Ask Pat: Taxes – the western suburbs edition

westvandude asks—

I read your property tax comparison article as I was looking to compare West Vancouver to City of Vancouver taxes. For instance if we say what is the total tax paid on a $2.5 or $3 million house in either community (so property tax, garbage, sewer, water, etc) as I always thought City of Vancouver was more expensive…. when you compare Vancouver streets potholes and snow removal it seems Vancouverites are getting ripped off. Where would I find a comparison for total taxes for same value houses?

Hey, wait, this isn’t a New West question! It also sounds like you want me to answer one of those questions that a few minutes on Google could answer. That link I just used is a little old, but fresher information is pretty easy to find. For example:

Go to the City of Vancouver Property Taxes webpage, and it gives you a pretty good summary of what your Mil Rates are, and where they go:


Unfortunately, no such page exists that I can find on the West Vancouver property taxes webpage.


To find the Mil Rates, you need to dig a bit through the Bylaws until you come upon Bylaw No. 4885, 2016, where the Mil Rates Rates are set out:


If we can ignore Metro, School, and other property taxes that don’t go to the City and are set provincially or regionally, on a house assessed at $2.5 Million in 2016, you paid $3,700 to West Vancouver (2.5M/1,000 x 1.4758), and $3,900 to Vancouver (2.5/1,000 x 1.56168). Of course, we also have to, just for a moment, put aside the absurdity of the phrase “$2.5 Million house in West Vancouver”.

Utilities are more complicated. West Van charges Quarterly for water and sewer. Water has a $60/qtr base charge, and rates that go from $1.15 to $1.93 per cubic metre of water depending on how much you use. Sewerage further costs you $32/qtr plus another $2 per cubic metre of water you use.

Vancouver bills for water on a Ternary basis, with about a $31 base charge, and rates that go from $0.95 to $1.20 per cubic metre of water based on season. Sewage costs a further $0.87 per cubic metre of water use. So it sure looks like for most users, Vancouver water rates are quite a bit lower, but it depends completely on your use. If you have typical household use, Vancouver is several hundred dollars cheaper per year.

Notably, West Vancouver charges homeowners a “Drainage Levy”, which is $400 per year for a typical home. Vancouver does not have a charge like this. That extra $400 charge easily exceeds the difference in property taxes between the Cities. And also points out how the deeper you dig into the comparisons between how different cities pay for their public services, you discover that simply saying “Vancouver has higher taxes than West Vancouver” is a bit of a meaningless phrase. This is why I tried to compare what cities collect in taxes per capita, using data normalized a bit by the provincial government. West Van looks pretty expensive when you look at it that way.

Finally, about the roads and pothole thing, you can look at the 2016 West Van budget, and see they have about $100M in revenue every year, and spend about $4.5M on all engineering services (about 2/3 of that spent on roads). Vancouver’s 2016 Budget showed $1,260 Million in revenue and spending of about $75 Million in all engineering services – so about a 33% higher proportion of revenues. Of course, the roads that Vancouver spends money fixing are way more likely to be used regularly by a West Vancouver resident than vice versa. Also note that Vancouver has (almost) the most roads by area and the most road lane kilometres per capita than any City in British Columbia, where West Vancouver has relatively sparse roads. So we are, once again, comparing apples to pineapples here.

New West taxes? We are about average per-household in the region, and are well below average on a per-capita basis. And the potholes this year are terrible, despite the $4.5 Million spent on asphalt annually. That December snow event was pretty hard on asphalt, and that is going to cost us.

Ask Pat: Anvils and elephants

Duke of Belyea asks—

Hi Pat, perhaps the notion of the Anvil Center being a white elephant could be dispelled if you or the City could show the actual revenue/expense numbers for the facility.

First, on the premise, I disagree with you. Second, on the solution, I wish it was that simple.

I do not think critics of the Anvil Centre (or indeed critics of Council) will ever be convinced that it is anything but a white elephant. Specific residents of Coquitlam will write occasional long-winded factually-challenged screeds to the Record for some time, using the Anvil as an example of New Westminster’s failures, regardless of any success seen around or within the Anvil. That is just political bullshit theatre we need to live with, and facts will not change it, because the Anvil is more than building, it is a totem around which previous elections were fought and lost. Some people never stop fighting yesterday’s battles.

The premise further relies on measuring the success or failure of Anvil on a balance sheet of effort-in & revenue-out. I simply don’t see it that way. To explain that, we need to clarify what the Anvil is, and what a City does.

For one building, The Anvil Centre has purposes to fill a long paragraph (noting, for full disclosure, that I was not on Council when these conversations and decisions were made):

The Office Tower was conceived as an economic driver for Downtown, but since the City sold it off for more than it cost to build (success?), the City no longer had much say in how it is operated. The owners have every right to set their rent and manage their incentives any way they see fit, regardless of whether it serves the larger purposes of the City. The restaurant space is finally leased, and although later than we may have liked, I think we will have an operating restaurant that fills a niche in the City, brings attention to Columbia and 8th, and becomes a revenue driver for the City. I’m not sure how you measure the success of the shift of the Museum, Archives, and Lacrosse Hall of Fame to this venue. They have been relocated from various other locations to a central cultural hub, which also freed up space in those other venues. The New Media Gallery has quickly become one of the region’s most important artistic venues, drawing visitors and raves from around the region. Conference services are on or ahead of target for bookings and revenues, the program at the Theatre is (slowly) coming along, and the numerous arts and culture programs on the 4th floor are similarly starting to fulfill the original vision for activating the Arts in our City. All of these tangible purposes are wrapped up in the larger benefit of turning a windfall (the DAC funding) into a community asset to replace a failing retail strip at the renewed gateway to our central business district.

This brings us to your solution to the inevitable political push-back: a simple spreadsheet that outlines the costs and recoveries from the Anvil. I suppose it is doable, as the City’s Financial Plan and backing documents are openly reported, and every input and output is buried in those spreadsheets somewhere. But it would be really complicated, simply because the Anvil is not a single entity operating separate from the rest of the City.

The museum and archives have always cost money to operate; moving them to the Anvil doesn’t change that. The old Hall of Fame site is now home to a very popular and revenue-generating recreation program: is that success part of the Anvil, though it is located at the Centennial Community Centre? The City’s Arts Programmer works out of the Anvil, but also administers the City’s Public Art program, which is funded through a combination of fees, sales revenues, and taxes – how does that balance sheet overlap with Anvil’s? Even the Conference Services, which are a revenue-generation aspect of the Anvil, share resources with other departments (especially the theatre and our catering contractor), and rely on an integrated operation to be successful. There are staff who spend part of their time doing Anvil-related things, and part of their time working at other facilities, just as the toilet paper and photocopier toner at Anvil are bought as part of City-wide operations. The tax revenue for the office tower is higher than it was when the space was a one-story retail space, but that tax enters general revenue, and needs to be measured against opportunity cost if a private developer had taken over that site… the list goes on.

I guess it sounds like I am creating a list of excuses of why not, instead of addressing your original concern. Lyrical gentlemen from Coquitlam will accuse me of “spinning” the facts here for political reasons – the same way they would accuse any spreadsheet produced of doing the same thing. So if you want a spreadsheet to solve a political problem, I suggest it won’t work. So why spend valuable staff time producing it?

