Hey Everybody. For those of you not in the know, I am running for City Council in New Westminster in the election on November 15.

Hey! I won! I'm working out what these means for my social media and blogging world. I am going to keep blogging, but I'm not sure what it is going to look like once things settle down a bit. So there will be a few posts going up here in the meantime, but stay tuned...

In the meantime, I should probably point out that everything on this blog is me, not anyone else. Opinions, ideas, and conjecture below is not the opinion of the City of New Westminster, nor of any other members of Council (as far as I can tell).

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Council Meeting - January 26, 2015

The fourth official Council meeting of the term occurred on January 19th. I am starting to get the hang of this, but you may want to follow along on video, where you can see the Presentations and Open Delegations that I am not going to cover here. The rest of the meeting starts with recommendations from the Committee of the Whole from the afternoon, which started with us reviewing the various committee recommendations for Grant funding for 2015:  

Remembrance Day Committee
We made an adjustment to the volunteer Committee that organizes New Westminster’s annual Remembrance Day ceremonies at the New Westminster Regiment and Cenotaph in front of City Hall, and appointed the volunteers.

Heritage Grant Program
The City has an established Heritage Grant program, where the City provides funds to programs that encourage heritage protection, and raise knowledge about the heritage of the City. Applications are reviewed by a Committee of citizen volunteers, and that committee sends recommendations to Council for approval. The budget for this program is $25,000, and $25,762 in requests were made in 2015.

Council accepted the recommendations of the committee and awarded $25,000 in grants, divided between 6 applicant organizations.

Amateur Sports Grant Program
The City further grants Amateur Sport programs across the City. The funding model here is a little more complicated than the others, as different sports programs have funding needs, availability, and resources. Clearly, this grant program is only a small portion of the operating costs of these programs, but the City nonetheless allocated $35,000 a year to the various programs. Unlike other grant programs, this money comes from earned interest on two established Legacy Funds
More than $60,000 in grant requests were reviewed by the volunteer committee, and they recommended $34,000 in grants to 9 sports programs across the City.

Port Royal Land Exchange
The proposed exchange of 700 square metres of land between the City and the Developer at Phase 6 of Port Royal was discussed in the January 12 Council meeting. Public notice was done, and the City received no feedback from the public. The land shall be exchanged.

Child Care Grant Program
The City also has a Child Care Grant program , where the City provides funds to make capital improvements to the City’s stock day care programs, to help keep them accessible, affordable, and well equipped. The program offers up to 8 grants per year, to a maximum of $5000 each (for a total of $40,000), and a committee of citizen volunteers make recommendations to Council on how these grants should be awarded.

Nine requests totaling $49,794 were received, and the committee recommended 8 of them for award. The 9th was the LMPS, who received significant funding this year from the Child Care Amenity Provision Capital Reserve Fund (approved by Council on January 12). A total of $37,824 was awarded across these 8 applicants.

Environmental Grant Program
The City has an Environment Grant program , to provide funding to programs that provide environmental benefits to the City, or promote environmental awareness in the City. The program offers up to $20,000 per year, and a subcommittee of the Environmental Advisory committee provides recommendations to Council.

I recused myself from this discussion. I am a long-standing and very active member of the NWEP, who are applicants in the program. Although I did not take part in the application process, am frankly way to busy this year to help the NWEP with their programs, and have no direct fiduciary interest in their success, I have spent much of the last decade being at times a central organizer, spokesperson, and president of the NWEP, so there is a potential for perception of conflict here, so I let my Council colleagues discuss this without my participation.

Community Grant Program
The City’s Community Grant Program across the City. These grants are meant to support “community-based projects for new and developing organizations, established organizations that work on a project bases, and organizations undertaking a special, one-time initiative.”

The fund for this grant is $48,000, and this volunteer committee had to review 27 applications with requests totaling more than $250,000. A tough job for the committee, as you know some great potential programs are just not going to get the grant they need, but I think they did a great job going through the various applications, and recommending 17 programs for funding totaling $46,815. With a bit of room left in the budget, Councillor Harper moved that we increase Royal City Volunteers’ grant to the amount they received last year, bringing the total off all Community Grants up to $47,565 (which is still under budget).

City Partnership Grants
This is the largest grant fund in the City, and is designed to help not-for-profits partner with the City in the delivery of major programs for community well-being. These grants can be awarded over three-year terms, to provide more funding certainty to the organizations for the larger programs. Applications this year added up to $513,500, and the Partnership Grant Review Panel recommended the awarding of grants to 11 organizations for a total of $348,425.

It was decided by Council that the $15,000 that the City provides towards the Hyack Association float to promote New Westminster at community events is better drawn from the Festivals Grant funds, and that the arts Council grant could be increased by $3,000 within the remaining budget.

The Tourism New Westminster grant caused the most discussion in Committee of the Whole. The grant request of $100,000 for the next three years was not recommended, but that the current funding level of $60,000 per year be maintained. Council recognized the importance of Tourism New Westminster’s work, and recognized they had some increased one-time costs related to their move to the Anvil Centre. However, the long-standing plan to have tourism funded in whole by a 2% Hotel Tax (more properly termed the Municipal and Regional District Tax, which is permitted in the Provincial Sales Tax Act and is done in several other municipalities) has not moved forward, and ultimately, that is the best vehicle to fund this type of activity. There is every reason to believe that a Hotel Tax can be in place by the end of Tourism New Westminster’s next fiscal year, so Council decided to fund Tourism for the requested $100,000 this year, and $60,000 for each of the next two funding years, unless the hotel tax is implemented (which should actually bring in a little more than $60,000 for Tourism every year). These changes brought the total of all grants up to $376,425.

Arts and Culture Grants
The City’s Arts and Culture Grants provide for programs that “contribute to the artistic fabric of the City”. And much like the Community Grants, there are so many applicants for so many deserving programs, that the Volunteer committee has a tough task evaluating them all. There were 18 applications totaling almost $70,000. With a budget of $20,000, the committee recommended funding 14 programs (most for less money than they requested). Councillor Williams recommended a shift of $500 between organizations, which Council agreed to (although we had a bit of math trouble at the final meeting, we got it figured out by the end of the meeting).

Warning! Personal Opinion Ahead! The City of New Westminster is extremely generous in the awarding of grants, and it is to the benefit of the entire community. With more than $700,000 in grants awarded every year, New Westminster puts more into Arts, Culture, Sports, Social Services, and Festivals on a per-capita basis than pretty much any other City in the Lower Mainland. Yep, those are your tax dollars being spent. However, what is more worth celebrating are the hundreds of volunteers and scores of not-for-profit agencies that turn these grant contributions (your tax dollars) into actual programs, services, and events. A small city like New Westminster could easily become a cultural backwater being surrounded by much larger Cities (with much larger tax bases) if it wasn’t for the contributions of all of these groups. Asking the taxpayers to contribute something like $10 each for the wide diversity of services we get from these grant partners seems like a good investment to me.

Funding Cuts to Housing Support Programs
After all that feel-good stuff grant-giving stuff, we looked at a report from the City’s Social Planning staff on senior government supports for homelessness. This follows up on the correspondence from the January 12th Council meeting regarding changes in how the Federal Government is prioritizing its Homelessness partnership programs as part of the Economic Action Plan. This is one of those situations where something that kinda looks good at first might be a hidden negative.

