Council – Sept 21, 2020

Last week we had a special Council meeting. I wasn’t quick to report out on it, because it wasn’t a regular meeting, and it has been a busy two weeks. I was also not sure how to frame it here, because it is a little dull and procedural for anyone not involved. So I’ll use it to talk about Section 57 of the Community Charter, because I think it provides an interesting example of the powers of local government, the limitations on that power, and the discretion Councils have to wield that power.

First off, I don’t want to talk about the three properties that were discussed in the open council meeting on Monday. Though it is important that processes like this occur in an open meeting so that the City is transparent and accountable, I don’t feel it is appropriate for me to discuss the specifics of each case here. Short version is that three properties were found by staff to be in violation of City Bylaws and/or the BC Building Code, and after several attempts to bring the properties in to compliance, Staff asked Council for permission to put notices on the property titles under Section 57 of the Community Charter.

One role of local government in BC is assuring that building standards are maintained so that the buildings in which people live, work, shop, or play are safe for occupation. There are provincial codes for structure (buildings shouldn’t fall down), plumbing and electrical (buildings should not leak, shock occupants, and clean water coming in needs to be separate from sewage going out), and fire codes (buildings should not readily burst into flame, an if they do, people should be able to get out of them).

For the most part, it is during construction and renovation that inspections of buildings occur to assure these standards are met. Of course, many people choose to do renovations without getting appropriate permits (on purpose or out of ignorance of the law) and so not all buildings get the inspections they should. People often buy houses that have “unpermitted” improvements, potentially inheriting an unsafe condition. The soft regulation of secondary suites in the City means that many do not meet standards, especially for fire separation and escape.

Sometimes our fire or building inspectors become aware of these conditions, and they are compelled by their jobs to take action. That usually means telling the owner to fix the non-compliant situation. Our general practice as a City is to inform and incentivize remediation before enforcement. Staff first assure people are aware of the problem and are given the tools to fix it, then encourage them with ramped up urgency to get it done if they do not take measures to fix the situation. Staff have several tools in their toolbox to do this: a letter telling people to do the work, an official order (which is like a letter, but has the threat attached of fines if compliance is not met), all the way up to condemning a building so no-one can legally occupy it. The City can go so far in the most extreme cases to actually do the work to bring a building into compliance and send the bill to the landowner. Obviously, there needs to be a pretty significant life safety or other concern to go that far.

All of the properties discussed in Council last week had some level of enforcement on this spectrum, some for several years.

The step we are taking now is something in the middle of the spectrum. A Section 57 Order on Title is a note the City adds to the official property title registered in Victoria. This means that anyone who looks up the property title will be informed of the non-compliance. This serves two purposes. First it encourages the owner to fix the non-compliance, as the value of the property may be impacted, and it may even impact the insurance and mortgage costs for the owner. Secondly, it warns any potential purchaser that the building is not code compliant and the City knows it is not code compliant, and that the City is working to get it compliant.

Staff needs permission from Council to put a Notice on Title, and the property owner is able to appeal that questions (what we were doing at the meeting last week). The notices are much easier to remove than they are to apply. Do the required repairs and get it inspected by the city, and the City will remove the notice without needing to come to Council again. To be fair, the building repair work needs to be done, and that can sometimes be an expensive prospect, but ultimately the duty of our inspections staff is to assure people live in safe buildings, so getting those repairs done is always the goal.

Council – September 14, 2020

There is so much going on, I almost forgot to write this meeting up. We had a Council Meeting on September 14th, but it was the day after the fire and senior management and the Mayor were pretty busy with various activities around the emergency response, so we cut back on the Agenda, deferring many items to next meeting, and only moved things that were supported on consent or were time-sensitive.

We started with a presentation from the Fire Chief about the Pier Park Fire (which I am not going to try to summarize here, as it is now a few days old and much has evolved, but you can see the video here), then a Presentation from Fraser Health:

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital) Phase 2 and Phase 3 Redevelopment – Update from August 31 Meeting
Last meeting, Council pushed back a bit at Fraser Health on some of the transportation aspects of the RCH expansion projects. Not out of the blue, but based on a couple of years of attempts to shift the thinking of Fraser Health to meet community expectations. I talked about it in that post linked to above, but did not include Council’s request that the Hospital meet the City’s expectations (set out in our zoning Bylaw) for accessible parking allocation.

Fraser Health has come back with a response to our comments. I don’t want to dig too deep here, but you can watch the video if you want all of the details, but on the accessible parking requirement (The City requested 10% of parking be accessible, Fraser Health argues that 5% meets the needs of their customers), Fraser Health notes that this hospital will have much higher accessible parking standards than any other in the province, but more importantly, FH has made a commitment to undergo ongoing monitoring of parking and accessible parking need and adjust with demand.

On the seamless connection to SkyTrain, FH provided some updated drawings and designs that will not turn the hospital around, but will serve to assure an accessible, at-grade connection and appropriate entrance design for the corner of the Hospital near SkyTrain.

On the East Columbia vs. Brunette Ave traffic load concerns, I remain unsatisfied by where the project is, but am satisfied that Fraser Health hears these concerns, and that they will continue to work in good faith with our Staff, TransLink, MOTI, and other partners to develop better long-term transportation plans, and that we will encode this commitment in our Development Agreement process.

I’ve ranted enough about this, but I need to reinforce. My intention is not to stop or get in the way of building the Hospital, but to assure the project is built in a way that serves the community, and meets the stated objectives of the community and of the province. We cannot miss the opportunity to think about what our community and our province will look like in 10 year, 20 years, 30 years if we intend to take the actions that are behind our bold words around climate.

If there is any intention on the part of Fraser Health to act on the commitments this province has made, this country has made, and this city has made, to meet our Paris Targets, we cannot continue to use assumptions that Brunette Avenue will always operate as it does today – carrying 40,000 or 50,000 vehicles a day. We certainly cannot build infrastructure to reinforce those assumptions. If we do, we are just blowing smoke, literally and figuratively.

When I read that “The City is obligated to minimize any negative impacts to the people and goods movement capacity of the corridor”, I retort that the Province is under no such obligation, and they alone have the power to shift this obligation if need be to make this hospital fit better. I challenge this “obligation” as being counter to the obligation we have to future generations to leave them a viable planet. If the time when we are investing more than a billion dollars in infrastructure is not the time to make that shift – when is?

I appreciate and value the serious TDM commitments made by FH, and am comfortable with moving forward with rezoning, but still expect that Fraser Health will endeavor to address these core issues as we go through development agreements.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Appointment of Director of Finance
We have a new Director of Finance, and Council has to officially appoint her, because she has regulatory powers and such under the Community Charter.

Proposed Sister Community Agreement with the Tŝilhqot’in National Government
This has been in the works for a while, but the City of New Westminster is establishing a Sister City relationship with communities in the Tŝilhqot’in, as a demonstration of our desire for relationship-building with indigenous communities with which we have a shared history. Assuring that cultural exchange and shared learning can go on is a foundation of our reconciliation plan.

Recruitment 2020: Committee Appointments
Some council advisory committee people are changing roles within the organizations they represent, and new members are swapping it. It’s all very complicated, but we have to rescind the out, appoint the in!

Alternative Approval Process – Grimston Park Amendment Bylaw No. 8219, 2020
There were some land transfers related to the re-configuration of the Queensborough Bridge connections back in 2008, and the installations of the new car underpass on Stewardson last year. There is a hunk of land at the foot of the ramp that the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure needed to lease to land the ramp, and we now need to transfer the property to the Province. Discharging property designated a Park by Bylaw actually requires the approval of the voters, either by referendum or the Alternate Approval Process. So we have to launch that process and ask if people have opinions about this. If 10% of the voting population (a little more than 5,000 people) fill out forms to express concern about this, we go to referendum. It’s a silly process, but that’s the law.

Pre-1900 Heritage House Policy: Update to Rolling Date
As part of the City’s heritage protection policies, any building from 1900 or earlier that is subject to a permits triggers a heritage review to determine if there is a heritage value to the building that may be lost through the permitted activity. This report is suggesting that policy be changed from “any house from 1900 and earlier” to “any house 100 years old or older. This would mean extra reviews for about 1,000 buildings in the City, about 15% of which are already protected.

Investment Report to August 31, 2020
The City has money in the bank, more than usual because the province has deferred the date when we need to send them the School Tax money, and because we have deferred some capital projects on account of the COVID. Some of our funds are up, some of them are down, but overall we made $3.8M in interest over the year.