I tend to agree with one idea buried in your premise, and maybe an answer to that last question: we need to find a better way to share our financial information in the City. Although all reporting is “open”, I am afraid our efforts towards “transparency” is a little clouded by the complicated way that Public Service Accounting Standards are regulated and performed. Even as a City Councillor exposed to this stuff all day, I am sometimes challenged to create connections between line items in spreadsheets. There is a lot of Accountant Talk here, and with all due respect to the profession, they are no better than others at explaining to lay people just what the hell they are doing. I’m not sure what the answer is from a public engagement viewpoint, but suspect (hope?) we can do better. I’m just not sure it will ever be enough to satisfy some Letter-to-the-Editor authors, and maybe that shouldn’t be our goal. However, we do need to find ways to translate our financial reporting so residents and businesses can be confident that their money is being spent wisely.

I am pretty sure of one thing: any honest accounting would reveal the City spends more money on operations at the Anvil than it receives in revenue from Anvil operations. Just as it spends more money on the Canada Games Pool than revenue earned, or the all-weather playing field at Queens Park, or the Queensborough Community Centre, or the Library. I suppose there is a discussion that could be had about which of these operations community assets would need to show a financial profit to be considered “successful” in the City, but I don’t think that is where you were going with this question.

I also think there are improvements we can do to make Anvil run better, especially in opening up the first floor to more public use and making the entire centre more inviting. That is an ongoing discussion, and one very much worth having.

Council – March 6, 2017

We had quite a long agenda on the March 6th Council Meeting, although a large number of items on that agenda went by on Consent. It is worth looking at least at the table of contents to see all the things we *didn’t* talk about.

The evening began with two very made-in-New Westminster events: the selection of the 2017 May Queen and Royal Suite, then a discussion of design guidelines for the proposed Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area, which will be going to public consultation, so I won’t go through them here.

The following items were moved on Consent:

City of New Westminster Public Art Plan Development
The City has a nascent Public Art program, funded through a reserve fund, overseen by a Public Art Advisory Committee, and has become more sophisticated in how it manages the role of introducing art to our public spaces. However, we don’t have a well-developed plan or strategy to look at the program holistically, which limits us to ad-hoc decision making when it comes to installing pieces.

Council approved the plan to develop a Public Art Plan for the City to synchronize it with the broader Art Strategy for the City.

Request from Hyack Festival Association to re-allocate 2017 Festival Grant funding awarded for Hyack Grand Prix to 2017 Parade Float
The Hyack Festival Association is working through some of the details of their evolving festival in May, and have come up with some interesting events to bolster their work on the Hyack Parade and all of Hyack Week. As they are pushing their envelope a little bit to make the week better for the community, I am happy to give them the flexibility to adjust how they use the funds granted to them under the Festival Grants to make everything work better. Notably, they expect to save some money on a slightly stripped-down Hyack Grand Prix event, and re-allocate it to the Parade and Float program. This is not an expansion of their Grant or an exceedance of the Festival Grant budget, but a shifting between events.

Community Heritage Commission Resignation and Appointment
The CHC changed meeting schedules, and as a result one member was no longer able to serve due to conflicts. Another applicant from the 2016 call has therefore been asked to step in. Council moved to appoint Lynn (2015 New Westminster Citizen of the Year) Radbourne to the CHC.

Moody Park Residents’ Association Representative on the Neighbourhood Traffic Advisory Committee
The NTAC is a different kind of Council Advisory Committee, as it is comprised of appointees from the City’s 10 Residents’ Associations and the Quayside Community Board. Council does, however, need to approve the appointee offered by the RA, which we just did for the Moody Park RA representative.

Restorative Justice Committee Amendment to Terms of Reference
DoneThe Terms of this Council Advisory committee was amended to include a space for a representative of the New Westminster Victim Assistance Association
Board. Makes sense.

1319 Third Avenue (Steel and Oak): Increase of Seating Capacity
This is part of a long process Steel & Oak has gone through to expand their business plan within the strange, new world of Craft Brewing in BC. The industry is exciting, although it does tend to run up against archaic rules and bureaucracy at every level of government – City not exempted. Part of this is puritan laws around alcohol production and sales, part of it is inflexible ideas in City Planning about separating “manufacturing” and “industry” from commercial and retail areas. Council moved to allow an expansion in their permit to allow 30 seats in their current space. I may have a whole lot more to say about this in a future blog post, if I find time to write it.

700 Royal Avenue (Douglas College): Development Variance Permit No. DVP00623 to vary Sign Bylaw requirements – Consideration of Issuance
Proposed new signage at Douglas College is completely in scale and compatible with their building, but does not meet the strict guidelines of our Sign Bylaw. Council therefore granted them a variance, recognizing they are not a “typical” building, and that their sign will not be obtrusive and is within the intent of the Bylaw, if not the strict letter.

100 Braid Street (466 Rousseau Street) Urban Academy: Development Permit – Consideration of Issuance
Urban Academy continues on its long journey to design a new building to provide long-term sustainability to their school.

As far as zoning and land use requirements, the proposed building meets all of the permitted uses, density, height, etc., which may not be surprising as those limits were developed as part of the OCP amendment and Rezoning specifically for this plan. It is good to know that the detailed design is worked out, and the Public Consultation was generally supportive of the project, at least through a well-attended Residents’ Association meeting. Perhaps surprisingly, the Public Open House, which was advertised with two ads in the newspaper, on the City website, at the school site, through the RA mailing list, and through mailing our advisory flyers to 850 residences in Sapperton, attracted exactly one resident.

Council moved to issue the Development Permit application.

425 Columbia Street (Columbia SkyTrain Station): Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 – Request for Exemption
The good news: you may soon have cellular access in Columbia SkyTrain Station and the tunnel parts of the SkyTrain through New West. The bad news: the bulk of the installation work will need to happen at night while trains are not running, meaning a bit of night-time construction noise.

Council moved to approve a Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption to facilitate these works between March 8 and 24, on the condition that notices are posted at the adjacent residential buildings with contact numbers.

295 Francis Way (Parcel O): Housing Agreement (295 Francis Way) Bylaw No. 7909, 2017 and 
Housing Agreement (295 Francis Way) Amendment Bylaw No. 7910, 2017
The project at 294 Francis Way in Victoria Hill is a 5-story residential building where the developer has agreed to build dedicated and permanently protected rental. Aside from the 85 “Market Rental” suites in the building (where rents are rented for whatever value the market will bear), there are 100 suites that are “Non-Market” Rental – housing offered at below –market rates to protect an affordable housing stock. The two housing agreements that would secure these statuses were approved for third reading by Council.

East Tenth Avenue at Cumberland and Coquitlam Street Intersections (Metro Vancouver Regional District Watermain Project): Construction Noise Bylaw No. 6063, 1992 – Request for Exemption
The good news: we are connecting our new Tenth Ave water main into the Douglas Road water main, meaning you will continue to receive clean, fresh, and safe water in New West through updated infrastructure. Bad News: there is a chance some of the work will stretch into the weekend of March 19th, meaning a bit of construction noise outside of permitted times. And yeah, there will be some traffic disruption as well.

Council moved to approve a Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption to facilitate these works on March 19th in case the work extends that long, on the condition that notices are provided to local residents.

Update on Improvements to the Rotary Crosstown Greenway (5th – 8th Street) for Walking and Cycling
This report is just to inform Council of some work that our Transportation staff have been doing in consultation with the ACTBiPed to improve an underwhelming stretch of the Crosstown Greenway. The part between Moody Park and an Fifth Street could be made a lot better, as there is a wide expanse of pavement, and very little car traffic other than access to local driveways for several buildings. The plan is to put in true separated bike lanes, which is actually the easy part. There is a bunch of complicated detail about how driveways will cross and what to do at intersections and with the problematic power poles that are actually in the street along part of the route.

The design that has been put together seems to balance many needs very well, and was generally supported by the ACTBiPed, however, the residents of the area are also going to be consulted. This report let Council know about the consultation.