New Westminster has a pretty good record on the homelessness file, partnering with Housing BC to develop shelter beds, and working with a bunch of service agencies to provide supports to keep people from becoming homeless. The City (and this is all before me, so I’m not polishing my own apple) has a lot to be proud of for how it manages this file.

The Federal program is targeted at the chronically homeless, which means programs that provide shelter for people who have been without a home for several months will be prioritized over programs that prevent marginalized people from becoming homeless in the first place. New Westminster has a number of the latter-type programs, and they are all suffering funding crises. It only makes sense that taking money away from homelessness prevention programs to fund programs to deal with homelessness is myopic.

Council moved that City send correspondence to senior government recommendations to review how these program funding decisions are made. This is the start of a longer conversation.

Proposed Rezoning of 328 Holmes Street.
This is a typical infill density application on Holmes Street. The lot has a 66ft frontage, and the owner wants to subdivide to two 33’ lots so that two houses can replace one. The existing house is not considered a heritage structure, and 33’ lots are not common in the neighbourhood, but something around 16% of the lots are at least this narrow. This is the very beginning of the rezoning application process (there would be an Advisory Planning Commission report, Public Consultation, Residents Association review, then back to Council) so I shouldn’t comment at this preliminary stage on the merits of the application.

However, in the report that went to Committee of the Whole, staff recommended that Council not approve the launching of the application process in light of the pending OCP update. The thinking is that the OCP may determine that the type of infill density proposed may not be appropriate in the neighbourhood in question.

I disagreed with this recommendation to pause, as the OCP process is only starting up, and delaying this process until the OCP is developed, while not delaying other processes, seems arbitrary. I understand what Staff is hoping to do by pausing this application – they don’t want to make a change here that might not fit the goals of our new OCP - but to be fair to all homeowners, we need to either impose a moratorium, or allow these processes to proceed. This position was supported by most of Council, so that process will proceed.

Metro Vancouver Transportation and Referendum
This action plan outlines the actions the City will take to make sure people in New Westminster get the opportunity to vote on the upcoming plebiscite, and the action the City will take to demonstrate the value of voting “Yes”.

The reasoning for New Westminster, as a City, supporting the Yes side has been discussed at length, but let me summarize quickly here in one sentence. The Mayors’ Plan, when implemented, with save New Westminster money, improve livability for New Westminster residents, will help New Westminster meet its established transportation goals, and will allow New Westminster to continue to work in partnerships with its regional neighbours to meet regional transportation goals.
 
LMLGA Recommendation
It isn’t well spelled out in the recommendation, but this is related to the Bailey Bridge arbitration. We aren’t happy that we lost the arbitration, but the insult to injury is that the arbitration process that took place did not provide the City any reasoning. It is easy to be a sore loser, but in an era where everyone is asking for more open and accountable government processes, a secret arbitration with no reporting out seems archaic. The Mayor suggested we take a recommendation to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association meeting, as a pathway towards eventually having this legislation changed.

And that's it. Although we had a special meeting earlier in the day, where Council learned about becoming a Dementia-friendly City, which was educational and inspirational, and has me thinking about how we can take what we learned to the City's Access Ability Committee.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My 1500-word case.

I started writing a note to a group I was hoping would support the YES side of the upcoming Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite, and it turned into a bit of an extended rant. Actually, after re-reading, it appeared to be very un-ranty for me, which first disappointed me, then made me a little proud. So I thought I would share it here (edited slightly for audience). So here is my 1,500ish-word case for the Yes vote.

I’ll list some facts for clarity, then give you my opinions. See if you can tell where it shifts.

The Plebiscite

The Plebiscite asks for a 0.5% increase on the PST to fund a package of transportation and transit capital projects across the Lower Mainland. This money is specifically earmarked for the projects listed in the Mayor’s Plan released last year, and there will be annual independent audits to assure the money is spent as promised.

The Plebiscite will be my mail-in ballot. Elections BC has not released all of the election details yet, however indications are that ballots will be mailed to every person on the Elections BC voters list. To vote you need to be 18, a resident of the area served by TransLink, a Canadian Citizen, a resident of BC for the last 6 months, and you must be registered to vote at your current address. The ballot will be mailed in March, and you will have until the middle of May to return it.

The “Congestion Improvement Tax”

The regional CIT is a 0.5% sales tax that will raise something in the order of $250 Million per year for the next 10 years. The province has committed to matching funds, and suggest the Feds would as well; when these three sources are combined it equals $7.5 Billion over 10 years.

The CIT will cost the “average household” something in the order of $100 per year. The number is hard to parse exactly, because it depends on how much you spend. The average household income for the lower mainland is about $60,000, and if you spend all of this on PST-taxable items (i.e. didn’t buy food, pay rent or purchase haircuts) then your burden would be $300.

To put the tax rate in transit-oriented perspective, if you buy a $1000 television, you will pay $5 in CIT, which is less than the cost of a single 3-zone ride. If you purchase a $34,000 car, the CIT will cost you $170, which is equivalent to a single month 3-zone bus pass.

The Mayors Plan:

After almost two years of discussion, negotiation, and finagling, the Mayors of Metro Vancouver agreed almost unanimously on a planned package of improvements (the Mayor of Burnaby was the only dissenting voice):

3 light rail lines in Surrey, which will connect the King George SkyTrain station to a line along 104th to Guildford Town Centre, a second along King George Highway to Newton, and a third to Langley Town Centre along the Fraser Highway;

1 Broadway Corridor extension of the Millennium Line all the way to Arbutus;

1 replacement Pattullo Bridge. The Plan will provide an important portion of the capital funding to build a new 4-lane bridge, with the balance of the capital coming from tolls;

11 new B-line routes, adding up to 200km of much more frequent service. 3 of these lines are in Surrey, 2 are in the North-east section, the rest are in Burnaby-Vancouver, or connect Burnaby-Vancouver to target destinations (Richmond, UBC, SFU, North Vancouver);

400 new buses, which means more frequent service, extended hours, and higher reliability for everyone who uses busses;

50% increase in Seabus service – more frequency, longer operation al hours;

80% more night bus service;

30% more HandyDart services;

129 additional Skytrain/Canada Line fleet vehicles on existing lines, providing more frequent,
reliable, and comfortable service;

2,700 km of bikeway improvements.

Impact on New Westminster:

The City is in support of this plan because it provides valuable tools for us to achieve the goals of our Master Transportation Plan, and helps meet many of the City’s objectives towards building a more sustainable, inclusive, affordable and livable community.

The Pattullo Bridge plan is a good one for New Westminster. The bridge will be 4 lanes, and will be tolled. Both of these are issues the City has pressed hard and negotiated towards. The bridge will be built to accommodate future expansion to 6 Lanes (and this is the exact language of the agreement) “if need arises, to meet demand increases beyond current forecasts”. The plan does not include funding for this expansion to 6 lanes, and tolling the bridge and providing the alternatives (light rail and B-line expansion South of the Fraser) is our best assurance that the demand increase that would drive future expansion to 6 lanes will not occur.