License to Occupy BC Hydro Lands for Pollinator Meadow
We have been working on Pollinator Meadows in the City, finding places to plant mixes of pollinator-friendly species of plants to provide habitat and food for birds, bees, and other species. A great site for this is the unutilized greenspace in Connaught Heights that belongs to BC Hydro. We need a license agreement with them to modify their property for this purpose. I really love this initiative, as it represents one of the few ways we can support healthier ecology in a fully urbanized city.


We them adopted a couple of Bylaws:

Parks and Recreation Fees Amendment Bylaw No. 8212, 2020
This Bylaw that sets our parks and rec fees for the next year was adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (45 East Eighth Avenue) No. 8189, 2020
This bylaw that amends the zoning bylaw to permit a “missing middle” townhouse development in Massey Victory Heights, was adopted by Council.


We also had one time-sensitive piece of New Business:

MOTION: Universal access to no-cost prescription contraception

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT
the City of New Westminster write to the Provincial Minister of Finance, the Provincial Minister of Health, the Premier of BC, and the local MLA supporting universal no-cost access to all prescription contraception available in BC under the Medical Services Plan; and THAT
this letter be forwarded to all BC municipalities asking to write their support as well.

This Motion supports two resolutions at the 2020 UBCM conference which will occur next week, and Council unanimously supported it.


And that was it for a relatively quick meeting. Better days ahead.

Riverfront fire

I’m hearbroken.

That’s about all I could tweet last night, typo and all, in true Twitter style.

At the time, I was walking back down from the middle of the Pattullo Bridge with Councillor Nakagawa, hoping like the many hundreds of people in downtown New West to get a better view. Not for prurient fascination; just trying to account what we were losing, to support our hope the flames would end. And the loss started to hit me.

When we got to the site after exchanging frantic texts, the W was engulfed in smoke and flames as firefighters tried desperately to get water onto the site. This was a shocking vision. Love it or hate it (and few are indifferent), WOW New Westminster has become iconic – a vital part of our skyline and our brand as a City. Still balanced there, thin steel cables holding it up, it seemed only a matter of time before it was gone.

We were able to catch peeks from Columbia Street or the Parkade as the flames moved along the aged creosote timbers to the Urban Beach, creeping under the deck, veiled in its own oily smoke, then surging out of gaps with unbelievable intensity, so orange as to be red. We could see the firefighters tearing through the fence, but water was not going to stop this, not with tar-soaked wood capped by asphalt.

It became clear the best possible outcome was the fire being stopped at the end of the “timber wharf”, and that the decking change under the grass field and the gap between sections will give firefighters a chance to stop the downriver spread. Even this was uncertain, as the fire at the gap was substantial and burning fiercely. If it didn’t stop there, it seemed all would be lost.

Former Mayor Wayne Wright was in the growing Parkade crowd, looking on. He was visibly shaken. It was Mayor Wright and the Council before me who made the brave move to buy this land, to dream big and complete a City-defining vision against some vocal and sometimes malicious opposition. We shared a few words, but I know if my heart was breaking, his must have been tenfold.

I chatted on the phone with Ruby Campbell, former City staff member who did so much of the hard legwork of getting the funding model together, the partners onside, and managed to get bitter Federal and Provincial political opponents together for a friendly Grand Opening event to celebrate the achievement of all – and God did it rain that day! So many stories were made in this park between that day and now.

I sat in the Park on Saturday, slightly cooler than I might have liked under the sepia skies as I worked on my Council package on a laptop and watched people of every age, shape, and size use the park. Of course I took a picture, the picture at the top of this post, because you always want to show this park off to your friends.

This loss is for the entire community, but it is also personal.

Before I went home last night to shower the tire fire smell off, I stopped once more to check that the W was still there. The fire at that end had been pretty tamped down, more white smoke than black, and the W was indeed still standing. Amazing.

I got home, and a friend was raging on Twitter about 2020. A friend with a big heart who has felt many of the impacts of this year’s compounding disasters more than some others. He asked “is it okay to be crying over a park?” That is how much this place is part of our home. It is our living room, a parlor and a back yard and a playroom. Friends replied – he wasn’t the only one crying. People around the region sent us notes sharing our grief for the loss of a park.

It’s hard to put things in any kind of perspective this year. So much strife and anger in the air. Death is around us in a way generations have forgotten. This very weekend, our eyes have been watered and lungs scratched by the smoke of entire communities lost down south of us, tens of thousands of homes burning to the ground. But that doesn’t make it wrong to feel a personal loss, to remember the things that matter to us every day, and mourn still if they are taken away.

This morning news was more reassuring. Thanks to the firefighters working in incredibly challenging conditions with limited access, unknown deck conditions, needing SCBA to protect them from the creosote smoke, the fire was indeed contained to the Timber Wharf, and damage to the western half of the park was limited. We all owe a thanks to the New West Fire Department and crews from across the region who faced these challenges, and limited the loss to our community.

The Riverfront still belongs to New West. We will make it a place for people again. Of course the deck is still burning, and we don’t know what this looks like yet, but I cannot imagine our community turning its back on the river again. When the fire is out, we will get to work.

Ask Pat: Variety pack!

I have some questions that have been sitting in the queue for an embarrassingly long time, so let’s blast through these:

Christa asks—

Has the City ever considered ending the New Westminster Tennis Club’s lease in Tipperary Park so that the clubhouse facilities could be used by the larger public? It would be a great facility for so many non-profits and/or community events.

The Tennis Club is one of several organizations that lease City-owned space (at little or no cost) to operate a non-profit society that provides some identified benefit to the City. Off the top of my head: the Tennis Club, the Curling Club, and the Lawn Bowling Club all operate buildings (the assets belonging to the club members) on City-owned land. The City sees this as a benefit because the club members (through their dues, volunteer boards, and sometimes paid staff) provide recreation opportunities to residents and visitors that the City doesn’t have to pay to provide. There are other buildings in the City (again, off the top of my head, the Art Gallery in Queens Park, the Bernie Legge Theatre, the Hopper Building) that belong to the City, but are used primarily by one non-profit community group, again for a purpose valued by the community. Each probably has its own history and reason for the tenure being what it is.

In my time on Council, there has never been a discussion about taking these places back from the organizations that operate them, though occasionally we have had discussions about lease terms, or are sometimes asked to consider some capital support for building maintenance (I don’t remember the tennis club ever asking us for support).


MoreEVOsPls asks—

I have been an Evo member for quite some time, yet, as I stand here (in front of MY strip of sidewalk, btw), there is no Evo in sight. If there has not been Evo parked in front of my house for more than 72 hours, will the City relocate one to my personal residence?? What is the city doing to displace private cars with Evo cars on our roadways? 😉

I see what you did there.


Ola asks—

I was wondering if you can tell me about the noise levels around Nelson’s street at Sapperton.

Not sure which noise you are talking about. Brunette is a regional truck route and a part of the Major Road Network, so changing the use of those roads is a regional issue. There is also some ongoing development of the last phases of the Brewery District mixed-use development going on, which will no doubt be a noisy construction affair, just as building the current Nelson Crescent buildings was.

However, I suspect the biggest issue is late-night train horns as trains cross the level crossing at Cumberland and Spruce. You can go to the City’s Whistle Cessation page to see the details of the work we are doing to get those whistles silenced. I wrote about this a few years ago, and yes I am frequently hearing from people about it. I still cannot give you any real timeline for when those crossings will see cessation of whistles, they are complicated from a design and safety point of view, and we need to get partners onside rowing the same way (TransLink in the case of Spruce, Metro Vancouver in the case of Cumberland, and no less than Transport Canada, 5 rail companies and assorted other rail agencies for both) and investing their time and energy. It took time Downtown, we are almost there in Quayside, we have some complicated crossings in Queensborough (but thankfully only one rail company to deal with there), but the three crossings in Sapperton are definitely the hardest nut to crack.


DM asks—

What’s going on with the new <EDITED> housing unit to be built in the 800 Blk of 6st.?Across from new high school.

Generally, inserting what could be read as a racial slur gets the question tossed into the delete file, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, as I can’t square the possible racist implication of the term with this application, so maybe I am missing context.

I have not reviewed the application in detail because it went to the Land Use and Planning Committee, not all of Council. As it is a preliminary application that will, if it progresses, likely see a Public Hearing that involves not just a Rezoning, but a change in the OCP, I am keeping an open mind to the merits of the application. I will say that deeply affordable housing is hard to come by these days, and not many applications come before us looking to build affordable housing at this scale in New Westminster, so I think it is worth us having the conversation about it.


