On Queensborough

This is going to be a bit of a lengthy post on various thoughts I have on Queensborough and the recently passed Temporary Modular Housing project.

On Yes In New West’s role

Yes In New West is a loose group of New Westminster residents who came together a couple of years ago to push for more choice in housing options, particularly those in the missing middle — townhouses and rowhouses. We’ve done a few small campaigns since then, an all-candidates meeting here, a letter-writing campaign there, but nothing that large.

During the process for rezoning the land on which the Temporary Modular Housing (or TMH) would be built, a group of Queensborough residents formed to try to stop it. They attended the Advisory Planning Commission meeting about the project and were unsuccessful at stopping it there.

Right around that time I made some modifications to Abundant Housing Vancouver‘s letter-generator program, and then launched a campaign to send letters of support to New Westminster city council. I was expecting maybe a couple dozen letters of support. I had asked AHVancouver how many letters they’d sent for various campaigns. They had put together a similar campaign supporting TMH in Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood, and another one for TMH in Richmond. These campaigns sent 119 letters in support of Marpole and 137 in support of Richmond. I thought we’d be lucky to get to fifty.

Then the New West Record put out an article about us. In our first day we had 30 letters of support. In three days we broke a hundred. After ten days we hit 138 and broke AHVancouver’s record for letters of support for a TMH project. A week later, and just an hour before the start of the public hearing, we sent our 196th letter.

The letters came from every single neighbourhood of New Westminster. They came from Sapperton, which has similar housing supplied by the Elizabeth Fry Society, in a building that faced similar opposition six years ago and is today hosts people that are a valued part of the community. They came from Brow Of The Hill, which has Westminster House and Last Door Recovery Society housing, whose residents volunteer at community events across Metro Vancouver. They came from Downtown New West, which has Genesis Society and Salvation Army housing near Qayqayt Elementary School, which have no problems coexisting.

And 25% of the letters that had addresses came from Queensborough. Queensborough has only about 10% of New Westminster’s population, so the Queensborough TMH had greater support there than from anywhere else in the city.

I was overwhelmed at all of the support Yes In New West was able to shine a light on. YiNW can’t take the credit, the 196 letter writers are more than deserving of all of the applause. We merely unlocked their support to let the city see how compassionate and welcoming they are.

On Queensborough

I like Queensborough. I think that it’s been dumped on in the past, but it’s getting better. The streets aren’t that great, there aren’t as many amenities as there should be (but it does have more park space per capita than the city average), the transit sucks, the sidewalks are crappy or non-existent, but it’s a nice community. I’ve been to the last two Queensborough Children’s Festivals, and they’re always full of energy, full of life, and full of community spirit. The last one I was at it was filled with people wearing shirts that said “Queensborough, Community With Heart”, and I still feel that that’s the truth.

Queensborough is filled with kind and welcoming people. Despite the efforts of the Facebook group Queensborough Residents for Responsible Community Planning (QRRCP), I cannot think of Queensborough residents as being unwelcoming. I believe that they’re just lacking the experience that others have when it comes to living in a community with housing for people who may have been living on the street, or are fleeing abuse, or are aging out of foster care with nowhere to go.

Acceptance often comes after exposure. We here in Brow of the Hill have been living with recovery houses for so long that they’re a fabric of our neighbourhood. We’re accepting of a wider range of people from a wider range of socioeconomic situations because we have that exposure. Queensborough residents don’t, so they can’t build up that acceptance and are more likely to believe in strawman arguments (“our kids will be playing in parks strewn with needles” or “mentally ill women will break into our schools with axes” or even “our property values will go down”) that have no bearing in reality. It’s only after exposure that the acceptance will come, and I’m very confident that Queensborough will accept these women as fellow neighbours and not as outsiders or others.

On Queensborough TMH

The Queensborough Temporary Modular Housing will provide shelter for 44 women who are either without a home or are at risk of losing their home. This isn’t a drug recovery centre, this isn’t a mental illness facility, it’s for women who do not have a place to live. That’s an important distinction, because being without a home does not mean you’re a drug user or have mental illness challenges. They could be teenagers turning 19 and aging out of foster care. They could be seniors on fixed incomes facing increasing rent and medical costs. They could be women fleeing domestic violence. All of these women — and those with other issues that were either caused by or the cause of losing their housing — have a right to a safe place to live.

