health officer’s directions, so we don’t have control over the pace here, only the choice of actions we will take. As the report says right up front – the City has three responsibilities – it is a regulator, it is an employer, and it is a service provider. All three roles need to be considered through this process.

There is a perhaps counter-intuitive issue with facilities opening sooner than the City anticipated in its financial modelling. Opening City facilities will mean some of the cost savings from them being closed will be lost, and potentially bringing some auxiliary staff back sooner than anticipated. This is likely to start to happen before the concomitant return of traditional revenue sources, so this could ironically make our financial situation worse, not better.

For now, some parks facilities will be opening up, and we will be monitoring how that kind of thing goes, and will be working in coordination with adjacent municipalities to try to make this entire thing not be so confusing that people will have a hard time complying. A good time to remind everyone that everybody is doing all of this for this first time, and we need to work together.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

COVID-19 Pandemic The New Normal: Council and Committee Processes
We are adapting the way we are running Council meetings again, this time taking away a few of the restrictions we put in when things were first hitting the fan in late March. We are also establishing a more reasonable schedule going into the summer to replace our current weekly meetings, and trying to get more “regular” business done instead of being all-emergency-all-the-time.

The Province has provided us some extraordinary flexibility in how we run meetings under a Ministerial Order (M139) so we can do business during the emergency, with physical distancing protocols, and outside of the Council Chambers if needed. This replaced the earlier Order (M083) which we were previously operating under, so we need a refresh in our procedures.

City Advisory Committees were suspended in April, and we are now looking at re-launching some of them electronically, especially the Board of Variance and Advisory Planning Commission as needed. Most committees, however, will continue to be suspended until the end of the summer. Unfortunately, Public Delegations are still difficult to organize and manage for staff, and will remain suspended. If you wish to address Council in the meantime, please send us an e-mail or letter, and contact the Clerk’s office if you have questions about how to connect.

We are also going to look at getting electronic Public Hearings happening. This will allow anyone with access to a computer, tablet, or telephone to take part in an on-line meeting. Of course, you can still provide input to public hearings by writing an e-mail or old-skool letter to Council. If the technical stuff can get worked out, we will likely have a Public Hearing for some backlogged projects in late May.

Sapperton Pump Station: 1 Cumberland Street – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
That big sewer pump station being built below Sapperton is almost done. This is a request to do some night work to remove a bulkhead within the “wet well” – work that has to happen in the middle of the night on a night when the weather has been dry for some time because it is much, much easier to do when the sewer flows are at their lowest. Council granted a nighttime construction noise exemption to permit this work.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our weekly updates from the operating Task Forces. We are still working on food security, a “Hey Neighbour” initiative to help forge social connections in multi-family buildings, the Friendly Caller program to help isolated seniors is going well, and we are partnering to open an emergency shelter at the empty gym attached to the Massey Theatre. Staff have reached out to most businesses in town, including door-to-door delivering support information in multiple languages to the businesses along 12th Street that don’t have the umbrella of a formal or informal BIA to help with communications. And this is just a few of the things City Staff are doing to keep our community connected and safe.

Also part of this was the need for us to approve spending $82,000 on two emergency food hamper programs. Because government is funny that way, we needed to approve the spending even if it is just flowing through us. I am burying the lede a bit here, as these were both the result of large grants provided by the Vancouver Foundation to local non-profit providers after the City helped with application and coordination. This is great news, as more than 1,500 food hampers will be delivered to those most in need in our community over the next 12 weeks.

COVID-19 At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force: Information and Resource Dissemination Actions
This is a reporting out on the numerous communications actions the city has taken, and tools that have been developed to assure that we are sharing information about the pandemic response and supports available, from a summary of financial supports from various government programs to a food resources calendar.

I do want to pull out of this an important initiative that came out of our Intelligent City program and a partnership with Douglas College. We are providing recycles WiFi-enabled devices and Wifi hotspots in the City. Of course, much info people need to get through the crisis is available on-line, and access to many program relies on internet connectivity to sign up or get vital information. However, lots of people in New West (especially those who most need the supports above) do not have a consistent connection to the internet. The Library is an important source of Wifi and devices/desktops to connect for many people, but it has been closed for almost two months now, as are other places where public (Anvil Centre) or private (Coffee shops) WiFi connections are available. At the same time so much information about the current crisis and supports available are easiest to find on the internet. Hopefully this program will help more people get connected.

COVID-19 Council Review of 2020 Community Grants Program
Many of the Grants the City awarded in 2020 will not be used, simply because they are for events that cannot happen due to the physical distancing requirements, and because some organizations that were awarded these grants will simply not have capacity to use them this year. Staff reached out to the awardees and did an informal survey to find out which grants will still be used (or were already used), which will not, and which the applicant would like to repurpose in light of the Pandemic situation. We are currently estimating we will still see a reduction of about 1/3 of the ~$1 Million (cash and City services) in grants awarded.

