Sustainable Spaces Dialogue

On Friday evening, more that 75 people showed up at Douglas College to talk about land use, sustainability, and the future or our public space in New Westminster. The event was the product of the remarkable young mind of New Westminster native Colin O’Neil and sponsored by the Rivershead Society of BC. I was honoured to be invited to provide one of the short talks that were intended to get the people in the room thinking about sustainable spaces.

I had 20 minutes, and wanted to talk about how New Westminster relates to the river (it being an event of the Rivershead Society) and about land use. These topics, during my research, kept pointing back at the history of the Port of New Westminster, and how its modern corollary Port Metro Vancouver impacts every part of our waterfront and the planning of our community.

As working on this talk took up much of my normal “blogging time” over the last little while, I figured I would repurpose my speaking notes into a blog post. So below are the notes I made, along with the photos that were projected during my talk. Note I tend to rift off on my notes during talks, but the framework is here. This is, more or less, what I meant to say, as opposed to what I actually said.


I want to talk about the pressures on land use on the riverfront, historically, and at present, and how that relates to sustainability of our community


The history of our City is tied to how we have used our waterfront, the geography of the waterfront, and the value we put on that place. In New Westminster, we are emerging from a long-term stagnation as the City waited for some form of renewal. That renewal only began with a re-imagining of how our waterfront is used. To understand how we address the Fraser River now, we need to look at some history.

The City is here because of the River. The Fraser has provided the City many things: water, food, transportation, a place to put our wastes. But mostly it gave us a reason to be here and a place to form our community.

Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

I became a geologist after studying geography, so when I look at land, I think about the physical forces that formed it, then about the human forces that shaped it. It was only 10,000 years ago that this place where we are today emerged from several millennia of ice cover, and the shoreline here was oceanfront. The Fraser River was choked with glacial sediments unlocked from melting ice, and the Fraser Delta grew westward from here. It was probably immediately after the ice left that the first people arrived here, no doubt using these shores for fishing, to hunt game, to gather food, to rest and gather. We don’t know who these first visitors were, but we know after several thousand years, their direct descendents, the Qayqayt had established villages here by the time that Europeans arrived by sea and down the river a mere 200 years ago.

Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

The European reasons for locating here was a simple military decision bred of ambitions of empire. Fort Langley was located in a swamp on the wrong side of the River, and when the inevitable American invasion came, the Brits would be overrun and driven in to the river. New Westminster had a steep shoreline on the correct side of the River to face down the invading hoards. It must have been a formidable position, as the hoards never actually arrived, and the invasion ended with the unfortunate death of one pig San Juan Island, but that is another story altogether.

The first boom for New Westminster came with the Fraser River, then Cariboo, gold rushes. Despite losing the status of Capital to politics a decade later, and the western terminus of the CPR two decades after that to more politics, New Westminster put some serious industrial roots down in those first decades… and it was all about the River.

Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

By 1887, Vancouver became the railhead, but New Westminster was home to Canada’s Pacific fishing fleet. There were already more than a dozen canneries on the Fraser River. There were also four sawmills, and ironworks and machine shops to support these primary resource industries. As the surrounding areas of Lulu Island and Southwestminster were cleared of trees and ploughed into farms, New Westminster became the centre for all agricultural trade in the new Province.

By the turn of the century (last one) a rail spur and the first bridge across the river were built – the same bridge that carries trains across the river today. The waterfront was remarkably diverse in its industrial function. As dredging increased and larger ships were permitted upriver, New Westminster became the most important Port on the west coast.

Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

It is hard for us younger folk here to envision how industrial New Westminster was around the time of World War 2. There were 15 lumber mills, a dozen fish canneries and places to can produce, a paper mill, a distillery, a brewery, meat packing, cold storage, fertilizer manufacturing, wood treatment, aircraft manufacturing and shipbuilding, and a huge machine shop, metalworking and woodworking industry to support it all. Almost the entire waterfront was taken up by one of the 120 or so manufacturing plants. And they used the River, for transport, water, raw materials, and a place to put their waste.

At the time of the cleanup-up to the Pier Park, they discovered large piles of metal shavings full of cutting fluids in the shore sediments. Apparently these old machine shops would cut a hole in the floor of the pier to dispose of their shavings, and when the pile built up to the base of the pier, they simply nailed down some planks to cover the hole, and cut another one 20 feet over. The River was a great place to put your waste!

Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

Shipping from the Port of New West peaked in 1956, and along with this peak came the peak of retail commercial business- the “Golden Mile” era of Columbia Street. Then things changed.

How many manufacturing plants do we have now?

The Port declined in the early 70s, and closed shop completely in 1980.

Why? Where did they go?

A large part of the answer is globalization. International competition and the emergence of Asian manufacturing made it cheaper to import the important service equipment these primary manufacturers required. The primary manufacturing industries (and the waterfront was dominated by sawmilling) were seeing consolidation, and a movement from local control to external control. When economic stresses of volatile global markets hit the single-resource industries, the old technology in these New West facilities was easy to shut down first in favour of newer or less labour intensive plants elsewhere.

At the same time, the Port declined as its original fortuitous location became untenable for the new ways of moving freight. The ships started to get too large for the Fraser River, but more importantly, those steep defensible slopes did not allow enough room on the shore side of the dock for roll-on-roll-off and containerization methods. The old warehouses of the New Westminster waterfront were decrepit, and no-one was interested in investing in their renewal.

Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

Part of the story of our City’s interaction with the River is told in the history of our Port Authority. The Port of New Westminster – the piers and buildings where the freight was stored and moved during the peak – belonged to the City. The New Westminster Harbour Commission was formed in 1913, and worked with City and the Board of Trade to promote the Port and fought off competition from Port of Vancouver. The Port had a global reach, trading to the USA, through the Panama Canal to Europe, and to the emerging Asian markets. The NWHC promoted connections to all of these places, advertised globally in a competitive market to get the most of the ongoing growth. And for a little while, that worked.

Eventually, the geographic constraints and change of technology through the 50s and 60s led to expansion of port facilities to Fraser Surrey Docks and Annacis Island, and the NWHC became the Fraser River Harbour Commission in 1965, covering the entire area upriver from Steveston to the Pitt River and Kanaka Creek in Maple Ridge.

The FRPC eventually became the Fraser River Port Authority, and that latter entity ceased to exist in 2008, when the Federal Government decided to amalgamate all Port operations between Horseshoe Bay and the US border into one authority – ”Port Metro Vancouver”.

I’m not going to get too deep into the reasons for this, but the impact obvious: a further reduction in local control of the waterfront. Especially as we look at the “mandate” and “vision” of this new regional authority:

Note the word “Gateway” always appears with a capital “G”, like most deities.

This is the part of the talk where I delve into subjectivity and opinion, but you need to get subjective here, because this speaks directly to how we value our river, our waterfront, and our community. What do we want our river to be? How do we want to use our waterfront? Do we want a say in how our community develops?

These statements don’t speak much to accountability to the local community, although the Port does seem interested in local benefits. But things actually get worse, because these statements changed in 2014  (which I write here over the old ones, to put the contrast in high relief):

Where they used to benefit us, they now wish to inspire us and fill us with national pride.

Maybe this is just a bit of Winter Olympic year hubris, we did, after all win a lot of gold metals this year, and everyone wants a piece of that…. but I’m having my doubts.

Here is visioning document put out by the Port a couple of years ago. This is meant to help the Port set plans for the coming decades – to envision the future they will need to plan towards. In this document, they set out 4 possible futures, and aside from the phallic symbolism, the colour scheme (green is good, red is bad) makes it clear what future the Port wants, and what it does not:

But look closely at how the Port, in their visioning, describes success:

Which in these uncertain times seems reasonable, I guess. The future is uncertain, the globe is headed to shit, but damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Contrast this to the vision of failure, the fate we must avoid:

Local resiliency? Well being? The horror…

Again I ask, what do you want your port to provide to your community?


Maybe we don’t want to go back to having heavy industry on our waterfront, maybe we value the space differently. We now provide different values to the River: we want to look at it, be cooled by it, be provided ecosystem services from it. We still rely on it for work, we still want it to provide us fish, and these uses are ultimately compatible with using it for transportation.