So to hear fear-mongering from the Port Royal Mom’s Group or online petitions about vague “dangers to our children” is disheartening. Those same vague “concerns” in the QRRCP petition (which I will not link to) show up:

Queensborough Residents For Responsible Community Planning (QRRCP) is a group of local residents who are concerned with the precise location of this project, given its close proximity to large groups of children accessing school and community services.

…the current site is in direct proximity to over 680 students and hundreds of additional children who are potentially at risk to harm from exposure to active drug use, a potential increase in local drug trade/associated criminal activity, and, individuals exhibiting high risk mental health behaviours.

Of course, these concerns are largely unfounded. Qayqayt Elementary School has three recovery houses closer than this project is to Queen Elizabeth Elementary or Queensborough Middle School, and they coexist just fine. And tarring an entire group of vulnerable people with “active drug use” or “criminal activity” or “high risk mental health behaviours” is just plain scare-mongering. What about the 18-year old who’s transitioning out of foster care? What about the 75-year old woman who’s on a fixed income and cannot continue to pay her ever-increasing rent? What about the woman fleeing domestic violence? Why are you tarring these women with such fearful words? It’s almost as if they’re cherry-picking horror stories to drive up people’s fears to get them to oppose the project.

Nowhere in the petition does it mention the loss of parkland, which you’ll seen see was a theme of the majority of the speakers at the public hearing. I don’t know why they made this shift of narrative.

On The Public Hearing

It was disgraceful, and the overwhelming majority of that disgrace falls on the group of people who came out in opposition to the project. They were rude, they were disrespectful, and they created a hostile environment for everybody involved. The only raised voices I heard from anybody who was supporting the project was asking the loud opposition crowd to be quiet.

Women who had been given assistance through similar projects came out to speak in favour of housing, and a number of them bravely shared incredibly personal and heartbreaking stories. A lot of people from Elizabeth Fry and other similar organizations spoke about the massive benefits of projects like this, not only for the people involved but also for the community. I spoke, yes, but the brave women who shared their stories are the ones we should be focusing on.

And then there were the group of people in opposition. With threatening words towards council like “we’ll be watching” or “November, guys” (pro-tip: if you’re going to threaten politicians about an upcoming election, get the month right) and the clapping and shouting after anybody in opposition spoke, this group made City Hall feel like a riot was going to break out. Two women who were going to speak in favour were intimidated by this behaviour into leaving before they could speak. The safe and welcoming place that City Hall is meant to be was completely transformed by the intimidation of the opposition group.

Queensborough-Richmond MLA Jas Johal was in the lobby, but unfortunately did not speak about the project. After I spoke in favour, I passed him in the audience and he gave me some kind of a smug smirk. I learned afterwards that he was seen chatting and laughing with a group of people in opposition who were being loud and intimidating. This is poor behaviour from someone who is supposed to be a leader in the community.

None of the bullying came from people in support of the project. None of the intimidation came from people in support of the project. If someone in opposition to the project felt bullied or guilty because they stated their reasons for opposing the location, maybe that’s their conscience making an appearance. If you feel guilty because you’re opposing a project because it’ll take away park space when women who lived on the streets and could have died without projects like this speak up, then maybe it’s your conscience making you feel guilty that you place park space above housing a vulnerable neighbour.

I urge everybody to watch New Westminster City Council’s statements made after the Public Hearing as they voted in favour of the project. If you only have 15 minutes, skip to 30 minutes into the video and listen to Jaimie McEvoy’s heart-wrenching story.

On being heard

This group kept saying things like “we want you to hear us” or “yes to the project, but no to the location”. This sounds reasonable on the face of it. People want to be heard. But if you want to actually have a conversation, you have to do some listening as well. The people in opposition to the project stated that they wanted the project moved to another site such as a location on nearby Fenton Street. The city heard this request and did a detailed look at the site before determining that it would not work for this project. The money from the provincial government to build the building has a time limit on it, and the Fenton Street site required more work than could be done before that time limit, so it could not be moved to Fenton Street.

The city reported this, yet the people in opposition didn’t hear it. They continued to say “no to the location” even when they were told that the other locations would not work.

And the “yes to the project, but no to the location” argument is a typical (and here’s where some of you are going to get on me for using the word) NIMBY argument. It’s used to show some kind of sympathy, to show that you are actually in favour of housing vulnerable people, but for whatever reason the location just won’t work. “We’re in favour of townhouses, just stick them on busy arterials instead of our nice street.” “We’re in favour of towers, just not where they block our view.” “We’re in favour of temporary modular housing, just not so close to a school because we’re concerned about the safety of children.”

