Ask Pat: Recycling

This is not strictly an “Ask Pat”, but an e-mail I received from a resident. As the conversation was timely and I wanted to take the time to write a complete response, I asked the writer if I could copy the letter (with a little editing for space and to remove personal info) and answer on my Blog, and she agreed. So here goes:

Resident asked:

I would like to add my voice to the chorus of those New Westminster residents who are dismayed and, frankly, a little incredulous, that the recycling depot is being removed from our community. At a time when it seems the entire world is bending over backwards to reverse the damage of our disposable society, New Westminster is going in the opposite direction by making it harder for residents to do the right thing.

If one of the main motivators behind the decision was to save money, I suspect we are going to spend as much as we were going to save to appease the significant number of concerned (read “outraged” from much of what I’ve been reading and hearing) citizens. Council made a mistake by not having a proper consultation with residents about this. (And we know that the process was lacking simply by the number of us who were surprised by the move.) It seems as if burying the removal of a well-used community service in the construction activities of another much needed community amenity was purposeful. If not, it suggests that our respected Mayor and Council are really less dialed into the community than they care to think.

As reasonable as you thought the move and as short-sighted and backward as it seems to many of the rest of us, I do understand that we are stuck with it. In the interest of being more positive than negative (which may not seem to the case at this point in my missive), I would like to offer some constructive suggestions to get us back on track saving the earth. I understand from latest reports we only have 18 months, so I suggest we get cracking:

  1. Some of us with big yards cart up to 25 (!!) bags of leaves and miscellaneous crap that drop from the mature trees/yards. The quick jaunt to the depot will be no more, so how about unlimited pickup of yard / compost waste bags from September 1 to December 31.
  2. Start picking up glass, styrofoam, and plastic wrap in our blue bins (or another TBD bin). This is an obvious one. The condo I used to live in at least took glass, not sure why this is not possible in QP.
  3. Dedicated ongoing mini-stations (partner with existing NW businesses?) for batteries, cardboard, lights, paint, etc. This seems to work well with the Salvation Army and electronics but because of the increased density down at the water front, this is becoming a more difficult drop point.

There are a ton of smart, thoughtful people in New Westminster who will have more and better ideas than these. I have no doubt that the best solutions will come from residents. At this point, any attempts to placate an engaged and rather intelligent audience with platitudes about the “5 minute drive” to the new station may fall on deaf and already inflamed ears.

I would be delighted to learn how Mayor and Council are planning to develop solutions and would of course be prepared to contribute to the process.

Unfortunately, you are probably right that we have not effectively communicated the situation with the recycling centre. Of course, we also haven’t made any changes yet. We have, however, committed to long-term partnerships with adjacent communities to share some recycling costs a year down the road (as I talked about in this Council report) so the process of reviewing how we provide recycling services is ongoing. This is recognizing the space problem on the current CGP site, but we cannot ignore the other issues impacting our regional EPR systems.

Every time we make any change in the City, we are met with a loud chorus of calls to maintain the status quo, usually with little acknowledgement of the pressures behind the changes. And to that point, you are right, we should have done a better job communicating those challenges.

I take a bit of umbrage at the idea that Council has tried to bury this or hide the reality of the challenges in regards to recycling and space on the CGP site. We are still trying to understand what changes we need to make, and how we can support a system that works as well as possible for all users in our City. The idea that we are sitting in a back room trying to find the most devious way to undermine the environmental efforts of our own residents plays well in the barber shop or on a politically-motivated on-line petition, but is ridiculous on the face of it.

The location of the current recycling centre is problematic. We are committed to building a new 114,000+ square foot aquatic centre and recreation facility adjacent to the current Canada Games Pool. We have also committed to keeping the current pool and Centennial Community Centre operating and programmed during construction. That means that it will be a 2- or 3-year period where much of the existing parking for the CGP, CCC, and the Royal City Curling Club (which also hosts gymnastics programming and roller derby in the summer) will be covered by construction and construction staging. To keep these major community destinations operating during construction means impacts on the all-weather field, the current recycling centre, and even how Fire Rescue uses their space. As we move forward on construction planning, these compromises are still being worked out, but suffice to say space will be very much at demand on the site. The road accessing the current recycling yard will most certainly NOT be accessible for much of that period, as accessing it would require driving through an active construction site. This means status quo is not viable, so we need to look at what our other options are.

I want to address your suggestions, While recognizing that our recycling system (in New West, in BC, and across North America) has a bunch of inherent complications that are not clear to the general public. This is likely because successive governments have made (in my mind, misguided) efforts to make recycling as seamless and simple for the waste-generating public as tossing trash in the garbage was. This is based on a perverse idea that for North American consumers to “do the right thing”, it must be as easy as doing “the wrong thing”, and preferably cheaper. Unfortunately, responsibly managing our waste streams is neither cheap nor easy, and if we try to make it so, the responsible part inevitably goes away.

To modify an old adage: Cheap, Easy, or Environmentally Friendly. For waste management, you can pick any two.

So to the suggestions:

1: The removal of green waste from our garbage stream was and still is a good thing. The City supports it by allowing you to place paper yard waste bags (up to 50lbs per bag), next to your green bin for collection. This comes at a significant cost for the City (hassle + staffing + >$100/Tonne in disposal fees), but this is offset a bit in reduced cost compared to that green material going into the garbage. We are spending a bit more to do the environmentally friendly thing here and make it easier for residents who are fortunate enough to have a big yard. We are already doing what you are suggesting.

2: We can’t put glass, Styrofoam, and plastic bags in our blue bins. Simply, there are no services available in the Lower Mainland to separate those wastes at the MURF (“MUlti Re-use Facility”), and no market for the recycled materials that result. Your old condo may have had a separate glass receptacle, it may have had an older “Dirty MRF” contract that took glass, but dollars to donuts that contract no longer exists, or they may simply been taking the mixed waste to the landfill/incinerator. There are, however, several places in the City  and nearby (see below) where you can take Styrofoam or soft plastic, though these services are becoming strained as the market for the recycled material is shifting.

Some Cities (e.g. Vancouver and Burnaby) still take glass in separate curb-side bins. When New Westminster decided in 2011 to move towards comingled collection of recyclables I spoke out against it, because it was my opinion that we were sacrificing the longer-term more environmentally-friendly approach for the cheaper and easier in the short term ones. It is possible that I was under-informed at the time and that the change made perfect sense with where it looked like recycling was going in 2011. There is no doubt we saved a bunch of money in the last decade. But now we need to work within the limits created by that decision. I am almost certain that no-one in the City wants to spend the money to go back to curbside separation, just to make it easier to manage the glass waste stream.

This speaks to something else I think we need to have better discussions about: recycling glass jars may not “the right thing” when it comes to recycling. Glass is inert (i.e. it does no harm environmentally when landfilled) and it’s value as a raw material is very limited outside of a few very niche product streams that are of questionable economic value and likely result in equal or more energy and resource use once full life cycle costs are considered. As we have a necessarily limited budget to manage waste streams, there may be better cost-benefit approaches as far as the environment goes than subsidizing the use of glass peanut butter jars. But I’m headed down a rabbit hole here, so let’s get back on track.

3: There are drop-off points around the City for these things, and many of them are indeed part of local businesses. London Drugs takes batteries. Save-on-Foods takes plastic bags, Rona takes paint, the EnCorp Return-it businesses take a variety of wastes that can’t go in your recycling bin. There is even a Metro Vancouver tool to map out where you can take any material if you want to recycle it (and there is an App for that, natch). Enter you city and your material, and out pops a map like this:

For plastic bags there are a lot of places, for Coffee Pods there are only a few (because coffee pods are evil and the environment got screwed the moment you bought them). The larger point, however, is that there is no single recycling stream, there are many. Even the current City recycling depot takes many things but not everything, and the replacement depot we will share with the Tri-Cities will take a wider variety of things than the current depot. In one sense, it will be easier because more things can go to the one spot. In another sense, it will be less easy, because it is further away for many people who are accustomed to using the current facility. Some of them may make the extra trip, some may decide to use another facility closer to them, depending on what they are trying to dispose of. Your example of the Sally Anne and electronics demonstrate that people have different motivations for using different spots (should these locations be near densified communities to allow non-auto-dependent drop off, or away from them because traffic in dense areas make drop off harder?)