This is not to say the Port doesn’t use our waterfront for industry. However, it uses it in very different ways, mostly to store things and move things on and off of trucks. Today, the Port wants to take more of our farmland to convert it into industrial space, not for moving goods on and off of boats, or even for adding value to goods or undertaking manufacturing – but to put things on and off of trucks.

Don’t worry about the ALR, they say, we need an “Industrial Land Reserve”, and we can just truck in all of our food.

Look at this piece of Port land, almost 40 hectares of industrial land belonging to the Port, rapidly being filled with warehouses. What’s missing?

The piers. There is no-where for a boat to tie up. How will they move things on and off of boats? There is one old one, rarely used for moving wood pulp onto boats as break bulk. Instead of building piers to move all of those containers you can see, or all the good in all of those massive warehouses, the Port is investing in building an overpass to connect this access road to the East-west Connector, and to expanding road access to the area, to more rapidly get the trucks to your neighbourhood streets.

This is the Captial-G “Gateway” in those mission statements. No wonder Councillor Harold Steves in Richmond gets all ornery about the Port buying the 10 hectares of active farm land just to the north of this picture.

Now, why am I hitting the Port so hard? Any why doesn’t councillor Steeves do something about it?

Because the Port is making these decisions that will decide what our waterfront (and our river, and our community) will look like over the coming decades, whether you like it or not. They are completely unaccountable to local concerns.

Will our waterfront become a larger export site for thermal coal, eking small profits from the exacerbation of the largest man-made global catastrophe of all time? The Port approves, despite community concerns.


Will we allow the Port to buy up more ALR land, convert it to industrial land by fiat, and lease it out for profit to trucking companies? At the same time they don’t pay living wages to those truckers? The Port argues this is important, and we cannot allow “local well-being” to slow their growth.


We live in New Westminster where the #1 livability issue is traffic: trucks and through-commuters. The region has spent $5 Billion building freeways for trucks, that Capital-G “Gateway Program”, the support of which the Port has made their mandate and vision. And they are not done. Another $3 or $4 Billion of your money will be spent replacing the Pattullo and the Deas Tunnel – the Gateway marches on. Meanwhile our livability suffers as we need to cut bus routes in our community for lack of investment. If we dream of expanding public transit, we will need to hold some sort of referendum at some point off in the future.

All of these issues and more have one thing at the core – the Port.

Remember how the industry of New Westminster changed, the forces that restructured out waterfront and caused decades of decline in our City: lack of local ownership, multinationals taking over the businesses, reliance on volatile foreign markets for resource goods instead of concentration on building local resiliency and well being.

I’m not saying I want to go back to cutting metal shavings into the river, but we have to recognize that the river can still be our connection to a bigger world and at the same time provide us a better community.

It is still why we are here. But now, more than ever, we have very little say about what happens to it. Remember those vision statements: Who does the Port answer to?

I, for one, don’t think local resiliency, sustainability, and livability should be feared.

on the Reasonable Approach.

This is a really good document.

I don’t want to go through the many reasons why I agree with the City of New Westminster’s position on the Pattullo Bridge, because I have said it all here before. For those new to my blog (Hi Tiffany!), there is a longish summary here.

If you really want the background from my viewpoint, you can read this, or this, or the two-part piece I did comparing the Pattullo to the Lion’s Gate that is here and here, or maybe look at this or this, or any of the other hundred posts about the transportation situation in our dear city I have slogged through over the last 5 years. But this is not about me, this is about the City of New Westminster finally laying their cards on the table, and in doing so, showing that they are holding a hell of a good hand.

New Westminster is clear that anything larger than a 4-lane bridge is undesirable. Surrey has stated that they prefer a 6-lane bridge. The difference, as explained in this 40-page volume put together by the City of New Westminster, is that the problem set which was agreed to by all parties (New Westminster, Surrey, and TransLink) more than a year ago does not support the building of a 5- or 6-lane bridge. Also, those larger options come with costs, both monetary costs that could be better invested in Transit South of the Fraser, and livability costs on New Westminster.

You can get the gist from reading the 4-page Executive Summary, and I think anyone interested in the topic of traffic in New Westminster and/or the future of the Pattullo Bridge really needs to read those 4 pages before commenting at length about New Westminster being “NIMBY” or “parochial” about this topic. I’m including you, Mayor Stewart. However, there are rewards for digging deeper into this position paper, because it actually provides data to back up its assertions.

After a review of the consultation and planning process to date (reminding TransLink once again that they don’t have a bridge-too-small problem, they have a bridge-too-old problem), the City lays out the case that there is no need for increased capacity as the problem is solved. To back this up, they demonstrate that the traffic volumes on the bridge were stable, or even declining until tolls arrived on the adjacent bridge, and the Ministry of Transportation started installing signs telling people to drive through New Westminster to save a few bucks.

All graphs here cribbed from the City report.

The City is also right to point out that the number of crossings of the river is increasing at such an (exponential?) rate that it is hard to rely on any modeling of actual or projected growth until new patterns establish themselves. I tracked the crossings back to 1900, they stuck to the more recent data:

I didn’t even ask permission to crib them from the report. 

Despite the rise in crossings, people still argue that more lanes are required to facilitate growth. I have heard Vancouver used as an example of growth not requiring more roads, but the City decided to look at the Richmond example, pointing out how it paradoxically grew by more than 50% since the last time there was any significant bridge construction (with the notable exception of the SkyTrain Bridge!)

but hey, i’m a taxpayer, so I paid for the report. 

In Sections 3.3 and 3.4 of the report, it is demonstrated that the building of a higher-capacity bridge is not supported by TransLink’s own Regional Transportation Strategy or the Regional Growth Strategy, and in fact counters those strategies by inducing development that is counter to the region’s goals. If any part of this report is weak, this is it, only because the City seems reluctant to toot its own horn. So I’ll do the tooting here.

New Westminster has the second-highest “alternative mode share” of any city in the Lower Mainland, second only to the City of Vancouver. This means that New Westminster residents are leading the region in finding alternatives to driving cars for their work commute, for shopping, or for school. New Westminster is building the compact, transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly City that is outlined in the regional transportation and land use plans.

When Surrey says New Westminster is being intractable and a terrible regional partner, the point needs to be retorted, firmly, with bold print, underlined and in contrasting colour: How is doing exactly what our regional partners have agreed is the best course an example of being a bad partner!?! It is time Surrey started looking at their own choices: utterly failing to protect farmland; continuing to build unsustainable auto-oriented neighbourhoods; for continuing to threaten the livability of the entire region. When is the region going to start to question Surrey about the ways it is falling short in the “regional partner” relationships department?

This is why the City of New Westminster is taking the “Reasonable Approach” of asking TransLink and the Province to take the money that is being set aside for the Pattullo Bridge replacement, and invest it in helping Surrey meet its regional commitments.

I am also happy the City took a direct approach to the “Killer Bridge” stigma of the Pattullo. I have written about this meme and its accessory suggestion that the Pattullo must be replaced because it is so dangerous. The City effectively demonstrates this is not the case, and once again relies not on hearsay or platitudes, but the actual numerical data:

So I don’t feel bad having lifted them, at least I’m citing them.

The New Westminster report then goes through a comprehensive discussion of the preferred options, and touches on a number of aligned issues in the region and the City. This includes the current hot-button topic of truck impacts on New Westminster streets. On this topic, the report pulls out this provocative quote:

“It is of interest to note that on the other side of the Fraser River, the issues of truck traffic appear to have been substantially addressed. An article in BC Business reporting observations made by Jim Cox, then-CEO, Surrey development Corporation, noted ‘Cox gives full credit to Watts and her big-picture vision, such as changing the name of King George Highway to King George Boulevard, and creating South Fraser Perimeter Road to divert all that ugly truck traffic away from the heart of the city, making the streets walkable for the first time in Surrey’s car-loving history.‘ It is also worth noting that the costs of the South Fraser Perimeter Road have been covered by the Province.”