Update on the Sapperton Transportation Plan
This is a big planning project the residents of Sapperton have been (mostly) patiently waiting for. Sapperton has required a comprehensive look at their various traffic and parking issues for a few years. With the RCH expansion project planned, initial stages of the Brewery District coming on line, the “temporary” diversion at Alberta Street, a significant collection of data, and the MOTI Brunette interchange project proposal, it is a good time to take a look at this. Early stakeholder and a first community meeting on the issues and concerns went great, with a “throw spaghetti at the wall” idea session, but the real work starts now. There will be another meeting on or around April 8 – keep an eye out.

Pedestrian Crossing Improvement Program
This report lists the priority pedestrian crossing program for 2017 and gives some idea of priority projects for 2018. One thing I am really proud of in my term on Council is the work our Engineering staff have done, led by our Transportation Manager and the Mayor’s Transportation Taskforce to *prioritize* transportation capital spending and to roll out rational improvement plans like this, based on the guidance of the Master Transportation Plan. $250,000 in 2017 to design and build tangible improvements to the pedestrian realm in our residential neighbourhoods, that’s a big deal for a small city like New West.

Hopefully your pet peeve crosswalk is on the list. If not, let us know, and we can add yours to the evaluation list for next year.

Temporary Relocation of Queen’s Park Arenex Programs and Services Update
The loss of the Arenex has been disruptive for the many programs it hosted, and our staff are working hard to find alternative arrangements for the users. This just brings an update on further programs that have found homes, and a few that have not.

This is probably also a good time to ask you to answer a quick survey question about the Arenex replacement. Go here, click., it literally takes 30 seconds to complete this simple survey.

260 Twelfth Street (Calvary Worship Centre and John Knox Christian School): Rezoning from Public and Institutional Districts (Medium Rise) (P-2) to Comprehensive Development Districts (260 Twelfth Street) (CD-68) – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
This is a report on a planned private school to be built on the current Calvary Worship Centre property on the corner of 3rd Ave and Twelfth Street. It is a pretty significant project for that neighbourhood, so you might want to take a look at this proposal. The project will go to Public Hearing on March 27, so I will hold my comments until then.

350 Johnston Street: Development Variance Permit No. DVP00621 for Frontage – Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
This is a relatively simple request to provide a Development Variance to allow the subdivision of a lot on Johnstone Street (no relation) in Queensborough. The lot here (like many in Queensborough) is longer than average, so subdivision means the front of the subdivided properties will not be the required 10% of circumference of the lots, necessitating the DVP. It will go to an Opportunity to be Heard on March 27th. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

408 – 412 East Columbia Street: Rezoning and Development Permit for Proposed Six-Storey Mixed-Use Retail, Office and Residential Rental Building – Preliminary Report
This project is for a 6-story building on a long-vacant lot on East Columbia in Sapperton, with a mix of commercial, office and residential space. This project is very early in the process, as this is the first time it has been in front of all of Council. There will be panel reviews, committee reviews, and full public consultation with the Residents’ Association and the entire community. Council moved to send it out for these various reviews. I am interested to see the community reaction to this proposal.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion at Council:

2017 Pavement Management Update
This winter was tough on our roads. No secret there, and there is a lot of that going around the lower mainland. New West has 227km of roads, and asset worth about $160 Million. This report provides some idea of what the medium-term maintenance costs are for maintenance and improvement of our roads. It isn’t pretty.

Up until about 2006, the City was underfunding its pavement maintenance program, allowing the roads to age and eventually degrade to a point that serious catch-up was required. Steady increases in the amount of road repair done in the intervening decade has seen some improvement (although it is the major roads where much of this work has been concentrated, the small residential streets have seen less improvement). Then a winter like this comes along, boosting the need for repairs to prevent further degradation of the substructure road base – like most things in life, a little repair now delays the need for expensive bottom-up replacement in upcoming years.

This is a good time to remind people that New Westminster has a disproportionately large amount of its land covered with roads when comparted to our municipal neighbours. Roads don’t pay taxes, and it takes a lot of your local tax dollars to repair them. Quick back-of the envelope estimate is that this plan means $65 per person in New West per year (or $170 per household) goes towards putting asphalt down and keeping it repaired.

This report was just for information, but the clear message is that the budget for road repairs is likely to be going up.

Amendment to Subdivision Control Bylaw Schedule “B” Design
Criteria Section 6 Lighting and Traffic Signals

This Bylaw regulates how lights are installed in the City when they are being installed by someone other than the City. When larger developments build in the City, we generally ask them to make the street and lighting improvements in front of their building as part of the project. With new technologies – notably the ubiquity of LED lights – some changes to our standards were needed. This Bylaw amendment will facilitate that update.

Access Ability Advisory Committee: Inclusion & Promotion of Accessibility Information at Public Events
This comes from work that the New West Pride Society did last year to assure the accessibility of their week-long festival and street fest. They did some amazing work as a group of community volunteers, performing accessibility audits of all two dozen or so of their event locations, trying to make them as accessible as possible, and more importantly – adding comprehensive accessibility information on all of their locations to all advertising and promotions for their event – so people who may have barriers know what to expect.

They really raised the bar on accessibility at their event, and hope that other organizations can use their database of location audits to also promote accessibility at their events. Actually, they are asking that the City make inclusion and promotion of accessibility a part of all public events the City either promotes or financially supports.

The recommendation from the Access Ability Advisory Committee (which I Chair – full disclosure) asked that Council support “encouraging” groups to include this information in their programming, I added to the motion by adding a referral to staff and the Festivals Committee to work on developing a policy supporting these principles, and bring those policy recommendations back to Council. I want to see accessibility part of our evaluation process for events we support as a City.

Proposed Energy Step Code for Building Energy Efficiency: Scope and Next Steps for Implementation
The province has been working on a new building code for building energy efficiency, formerly called the “Stretch Code”, now the “Step Code”. They are looking at allowing Cities to “opt in” to applying the code for new builds in the City. I am in support of New West opting into an enhanced energy efficiency code when this program is better developed and the Province provides that opportunity, but this report is just outlining the potential steps ahead.

It is amazing what can get done when Local governments and the province work collaboratively and carefully towards better governance.

We then had a ton of Presentations and Delegations – Two and a half hours worth! There was lots of good stuff there, and many interesting conversations, but I’m afraid I can’t explain them all here. Watch the video!

We then went through our usual Bylaws,/b> shuffle, which someone really should set to music one day.

Zoning Amendment (260 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No. 7905, 2017
The zoning amendment to support the John Know Private School was given two readings. A Public Hearing will be held March 27th. C’mon out and tell us what you think!

Housing Agreement (295 Francis Way – Affordable Non-Market) Amendment Bylaw No. 7910, 2017
Housing Agreement (295 Francis Way – Market Rental) Bylaw No. 7909, 2017
These Bylaws that create the housing agreements securing rentals for the new building in Victoria Hill were given three readings each.

Subdivision Control Amendment Bylaw No. 7908, 2017
This Bylaw update that regulates lighting design standards for the City was given three readings.

Five-Year Financial Plan (2017-2021) Bylaw No. 7906, 2017
Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 7901, 2017

These Bylaws that formalize our 5-year Financial Plan and set our Electrical Rates for another year were each adopted. They are the Law of the Land – please adjust your behavior accordingly.

And except for a few announcements, that was the evening. We got out just at 10, which was early enough for me to catch up at the pub after with these folks! Still love them, although they are Easterners now.