Well, guess what. If you’re opposed to the location you’re opposed to the project. The location is part of the project. You can’t separate them. Every location has its flaws; I can almost guarantee that if the Fenton Street site was the first choice of the city, these people would still come out and come up with excuses why the location is no good for the project. It’s next to single family homes, maybe, or it’s too far from transit, or some other excuse.

The only grace I’m willing to grant them is the loss of park space. Yes, the lot is currently covered in gravel, but it would not take much to throw down some grass and have it be a bit of a grassy field in a few months. The city should have come out right from the start saying “we realize that there will be a loss of green space, but the T in TMH means ‘temporary’ and the building will be gone in 10 to 12 years, after which we will restore the site to a much better quality than it is now.” Guarantee that the park space will be restored to the community and show that you’re listening to them on this point as well.

On The Future

The future is in Queensborough’s hands. It could go two ways:

One, the people in opposition rally in opposition to the project and protest on site when construction starts. The notice of public hearing sign was lying in the dirt when I went to the Queensborough Community Centre on Tuesday, and I’m hoping this wasn’t because someone was pissed off and knocked it over, I’m hoping that for whatever reason the city took it down and just left it there instead of hauling it away. I’m hoping that this wasn’t the start of larger protests. This reaction would obviously be a negative one, and definitely wouldn’t shine a great light on Queensborough.

The other way this could go is people welcome their new neighbours to their community. There are a number of people who have expressed interest in helping EFry with things like Compass Cards, or welcome packages. I’m hoping that kids from the two schools create gift bags for the new residents, similar to kids in Marpole. I’m hoping to see an overwhelming amount of support and compassion and empathy for our new neighbours and new members of our community.

After all, what did that wise man once say?

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Local family “totally fine” with light sentence for son’s killer

The driver responsible for the 2017 crash that killed cyclist Kerry Hawkins and left three other people seriously injured has been handed a $1,750 fine.

A provincial court judge also sentenced Emerson Sutton to a one-year driving ban for the devastating collision, which happened on Vancouver’s SW Marine Drive.

Before sentencing, Hawkins’ friends and family addressed Sutton in court, where they delivered emotional victim impact statements describing the depth of Sutton’s loss.

Elaine Hawkins, Kerry Hawkins’ wife, learned she was pregnant three weeks before the crash.

“We beg the court to go lightly on Mr. Sutton,” Mrs. Hawkins said. “He says he fell asleep after a night of partying, and crashed into my husband without knowing better. Banning him from driving for twelve long months more than makes up for losing the love of my life forever.”

“Our daughter will never know her father, but Mr. Sutton shouldn’t have his freedom to move around taken away from him. That would be unthinkable.”

Hawkins’ mother, Jaqueline McFadden, held a photo of her son as she read her statement.

“It has been 12 months of indescribable anguish for our family. Every time I look at my granddaughter I see my son and my heart breaks knowing that Mr. Sutton could have to pay as much as $2,000 for killing him. He has suffered enough, he even threw up when he heard my son was killed at his hand.”

The Crown had asked for the maximum sentence of a $2,000 fine and six months in jail.

“We are totally fine with this sentence,” said Hawkins’ father, Bobby. “Our son was ripped out of our lives, and for all that pain and suffering Emerson has caused us, not being able to drive for one year is more than enough punishment for him. And then to have to pay $1,750 on top of that? That’s like buying a new laptop, how can you possibly imagine how much he’ll suffer because he’ll have to use an old computer? That’s nowhere near as bad as having your son killed.”

“And thank god he used a car to kill Kerry. Imagine if he’d accidentally shot him with a gun? That would have been terrible, he should be thrown in jail for a long long time if that happened. But killing him with a car? Eh, whatever.”

ACTBiPed Meeting Report for February 7, 2018

Finally, a much-belated report from the ACTBiPed meeting on February 7, 2018!

For those of you who aren’t familiar, ACTBiPed is New Westminster’s Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians. From the city’s description:

The goal of the ACTBiPed committee is to help integrate walking, cycling and transit use into the transportation system that is balanced among all users and supports a socially equitable, economically viable and environmentally friendly city. The committee will review, advise and make recommendations to Council on policies, issues, facilities and programs regarding walking, cycling, and transit use.