At the same time Surrey is touting the removal of trucks from it’s neighbourhood streets on the Province’s dime, it is advocating that the Province spend more money to put those same trucks on New Westminster’s neighbourhood streets.

I also liked that New Westminster included a statement on building a well-designed bridge, reflecting its importance as an icon in our skyline and a major piece of infrastructure in the middle of an urban neighbourhood:

“If a new structure is to be built, it should be the subject of an architectural design competition in which the cities of Surrey and New Westminster are full participants. If a rehabilitation option is chosen, attention should be paid in the design and maintenance processes to improve significantly the present appearance of the
bridge.”

And yes, the City of New Westminster has come down clearly and firmly in favour of tolling the Pattullo bridge, both as a revenue generator to pay for the replacement of refurbishment, and also as a “leveling of the playing field”, to end this unfortunate phase where our neighbourhood streets are deemed the cheap alternative to paying for road infrastructure through tolls.

Even better, with flat growth of traffic and tolls on a refurbished 4-lane or new 4-lane bridge, there will likely be no need for senior government money to build the project. As the Report summarizes:

“As the Pattullo Bridge Strategic Review indicated that the rehabilitated 4-lane option and the new 4-lane option can be self-funded through tolling, there is the question whether senior government funding is necessary if one of these options is selected. The reality is that public money that is spent on the bridge will restrict the ability to fund other much needed projects such as the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system within Surrey. The City is supportive of reallocating capital cost saving from a rehabilitated 4-lane bridge project or a new 4-lane bridge project to the much needed rapid transit system in the City of Surrey.”

So in summary: The City of New Westminster does not care if the Pattullo if refurbished or replaced, as long as it is tolled, has no more than 4 lanes, and is build in such a way that respects the urban character of the neighbourhoods and the importance of this structure to the region’s history. Not just because that is what the City wants, but because that solution fits the problem analysis best, saves senior governments money, meets regional goals, and reflects the values of our regional community in 2014. Compared to this well-assembled, well-supported, and comprehensive analysis, Surrey’s completely unsupported “More Bridge now!” argument is embarrassing.

Now to my major point: TransLink is stuck in neutral, Surrey is lobbying senior governments, and the Minister of Transportation sounds like he is listening. New Westminster has now presented a solid case, and will be taking this forward to those interested parties. The City needs your help. Get this report to your Residents’ Association meeting and get them to write a short letter of support to Mayor and Council. Are you active in the PAC in your local school? Ask then to also write a letter of support, and ask your school board to do the same. I hope the Downtown BIAs and the Chamber of Commerce, and even my friends at the NWEP can also get a letter together ASAP and show that this position is not that of a few people on Council, but is the position of a united, involved, informed, and proactive community.

TransLink cancelled the consultations that were supposed to be occurring right now in New Westminster to discuss the future of the Pattullo, but let’s make them hear from us anyway.

The same, but different.

Another morning waking to the drone of news helicopters. I wake up with my usual lament (“there is no better example of the great feats of human ingenuity squandered, than the Traffic Helicopter”) and flip on the radio to find out that there isn’t a stall on the Pattullo, but that a building a block from my house has been razed.

Another devastating fire; another group of neighbours spending the worst morning of their lives, looking at ashes and wondering how they will go on.

First off, we need to be thankful that, once again, no-one was seriously hurt. The alarm raised by neighbors, the professionalism of our Fire Department, and no doubt a significant amount of good luck means we are mourning things today, not people. We need no better example than last week’s fire in L’Isle-Verte to see how devastating a fire can be.

This is, of course, very different than the last fire. The impacts on the community will be different, as will the impacts on the people directly affected.

To those who didn’t call it home, the old three-story walk up on Ash Street will not be missed like the Copp’s Shoe Store and Royal City Café buildings. It didn’t have the architectural charm, it lacked in heritage features, and there are plenty more where that came from. It was a dull, utilitarian structure built in the 60s to maximize living space on the lot. There will not be a lot of hand-wringing about how to replace the gap it left in the City’s streetscape.

To those who did call it home, however, the loss will be deeper than even that felt by the business owners on Columbia. To lose your business is to lose a totem of your effort, a piece of your dreams, and a valuable part of your life, no doubt. But to lose your home is something else altogether. Every picture, every file, every piece of clothing or jewelry. Everything precious to you. Gone.

Those with foresight and means will have insurance, and will be able to replace stuff. Others will start again from scratch. But the stuff will not replace the loss of “home”, the place we return to for rest, for peace, for security. Even when I was a student and moving residences every year or so, it was easy to make my new place “home”, because I had my familiar furniture, pictures, books, toothbrush. For many who have lost all here, it will take a long time before some new place starts to feel like home. For those living on fixed incomes, and the working poor getting by from paycheque to paycheque, the task ahead is monumental.

As much as the businesses in Downtown, these people need help.

They are all fortunate that we have a well-resourced Emergency Management team in New Westminster, with a strong Emergency Special Services component. It has been educational for me to spend the last couple of years serving on the City’s Emergency Advisory Committee and seeing the different aspects of emergency planning being fine-tuned. I have some training in Emergency Operations, so I had a grasp of what happens during an Emergency response going in, but I did not realize how much work is done in preparing for after the Emergency – support systems to assist the victims after the flames are out and the portable fence is up.

For the dozens of families here, though, this will not be enough. This weekend, please contact one of the folks below to see if there is anything you can do to help. Money, clothes, dinner, petcare, household goods. who knows? The list of needs will be long, but not bottomless. We can do this.

Go to the City’s Website to see a list of organizations who are collecting donations.

The Downtown New Westminster BIA (demonstrating one of the many advantages of a BIA) is expanding their “Turn Down the Heat Week” program to help get some warm clothing for victims.

The New Westminster Chamber of Commerce is also starting a list of contacts for people offering various services. If you are a business with a skill, some resources, or an idea to help, get your name added to that list.

Reaching across the Pattullo, a business in Surrey is offering their storage space to collect larger items for donation. Communities expand at times like these.

Just as we did a few months ago, New Westminster has to step up and help our neighbours. Some may be feeling a little fundraiser-fatigue right now, but help from friends and kindness from strangers will do much to help a few of our neighbours feel “home” again here in New Westminster.

Build a Playground with a click!

Short note, as I am getting really busy planning my December off (more on that later) and working on stuff that will fill our Januaries (yikes!), but I there is something important enough going on THIS WEEK that I wanted to add my voice to those getting the word out

It is a sad sign of our priorities as a society that the Ministry of Education will not pay for playground equipment at an elementary school. I like to think it is more reflection of the kind of Government that raises rates for the electricity needed to run schools, refuses to give the schools extra money to pay those rates, then tells the School Boards to just close some schools if they can’t afford to keep the lights on, as opposed to being the sign that our community doesn’t value our kids or recognize how important exercise and unstructured play is to learning outcomes… /end rant.

Clearly our community cares, as there is a group of aroused rabble who have been moving on a campaign to get funding from an Insurance Company to buy the playground equipment that an Elementary School should have at the new Elementary School called Qayqayt Community School which is being built currently on the old St. Mary’s Hospital site.

As the Aviva Community Fund is a national program, there are several programs competing for a few funds, but the good news is that this project has already jumped several steps in voting and promotion, and is a semi-finalist. They have 8 Days to get as many votes as they can. So go there and vote. Right now. You can even vote multiple times (once a day) and every person with a different e-mail address in your house, at your work, or in your universe can vote. Every day. So you, (yes you) can probably get 100 votes here.

The local group organizing this campaign has even made it easier for you by creating a webpage link to get you straight to where you can vote:

www.vote4robson.com

Here are the instructions sent to me by Tim Mercier from the École John Robson Community, and it was easier than the 7 steps below make it look, especially if you already have a Facebook account:

To Register;

1- Go to www.vote4robson.com
2- In the top right corner of the site (inside the yellow and above the search box) find “Sign in – Register – Francais” and click on “register” to get to the registration page;
3- Connect using your Facebook account or enter your email address and create a simple password for your account. Then scroll down the page to find the yellow “Register” button and press it;
4- Aviva will send you an email (to the address you used to register) and you will then need to open the email and click on the link;
5- This will bring you back to the Aviva page. The Sign in tab is located on the top right of the page in the yellow, click on it to go to the sign in page where you will need to enter your email address and password.
6- This will take you to your account page and Dashboard, if you want to find our entry either search for ACF17525 or just go back to www.vote4robson without logging off the Aviva site and it should get you there.
7- Once you have voted once, we will be in your supported idea tab and you can find us there.