Physical Distancing on City Streets
This report talks about some of the great work our Transportation Department has done to open up pedestrian spaces in the City to help with physical distancing. It also outlines some of the next steps (and a few of the challenges along the way). Many may have noticed that Sixth Ave in Uptown had its sidewalks extended with temporary measures today. More to come, and of course I have a bunch to say about this, considering this motion came right after it:

We had two pieces of New Business:

Motion: Streets for People in 2020

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster move quickly in 2020 to expand road re-allocation toward pedestrian, cyclist, and public gathering space, using temporary measures where necessary with a mind towards more permanent solutions that can be applied after the period of crisis has passed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Transportation Task Force make rapid reallocation of road space a priority work item, are empowered to immediately apply temporary measures in 2020, and accelerate the timeline towards the 10% space reallocation goal set out in Bold Step 7 of the City’s Climate Action Plan

I put this motion forward, and will talk about it at length in one of my patented “I’ll have to write a follow-up blog post about this” follow-up blog posts about this.

Motion: Public Engagement Strategy for COVID Recovery

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff prepare a public engagement strategy for involving the community in COVID-19 recovery planning with particular focus on addressing systemic inequities and building a stronger, more vibrant and connected, climate change resilient community; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the plan proposes ways to address barriers to participation that have resulted in lack of representation by communities of colour, tenants and underhoused, lower income community members, disabled people, and other underrepresented groups that have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic.

Councillor Nakagawa put this motion forward, recognizing that we are starting the conversation about how things are going to change in Post-pandemic times. There is already a lot of talk about “the new normal”, which suggests that things were “normal” before and that the crises we have experienced throughout our community and social systems was solely a result of this virus. The pandemic only cast light on the cracks in our society that were there all along, and provided us a lens though which rapid action could be applied to, however temporarily, address them. It also provides us an opportunity to talk about whether we are going to allow things to go back to how they were, or whether a new path can be taken.

To get there, we need to have a bigger conversation with the community. Not the people who read this blog, or watch council meetings (though your input is always appreciated). We need to take this opportunity to talk to people most impacted by this crisis, most of whom we have not had a lot so success connecting with in the past. This is a Public Engagement challenge, but one we have some pieces in place to achieve through our Public Engagement Strategy.

And that was a Council Meeting.

Council – May 4 2020

We had an uncharacteristically short council meeting this week, at least the open part. There was a fair amount of good info and important stuff in the reports we read and received along with the Agenda, there was just not a lot of detail discussion among Council about it.

We started with this item Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our weekly reporting out by the task forces put together in the City to address the pandemic response. If you want to know what the City is doing, read this report for the latest summary.

Of course, these are just the extra things City staff are doing. There is still much “regular” business going on in the City. Buildings are being inspected, Bylaws enforced, police doing police work, fire department responding to calls, grass being mowed, planters being tended, financial reports being prepared and audited, trash being removed, etc. etc. All of these things still go on even as staff are having to adjust how they do them.

So when you look at this list of Task force works – it is above and beyond the usual work load. This includes coordinating food distribution by the Food Bank and other service agencies to assure the most vulnerable in our community at least have the dignity and security of a regular meal. There was a recent announcement that the Vancouver Foundation provided a huge grant to local food security in New West, and thanks to this work, 80 families will receive a weekly food hamper every week for three months to help get through the crisis time.

This means working with BC Housing to assure that those without a roof, or in threat of being without a roof have access to a safe, dry place where they can be connected with other resources they may need. This also means assuring that isolated seniors in the community who have been separated from their usual community supports due to physical distancing and their higher risk status have a friendly voice to talk to and someone who can ask them about their needs.

The City is also connecting with every business in the City to assure they know about the supports available to them from senior governments, to talk about their security or social distancing concerns, and to help them determine what kind of supports they are going to need in the recovery phase after this crisis passes so the City is ready to help with those supports. It means coordinating a Support Local campaign to assure residents know what businesses are operating, and need customers to support them now.

Then there is the education and enforcement part of managing physical distancing and the use of City spaces. There are staff reviewing daily the federal and provincial announcements, so that we are on top of the changes, and can change our operations and the info we provide to the public appropriately. There are City staff re-assigned to getting out into parks and public spaces to talk to residents, creating signage, adjusting our Bylaws so that enforcement was possible, making determinations about what uses are still OK, and which need to be adjusted, closed, or adapted. Staff have identified pedestrian areas that need to be improved to permit physical distancing and have made that happen. They have also been managing inquiries from the public through a special hotline, both to educate and to follow up on concerns the public may have.

None of this was in anybody’s work plan in February, none of it built into any departments budget. Our staff have, in my opinion, done a spectacular job adjusting to a new reality that is changing every day, and our community is coming through this strong. It isn’t over, but we can start to put some resources towards looking towards that time. We will be talking more about that next meeting.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw to Reflect COVID-19 Interim Development Review Process: Bylaw for Three Readings and Adoption
Last meeting, we talked about some changes to the development review process in light of the ongoing physical distancing requirements and limitation on meetings in City Hall. The cost of internal processes for reviewing developments falls on the developer on a fee-for-service basis, which requires a bylaw, which needs to be edited slightly due to some of the changes we approved last week. This report outlines the edits to that Bylaw which we adopted below.

618 Carnarvon (Urban One Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The property at 618 Carnarvon was given approval for development last year, and includes some work immediately adjacent to the SkyTrain guideway. Some of this work needs to happen at night when the SkyTrain is not running. Right now that is just a night or two of work to install a fence to keep the guideway and construction site separate. This requires a Construction Noise Bylaw exemption to permit the night work.