Every recycling stream has its own inherent complications. Collecting plastic seems like the quick win, but it is really complex. There are varieties of plastics, and introduction of the wrong type of plastic (or a metal film attached to a plastic, or a shard of broken glass) into a stream can pollute it and remove most or all value that might be attained from recycling. Never mind when people inadvertently or ignorantly toss a little bit of organics or (gross) biohazard like a diaper or dog waste into the mix – often this means the entire load needs to go to the landfill. Because of this, the wholesalers of the recycleables will pay the city a little bit for some recycle materials, in the order of $100/tonne for most plastics, if there is a staff person attending the collection and assuring the load is “clean”. Without that attendant, we would likely need to pay $100 to have someone take that same tonne of material. And the material is as likely to be “recycled” into fuel for the local concrete plant as to be made into new consumer items. I don’t think that is the kind of recycling that most people would consider a good thing.

I guess a lot of this is addressing your final point, fully recognizing that some of my writing here may come across as dismissive or defeatist. I have been working in sustainability, rabble-rousing about trash, and wailing on-line about recycling for more than decade (I have been known to tour waste recycling facilities on my vacation even before I was elected to Local Government!), and I am still only beginning to learn the complications inherent in these systems. Meanwhile, the ground below our feet is shifting all the time. I can almost guarantee you Mayor and Council are not going to come up with some clever idea to make our waste stream easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Yes, New Westminster is full of smart, engaged people, but there are teams of engineers and planners in local governments, Metro Vancouver, RecyclingBC, and similar organizations across the continent working to address these complex issues. There are professional people whose entire careers are based on this work. I put my confidence in them to come up with solutions.

That said, the role of Mayor and Council is to help communicate these potential solutions, and to hear from our residents and businesses what kind of solutions they would like to see applied. We also need to sometimes explain why we won’t apply them if they ultimately don’t meet our goals, no matter how sexy they look in that Facebook video. The hardest part of our job is to be clear about the cost/ease/sustainability compromises of all the solutions offered (as translated to us by actual subject matter experts) so that the public can let us know if the balance we strike is the right one. I think we will find a way to help people get more of their waste into recycling, but it will definitely be looking different in the decade ahead than it does now.

Unfortunately, the compromises to be considered cannot be summarized in even this stretching-to-2,000 word essay, never mind a simple on-line petition. There are no simple answers, but we need to continue to work on addressing our waste stream, and to start having more serious conversations about the upstream management of materials before they enter our waste stream. We had it pretty good thing going for the last decade: organics recycling came on stream, and people across Asia were happy to take our mixed plastics and papers and electronic waste. We managed to keep the cost of waste management in the City down relative to other costs, in part because of these things. It is clear those good times are coming to an end, and costs are going to be going up because of regional and global socio-economic trends. I guess the bright light in the current inevitable move of the recycling centre – this shift of the status quo – is an opportunity to open this discussion about what the next phase is in managing our waste.

Bikeways now

We have had a couple of presentations to Council by the reinvigorated HUB Chapter for New Westminster. I have been a long-time supporter of HUB (through membership and donations), used to serve as a community representative on the Advisory Committee for Bicycles, Pedestrians and Transit (ACTBiPed), am now Chair of that committee, and even have my name attached to the city’s Master Transportation Plan as a community member of the Master Transportation Plan Advisory Committee, so I feel pretty close to this issue. I thought it was time to write a bit of an essay on where I think we are, and where we need to be going as a City when it comes to transportation. And it isn’t all good.

I need to start this by interject one of my usual caveats about how everything you read here is my opinion, coming out of my brain (or other internal organs, commonly spleen) and not official communication from the City. I am one member of a Council of 7, and they may or may not share my opinions on this stuff. There are staff in the City doing their jobs with much more engineering and planning expertise than me who may cringe in reading my relatively uninformed take. So nothing here should be taken to represent the thoughts, feelings or ideas of anyone or any organization other than myself.

The same goes for my random tweets that sometimes get picked up by the media. I was recently critical on-line of a change in the BC Parkway along my regular-job commuting route that made cycling along the parkway less safe for cyclists and pedestrians. After getting re-printed, I felt the need to state that I recognize New West has some work to do on this front as well, but I like to hope that despite our being slow at improvement, we are not actively making things worse. It is the pace of improvement that I want to lament now.

I am a little frustrated by our lack of progress on building a safe and connected cycling network in New Westminster. I understand a little more now in my role about why we have been slower to act than I like, but I think it is time for us to stop looking at lines on maps and start building some shit.

Up to now, work on the Master Transportation Plan implementation has emphasized things that I think needed to be emphasized in our transportation space – curb cuts, making transit stops accessible, and accelerated improvement of pedestrian crossings. these are good things that deserved investment to remove some of the barriers in our community that represented some obvious low-hanging fruit. We have also staffed up a real Transportation department for the first time, so we have engineers and planners dedicated to doing this work, and they have been doing some really great work.

We have built some stuff! There are areas we have improved, and though they are better than what was there previously, I cannot believe anyone would look at some of this infrastructure and see it as truly prioritizing cycling, and (more to the point) few of them meet the mark that we should be striving for – All Ages and Abilities (AAA) bike routes that an 8 year old or an 80 year old would find safe, comfortable and useable. As I am learning in this role, each project has its own legacy of challenges – resistant neighbours, limited funding, tight timelines to meet grant windows, unexpected soil conditions. Every seemingly bad decision was made with the best intentions as the least-bad-of-many-bad-options. But we need to do better, and that means spending more on better. 

So, much to HUB’s points, there are a few projects I think the City needs to get done soon, and I hope we can find the capital to make happen, even if they are not as sexy as some region-defining transportation links, they are fundamental if New Westminster is going to take the next steps towards being a proper 21st century urban centre:

7th Ave upgrades The existing temporary protected bike lanes on 7th Ave between Moody Park and 5th Street are getting torn up right now as scheduled water main and service works are happening under that street. I am adamant that permanent protected AAA bike lanes need to replace them. This is the part of the established Crosstown Greenway that sees the most non-active traffic, and is probably the least comfortable part as it also sees its fair share of rush hour “rat runners”. The rest of the Crosstown Greenway could use some enhanced traffic calming, pavement re-allocation, and cyclist priority in some intersections, but it is this 300m section where true separated lanes are the only way all users will feel safe.

Connection to the High School Related to this, the new High School will be ready for students a year from now, and we have not done anything to assure that students of the school can safely connect to Crosstown Greenway and the adjacent neighbourhoods. The sidewalks along 6th and 8th are barely adequate now for the mass of students that pour out of the school when a bell rings, and the new site is going to be more constrained for parent drop-off and pickup, so the City needs to build safe connections. In my mind, that means separated bike route along 8th Street to Moody Park and widened sidewalks along 6th Street to 7th Ave, but I’ll leave the engineers and transportation planners to opine on what we need to build – I just want to get it built so that the new school is one that encourages students to walk, roll, bike, or scoot there.

Agnes Greenway Bikeway Another major construction project in town will be starting the fall (hopefully), and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. At that time, the Pattullo, which is the second-worst crossing of a river in the Lower Mainland for bikes (Knight Street is worse, and the tunnel doesn’t count) will be replaced with what could be the best active transportation crossing in  the entire region – and it will see a concomitant increase in use. There is a lot of work being done in the City with the Ministry of Transportation to assure people landing in New West by bike or scooter have decent connections to the existing network. At the same time, we need to fix the crappy connections people trying to move east-west past the bridge now have to deal with. Agnes Street should be that connection for most of our Downtown, should provide proper AAA connections for all downtown residents to QayQayt Elementary, and can be the foundation for the much-needed-and-never-quite-done Downtown-to-Uptown grade-reduced route. This is as key to New Westminster’s Active Transportation future as the Burrard Street Bridge and Hornby Street bikeways were to Vancouver a decade ago. We need to see that vision, do it right, and make this the one gold-plated piece of bikeway infrastructure to hang all of our other dreams upon.

Uptown/Downtown connection Much like the Burrard Bridge example, the connections to the Agnes Bikeway are as important as the Bikeway itself. The Agnes Bikeway will only be transformational if it connects safely to the “heart” of downtown, which is and will continue to be the corner of Eighth Street and Columbia. It also needs to connect to a proper AAA route across Royal. HUB and ACTBiPed have talked at length about potential lower-grade routes from Columbia to Royal using the same thinking as “The Wiggle” in San Francisco, and a preferred route has been identified. However, the solution above and below Agnes are both going to require difficult engineering choices and potentially more difficult political ones.