Here you go, New Westminster – time for us to do what a great community like ours does best when a few people start a good idea – support them by showing up and give a few clicks to give the kids of the Downtown neighbourhood and all of the Qayqayt catchment a place to blow off steam so they can get some fresh air, learn better, and be healthier and happier #NewNewWest Citizens.

Take Back our Port this Sunday

Long time readers (Hi Mom!) know I have been occasionally critical of Port Metro Vancouver. It is funny, because I work with people from the Port on occasion, and have healthy, respectful relationship with many Port staff. The first property upon which I ever led an environmental investigation during my consulting days was a Port property. They were great to work for because of their professionalism, straight-forward communications, and high competence of their technical staff.

So why the current hate on? Why am I taking part in, and encouraging you to participate in, a Rally on Sunday in New Westminster, with the Theme “Take Back Our Port”?



You can read about it in the Newspaper, or show up to get details, but this is about accountability.

Port Metro Vancouver is, to quote their website,

“a non-shareholder, financially self-sufficient corporation, established by the Government of Canada in January 2008, pursuant to the Canada Marine Act, and accountable to the federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities”.

They are crown corporation who answer only to Lisa Raitt (who, like any other Conservative MP, answers only to the Prime Minister’s Office). There is no local representation of the Port, except a Board of Important Business People. They do a significant amount of public outreach, but there is no accountability to local residents in how they fulfill their mission, which is, again to quote the Website:

To lead the growth of Canada’s Pacific Gateway in a manner that enhances the well-being of Canadians

What is “Canada’s Pacific Gateway” exactly? Something to do with the Province, apparently, if you follow that link. But make no mistake, the Port doesn’t answer to the Premier, even if she leases her office space from them.

Regardless of catch phrases, the depth of the influence this unaccountable organization has on your community should concern you. A few of the hot-button issues that we talk a lot about in New Westminster point right back at the port: :

Coal: People in New West are very aware of the current proposal to introduce bulk coal exports to Surrey Fraser Docks, right across the Fraser from the Quayside. Most of you probably don’t know about the other two coal terminals in Vancouver are seeing expansion (Westshore Terminals expanded by 40% in 2012, Neptune Terminals in 2015 by 50%). With each expansion increases the number of open coal-carrying rail cars running through our neighbourhoods, increased air pollution, and increased climate impacts as we move the dirtiest fuel ever known to man. Although this expansion improves the financial bottom line of the Port, they are the agency charged with providing an “Independent” Environmental Assessment for the projects. They also make it clear that greenhouse gas impacts of their operations are not part of the assessment. GHGs are not their problem. That is the problem of the Federal Government, they say.

Trains: Train operations are dictated by Port needs. Trains are good, they are the most efficient way to move goods across land by far. If we are going to migrate our economy to a more sustainable path, trains will be a fundamental part of that economy. However, inflexibility in their operations, often dictated by Port needs, means that mitigating community impacts is difficult, and will always come in second place to logistical needs to keep things moving, as quickly as possible.

Further, impacts on the community are exacerbated by a failure to invest on rail infrastructure. The New Westminster Rail Bridge is more than 100 years old, and represents the largest goods-movement bottleneck in the region. This bridge, much like the Port, belongs to the Federal government, but there is simply no interest in replacing it. Therefore, more goods have to be moved by truck to bypass this bottleneck. Until this bottleneck is addressed, the re-alignment of the rails that run through New West cannot take place, and so we are all in a waiting pattern, hoping the rail/road conflicts will get better. Old rail infrastructure is also, like anything else, less safe infrastructure.

Trucks: Everyone in New Westminster knows we are being buried in truck traffic. The Port knows, but it frankly does not care. With the rail bottleneck, and complete disinterest from the Port in investing in short-sea shipping, containers are coming off ships at Burrard Inlet or Delta, then going on trucks, through our neighbourhoods and past our schools, to get to places like Port Kells or Port Coquitlam, to be put on trains, it’s clear moving stuff by truck is not an unfortunate consequence in our communities, it is the business plan.

This is further evidence when one looks at more recently-developed port lands, like Port-owned lands lining the north side of Queensborough and currently being filled with truck-only warehouses. Or look at the south side of Richmond, where the Port owns more than 750 Acres of waterfront land full of truck-only warehouses? These properties have something in common: no goods move on or off ships at these prime waterfront locations. Which brings us to:

Land Use: There has been an ongoing issue about the port encroaching on agricultural land, the threatening the ALR. We don’t have farmland in New Westminster, but regional food security should still concern everyone who hopes to eat for the next few decades. However, the Port is in a unique situation, where they can buy up large pieces of ALR land, which is relatively inexpensive at between $50,000 and $200,000 per acre (See Pages 28 and 29 of this report, I don’t make numbers up ) because of ALC restrictions on its use. Then, as a Federal Agency, they can, with a wave of the hand, remove the land from the ALR, and develop it for Industrial purposes. With undeveloped industrial land in the lower mainland selling for between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 per acre, this seems like a pretty good business plan. Port puts up truck warehouses, asks the City to provide roads to service the trucks, and their financial self-sufficiency is all but assured. Good work if you can get it.

There is a strange meme being created by the current Port CEO– that an “Industrial Land Reserve” is needed to protect Port-related development. This is idiotic when viewed in the light of the equation above. Any land can be made industrial- you just need to pay the rates for that land that the market for industrial land requires. Further, once land become industrial, it can be re-purposed for other uses (see False Creek). The ALR land exists, because that is the one use that cannot be compatible with other uses- once a farm is lost to industrial development ,that land will never again be productive for traditional farming.

The current Port activity in Queensborough is a perfect model of this. High-value industrial lands were bought by the Port on the north side of Queensborough, east of the QB Bridge. Warehouses are being built to move things on and off of trucks. There is no plan whatsoever to use the waterfront location to move things on and off of boats; pier infrastructure is not even being built. The Port now owns the waterfront, and have paved it for the storage of trucks and trailers (with complete disregard to Riparian Areas protection standards or laws, which do not apply to them, because they are a Federal Agency, and with the closure of FREMP, the protection of the Fraser River riparian areas and waterfront habitat is now overseen by – you guessed it – the Port). The City’s and neighbourhood’s dreams of waterfront trails on Queensborough cannot be fulfilled because the Port will not allow a right-of-way through this same waterfront. Meanwhile, the trucks servicing these warehouses are backing up on Duncan Street and Derwent Way, creating havoc at the Howes Street intersection, and the Port is not responsible for any of the cost of improving this infrastructure. Meanwhile, the City has no say in any of this. Which brings us to…

Transportation. “Canada’s Pacific Gateway”, as mentioned above, is code for building roads and bridges. Under the guise of “goods movement”, the Port has been the main champion for spending taxpayer’s money on freeways and bridges that are out of scale for the region’s declining car use, unsustainable in their financing, and in complete contradiction to every regional transportation and land use plan created in Metro Vancouver over the last two decades. While everyone sat around for 20 years wondering where the money for Evergreen was going to come from, and while the Province floats a referendum to avoid having to make a decision about supplying enough funding the TransLink to keep the buses running, the Province has rushed ahead with $5 Billion on road expansion – from the Golden Ears Bridge (which is further crippling TransLink with debt) with the Pitt River Bridge (which is accelerating the removal of land from the ALR because of the traffic problems it has created), with the SFPR (which is a Port subsidy that destroys farm land and neighbourhoods), with the Widest Bridge in the World(tm) (which is also failing to meet its traffic targets and is looking like a long-term taxpayer pain), and now with the Tunnel Replacement to Nowhere. The Port has its fingers in every one of these decisions. They switch from consulting with the community to lobbying the Province in a flash, and then they are the agency that helps provide the Environmental Assessments for the projects. And greenhouse gasses? Someone else’s problem.