2020 Tax Rates Bylaw No. 8196, 2020
As we approved a financial plan last meeting, we must now establish formally the property tax rates for 2020 to match that financial plan. Property taxes will increase 3.1% this year, plus the 1% Capital Levy will be redirected to a reserve to specifically pay for COVID-19 emergency measures. As always, your personal tax experience will vary based on how your property value changed this year relative the average property value in the City. The average residential property value in the City dropped 7.1% last year. My own property dropped 0.3% last year, so I will be paying about 10% higher municipal property tax than last year.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8197, 2020
We had previously established some Electrical Utility rate increases this year to mirror BC Hydro rate changes, along with a shift from mirroring the old BC Hydro “Rate Rider” model to putting part of that into a special levy to help pay for some Climate Action plans within the utility. Due to the change in how BC Hydro is rolling out rate changes in light of the COVID-19 emergency, we are putting off those plans for now, and maintaining the same rates for 2020, which means we need to change the Bylaw again to go back to where it previously was.

We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Tax Rates Bylaw No. 8196, 2020
As discussed above, this Bylaw that sets our Property Tax rates for 2020 was adopted by Council.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 8197, 2020
As discussed above, this Bylaw that re-adjusts our Electrical Rates for 2020 was adopted by Council.

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8198, 2020
And again as discussed above, this Bylaw that changes the language in our Development Fees Bylaw to match the recent changes in process was adopted by Council.

And that was a meeting, short & sweet. I promise there will be more exciting conversation next week, as I plan to start talking about this.

Council – April 27, 2020

We had more of a regular longer-agenda meeting this week, though of course many of the topics were not “normal”, and we did things on-line, so normal as normal can be. Again, if you go here you can read the agenda and reports, and even listen to a recording of the meeting to see where the conversations went.

We started with two presentations on the City’s budget:

Financial Plan, 2020-2024
As discussed last week, we have a 5-year Financial Plan ready to go to Bylaw. This is a slightly pared-back budget compared to the earlier version presented before the current chaos arrived, with a somewhat less ambitious capital plan and all new spending suspended other than funds already committed, reflecting the uncertainty of the times. People asking for a “property tax freeze”, this is about as close as we can get while maintaining legal and contractual obligations.

The City’s Financial Sustainability and Changes to City Services and Major Projects – COVID 19 Implications
This report is a broader discussion of the City’s potential financial position as this crisis unfolds. We have had many discussions in both open and closed Council as we have worked to better understand revenue impacts, human resources effects, and the service changes that are resulting from the state of emergency. It is clear this is uncharted territory for us, and for every local government. City staff have been doing heroic work (and they are all humans like you and me, feeling the same stresses about their families, their livelihoods, the future of their community, which has not made this work easier) trying to assure we have the necessary information to make our best estimates about where we are going, so we can make as informed decisions as possible.

Staff have developed a few revenue models based on how long the current public health restrictions go on, and how fast the economic recovery is. There is a best case and a worst case, and staff further developed the “medium” case. This scenario would see about a $50 Million drop in cash flow in the second quarter of 2020. Some of these revenues would be lost forever, some only deferred until later in the year or 2021. We expect (again, in this moderate scenario) that we would be missing $35M in cash flow over all of 2020, and a little more than $11M of revenue would be gone forever.

We have already done some work to prepare to operate with the reduced cash flow, the overall lost-forever revenue will take significant changes in plans. The report outlines where $11M in reduced expenses might be found: reduced shifts to auxiliary staff, freezing hiring for vacant positions and reducing overtime spending primary among them. We would also be putting off some contracted work, and seriously reducing our supplies and materials budget.

As far as the Capital Budget goes, staff have worked through the capital plan and prioritized projects scheduled for 2020. Some will have to continue because they represent business continuity, life safety, and core operations. Some are possible to delay three months or longer to assist with the cash flow situation, and some are going to be punted down the road further.

Each of the 10 departments in the City have presented some cost savings plans to reflect the above, and a short report is attached from each. There is a lot of detail here about programs that are considered essential, and those that are being delayed.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

TransLink/SkyTrain Guideway (22nd Street Station to New Westminster Station): Construction Update
This is just a note to update Council that the delayed work being done on rail and rail pad replacements between 22nd Street Station and New West Station is finally going to start up, and occur in April and May. This may mean some noise at night for nearby residents.

2020 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
This is our update on snowpack in the Fraser Basin as is usual for this time of year to allow us to plan if freshet floods are more or less likely this year. It looks like snow packs are higher than average and quite a bit higher in the mid-basin areas. The flood risk is higher than usual, but the weather for the month ahead will be the determining factor. Our emergency services have done a bit of prep work (dike inspections and sandbag procurement), but no-one is panicking yet.

Statistical update from the New Westminster Police Department
This is an interesting statistical report on the impact of the pandemic on crime rates. Counts of reported offences of most types for March 2020 are below 2019, and property offences for 2020 are below the 5-year average, though persons offences are slightly above the average. Bucking the trend, thefts from vehicles are going up, as are break-and-enter offences.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Six Task Forces
This is our weekly update on what the six working groups on COVID response are doing.
Again, I encourage you to read these reports, and I don’t want to transcribe them here. There is a lot going on in the City to address the impacts of the crisis, and it is interesting as they are starting to transition from the figuring-things-out to the get-things-done phases.