Council – February Feb 20, 2017

If feel like I am very busy these days, but we had a remarkably short Council Meeting on February 20th. So short, that I was actually home in time to cook dinner for MsNWimby, which I think is a first for my time on Council. We had a longer Workshop during the day, which I will try to blog about later…

Like most meetings that are the last of the month, this one featured a Public Hearing on a single project (but two bylaws):

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (720 Second Street) Bylaw No. 7887, 2017
Heritage Designation (720 Second Street) Bylaw No. 7888, 2017

This project would see the 1912 corner store at Second Street and Durham Street in Glenbrook North restored to its vernacular Edwardian glory and converted back to its original layout: commercial at the ground floor with a small family home above. In exchange for restoration and permanent protection of the building, the owner is applying for a subdivision of the lot to build a relatively small Craftsman-style bungalow on the other half of the lot.

The Heritage Commission and Advisory Planning Commission approved of the project, and there was a generally positive response to the plan from the residents’ association. We received 3 written submissions in response to this application, one opposed to the subdivision, but in favour of the heritage restoration, and two concerned about the impact on street parking. We also had three presentations at the Public Hearing, the proponent (who was in favour), a neighbour with questions regarding potential commercial uses and the heritage value of the building (but not necessarily opposed), and one neighbour who expressed support for the project.

Council moved to refer these Bylaws to the regular council meeting which immediately followed:

Our Regular Agenda began with the Bylaws referred from the above Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (720 Second Street) Bylaw No. 7887, 2017
Heritage Designation (720 Second Street) Bylaw No. 7888, 2017

This project was pretty easy to support for me, and it seems my Council colleagues agreed. There is a heritage win in preserving a building that seemed important to the neighbourhood, there is a great potential that the space will be turned into a neighbourhood daycare, which is in desperately short supply in New Westminster, an the infill density (the proponent is turning one converted house into a commercial space, a similar-sized house, and two rental suites) will include some more affordable options in a very family-friendly neighbourhood.

The one concern I have heard was the impact on street parking. The residential buildings will have off-street parking to meet their needs, but the commercial parking will indeed impact street parking availability. I did a quick Google Earth Survey, and calculated that of the 29 residential houses within 100m of this property, one is under construction, and the rest share no less than 29 indoor parking spots and 45 outdoor off-street parking spots. I am not compelled to believe there is a lack of parking on this block, at least not enough that I am going to say no to much-needed daycare spaces in the neighbourhood.

Council voted unanimously to give these bylaws third reading.

This was followed by an Opportunity to be Heard on a Development Variance:

Development Variance Permit DVP00620 for 100 Braid Street (466 Rousseau Street)
You might remember the Urban Academy / Wesgroup plan for the 100 Braid Street site. The school wants to get building, but the other lot, where 100 Braid Studios is, is not slated for demolition for some time; potentially a few years yet. Unfortunately, if it stays there, it will be too close to the lot line created by the subdivision, and the subdivision is needed to move the school project forward. Such is government.

The easiest solution here is to allow the building a variance from the applicable zoning law, so it can remain closer to the lot line than would regularly be allowed. No-one came to the Opportunity to be Heard to talk to the variance, and our staff have reviewed it and cannot think of any good reason for us to say no.

Council voted unanimously to approve the variance.

We then had a Report from staff:

Train Whistle Cessation Update
This was a lengthy update on the progress made by the City in getting trains in the City to stop blowing their whistles at every crossing. We recently passed a resolution deeming the crossings along Front Street (at Begbie and under the east end of the Parkade) whistle-free, and the rail operators have until the beginning of March to change their practices. Downtown should get quitter then. Two down, we have 20 more crossings in the City to deal with.

The crossings we anticipate being done in 2017 are in Sapperton just below the foot of Cumberland, and on River Drive near the Queensborough Bridge. Assuming the required equipment is delivered on time and there isn’t any certification SNAFUs, the Quayside Drive crossing should also be done by the end of 2017. The crossings along Ewen in Queensborough should be worked on in 2018, as the geometry of many of the intersections create some issues that need yet to be worked out to Southern Rail’s satisfaction.

The other two Sapperton crossings are in pause mode right now, as their final work will depend on the outcome of two other projects. In the cast of the Spruce Street crossing, the alternate access to Sapperton Station needs to be developed, and in the case of Braid, the Brunette Interchange Project will obviously impact the work to be done.

The City has committed $3.75 Million in capital works for these projects, including $2 Million in 2017. We are committed to doing the work, and are confident we will get there, but if you are frustrated by the pace, I share your feelings. It sounds slow, I know, but this is a terribly complicated process, involving two levels of government, four separate rail operators, and a trainload of standards and regulations to work through. However, we now have a website dedicated to the project, which will be regularly updated so you can keep track of progress. We are getting there.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Hyack Festival Association request for additional funding for the 2017 Parade Float program
The new Festival Committee (of which I am a member) reviewed the request brought to Council in January for an extra $30,000 of Festival Grant funds to expand their float program and support and expanded Qayqayt Howl event as part of Hyack Week.

As the 2017 grants were awarded by the previous Festivals Committee, the new committee reviewed the applications from Hyack Festival Association in light of the available funds, and the decisions made by the previous committee. The committee had to say no to several organizations, as the $225,000 budget was exceeded by over $300,000 in requests. The new committee saw no reason to change the allocations provided to the community groups, and as much as we would like to say Yes to everyone, there is a reason we set a budget and try to stick to it. Hyack was provided $61,800 in grants (out of a request for $101,800), and the new Festival Committee agreed that this was a fair and prudent award based on the terms of the Grants.

234 Second Street (Queen’s Park): Heritage Alteration Permit No. 083 to Permit New House Construction – Council Consideration
This is the other side of the Heritage Conservation Period in Queens Park. Not only do requests for demolition have to come through Council, some new house construction also need to meet the (previously optional) heritage guidelines set up for the community, and Council needs to approve the building plans. We did so.

This is not an idea process the way it is, but the Heritage Conservation Period is temporary, and hopefully there will be smoother processes developed as part of a future and permanent Heritage Conservation Area, assuming the community and Council decide to go that way. Please think about attending one of the open houses coming in early March if this issue is important to you!

Queen’s Park Conservation Area Regional Stakeholder Consultation
We also need to consult with other affected agencies around the region when we make changes like introducing a Heritage Conservation Area. This report simply outlines the agencies that will and will not be consulted.

Financial Plan, 2017-2021
I really need to sit down and write some more on the update Financial Plan. It has been through public consultation, we have reviewed the capital plan at some detail, we have projected tax rates, this is now the Bylaw that supports that plan. Council agreed to give it three readings.

2016 Filming Activity Update
Filming for TV and movies is a big deal in New West, and growing. We had 203 filming days in the City, and the City moved about $900,000 in revenue from those film permits. His doesn’t mean the City made $900,000 in profits. In reality, filming is pretty close to a break-even prospect, as most of that revenue is collected specifically to pay for engineering folks and police to arrange road closures, providing various services like fire inspection, paying our film coordinator to help coordinate the permitting processes, rentals to pay for lost parking revenue in the event parking meters are blocked, and things like that.

This number also does not include the economic spin-offs, from private property owners earning rental fees to allow film companies to use their houses or business properties, or the various service companies that exist to source to the film industry. Nor does it take into account the millions of dollars in wages paid to New Westminster residents every year from the film industry.

A single item was Removed from Consent so that a speech could be made about it.

2017/2018 Electrical Utility Rates Bylaw No. 7901, 2017
Our electricity rates are going up to match the cost of electricity that we purchase from BC Hydro to power our utility, based on the long-established policy of the City. Under that policy, New West customers (system-wide) pay the same rate as BC Hydro customers, and the city uses the difference between the wholesale rate way pay for power and the retail rate to run the system, and return the profits to the City’s coffers to offset taxes.