More frequent SkyTrain and bus service will of course have a huge impact on New Westminster, which has one of the highest per capita transit use rates in the lower mainland. These new buses will turn the tide on “service rationalization” that has seen two bus routes reduced in New Westminster in the last two years. Larger, more frequent SkyTrain cars mean you are more likely to fit in the first train that arrives at 8:00 in the morning at New West Station, instead of trying to decide if the next train might be a little less packed. Increased Night Bus service will have a huge impact on shift workers (think RCH - our largest employer) and night owls. Increased HandyDart service will help keep our community connected and accessible for more people.

However, providing improved transit service to South of the Fraser and the Northeast Sector is also a major “win” for New Westminster, as it provides viable alternatives to people so they do not have to drive through New West on their daily commute. This is not the solution to New Westminster’s traffic problems, but it is a huge step in the right direction.

Plan B:

We cannot talk about the YES side without acknowledging the NO side. What will be the result of a NO vote? Frankly, no-one knows for sure, but we can make some educated guesses.

We can be fairly sure that the scale and pace of expansion offered by the Mayors Plan will not occur. No provincial government interested in staying in government is going to reply to a NO vote from the public by introducing a new taxation scheme to replace what was just voted down. The Mayors could, in theory, decide to fund this plan with property taxes, however if you read the history of how we got to where we are now, the chances of a plurality of Mayors agreeing to that in short order are very slim, especially as they will be under the same pressure as the provincial government to not approve a tax that the people just voted down. (I will ignore for now the public policy argument that property taxes are a terrible way to pay for transit infrastructure).

Note that almost every other alternative to funding proposed by the Mayors (carbon tax recovery, vehicle levy, gas tax increase, comprehensive road pricing program, funding from general revenue) has been nixed by consecutive Ministers of Transportation. It is not as if there wasn’t a Plan B considered, it is that no proposed Plans B have received consensus support.

In New Westminster, a NO vote almost certainly means continued “rationalization” of bus services. The delay at getting rapid transit built in Surrey will put more pressure on the Pattullo and provide incentive for a 6-lane option. The delay in other transit expansion projects mean more people will be forced (note - I didn’t say “choose”) to include driving through New Westminster’s neighbourhoods on their daily commute to Surrey or the Northeast sector. Congestion will increase the cost of moving goods, will erode the livability of our community, and will empower the government to build yet more lanes of unsustainable transportation infrastructure – with your tax money, and without a referendum.

TransLink:

It is important to remember that TransLink is the agency created by the provincial government to operate Greater Vancouver’s regional transportation system. It exists at the pleasure of the provincial government, and is governed by them. The province could disband, re-regulate, or replace TransLink tomorrow, but the region would still require a public transit operator who would operate the expanded capital assets the Mayors Plan will provide.

There may be significant governance issues with TransLink, however those governance issues are not part of this Plebiscite, nor has the province suggested that governance changes at TransLink will result from a YES or NO result. To suggest so is pure speculation with no basis in the public record. TransLink is not running the Plebiscite, nor are they particularly in favour of it. Every indication is that TransLink has the same position as the Mayors (if I may paraphrase: “we wish we didn’t have to go through this exercise to get adequate funding, but if this is the only path provided to us to build our service level, let’s get going).

This Plebiscite will raise funds to build capital projects, and the funds raised are specifically earmarked for the projects proposed. The province and Mayors have agreed to annual external audits and reporting on how the funds are spent, providing a level of transparency and accountability unparalleled in the history of transportation capital budgeting in the province. This money is not going into a TransLink black hole, but into tangible assets we can see operating. If you want to see more accountability in how TransLink spends, this provides it.

In summary

I am very much on the record in my support for limiting the lanes on the Pattullo to 4 lanes, and tolling the bridge; I have advocated for better public transit in New Westminster; I have supported the mode shift goals of the Master Transportation Plan; and I have supported working with our regional partners to build a more sustainable transportation network;

All of these goals are supported by a YES vote on the Plebiscite,
None of them are supported by a NO vote.
So I’m voting YES.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Council Meeting - January 19, 2015

The third official Council meeting of the term occurred on January 19th. As per usual I will skip the Presentations and Open Delegations (hey, these posts are too long already), jump right into the meat of the agenda, which starts with the Recommendations from the Committee of the Whole from the afternoon:

OUR CITY Visioning Advisory Group

Last meeting, we talked about the OCP public engagement process that we are all-capping as OUR CITY, and the upcoming visioning process that will be happening on Valentine’s Day Weekend. The Visioning Advisory Group is a committee of people who want to play cupid for the City and help with the visioning process. Some were nominated by their Neighborhood Residents’ Associations, others signed up during a call for volunteers. The group represents all of the neighbourhoods on New Westminster, with some newer residents and some multi-generational residents, younger and older folks, quite a few people who work or run businesses in the City (i.e. not just residents).

Through either the RA appointment, or through the volunteer process, we found that two neighbourhoods were not represented: Queensborough and Connaught Heights. Although this OCP update will not strictly include Queensborough (as the Queensborough Community Plan was just adopted, and will be integrated with this pan), we thought it would be good to at least have one representative because many of the amenities and infrastructure on the north side of the river are still important to QB residents. A volunteer from Queensborough was identified, and we asked staff to reach out to the Connaught heights RA to see if they can locate a volunteer for us to use up.
I only know about half of the people on the lists, but the half I do know should make for a great, creative discussion about the future of the City.

Housing Affordability Taskforce

This is a newly-developed task force to address one of the four priority areas outlined by Mayor Coté in his in inaugural address to the City. Council is formally approving the Terms of Reference for the Taskforce.

The focus of this Taskforce will be to bring partners in senior governments and service agencies together with the City to identify initiatives to make housing more affordable in New Westminster – from no-profit and supportive housing to market housing directed at lower and moderate income households, and protecting the rental stock in the City. The goal will be to develop a final report in time to inform the OCP process, so that key policies or ideas can be integrated into the OCP process.

OCP Review Consultations

The Official Community Plan isn’t just a guidance document to make the City feel good, it is a requirement under the Local Government Act. Sections 875 to 884 of the Act outline the requirements for an OCP, and included in that is consultation with affected parties outside of the City – the Regional District, the neighboring municipalities, etc. The City has some flexibility to determine who is affected and who is not (and, as we recently learned from the Langley Township example, it ultimately may not matter at all if a City ignores the concerns of all of these external stakeholders).
This report simply asks Council to endorse the agencies that Staff have determined require consultation in the process under the Act, and includes a request from Fraser Health to be involved (which is, IMO, a good idea!)

DVP 00586 – 1025 Columbia Street

I’m not sure if you noticed, but New Westminster is home to a Save-on-Foods or two. Or three. Or is it four? I have frankly lost count. However the new location in Columbia Square is relatively low-visibility, especially to people travelling by it’s back side on Royal Avenue. The owner would like to put a sign on the side of their building so that persons travelling eastbound on Royal Avenue will know they are driving past a Save-on-Foods. This sign does not meet the strict language of the current Sign Bylaw, so a Development Variance Permit is required. This is the start of that process.