Priorities set, that brings us to the bad part. Roads are expensive, and completely re-configuring how a road works is really expensive. Moving curbs, adjusting drainage, digging up the road, bringing in proper fill materials, asphalt, concrete, street lights, power poles, moving trees, epoxy paint – it all adds up. Right now cities like Vancouver budget about $10 Million per kilometre of separated bike route installation on existing roads. Long-term maintenance costs are likely lower than the driving-lanes-and-free-car-storage we have now on these routes, but there is no getting around that up-front ding to the budget.

Using the thumbnail estimate from Vancouver, the priorities above could total up to $20 Million, and my dream is to see this happen within the timeframe of our current $409 Million 5-year capital plan. About $155 Million of that is utility upgrades (water, sewer, and electrical), and another ~$100 Million is for the replacement of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. Somewhere in the remaining $150 Million we need to think about the cost of reducing the fossil fuel requirements of our fleet, pay for the current City Hall upgrades and the completion of the animal care facility in Q’Boro, among other projects. We have serious costs coming up – those $150 Million are already committed. And everyone who doesn’t love bikeways is going to hate them more when I suggest $20 Million over 5 years is about a 1% tax increase. I already get grief from some cohort in the City because I “talk too much about bikes”.

Fortunately, we are not alone. TransLink is investing in Active Transportation like never before, both in its role as the regional Transportation Authority, but also in recognizing that people are more likely to buy a ticket for SkyTrain if their 15-minute walk to SkyTrain is replaced with a safe and comfortable 5-minute bike ride. The Province recently released their Active Transportation Strategy, and at least one Federal Party in the upcoming election is hoping to see more federal money pointed at more sustainable transportation options as a campaign plank. Time to strike while the irons are hot.

In New Westminster, I’m going to be making the case that in the year 2019, the creation of safe AAA-standard active transportation infrastructure is not a “nice to have”, but is an essential part of our Climate Emergency response and the most notable missing piece of infrastructure in New Westminster’s quest to be the most accessible and livable city in the Lower Mainland.

ASK PAT: Bees and Boulevards

CN asks—

Are there any plans in New West to plant bee-friendly/drought resistant native plants in medians and other city-managed land? I’ve noticed many enterprising residents have taken this task on themselves by replacing grass with curbside gardens that attract pollinators but I think there is a lot of opportunity for a city initiative in this area.

If you consider trees to be bee-friendly and drought resistant, then yes! But I think you had something else in mind, so before I talk about the trees, I’ll talk about boulevard maintenance and pollinators.

“Boulevards” are the colloquial for that metre or two of grassy area between the road and the sidewalk in front of some residential properties in New West . If you have one in front of where you live, you most likely don’t own it, but you are responsible for some maintenance of it. See this diagram put out by the City:

Image
(above is official communications from the City, nothing else I write here is official communications from the City. It is kind of important that people recognize this, so I try to point it out whenever I can)

You may have noticed some boulevards like the one in the photo above are not your typical grass-with-the-occasional-tree, but have shrubs, flowers, even garden boxes. This may actually, technically, be against the law.

The City’s Street and Traffic Bylaw states:

6.30 An owner of land shall:
1 cut grass and weeds on the Boulevard abutting that owner’s property;

And

8.10 No person shall:
1 significantly alter a Boulevard without the consent of the City Engineer;

So that reads to me like you need permission to do anything on your boulevard except mow the grass and maybe water the tree, which is the thing you are you are required to do.

That said, some people have clearly done more, planting flowers, vegetables, and shrubs. Some have even gone so far as to install garden boxes, faux golf courses, and (I am not making this up) life-sized sculptures of harbour seals. The best advice I can give you is that you should probably not do anything that is a violation of City Bylaws. But, if you were to do something good for the environment like put a diversity of pollinating plants in your boulevard, I would avoid doing anything that will rise the ire of the City Engineer or Bylaw officers, by perhaps following a few tips:

Keep it neat so the neighbours don’t complain. Keep it modest so that it doesn’t restrict views or ingress for emergency responders. Don’t let it intrude into the sidewalk space making the sidewalk less accessible for your neighbours. I would strongly recommend against putting any kind of structure, even garden boxes, on the boulevard, as they can create a hazard, and the City may have to remove them (at your expense!) if they need to access the boulevard for utility maintenance or anything of the sort. Remember the boulevard doesn’t belong to you, so don’t be surprised if the City one day has to remove anything you put there, either to dig up utilities or do sidewalk or curb and gutter repairs – if it is valuable to you, the boulevard is not a place to store it. Also, you need to be very, very careful about digging in the boulevard. Anything more than a few inches down and you may run into utilities (water, gas, fiber optics, street light power, etc.) and breaking one of those lines could be an extremely expensive fix for you, or even dangerous. Finally, any digging, piling soil, or installing things like planter boxes within the critical root zone of the City’s boulevard trees is a violation of the City’s Tree Protection Bylaw. The root zones are really sensitive to damage or compaction.

Now, back to the City’s plans. Yes, we are working on pollinator gardens (I even talked about this during the last election campaign). I don’t think these will be on City boulevards so much as replacing some less ecologically diverse areas of green space in City Parks. Replacing programmed grassy spaces, or planters that have traditionally held annual flower plantings with native and pollinator-friendly plant species has already begun with our first installation at Sapperton Park with help from the NW Horticultural Society. And hopefully more will be coming from this soon, though I am not sure our public boulevards will shift this direction. As beautiful as pollinator gardens are for bees and hummingbirds, they definitely challenge our traditional aesthetic ideas of public space (nature is messy, Colonialism likes sharp lines), and of course operational changes would have an impact on landscaping budgets that we would need to consider. So progress, but probably slower than you might like.

As for trees, we are finally at a point where we can begin the serious tree-planting part of the Urban Forest Management Strategy the City adopted a couple of years ago. It has been a bit of time in coming, as staff first wanted to put their energy into getting the new Tree Protection Bylaw operating smoothly, and get caught up on some of the tree pruning and maintenance backlog (it makes sense to stop trees from going away before we start the work of putting new ones in). The plan is aggressive, with almost 12,000 new trees planned in 10 years. Most will go on City Boulevards prioritizing neighbourhoods like the Brow and Queensborough where the tree canopy is not as dense, and in un-programmed green spaces in City parks. There is a real short-term cost to taxpayers for this program, but our willingness to invest today will make for a much more livable city in the decades ahead.

The phrase I have been repeating since we started this Urban Forest Management Strategy is the old saw “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today”. Well, today has come, and I’ll see you in 20 years.

Ask Pat: Columbia & McBride

C D asks—

Just wondering if anything can be done to keep vehicles from running the red right turn light at Columbia Street and McBride. I walk this way everyday from Columbia Stn to Victoria Hill and it’s an enjoyable walk until I get there. Today a vehicle stopped only to be passed on the left by a vehicle that was behind the stopped vehicle. This is a daily occurrence just on my walk but I know this happens to other pedestrians and cyclists. Someone is going to be killed. Perhaps we can have a railway crossing arm that can come down?

I hate this crossing. I have railed about it in the past, and even wrote a blog post about it here back before I was elected and when I was little more sassy than I am now (there is a funny story in here about how an outgoing city councillor tried to use that blog post to scupper my first election campaign – but that’s a long digression). Even since then, there have been suggestions to fix the crossing and the signage and lighting has been changed to better address the confusion drivers seem to have. I do not think there will ever be a physical barrier installed in that spot and we (vulnerable road users) are just going to have to keep acting with an overabundance of caution until the entire thing is torn up and replaced along with the Pattullo Bridge replacement, which will be starting in the next year or so.

But why wait and not do something sooner? Because there is no obvious engineering solution that meets the current design code and is remotely affordable to do. People often suggest “what cost can you put on saving a life!?” when I say something like that, but I need to point out that this is one of more than a thousand intersections in the City, and by technical evaluation and statistical analysis it is not the most dangerous one for pedestrians by far. Those analyses are the way that staff decide which intersections to prioritize the (necessarily) limited budget of time and money into pedestrian improvements.