Parks Regulation Amendment Bylaw No. 8193, 2020 – A Bylaw to Amend Parks Regulation Bylaw No. 3646 in response to the COVID-19
A few may have noticed that not all residents are taking the closures and limits to use of some parks infrastructure as seriously as others. Some equipment and areas, such as tennis courts and playground equipment, have been closed because their use was not consistent with physical distancing requirements. Unfortunately, some people have taken to ignoring these closures, even going to far as to remove fencing and cutting locks to access some facilities. As is not unusual, 95% of people will respect community safety measures if they are provided good information as to why and how; for them education is the key. The other 5% need enforcement or at least the threat of enforcement.

We can use trespassing laws to enforce closures, but they are harsh, and are therefore more difficult to enforce. We are instead adapting the Parks Bylaw and ticketing bylaw to clearly define the offence and make it easier for Bylaw Officers to issue tickets for scofflaws. There will also be new signage installed informing of the fines and the increased intent to enforce them. We also had a bit of a conversation about assuring the fines were not used punitively, but were reserved for serious scofflaws that were clearly not interested in respecting the public health concerns of the community.

COVID-19 Pandemic: Food Security Planning and Responses
This crisis had been hard on people in the City who are food insecure. The Food Bank and other organizations have had to change how they operate to address physical distancing protocols. Fortunately, there are a great number of organizations providing for the food security of those in desperate need, and the City is helping them coordinate their programs. The Salvation Army, the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar in Queensborough, Prupose society, Union gospel Mission, and even a few businesses are helping out with hot meals and food hampers, along with the Food Bank operating out of Tipperary Park alongside the Farmers Market every Thursday. This was a report for information, but we had a bit of discussion about upcoming opportunities for the City to further expand this program during this time of need.

Covid-19: Interim Development Review Process
The development review process has slowed down in the City. This is a problem for several reasons, not the least being the ongoing housing crisis and rental availability crisis, but also is a problem for homeowners wanting to do significant renovations and other projects in the City for things like childcare and services. There is also the concept of procedural fairness – if you own a property in the City, you have a right under provincial law to fair process and the City has a responsibility to do whatever they can to provide it.

Staff have still been working these processes internally, but some need to come to committee or Council for their next steps. Not a problem for Council 9we can do this work in our now-regular virtual meetings), but many committees are not meeting, and public engagement is difficult. Public Hearings are especially difficult as provincial legislation was developed with personal appearance in Council Chambers the default Public Hearing participation method. We can debate (and have!) whether this is the right process in the internet age, but we are kinda stuck without better guidance from the provincial government.

This report outlines a few adjustments, including some of the City Advisory committees meeting virtually, and putting the onus on developers to demonstrate ways they are performing Public Engagement through mail, media, or other methods during the physical distancing era. We have a few very active Residents Associations with long contact lists, which may help in this case, but there is more work to be done here. Finally, staff will be reporting back in May on potential new guidance on Public Hearings after consulting with the provincial government.

Waste Reduction and Recycling Community Engagement Results
The closing of the recycling centre next to the Canada Games Pool and integration of some of our recycling services with neighboring communities has resulted in a lot of conversation about recycling in the City. This is happening at a time when regional and global recycling systems are going through major transitions, resulting in the “bottom falling out” of most recycled material commodity markets. Still, people want to recycle, and it is difficult right now to re-negotiate contracts with product stewardship agencies that would take recycled materials, or set up new or temporary collection systems.

That said, over the months before the pandemic, the City ran a series of community events to collect info about peoples recycling needs and desires. This is the reporting out of the results of that engagement. Glass, Styrofoam and soft plastic are the three top identified materials that were challenging to recycle. No surprise those are the three materials that are most difficult to recycle once collected by the City. Some concerns were also raised about green waste.

For green waste, the City allows unlimited curbside collection (in kraft paper bags) and the City covers the cost of depositing green waste at the Coquitlam transfer station until the new facility on the New West/Coquitlam border is opened. Curbside and free drop-off are both available, take your choice.

The report outlines the potential for adding curbside glass pickup. This would require new containers, and a bit of additional labour cost. Glass is worth very little in the recycling market (the ~125 Tonnes we would expect to collect per year would yield something like $10,000), so the resultant cost per single family home is estimated at about $11 per year. Council asked staff to look into this a little more and develop a detailed proposal for Council to consider.

Staff is also going to look into more options for soft plastic and Styrofoam, beyond the three current locations in the City where they can be dropped off. I am less optimistic about this, as these products have no value right now, and the cost for us to collect and get them to RecycleBC is probably prohibitive.

I see a structural problem here in how the “Extended Product Responsibility” (EPR) model run my RecycleBC works. Recycle BC is an industry-led consortium that is empowered by provincial law to facilitate recycling, and the cost of processing recycled materials is meant to be borne by industry and worked in to the purchase price of products. When you buy this packaging material, you pay for the recycling of it; that is how the EPR system is meant to work. But if you are expected to pay more (through property taxes or utility fees) to get the material to the recycling centre, you are effectively paying twice for recycling.

This become a political discussion between the City and the provincial government, and cannot be disconnected from nascent efforts to limit of ban single-use plastics and non-recyclable materials in the province. More to come here, but probably no-one had bandwidth to dig too deeply into it until after the COVID times.