Lisa asks—

I am wondering if instead of having city workers mow the grass on boulevards and ditch sides the $ and labour could be put to more needed uses such as cleaning playground equipment regularly and making park facilities more accessible while still maintaining 2 meter distances. My 12yr old suggested there could be hand washing stations like at petting zoos. Of course there are logistics, and perhaps issues surrounding union described job descriptions, so that’s why I’m asking. What is the reason something like what I described cannot be done? It seems like a better use of already stretched resources, that servers a greater need.

I guess I would say those sorts of re-allocations of staff did occur all through our COVID response, and many kudos need to go to staff and their unions, who completely changed their work life and took up the charge to do things they were never expecting to do. Back in January, no-one in the City was a pandemic ambassador helping people navigate parks area restrictions, how they would stretch the pedestrian space of the McInnes overpass, how they would operate our many public washrooms under a public health order or coordinate Zoom Public Hearings. For a while there, everyone was making it up as they went along.

To your example, there was definitely some shifts in how things like grass maintenance occurred, and there were staff shifted to new cleaning tasks. However, it turns out that mowing grass was really important to COVID response, because so many people were going outside in small groups and picnicking in numbers like we never had before – no doubt a result of limited sit-down restaurant service and people being home more often and needing to get out for fresh air. The last 6 months have been full of lessons like this. The discussion of how much and how often to clean playground equipment was definitely a discussion with public health officers, and our management staff had to do the risk-management math relative to just closing equipment down for a few weeks. These were tough decisions, but when you are in public service, putting public safety is always paramount.

Finally, there are some maintenance tasks you just have to do. Some open watercourses (“ditches”) need to be cleaned on a regular basis to maintain a base level of water storage and protect communities from flooding. Freshly-planted trees need a lot of watering, and established trees a lot of pruning, and as we put these tasks off, there is a compounding cost as the trees then need replacing. So much of what staff do is essential service if we want to have a livable community, and when COVID protocols made changes in how staff teams work, it is a real challenge to keep up. A day missing in a trash pick-up cycle is noticeable for weeks and staff scramble to catch up. As Newman says: the mail never stops, Jerry.

RCH, TDM, LOS. Oh My!

I raised some concerns about the Royal Columbian Hospital expansion project in Council this week, and I thought it would be worthwhile expanding on the issue here. This is a unique development in the City, and that takes a bit of unpacking what a rezoning really is to explain where we are now. So background before gripes:

Usually, a rezoning in the City is a negotiation between a private land owner (commonly a development company) and the City. They want to build a building that doesn’t meet current zoning, usually bigger than permitted or a different use than permitted. The City looks at a rezoning proposal as an opportunity to negotiate value to the community. We ask what the benefits to the community may be (housing, affordable housing, amenities, tax revenue, infrastructure renewal, etc.) and what externalized costs may be involved (traffic, sewer capacity, green space loss, etc.). The job of the rezoning process is to maximize those benefits to offset those externalized costs. If we ask too much, the developer can’t pay the cost, so they take their ball and go home. If we ask too little, we are eroding the community and passing costs on to future generations.

Clearly, RCH is different than other “developments”. This is a provincial government project, a significant health asset for our community, and an important development for the entire region. RCH is also the City’s largest employer and the heart of the Sapperton community. The City wants an expanded RCH, the expanded health care capacity, and the good jobs that come with it. We want the spin-off economic effects of health services and support businesses in the neighbourhood. To balance that a bit, Fraser Health has a significant investment in the physical assets on site, and moving the hospital out of Sapperton is not something anyone would seriously consider. so this is already a torqued negotiation.

On top of this, it is important to remember that Municipalities, and our Bylaws, exist at the pleasure of the provincial government. Fraser Health (as an agency of the provincial government) is going through our rezoning process because that is the community expectation codified in bylaw, and it is the right thing to do to assure their work addresses the needs and wants of the community. However, they don’t strictly need our approval. They can grant themselves an exemption to our bylaws and build what they want. But I take on good faith that their desire is to meet the needs and expectations of the community they serve, and going through the rezoning process is an example of that.

In the review of first and second reading of the rezoning on Monday, I expressed my opinion (speaking for myself, not all of Council, of course) that Fraser Health failed to meet the expectations of the community, and indeed their own policy goals, in how they designed the transportation realm around the new hospital. Along with the rest of Council, I voted to support First and Second reading, but I added an amendment making some specific asks of Fraser Health, and tried to make clear my support for further readings will be contingent on how they address these serious concerns.

OK, on to the gripes.

Royal Columbian Hospital is the only hospital in British Columbia built immediately adjacent to a rapid transit station and on a regional Greenway. Beyond that, it is located in a City that has made serious commitments to Climate Action, has signed onto the Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities, and has both an Official Community Plan (OCP) and a Master Transportation Plan (MTP) that speak to moving us past motordom. Yet, the largest employer in the region has brought us a plan that serves to entrench the private automobile as the primary form of transportation to a facility meant to serve the region for decades ahead. That is a failure to set a building into appropriate context, a failure to design, and a failure to lead.

It is 2020; we need to do differently.

Since Fraser Health first brought plans for the hospital upgrades to us a couple of years ago, the City has pointed out a fundamental design flaw. The building literally turns its back on the Skytrain station. Though the project team as tried to address this issue by creating a somewhat uninspired back entrance plan where pedestrians can go through a parking garage entrance and find and elevator to a back hallway, the plan for access shows pedestrians and transit users are an afterthought to the transportation plan.

Indeed the hospital is being built immediately adjacent to a SkyTrain Station – less than 30m from the weather-sheltered exit from the transit station. However, a pedestrian walking or rolling  to a primary entrance must travel 500m, up a hill, around the entire bulk of the building, and through a parking lot. Attempts to make this route universally accessible (with a grade less than 5%), would add significant distance in the form of switchbacks to this route. It also involves an at-grade (non-signalized?) crossing of a road that is both designated a truck access and a vehicle access to the parking garage. So it is on Transit, but turns its back to transit.

I have also spent a couple of years relating concerns about the potential impacts this project will have on East Columbia if we don’t do it right. The City’s clear and long-established plans call on East Columbia through Sapperton to serve as a “Great Street”. According to our Master Transportation Plan “Great Streets require planning and design that goes beyond the typical street function of supporting through traffic. Planning and designing Great Streets means providing characteristics that make streets destinations – places for people to be, instead of places to move through”.

I appreciate the work Fraser Health and City Staff did to assure the streetscapes along East Columbia are mixed mode and modern, but that is spackle over a flawed foundation. We need to re-align this map to assure that Brunette Avenue – acting as the regional road and regional truck route it is and is meant to be – becomes the primary connection to the Hospital for large trucks bringing goods to the hospital, and for drivers who choose to drive to the hospital from the wider region. Simply put, East Columbia cannot achieve the goal of being a Great Street if it is expected to carry the bulk of this regional traffic.

That means we need to change Brunette Avenue, and that is something that will require partnerships with TransLink (who should get this) the Ministry of Transportation (who will need to be dragged kicking and screaming), as this part of Brunette is both Major Road Network and a regional truck route. Senior Government transportation staff are going to say that installing a safe intersection at Brunette in the vicinity of the Hospital will impact Level of Service for all the through-traffic that the route serves. I do not doubt that, but wonder again whether we are using the right measures to assess the function of our transportation network. Fraser Health should be making this case to these provincial agencies, not the City. But here we are.

With all of this in mind, I asked that the City ask Fraser Health to commit to three things before adoption of the rezoning:

• A seamless and universally accessible connection to the SkyTrain Station befitting a primary entrance to the hospital as part of to the current design;
• Developing a plan to shift all transport truck access from E Columbia to Brunette Avenue; and
• Developing a plan to shift the primary access for regional automobile traffic onto Brunette Ave instead of E Columbia.

Now, an argument could be made (indeed was made in Council) that this was all too late and we cannot ask Fraser Health to change course on such a major project at this late stage. If we are unreasonable now, are we jeopardizing the entire project?

Allow me to retort.

Nothing I said at the meeting should be a surprise to the Project Team, or to Fraser Health. Every opportunity I have had to talk to Fraser Health about this project over the last few years – at ACTBiPed consultations, in the Transportation Task Force, at Council presentations, in their open houses, I have made these points. They have heard it reinforced by our Advisory Planning Commission and through our transportation planning staff. This policies driving this are baked into our City’s planning and transportation documents. We have been banging this drum all through the consultations, Fraser Health has been dancing to a different beat.