We held our first meeting of 2018 back in February, and you can go check out the agenda package if you so choose!

After getting sworn in and becoming an official committee, we received an update on the rezoning application for 118 Royal Avenue. The gist of the update was that not much has happened from an active transportation point-of-view, and sadly the recommendation from the Land Use Planning Committee and city staff was to not have a multi-use path go between the property and the fields of Qayqayt Elementary. Instead the city will wait an undetermined amount of time for the adjoining two properties to be redeveloped and then create a multi-use path along busy Royal Avenue to Windsor Street.

We then had an update on a push to modernize BC’s Motor Vehicle Act. Back in November we received a presentation from a representative of the Road Safety Law Reform Group on updating the MVA for modern times, after which we sent a recommendation to council to have them sponsor a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities in support of this push. Good news everybody! Council voted to do just that! I’m really happy to see ACTBiPed pushing for safer roads for everybody who uses them, and making recommendations to council to make that happen.

In July, the New Westminster Museum and Archives will open the People Gotta Move exhibition down at the Anvil Centre. It’s going to focus on transportation issues in New Westminster and how they’ve impacted our neighbourhoods, industry and business. They’re working with the Vancouver LEGO Club to have models built of the city showing transportation through the ages. It should be a great exhibition, so get on down there and check it out between July and November!

We got a chance to weigh in a little bit on the city’s transportation department’s work plan for 2018. I don’t have a lot of details because my notes have mysteriously gone missing, but one thing I do remember is this year they’re going to be tackling the section of the Central Valley Greenway between Cumberland Street and Debeck Street on East Columbia. Hooray!

After that came what might have been the biggest transportation story of 2017 — the Q to Q ferry. Last year’s pilot project was a mixed success. A lot of people took it, but because of how it was put together a lot of people were unable to take it. This year they’re going to be changing things to make it more accessible and to have it run for longer operating hours. They have the following aims for the 2018 Q to Q pilot:

  • Provide a ferry service that is reliable, frequent and available to serve the needs of commuters, shoppers, and those seeking access to transit services, recreational and cultural opportunities
  • Provide a ferry service that is affordable, supports integration with the TransLink Compass card, if possible, and encourages regular use
  • Provide a ferry service with improved accessibility for users of all ages and mobility for the maximum time possible during operating hours
  • Provide an equivalent degree of accessibility at each of the ferry terminals, to ensure that people are not ‘stuck’ at either end due to differences in level of service
  • Provide infrastructure upgrades that achieve incremental improvements from the 2017 demonstration ferry service
  • Provide infrastructure upgrades that will allow future modifications to further improve accessibility
  • Provide a ferry vessel that can transport at least 12 passengers, 2 wheelchairs and 4 bicycles
  • Provide a ferry vessel that has low emissions, low noise, and with low environmental impact
  • Provide a service that carefully considers the needs of passengers with disabilities and serves everyone in a dignified and respectful manner
  • Provide a ferry service where safety of passengers and crew is prioritized above all else, at all times

To help improve accessibility, the city will be building longer gangways at each terminal which allows for a more accessible slope for a portion of the day. Tides play havoc with this, so they will post predicted gangway slopes on the city’s website and at each terminal to help people plan their journeys. There will also be a shelter at the Port Royal terminal.

Operating hours are going to expand to be 7:00 am to 8:00 pm from Monday to Thursday, 7:00 am to 9:00 pm on Fridays, and 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on weekends and holidays. The ferry will depart every twenty minutes.

Fares will be $4 for adults and $2 for children and seniors, and you’ll be able to buy a book of ten tickets for $15 and $7.50, respectively, or a one month pass for $30 and $15, respectively.

And that was about it for the first ACTBiPed meeting of 2018!

New West School District and the driver’s licence that isn’t ID

When you register you child to be enrolled in the New Westminster School District, you need to supply some kind of proof that you actually live in New Westminster. This proof consists of two pieces of documentation.

The first is one that shows some kind of tie to a piece of property located in New Westminster. This can be a property purchase agreement, a long-term tenancy agreement, or a property tax statement with home owner grant eligibility. I would like to point out that a property purchase agreement is not a proof that you actually live in the property you’ve purchased, because people do in fact buy property outside of the city in which they live. And let’s ignore all of those people living in co-op housing that don’t have any of those three pieces of documentation because they haven’t purchased property, they aren’t tenants, and they only indirectly pay property tax.