For example, the unmarked pedestrian crossing at 11th Street and Royal Avenue is current Pedestrian Enemy #1, so that block of Royal is currently being reconfigured to make it safer. There are a few other priority crossings, and staff are constantly updating the priority list and figuring out what interventions provide the best cost/benefit ratio. I’m not a transportation engineer, so I have to rely on their analysis when it comes to determining relative risk and how to prioritize to most effectively reduce pedestrian risk. Either that, or rely on anecdotal feelings about different intersections, but I think the former serves the community better.

I hate to say it, but “someone is going to get killed” is not a characteristic that separates McBride and Columbia from most urban intersections. Although New Westminster has been fortunate in the last couple of years and have not suffered a pedestrian fatality, the reality is that the ongoing trend towards improved driver and passenger safety is not reflected in the pedestrian realm. In Morissettian Irony, it is getting more dangerous to be a pedestrian around “safer” cars. There are several alleged reasons for this, but the most likely one being the increased size, mass, and power of vehicles with which vulnerable road users are meant to share the road. The only logical response to that is slower speed limits (working on it) and better design of intersections. But with 1,000+ intersections in a little City like New West, and many that need expensive interventions, that is not a quick fix.

I am more convinced every day that the real fix is more than engineering, though. This intersection is one where there is signage, lighting, a painted crosswalk, and yet some significant percentage of drivers just don’t follow the rules. Are they unaware, inattentive, or do they just not care? Likely, there is a Venn diagram where these three factors overlap, and no amount of engineering can fix all of these.

This has me more frustrated every day, and more wondering how we are going to get the real culture change we need to make our pedestrian spaces safe. We need to change the culture of drivers, of law enforcement, and of the entire community to address the fact people in cars are killing people who are not in cars, and that threat is making our cities less livable. We need to educate people about the actual risk they are posing to others every time they step into a car. And we need more active enforcement of the specific traffic laws that serve to protect vulnerable road users, because you apparently cannot engineer negligence and stupidity out of road users.

And worse, every time a City tries to build engineering to protect vulnerable road users, such as better crossings, longer cross signals, separated cycling infrastructure or curb bump-outs, we are bombarded by entitled drivers whinging about how pedestrians and cyclists don’t follow the rules (just read the comments). This despite clear evidence that the vast majority of pedestrian deaths are a result of the *driver* breaking the rules. This is a cultural problem rooted in entitlement, and I don’t know how to fix it.

To be clear: we need to acknowledge that the automobile is the single most dangerous technology we use in our everyday life, and stop being so blasé about the real risk and damage it causes. We also need to stop telling ourselves lies like automated electric cars are going to make life better – they demonstrably are not. But that is another entire blog post.

Ask Pat: Smoking Bylaws

Norm asked—

I live in a low-rise condo in New West. Our Strata bylaws prohibit anyone from smoking in common areas, including decks and patios. The resident in the unit below me is a smoker. He stands in the patio doorway of his unit and holds his cigarette outside. He also blows the cigarette smoke outside. If I have my patio doors open, the smokes comes directly into my unit, which is several times a day. It’s a problem year-round, but obviously worse during the summer. After many complaints to the Strata Council, they say there is nothing they can do because technically he is standing inside his unit. I’m wondering if Bylaw 7583, 2014 3(p) would apply in my situation?

I was just flipping through Bylaw 7583, 2014 yesterday and…. um, no, I’m kidding, I had to look this up. And it wasn’t the easiest Google.

The City’s Smoking Control Bylaw 6263, 1995 regulates smoking within the limits of the City’s jurisdiction. Bylaw 7583, 2014 is an amendment to that Bylaw which includes your cited Section 3(p). Altogether it reads:

3. No person shall smoke:
(p) within 7.5 metres of any opening into a building, including any door or window that opens and any air intake;

Which sounds like a slam-dunk, except that Section 4 of the Bylaw reads:

The provisions of this Bylaw do not apply to private residential properties

So just like a homeowner is allowed to make rules about smoking in their own house or backyard, your strata is allowed to make such rules about smoking around doors, balconies, and common areas on your strata Lot. And I feel your pain, as MsNWimby and I once lived in an apartment where the person downstairs was a smoker, and there were no rules preventing them from second-hand fumigating our apartment. If your strata has an anti-nuisance Bylaw, and you manage to argue to the strata council that your neighbour’s action constitute a nuisance, you might get some relief, but unless one or the other of you move, there is no quick fix here. Unfortunately, there is also not much technically or legally the City can do.

This is, I suspect, going to become an increased problem in the next short while as cannabis legalization causes those who choose to use the product to be less bashful about it, and strata councils are going to be uncertain how to manage it.

The enforcement of smoking laws is really difficult for a City – the nature of the offence is that it is short-lived and ephemeral. There are varying and possibly overlapping rules between private property, city property, and other public property (i.e. enforcement around New West Station) and our Bylaw officers do not have a lot of power to detain or force people to give them ID.

Alas, I don’t know what we can do other than rely on public education and peer pressure to manage the nuisance, and it seems to me that there is currently no public pressure to change the behavior of smokers. I sat near New West Station the other day for 30 minutes watching person after person stand right next to a “No Smoking” sign and light up. Every single one of them tossed the butt on the ground. The tossed butt alone is a $200 fine, but not a fine anyone enforces, because cigarette butts are the last bastion of free littering, despite their significant impacts on our storm drainage systems and river ecosystems. Smokers don’t seem to give a shit, nor do most of the public it seems.

I’d love to see if a Bylaw crackdown would work to address this, but also recognize much of this behavior is by people already marginalized and for whom interactions with the Strong Arm Of The Law could have seriously negative consequences. There is also the addictions issue – being addicted to nicotine is a medical condition for which there is limited access to support, especially for marginalized populations. Unlike alcohol, smokers cannot go into a pub to get their fix, and if they are lower income, they are more likely to live in a setting (rental or other shared housing) where they are legally not able to use it in their own home. Parks and most public places are also illegal. They are addicted and suffering from a prohibition – not a legal one, but a geographic and socio-economic one. We can debate the addictive properties of cannabis, but the situation is essentially the same.

So short version is I don’t know what to do. In your condo or as a City. You can check to see if your building’s nuisance bylaw is any relief, but I suspect that is a long row to hoe, with questionable results. The City could have Bylaw Officers and police walking the streets telling people to put those things out, handing out fines if appropriate, but I am not sure it is the way to change behavior or community standards, and I wonder about our actual ability to collect on those fines and the potential for further marginalizing people. I’ve banged my head against this sine I started on Council, everyone agrees that someone should do something. I’m open for suggestions.

Council – July 8, 2019

Our last Council meeting until the end of August happened on July 8. So let’s get through this report together, and we can all move on to enjoying our summers. We had lots of cool stuff on the agenda, starting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Five Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8136, 2018
The City is required by law to have a 5-year financial plan that as closely as possible estimates our finances for the next 5 years. When reality varies from those estimates in a significant way, we need to update the 5-year plan.

The changes here are exactly what you might expect as our finance folks try to estimate future costs and revenues. For example, a few of the capital projects we were hoping to get done in fiscal 2018 were delayed, meaning the DCC accounts and other places from which we drew the money to pay for them need to be updated to reflect that we didn’t spend this money this year, and that we plan to spend that money next year instead. There are also things like estimating the value of tangible capital assets (things like pipes in the ground and sidewalks) that developers are supposed to deliver the City through development, as it is hard to put a cost to those until the development happen and the assets are actually in the ground and start depreciating. Municipal finance is exasperating and never ending in its reporting.

This is somewhat arcane stuff, but we are required to give the public an opportunity to comment on the changes, so did so, and not surprisingly we received no correspondence or public comment.


We then went into a couple of Staff Reports for action:

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre – Design Update
The project team continues to work on the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre, now acronymically called the NWACC (“NEW-ak”) – but more on that in the next item in the Agenda. The conceptual design was passed through the New West Design Panel, generally to good reviews, with a few suggested improvements. We are starting to now have a clearer understanding of what the facility will look like, some of the shape driven by site constraints and the programming needs of the various elements, but also responding to energy efficiency, buildability, and the long public consultation around how the public wants this new Community Centre to work. We have our Budget Bylaw in place, the next task is to do some more accurate cost estimating now that major design components are agreed upon, and any time that Senior Governments want to announce infrastructure grants, that would be great!

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre: Process to Develop Facility Name
The project team is also shifting some of the Public Consultation energy away from programming and design elements now and talking about branding. What are we going to call this place? Obviously, Canada Games Pool does not make sense, as the new project will not be a legacy of the Games like the old one was. And Centennial Community Centre was named to mark the Centennial of New Westminster or Canada or something.