BC Hydro rates are going up 3.5% on April 1, so New Westminster rates are going up 3.5%.

After this, we went through our regular Bylaws ritual:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2017-2021) Bylaw No. 7906, 2017
This Bylaw that makes our 2017-2022 Financial Plan the law of the land was given three readings.

Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw No. 7901, 2017
This Bylaw that formalizes the increase in electrical rates to math BC Hydro increases was given three readings.

And aside for a few announcements, that was a meeting.

Census 2016 (part 1)

The 2016 Census data is starting to trickle out. I’m not sure if it is for dramatic effect, or if different data sets require different massaging levels, but the info you and I provided Stats Can in 2016 will be released in several stages through 2017. The first tranche, released this week, is population and residential dwelling count per census tract, along with numbers that can be calculated from those, like population change since 2011, population density, and residential vacancy rate.

…from Canada Census website.

It should be no surprise to anyone that New Westminster is growing. Just a little under 71,000 people called New Westminster home in 2016. In terms of population growth, New Westminster grew about 7.6% over those 5 years (which works out to an average of about 1.2% increase per year). This rate of growth is above the average for Vancouver (6.4%), BC (5.6%), and Canada (5%).

There is a website called CensusMapper where the raw census data is popped into a map of census tracts as it becomes available, providing quick analysis opportunities for data geeks (like me).

Density is a simple measure of the number of residents per square kilometre, and density is one area where New Westminster leads the nation (by some estimates, we are the 4th or 6th densest Municipality in Canada). This s a result of several factors, including us having a relatively small land base (only 11 square kilometres), 150+ years of being the centre of expanding hinterlands that created their own local governments, and our being largely built out as an urban community. It is no surprise that Downtown and the Brow are the densest parts of the City, Queens Park and the industrial areas the least dense:

INSERT DENSITY 1 (image extracted from
Population Density, persons per square km. (image extracted from

There are a few things off with this presentation, as the census tracts include areas like the river and park land, so the east half of Queens Park neighbourhood is shown as less dense than the west half, which does not necessarily reflect the true residential density differences on either side of Second Street. In the image below, I highlighted in orange a downtown tract that is biased by including the river – without the river, it may be darker purple like the adjacent tracts.

INSERT DENSITY 1 (image extracted from
Population Density persons per square km. (image extracted from

Finally, there are some interesting patterns in the Population Growth plot. It is clear (and not surprising) that growth is not evenly distributed throughout the City. We have been building a lot of family-friendly ground-oriented “missing middle” housing in Queensborough, and that has led to predictable growth. Areas where we have towers and other forms of multi-family dwelling are growing, with only very moderate growth in the West End and other single family neighbourhoods. The only surprise is that the Connaught Heights neighbourhood, during significant regional growth driving an ongoing housing crisis, somehow shrank in population.

INSERT Popgrowth (image extracted from
Percentage population gr0wth, 2011-2016 (image extracted from

This is a concern. Both our City’s long-range planning and the regional planning documents depend on concentrating growth along rapid transit lines, for a variety of sustainability and livability reasons. We have slower growth around Braid and Sapperton Stations than in the relative transit desert of Queensborough, and actual population loss around 22nd Street Station. Keep this in mind as we discuss the OCP in the months ahead.

Council – Feb. 6, 2017

The February 6 meeting of Council started with a series of presentations, including a discussion of the City’s Budget, and an Opportunity for Public Comment on the topic.

Draft 2017-2021 Financial Plan
As regular readers (Hi Mom!) will be aware, the City annually approves a budget in a form that is regulated by the provincial government. Those regulations require us to prepare a 5-year financial plan, and for the budget to be balanced. As part of the lengthy public process, this is the third or fourth time parts of this plan have come to Council, and there have been ongoing requests for public input from Council, on the City Page, and on the City’s website. Considering the importance, we get remarkably little feedback or constructive criticism from the public on this.

I will write further blogs in the upcoming weeks about the 5-Year Financial Plan, and the Bylaw that sets the Property Tax levels for 2017 will be coming back to Council next month. This will result in further conversation, I’m sure.

We had one person take the opportunity to present to Council on the 5-Year Plan, and I wanted to touch on some issues he raised. First, we are not hosts of “one of the highest Property Taxes in Metro”. Our average is 11th out of 22 local governments in the Metro Vancouver area, and our taxes per capita and per household are both below the average (here is a post I wrote last year, and another one, both covering this topic). I have also done a comparison (although this is a couple of years ago) looking at MLS housing values across the region and how our Mil rate compares, and again, we are right around average for almost every tax class. Second, the City is not permitted to run a deficit; we need to balance our budget every year. We are, however, allowed to borrow money, and we are allowed to put money in reserves. Currently, we have about $65 Million in outstanding debt that we are paying off. We also have a little more than $120 Million in our long term investments and in the bank as cash. If we were to cash in our savings and pay off our debt, we would be up more than $50 Million. However, that would not be a great long-term strategy for the City’s finances.

Quayside Park Redevelopment – Preferred Design Option Overview
The playground at Quayside Park (where the Expo86-era model submarine is) needs to be removed, because there is a major storm drainage line under it that is failing. Replacing that line is not an option, it needs to happen, and excavating around the park is the only reasonable way to do it.

Fortunately, the park itself is nearing the end of its design life, and doesn’t really meet modern standards for such a valuable amenity for the Quayside community. Our Parks staff have done a year of design and public consultation on this topic, and this report shows the preferred design that came form that process. Works will occur this spring, with the park out of service for a couple of months, but back in much improved order by June.

2016 Year-End Strategic Initiative Status
We received short updates on four of this Council’s Priority Initiatives, which are all making progress, although some of this progress is less visible than might be expected (hence these reports):

1. Arts Strategy: There is a lot going on in the City in the arts, between developments at the Anvil to activate the public space and programs, advancement of our Public art program, and strengthening of our partnerships with organizations from the Arts Council to Massey Theatre Society. The strategy has gone through a considerable amount of public discussion and is coming together, expected to come to Council in a draft form in the spring.

2. Truck Route Strategy: The City has tried to shift trucks to peripheral routes in the City for several years. This is not something the City has complete control over, but requires regional cooperation. We are cooperating well with TransLink and Surrey on the Pattullo Bridge project, and with Coquitlam on the Brunette Interchange project. We have also had discussions with the Port about sharing their GPS truck destination data, hoping to use that to developing data-based solutions to help with traffic flow. A work in progress…

3. Economic Development Strategy: We recently reviewed the Business Survey the City performed, which is an important part of data gathering for this strategy. There is also an event coming up in late February – Innovation Week – that will bring many aspects of the City’s ED file together with a broad group of partners to develop ideas about how Innovation will change our economic development, and our City in general.

4. Riverfront Greenway: The long-standing dream of connecting the Pier Park to Brunette Landing Park with a pedestrian and cycling route along the river is getting some legs beneath it (pun! I’m on fire today!). There are some significant engineering challenges here, including the general paucity of space for a trail between the Railways’ wide buffer zone, steep slopes above and below Front Street, and a river with large tide fluctuations. Then we need to thread the needle through or around a couple of bridges. We are hoping the Pattullo replacement project provides some opportunity to develop a collaborative design. So, not much more than a few lines on a map right now, but the momentum is definitely there.

Before those presentation, the following agenda items were moved on consent:

City of New Westminster Poet Laureate 2017-2020 Appointment
Welcome Alan Hill to the role of Poet Laureate, the fourth person to hold that position since the role was created. I am impressed by Alan’s work, and by his vision for making the written and spoken work a bigger part of our City’s arts scene. He also happens to be a great guy raising a family in Glenbrook North. Congratulations, Alan, and I look forward to seeing you at Civic Events!