The second piece of ID can be one of the following: an income tax statement showing name and province of residency, correspondence from a government agency, a letter from a lawyer confirming your application of long term stay in BC, a letter from Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada confirming your application of long term stay in BC, vehicle registration, a recent paystub, a Medical Services Plan health card or enrollment letter, or a BC Identification Card.

Conspicuously missing from this list is a BC Driver’s Licence, which is the primary piece of identification for most people in BC.

When we registered Elizabeth for kindergarten, we only had recent paystubs, income tax statements, and an MSP health card. We lived in a co-op, so we didn’t have any proof of ties to an actual residence in New Westminster. The MSP health card we did have was one of the old style cards that only had the account number and our name on it, so that wouldn’t do for proof of address.

Needless to say at the time we were pretty pissed. I ranted a bunch on Twitter about it (not like I ever do that sort of thing) and eventually one of the School Trustees (Michael Ewen) called me and said he’d try to get things changed.

Given we eventually managed to get Elizabeth registered for school in New Westminster we forgot all about this, but trusted that the school district would actually change the documentation requirements.

Then a couple of days ago a friend of ours was registering her son in kindergarten in New Westminster and was bemoaning all of the documentation she had to pull together. I looked at the current registration form and lo and behold a BC Driver’s Licence still isn’t listed!

So I ranted a bunch on Twitter again, and here’s what two School Trustees had to say:

The underlying argument is that a BC Driver’s Licence isn’t allowed because you can just call up ICBC and change your address, so the address on your BC Driver’s Licence isn’t trustworthy as a proof of residence.

That argument is garbage for a number of reasons.

First, Section 31 of the Motor Vehicle Act states:

If the residential address of the holder of a driver’s licence issued under this Act is changed from the address stated on the driver’s licence, he or she must, within 10 days of the change of residential address, notify the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia of the change stating the number of his or her driver’s licence and his or her former and new addresses.

That means that by law the address on your driver’s licence must be your residential address.

Second, to change the address on your BC Identification Card, which is listed as acceptable documentation, you only have to call up ICBC and change your address. It’s the same procedure as for a driver’s licence, yet one card is accepted while another isn’t.

Third, one of the pieces of identification is a vehicle registration. Same change of address routine applies for that as for BCID.

Fourth, one of the pieces of identification is an income tax statement. This doesn’t have to have your residential address on it, it could have an entirely different mailing address on it. It could be a PO box, and I’m pretty sure those aren’t large enough to live in.

Fifth, every school district bordering New Westminster that requires a second piece of ID accepts a BC Driver’s Licence! Vancouver does, Burnaby does, Richmond does, Surrey does, Coquitlam does, Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows does, but New Westminster doesn’t.

Jonina Campbell says that the “district wants to make sure that seats go to students living in New West.” This is a fine goal, but the documentation required does absolutely nothing to actually ensure this. Suppose I live in Burnaby. I buy an apartment in New Westminster and rent it out. Because I have a purchase agreement for a property in New Westminster, that checks off the first piece of required identification. Then I get a PO box in New Westminster and have my income tax statements sent there. Now I have a second piece of required identification. My children can now go to school in New Westminster, even though they live in Burnaby, and everything that I’ve given the school district “proves” I reside in New Westminster.

Now, allowing a driver’s licence doesn’t fix this, as any of the other pieces of ID could be used. However, it has much stricter requirements that the address is actually your legal residential address than any of the other pieces of ID they allow. It’s the only one that is actually required by law to be your residential address. And yet the less stringent pieces of ID are allowed.

This nonsense has been going on for more than three years, and despite assurances from School Trustees nothing has changed. The School District drags its heels while parents scramble to comply with their outdated and completely illogical requirements. Will things change this time with two trustees looking into it? I’m not holding my breath.

“Go back to where you came from”

Yesterday a prominent New Westminster community member tweeted the following:

#newwest Nothing worst than having people move to a city and try and rewrite its history. If you don’t like it #gobacktowhereyoucamefrom

The tweet has since been deleted, but here’s a screenshot:

It’s in reference to the recent suggested changes to the annual May Day celebrations. Some people, myself included, want to see it taken out of the school system and taken over by a community organization, and that was one of the recommendations from the Task Force set up to look at May Day.

And here’s some feedback from their report:

Another principal/vice-principal found that the tension in the schools over the years means it has “become easier to continue with the event to avoid conflict rather than re-evaluate our purpose behind it.”