All of these issues are central to the livability of our City – of New Westminster, yet at every point, the Port’s only responsibility is to keep the money moving.

So come out to the family-friendly rally Sunday, and see how numerous people and groups feel about being kept out of the decision on how our community will develop, and how the livability of our region will be protected.

Hyack

OK, I’ll wade in.

For anyone paying attention locally, the Hyack Festival Association has been embroiled in some sort of internal-strife shit-show for several months now. I commented a bit on the situation back in August, when the information was scarce, and appropriately kept my comments limited to hoping that things get worked out. After all, Hyack’s volunteer force and their link to the public face of the City are important to the community. They have for 40 years maintained many of the traditions that describe New Westminster, and I hate to see babies tossed out with bathwater.

But the bathwater is getting so deep and murky, it is hard to tell if the baby is still in there.

Since my initial comments in August, I have had discussions with many people in the City about Hyack. I have talked to one current Hyack Board member (notably not one who has been commenting in the media), I have talked to both Bart Slotman and James Crosty (both of whom claim to have been drawn into this public conversation reluctantly). I have talked to Executive Directors for other organizations and business people in the City who work with Hyack, and even to a former Hyack staff member. I have not talked to Douglas Smith (I have still never met the man) or Gavin Palmer (we have not been formally introduced). I have also tried to piece things together based on various media reports, letters to the Editor, and social media conversations. I am hardly “inside” this issue in any way (although I am now a Hyack member – more on that below), but I feel I have done everything I can as an “outsider” to gather info and understand the issue as a concerned citizen.

As every conversation I list above was casual, social, and off-the-record, I am not going to quote anyone or put anyone else on a particular side of an issue. Coming out of the closet about their Hyack opinions is up to them. If they choose to speak up or correct me in the public record, I am happy to be corrected on any point of fact. I am also going to assume that everyone writing to the paper or speaking out about this is being truthful, because I have no reason to assume otherwise.

So with those caveats, here is the gist of the situation, as best I can stitch together. There is a battle going on right now for the heart of Hyack – what it is, what it has been, and what it will be in the future. There are essentially two “camps” within Hyack, and if I can paraphrase their positions:

One group has a “steady-as-she-goes” attitude about Hyack. The organization has deep roots and traditions, and it is by respecting these traditions that they have accumulated assets worth more than $1 Million, and have an army of volunteers ready to fill roles in the established routines to keep the ship floating. They have been successful for 40 years, and will continue to be successful if they keep running things the way they have proven works. Careful evolution is preferable to massive changes. This group includes the current President, two remaining Executive members, and a large contingent of ex-Presidents and former Board Members (the “Plaid Coats”). This group also probably represents a plurality of the paid Members of the society.

A second group thinks Hyack needs to makes changes to get with the times. They see some of the traditions of the Hyack Association as dated, and feel that money and volunteer effort could be better spent on updated or refreshed events. They are concerned about the Hyack’s lack of transparency and apparent inability to broaden their appeal to a more diverse community. They see flagging interest in some Hyack events (i.e. the Easter Car Parade) and recent successes on new events to attract an audience and sponsorship money (i.e. Uptown Live), as evidence that they can broaden their appeal and be a more successful festival organizer to the benefit of the entire City. This group includes the (now-former) Executive Director, and (this is the important part) a slim majority of the current Hyack Board.

The conflict arose when the majority of the Board (the second group) supported some updating of the traditions through a new strategic plan, and the Executive and Plaid Coats (the first group) did not agree with that decision. Best I can tell, from that single disagreement on long-term vision of the organization, a lot of bad decisions were made that got us to our current situation.

What is the current situation? Not good:

  • The organization is currently without an Executive Director- and seems to be burning through them at a rate that hampers long-term planning and relationship building. Now, back when I worked in retail, there was pretty good staff turnover. Low wages and hard work – that’s the reality of retail. But if I had 4 people I hired for the same manager job and they all quit or were fired after only two years, the owner would be looking at me as the problem, not the people I hire. I’m not saying…. I’m just saying.
  • The organization appears to not have a functioning board. If decisions made by a clear majority of the board can be overturned by a minority, or vetoed by a President, then there are serious governance issues that need to be addressed. Not just to make the organization function as intended, but to meet constitutional and legal requirements under the Societies Act.
  • The organization may be headed for a bad day in court. The former Executive Director has all but told the media that there will be legal action over his dismissal. We can assume from this he will be arguing for wrongful dismissal, and some of the untoward comments made in the media about alleged reasons for his dismissal probably bring an aspect of defamation into the conversation. I obviously don’t know if there were grounds for dismissal, but the hasty invitation back and negotiation of terms suggests someone received legal advice and the organization may need to dust off their chequebook and write down a lot of zeroes to make this go away, or risk spending a lot of time paying lawyers to go to court.
  • The organization is having a problem with sponsors. There have been several news reports of large sponsors distancing themselves from the current imbroglio. Some of them may come back if the confidence in the organization returns (although after making Slotman the villain, and calling for a boycott of Royal City Centre, some bridges might be harder to mend…), and I don’t know how widespread this is, but if three major sponsors are publicly announcing their concern, you can bet there are many more quietly stepping back. Continued strife, lack of direction, and potential court battles will do nothing to encourage any of them to come rushing back any time soon.
  • The organization is eating itself by not dealing with the situation. The roots of this problem go back at least to the strategic plan in the spring, and the current situation came to a head in July with the firing of Douglas Smith. We are now in October, and the Hyack President has yet to make a statement about the situation or discuss how it is addressing what may be a mortal wound. The organization was unexpectedly pulled from the agenda for Tuesday’s special meeting at Council to determine festival planning needs and requirements for the coming year. By looking at the report they provided for the meeting (with important numbers missing and typos) – it seems that Hyack is unprepared to take part in that meeting and provide a cohesive vision for the City. Meanwhile, the President, instead of busting his ass getting this report together, mending fences and reaching out to concerned citizens, is down in Leavenworth, Washington taking his spot in the Autumn Leaf Parade representing the Hyack Festival Association between the Distinguished Young Women of Ellensburg and the Martins Allstar Showteam.

First Law of Holes: When you find yourself in one, stop digging.

So where does Hyack go from here? I guess it depends on where you are looking from. In my comments in August, I said I want this organization to exist and be effective. To me, that looks more like this:

The 2013 Uptown Live event- a great compliment to the Hyack Parade.

 And less like this:

The Royal Rosarians of Portland preparing to “knight” the president of Hyack

Much like Douglas Smith stated in his report, I want a Hyack that represents New Westminster in a modern, meaningful way. Events like the Columbia StrEAT Foodtruck Festival, Uptown Live and the very successful rejuvenated Hyack Canada Day Fireworks are better examples of how our City can benefit from Festival funding and the hard work of volunteers. We drew the locals out onto the street to meet and mingle, and we drew people a SkyTrain-ride away into New Westminster to see our businesses, our downtown, our waterfront, and hopefully we put on a good enough face that they will return.

A little Pomp and Ceremony can also be good idea, if it serves to motivate volunteers, bring community together, and increase awareness of the organization and its benefits. Many would doubt, however, what exporting our pomp and ceremony to places like Ellensburg (where!?) Washington does to boost New Westminster’s profile, community spirit, or business connections. This is the case being made by some right now, but there is clearly a fundamental disconnect between the people who criticize these types of activities and those who partake in them. Honestly, I don’t know how this letter argues the case made in the first sentence – to many readers, it argues the exact opposite.

Perhaps the question I have not addressed is – Why do I care? Why should anyone care?

Those who regularly read this blog (Hi Mom!) know I am not the type to stand back and watch when a situation needs fixing, I would rather help, and encourage everyone else to help. That is the reason I had the conversations I did with the people I mentioned above. For the most part, I didn’t necessarily seek them out and corner them on the Hyack situation, but when I did run into them socially or on the street, the Hyack situation came up in conversation. Admitting I didn’t really understand the situation, I tried to get as much information as I could, mostly to separate the rumour and innuendo from the reality.