2020 Property Tax Payment Due and Penalty Dates
The City is recognizing that many residents may be in a difficult financial situation this spring, Council is approving a waiving of late penalties until October 1st. The due date for your taxes is still July 2nd, and if you have the ability, please pay them then, as it reduces the risk that the City will have to borrow money to cover temporary cash flow. If you are not able to pay until October 1st, the penalty we usually charge (5% on July 2nd, another 5% on September 2nd) will not be applied in 2020.

We then Adopted a few Bylaws:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2020 – 2024) Bylaw No. 8183, 2020
As discussed at length for the last 4 months, and detailed above, the Financial Plan Bylaw was approved by Council.

Parks Regulation Bylaw Amending Bylaw No. 8193, 2020
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 8194, 2020 and
Municipal Ticket Information Amendment Bylaw No. 8195, 2020
As discussed above, these Bylaws that provide ticketing and fining power to Bylaw Officers for scofflaws ignoring parks closure signage and warnings were adopted by Council.

Finally, we had one piece of New Business

Graffiti Removal Councillor Puchmayr

BE IT RESOLVED THAT during this pandemic crisis, while many local businesses are closed and not able to provide a higher degree of vigilance, that the City of New Westminster waive the current graffiti remediation policy and deploy a graffiti remediation crew to deal with new graffiti as quickly as possible.

This idea was referred to the two task forces that are operating to support Business Continuity and the Education and Enforcement aspects of the pandemic response.

And that ended the new strange (face it, this is not normal) meeting for the week.

Council April 20, 2020

Yes, we had a Council meeting this week. It was again on-line using video chat software, and we have a recorded version if you want to read the agenda and follow along at home. Here is my recollection of what we did.

Draft 2020 – 2024 Financial Plan
Well, here we go again. The City spent an unprecedented amount of time and effort this spring doing public outreach, holding meetings and open houses, inviting residents and businesses in to talk about the budget. We provided tables, spreadsheets, lists of priorities, and visions for the future. Then we asked New Westminster to respond – tell us what we got right, and where we were missing the mark. We go a lot of feedback, and were ready to put together a budget that provided not just the normal financial plan, but a vision for how the City was going to do things differently on important files like Climate, Transportation, Childcare and Housing.

Then a month ago, all hell broke loose. Grumpy face emoji.

By legislation, we are required to provide a 5-year Financial Plan to the province in May, and to get there we need to write it into a Bylaw, and pass that Bylaw through the appropriate process. The Financial Plan is a complicated document based on well-established accounting principles and best practices established by the Public Service Accounting Board and reviewed by independent auditors every year. That said, it is always (by its nature and purpose) the best available estimate of the City’s financial position over the next 5 years. Some revenues and expenses in this budget we have complete control over, some we don’t.

All that to say this year is a very difficult year to make those estimates. We are preparing this financial plan in the middle of a crisis, likely at the cusp of a significant recession. It is challenging to project what the impact of this will be with the conservative certainty that needs to rest in a financial plan. Compared to what we looked at early in 2020 and sent for early public consultation, the biggest change now is to reduce the amount of money we are committing to new initiatives, and to pare back on capital expenses until we have some more certainty. The tax increase will not be as big as originally proposed, but we are not yet able to account for many of the other lost revenue in 2020, because we simply don’t know yet what it will be. Odds are that there will be further reductions in expenses (i.e. there are a lot of auxiliary staff not working as of this week, and we will be hiring fewer contractors in the coming months as work priorities change) and significant reductions in revenues (Casino, recreation fees, parking fees, etc.).

As a major part of financial projections like this are projecting past trends into the future, the disruption we are seeing now throws that for a loop. The only thing we know for sure right now is that that things will be different than we guessed, and this Financial Plan will no doubt be updated as that certainty arrives. Until then, we need a 5-year Financial Plan to hang the Bylaw on, and this is the best one we have at the time.

As proposed (and this has yet to me formally adopted by Bylaw), the tax increase for 2020 will be 3.1%. That means the average Strata apartment household will pay $33 more in 2020 than in 2019, and the average single family house $74 more. We are also shifting focus to move the 1% Climate Action Levy over to an Emergency Fund to address unanticipated costs related to the pandemic response. That is an extra $14 (apartment) or $29 (Single Family house).

Projected utility increases for water, sewer, and solid waste are not going to change from what was announced earlier. These utility funds cover their own costs purely through rates, don’t earn any profit or dividend for the City, and the balance of their costs (utility rates from Metro Vancouver) are not changing, so that part of the financial plan will stay the same for now. The electrical rate increase has been pared back to reflect the situation at BC Hydro, so out increases are in line with theirs.

These are the numbers that will go into the Bylaw language. If you have feedback to Council about it, drop us an e-mail.

The following items were Moved on Consent by Council:

Closing Open Council Meetings to the Public
These council meetings have been held on-line, but there has always been a staff member present in the Council Chambers taking part in the call, transmitting it to the chambers, and the chambers has always been open to the public – because that is the law. This means we have to have staff overseeing access to the chambers and present during the meeting, and it may be little surprise that no-one has attended.

Under the Emergency Powers the province has giving the City the ability to hold open meetings without the public present, and we are exercising this. Meetings will still be available online, and streamed on the City’s video archive. Agendas will be available on-line and at City Hall.