Development Permit Application – 200 Nelson Crescent

This is the proposal to develop the first residential tower at the Brewery District. If you are a follower of Twitter in #NewWest, you are probably aware of some of the history of this project.
Council moved to have this project brought the February 2nd Regular Meeting of Council for formal consideration. I’ll reserve my comments until that date.

Mayor’s Task Force on Transportation

This is yet another task force addressing one of the four priority areas outlined by Mayor Coté in his in inaugural address to the City. Council is formally approving the Terms of reference for the Taskforce.

Transportation is, was, and always will be issue #1 in New Westminster. We are also dealing with major transportation issues locally and across the region right now: implementation of our new Master Transportation Plan; the upcoming Plebiscite on the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan; potential reconfiguring of the Pattullo Bridge and Brunette overpass; and the continued concerns regarding neighbourhood livability and pedestrian safety that dominates the local conversation. The Taskforce will primarily be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the MTP, and prioritizing the goals within it. The Taskforce will report out every 6 months, and will hopefully create achievable but aggressive metrics towards the four targets identified in the MTP:

1. Achieving 50% mode share for sustainable modes by 2031;
2. Stopping the increase in regional through-traffic;
3. Reducing average car-length trips by 35% by 2041;
4. Ending traffic-related fatalities in the City.

I am looking forward to getting moving on this! (puns. the lowest form of humour)

Moody Park Dog Off-Leash Area

The City has a wide variety of off-leash parks, some better than others. Over the summer we heard from a group of residents in the Moody Park area that the Brow of the hill/Moody Park/Uptown area is underserved in this, which is interesting in that those areas have some of the highest proportion of people living in multi-family housing, and are less likely to have a back yard for Bowzer to do his running-around-barkin’-and-sniffin’ thing. I commute regularly through Moody Park, and stopped to chat with a group of dog owners who had their own informal meet-up between the ballfield fences every afternoon.

I’m glad to report that Parks is now entertaining not if they should put an off-leash area in Moody, but where it should go. The summer was spent on consultation, and the public opinion (where less than 10% were opposed to any off-leash area at all), the Parks and Rec Committee, and staff all have the same preferred site.

We heard from two delegations (and received correspondence from the same two persons) at this meeting who opposed this choice. They indicated that the majority of members who attended the last Moody Park Residents Association meeting did not approve of the proposed location. Their complaints were several, which I will try to address here:

Too close to the Kids Play area: The park is actually a good 25 metres from the kids playground and spray park, and will be fenced. Dogs in parks are going to be within 25m of kids, that’s the reality. If your dog cannot be safely across a fence and 25m from kids playing, then perhaps public parks are not the place for it. The proximity between the two amenities may actually be an advantage to young families who have pets, though.

Too small and too treed: The dog park will be 1800 square metres, with the hypotenuse of the roughly trianglular footprint almost 100m long. Although we only have one smaller dog park in New West, and the trees might indeed reduce the total tossing length for your tennis ball, this was the biggest option for Moody Park, which is a crowded and over-programmed urban park.

Location at key entrance: This was actually my concern as well; the last thing we want is an ugly 6-foot chainlike fence marking the entrance to the park at one of our busiest intersections. However Parks staff assured pointed out the park is actually set back from the “gateway” to the park, and the fence will be a lower, wrought-iron-style black fence that should blend in well with the entrance architecture and the trees of the park.

Fundamentally, this has been a long process to get where we are, and I am satisfied the public consultation was comprehensive and representative. The need for a fenced off-leash area in Moody Park was identified as one of the key recommendations in the 2014 Dog Off-Leash Management Plan developed after extensive consultation. Indeed, some of the issues raised by the correspondence and delegation are also concerns identified in that plan (improve amenities within fenced parks, looking at much larger un-fenced off-leash parks so larger dogs can really run), which is why I suggested that the conversation about what dog owners in the Moody Park area (and in other parts of the City) does not end with this park being built. I do not want another year of consultation to prevent the majority of people already surveyed from getting the Dog Park they have been asking for.

Bylaws for Adoption
The Engineering User Fees Bylaw that saw three readings last meeting was adopted. Law of the land, folks.

Meeting Adjourned

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Council Meeting - January 12, 2015

We had our Second official Council meeting of the new term on January 12th, and I am sorry it took so long for me to get it together, but here is my “what we did in Council this week” blog post. I hope to get more timely on these things, but time is one thing I don’t have an excess of right now! Besides, we have to give the press a chance to get their scoops!

I added some “this is only my opinion, not the official position of the City or anyone else” caveats to the beginning of the last Council blog post, read them here if you wish to update yourself. I am going to skip past the delegations and announcements (you can see them on the video if you are so inspired), and launch right into the Recommendations from Council in Committee of the Whole:

Appointments to Committees

We had quite a long discussion in camera about this (lots of personal information about people, selected or otherwise, comes up in the selection process, so it is best done in camera). There were hundreds of applicants, and although a few committees had just enough applicants, there were other committees where 6 people needed to be selected from a pool of several dozen. Chairs of committees are given first crack at drawing up a short list, then we discuss as a group to make sure that there isn’t too much overlap (i.e. there are a few “star volunteers” in the City we would love to have on every committee, but we need to share and want to give new people a chance).

So if you applied and got selected, congratulations! If you applied and didn’t get selected, you probably had stiff competition, and please apply again next year!

Municipal Government Campaign Reform

It seems funny to be talking about this as all of the candidates (successful and otherwise) are currently preparing their financial statements for the last election. The timing of this entire exercise, consulting on changes to how municipal elections are governed in the middle of a local government election, was a bizarre idea. Regardless, Phase 2 of changes to the Elections Act provisions on local government elections are coming along.

I suspect I am going to be the New Westminster candidate who spent the most money getting elected to Council. There are various reasons for this: I was a “new guy”, so I had to spend more to get my name out there than some of the incumbents. It is also because my fundraising goals were more than exceeded: I didn’t think going in that I would receive as much financial support as I did. So some of it was planning, some was luck.

The province is considering campaign finance reform for Local Elections, including creating contribution limits (the maximum amount any one person or entity can contribute to any campaign) and spending limits (the maximum amount any one candidate can spend on a campaign). Although the official opposition tried to put rules around Corporate and Union donations into the mix for public engagement, the Government members of the Committee would not entertain those discussions at this time, so that is not included as part of this consultation.

After some discussion, it seemed to me most everyone on Council is in favour of some limits, but decided that we didn’t have enough information about the myriad of options for how a spending limit law would work. Different jurisdictions have different rules, and it would be good to know what would work here. (Should the same rule apply in every City from Vancouver to Spuzzum? Should spending be indexed by population, or registered voter? Does it include third-part spending? How could spending be distributed amongst party members, and informal “slates”?). Council will expect Staff to report back with a bit of a summary of what works and doesn’t in other jurisdictions. As no decisions will be made until the BC House sits again, and even then the proposed rules will not be put together quickly, we have a bit of time here.

RCH Economic Health Care Cluster

RCH is growing. The province has plans to expand and renew the hospital campus over the next decade or so. As the largest single employer in New Westminster and the foundation of Sapperton’s commercial district, the fate of RCH will have a profound effect on the future of New Westminster.