My first impression was, as I stated in August- this is an important organization in my community that I want to see operate successfully. When faced with the opinions of the “two camps” described above, I found myself agreeing with the later, more “changey” group. With reflection, it seemed obvious that this was my natural viewpoint, because I am not Member, and the traditions and “old way” of doing things were basically invisible to me. I had no frame of reference.

So I joined Hyack, and encouraged people I know to do the same. When there was talk of a September 10 special meeting of Hyack to determine the fate of Douglas Smith and/or the Executive that had him fired, I decided I wanted to join, attend that meeting, and hear the two sides argue their case. I also canvassed some of my social group to do the same, for the sake of everything that Hyack has done for the City, and the potential inherent in the organization. Some of my New West network reacted with surprising vitriol, told me the organization was not worth saving, or didn’t understand why I thought they might care. Others saw where I was coming from, got that the organization was a part of the community, and might be worth saving, if only because of the positive changes that have been seen in the last couple of years.

Then the September meeting was postponed, then cancelled, with no explanation to members or the public. I assumed the parties were working out the details of a settled conclusion and everyone was getting back to work. I could not have been more wrong.

I have not been contacted by Hyack since joining in the first week of September (although they wasted no time cashing my $55 cheque). Frankly, I have no idea when or how they meet, or even how I can get involved. The employee who received my membership forms is apparently no longer with the organization, leaving the same day that Douglas Smith decided to end his short return. Admittedly, the organization has bigger concerns than keeping lil’ ol’ me informed, and I haven’t gone out of my way to seek clarity from them, but as a new Member, I expected some kind of hello. Meanwhile, competing letters to the editor demonstrate very effectively who is in each of the two “camps”. What I do not hear is anyone looking for points of resolution. I also don’t hear anyone talking about a game plan or a way forward. Instead, one of the directors muses about splitting the organization up, while concurrent heart-felt, impassioned defenses of Hyack traditions fail to acknowledge that there may even be a problem.

Love it or hate it, Hyack is a vital part of our community – this is not just about the money taxpayers contribute to the organization (although that does matter), it is about representing the public face of the City. Hyack is quick to point out their efforts are all to promote New Westminster, so what impression of New Westminster are they currently showing? Every person who has staked their future on the success of this City should care about what Hyack represents in this town, and how they do that. For this reason alone, members, sponsors and the community need to know that Hyack is not just burying its head in the sand hoping this blows over, but is taking steps to address the criticisms, manage their structural and governance issues, and find a place in the New Westminster of the 21th Century.

I realize just by writing this blog post, I run the risk of making enemies. That is not my intention. Many will disagree with me about this topic, and some will take it personally. I hope those who do will reach out to me and set me straight, and I will be happy to print their reactions here, unedited. In an absence of certainty about motivations and reasoning, I always appeal to Hanlon’s Razor. I assume everyone involved here has the best interests of Hyack and the City in mind. However, no-one seems to agree on what those best interests are, never mind how to get there. The fact so many community members, even the normally “well informed” ones, are trying to figure out what is happening is not a condemnation of us, it is a condemnation of Hyack for not communicating effectively with its constituents. As a member of the community who wants to believe in Hyack, I am struggling to explain to others why.

Up to now, too much of the media conversation has been about entrenching positions, not about moving forward. Yes, the Hyack Festival Association has a proud 40 year history, but this City and many of its traditions have a history 3 times that long. The City will be able to exist and maintain important traditions without Hyack. There are other organizations, established and burgeoning, that would be happy to step in and take their share of that $140,000 in annual taxpayer support Hyack receives, and use it to promote the City, our business community, and our History. I’m not saying that is the best or most desirable result at this point, but those pulling the strings at Hyack have to keep that in mind.

Therefore, Hyack’s first priority right now needs to be convincing us – the City, the community, and their sponsors, and their members, that they are the best option the City has to promote the public face of New Westminster and bring community events to the Royal City.

The ALR development cycle

This is a story with more layers than an onion, and is so absurd that it should be in the Onion.

The City of Pitt Meadows, against the protestations of its citizens, wants to fix a traffic problem by building a big-box retail strip mall on 80 acres of ALR-protected farmland.

Read that again. That is the case Pitt Meadows successfully made to the Agricultural Land Commission.

Boggles. The. Mind.

The longer version of the story is thus:

You see, Old Dewdney Trunk Road  (ODT Road) is a rural two-lane that runs through farmland in Pitt Meadows north of Lougheed Highway. Mostly protected from development by the Agricultural Land Reserve, the ODT Road area is mostly larger farms, and protected from the strip mall and low-density housing explosion that has grown around Lougheed Highway – stretching almost undisturbed from Coquitlam Centre to Haney. Problem is, being the “back route” around the inevitable Lougheed Highway congestion, ODT Road is suffering from more traffic than the old rural two-lane is designed for.

This problem was apparent in the 1990s, but Pitt Meadows was not all that concerned, because the Pitt River Bridge was being expanded, and more lanes of Lougheed were being built. As a bonus, the Golden Ears Bridge was coming to take some of the traffic load off of Pitt Meadows, and a brand new semi-express way was being blasted through farmlands to the east, providing easy access to the Golden Ears Bridge for all those single-family homes that have been built out around Abernethy Way, which was all, notably, farmland less than 30 years ago. Pitt Meadows was not worried, because with all these new roads being built, traffic congestion on Lougheed would soon be a thing of the past- and ODT Road could go back to serving local farmers.

Except, of course, the roads did not take the traffic away, the roads brought more traffic. With easy highway access came more single-family homes that can not be served adequately by transit when TransLink is cutting services, and came more strip-mall retail shops to serve the needs of the growing car-dependent community. Few real family-supporting jobs are created in these strip malls, so people cannot actually work near their single-family home, and commuter traffic inevitably got worse, not better, with the new roads. That is what we call Induced Demand.

So the City of Pitt Meadows, shocked (shocked!) that these new roads have not fixed their traffic problem, has found a solution: one more road. This is where we get the proposed “North Lougheed Connector”. Problem is, after the Ministry of Transportation blew their budget on the Pitt River Bridge and Lougheed Highway improvements to fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows, and TransLink is bleeding through the ears in part because of a shitty Golden Ears Bridge toll deal that was supposed to fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows, neither have the money to build this one last road that will finally fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows. Even with all the single-family home building and strip malls, Pitt Meadows doesn’t have the money to fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows.

Along come Smart Centres, strip-mall builders of some fame. They have the money to fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows. They are more than happy to build a short stretch of highway through land they don’t own (because like the Golden Ears Way, and a fair chunk of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the North Lougheed Connector will be built on protected ALR land, no need to exclude from the ALR for roadbuilding, alas). Only catch is that the new road has to include off-ramps to their parking lots for their new strip mall. The parking lots and strip mall they want to build happen to be on land they bought at ALR rates, and that they will lease out at Commercial rates now that they can get more than 80 acres of that that cheap land out of the ALR just for building a road through more ALR. Good business if you can get it.

The 80 Acres in question is between the golf course and Harris Road. Click to enlarge.

It is the circle of progress: build low-density housing on ALR land, build freeways and bridges to access them (if someone suggests alternatives like density, transit, or bike lanes, cry “tax grab!”), when traffic gets too busy, build more roads, take more land out of the ALR and build houses on that land to fund it, lather, rinse, repeat.

So why do I, a local blogger in New Westminster care about Pitt Meadows strip malls? Because this is, boiled down to its essence, New Westminster’s traffic problem. When TransLink or the Ministry of Asphalt talk about the North Fraser Perimeter Road– turning local New Westminster streets into highways for through-traffic, it is this strip mall in Pitt Meadows that will be at the east end of that highway. Traffic problems being generated by bad planning in the Pitt Meadows (Surrey, Langley, etc.) today will be used as an excuse to destroy the livability of New Westminster.

The ALR does more than protect agricultural land, it protects the livability of our region. Don’t let Bill Bennett destroy it.