This effectively means the “public delegations” part of council meetings will be suspended for a while. This does NOT mean that we will hold Public Hearings without public input. We are required for some Bylaws to have these hearings, and staff is working on the technology and processes required to allow public input that meets the requirements of the Community Charter. More will come on this in future meetings.

The following item was Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the 7 Task Forces
This is our regular report on the 7 working groups addressing the priority response areas for the City. If your question is “what is the City doing?”, this is where the answer is. Again, I don’t want to go through line by line, it is worth reading to see how multi-faceted the response is, and if you want to hear the discussion around these items, please listen to the recording.

I do, however, want to call attention to several businesses and organizations that are working with the City and together to help people who need help at this time. The Food Bank and Farmers Market have been working together to get people food at Tipperary Park every Thursday. The Sukh Sager Gurdwara in Queensborough has continued its long tradition of providing free meals to the most needy, and both Greens & Beans and Truffles Catering have been contributing meals to seniors and others in need at this time. It is heartwarming to live in a community that cares with its actions, not just its words. Thank you.

Resolution to Support Transit
Finally, the following resolution was passed unanimously by Council in support of a call from the Canadian Urban Transit Association:

That New Westminster City Council endorse CUTA’s request to the Government of Canada for emergency funding to provide immediate liquidity to transit operators and on-going funding to alleviate revenue loss as ridership rebuilds;

I have already probably said enough about this, but if you feel like you want to add your voice, I would encourage you to check out the efforts of the SaveTransit coalition and Abundant Transit BC. You can follow those links to ways to can amplify their voices and help keep transit solvent.

Council – April 6 2020

Yes, we had a Council Meeting last Monday, and it has taken me too much time to put this report out. For all of the details, you are best to look at the agenda and listen to the recording here. The sound recording is not great (it starts spotty, but gets better). Here is my version of that we talked about, as much as I can trust my notes and memory at this time:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the 7 Working Groups
This is a reporting out of the work being done by the 7 working groups formed as the City’s response to the ongoing crisis. I don’t want to transcribe them here, but you can open the report and look if you are keen to know about the breadth of the City’s response. There is a lot going on, and the ground is constantly shifting. We discussed some of the efforts, but at this point, I mostly want folks to recognize the work that City Staff and partners in several non-profit service agencies are doing to help people at these uncertain times.

Use of Previously-Awarded Grants and Criteria for Spring Grants 2020
The City grant program has been somewhat disheveled by the pandemic crisis. Some organizations that received grants will not able to do things we awarded grants for, like summer concerts or festivals, including some multi-year events.

Staff have reviewed the situation, and have made some recommendations. First, they do not want an organization that is not able to to activate a program in 2020 to count against an organization being able to try again in 2021. Some programs may be able to be deferred until the Fall when hopefully we will be past this situation, and the grant process will already allow this, and we are introducing some flexibility there.

We had a bit of discussion about organizations that may be able to shift from a planned activity or event to one that serves the community during this time, for example, creating an on-line event as opposed to a crowd-gathering event. For the most part, staff want to o encourage this, and allow organizations the flexibility to use their grant funding to build community at this difficult time.

The re-purposing of grants already awarded is a delicate balance. The City has some very difficult budget decisions coming up, but we don’t want to make it onerous for applicant who have already gone through an approval process to adapt their program if they have a great idea. So, how to streamline, but still recognize that we can’t be throwing money around right now without some oversight?

We will be asking revisions of already-approved grants to be brought to Council after they have been reviewed and approved by staff. This reflects the big change we have made in the grants process this year to remove the vague politics of Council making direct approvals, and replacing that with Council providing policy guidance to staff who recommend approval based on that policy guidance. After a robust discussion, we agreed to let staff review and recommend, but that the final approval needs to come to Council again, with direction to staff to make the process as streamlined as possible and not onerous for applicants.

On-Street Parking Management During COVID-19 Pandemic
No crisis is so severe that debating where people can and should store their cars isn’t a constant refrain. Of course, a great number of businesses are closed, and there are fewer people out on the streets, but still, parking is still a problem. The Hospital has, essentially, no visitors at this time, and all parking has been made free to help staff get to and from work in this important time when hours are uncertain, everyone is under strain, and transit is seen as undesirable due to physical distancing requirements. Of course, some car users who are NOT hospital employees are going to take advantage of this, but what are you going to do? We are always talking about parking because free car storage is the one thing we are all jerks about.

These has been some suggestion that Cities should not charge for car storage on City streets at this time. But I simply cannot find a reason why we would be encouraging people to put their private automobile on public space for extended periods of time for free, especially as all of our other revenue is going away. Hospital employees have a free parking place (hopefully it will be usefully enforced and people taking advantage of this will be fined, towed, and/or publicly shamed). Our neighbourhoods have a complex multi-tiered system of parking permits, time restriction, locals-only areas, and pay spots, all put in at some time because they addressed some problem around car storage space allocation at the time, and I see no compelling reason to disrupt this right now.