This is doubly frustrating because this is also at odds with Fraser Health’s own direction in regards to the role of motrodom in Public Health. Fraser Health knows that climate change is a public health challenge that is exacerbated by automobile dependency. As the region’s leading trauma hospital, RCH is fully aware that automobile dependency is a leading cause of traumatic injury, and automobiles are the #1 cause of death for young people in Canada and around the world. Sedentary lifestyles, asthma exacerbated by air pollution, urban heat island effects, the direct and indirect health impacts of the social and economic harm posed by automobile dependency, etc. etc. That cars are bad for public health is not a controversial idea.

So what role does such a large employer and a large service provider in the community have in moving past motordom?  When it comes to a rezoning and developing a new asset for the next century, they should look at the clear goals set out in Official Community Plans and Master Transportation Plans and try to address those. When that developer is a provincial government and provincial Health Agency, they should also determine if their plans address the Provincial Government’s own stated goals about climate, about auto dependency, about smart growth and sustainable communities. When they all coincide, we shouldn’t need a pipsqueak council using zoning laws to force/cajole community investments towards those goals.

I do recognize that Fraser Health has made some commitments to Transportation Demand Management (TDM) related to the hospital expansion project. However, those seem to have been driven by a need to address the cost of building parking, and making the case for parking relaxations. I fully support those TDM measures, and appreciate to commitment, but the design of the building and surrounding transportation network does not enhance these TDM measures, and undermines their ultimate effectiveness.

They can do better, and we need to do better. It is 2020, and the planet is in peril. This is the decade we change the status quo to address climate, or the decade where we abandon future generations to their fate. If we choose the latter here, we are going to need a bigger hospital.

Council – Aug 31, 2020

We had a pretty long agenda in our first meeting after a summer break like no other. It was, again, a remote meeting (and more about that below), so you can hear the recording if that is your thing. Otherwise, here’s what we talked about based on my memory. Right off the start we had a presentation:

824 Agnes Street Commemorative Park Design – Preferred Design Concept
There is a City-owned space in Downtown about the size of a small single residential lot that has operated most recently as a dog park, but has a much richer history. It was once an important location in the community for residents of Chinese descent. The City has leveraged adjacent development to fund improvements to the area to build a proper public park space. It is a bit of a challenging space, with a significant grade change making it hard to assure the park is universally accessible. But the city led a few stakeholder and public meetings and went through various design concepts. We have now settled on a final design that reflect the history of the site while being an accessible, functional, public greenspace Downtown.

This is the design concept, but we don’t yet have a timeline on the park’s development, as we have no funds set aside for the park re-design. Those funds will only arrive through the approved development process for the adjacent property, as that developer is paying the bills here.


We then moved the following items on Consent:

805 Boyd Street (Queensborough Landing): Proposed Text Amendment to the Large Format Commercial District (C-10) Zone to include Self- Improvement School as a Use – Preliminary Report
A tutoring business wants to operate in the Queensborough Landing commercial complex, but the existing zoning language does not include that use, so Council is considering updating the zoning language to allow it. This is a preliminary report to let us know that Staff will do the work needed to bring it to us. Let us know of you have an opinion.

811 Columbia Street (Plaza 88): Development Variance Permit Application to Vary the Sign Area and Channel Lettering Provision for the Sign Bylaw to Permit a Fascia Sign for Landmark Cinemas
Landmark Cinemas wants to add a swoosh to their existing sign to align with their existing branding, but the sign will be a little bigger than permitted by our sign bylaw, but not really a substantial change to the sign they already have. But it needs a Sign Bylaw variance, so that process is beginning and Council will make a decision next Opportunity to be Heard. If you have an opinion, let us know!

219 and 221 Manitoba Street: Heritage Register Addition and Heritage Designations – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
Two heritage homes have been oved to this newly subdivided property in Queens Park, and we are now adding them to the Heritage Register so they will be there forever. This will go to a Public Hearing – if you have an opinion, let us know.

Imposition of Remedial Action Requirement for 1823 Hamilton Street
This is a difficult situation where a homeowner has been non-compliant with City bylaws for several years, creating (in the opinion of neighbours) a persistent nuisance, and (in the opinion of our building bylaw staff) an unsafe condition. A roof that has been tarped for years, unfinished exterior walls, scaffolding, and an unpermitted retaining wall are all points of contention, but the real issue here is that the work on the property began in 2007 without an appropriate permit, and has been non-compliant since at least 2013. The owner has refused to take remedial action, and cannot find a qualified engineer to sign off on the work. Last year, Council finally issued a Remedial Order, and a Hearing was given to the property owner. However, the work to make the property compliant is still not completed, nor is there any evidence it has seriously begun.

Staff is now requesting the authority to tender the work, have it done, and send the owner the bill.

Applications for Grant Funding to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities – Municipal Asset Management Program and UBCM Local Government Program Service 2020 Asset Management Planning Program
The City is doing a comprehensive Asset Management Program, and there are grant funds available from FCM and UBCM to help pay to get this work done, so we are applying.

2021 Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw Amendment
We annually review our Parks and Recreation fees through Bylaw amendment. Generally, we try to adjust fees to match inflation every year, but the overall strategy is to recover costs for most services, while assuring our fees are not out of scale with adjacent municipalities. Generally our fees for most things (like ice rental in our arenas) are at the lower end compared to adjacent communities or for-profit providers. For obvious reasons, this is not the year to be making big changes other than a simple CPI increase so we don’t lose pace with inflation.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
This is our regular report out form our 5 COVID-19 response Task Forces. There are more details in the report, but these are two items that were raised for discussion:

Vulnerable Populations: The Food Bank is losing its current church space, and will be looking to relocate ASAP. The current proposal is Tipperary Park as a compliment to the Farmers Market, and the Farmers Market is looking at relocating to Tipperary for the winter. That may work out well, but Council raised some concerns about moving the foodbank outdoors in winter weather. Staff will be bringing us a report on their work to secure a space for this vital food security service.
Business and Local Economy: The patio program that we launched to support food service establishments during COVID coincided with a Provincial program that expires in October. We need to provide some clarity to businesses about how/if we are going to extend past October, and if/how we are going to look at supporting the accommodation of temporary shelter, heaters, etc. to extend the patio program over the winter, or at least survey businesses for interest? Staff will be bringing us a report.

Planning for Potential “Second Wave” of COVID-19
A Second wave of COVID-19 may be upon us already, it is almost certainly going to hit us, and staff is planning for it. The “phases” of restart from the pandemic shutdown are dictated by the provincial health authorities (we are in Phase 3 right now), but it is not yet clear how the province will (or won’t?) respond to a second wave. So the City has developed three scenarios with a response plan for each. “Managed Outbreaks” would be a scenario where we stay at Phase 3 and react in a directed way to outbreaks if they occur within our staff or in a public facility to contain and manage the outbreak. “Rollback to Phase 2” is a scenario where the health authority moves us back up the shutdown scale because of bad regional case numbers, and “Rollback to Phase 1” is the same, but worse.

There is much more detail in the attached report, and there are lots of intra-departmental details across the City. Suffice to say, we are planning for the bad, the worse, and the worst, while hoping for the best. Everybody is doing this for the first time, so challenges ahead, but I am feeling like we are about as prepared as we can be.

Open Delegations and Opening Council Chamber to the Public in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Council operation is one part of the re-opening plan that needs a bit of special consideration. In general, we need to figure out how to get the public back into the Council conversation, both as part of Public Hearings, and generally as our traditional Open Delegations. As Council continues to meet remotely, the challenges many have with on-line communications and video conferencing have to be addressed.

Regular Council meetings go on, we do them through video conference, and recordings are available, so the conversation is still open and in the public record, but it is hard for the public to participate. One of our challenges is that the Council Chamber is a limited space, and we can never predict how many people want to attend a Public Hearing, and we are not legally able to limit the number of people. Our past practice of allowing anyone to attend and get 5 minutes on any topic as an Open Delegation makes it even harder to plan. So we are going to continue to hold Public Hearings with electronic participation so we don’t have to worry about Social Distancing, and do our best to accommodate people’s uncertainty with the technology.

As for Council attending chambers, we had a good discussion about it. I went into the meeting thinking this had to be all or none, to keep the conversation level and fair, with my preference towards all. But it became clear to me through the meeting that I am in a very low risk group, don’t live with vulnerable people, and my risk tolerance is higher than some others. I think it is difficult for us to compel people who perhaps are not as low-risk as I am to attend if it is not within their comfort zone, and further should not be making people declare their personal or health situations that may impact their comfort zone. So I generally agree that we can continue to meet remotely until we have more certainty around the management of risk.