This was essentially an information report to let Council know about some of the groundwork being laid by the City’s planning and economic development staff to prepare the City for these changes. The Mayor has announced the formation of a Task Force to bring the economic development aspects of this project together and to help coordinate planning between the City and Fraser Health.

In my opinion, there are two parts to this file. First, the City needs to understand the potential for economic development that will come with this expansion, and make sure we are ready to seize the significant opportunities for job growth in the private sector that could come with the public sector job growth that will result. Secondly, we need to make sure the development of the hospital and associated businesses happens in a way that protects (and hopefully improves) the livability of the residential neighbourhoods on either side of East Columbia.

TransLink Mayors’ Council Referendum

It should be no surprise by now that I support the YES side of the upcoming TransLink transportation referendum plebiscite (damn, I’ll get it right eventually). Aside from all of the other reasons I have raised, the Plan aligns well with existing City of New Westminster plans and policies, including our Envision2032 Sustainability Plan, our new Master Transportation Plan, and our Official Community Plan.

This report from staff tidily summarizes the history of how the Mayors’ Council got to where we are now, and why the region’s Cities support the YES side almost unanimously. That support is shared with business groups such as the Vancouver Board of Trade, transportation groups like the Gateway Council, labour groups such as Unifor, and environmental groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation. The report also recommends that the City formally support the YES side, and prepare a communications strategy to promote the YES vote.

It is my firm belief that New Westminster, more than any other City in the Lower Mainland, will benefit from stable capital funding for public transit improvement. Our residents use Public transit more than any other, and the negative impacts of a failure to grow the system will be felt in New Westminster’s road network worse than anywhere else. The first thing people ask a politician or aspiring politician in New Westminster is “What can you do about the Traffic”? This is the first part of that answer. However, this vote also supports improved SkyTrain service, so those 8:00am trains arriving at New Westminster Station will be more frequent and slightly less crowded. It also supports putting more busses on the roads, so that New Westminster can turn the tide on having bus routes cut and service reduced (we actually had a delegation at this meeting requesting that a service recently “rationalized” by TransLink be restored for the good of the elderly residents of Uptown).

The communications work would be coordinated through the new Mayor’s Task Force on Transportation, which I means I am setting myself up for more work here, as I am on that Task force! There is quite a bit of detail in the communications plan attached to the report, and it hits many of the major points that have been identified by others.

As I stated at Council (and Councillor McEvoy eloquently expanded upon) the biggest push leading into the referendum is not messaging, it is getting every single person who rides transit registered to vote so they will get a ballot in the mail. That needs to be the big push up until the end of March. Renters, young people, students, low-wage workers and the unemployed are the groups that would benefit most from improved transit service, and they are the ones least likely to be registered to vote – the mail-in ballot is designed to disenfranchise them.

So how about you? Are you registered to vote? If not, you are unlikely to receive a ballot. If you are unsure, go to this website and check if you are registered today. It takes less than 5 minutes.

Do it. This is a great way to spend the time you waste standing at a bus stop, wishing that buses were more frequent.

Amendment to Council Schedule

There are no items ready to go to Public Hearing on January 26th, so there will be no public hearing on that date. Adjust your calendars and delegation schedule appropriately.

101 third Street Tenant relocation Strategy

Urban Academy has plans to expand their campus, as the current Robson Manor no longer fills their needs. Their preliminary plans include preservation of Robson Manor and infilling the lot with a second classroom building. This will require a Heritage Revitalization Agreement and an OCP amendment. Those processes are going on, but there still needs to be some work done and a Public Hearing is yet to come, so it would be highly inappropriate (arguably illegal) for any member of Council to talk in favour or against the proposal at this time.

This report came to Council to describe a tenant relocation plan for a rental building on the UA property that will need to be razed to make room for the school expansion. Council decided (and I concurred) to defer any comment on this plan until after the Public Hearing, so that Council opinions about this relocation plan are not seen as prejudicing the larger redevelopment plan.

Child Care Amenity Provision Request

The City gets money from developers when they build new buildings. As authorized in the Local Government Act, the City can receive a payment for allowing density increases, and can use that money to provide amenities to the community that would be needed or desired as density increases. In New Westminster, part of that money goes into a fund earmarked to provide daycare spaces – not for the day-to-day operation of daycares, but capital costs related to the set-up of self-sustaining child care facilities.

With recent growth, downtown is lacking in daycare spaces, and especially affordable daycare spaces. It is also home to a high percentage of lower-income and single-parent families, those who would benefit most from nearby daycare. The School District, the City and the Ministry of Education partnered to provide space in the new Ecole Qayqayt Elementary School for daycare spaces, and the LMPS (a not-for-profit that runs several daycares in the City) was contracted to operate the daycare. They require a small capital grant to properly equip the daycare, and are asking the City to grant $40,000 from the Child Care Amenity Provision Capital Reserve Fund.

This is what the fund was set up for, and it is always easier to grant funds when the City’s contribution is part of a larger partnership. As LMPS is spending more than $180,000 setting up the Daycare, the Ministry of Education has provided about $500,000 worth of building (that would have cost more than twice as much if it hadn’t been part of a new school project). This is good value for the money we get from developers; it was easy to vote for this.

Our City Neighbourhood Visioning Process

It is Official Community Plan Time. The City has already done a fair amount of public outreach on a consultation as part of what they have branded the “OUR CITY 2041” process. This report outlines the next stage in Community consultation: a Neighbourhood Visioning event, where stakeholders, a committee of volunteers and staff will work together with the guidance of a consultant to create a vision in drawings of the City of New Westminster in 2041.

I encourage everyone to take part in the OUR CITY 2014 process. It is going to take another year and a half before we have a shiny, new OCP completed, so there will be lots of opportunity for input. You should take every opportunity you get – if you are reading this blog, you probably care about the future of the City, so you are the person we need helping create the new plan.

Save the Date for the Valentines day weekend: as there will be events all weekend around the Love Our City Visioning Workshop.

420 St. George Street Heritage Revitalization Agreement

This is a request for direction from staff to move forward with the permitting process for this infill heritage project. A historic house will be restored, and a lot split to permit the construction of another house. This is only the first stage, and Neighbourhood and Committee Consultation will occur before final approval, so I’ll reserve my comments for now.

Port Royal Phase 6 Property Line Adjustment

This is a part of the Port Royal development, where land under the waterfront walkway currently belongs to the developer, and parts of land to be developed currently belong to the City. The plan is to adjust the property line so that an equal amount of land is exchanged between the developer and the City. Because of the Community Charter, there is public notification required, and this report is Staff asking Council to permit that notification. The final exchange can only occur after public notice, and after the plan is brought back to Council. Watch for this notice, coming soon to a City Page near you!

Utility Rates Bylaw Amendment

Rates for solid waste aren’t going down folks. We aren’t the highest in the Lower Mainland, nor are we the lowest. Remember, if you have a 240L black bin, and find yourself not filling it (because all of your organics are going in the green, and all your recycling is going in the blue), you can trade your 240L for a 120L, and immediately save yourself $100 a year!