There has already been some consultation on this, and to answer your first question, we will not be naming it Pooly McPoolface. There is a strong community interest in using this first major infrastructure project in the City after launching our reconciliation strategy to assure there be some components of the facility reflecting Indigenous cultures of the area, both as programming elements and in the design. I suspect that this will also be reflected in the naming. But I do not want to pre-judge the process too much, and we will strike a Facility Naming Advisory Panel to guide the community through this. We named Councillor Das to that Panel.

Riverfront Park (660 Quayside Drive) – Preferred Design Concept
The Bosa Development project on the waterfront includes the delivery of a 2-acre public park as an extension of the existing Pier Park, and a continuation of the waterfront esplanade between Pier Park and the River Market. There has been some public consultation on design concepts for this space, which is being reported out now.

This park is a few years out yet, but preliminary designs need to be considered as part of the engineering work for the underground parkade that will exist under the park. Things like structural loads, air vents, stairs and such need to integrate between the underground and the park. So the City led three Open Houses, had pop-up booths at a Fridays on Front and the Farmers Market, held a stakeholder workshop, and went through a few Council advisory committees. We do a lot of consultation.

The draft models show a combination of active and passive spaces, a mix of hardsurface and green space, and a lot of emphasis on flow through the space. Altogether it is a great compliment to the design principles of the existing Pier Park. There is a LOT in this report, almost overwhelming all of the detail here, but I really appreciate the consideration that went into this work, and the public who took time to help our staff come up with concepts.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Recruitment 2019: Committee Rescindments
Ongoing committee shifts, as one community volunteer took a job in the City that prevented her from continuing to serve on a committee, another changed jobs, and a third moved out of town.

1209 – 1217 Eighth Avenue: Infill Townhouses – Consideration of Development Permit Issuance
This project would see 22 townhouses built where there are currently 5 single family detached homes. The project had a Public Open House (attended by 15 people) and went to the Residents’ Association (a meeting attended by 9 people), was supported (with some recommendations) by the Design Panel and APC, and had a Public Hearing on May 27, 2019. Council moved to approve the Development Permit.

I am whole-heartedly in support of this type of development in New West. This represents 22 new family-friendly homes that will be priced lower than the single detached houses they replace, but provide space and amenity appropriate for medium-sized families. This is the “missing middle” that is so lacking in New Westminster, while also bringing more people into the 12th Street business district to make that area more vibrant. The scale is sensitive to the houses already there, but also points us to a direction where more people can afford to live in size-appropriate housing in New West.

Pedestrian Clearance Interval Times – Best Practices and Implementation Plan
We had a presentation for the Walkers Caucus last year concerned that some of our pedestrian walking signals did not provide sufficient crossing time for some of our more vulnerable pedestrians, which seemed at odds with our Master Transportation Plan principles of placing pedestrians and vulnerable road users at the top of our transportation hierarchy. Staff (with the help of a co-op student project) determined that yep, we have historically used a crossing speed assumption based on older data, and that we could do better.

So staff is beginning a program of re-programming many of our pedestrian-activated crossings to assume pedestrian crossing speeds about 20% slower than we currently do, and that we should expect more pedestrians to clear the crossing before the “flashing hand” or yellow signal activates to improve pedestrian comfort and safety. This especially will reduce conflict between pedestrians and drivers turning through the intersection while only minimally increasing the stop timing for drivers.

Response to HUB New West Delegation to Council (June 10, 2019)
Staff are responding in this Report for Information to the HUB presentation to Council back on June 10th, where HUB listed what they see as the biggest priorities to improve cycling infrastructure in the City. Essentially, staff are thanking HUB for their input and aside from assuring that the concerns raised are entered into the record through this report, are also reiterating that HUB is an important partner in the design and implementation of cycling infrastructure on the City, and will continue to be consulted as they have been in the past as we set priorities.

I think I’ll say more about this in a follow-up blog post, now that it is summer and I have time.

Transportation Development Review – New Fee
When the City reviews proposed developments, one of the many tasks it undertakes is to evaluate the transportation impacts of the project. We do this because “traffic” and “parking” are the most common concerns raised by the public about every project or any shape of size everywhere (except new single family homes, which are actually the cause of more traffic and on-street parking problems, but I digress). So it is incumbent on us to be informed of those impacts before we approve or deny any project, and for staff to work with a developer to determine if impacts can be mitigated through a change in design or through engineering changes on the City side.

This work is getting more complex and time consuming, partially because of the number of developments staff are tasked with reviewing, and partly because our new Master Transportation Plan requires higher levels of pedestrian and other active transportation infrastructure. As with most review of private development, we expect the developer to pay for it on a cost-recovery basis, and this report is asking for a new fee to be attached to new development applications to cover this extra cost – essentially to pay for the staff we need to do this work so property tax doesn’t have to.

Proposed Speed Hump Policy
Our transportation department has brought back a proposed policy around where and how we will install speed humps in the event that a resident raises the request. In the past, this was an ad-hoc process based on volume of complaint, but this is not an equitable way to manage infrastructure and it isn’t the most efficient way to use our transportation funds. This came to Council in the spring, and we asked that it be reviewed based on two concerns: the sense that put the emphasis on “homeowner” consultation and the way that would emphasize improvements in single family neighbourhoods over that in areas with more rentals, and the sense that engineering evaluation of the need/benefit should not be subordinate to community demand, but should either support or not support it.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2019 – 2022 Strategic Plan – Vision, Core Values and Priority Areas and Key Directions
While the rest of City business has been banging along, Council has been working with staff on Strategic Planning since the election last fall. I am glad to be able to share the preliminary parts of this work, with more detail to come after the summer.

I think it is clear we are an activist Council, we are all here because we want to get things done, and want to continue to build on the leadership this City has shown in housing, in addressing inequality, in improving the livability of the community. I think the big push this coming term will be from the addition of Climate Action and Reconciliation to this workload.

Frankly, New Westminster is still a smallish city despite our very big-city dreams. We have 72,000 residents who want the services and amenities of a much larger City, which means that much of our work here is about setting priorities. My experience through our strategic planning was a struggle to reduce the number of priorities my Council colleagues will attest my common use of the phrase “if you prioritize everything, you prioritize nothing”.

So with this preliminary report, I just want to emphasize the Vision and Value Statements, and the 7 Key Directions. These should guide how the Council approaches decisions over the term, and if you want to push Council on a topic, it might be worth your time to read this and determine how your specific interest keys into these key directions – it will make your delegation more compelling and will make it easier for the Council to say YES to your idea. There are the principles we are holding ourselves accountable for. Use that!

Front Street and Begbie Street Intersection (Pier West Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The portion of Front Street behind Hyack Square was ripped up during utility servicing works to support the Pier West project needs to be repaved. They want to do this work at night to reduce the impacts on traffic, and are asking for a construction Noise Bylaw Exemption.

Demonstrating how dangerous blanket statements by elected officials are, I stated last meeting that I would no longer vote for night time noise exemptions when their only interest is to reduce the impact on through-traffic, arguing that our residents’ ability to sleep is more important to livability than regional commuters’ ability to have a less-impeded drive through New West. And here I am in the very next meeting concerned about ongoing access impacts on the River Market from surrounding projects and realizing there may be exceptions to even this rule. The traffic situation around the River Market and Quayside drive has been challenged quite a bit over the last year, and will be for the next year or two with the new project to the east of the Market.

Governance is a funny thing.

616 – 640 Sixth Street (Market Rental): Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8131, 2019 – Consideration of Three Readings
This project recently given Third Reading by Council requires a Housing Agreement – that is an agreement with the City that the promised 95 secured market rental suites will be operated as rentals for 60 years or the “life of the building”, and will be owned by a single entity for that term, who will manage the rental operation. This agreement is secured with a legal covenant between the city and the Owner.

I opened up discussion on what is usually a simple process here because I want to talk about parking in secured market rental buildings. There has been increased demand for street parking around some of our recent market rental buildings, and we have had issues with parking allocation in some of the secured rental buildings in Victoria Hill, and I wanted to clarify what policy guidance we have around parking in secured rental, be it market or non-market.