The overwhelming majority of the public feedback from those who would maintain the status quo focuses on the heritage value of the event and its ties to New Westminster’s history. And that’s fine, knowing some of the history of our city is important.

But what is also important is diversity and embracing all of our history, and that has lead to the “don’t change May Day” people to create the conflict that the principal/vice-principal’s quote above refers to. Even a simple matter of changing dresses from white to floral print was met with backlash. So when the Task Force recommended that May Day celebration be school-based instead of district-wide, that the Royal Suite selection process be ended, and that the larger district-wide May Day celebration in 2020 be taken over by a community organization, everybody expected strong pushback.

But I don’t think anybody expected the type of response we saw from Guy Ciprian.

The May Day celebrations in New Westminster are a British tradition. They don’t incorporate other cultures that have made up our city or currently make up our city. They definitely do not reflect the fact that the British settlers to New Westminster stole the land from the indigenous people who were living here, including the Qayqayt, the Kwantlen, the Musqueam, and the Kwikwetlem, among others. There’s always been an undercurrent of preservation of the colonial history over that of the people who were here first and whose land we live upon. And in these days of truth and reconciliation, it’s incredibly important that we question these colonialist traditions and change them when we can.

And to have a white guy come along and try to defend this tradition with a “go back to where you came from” statement is offensive to say the least. It’s racist, it’s classist, it’s straight up offensive.

And the scary thing is that this undercurrent is in our community. It’s blanketed by a “but our traditions” sentiment, but it’s there. That a prominent member of the community would actually state this out loud in public is shocking, but it’s also illuminating. It’s showing us that this otherism is there, and by exposing it Mr. Ciprian may actually be doing us all a favour.

We all have to step up and speak out and firmly declare that this is unacceptable. Your contributions to New Westminster cannot be measured by how long you have lived in the city. Your contributions and opinions cannot be dismissed because you were born in another city or country. And you definitely should not be told to “go back to where you come from” by someone who calls themselves a “strong supporter of [his] community”. And god forbid you try to change things to be more inclusive of all of the people of New Westminster without getting racist and classist declamations thrown at you.

Oh, and in case you think that Mr. Ciprian might be contrite after having New West Twitter blow up on him, think again:

Ha ha classism and racism is funny ha ha. Nobody’s laughing but you, Guy.

Update: Mr. Ciprian has since tweeted the following:

after some reflection regarding my recent misunderstood #newwest tweet, I am willing to own that it was poorly worded, crossed a line and that there was an error in judgement . #apology For the record, it was not about May Day!

Even after numerous people (myself included) asked what the original tweet was about, he has not said.

ACTBiPed Meeting Report for October 18, 2017

Our official ACTBiPed meeting for October 18, 2017 was cancelled and replaced with a projects sub-committee meeting. Some people (myself included!) like to get into the details of transportation system designs, so to keep regular meetings from getting bogged down, we have these sub-committee meetings. At the October 18, 2017 meeting we took a dive into the active transportation designs for the proposed Sapperton Green community.

Active transportation routes through Sapperton Green

Sapperton Green will have two new streets, an extension of Wilson Street, and a pile of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in it. Its proximity to the Braid Street SkyTrain station will hopefully mean that there will be greater uptake of active transportation modes by residents living there. The development of the area will also make connections from other neighbourhoods to Braid easier. At least, that’s the plan.

They’ve designed pathways to have a grade no higher than 4.9%, which is very important for people with mobility difficulties. The site is challenging in that there is a definite slope, especially at Wilson Street, which is why they’ve put in a bit of a switchback system leading towards Rousseau Street. Think of the sidewalk switchbacks at the bottom of Elliot Street and that’s what they’ll be like. The PDF (linked below) has further detail on this section.

Rousseau Street and Transit Way intersection details

We did get a chance to look at the more detailed designs, and some of them have some interesting ideas. In this close-up of the intersection of Rousseau Street and what they’re calling “Transit Way”, there’s a subtle detail that escaped me and most of the other people at the table, and that’s that the top lane of Transit Way is actually a through lane. The orange-coloured area to the left is actually a driveway entrance. The designers said they wanted to recreate the “Granville Island feeling”, which surprised a lot of people at the table. As a pedestrian on Granville Island I spend most of the time hating how poor the pedestrian environment is and thinking cars should just be banned from it altogether. Trying to recreate that in a new environment is… weird. The right turn off Rousseau is also softened like that for buses, in case you’re wondering.