Public Hearings afford different challenges as well, as the room has to be set up differently (partly because we cannot limit participants), so we are going move Public Hearings to a different date – The Thursday before the regular Monday Meeting where the item will receive consideration for Third Reading. This is another challenge that we can talk about later (the inability for Council Members to hear new evidence between Public Hearing and Third Reading), which perhaps ironically, makes it possible that Council will look like they are being non-transparent about their opinions on a contentious project specifically because they are required by law to respect that process, but that’s a hit we will have to take, I guess. Again, we are doing this for the first time, so some patience will be required.

466 Rousseau Street (Urban Academy): Zoning Amendment Bylaw Text Amendment – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The private school on Sapperton, which was permitted in 2017 and opened just last year, is now looking to expand their operations. They want to expand their 4th and 5th stories by a total of 6,500 square feet (a 13% increase in floor space) to accommodate 100 more students (a 22% increase). There would not be an increase in overall height above what is currently permitted for the site, the expansion is within their allotted zoning envelope, but the population increase is outside of the zoning language, and needs changing.

The proposal went to the Sapperton Residents Association in pre-Pandemic times, and mail-dropped invitations to neighboring homes for an open house in 2019 had no response, with 7 people showing up for a follow-up open house in February. The Sapperton Residents Association has send a letter to Council listing concerns about the school, all related to pressure on free public parking space and people in cars acting irresponsibly on public streets causing risk to other people, as usual. Staff have some recommendations on how to make the road space of Rousseau safer, and it will be interesting to see if the community supports them.

This is proposal that will go to Public Hearing in September, so I won’t make too many more comments. If you have opinion, let us know!

100 Braid Street: Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment and Development Permit to Facilitate Provision of Secured Market Rental Housing with Art Gallery/Studio Space
Right next door, the Wesgroup development of the 100 Braid Street property is also looking to move ahead. The proponent wants to change the proposal that was approved in 2016 by shifting to a Purpose Built Rental building instead of condos. In exchange for this, they are asking for a 50% increase in density, an increase in height of 80%, and a parking relaxation. This would bring the unit count up to 424 residential rental units. They are also hoping to make some of the units (about 20%) less-than-market if they can get CMHC support for this – though they will not meet the City’s definition of “below market”, so will not meet the criteria for supportive “affordable housing”.

Council had some questions and concerns about whether the community benefit (shift to PBR from condos, and a less-than-clear affordability component) is really worth the increased density granted. I raised a concern last time this came to us about the loss of mature street trees on City lands to support this development. The Staff report indicates the developer will pay a tree removal fee, which will allow for the sooner planting of 100-150 trees as part of our urban Forest Management strategy. That seems like a significant tree benefit in the longer term.

In the end, Council agreed to let the proposal move forward to committee and public review prior to further Council discussion and likely a Public Hearing in the future, so perhaps through that process some of the amenity vs. density math with clarify. If you have opinions, let us know!

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital): Zoning Amendment Bylaw for Phase 2 and 3 of the Redevelopment Plan – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
You may have noticed RCH is going through a major renovation – near replacement at double the capacity. As this is a Provincial project, a significant regional health asset, and the City’s largest employer, the relationship between Council and the “developer” is different than most. As they come to ask to ask for a zoning amendment for Phase 2 and 3 (the major expansion of the main building), there is some question what the City’s power actually it.

If this was a private developer building a commercial building, we would make some very specific asks in regards to how their building fits into the neighborhood, and would, through the City’s zoning powers, have the ability to force them to make changes, up to the point where they just take their ball and go home if we ask too much.

Fraser Health is not going to take their ball and go home, they have a significant investment in the physical plant at RCH, and much to Richard Stewart’s chagrin, they are not going to move the hospital to Coquitlam. You would think that gives the City a lot more power to control how the Hospital fits in our neighborhood. But you would be wrong, because a municipality is ultimately the “child of the province” and if the Province cares to do so, they will just tell us to get bent and build what they want.

So here we are. The Province wishes to go through the right procedures to get a zoning amendment. There is a lot involved in this that the public would not usually see (be it the province or a regular developer) like determining how much sewer pipe the new facility will need how much water supply and electricity and how much the developer will pay to install that increased capacity. But there is also a lot the public will see, like the scale and shape of the building and the transportation connections, so we spend a lot of time in Council arguing about and negotiating these conditions. I contend that this project is failing those requirements in the transportation realm.

I had a bit of a rant on this, and will repeat it in a follow-up blog post, but in summary we gave the project First and Second reading, and I made clear to Fraser Health and staff the kinds of changes I want to see Fraser Health agree to if I am going to support Third and Fourth reading on this.

At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations and Seniors and Persons with Disabilities Task Forces Funding Request for the Remainder of 2020
This task force was set up early in the pandemic Response to assure that the people in our community most at risk from the pandemic and those with the least resources to address those risks, were being supported. There were some (ultimately, very small) costs related to some of the responses that came out of this taskforce, and there will be some more costs related to keeping some efforts ongoing (though scaled back as we move through stages of recovery).

Cannabis Retail Locations: Updates and Bylaws for Readings
We are making a few changes to the local Bylaws that regulate cannabis retail location in the community, some that I spoke to last Council meeting. We are changing the Bylaws to allow the retail sale of edible products (to catch up to the federal regulatory change), and are allowing transparent windows now that the Province has allowed this change. This will bring cannabis retail more in line with the look of other types of retail in the community. Both of these are easy for me to support.

It looks like one of the currently-permitted operators ran into some trouble getting up and running due to some apparent conflict with the building owner(s), so they have withdrawn their application. As our original intake process dictated, this leaves the “Uptown” business area with no current applicants. The other two Uptown applicants that passed initial screening back in 2018 were asked if they were still interested, and only one of them was able to move forward, so we have provided them the opportunity to apply.

Contrary to some social media speculation, this will not replace the (still-COVID-closed) Rivers Reach Pub, but will be located next door, adjacent to the beer and wine store. As this application will go to a Public Hearing, I won’t comment further at this time. Drop us a line if you have an opinion.

141 East Columbia Street: Site Specific Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment to Allow for Health Related Office and Retail Use (Including Pharmacy) – Preliminary Report
The owner of this Sapperton property is hoping to operate a pharmacy, as the current restaurant is not renewing their lease. The zoning language doesn’t specifically allow a pharmacy in the space, so we need to change that zoning text to allow it. This is a preliminary report, and will go to some review, so more to come here. Let us know if you have an opinion.

Downtown Transportation Plan
This neighborhood traffic plan in our most traffic-constrained neighborhood started in late 2017, and the last steps were a bit borked by COVID. Although the bulk of the planning preceded the Climate Emergency response by Council, the Pandemic response (and Streets for People motion that followed), and the Declaration of Resilience for Cities, the direction of the plan mostly supports those initiatives. I think staff did a great job bringing this plan together, and it is written in such a way to address those late-emerging ideas. I carry a bit of a concern that the proposed rate of implementation may not be aggressive enough to meet those larger goals, but that will be on Council to put the money where our mouth is here and get this shit done. The Agnes Greenway and the changes to lower 8th Street are the top priority for me, but maybe I’ll follow up with a more detailed blog post about it.

Streets for People in 2020 – Update
This is an update on the many small shifts in our transportation realm that rolled out in the last two months and includes areas where staff have been really poactive at making shifts in how some of the changes were implemented over time. Like most on Council, and I’m sure staff, I have received some public feedback, both good and bad, and it is human nature to concentrate on the negative feedback, but I think there is instructive value to all of the feedback, and appreciate the nods in here to organizing the feedback into actionable responses.

Now is the time to have a bigger conversation about these changes, and the City is working on a an aggressive schedule for September to talk to the public and stakeholders about what worked, what didn’t and how folks would like to see the streets operate differently in the future. It should be a great conversation with the community.


We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8212, 2020
As discussed above, our Bylaw that makes annual changes to recreation fees was given three readings and adopted by Council. Make your own CPI adjustments please.

Soil Deposit and Removal Regulation Bylaw No. 8106, 2019
Municipal Ticket Information Amendment Bylaw No. 8127, 2019 and
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 8126, 2019
As discussed way back last May, this Bylaw the updates our regulations on how large soils movements in the City are managed during development is now Adopted, along with the amendments to the ticketing and enforcement Bylaws that empower the fines in the first. I’m digging it.


And that was the meeting for August, see you after Labour Day!

Back at it

Back at it!