Correspondence

There were two pieces of correspondence (of the 5 received) discussed:

The first is from residents who are impacted by smoking on neighbouring balconies within a Strata complex. I have some sympathy for this issue, as it was a major point of contention for @MsNWimby and I when we (briefly) lived in Langley back in the early 2000s. The smoker downstairs didn’t want to fill their own apartment with smoke, so she went out on her balcony, and filled our apartment with smoke.*(see note below)

We asked Staff to let us know about the jurisdictional issues here. Yes, there is a new Bylaw regarding smoking, but generally Municipalities don’t get involved in disputes between Strata neighbours (expecting that issues should be resolved by the Strata Board). The issue of air quality / smoke / odours is also not one a City Government in the Lower Mainland would normally address, as MetroVancouver has the delegated power, the Bylaw to enforce that power, and staff and resources to do the job under their Air Quality Regulatory Program. So I asked for Staff to report back on exactly what the City’s role is here.

The second piece of correspondence was form the Mental Health Commission of Canada, providing al ink to the reports of their successes, and encouraging Cities to adopt a Housing First approach. New Westminster has already adopted such an approach, to some significant success. Council asked that this report be forwarded to the City’s Social Planning department and the NWPD, as a prelude to further discussions around a National Mental Health Strategy.

Public Engagement Taskforce

This is the final of four task forces proposed by the Mayor, and Council endorsed the Terms of Reference. Staff will now work with the Mayor and Council Representatives (myself and Councillor Trentadue) to recruit community representatives.

Alberta Street

Councillor Puchmayr added this issue to the agenda, after several of us received correspondence from concerned residents on Alberta Street (you can read a summary of their concerns here).

I did go out to Alberta Street last weekend, and I recognize Saturday traffic is not the same as rush hour traffic, but I always want to see the geography of an issue. Alberta is (to my eye) a functioning, narrow neighbourhood street. It is narrow enough that speed control should normally not be a big issue, as there simply isn’t room for two cars to pass comfortably, and it obviously does not have the space to carry a lot of traffic.

There are three issues here, all related, but we shouldn’t conflate them.

Traffic volume: Several ideas were discussed around restricting turns at the foot of Alberta as was suggested. The downside to this would be a few people on Alberta complaining their usual route to work/school/shopping is restricted (traffic management always ends up being personal!) and the potential that we would just push the traffic (new, and local Alberta Street folks) over to Simpson or Keary, and we will be in the same spot 2 months from now with a new group of neighbours. If the “easy route” out of the Brewery District is the problem, then perhaps just not allowing access to Alberta from the BD is the way to go, creating a treatment rather like what is at the foot of Simpson. This may have less impact on the travels of Alberta Street residents, and solve some of the problem.

Speeding: Partly because of the narrowness of Alberta, I am wondering if the recent increases in speeding issues are related to a few frequent users, and not a general over-all traffic trend. A recent survey by staff indicated that average speed is only 37km/h, but it only takes a small percentage of irresponsible drivers to really change the perception of speed and the actual safety. This may be improved with paint or pavement treatments, but if it is a few bad apples, a bit of directed enforcement by the NWPD might help. I don’t think anyone would object to making Alberta (and the streets parallel to it) 30km/h zones.

Brewery District: The third factor here is the longer-term traffic management around the BD development. This is going to come to a head soon (if Council approves the next phase of the project) as parking and traffic problems often crop up as early as first construction – the people building the building have to park somewhere. Staff will report back on a traffic plan for both the construction phase and for the build-out of the brewery District, and on why there is no direct access from Brunette (I suspect I know the answer, but I need to ask).

I do want to clarify the “band aid” comment. We can look at a cheap immediate change to address the complaints in the Paper, but that will have effects on neighbouring streets, and will in turn be affected by any potential changes at the Brewery District. So we need a plan that covers more than just Alberta Street, and thinks ahead. However, doing that long-term planning should not preclude doing a quick fix in the meantime, if it is cheap and easy to do. Until the cure is found, a band-aid might help.

Wait for Me Daddy Lighting

Councillor Williams asked that staff look at installing spotlights to highlight the three primary figures in the new Wait for me Daddy installation in Hyack Square. This led to some discussion around the multi-coloured lights, including quite the little twitterstorm. For the record: I don’t like the multi-coloured lights, as I think it takes away from the seriousness of the piece, but they are part of the Artist’s vision, so who am I to say?

Bylaws

We had one Bylaw for adoption: The Revenue Borrowing Bylaw that saw three readings at last meeting. It passed unanimously. It is now the Law of the Land.

The amendment of the Engineering Users Fees discussed above needs a Bylaw, so it was brought forward for three readings. All passed unanimously.

Meeting Adjourned


*: follow-up correspondence clarified for me that the issue here was not just balcony-drift smoke, but smoke travelling through the inside of a multi-family building, through air systems and through the hallways. This actually makes things slightly more complicated (people are smoking inside their own apartment) and simple (the MetroVancouver Air Quality Bylaw probably doesn't apply).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fare Evasion and Jordan Bateman

There was furious action on the War on Public Transit this week, as our local Libertarian hypocrite from the misnamed Canadian Taxpayers Federation again got unexplained media saturation by suggesting that fare evasion on lower mainland transit is some sort of a scandal, or worse - proof of incompetence at TransLink. It sounds compelling, but it is just predictable CTF misinformation.

Allow me to explain.

The latest CTF anti-transit rhetorical volley is based on data released on the “no fare paid” button on TransLink buses. This is the process through with bus drivers account for improperly paid fares (fare evaders, those paying too much, those crossing a zone boundary without paying the premium, etc). Drivers counted 2.76 Million incorrect fares in 2013, which is an increase of 250,000 over 2011. This, in the rhetorical world of the CTF, proves that TransLink is irresponsible, inefficient, and cannot be trusted with the public’s purse. It is further implied that if they could only solve this simple problem, TransLink may not need those new funds being requested through the upcoming referendum.

There are several problems with this narrative, and I might be accused of senseless idealism when I expect our “liberal media” to point them out instead of just parroting Bateman talking points.

For example, the media could put the numbers in perspective. 10 seconds on Google, and one can find TransLink’s financial disclosures, and find that there were 355 Million boardings in the TransLink system in 2013. That means 2.76 Million “non-fares” represent 0.8% of the boardings. In a rational world, an organization as worried about the public purse as the CTF would be touting TransLink’s phenomenal record of collecting fares from 99.2% of passengers on a crowded, chaotic, distributed system with literally thousands of moving fare collection stations comprising what is, essentially, an honour system*.

The CTF makes further hay out of the trend. A 10% increase in “fare evasion” since 2011 sure sounds like a trend should be worried about. Except again, no. TransLink collected $433Million in fare revenue in 2011 and $481 Million in 2013. Over those two years, ridership basically flatlined (356M boardings to 355M boardings, thanks to “rationalization” of routes) but fare revenue went up by 11%. Again, the CTF fails to tout that TransLink is doing an 11% better job squeezing users for revenue, reducing the burden on the poor taxpayer the only way they can without senior government approval.