630 Ewen Avenue: Official Community Plan Amendment and Rezoning from Queensborough Residential Dwelling Districts (RQ-1) to Comprehensive Dwelling Districts (630 Ewen Avenue)(CD-70)
This is a project to develop supported housing in Queensborough as part of the City’s larger affordable housing strategy. At this point, the project requires an OCP amendment and Rezoning. Council approved moving this through to the Public Process that will include committee reviews, public open house, Public Hearing, etc.

43 Hastings Street: Road Closure and Dedication Removal Bylaw – Council Consideration of First, Second and Third Readings; Zoning Amendment Bylaw – Council Consideration of First and Second Readings
This is another project to develop affordable housing, this time in Downtown. At this time, the project requires a closure of an unopened road portion, which (like most everything we do) requires a Bylaw. Council approved sending this to first and second readings.

Queen’s Park Working Group: Terms of Reference – Amendment to Add an Additional Member
This move resulted from discussions about how to manage succession planning in the working group, as its mandate has been extended since it was first put together, and the Queens Park Residents’ Association membership has changed. There is a balance here between making sure stakeholders are represented and losing momentum that has been generated by three years of working collaboratively.

After a rather exciting Presentation and Delegation period, which you need to watch on video to enjoy (seriously, it is worth going to 1:42:00 in the video and watching 5 or 10 minutes), the following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2017 New Westminster Pipe Band Community Grant Request
Something apparently went wrong with this application, and the Pipe Band was not included in the review of grants that took place in the fall. This puts us in a difficult situation, as their $3,000 request was not assessed alongside the other Community Grant applications the Community reviewed, and I don’t know how they would view this request had they received it. The Community Grant Committee had $115,000 in grant requests, and had to say no to $67,000 in requests. There were 7 organizations had their grants refused outright and several others received significantly less than they requested. However, this organization does have a long history of successfully applying the Grant to their program. Council, attempting to divine the desires of a committee that no longer meets, and recognizing  it was likely a paperwork SNAFU that put us in this situation, approved granting them the same amount the group received in previous years, which is less than they requested, but should continue to support their program.

215 Manitoba Street (Queen’s Park): Heritage Alteration Permit No. 82 to Permit New Construction – For Council Consideration
This is a follow up to the first demolition permit the City issued in Queens Park during the Heritage Control Period. Council approved the demolition after receiving reports that indicated the house had little heritage value, and that no significant loss of neighbourhood heritage values would result from its demolition. However, the replacement home requires a Heritage Alteration permit, which means it need to meet the rather strict Queen’s Park Historic District Residential Design Guidelines.

The replacement as proposed meets those guidelines, and also requires no variances from the current RS-1 zoning as far as size, FSR, height or such. The project was recommended for approval by the Heritage Commission and the Technical Review Panel.

Train Whistle Cessation at the Begbie Street and Front Street Crossings
The endless adventure continues. The engineering work for Whistle Cessation on the Begbie and Front Street crossings downtown is complete (at a cost of just over $1 Million to the City), we only need to go through the paperwork exercises. By passing this resolution, we are formally serving notice to the rail operators under the Railway Safety Act. They have 30 days to comply. Assuming no surprises, whistles should stop sounding in Downtown New Westminster as soon as March.

2017 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level
It is a bit early to start planning for the 2017 Freshet, but despite our wintry winter, provincial snowpacks were mostly at or below average levels at the beginning of January. The notable exceptions are the South Coast and Lower Fraser Valley, which are 14% and 11% above average – and note this is before this week’s extra snowpocalypse events. Lots of snow is yet to fall across the province, and so much of freshet risk is related to how quickly it melts as opposed to how much there, but no need to worry yet.

Environment Advisory Committee: Corporate Sustainable Food Policy
This discussion grew organically (pun!) out of discussions at the Environment Advisory Committee. Food security and the impact of our food choices on the environment were part of the discussion, and there was some concern that City Hall doesn’t appear to be taking a leadership role in this regard in how we provide food at City functions and facilities. The committee started with the simple question: are the ubiquitous tropical fruits and cured meats the most sustainable choices for City Hall meetings? It definitely expanded beyond that narrow topic to thoughts of developing more of a corporate-wide policy about food.

I think this is a discussion worth having as part of our City’s larger Environmental vision, and am happy to support the Committee’s recommendation

We then did our regular run through of Bylaws that needed Council action:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Hastings Street Unzoned Right of Way) No. 7899, 2017
Road Closure and Dedication Removal (43 Hastings Street) Bylaw No. 7898, 2017
These Bylaws that support the closure and rezoning of an unopened road portion in Downtown, so they can be included in an Affordable Housing Project, were given two readings.

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Bylaw No. 7892, 2017
This Bylaw that supports the City’s updated Protection of Privacy policy was adopted by Council. It is the law of the land.

Finally, we had one item of New Business:

LEED Gold certification for civic buildings
The City currently has a policy that new civic buildings meet or exceed LEED Gold standard, however the LEED standard is now only one of several certification standards used to measure the lifetime environmental footprint and energy efficiency of new buildings, from LEED to NetZero to Passive House. As the city is considering a significant investment in capital projects in the years ahead (Canada Games Pool, new Animal Care Facility, a replacement for the Arenex), council has asked staff to provide us a report outlining the costs and benefits of different standards, to determine if our slightly myopic LEED Gold policy is still the best way to achieve our energy efficient building goals.

…and with that, we were done for the night, except for a couple of council members needing to dig their cars out of 12 hours of snow.

Ask Pat: Working together

Matt asked—

So once again, the MOT (Ministry of Transpiration) rolls into town looking to save us from gridlock. I won’t bore you with my opinion on this strategy, but it got me thinking: Where and how does the wishes of the MOT mesh/clash with the wishes of the Mayor’s Transportation Plan.

I think you get my point, but let me expand. I understand the MOT is responsible for certain transportation needs, goods movement is one of them. So I know that truck corridors and the like are the purview of the provincial government and municipalities have to play ball. But on the other side of it, when and how does the Province have to place nice with the Mayors’ Council, or less formally, the wishes of Metro mayors?

There are clearly vastly different visions of how to move people and goods within our region between the current provincial government and the (some) regional mayors.

Square this circle for me.

It is pretty simple. Cities exist at the pleasure of the provincial government. Every power local governments have, including organizations of local governments like the Mayors’ Council and the regional government committees, exists at the pleasure of the provincial government. They have the ultimate ability to overrule any local government decision, and the only price the provincial government would pay for exercising that power unreasonably would be a political one.

This should be obvious when looking at the Vancouver School Board situation. A public body, elected by the public through open elections driven by politics, was fired by the provincial government for being “too political”, or more specifically, for acting in a way that was partisan and defiant of the provincial government.

In the case of transportation in the Lower Mainland, you are correct in identifying there are at least two ongoing visions, and some significant incompatibilities between them. The first is outlined in the Mayor’s Vision and TransLink Transport 2040 plan that it supports. This was developed by the region (with, notably, the approval of the provincial government) and was designed to reinforce the Regional Growth Strategy and the Official Community Plans of the 22 Municipalities that make up Greater Vancouver. The second is being driven by the Gateway Council, a business-government hybrid organization that is primarily interested in moving goods through the region by providing subsidies in the form of taxpayer-funded asphalt through our neighbourhoods and cities.

No point of hiding which of the two visions I support.