We had our first Council meeting today after a shortish summer break. We have yet to get through the Labour Day weekend, but back to work we are.

I want to use this blog post to point out a couple of things that happened in August that we kinda fun. For me, anyway.

I had a great chat with Christine Bruce, who runs a radio program called “Totally Spoke’d” on CICK radio (and the interwebs, or course, because it is 2020). The program is about cycling and active transportation advocacy. Christine invited me on to talk about the increased fines for dooring recently applied by the BC Government, which I talked to the New West Record about here.

Christine was an informed and fun person to chat with, and I think the conversation was a great introduction to the issue and the reasons the province made the changes. It was also a launching point to a bigger discussion about the tonne of work we have yet to do to make cycling spaces – and all active transportation spaces – safe and comfortable in urban areas. Have a listen here!

I also had a long chat with Dean Murdock (which he artfully edited down to a tight 20 minutes) who produces and hosts the Podcast Amazing Places. Dean is a former City Councillor from Saanich and is leading conversations in Greater Victoria about making public spaces better. He wanted to talk about the original capital’s Streets for People initiatives, and the efforts New Westminster is making to re-balance our public space allocation between storage-and-movement-of-automobiles and all the other uses the space can be used for. You can hear that conversation here, or wherever your favourite Podcasts are cast from. And unless you are my Mom, you will probably find more interesting episodes of his show than mine, Dean is definitely worth a follow.

Finally, I couldn’t help but stick my nose into the CBC’s Best Neighbourhood conversation/competition. Along with my fellow Browhillian Councillor Nadine Nakagawa, we made a compelling case (I think) for the Brow of the Hill. Enough that after we lost to much less worthy places, we were back on CBC to talk about the Brow. We were there to talk about how we define a great neighbourhood, and what we value in the pace that we live. It was all in good fun, but I think I’ll dig into a longer conversation about this “contest” for a follow-up Blog Post.

Declaration for Resilience (Part 4)

I have to wrap up my mid-August long read, as labour day is fast approaching. It’s been so gloriously nice outside, as it always is after the PNE rains pass, I have really been putting this off. I have some more time this week, so here we go. This is Part 4 of the City’s response to the Declaration for Sustainability in Canadian Cities that Council approved early in the month. The final section are ideas that arose during local discussions that seem to be gaps in the original declaration, or are particularly relevant to the Metro Vancouver / New West context. As these are not part of the original text, this section will only have the staff-suggested additions, with my comments after – as always, speaking for myself and not on behalf of Council or the City.

Provide funding, land, and regulatory environment to increase the supply of affordable rental housing and non‐market housing in all neigbhourhoods, particularly in transit‐oriented locations.
I expressed a bit of concern with us opening this section (and others below) with “funding”. In the plainest language I can offer – non-market housing is a senior government responsibility to fund, and municipal governments, with less than 9% of all tax revenues and already suffering from a significant infrastructure gap in everything from roads to sewers to recreation facilities and parks, municipalities cannot take on the financial burden of providing housing because senior governments got out of the business of building it in the Great Austerity Shift of the 1990s. If paying for building housing falls on us and property tax revenue, it will be inadequate and ultimately a failure.

That said, I do not think Cities can turn their backs on the desperate need for supportive housing, and we have a supportive role to play – assuring our regulatory and policy environment doesn’t prevent the building of affordable housing in all of our neighborhoods. Most of us can also provide public land (which New Westminster has been doing, even with our severely constrained land base), and we have been stepping in and providing capital funding and a tonne of staff resources, both of which are a financial burden on the City, but one where we have to step up if any supportive housing of any type will get built in the City. We also need to cajole and/or shame (whatever works) the provincial and federal governments to bring some of their significant resources to the table to address this ongoing crisis.

Increase housing supplement though income assistance or implement Universal Basic Income.
This is 100% outside of municipal jurisdiction. We are limited to advocating to senior governments to make this happen.

Require all municipalities to provide shelters and other services and supports to homeless populations.
Again, our role in the City is to assure we have space and coordination to provide shelter support to all of our residents. As we are on the “front line” of the living experience of the unhoused in our communities, we are probably best positioned to do this. But until senior governments provide the housing and health care supports to address the problem, this will continue to be an inadequate approach.

Develop culturally sensitive and inclusive policies to protect tenants, maintain and enhance existing purpose‐built rental housing and non‐market housing
This is an area I think New Westminster has truly showed leadership, both before I joined Council and in the last few years. The first step in addressing homelessness is to prevent people from losing their current housing. We have aggressively taken action on demovictions and renovictions, have created and supported a rent bank program, and have dedicated, hard-working staff in City hall coordinating the efforts of local non-profits and provincial programs. We have also brought a region-leading number of purpose-built rental on line in the last few years, and are leveraging non-market supportive housing in new developments.

Support the provision of mental health, and addictions services in all communities.
I’m going to stay on my picky point here and say support: yes; provide: no. Again, as the front line for many residents needing these supports, the City has a role to assure health care and services are available in the community through coordination, assuring our policies and Bylaws support them, and even providing space if needed. However, the services themselves are primary health care services that must be provided by the provincial government through the local health authorities and funded through the Health Act. Municipalities do not have the authority, the staff, the expertise, or the funds to provide this kind of primary health care.

Take action in responding to the provincial overdose crisis and require all municipalities to provide overdose prevention sites and safe drug supply programs
Again, this is a health care issue that fits squarely within the Provincial mandate – they have two ministries funded and staffed to address this. The City should support and absolutely not get in their way. These are primary health care concerns that we clearly need much more of in our community. We have been in a crisis state with a poisoned drug supply for too long, and we need accessible safe supply and provision for safe consumption in New Westminster immediately. We also need to advocate both levels of senior government to make these things happen.

Support the development of local and sustainable food systems including improving local distribution systems.
Support the development of long‐term food security plans that build capacity in the faith‐based and non‐profit sector, who are on the front line in supporting the food insecure.
Food security systems are things we rarely think about except in crisis, and COVID was one of those crises that demonstrated how tenuous our food supply systems are, and how many people’s personal food security is tenuous. I could go on at length about this, and have in the past and have a detailed answer when people ask why we pay more for domestic milk and butter in BC when there are cheaper alternatives across the border, and why we need to support Farmers Markets and local food systems.

Require new buildings to utilize low‐emission building heating and hot water systems including district energy and heat pumps. &
Require existing building retrofits to utilize low‐emission building heating and hot water systems including district energy and heat pumps.
In our Bold Step #3 (Carbon Free Homes and Buildings), we set the goals for 2030 for no new fossil fuel heating in new buildings or retrofits. We currently cannot mandate this, because we don’t have the authority in the Local Government Act. What we can do is require for any building going through rezoning, incentivize it for other buildings and retrofits, and finally, advocate to the BC government to include it in the Building Code or give local governments the authority to mandate it. We are working on all three.

Incentivize new buildings to utilize low‐emission cooking equipment &
Incentivize existing building retrofits to utilize low‐emission cooking equipment.
This is another big step. The era of the fossil-fuel stove may be coming to an end. Yes, there is nothing quite like “cooking with gas”, and FortisBC is looking at ways to bring non-fossil source methane and boosting hydrogen content to get the fossil out of fossil gas, but with new technology (induction stoves are pretty cool), but we are a long way from people replacing all of their household appliances. We can, however, incentivize in new builds and retrofits.

Invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure for use by the general public.
We have been doing this. I am the Chair of a significant Not-for-Profit that does a lot of this work. But I wonder if incentivizing the auto industry should really be a high priority action for Government when that same industry continues to proactively make our Cities less safe, less livable, and less sustainable. I’m going to chew over this one for a while…

Adopt circular economy practices to reduce waste.
Sure. But I’m not sure what the role of local government is here. We collect recycling because it is the “right thing to do” despite most of it going to the landfill or incinerator because there is inadequate economic incentive built into our supply chains to promote recycling. We have no regulatory authority to change how packaging occurs (the source of most of our recyclable waste) nor can we force local manufacturers, suppliers, or retailers take responsibility for the single use products and packaging they sell. We collect your trash, we are allowed to charge you for that service, we can cajole you to separate or comingle to create more distinct waste streams, but the recycling system is broken at a fundamental level, so we are pissing into the wind – and spending way too much money being cheap about it. But hey, we all feel better if our peanut butter jar goes in a blue box instead of a black one.