If the owner of a secured market rental building charges for parking above what regular rent is, then that is an incentive for a renter to save that $100 or more a month and park on the street, impacting their neighbors and businesses, and creating the impression that we are not building enough underground parking. In neighbourhoods where we have permit parking, we charge much less than this for street parking permits for our residents ($15.year) than they would pay for a month underground. I think the thing none of us want to see is streets saturated with cars parking for free and underground garages sitting relatively empty – so I want to be sure we are not creating economic incentives towards this.

One of the principles in our housing agreements is that “off-street vehicle parking and storage be made available to tenants at a reasonable cost”. I am asking Staff to bring back a bit of a policy analysis about what that “reasonable” cost is, how we determine it, and whether there is a public policy reason why we don’t insist that parking be provided as part of rent. We tables the Housing Agreement until next meeting, hoping to get that feedback first.

268 Nelson’s Court (Brewery District Building 7): Development Permit Application for a Proposed High Rise Mixed Use Development – Consideration of Development Permit Issuance
This DP is for building 7 of the Brewery District project – a 32-story tower that has 257 strata units, 52,000 sqft of office, a 9,600 sqft daycare, and 4,600 sqft of retail, as per the existing zoning entitlements. That said, there is an active rezoning for this site that would not change the shape or form of this building, but could shift the condo portion to market rental in exchange for changes in shape and form of other buildings. This is a little strange, but at this point we are NOT evaluating that rezoning, only the form and character of this building, whether it becomes strata or rental is a conversation we will have later.

Participation in Regional Recycling Depot – Public Information Update
The City is committed to taking part in a regional recycling facility near the New West / Coquitlam border in partnership with the Tri-Cities when it opens some time in late 2020. Around that time (and subject to some construction timing) we are no longer going to operate the recycling centre next to the Canada Games pool, because that site is going to be part of the construction project of the NWAAC. Despite some of the hyperbole you may read online, this doesn’t mean the City is abandoning the idea of recycling glass, Styrofoam or soft plastics. Instead, we are going to look at more creative ways to make recycling these materials work for residents, especially those without access to cars, and the >90% of New West residents who don’t use the current recycling yard.

We have at least another year to work on any transition plans we may need to assure residents have access to the recycling they need. Part of this is obviously pointing out the recycling options people already have access to (there are several places in New West other than the current recycling centre that take glass, plastics and Styrofoam!) and part of it is identifying the gaps in the recycling system and ways the City can creatively address them. Some of the operational constraints we are dealing with (TIL: the corporate entities that take our recycling materials away will not accept materials from unstaffed recycling stations) are daunting, and the entire region’s recycling system is under strain right now because of global economic conditions and the collapsing market for recycled materials. I can almost guarantee you that the City’s costs (and therefore your cost) for recycling are going up significantly in the coming years, and we are looking for ways to address that.

I know change is hard for some people, but this system needs to change to be sustainable. We can look at this as an opportunity for the City to improve how it provides recycling, and for citizens to think about their own actions around consumption and taking responsibility for your waste stream.

Amendment to the Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw
Every year, Parks and Rec staff review the fees for their various programs, and make adjustments. The main drivers of cost for our programs are wages of the staff who provide those services (our collective agreement with union staff have a 2% CPI increase this year) and inflation (about 2% this year). We also adjust to assure our fees are representative of regional “market value’ for such services. No fees are going up more than 5% this year, and most are either staying the same or increasing much less an 5%.

As was promised during the last election, we are expanding our “low cost” programs, like $2 Public Skates and some $2 swims and fitness admissions for CGP, so in these senses, some fees are going down this year.

There are some facts buried in this report that are worth calling attention to, and as a City we don’t celebrate enough. New Westminster has the lowest ice use fees in the Lower Mainland – we charge Minor Hockey users 22% to 44% less than the average across the region. Our swim and skate fees are all below the regional average, and our playing field rentals are well below regional average. Use of our recreation services are a bargain in New West, so get out there and recreate!

Community Heritage Commission (CHC) Recommendations to Council
The Community Heritage Commission made a few recommendations to Council, and we moved to accept the Staff responses – mostly “we are already doing this”, but these will all be things brought back to Council as part of further work, so let’s see where it goes.


We bumped a few Bylaws along, including the following Adoptions:

Housing Agreement (228 Nelson’s Crescent) Amendment Bylaw No. 8135, 2019
This is the Housing Agreement that secures Market Rental use for the building at 288 Nelson Crescent that we needed to amend to make CMHC happy with the language, as discussed on June 24th. Council moved to adopt it.

Road Closure (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8093, 2019; and
Zoning Amendment (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8092, 2019
These are the Bylaws that empower the road closure in Queensborough that were subject to a June 24th Public Hearing. Now adopted and the Law of the Land.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1002 – 1004 and 1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8117, 2019;
Heritage Designation (1002 – 1004 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8118, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8119, 2019
This is the HRA and designation Bylaws for those two brick duplexes in the Brow of the Hill, addressed at Public Hearing last week, where no-one came to speak to the applications, and no-one on Council voted against the issuing of Third Reading. One Councilor voted against Adopting these Bylaws for no articulated reason after supporting the project every step until now, so read into that for what it is. The rest of Council voted to support the Adoption.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8120, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8121, 2019
These are the Bylaws that empower the HRA and heritage designation of a single family home in Glenbrook North that were subject to a June 24th Public Hearing. Now adopted and the Law of the Land.

Zoning Amendment (1209-1217 Eighth Avenue) Bylaw No. 8099, 2019
This Zoning Amendment Bylaw supports Rezoning a few single family lots just off 12th Street to build 22 Family-friendly Townhouses, and was Adopted by Council.

Subdivision and Development Control Amendment Bylaw No. 8128, 2019
This Bylaw updates the Bylaw that regulates how new developments hook up to some city Utilities to make sure they are meeting bigger City and Regional goals around sustainability of the utilities. It was adopted unanimously by Council.


Finally, we had two items of New Business:

Motion: Council Meetings – Efficiencies, Councillor Trentadue

Therefore be it resolved that,
Council asks staff to report back on efficiencies that Council can consider to make our meetings more efficient therefore ensuring that all members of the Community and members of Council have an opportunity to speak.

Efficiencies to be included but not limited are:
• consideration of time limits for Council members comments and questions
• limiting the number of times a Councillor might comment, unless with new Information

We have been having long meetings, with long agendas, and we don’t necessarily use our time all that efficiently. It isn’t just Council time, but it is staff time (which is expensive), and public time (which tries the patience of even the most diligent Council watcher). It also results in council making decision late in the evening when we may not be our sharpest, and it results in items further down the agenda not seeing the scrutiny or open discussion that items at the top of the agenda get. That’s not a model for good governance.

We have not had a serious look at our Council Procedures Bylaw since we moved away from Committee of the Whole early in my first term and put all of our regular business on the public meeting agenda, and it might be worth looking at what other Cities do to make sure the conversation and deliberation are fulsome, but that speaking space is equally distributed and provides for a more succinct and efficient meeting.

Council moved in a split vote to support this after a lengthy deliberation, natch.

Motion in response to Reclaiming Power and Place, Councillor Nakagawa and Councillor Johnstone

Therefore be it resolved that
A the City of New Westminster affirm the report’s findings that the actions of
governments have constituted genocide; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon the New Westminster Police Board to respond to the Calls to Justice, specifically 9.1 through 9.11, and request that they champion and lead the establishment of a regional police task force to address the Calls to Justice; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon the Prime Minister and the Member of Parliament for New Westminster to respond to the Calls to Justice that require action on the part of the federal government of Canada; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon Premier of British Columbia and the New Westminster Members of the Legislative Assembly to respond to the Calls to justice that require action on the part of the provincial government; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon New Westminster School Board to respond to the Calls to Justice that refer to public education, specifically 11.1 through 11.2; and

That the New Westminster Restorative Justice Committee be called upon to provide recommendations to Council and/or the provincial court system to inform a local approach to the Calls to Justice that refer to the court system; and

That the Calls to Justice be incorporated into the City’s reconciliation work.

I will write more about this in a follow-up post, because it is a topic deserving of its own space, but short version is that having read the reports and recommendations that came out of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, there is clear direction that cities should take, and we want New Westminster to take those actions. We are relatively early adopters here (I think only Winnipeg and Saskatoon have taken similar actions), but I hope this is an area where we can show regional leadership. More to come here.