If anything, we should be closing some parking areas and opening up more space for people to walk, roll, and cycle so that people can get outside and exercise while maintaining physical distancing and while there are so fewer cars on the road…

The report from staff recommends no changes in pay parking at this time, and I agree.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Queensborough Modular Housing: Request for Construction Noise Exemption
Council is providing a Construction Noise Exemption for work on the temporary Modular Housing project in Queensborough. We generally do not permit construction noise on Sundays, but the project is being challenged on timeline and is going to be providing a valuable community service. The work on Sundays will be indoor work (plumbing, drywalling, cabinetry, painting, etc.) and will not be loud outdoor machinery, so not the kind of construction noise that keeps a neighbourhood awake.

2020 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
Every spring we get these updates on snowpack across the Fraser River basin and ENSO predictions to determine the risk of flooding come freshet season. Right now the snowpack is above normal, especially for the upper Fraser, and the forecast is for cooler weather in April – these are both bad things if avoiding a flood is your goal. Nothing to panic about yet, but flood risk is higher than average this year, and the City is taking some early precautions in April (dike inspections and updating supplier contacts in case we need to procure sandbags and such).

Temporary Borrowing for 2020
As I’ve commented before, cities are in for a financial shock as this pandemic response drags on. Required to run balanced budgets, and with limited non-restricted reserve funds, we simply don’t have the liquidity to take a significant hit to our revenue and still provide the services you need every day, from keeping the water flowing and trash disappearing to important protective services like fire and police. Almost every revenue source outside of property taxes is taking a serious hit. Casino revenues, recreation fees, filming revenues, and such have gone to zero. At the same time, things like permitting fees and parking revenues are going down.

As this is likely to run into a short-term cash crunch, we can draw on a line of credit. We prepare for this every year around this time with a pre-approval to borrow up to $3M as the month before we get our big tax revenue input is when we are close to having no cash on hand, by design, and need to assure we can make payroll. We hardly ever use this actual authority, but it is better to have and not use than to need and not have.

But this year in not normal, so staff are asking Council to approve a one-time borrowing of up to $12M from the Municipal Finance Authority to assure we stay solvent if the cash crunch goes on longer and is deeper than usual. Again, nothing says we have to use this borrowing, but it is there to make sure our bases are covered.

At the same time, staff are preparing a medium-term cash flow model with a few different scenarios to determine where and if we need these funds. More to come on that in future meetings. A lot more, I expect, as we are being inundated with requests to provide everything from property tax deferrals to utility credits, and every one of these ideas needs to be tested against the ability of the City to remain solvent. To be honest, this is the topic that is causing me the most sleepless nights right now.

We gave the required Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Bylaw No. 8192 three readings and adopted it. Let’s hope we don’t need to use too much of this.

We then had a couple of items of New Business added late to the Agenda:

Parks Operations
There are a few issues in parks operations that need to be adjusted. Tennis courts and lacrosse boxes need to close, as people are not respecting physical distancing, and as surrounding communities close their courts, ours are attracting crowds. So we have to officially close them to give Bylaws and Parks staff a lever to enforce their use.

Staff is going to put a little work into figuring out if there are ways to better support dog owners, and at the same time step up enforcement of dogs off leash in parks in general as off-leash areas needed to be closed because of issues with social distancing. There is more work to do here, and no quick answers yet.

Finally, there have been some concerns raised around trails and park use in general. New West is an urban area, and many of our parks are compact, making social distancing is a challenge when we want people to have the access to open spaces and sun at least enough to maintain some sanity. We promote awareness, try to educate and use soft enforcement, but for some “tighter” areas like the waterfront trails, we are going to be stepping up and perhaps making some areas one-way to give everyone more room. Watch for signage when you are out for a walk, and try to pay attention to your personal space (plus 6 feet!)

Pedestrian spaces
On a similar vein, we need to support physical distancing in the rest of our public spaces. As commuting traffic has been remarkably reduced, there are still a lot of people trying to get outside to walk, roll, cycle, or otherwise get exercise and fresh air while maintaining distancing. This is creating challenges for people when sidewalks in the city are generally 4 or 5 feet wide, and when navigating our pedestrian realm is already somewhat constrained for space compared to the abundance of road space.

There are a few identified areas where space is very constrained, like the McInnes overpass and some greenway connections that engineering are prioritizing. We had a bit of discussion around this, and there are many examples from other cities across the region and North America where road space is being re-allocated. We have asked staff to find opportunities to immediately and temporarily re-allocate road space from car use and (especially) car storage to give pedestrians more room to circulate safely, especially in constrained high-pedestrian traffic areas like Carnarvon Street or the Central Valley Greenway connection on North Road. This is more complicated that you might think, as intersection treatments need to be considered to keep things safe, because drivers generally need strong controls to keep from driving over people on foot. But it van be done, and Council asked staff to get to work on it.

Staff is also working on adjusting crossing signals to reduce the reliance on pedestrian activation buttons and increasing crossing time allocation for pedestrians, in light of the shift in road use that is happening right now.

This was Monday, which in the current scale of things is about a year ago. Several things have changed since Monday, including New Westminster Electric rolling out it’s pandemic response program that essentially matches the program offered by BC Hydro, and of course, continued calls from local governments for support for the Provincial and Federal governments. Local governments are still the “front line” for emergency response, and we still only collect less than 10% of the taxes paid by Canadians. We are doing a lot with little right now, and that is thanks to the hard work and dedication of the staff at the City. Some are still going into City Hall, some are still doing park maintenance, and doing all the tasks that keep your electricity flowing, your water clean and safe, and your sewage going away. Many are working from home managing the City’s finances, helping with relief measures, and addressing concerns that are arriving every day by phone and e-mail. They are all dealing with the same family and community stresses you are feeling. We are all in this together, and we are getting through it together.