Support the creation of more waste‐to‐energy sources.
There needs to be a big caveat on this one. In the context of a Climate Emergency, Waste-To-Energy only makes sense if it is not reliant upon the conversion of fossil carbon to atmospheric carbon. Burning waste plastics is no different that burning coal if the source of the hydrocarbon is fossil fuels. I have talked about this in the past, and still feel strongly that WTE solves the wrong problem. There are forms of WTE that do not rely on fossil fuels, but the technology is pretty raw, and some local companies have gone broke trying to make it work. Sewer heat recovery and waste wood gasification are operating in the region as district energy sources, and are the types of WTE that should be supported.

Develop a plan to protect 50% of the land base of the region from development (currently 40%).
This is an interesting, if regional, goal. The City of New West is already developed, depending on how you define it, between 80 and 100%. There are simply no Greenfields for us to expand into. However, we have a role to play in curtailing regional development in assuring out Transit Oriented Development areas provide housing alternatives and livable communities that take the pressure off of undeveloped greenfield spaces in other communities.

Integrate natural assets into conventional asset management and decision‐making processes.
This topic was going to be the theme of a conference I was helping organize with the Lower Mainland LGA, until COVID shut us down. I could write quite a bit about this, but maybe it needs to go in its own blog post. In the meantime, look at the great work that is happening on this front on the Sunshine Coast.

Provide opportunities for voices of the marginalized to be empowered and advanced, inclusive of Indigenous people, racialized populations and lower‐income workers, ensuring all residents in the region are educated, aware and invited to participate. &
Develop a framework to ensure diversity, inclusion, equity and anti‐racism informs all government actions
These are two sides of the same coin, one outward looking (how do we get a more diverse cohort of our population to take active part in decision making in the community?) and one inward looking (are we actually listening and understanding the diverse voices of our community?). These are both things the City is supporting in policy and in practice.

So there we are, that’s the Declaration. Now all we need to do is measure up to our best intentions.

Declaration for Resilience (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of my reporting out the City’s response to the Declaration for Sustainability in Canadian Cities that Council approved earlier in the month. Part 1 on land use planning is here, Part 2 on transportation is here. Part 3 covers the Built and Natural Environments. As in the earlier parts, I provide the original Declaration Text, followed by the adaptation for NW/MV context provided to Council by staff, all followed by my comments (not necessarily speaking for the City or Council, but my own take on it) for each clause of the declaration.

Embracing Sustainability in our Built and Natural Environment
15. Require that all new government‐owned buildings (federal, provincial, and municipal) be carbon neutral.
Require all new buildings that are government‐owned (federal, provincial, and municipal) or built using public dollars to be energy efficient and carbon neutral over their lifetime.
The City has previously set a LEED standard for new buildings, but we have started to move beyond LEED and reviewed other rating/evaluation systems for new buildings. We are currently on pause with the Canada Games Pool replacement due to COVID uncertainty, but the plans as developed included upgrading to a zero-carbon building and energy generation on site. It makes sense when we own our own near-zero-carbon electrical utility, and when lifecycle costs of higher efficiency buildings are usually lower in the long run.

16. End the dumping of untreated sewage outflows into lakes, streams, and waterways.
End the dumping of untreated sewage outflows into lakes, streams, and waterways.
Some may think this sounds like a simple or even archaic goal in 2020, what with our modern sewers and big sewer treatment plants, and we should spend our time in debates about the value of secondary vs. tertiary sewer treatment and resource recovery at sewer plants. However, New West is one of several cities in the Lower Mainland that still has “combined flow sewers” in some areas. As a result, we sometimes still discharge untreated (but highly diluted) sewage to fisheries habitat in the Fraser River. There are complex historic reasons for this, and the City is continually working on (and investing in) sewer separation, but at the current pace, it will be 2050 or later before we achieve this goal. Much of this is a cost issue, as doing this work is very expensive – we have about $25M in the current 5-year financial plan to do this work at that done-by-2050-or-so pace.

Whether we beat or meet that timing is contingent on a few things alongside our tolerance for high utility rates or debt financing. Much of the separation will be funded by and timed on growth, as it is generally older single-family-detached neighborhoods that still rely on combined flow sewers. There is also a direct cost to land owners for this work, as property drainage must be separated to match the upgraded municipal system, which we require homeowners to do (at their cost, usually in the tens of thousands of dollars) when replacing their house or doing major renovations.

So we are working on it, but it is not going to happen soon, though recent support from senior governments has helped the City accelerate their program, which is good. Arguably, the environment would benefit more from federal government funding aggressive sewer separation programs in Vancouver, Burnaby, and New West than it does from the feds funding tertiary treatment upgrades in the sewer treatment plants the diverted sewage goes to, but that isn’t how politics works.

17. Enact a funded, detailed plan to achieve a 40% urban tree canopy.
Enact a funded, detailed plan to achieve a 40% urban tree canopy, within the context of competition for new development, recognize trees as city assets with parity to other city assets and incentivize tree retention and large tree species planting with development.
A 40% tree canopy is ambitious for any urban area. To put that in perspective, New West’s current canopy city-wide is about 18%, and our “greenest” neighbourhoods are on the order of 33% (Queens Park and Glenbrooke). Our Urban Forest Management Strategy calls for aggressive tree planting and preservation of existing trees (including the new Tree Protection Bylaw), and we have a goal to get to 27% tree canopy by 2030 as Bold Step #6. I am OK with 40% as an aspirational goal, and indeed there is some research suggesting this is a best practice level to aim for (Halifax is one of the few significant Canadian cities that has this level of canopy), but for now we are enacting a funded, detailed plan to get to 27% City-wide, which will put us among the greenest communities in the Lower Mainland.

18. Ensure 100% of municipal operations are powered by clean energy sources.
Ensure 100% of all government operations are powered by clean, renewable energy sources.
We are fortunate to be in British Columbia where most of our electricity is zero-carbon, or at least very low carbon. That means the easiest way to move to clean energy sources is to plug everything in. It is easy for buildings, a little tougher for pools and ice rinks (the type of heating and energy needed lends itself more easily to gas), and really problematic for a lot of equipment. Even as electric cars are becoming ubiquitous, you simply cannot buy an electric pickup truck in Canada in 2020, never mind an electric dump truck or backhoe. Back-up electrical generators (important to many of our critical systems), firetrucks, street sweepers, cement mixers, vac trucks, etc., etc., are all seemingly decades from being available in fully electric forms. And then we need to talk about the infrastructure needs for our electrical utility to be able to provide power for all of these needs.

We have already made a commitment to get there in our Bold Step #1, and are picking the low fruit right now, while making bold choices about new buildings by no relying on fossil gas, but we are quickly approaching the bleeding edge. We need every community, and more businesses, to demand that the market provide electrical alternatives for many of the equipment choices above. Though I would love to blog some time about the City of Oslo is taking this a next step – forcing all construction sites to be electric-driven, but that is a big digression.

19. Require every new building in Canada built using public dollars achieves LEED status.
See #15 above
As mentioned above, we can go beyond LEED, but it is not currently within the City’s jurisdiction to (for example) force a brand new hospital being built in 2020 to go zero carbon, despite the fact it will be the largest point source emitter of Greenhouse Gasses for decades ahead in our community. But we can ask.

20. Require all new large office buildings to be emissions‐free.
Require all new large commercial, institutional and residential buildings to be energy efficient and carbon neutral, resilient to local climate change impacts, and located in Urban Centres or in appropriate locations along the Frequent Transit Network.
This is a similar thing, there is only so far we can go as a Municipality in adopting aggressive energy efficiency under the Step Code, and we are one of the more aggressive communities in the Lower Mainland. Vancouver is mandating an end to fossil fuels in buildings, but have their own Building Code that allows them to take that extra step. This item specifically says “large office buildings”, and it is a good idea to expand to all larger buildings that would likely go through a rezoning process, which gives the City an extra lever to pull, as we have lots of flexibility to make demands during rezoning.

I’m curious about adding energy efficiency as a shared priority with carbon neutrality, and I’m not sure I agree. If we have a relatively inefficient building that uses 100% renewable carbon-free energy, that is a clear win over a carbon-intensive by highly efficient building – burning no carbon is better than burning a little carbon. Every step towards efficiency increases up-front cost, and carbon neutrality may increase lifecycle costs (a gas is really cheap right now), so of the choices of which to require or incentivize, I’d err towards carbon neutral. The efficiency addition muddies this water a bit, I think.

Finally, the addition of Urban Centres and Frequent Transit Network leans back on the sustainable city planning aspects already covered in Part 1, but it is worth noting, if you have the most energy efficient office building in the world, but if it is out in an exburb and everyone has to drive a car to get there every day, you are kinda missing the point. This is getting me to think I need to write a critique about some of the decisions around the RCH expansion.