On Festivals, recent and future.

I just had one of the busiest and most interesting, weekends in recent memory. Many conversations had, many things learned, many ideas shared. A large amount of it I just can’t get into right now, but suffice to say there are very good things brewing (in the metaphorical sense) right now, and I feel pretty positive about the year ahead.

Amongst the craziness of the weekend was a few hours spent in the beer gardens at the Columbia StrEAT Food truck festival thingy. This was shocking, and yet refreshingly not. For those out of town or otherwise unaware, tens of thousands of people showed up on Columbia Street Saturday afternoon/evening to sample the wide variety of food truck offerings that have descended on the Lower Mainland (and the rest of North America) in the last few years.

How successful was the event? So many showed up, that the food lines were often an hour long, and many of the trucks sold completely out of product before the end of the event. I sat in the beer garden waiting for lines to shrink, then went to get a grilled goodie at 7:00ish. I asked the operator how it was going, and she said she apologized for the limited offerings she had left.

I said “That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Well,” she replied, looking exasperated, “We have another event tomorrow, and we have no more product. It’s not like we can pick these things [her delicious homemade sausages] up at Costco.”

The only complaints I heard from the crowd was that the lineups were too long. A complaint not unlike the old saw “No-one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”.

This got many of the noble beer-garden patrons with whom I was sharing stories contemplating what this event might mean for future “Car-free days” on Columbia Street, and what relation this has to the other big festival-related story in New Westminster right now.

On the first topic, I think we have learned that if we choose to build it, they will come. The ongoing massive success of the Show & Shine has some wondering if more “Car-free days” could work on Columbia, around different themes. Some other street festivals are really hopping in New West (I think especially of the newer “UpTown Live”), while there is no doubt some other events are getting a little stale (examples redacted – but you know who they are). I think this event shows there is an appetite, as long as there is some variety of themes, they offer something new or interesting, and they are well marketed.

The question remaining would be how would more events on Columbia serve the merchants along Columbia, seeing the effort that the Downtown BIA put into organizing them? It appeared everyone from the Heritage Grill to Starschmucks had huge days, and even further-afield businesses like SpudShack and Re-up BBQ commented on how they saw a big sales on Saturday (no doubt benefiting from those 1-hour lineups on the street). The spin-offs from having all of these people downtown should be obvious to the merchants who support the BIA.

I’m not sure the wedding shops benefited as much, but I digress.

So I look forward to what Kendra and the rest of the folks at the Downtown BIA do with this new knowledge and the vigour it promises. I could think of a few different types of events that would similarly bring hungry, thirsty, happy people to Columbia Street on a sunny weekend. Nothing against the Show & Shine, but it should be the beginning of something, not the only thing!

As for the other festival-related story about these parts, I just don’t know what to say. I have had casual conversations this weekend with a half-dozen different people who are, or should be, “in the know” about what is happening at Hyack, and from those 6 people I got at least 7 different stories, most of them contradicting each other.

I think speculation from those of us who are not “in the know” probably doesn’t serve any purpose, but I am concerned when some of the same people who usually call for openness and transparency for all things at the City are now the ones counselling that everyone should just be quiet and let this pass. Hyack spends a lot of taxpayers’ dollars, and are responsible for much of the public face of the City. This type of mysterious back-room battle erupting into public hissy fits does nothing to improve confidence in their ability to continue doing the good work they do.

For my part, I’m glad the City has Hyack, and that so many volunteers are willing to work so hard to make it successful. They are not without fault, however, and some of the allegedly-sacred traditions around Hyack may need to be updated to appeal to a growing 21st century urban centre full of young families, hipster doofuses, and the transit-oriented consumers from surrounding communities who are only a few minutes away from one of our five SkyTrain Stations.

I get the sense that was the direction the no-former Executive Director (whom I have never met, by the way) was leaning, and it seemed like there was some success towards that direction. Then today I read a letter by Bart Slotman, who is not one of the people I have chatted with about this, but for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, and it sort of confirms my worst suspicions. Something is amiss here, and needs to be fixed.

My (in this case, actually humble) opinion is that Hyack does a great job getting folks in New Westminster to look inward and enjoy our wonderful City, but needs more successful events like Uptown Live and the Columbia StrEAT Festival to bring others into New West, to show our neighbors who we are and why they should come back. We have something to show off here, so let’s quit arguing about it, and do it!

Too Busy to Blog

Sorry, long time fans and first time listeners. I’m just too busy these days to write much here. I have many things on my mind, and several half-written blog posts, but I just don’t have the time these days to get the words down.

What am I doing?

Some NWEP stuff – there are some events coming up, and we are a little short on volunteer help right now.
[p.s. if you have some time and energy and need some environmental karma points to earn, drop by that site and contact us to sign up for helping out!]

Quite a bit of RCCC stuff – lots of off-season projects to get completed before the ice returns in September. [p.s. if you own a business in New West and might want to advertise at the RCCC, get in touch with me soon!]

A fair amount of time is being spent here:

Some time managing these:

Some quality time doing things like this:

And a fair amount of time doing this:

and still setting a little time aside to spend on the more important stuff:

So light blogging anticipated for August. Please, talk amongst yourselves, and keep in touch!  

On Moles and Retorts

The Blog is rarely much of a dialogue. It’s just a place where I shoot out ideas wrapped in questionable grammar. Occasionally, someone comments below, and I might comment back. Mostly however, this is just me spouting off, and never claimed to be anything else.

So some time last week, an extended comment appeared in my e-mail inbox in reference to a post I recently did on the proposed / alleged Q2Q Pedestrian Bridge. As that post obliquely (through an external link) referenced the person who wrote me, I suggested he add it as a “comment” on my blog. He was having technical issues with Blogger’s commenting form, so we agreed I could post it on his behalf. So here I include, in its entirety and exactly as send to me, the comments of one E.C. “Ted” Eddy:

Dear Mr. Nwimby,

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t respond to anything posted on media that isn’t fair and balanced or has a limited following. I decided to make an exception to your NWIMBY BLOG. Feel free to post my first whack-a-mole response to yours. 

The tenor of the piece seemed to attempt to paint the Quayside Community as being “NWIMBY” (NOT WELCOME IN MY BACK YARD) with respect to a pedestrian/bicycle crossing to Queensborough. Selective historic references were utilized to underpin that shaky premise. We proceed here to whack some other mythical moles that popped up on your blog. 

First Mole – The original Queensborough Ped/cycle crossing had been proposed to cross at Poplar Island in a Queensborough Community Plan of June 2008 – a laudable enterprise that would have opened up Poplar Island as a first Nations eco-tourist destination complete with the entire environmental cleanup paid for by the Federal Gov’t. This is a good idea if it took off from the west side of the Third Avenue Overpass and solicited funds from developers of land on either side of the river. No one at the Quay was against it that I can recall. Indeed, people on the Quay have never been against an interconnection with our Queensborough neighbors. 

Second Mole- Your “who could be against it?” hyperlink was an old newspaper article and the number of signatures on the petition has grown to more than 1,000. Recall that same year the city explicitly stated in a report to council they would provide community consultation . You were fair and balanced by repeating the problems of cost, visual pollution, extreme length and destruction of the Children’s Submarine park (which is busier than the Pier Park) but failed to mention the biggest concern that there was none of the promised Public Consultation, Environmental Impact studies, usability report, etc. Indeed when the Quayside Board pressed for these requirements we were rebuffed with the comment that such consultation would create “unnecessary expectations”, or in your parlance more “whining” in any attempts to provide senior’s access, save taxpayer dollars and the only children’s park. One would think that the SRY being chuffed about encroachment should have been uncovered prior to spending any Engineering Study dollars on the three failed overpriced, over engineered and overbearing earlier options -especially in light of the comments by the rail company they wanted completed assurances the rail bridge would be safe. A cost, by the way, that was not established in the original cow pie-in-the-sky bridge proposal. 