And that was a wrap for the spring session! Many Ask Pats in the queue, so I will be blogging in the break, between summer vacations, trips to the Kootenays or Saturna to visit mamily, Music by the River, Fridays on Front, Columbia StrEAT Foot Truck Fest, Uptown Live, Pride Street Fest, and whatever bike rides the Fraser River Fuggitivi have organized for me. Enjoy the season, folks.

Poe?

I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official. I try to read it all, and try to respond to most of it – almost all with the opening line “I’m sorry I am so late replying to this e-mail, I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official.”

There are those few letters that come in every once in a while to which I have no idea how to reply. Bravo? Thank you? Please let your care professional know you have access to the internet? I try hard to take every one seriously, but at times I feel like I’m being played. There is a name for the specific phenomenon I am talking about: the Poe.

Poe’s Law is an internet adage that says “Without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.”

This has been extended beyond its original intent as a characterization of religious extremism and has been applied to the wide variety of on-line crankiness. And once you recognize it (something that likely only happens to elected officials and local newspaper editors, I suspect), it changes how you view a letter like this, that we at New West Council received last week (personal info redacted out of common decency):

 We often get letters addressed to a wide reach of local and provincial elected types. The content here was, however, a curious mix: The Roman numeral date, the pejorative salutation, the way he spells “Apparatchik” correctly, but immediately uses “they’re” in place of “their”. We commonly hear…uh… unusual opinions that leave me questioning how they are even asking me to act on an issue, but in this case the ask is kind of benign if a little confused: Speak out against China doing something but let other countries do it (those other countries are allowed, as far as I know, but I digress…) So is this a slightly cranky guy venting his deeply felt convictions, or someone mocking Mayor West, and the rest of the recipients? I would have happily assumed the former, but see those two attachments to the e-mail? (ps: never open attachments to an e-mail unless your IT department has vetted them!). They are these two graphics:

OK, now I’m thinking he is having us on, so I Google the person who sent it. His name has many, many hits, mostly in the form of letters he has written to editors of local newspapers from Montreal to Spokane, often with the honorific “Rev.” added, to opine on everything from racism (he is against it), homophobia (also against), potential names of future NHL teams (interesting), pipelines (he is for them), Alberta Premiers (he is against them – past and present), and the viability of DC-Marvel crossovers. He even got a pro-Derrek Corrigan letter published a few years ago in the Burnaby Now.

So, seriously, I don’t know if the Reverend takes himself seriously, but he definitely has lots of time and opinions, and I’m not sure I have time to address them all, so I don’t think I’ll reply. But don’t let that dissuade you from writing me a letter, or asking me a question with that red ASK PAT button up there, I will try to get to it as soon as possible. If I think you are serious.

JUNE 24 PUBLIC HEARING (PART 3)

The June 24th Public Hearing had a lot of items on a diverse set of topics. I covered most of them in this post and this post. The last item was a new development project in Uptown:

Zoning Amendment (616 and 640 Sixth Street) Bylaw No. 7997, 2019
This proposal would see a 29-story mixed-use building built in Uptown. This is the first high rise development (indeed the first development of any scale), approved in the Uptown in a decade – since Bob Osterman and Betty MacIntosh were on the Council! The proposed building has 145 Market strata units and 95 secured market rental units. All would meet the City’s Family Friendly Housing requirements as far as 2- and 3-bedroom suites. There would also be more than 12,000 square feet of commercial space in the three-story podium.

The project has evolved quite a bit since it was first proposed a couple of years ago, including an increase in rental units, and a changed shape and form of the building to make the pedestal 3 stories instead of the originally-proposed 5 stories, which is a significant improvement to the street presence of the building and supports a more human-scaled street.

The Design Panel and Advisory Planning Commission reviewed and approved the project, and the two adjacent Residents Associations also expressed no opposition. The public open house had more mixed responses, with a significant number of direct neighbours opposed for the reasons you would expect: loss of views, adjacency to their building, construction impacts and traffic. Always traffic. We received 44 written submissions, the vast majority of them supporting the project.

Some were anticipating a large and fractious Public Hearing on this project due to a directed and active social media campaign against it. For the first time in my experience on Council, an anonymous person actually purchased Facebook ads (laden with dishonest and disingenuous rhetoric) in an attempt to rally people in opposition to the project. Surprisingly, the people leading that campaign decided not to show up at the Public Hearing. Instead, several neighbours did come to express concerns about the project while and a few people spoke in favour, so I want to go through a bit of what I took from their delegations.

The issue of pedestrian safety on Princess Street is an issue I take seriously. Although using the term “congestion” to describe Princess Street may be out of scale with other streets, I agree that there is a need to improve the pedestrian experience in this location, mostly because there are a lot more pedestrians using that space than was probably anticipated back when the Royal City Centre mall was designed. A strange design choice back then had the loading bay end of the mall across the street from the main entrance to several residential buildings, and the single mid-block pedestrian crossing is not well marked or located where many users would choose to cross. Making the Greenway on 7th Ave less safe (by creating another conflict-zone driveway crossing immediately adjacent to a significant intersection) is not the solution, improving to Princess is, and I look forward to seeing what those changes could look like.

There were some typically hyperbolic moments in the Public Hearing delegations. A person who is not a Professional Engineer represented himself as a Professional Engineer then raised frankly bizarre concerns about impacts on the Telus tower (200 feet away) and other fanciful geotechnical anxieties. A delegate suggested that 327 parking spaces are designed to accommodate 480 cars. We heard we live in the “the most congested City in Canada” and the suggestion that this one building will “destroy everything about the City”. I recently visited Hong Kong, and I can say with complete confidence that one residential tower at FSR under 7 approved per decade does not make New Westminster indistinguishable from Hong Kong. But the Public Hearing is ultimately about arguing rhetoric rather than about a solemn testing of evidence, which challenges the idea that this process is meant to be “semi-judicial”.  Some day I will rant at greater length about this.

The issue of separate entrances for the Market Rental and Strata components of the building did raise some concerns in the community and at Council. I challenge the contention that this represents “poor doors”, the pejorative applied to separate entrances when included in projects in New York or London where market units are combined with non-market (affordable or otherwise subsidized) units. This proposal does not even include subsidized or low-income housing, but is all market rate housing.

The City has some policy work to do here, as we are working on Inclusionary Zoning policy, and the subject of how to integrate market and non-market housing forms and address shared or separated amenities is an important one. Especially as BC Housing and other non-profit housing providers – organizations absolutely required to get on board if we hope to make non-market housing viable – have clearly stated that shared amenities and entrances with Stratas creates operational and management issues for the providers of affordable housing. These issues were, unfortunately, conflated by some delegates at this Public Hearing, resulting in some confusion in the public (and, indeed on Council) about the issue.

The issue of class segregation and fairness of zoning decisions was raised in a more compelling way by one delegate in opposition to this project because (and I am paraphrasing a 5-minute long delegation) he felt it didn’t do enough to address the housing crisis. Why not all rental? Why not affordable rental on this site? And why is this 240 units of housing OK if this council would not approve even the most modest infill density proposals one block to the east?

In the end, this is about building housing. Supply is (as we often hear) not the entire answer to the housing affordability crunch, but choking off supply will definitely not improve the situation. Still, no single project can be expected to provide every solution to housing;  much like the Ovation project downtown will provide one type of supportive housing, this will bring much-needed Purpose Built Rental to a part of town that has oodles of services, but has not seen any new housing in a decade. It is not lost on me that almost 100 market rental units are being committed to weeks after we had Landlord BC and UDI come to a New West Council meeting to tell us that our aggressive renoviction prevention measures were going to cause purpose built rental building to grind to a halt in the City. The housing crisis and recent market shift have caused hyperbole on all sides, but as a City Council we need to be driven not by reacting to hyperbole, but by solid, defensible housing policy. I am confident that this is an area where New Westminster is still leading the region.

The delegate who was an uptown business owner, and the Uptown BIA through their letter of support, showed that they feel more residential density in the neighbourhood is a good thing for the Uptown community. the developers of this property are long-time New Westminster property owners, locals interested in building housing for their community and for the long-term. More people living in places where they can support local businesses, more people within a walk of their daily needs and living on a Frequent Transit Network, these represent the goals of our Official Community Plan, and the vision for New Westminster in the decades ahead.

Council voted 6-1 in favour of supporting the project, and I was one of the 6.