OK, this covers the entirety of the Declaration in its original form, but Metro Vancouver and City of New Westminster staff identified some gaps that would make this Declaration more meaningful to our specific context, and i will write about those in Part 4. But it is August and the sun is out, so I gotta get out there. You should too!

Declaration for Resilience (Part 1)

At the August 10 Council meeting, we endorsed actions addressing the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities.

This is a pan-Canadian (but admittedly very “urban”) movement that calls for a post-COVID recovery that doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the last century of city planning, but instead imagines a greener, cleaner, decarbonized economy, built on the foundation of how we build and operate our Cities. It is signed by people across the political spectrum and from local government politics, city planning, business, academia and environmental activism.

The report New West Council received also included some re-framing of the original 20 proposed policy changes to fit better into the Metro Vancouver / New Westminster context, and included some additional policy directions coming out of staff discussions at Metro Vancouver and within the City of New Westminster.

I thought I would take a bit of sunny summer time to go through this declaration and pick out some of the sometimes-subtle changes that local staff suggested, along with my own comments (speaking, as always, for myself, not for all of Council). This might get a little long, because there is a lot here, so maybe make a cup of tea and I’ll break it up to several blog posts (divided up by the major themes of the Declaration). Each section will start with the original Declaration Text, followed by the staff-recommended adaptation for NW/MV context, followed by my comments. I’d love to hear feedback about this.


Ensuring Responsible Use of Land

1. Update zoning policies to allow more households to access existing neighbourhoods by permitting appropriately scaled multi-tenanted housing, co‐housing, laneway housing, and other forms of “gentle density” to be built, as‐of‐right, alongside houses in lowrise residential neighbourhoods.
Update zoning policies to allow more households to access existing neighbourhoods by permitting appropriately scaled multi‐tenanted housing, co-housing, laneway housing, and other forms of “gentle density” to be built, as‐of‐right, alongside houses in low‐rise residential neighbourhoods, especially along the Frequent Transit Network and in Urban Centres.
Apply the principle of equity to land use decisions so that the appropriateness of land use is determined on the basis of its impact on society as a whole rather than only the applicant or immediate neigbhours.

I think it is appropriate that this is first in the list of actions, because zoning impacts how we allocate use of land across our Cities, and the way we do it now is failing to address equity, is failing to address climate impacts or housing form, and is 100% within the power of Local Government to change.

I want to start be addressing the phrase in scare quotes – “gentle density”. This is a code word, and one I have used myself in the past. It means “slightly more housing, only to the extent that it doesn’t cause too much opposition from the people already comfortable housed in our community”. I think inserting that phrase alone calls into question the commitment to applying the principle of equity to land use decisions. I’ll just leave it with that social justice trick of questioning the implied agency and ask “gentle to whom?”

That said, I had another problem with the local context re-framing of this point. It is clear from the original text that we are talking about single family detached housing here, and large neighbourhoods in urban areas where this is currently the only permitted form of housing. The Declaration says we need to challenge that assumption if we are to meet our sustainability goals, and I agree with that. To change this by inserting “Frequent Transit Network” and “Urban Centres” as the only places appropriate for this change, undercuts the actual intent. In its original form, this is challenging the paradigm that high-traffic corridors are not the only place for multi-family housing, and the change softens that call. We need to break the mindset that the only appropriate use of density is to buffer as-right single family detached houses from the noise and pollution of traffic corridors.

Recent discussions around development of 12th Street in New Westminster are a good example of this thinking. Some folks feel that commercial-at-grade with a few floors of housing above is appropriate to support a secondary commercial district like this. Others feel that there is simply too much commercial as is to be supported by the relatively low residential density of the neighbourhood, and more commercial will simply mean more vacant commercial space where housing would be more appropriate. I would argue that the problem is not the density on 12th Street, but the lack of business-sustaining density within that all-important 5-minute walk shed. Walk three blocks back from a health pedestrian-sustained shopping street in Montreal (for example), and you find moderate-density housing, not SFD suburbs in the middle of a City.

Walkable, functional, equitable neighbourhoods cannot be car-reliant neighbourhoods. And Frequent Transit Networks rely on a density to be supportable just as commercial districts do. So let’s expand our thinking to beyond “along Frequent Transit Networks” to “every neighbourhood within walking distance of a Frequent Transit Network”, and we are onto something, which brings us to the next item:

2. Commit to the creation of 15‐minute neighbourhoods in which it is possible to live, work, and shop, by among other things permitting corner stores, local retail, and live‐work housing, and by adding more local parks in all areas of cities
Commit to the creation of 15‐minute neighbourhoods (ie: complete communities) in which it is possible to live, work, play and shop, by among other things permitting child care, corner stores, local retail, and live‐work housing, and by adding more local parks equitably throughout cities.

This idea behind 15-minute neighbourhoods is that residents should be able to access most of their daily needs within a 15-minute walk, or within about 1,200m of their home. This could mean a 5-minute bike ride, a 10-minue roll in a mobility scooter, or a 15-minute walk, but the idea is that it reduces automobile reliance for most trips. Yes, people can and will own cars, yes, not everyone can live within 1,200m of their job so there need to be commuting options, but if shopping, schools, libraries, rec centres, parks and “third places” are close enough by, stronger communities are built. Of course, this also means there need to be enough people within that 15-minute walkshed to support the things we want to see there, which brings us back to density.

3. Restrict short‐term rentals to ensure that rental homes are not once again removed from the rental market post‐COVID‐19.
Regulate short‐term rentals to ensure that rental homes are not once again removed from the rental market post‐COVID‐19.

The shift from “restrict” to “regulate” is a subtle one, perhaps. I have been banging the drum about the need for us to address AirBnB/VRBO/etc. in the City for several years, but it has just never been seen as a priority for New West staff or Council. It is a bit challenging to enforce, and we do not receive a lot of complaints about it, so perhaps the urgency is not there, and the COVID situation has probably delayed any eventual STR crisis, but the impact on the affordable rental market is pretty clear. Add this to the pile of better rental regulation we need in the province, but this one is 100% within the power of local governments to enact – we can’t pass the buck on this one.

4. Remove all mandatory minimum parking requirements for any new building, to both signal a shift in mobility priorities, and to remove the costly burden of parking, on housing.
Remove parking minimums, enhance visitor parking and bicycle parking supply and include vehicle sharing option for any new multi‐family and mixed‐use building particularly along the Frequent Transit Network, to both signal a shift in mobility priorities, and to remove the costly burden of parking on housing. Consider the introduction of parking maximums in transit‐oriented locations.

I think the changes here are again subtle (removing “all”, then adding other qualifiers that may soften it a bit), but reducing the requirement to build off-street parking for new multifamily developments has been an ongoing process in the City, and one Council has asked staff to advance recently. There is no doubt about the data: we are building way more parking than we need in transit-oriented developments, and there are real costs related to this overbuilding – cost to the housing, and costs to society. I think the one part missing from this is the acknowledgement that off-street parking policy needs to be coupled with properly allocating and pricing on-street storage of cars, and one again, planning policy and transportation policy overlap.

5. Prioritize the use of existing municipally‐owned land for the creation of affordable housing that remains affordable in perpetuity, and for strategic public green space that supports increased density.
Prioritize the use of existing municipally‐owned land for the creation of affordable housing and non‐profit childcare that remains affordable in perpetuity, and for strategic public green space that supports increased density.

This is another area New Westminster is already moving on. We do not have a great legacy of City-owned land compared to some jurisdictions, but we have been successful at getting two small-lot affordable housing developments built in the last couple of years, a TMH supportive housing project just opened in Queensborough on City land, and we are looking at two other sites for upcoming projects. We have also been successful at leveraging childcare space with new development. The greenspace issue is a bit of a harder nut to crack in some of our neighbourhoods, but I hope the Streets for People motion and our Bold Step #7  on re-allocated road space will provide some unexpected opportunities here.

6. Enact stronger restrictions on urban sprawl, including moratoria limiting additional, auto‐dependent, suburban sprawl developments
Enact stronger restrictions on low density, auto‐dependent residential, commercial, and employment developments.
This doesn’t speak directly to New Westminster, as we are already a built-out community, and growth will generally be through density increases and towards less sprawl. However, it does induce us to move towards less car-dependent and sprawly communities as we look at new master-planned communities like Sapperton Green and the future of the 22nd Street area in Connaught Heights.


The next section will be on “Decarbonization of our Transportation Systems”, whenever I get to writing about it.