Now it is a “long weekend”. I hope you get to connect with people that are important to you, get a bit of sun, and more importantly, stay safe and help our community get through this as quickly as possible.

Council – March 30 2020

We had a most unusual Council Meeting on Monday. An emergency meeting just to get Council caught up on the various actions the City is taking to the pandemic situation. We did not meet in Council Chambers, but did a video conference. For technical and modesty reasons, the video conference was not recorded as video, though an audio recording was made for the record. So you can’t watch the meeting, but you can read the agenda and listen to the audio here, if you are so inclined. The audio isn’t great, and we were all working it out as we went along, but it is there for the record.

There were two agenda items, both framed around the Working Groups developed in City Hall to get us through this unprecedented situation.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Action Items from the 7 Working Groups Seeking Council Approval
The City has (as previously reported) put together 7 working groups to manage aspects of our pandemic response. The reporting structure right now will be for them to update Council in these meetings, and more specifically ask for direction or approval if and when needed, for actions they are proposing.

This week, there were two Working Groups asking for specific direction:

Business and Working Economy:
With many businesses closed, there is some concern about lack of eyes on the street and resultant heightened security concerns. There is a call here for more on-street police patrols, or a change in patrol patterns, perhaps some redeployment of City Staff such as parks operations or engineering operations staff who are otherwise undertasked to provide extra eyes, or helping coordinate private security operations if needed. The Working Group is going to work with the BIAs and neighborhood business groups to develop this idea, and come back to Council if there is a funding request attached.

Some discussion arose here about other aspects of policing that are deserving of extra attention at the time when people are housebound and under increased stress, including domestic violence and power-based crimes. We need to be clear here that Council does not direct police in their operation, but we are able to allocate further resources if needed to achieve community goals.

The Working Group is also establishing a sub-group to look into supporting the arts/culture sector, and how the City can best support them. The impact of this crisis on not-for-profits is similar to that on small businesses, even if they have fewer tools to call attention to the issue.

Education and Enforcement:
The provincial government is issuing variety of orders to protect public health, and are asking local governments for help to enforce them. This is, of course, an expanding demand on City resources. We can hire some extra staff trained in this type of work, and potentially be reimbursed through the provincial emergency funding program.

It is hard to hire enforcement staff in a hurry. Becoming a Bylaw Officer requires specific training courses such as those offered through the Justice Institute, as there is a fair amount of complex interacting legislation and enforcement powers, so getting a bunch of them on-board in a short period of time (when every other City is no doubt in the same situation) will be challenging.

However, a big part of progressive enforcement is education and responding to concerns, and there are likely a bigger pool of folks who have experience being in “public facing” jobs at the City, and have training and knowledge of what the City does and how it operates. Some of them are not able to do their regular jobs – recreation program staff, library staff, lifeguards, etc. – so we may have more luck on-boarding these folks with less training and preparation required.

However, when education shifts to enforcement, we are going to need some expanded local Bylaw powers and ticketing/fines to make enforcement possible. That requires edits to a couple of our Bylaws. This will be addressed in upcoming meetings, and I hope we can see significant fines for serious offenders of those violating the rules for profit, and smaller fines/tickets for those doing it through simple stubbornness.

Finally, the City has established a single contact number if people have questions about the restrictions, supports, or anything related to our local response to the pandemic emergency. This will make it easier for City staff to track complaints, concerns, and inquiries, and will allow you to have a tracking number for your concern to make it easier to follow up.

That number is 604-636-4343 or you can e-mail

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the 7 Working Groups
These reports are simply the working groups reporting out, and if you are interested in the breadth of work the City is doing, you can read them in the on-line agenda.

And there is always the City’s website dedicated to the response which you can find here.

Finally, a bit of a programming report.

I am having a hard time finding non-Pandemic things to blog about, because things that I am usually jawing on about seem out of context right now. I also don’t feel as great talking about the bigger COVID-19 thing outside of the City’s response, because I there is already too much information out there, and too many non-definitive information sources (like this), and I would rather people pay attention to Public Health officials and senior government information channels right now. I’m not sure I have anything useful to add.

This is a really shitty time. Like many of you, I am constantly bouncing between anxiety, hopelessness, and glimmers of joy when I see the positive work communities are doing to hold things together. I just want this to be over, but recognize it isn’t going to be over any time soon. I want to do something to make it better, but recognize there is not a lot I can do, and that sitting at home straining to concentrate on my work is actually the best thing I can do right now.

I’ll probably get around to writing a few things here about what it means to be in this job at a time like this, but I’m not sure I can handle that emotional labour right now. Like the rest of Council, I am hearing from residents, from businesses, and from friends; this thing is hitting a lot of people really hard. The only thing we all share is uncertainty, and that is causing a lot of anxiety. A bit of respite is found in seeing the great work that staff in the City is doing in completely uncertain times, doing things they were not trained to do, and demonstrating great perseverance when they are just as stressed and anxious as the rest of us.

People pulling together – even when they keep their distance – is going to be the key to recovery here. Stay safe, folks.