JUNE 24 PUBLIC HEARING (PART 2)

More Public Hearing goodness from June 24th. We had 5 items that got somewhat less attention at the meeting, which I will go through now:

Zoning Amendment (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8092, 2019; and
Road Closure (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8093, 2019
The eloquently-named Eastern Node neighbourhood in Queensborough is part of a long-term plan to bring a node of “mixed use” development to the transition area between Port Royal and the rest of Q’Boro. This will (finally) bring a renewed neighbourhood-serving retail node to the Port Royal area, something the community is definitely in need of. There are two unopened roads within the plan area of the Eastern Node, that is pieces of land that belong to the City for the ostensible future use as roads that have never been actually used as roads. To re-purpose them, they need to be officially “closed” (which means make then into titled, taxable lands) and rezoned. These are the Bylaws necessary to make that happen.

We received no written submissions on these Bylaws, and we had one delegate speak in favour (though she did express concern that the city was not getting a fair price for the lands). Council voted to support the Bylaws.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1002 – 1004 and 1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8117, 2019;
Heritage Designation (1002 – 1004 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8118, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8119, 2019
Those two unique brick duplexes at 10th and Third are getting a bit of a renovation, which is almost completely interior work, but they nonetheless are going through the HRA route and will be permanently protected through Heritage Designation. The Community Heritage Commission, Advisory Planning Commission, and Brow RA all approved of it. We had no written submissions and no-one came to speak to the application. Council moved to approve the Bylaws.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8120, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8121, 2019
This property owner wants to fix up a heritage house in Glenbrook North, give it permanent protection and subdivide the relatively large lot it is on to build a second infill house on the lot. The Community Heritage commission, Advisory Planning commission, and Residents Association all expressed approval for the plan. We received 7 written submissions for neighbours, all in favour of the application. We also had about a half dozen people come and speak to council about the application – some in favour, some opposed.

To place those delegations in context, I note that this proposal would provide two modest sized houses, both with suites, on a site that would currently allow a large ~4,000 square foot house. To me, our Official Community Plan is better supported by the subdivision and providing increased flexibility of housing close to schools on a Greenway than it is by having a single house that would be much larger and more out of context with the neighbourhood.

One neighbor was concerned about the proximity of the new house to their existing home, but there is no variance of the setback being requested here – if we didn’t approve this, the owner could build their 4,00 square foot house on the same footprint and have the same impact on this neighbor. There were also some concerns expressed about parking (natch) and the safety of the 7th Ave Greenway for bikes. I think that second topic is going to be a great discussion over the next year or so (I have some ideas here, even led a Jane’s Walk on the topic), but this project will not shift the landscape on 7th in a meaningful way. Council moved to support these Bylaws.

Official Community Plan Amendment (Queensborough Residential Low Density) Bylaw No. 8122, 2019;
Heritage Revitalization Agreement (647 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 8068, 2019;
and
Heritage Designation (647 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 8069, 2019
This property owner wants to build a small townhouse development in Queensborough, along with preserving and repurposing the historic Slovak Hall, to convert it into two townhouse-style units.

This proposal is supported by the Community Heritage Commission, the Advisory Planning Commission, and the Design Panel. We received no written submissions on this, we had two delegations: the proponent (in favour) and the direct neighbor (not completely opposed, but with concerns).

I think this was a creative approach to infill density in Queensborough, and the Slovak Hall is a unique structure that will continue to add it the interesting streetscape (avenuescape?) on Ewen Avenue. Council voted to approve the OCP Amendment and Bylaws.

June 24 Public Hearing (Part 1)

We had a lengthy Public Hearing last Council meeting with 8 different items, so I’m going to talk about it in sections. and try to work through it over the long weekend. I’ll start with the last two items of the evening:

Zoning Amendment – Cannabis Retail Location: 532 Sixth Street Bylaw 8111, 2019 and
8. Zoning Amendment – Cannabis Retail Location: 710 Twelfth Street Bylaw No. 8109, 2019
These are the first two applications for cannabis retail locations that have reached this last stage of City approvals; one on 6th Street in Uptown and one on 12th Street.

We have spent more than a year and a half in the process that got us here. This link points you to the reams of public documents and conversations we have had about how best to synch our local land use and business regulations with the federal and provincial regulations, made no less easy as we were waiting for the details from senior governments to trickle in as we were going along. I wrote a few relevant blog posts along the way, and even answered some questions on my blog page. You can go there and search “cannabis” to follow along and see where my mind was as we went through things.

We had our first open Council Workshop back on October 30, 2017, a full year before federal legalization. Staff led us through a pretty detailed discussion about the issues, and you really need to watch the video from the workshop to get a sense of the discussion. It was clear that Council had varying concerns and levels of comfort with the legalization regime, but staff did a pretty good job of working us towards consensus on a framework for local regulations, which they brought back to us for another open Council Workshop on January 29, 2018 where Council once again found several points to disagree on, yet worked our way towards some early principles to build draft Bylaws on.

We then hired a consultant to put together some presentation materials based on the framework, and put it out to two Public Open Houses and a meeting with the local business community. The feedback was generally favourable. We had an on-line survey that was advertised in the local paper, at City Hall, and through social media, and received more than 300 responses. We held a Council Town Hall, inviting people to come in and tell Council what they think we need to do, not do, or adjust.

This feedback was drafted into a set of Zoning and Business Bylaw amendments, which were put to a Public Hearing, with all the notice that entails. We had two people come and speak to that Public Hearing – one telling us we were moving too slow, and one telling us we were moving too fast. Such is the nature of Public Consultation.

At this point, applications started coming into the City for retail locations. They were reviewed by staff based on the framework established, and 5 locations were approved (again, at a public meeting) to go to final approval. We received quite a few delegations at this point, mostly from proponents who had not been selected in their first round. The two applicants in front of us at this Public Hearing were the first to clear all of the required provincial regulatory hurdles to get to this final Public Hearing Stage.

So, after all of that, I do not take at face value a delegate at the Public Hearing who claims that this process was rushed, secretive, and failed to include public input. It is ridiculous on the face of it.

There were some concerns raised about traffic on the 12th Street site. However, the location is an existing retail space, and I don’t see how a cannabis retail location will present greater traffic concerns than a book store, a pub, or a coffee shop.

There are some requirements we agreed upon as a Council that I frankly don’t understand. The requirement for opaque windows is not congruent with vibrant retail street design. This and the “buffer from schools” are requirements based on an outmoded and Puritan idea that we can protect children from (alleged) evil by keeping that evil out of their sight. There is an extended meme in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy about “Peril-sensitive sunglasses” that riffs off of this idea. If the idea of keeping dangerous things out of children’s sight aligned with the real risks to the life and health of children, we would quickly resolve that there are no automobiles within 500m of a school. But I digress.

In saying that, I don’t want to act dismissive of the concerns raised by parents at the meeting. It was clear they are genuinely concerned, even scared, about what the legalization of cannabis means to their children. I empathize with their fears, but I do not share their fears. The substance has always been available to youth who want it, and I think this legalization and regulation process is actually going to make it easier to have rational, fact-based conversations about the substance, its risks and responsible use. I agree it is not appropriate for children to be using cannabis at the age when I started smoking pot (full disclosure: I haven’t touched the stuff in years), but even in my I’d-still-like-to-think-it-wasn’t-that-long-ago youth, parents were less able to have rational conversations about cannabis than they were about alcohol. I suspect that is because alcohol was present in most houses in some for or other and was visible in advertising and on the street, where cannabis was counter-culture and represented (dangerous?) rebellion. I hope that these conversations will change through legalization, but recognize there will always be people unable to move past the prohibition-based status quo.

The nuisance issue with cannabis is a real one, and still one local governments across Canada are going to be challenged to address. I think the nuisance issues will never be as bad as those caused by alcohol (cannabis typically just doesn’t lead to the loud, violent rowdiness that is associated with closing time at many pubs) but they will be different. But in our land use decision-making, I think the nuisance will be more about consumption in inappropriate places (parks, bus stops) and less about where the purchase occurs.

The Uptown location received the most correspondence: 362 pieces, by far most were in favour, suggesting they already have a well established potential client base. We had about 10 people speak to this application, most opposed. It seemed to me that most were opposed to the entire idea of cannabis retail, and the opposition to this location was a sub-set of that. The 12th Street location received a single piece of correspondence (opposed), and about 10 people delegating, with the majority opposed based largely on traffic concerns and parking concerns. In the end, Council moved to approve the two locations.