That close-up also shows the thoughts for the multi-use paths. They’ll be separated from the street network but will still mix pedestrians and cyclists, and will be 4 meters wide.

Transit Way and Road B intersection details

The next close-up is the intersection of Transit Way and “Road B”, which is roughly half-way between Rousseau and the Braid bus loop. It brings up a couple of points that we made during the presentation. First, they should use raised crosswalks wherever they can. This puts pedestrians and cyclists first, and helps to slow vehicle traffic. The designers said this was a bit of a challenge on Transit Way because TransLink doesn’t like bumps, but they’ll consider it for all of the other streets, particularly ones that are crossed by multi-use pathways like this one. Second, the lanes on Road B (and Road A, check the PDF linked below for where that is) are actually wider than the lanes on Transit Way, which we found bizarre. Roads A and B don’t have multi-use paths on them so cyclists would be expected to cycle in the street (yay sharrows!). Widening the lanes means vehicles will be compelled to drive faster, and having faster vehicles mixed with bicycles is just plain crazy. We have a chance to properly engineer slower streets here, and the designers had better do it.

Brunette-Fraser Regional Greenway improvement ideas

Of course, a major part of Sapperton Green runs along the Brunette River, and includes part of the Brunette-Fraser Regional Greenway. They’re planning some pretty great improvements to the whole stretch, and these improvements include moving the BFRG away from the naturalized zone that parts of it currently go through. This will help improve the whole riparian zone along the Brunette River, which is definitely a good thing.

There are a lot of other interesting ideas going on in this development, like an adventure park, a community centre, retail facing multi-use paths to hopefully spur patio use, and intriguing public art concepts around the SkyTrain station. If you’re at all interested in learning more about Sapperton Green, please do follow the city’s webpage. I’m also making the slides from the presentation made to ACTBiPed available so you can take a closer look at the designs and streetscapes they’re proposing for this exciting new development!

Renovictions and Airbnb in New Westminster

A couple of days ago the Queens Park Residents’ Association put out this plea for assistance on Facebook:

At the AGM yesterday a couple of residents from Maple Manor Apartments (304 3rd Ave.) were invited to share their story. The apartment has new owners who have received a renovation permit and those still there will be renovicted at the end of the month. There are very few rental options in Queen’s Park and a lack of affordable rental housing in NewWest. They are stable long-term renters (5 years, 21 years and 27 years). They have incomes, but that have not increased at the same rate as the escalating market rental fees. They love living in New West and have jobs and friends near-by, but are really looking for ANY option that is affordable in the $800 – $1,000 range.

This is a too-common situation in New Westminster, and the City is working on steps to address renovictions.

But, and there’s a really big but here, rental stock in New Westminster isn’t as high as it could be, and increasing the rental stock does not involve building new buildings. It involves cracking down on people putting suites, houses, and apartments on Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms in New Westminster.

A fraction of the Queens Park Airbnb listings.

Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms are legal in New Westminster. Let’s make that abundantly clear. They are classified as a Home Based Business and an owner can apply for a business license. There are restrictions on what you can rent out for example, (it has to be an accessory use to the residential use, which means you can’t rent out an entire house on a Home Based Business License, you’d need to have proper zoning and permits to run what’s classified as a hotel). But if you look in the Open Data Catalogue you’ll find that there are currently four bed & breakfast permits issued for 2017, and none of the addresses listed are in the Queens Park neighbourhood.

So, that means that the overwhelming majority of listings on Airbnb in New Westminster are operating illegally. A number of them are for single rooms or people renting out their houses when they’re on vacation. Fine, let’s not look at those for now, because those aren’t units that would be suitable for long-term rentals.

But there are some listings that are for a separate suite in a house, or for the entire house, or for multiple units in the house, and these listings have months of available times for booking. These are listings that could very easily be long-term rentals for these people being renovicted.

227 Third Street has four Airbnb listings.

Let’s look at one example. This listing, this listing, this listing, and this listing are all rooms and suites within the same house at 227 Third Street. Right there are six rooms that could be rented out long-term, providing housing for a couple of families, that are instead being rented out to tourists.

Or this listing for a one-bedroom basement suite. Or this listing for a recently-renovated one-bedroom suite on First Street.

Of course, there are other basement suites up on Airbnb in other neighbourhoods, like this two-bedroom suite in Massey Victory Heights that would be perfect for a family.