What about the lost money though? Surely this means TransLink is hemorrhaging money due to scofflaws and lazy drivers? Again, the data says something different. Assuming those fare evaders would have paid if forced to (instead of just walking or hitchhiking or dying where they stood, whatever) that would have resulted in about $7 Million more revenue. Compare that to the $481 Million in fare revenue collected in 2013, and it represents a 1.4% revenue bleed, which is not unsubstantial, but hardly breaks the bank. In comparison, the Congestion Improvement Tax (ugh, still hate that stupid moniker) will raise about $250 Million per year, all of which will go to Capital Projects, not operations.

When Bateman says “TransLink can’t properly manage the system they already have – they certainly can’t be trusted with another $7.5 billion of our money,” he is suggesting not just that this fare evasion is a huge problem, but that TransLink is incompetent at stopping it. What he doesn’t suggest is a way to close that gap, and there is a good reason for that: diminishing returns.

Yes, we could put an armed guard on every bus enforcing payment and issuing receipts, and fare evasion would approach zero, but it would be prohibitively expensive, and the return on revenue would not cover the cost. This has been the central story all along on the Falcon Gate fiasco – TransLink was forced by the Former Minister of Transportation to install an expensive faregate system that TransLink knew would never cover the cost of the fares evasion it was meant to prevent. (Oh, and it is just a coincidence that that the guy who tried to get that same Minister of Transportation made into the Premier is now going to lead the NO campaign for the CTF, but I digress).

Any rational person has to understand that fare-evasion-zero is not possible (just like Zero Tolerance on parking meter violations or speeding or drugs is impossible). A rational person with any business sense at all says that reasonable effort should be made to push that evasion towards zero, up until the point where the cost of those efforts exceeds the money saved through enforcement. Pushing past that point makes no monetary sense if the goal of fares is to earn revenue. I frankly don’t know what that magic point is - at what point further enforcement costs more than it is worth - but if I was a betting man, I would put my money on something around 1%, because that is a common number the tolerance TransLink and other transit systems gravitate towards. Bateman thinks it is a different number (closer to zero), but I’d like to see him (a person with no experience running a multi-modal transit system) demonstrate what that number is, and explain his rationale.** 

But he won’t, because he is not interested in public policy or rational discussion. He is interested in getting headlines by making irrational arguments that clip well in order to get donations for his organization. And our media provide him that free advertising every day.

If you think I am being mean to Jordan Bateman, you are right, because he used to be someone I respected. As a City Councillor in Langley, he was a voice of reason and an excellent communicator. I didn’t often agree with his politics, but always liked the way he tried to explain his thought process through contentious issues. I know people who worked for him, and he had a reputation as a Councillor who did his homework, collected the data he needed to understand issues, and defended his decisions based on that knowledge. He knew that there was an objective truth and that good governance required it. He was the kind of City Councillor I want to be. This makes him a disappointment whenever I see him acting like a clown for the TV cameras.

Back then, Bateman not only had a much more rational approach to taxation, he was a supporter of increased capital funding to TransLink to provide improved light rail and transit service, specifically so his children would not be cursed with another generation of entrenched motordom. Unfortunately, he is now the one person in the province most interested in leading the campaign against exactly what he called for 7 years ago. And he has yet to provide any meaningful reason why he changed his mind.

And that is a shame. For him, for his kids, and for all of us who want to improve our region.

And I know just be responding to him, I am falling for some sort of Streisand Effect trap he is setting. The result? Just watch, 4 months from now, when the referendum campaigns are in full swing, scofflaw fare evaders and TransLink’s refusal to address this issue are going to be major points repeated uncritically in the media, as Bateman and his ilk keep hitting that drum while providing no actual context to the discussion, until it becomes just another part of the “common sense” that no-one can deny. The lie will become truth, thanks to a guy who used to know the difference.


*Actually, the ever succinct Canspice points out bus boardings in 2013 were actually 228 Million, my number includes SkyTrain boardings. I’m not sure which number is better to use, but I guess whether you are trying to make the point that Bus Drivers are useless or that TransLink is incompetent. As noted by Canspice, if your argument is simply the CTF’s standard “ALL TAXES BAD!”, then I guess it doesn’t matter.

** In looking for this number, I found two fascinating research papers, one using Game Theory to determine if Fare Gates make sense for a public transit system (Optimal choices of fare collection systems for public transportation: barrier versus barrier free: Yasuo Sasaki, Transportation Research Part B: Methodological Volume 60, February 2014, Pages 107–114) and another using multi-variable calculus and economic modelling to determine what the optimum fare inspection rate is for a proof-of-fare transit system like SkyTrain (Fare evasion in proof-of-payment transit systems; Deriving the optimum inspection level: Benedetto Barabino, Sara Salis, and Bruno Useli, Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Volume 70, December 2014, Pages 1–17).
         

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Communications breakdown

Thing have gotten a little crazy around here, and by around here, I mean here in the internet.

It all seemed to make sense at some point, but now after having set up a Campaign, then getting elected, things have gotten out of hand. I suddenly find myself with two Twitter handles, two Facebook pages, three webpages/blogs, 5 e-mail accounts, 5 phone numbers, two smart phones, and not time to generate any content on any of them.

So things are going to change.

The plan so far looks like this:

Twitter: I’m bringing @NWimby to an end. It was a fun 14,000+ tweets, but it is time. I needed to set up a different account for the campaign (for a variety of reasons related to Elections Act authorizations, linking the account to my NationBuilder account, etc.) and had I not been successful, I probably would have just nuked that one and gone back to @NWimby. However, the way things turned out, it makes sense to keep the @PJNewWest handle, and start re-building the follower base. I suspect @NWimby will sit there as a largely-ignored legacy for a while, because there are some epic Twitter exchanges in there.

So if you want to follow @NWimby, follow @PJNewWest.

Facebook: I have no idea what the plan is here. I really don’t like Facebook. It has a utility in keeping up with some geographically-distant friends and family, but I am increasingly finding it more of a hassle than it is worth. A local friend one told me “Twitter makes you want to buy as drink for someone you have never met, Facebook makes you want to toss your drink at someone you thought you knew.”

During the election, I used Facebook to transmit info, to identify supporters, and for a little self-promotion. However, I also found that it was a popular media for critics to say less flattering things about me. I have no problem with that, I bring that on myself every time I open my fat mouth. The problem on Facebook is that criticism rarely appeared in pages that I frequented, but instead on pages I have no connection with, so I was rarely able to respond or correct the record. And this got me thinking about how Facebook essentially fails as a social media. Now that my NewsFeed is dominated by auto-running videos of people doing stupid things with trucks, I cannot even fathom why I am still there.

So my Facebook pages are still active, but I may not be there much. I have no strategy yet.

Webpages: I have been blogging pretty consistently for 5 years now, first as GreenNewWest then as NWimby, and in parallel with TignPat. I also did a bit of blogging during the campaign on my campaign website. Again, at the time it made sense to keep these separate, and if the Campaign thing didn’t work out, I could quickly cast the new site to the ether. Now I need to re-jig.