Third Mole – Your characterization that somehow we, or possibly just me, plays whack-a-mole with all city projects is reflective of your position as an “insider mole” that everything the City proposes is great “grandeur wise” and “cost-wise”. Some of us are more circumspect about creating legacies with taxpayer dollars with neither usage studies nor public consultation. I guess you missed NEWSLEADER JUNE 17th article wherein I was quoted as follows: 

“Quayside resident Ted Eddy, an outspoken critic of the earlier verions (sic) of the bridge, says these new designs address many of his concerns — particularly the $5-million option that would pair with the existing rail bidge (sic). This low-level option with the swing bridge looks like it could be a winner,” Eddy said. “I think I could sell this to my [Quayside Community] Board quite easily. We’ve never been opposed to some kind of connectivity.” 

Perhaps a correction to your blog is in order. 

Forth Mole – The Ferry Service alternative -“show me the business case”. I venture you have not seen any business case from the city on other ventures such as the office tower but I digress. Tom Littlewood’s presentation to the Quayside Community Board a week ago was compelling with no cost to the city. There is a dock already in Queensborough along with two wheelchair accessible/bike-friendly covered ferries in his possession, a suitable dock, purchased by his business partners, for use at the Quay and two years of discussions with the city, in particular the Mayor. All that’s needed is the city to utilize the Port Metro Vancouver offer of up to $100,000 to put a dock near the Fraser River Discovery Centre (whose DAC funds have also been redirected) or at the Inn at the Quay to complete the linkage. Tom’s willingness to proceed is business case enough for me and indeed he has put forth a plan that warrants consideration at little if no cost to the taxpayers of New Westminster. What is the problem with that I ask? We don’t need second guessing, hand wringing or “whining” from City Hall. He needs their cooperation and speedy approval after two years of inaction and their already touted “enthusiasm at all levels” – not a whack-a-mole parade of negatives and hurdles. Who knows, usage of the Ferry Service could provide a proxy for figuring out if a $3,000 per person swing bridge link could be justified. Recall here that car-dependant Queensborough residents have just lost a bus route that was costing about $3.80 per trip to run based on a business case done by TransLink. If the City is to spend more than the $6 million of DAC funding remaining after raiding the DAC funds, specified for other earmarked projects, for another showcase project in cost-overrun mode, then where is that business case?” 

All-in-all, I look forward to your portended BLOG on the Water Taxi Option and assume you might want do a little research by perusing the more recent media links that I have conveniently provided in the attached. You might even go to the horse’s mouth, Tom Littlewood (whom I have copied here) rather than continue to BLOG from viewing the past from the other end. 

Become a “Ferry godfather” rather than continue to put lipstick on the legacy projects of the “Spinderellas” at City hall. 

E.C.”Ted” Eddy

Thank you, Mr. Eddy, for taking the time to express yourself so eloquently. Allow me to retort.

The only reason I would suggest the Quayside Community Board was not enthusiastic about the bridge is that the only vocal opposition I have heard to the idea of the bridge came from a couple of well known and outspoken “leaders” of the QCB. I further suggested this may not be a universal opinion of Quayside residents – and purposely linked to the story where Mr. Eddy expressed tacit approval of the new plans to support that point. I even pointed out that many of those original concerns were very much valid, and should be addressed. I’m just not sure any of them are a game-ender. I also don’t think the Quayside residents speak as a single voice on this issue. I ride with a couple of Quayside folks on a regular basis, and they are anxiously looking forward to the bridge..

First Mole – Actually, the 2008 Queensborough Community Plan documents I could find (and they are all here, scroll to the bottom of the page) only reference the Poplar Island route for the bridge as a possible “backup” plan if the direct route is considered too difficult or impossible. Looking through those documents, it appears that option was not initially considered, but was added to the conversation through community consultation. I have already written a long post about why this is a terrible plan if one is hoping to build this as a useful piece of transportation infrastructure, so I won’t go deeper into that here.

Second Mole – The submarine park will not be destroyed. Council has said they will not destroy it, and as a worst-case scenario, they will move it. The rest of this “Mole” seems to be a criticism about the format of consultations and planning, and we can all have opinions on how those should work in an ideal world. I think Mr. Eddy and I have differing opinions here, and nothing wrong with that. Here is the process best I can figure from watching the media and Council reports:

1) The community has an idea for connectivity that was included in the Queensborough Community Plan in 2009 as a priority;
2) Council secured some funding through DAC with a fairly long planning window;
3) Staff hired some consulting engineers to do an initial assessment, and scope out potential opportunities, problems, and rough costs. Included in this would be general feasibility issues- including Senior government issues location and potential for conflict with the Train Bridge;
4) Recognizing that being close to the Rail Bridge is the best spot, talks with SRY begin to suss out concerns;
5) Take the assessment to Council to seek opinions (after all, they are the elected representatives of the public), and IF council thinks we are on the right track- take it to public consultation;
6) Report out on Pubic consultation, and either move ahead, fix the plan to address public concerns, or go back to Step 1.

It sounds to me like they got to Step 5 and there were enough concerns at Council or problems for staff to iron out (i.e. railway discussions) or enough public negative reaction that they stepped back and re-assessed by going back to Step 3 and re-jigging the plan.

The point is, the plan, such as it was, was clearly not ready for a detailed public consultation, and the new plan may also not quite be there yet (as it sounds like there are some issues to work out with the Port and SRY about how a lift or swing bridge might operate). There is no point going to the public asking them to approve an idea if the Port or another agency will not allow that idea to be built.

Of course, these tentative plans and technical reports are sent up to Council and read into the public record for a reason: so that people like me and Ted Eddy can talk about them and get the public thinking about the project. We also have a Council that allows open delegations- if anyone has a strong opinion about the bridge, or a great alternative model, they should go to Council and use their allotted 5 minutes to make their case to Council. Or write them a letter. Or Blog. This is what the public conversation looks like. I don’t want valuable staff time wasted holding evening “consultation” meetings for a half-baked plan that is not feasible, but this has hardly been a secretive process – both Mr. Eddy and I have seen the plans presented so far.

Third Mole: “Insider Mole” is an interesting accusation. I am afraid everything I know about this project comes from press accounts and reading the reports on the City’s website (and therefore, I am free to admit my knowledge of the project is incomplete), but I have worked for a consulting engineering firm and inside of a City Hall (not New West City Hall, mind you), so I can read between lines with more nuance than some. I am also out and about in the city a lot, so I have occasional conversations with Councillors or Staff, and am not afraid to ask them questions. Hey, I pay their wages, the poor people have to listen to me!

As for the inference that I am secretly working for the City (that’s what an “ insider mole” is, isn’t it?), I can only refer back to several posts on this same blog where I am highly critical of some of the moves this City has made (or refused to make). I call things as I see them, and that includes when I actually agree with the City as much as when i disagree with them.

PS: “Missed” the June 17th Newsleader Article?! I linked to it in the 10th paragraph of my post!

Forth (sic) Mole: I’m not one to challenge Tom Littlewood’s plans. I worked with Tom on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and he is indeed a visionary who loves to spread the good word about bicycles and safe cycling infrastructure. However, I think a ferry service is a very different consideration than a bridge.

A fixed bridge provides a reliable, permanent link between the communities, something the City and the burgeoning neighbourhoods of Queensborough can plan around in the long-term (and something the DAC funds were earmarked for). A ferry service (for all its benefits) does not provide this security. It may work great in 2013, but any number of factors (rising fuel costs, change in safety regulations, change in business interest of the owner, unexpected mechanical issues with the floating stock) could make it disappear in a flash. That is not the kind of transportation infrastructure one can plan a community around.

The example of TransLink cutting bus service to Port Royal is a perfect one – a quick business decision made, a transportation link is lost, and the community has no say. This is the biggest reason why I am such a big fan of the fixed bridge, I like to think of the long game when we are talking about building this community.

I don’t want to say more about Tom’s plan until I get a chance to talk to him about it, so I’ll leave it at that. Then maybe I’ll write a blog post about it and other alternatives to the bridge, as previously suggested.

Anyway, thanks for the comments, Mr. Eddy, and feel free to comment below if I have missed any points, or am missing something. You can even do it anonymously, if that suits you…