There is a lot of history to this transportation schism. It goes back at least as far as Skytrain planning and the setting up of TransLink. There are roots in technology choices for rapid transit that resulted in SkyTrain technology being chose, through the Mayor’s refusal to approve building the Canada Line before completing Evergreen, and the subsequent stripping of their powers by Kevin Falcon. It is reflected in the sudden interest in building a $4 Billion bridge to nowhere while putting every roadblock in place to delay funding of critical public transit expansion. It continues today in the Vancouver Board of Trade (a prominent member of Gateway) calling for a 6-lane Pattullo Bridge long after the regions’ Mayors and TransLink have already settled on a 4-lane solution.

It is not cynical to suggest MOT appears to take more guidance from the Gateway Council than from the Mayors. So it should be no surprise when a government so proud of its fiscal prudence suddenly finds $600 Million to build a highway expansion project, and that the residents of those communities are surprised at its sudden arrival.

I have some pretty significant concerns with the project that MOT has presented to New Westminster and Coquitlam. Efforts to improve the Brunette overpass have somehow brought the UBE back on the table, and it is pretty clear how our community feels about the UBE. That said, I also have reasons to hold cautious optimism about this proposal, because it has resulted in unprecedented conversations between the Cities of New Westminster and Coquitlam.

For the first time anyone can remember, staff and elected official from both cities are sitting down together to discuss our transportation connections, our concerns and needs, and are looking for the common ground, in the hopes that it can help define the best approach to the this project for both communities. I cannot speak too much about what is happening at those meetings (there will be press releases when appropriate), except to say that I have learned a lot about Coquitlam’s view of these issues, and I know they have heard and understood our community’s issues. I’m not sure we are going to come out with a perfect solution that satisfies all parties, but I am encouraged by the respectful and honest discussions going on, and the hard work staff from both cities are doing to make our political fantasies something that may be operational (that is more difficult that you may imagine).

If we hope, as local governments, to influence provincial policy as it impacts our communities, we need to work together like this towards practical solutions, and make it easy for the provincial government to agree with our vision. That doesn’t mean we need to fold over to political pressure when bad provincial policy hurts our communities, but it also means we can’t collapse behind our own borders and pretend our local issues have no influence on regional issues. In the end, we may fundamentally disagree, but let us at least assure we understand what the position is that we are disagreeing with, and why.

But to answer your original question – when does MOT need to play nice with municipalities? When the Minister determines it is required for political reasons. Vote accordingly.

Council – January 30, 2017

We had a relatively short Council meeting this week, partly because we had a long workshop during the day, and a Public Hearing in the evening. You never know how long a Public Hearing is going to go, so the Agenda was a little short. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t exciting and full of fun stuff.

We had 4 Public Hearings, but three were on different aspects of one project:

(612 – 618 Brantford Street) Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw No. 7876, 2017; Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 7886, 2017; and Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 7885, 2017
This project is interesting for several reasons. It is a 6-story apartment building on a small street in uptown just north of Bent Court. The building includes a lot of 2- and 3-bedroom suites which meet our Family-Friendly Housing policy, and the ground floor apartments are designed to face the street and make for a attractive street interface. The HRA part of this is related to the 1898 house on the site, which will be preserved, move to the west (sunny) side of the lot, and restored into a three-bedroom family home.

The project was modified through discussions with the Design Panel and Advisory Planning Commission, both of which gave approval to the final plan. The Residents association was generally in favour. We received one piece of correspondence for the Public Hearing, which was in support of the project.

At the Public Hearing, we had one neighbour speak against the project. To paraphrase what I hear in her presentation, she was not convinced the restored heritage home was worthwhile, and was worried about the impact on street parking.

I did not share her opinion about the preservation of the house, and think that a project like this is an important component of how we, as a City, are going to accommodate growth and the need for housing with the desire to preserve heritage assets, especially houses more than 100 years old. I also noted the project has more parking than suites (50 parking spots for 42 suites, plus 7 guest parking spots) which is a few short of the zoning requirement, but a variance I am willing to support for family-friendly housing Uptown.

Council referred the applications to Regular Council for Third Reading.

Zoning Amendment (Housekeeping) Bylaw No. 7893, 2017
This Bylaw makes several minor changes to our Zoning Bylaws to reflect the reality of how commercial spaces are used in the City. It allows pet daycare at animal care facilities, adds Daycare to a few select commercial zones, and updates the list of Liquor Primary operators in the city.

Not surprisingly, no one sent us correspondence, and no one came to speak at the Public Hearing in regards to this amendment. Council referred the Bylaw to Regular Council for Third Reading.

We then moved into our Regular Meeting, where we discussed the aforementioned Bylaws:

Official Community Plan Amendment (612 – 618 Brantford Street) Bylaw No. 7876, 2017; Heritage Revitalization Agreement (612 – 618 Brantford Street) Bylaw No. 7885, 2017; Heritage Designation (612 – 618 Brantford Street) Bylaw No. 7886, 2017
Council gave these Bylaws Third reading, moving the project towards formal adoption.

Zoning Amendment (Housekeeping) Bylaw No. 7893, 2017
Council gave this Housekeeping Bylaw Third reading, moving it towards formal adoption.

The Following items were them moved on Consent:

Poet Laureate Emerita Award
Candice James’ terms as Poet Laureate came to an end, as the Terms of Reference for the position limit how long a person can serve. Her service as our third Poet Laureate was exemplary, and the Arts Commission recommended to Council that we officially offer her the honourary title of “Emerita” for perpetuity.

Applications for Grant Funding to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Infrastructure Planning Program
The City is applying for a grant to help pay for some infrastructure planning work – determining where we need tot spend and when to maintain our infrastructure. This is only planning work, not actual infrastructure repairs, as $10,000 doesn’t go very far, but well take it if we can get it.

Report on Major Purchasing Transactions for the Period September 1 to December 31, 2016
Three times a year, Staff report out on major purchases, as part of our open accounting. You can look at this report and see what we are spending your money on, and how the open procurement process worked out.

Investment Report to December 31st, 2016
The City has several Reserves Funds to pay for future capital works and commitments we have made under our DCCs, along with a bit of surplus money from previous budgets. We keep some of that money in the bank so it is readily available, and we keep some in Municipal finance Authority funds that give pretty good return and are very low risk. You can read the report for more details, but very short version: it’s about $124 Million, and we budget to earn about $2 Million in interest on that money.

Bylaw Updates to Permit Amusement Arcades in the C-4 and C-8 Zones, and to Update as a Permitted use Amusement Arcades in the C-3, C-CD-2 and C-CD-3 Zone: Zoning Amendment Bylaw 7881, 2017, Business License Amendment Bylaw 7903, 2017 and Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw 7904, 2017 – For First and Second Readings
The City is looking at taking a more open and adult approach to permitting video arcades/ pinball halls (depending on your generation), and getting rid of the current blanket prohibition.

Funny to read the regional bylaws where these types of operations are permitted with varying levels of control. It is easy to read the Moral Panic in the development of these bylaws. From Surrey’s: “No person under the age of 16 years is permitted to operate a pinball machine after 10:00pm, except Fridays and Saturdays or the night prior to a statutory or school holiday, unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian”.

Council moved to give there Bylaws two readings.

The following item was removed from the consent agenda for discussion:

Privacy Management Program Approval
Freedom of Information is an important principle in governance today, and the flip side is privacy protection. They are so intertwined that they are regulated together under the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA). The City has implemented FOI procedures, even have a staff member whose job it is to manage FOI compliance (so Council or senior management cannot decide unilaterally when or why something is protected from public eyes).