I am going to keep blogging. In the short term, that will be at NWimby. Sometime early in the New Year, there will be a new PatrickJohnstone.ca website, and NWimby will go away. I will port all of the 5 years of NWimby goodness to that new site, so the legacy will still be there. The new website will be the main portal for my non-Official-City-of-New-Westminster communications, and should be significantly spiffier than the current mess that is NWimby. The same lame content, though. And TignPat will pretty much stay where it is, being updated whenever adventure takes place.

E-mail: I’m working on getting away from the Telus webmail thing, as I have had that e-mail address for so long and used it to register for so many different things that it is essentially a place where spam goes to die. I set up a Gmail account for the campaign, and it seems to be the most adaptable format for most things. I will be making some adjustments related to the webpage, so I will probably create a new e-mail address that will forward automatically to Gmail for my personal stuff, like info@patrickjohnstone.ca does now. Stay tuned, but in the meantime (and foreseeable future) you can use that address.

For Official New Westminster Council business, I have been given the e-mail pjohnstone@newwestcity.ca which I will use for just that –official City business. If you want to complain to me about something, send kudos, have a question related to the City, you can use that one.

However, remember that e-mail belongs to the City, and because of FOI rules and such, you might not want to send me anything there you wouldn’t want to see published on the front page of the Newspaper. For much the same reason, I will NOT be using my Gmail account for any official City business.

Phone: The Original Social Media(tm). I have an unofficial phone number which I will hand out to people on a need-to-know basis. I suspect MsNWimby and I have reached the point where our land line is no longer a useful utility, so that number might go away. If you have my 778- cell number, you can use that. Much like withthe e-mail, the City gave me an official number as well, and if you want to chat about City business or have a question that just can’t wait, you can try 604-679-6784. I might answer, if I can figure out this Blackberry thing.

And that’s the breakdown on my communications future. Let’s see how it works out.

As a post-script, my new role requires that I say one thing: my social media comments, writings, posts, and opinions are mine. People will not be posting for me, and I don’t have an editor. Also, nothing I say should be construed to represent the official opinion of the City, or of any other member of Council. Every member of Council is capable of providing their own opinions, and the City has communications staff to transmit information the City needs transmitted, this is not the media for those communications. I may sometimes quote other people, and I may point to official communications, but I will make it clear when I am doing that

I say this fully cognizant that there are a few outspoken people in New Westminster who will purposely try to blur that distinction to create a controversy, if it suits their agenda. That is to be expected, and part of what a politician has to deal with if (s)he wants to continue to be as outspoken and opinionated after the election as (s)he was before the election. So just to be clear: I have opinions; I am not the City.

I hope everyone has a great Holiday, doing the things you love with the people you love. See you in what is promising to be an exciting 2015!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Getting to Yes

Now that everything is looking official, we can start preparing for the TransLink Transit Transportation Transportation & Transit Referendum Plebiscite. The Premier Minister of Transportation will let the people Registered Voters of BC the Lower Mainland vote on increasing the PST installing a new Provincial MetroVancouver-only PST-like Congestion Improvement Tax to feed the piggies at the TransLink trough finally reduce congestion build a SkyTrain to UBC long-needed improvements to local transportation infrastructure.

Ugh, I should not listen to AM radio.

It should be no surprise to my few readers (Hi Mom!) that I am supporting the “yes” side of this referendum, and will be actively campaigning in the spring to help it pass. So I will be writing about the referendum on this blog until most of you are sick of it.

To start things off, I want to talk about what I see as the biggest narrative being drawn up by the NO side forces: the argument that TransLink does not “deserve” more tax money. This sounds like what we hear on CKNW daily: “We should vote NO to send them a message”. The “them” to whom the message is being sent, and the content of the actual message, are shifting details to the overall narrative: Send them a message.

I have even received e-mails and had Twitter exchanges with people whose opinions I respect on a variety of issues that repeat a version of this refrain. So let’s address it (and much below was pulled from e-mails I sent these people in response – I’m plagiarizing myself now!)

Anyone who thinks this referendum is the appropriate place to launch some sort of “taxpayers revolt” is missing their mark in a pretty significant way. A NO vote will not tell the Province or the Mayors that “we pay too much tax already”. Trust me, they already got that message ad nauseum. This is the actual reason the Premier has taken the cowardly route and created this silly referendum exercise that allows her to dodge the blame for any costs related to regional transportation infrastructure, why the Minister of Transportation has nixed all of the earlier alternative payment schemes, and why the Mayors have been diligently pushing back saying “this is your responsibility, not ours”. None of them want to own any tax once it is implemented.

Instead, a NO vote will deliver the Province exactly what they want – an excuse not to invest in public transportation, a download of their responsibility to provide transportation infrastructure funding to the Lower Mainland, and a way to reduce their operational costs by reducing public service. They will proudly talk of being prudent protectors of the public purse (despite their actual record: see BC Place, Site C, Golden Ears Bridge, BC Hydro, etc.), and if the Mayors step up to fund this basic public service through Property Taxes, the Premier play to the CKNW crowd by calling them reckless spendthrifts that throw public money around needlessly with no regard for the poor suffering taxpayer (see downloading of ambulance services, mental health, housing, etc.).

Further, a NO vote will send this Provincial Government the message that when they want to fund a public service (the Massey replacement, an $8 billion dam of dubious need, a new roof for a stadium, etc.) they will just do it without consultation, but when they don’t want to fund a public service (Transit, public health, housing, schools, etc.) they will send the plan to a Referendum and get the public to say no when they don’t have the balls to say so themselves, because they can count on another misplaced “taxpayer revolt”.

That will be a very, very bad precedent for governance in our Province, as with a continued reduction in public service, those taxpayer revolts will become more reliable. That is how the neo-liberal downward spiral is mapped.

If you agree we need to stop cutting transit service (two bus lines reduced in New Westminster in the last year alone!), and need to start re-investing in transit infrastructure, then this YES vote is the only way we will see that happen in the next decade. Because the only “Plan B” anyone can see on the horizon right now is funding this entire thing through property taxes, and I cannot imagine the Mayors will agree on a formula for that in any kind of short order. And there is no way in hell the Provincial government who just witnessed a NO vote on public transit funding is going to then turn around and introduce any kind of new funding scheme for public transit.

Worse, after a NO vote, the Province is still going to move ahead spending ~$3 Billion on a replacement for the Massey Tunnel, and will then spend billions more on suddenly-required Oak Street Bridge replacement, and widening Highway 99 and or 91, then a new Second Narrows Crossing, a 6- or 8-lane Pattullo Bridge, and on and on with bigger highways and bridges as we try to figure out how to move a million more people through this region when the public transit system fails. And they sure as hell are not going to have a referendum on any of those projects. You won’t get to say NO, because by saying NO this time, you already said YES.

This referendum is a dumb idea, and represents terrible governance. However, this is the situation we are in, and we need to make it work, for the future of the region. The Mayors have climbed Mount Impossible and come up with a unified vision and a reasonable (if sub-optimal) way to fund it. We need to get behind it, or a generation of transit infrastructure growth may be lost, and the impact on our region will be worse even than the damage that was done by the Worlds Widest Bridge.

So I am going to be going door-to-door in the spring, and I am going to be reaching out to as many people as possible - we need to vote YES for more sustainable transportation infrastructure and for the future of our region's sustainability.