A new, refreshed Privacy Policy is part of this. The City manages lots of information about homeowners, about users of our public facilities, about our own staff. The balance of how much of *your* information is public and how much is private, and the process to determine the difference, must comply with the provincial law. The policy being introduced here doesn’t replace or supersede the law, it provides guidance to staff on how to remain compliant, and makes clear whose job it is to assure compliance.

We wrapped our usual business, as usual, with reading of Bylaws:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Amusement Arcades) No. 7881, 2017
Business License Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 7903, 2017
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 7904, 2017

As mentioned above, Council gave these three Bylaws that support the operation of Arcade amusements in the City two readings. We will review these Bylaws at a Public Hearing on February 20th. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Bylaw No. 7892, 2017
As mentioned above, this Bylaw managing how the city will comply with Provincial Privacy laws, was given three readings by Council.

Development Cost Charge Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 7900, 2017
As mentioned on January 16, this Bylaw that re-allocates some DCC funds to build some sewer infrastructure was Adopted by Council. It’s the law of the land, may the sewage be pumped to the benefit of all.

And that, excepting some somber discussion of current local, national, and international events that have us all looking for catharsis, was an evening at Council. It is a strange time with too much to get depressed or distressed about. People are good, be good to each other, and don’t let the bad out there change you, or convince you it is winning. It never has before.

More than the map

I know a few people showed up at Council today, hoping to talk about the Official Community Plan and Land Use Map. Unfortunately, it was a Public Hearing night, as the last meeting of every month usually is, and as such we generally don’t have Public Delegations on those nights, saving space in the Agenda and reserving the floor for people who would like to talk to Council about items on the Public Hearing.

Worry not, there will be lots of opportunity for you to talk to Council about the OCP, as the entire draft Plan will be going out to Public Open houses in February. That was the decision made by Council today during our mid-day Workshop, which you can watch here, if you want to get a sense of where Council is on this topic, the conversation was wide-reaching and at times challenging.

You might want to look at the Land Use Map (as that seems to be where most of the conversation has been up to now), but you may also want to delve into the entire OCP document. This is a 150-page document that draws a much more detailed map of where the citizens of New Westminster see the City going over the next 10 to 25 years.

(You can click here to open the Council document from today’s Workshop, skip ahead to page 128, unless you also care about Heritage Protection in Queens Park!)

Under an overarching Vision Statement, there are 7 major Themes. These Themes support 12 Goals, which are descriptions of how we will describe the City in 25 years. To reach those Goals, there are 61 proposed Policies and 175 Actions that the City will take. It is only after reviewing those intended Actions that the Land Use Map and Land Use Designations make sense. The map should, if the OCP is on the right track, support those Policies and Goals, and ultimately, the Vision. And I want to talk about that.

New Westminster is a healthy, inclusive and thriving community where people feel connected with each other.  This sustainable city showcases a spectacular natural environment, public spaces and unique neighbourhoods that are well-connected and accessible. Superior urban design integrates its distinctive character, heritage assets and cultural identity. Growth and development provide a variety of services and employment opportunities that contribute to a high quality of life for all.”

When we started this process, almost three years ago, there was a burgeoning housing crisis in the Lower Mainland. In the two years since, the situation has gotten measurably worse. Accessibility to housing and affordability of housing is at critical levels in New Westminster, with 30% increases in property values in the last 12 months alone – ground oriented housing increased at more than that rate.

Over the last decade (and notably, mostly before my time, so I get little credit here) New Westminster has made real progress in addressing homelessness, in creating incentives to address the critical rental shortage, and in supporting the development of more affordable apartments and sustainable densities around our SkyTrain hubs. However, the “Missing Middle” is still a challenge. This OCP, and drafted, will open up possibilities for a variety of housing forms in some areas, and I appreciate the increased flexibility offered in the “ground oriented Infill” designation.

Just two weeks ago, we had a Council Report on the City’s Business Survey, and one of the biggest concerns of our business community was the loss of affordable family housing: for their employees and for their customers. Affordable family housing and housing variety isn’t just the biggest issue in our housing file, it is the biggest issue in our business development file, our transportation file, and our sustainability file.

I hope that during this last round of public consultation, we can correct some of the misinformation that lead to some relatively concentrated but sincerely-felt push-back, and can continue the ongoing three-year-long conversation about the context of this OCP and the future vision for the City that it presents. As part of that, we need to ask ourselves – have we done all we can to assure our family neighbourhoods can remain family neighbourhoods, accessible to the young families that will make our City prosper in the future? Have we provided opportunities for people from all walks of life and from all stages of life, to live in New Westminster and contribute to the vibrancy of this great community? Have we addressed regional affordability challenges and shown the leadership our residents expect from us?

So we are taking this back out to Open Houses, and I hope our residents and businesses ask themselves if this plan it meets their vision for that “healthy, inclusive and thriving community”.

The schedule ahead:


Pedestrians matter

The City has been doing a lot under the new Master Transportation Plan to re-prioritize our transportation system. As New Westminster is increasingly a compact, mixed-use urban centre, our public spaces become more important to the comfort and safety of residents, to the attractiveness and accessibility of our businesses, and to the building of community. That means our public spaces have to be safe places for people; that safety cannot be compromised in the interest of “getting traffic flowing”. Freeways are for flowing traffic, streets are for people.

I’m proud of the work that the City’s Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians (ACTBiPed) has done, and the collaborative attitude that City staff has adopted when discussion transportation issues, be they local traffic improvements or large regional projects like the Pattullo Bridge. However one piece of the political puzzle around transportation has been notably absent, not just in New Westminster, but regionally, and that is an independent advocacy organization to support the rights of pedestrians, and assure their voice is heard.

We have had various regional “straphangers” organizations over the years, and greater Vancouver has not one, but two separate cycling advocacy groups: The BC Cycling Coalition and HUB. The cycling groups have demonstrated that adding political voices together multiplies the volume, but also shows that advocacy can be constructive and collaborative. Their hard work over the last decades has resulted in millions of dollars in work making cycling a safer and easier alternative to driving in our region, and their work goes on.

There hasn’t been any such organization regionally working on protecting pedestrian space, or helping governments make better decisions regarding pedestrian rights. Perhaps this is because pedestrians are not seen as an under-represented minority. When you think about it, we are all pedestrians. Even if the only walking you do is to get from your car to a parking space, you need outcross a sidewalk to get there, and want that space to be safe (To expand out to truly everyone – the definition of “pedestrian” in modern transportation planning includes those who need mobility aids like walkers of chairs to help them get around). But politically, pedestrians are almost silent.

When the Ministry of Transportation, TransLink, or a Local Government design a new bridge or overpass, they seek input from the BC Trucking Association and the Gateway Council, organizations like BCAA and HUB use their political influence and the voices of their membership to assure that the interests of their member groups are added to the discussion. But pedestrians, for some reason, are absent. Because of this, sidewalks, crosswalks, and other aspects of the pedestrian realm are too often tacked on afterward, not integrated into the primary design thinking. The first thought is “how do we move cars”, then followed by “ok, let’s fit in some sidewalks”. Imagine how we would design our transportation system differently if we started with “how will a pedestrian use this space”, then decide what spaces we can allow for cars? Shouldn’t that be the default mode in a dense urban area like New West? Where is the organization to advocate for this shift?

The good news is that some local people are starting just this type of organization. They are calling themselves New Westminster Walker’s Caucus. They are a small group started by a few people familiar to the ACTBiPed as strong advocates for pedestrian rights, and for walking as a transportation mode. They have had a couple of meetings, and would love a little support from other walkers in New West and the region – show up at a meeting, lend them your skills, share the conversation.

We are all pedestrians, it’s time we stopped being so damn quiet about it.