Please note that the owners of these properties may well have all of the permits necessary and I may have missed their business licenses in the dataset. But even if they are legal, they are still potentially taking away from rental stock.

Is rental stock being eaten up by short-term rentals in New Westminster? It’s hard to look at these examples and say no. These Airbnb listings are the perfect type of suites that could be rented out to long-term renters, yet are being turned into bed and breakfast rooms for short-term visitors. I haven’t even touched apartments or condos in this cursory search. A number of stratas do not allow short-term rentals, but others don’t, and strata fines may be seen as a cost of doing business for someone putting up their unit on Airbnb.

And with the recent passing of the OCP to allow more laneway houses, will we see those go up on Airbnb or will they be long-term rentals? Financially it probably makes more sense to put them on Airbnb, but at what cost to our communities?

To answer the Queens Park Residents’ Association’s plea, I’d say go knock on the doors of your neighbours with listings on Airbnb and ask them why they’re not willing to rent out to a fellow Queens Park resident in need of housing.

Further reading: Short-term consequences: Investigating the extent, nature and rental housing implications of Airbnb listings in Vancouver, Karen Sawatzky.

Take May Day out of the schools and into the community

In New Westminster we have a May Day celebration that’s currently being put on by the school district. Elementary school children perform dances in Queen’s Park and a Royal Suite, made up of a boy and girl from each elementary school, is selected.

Back in November 2015 the New Westminster Board of Education directed that a task force be formed to examine the district’s participation in the annual May Day celebration. The report from that task force is now out, and here are some quotes taken from a survey done of district staff. Remember, the school district handles the event, and most of the planning and implementation falls on teachers, principals, and other district staff members, so they’re intimately familiar with what it takes to produce the May Day celebrations and how much effort it takes.

“…a generalized unhappiness and concern over the cost, the educational time lost in preparation for the event, the amount of preparation work involved in addition to an already challenging workload and the current relevance the existing May Day program has in 21st century learning…”

“…too much time diverted from teaching and learning. Too much energy and time reinforcing colonial traditions instead of embracing a more inclusive world view…”

“…easier to continue with the event to avoid conflict rather than re-evaluate our purpose behind it.”

“…the community can continue the event and the public can choose to take part.”

“Make it fun, not forced.”

“I think the May Day is an event that was designed for one cultural group only. It does not look at first contact, the role of immigrants in the formation of BC, the contributions of women, the development of political parties, the creation of infrastructure, the creation of Indian reservations, residential schools, etc.”

“It does not fit with our redesigned curriculum, it does not fit with our multicultural focus and our First Nations lens.”

“I feel that the redesigned curriculum promotes engagement with all histories of BC, and I’ve been confused for a long time as to why New Westminster teachers have their autonomy restricted when it comes to our professional judgement to teach BC history when May Day is NOT in the curriculum specifically.”

“[May Day] reinforces a patriarchal, settler‐dominated and exclusive culture that does not reflect the values of the District’s mission or vision.”

“…the whole Royal Suite election process has been a popularity contest that has caused social problems and conflicts within the grade 5s. It is divisive and unhelpful. It is particularly divisive in a dual track school.”

“…as long as I have been in the district I can’t remember a child with a visible disability being a May Day rep.”

“Many people have little understanding of what happens to make this event happen. It is not ‘just one day.’ All staff and students are affected by this event.”

“…students lose hours of instructional time…”

“…students are negatively affected as teachers have to arrange their placement during dance instruction.”

“…an increasing number of families now choose to keep their grade 5 students home on May Day because they feel it is very repetitive after going to May Day in grades 2, 3, and 4, which shows that the event doesn’t have full parent support…”

“It’s an exercise in crowd control; it’s a ridiculous use of teacher and student classroom instructional time, and I feel very strongly that we would better otherwise engage students in a school learning environment working on creative academics, or interest‐focused end‐of-year projects.”

Is the New Westminster school system the right place for May Day celebrations? The report and survey strongly suggest that no, it isn’t. 72% of the respondents stated that May Day was no longer an important annual event for the school district. 65% felt it doesn’t promote critical engagement with the province’s history. 72% felt the Royal Suite does not align with the school district’s values of inclusion and diversity. And 84% felt it was not a good use of district staff time and resources — estimated at $50,000 — to organize and stage the May Day ceremony.

77% did feel that the May Day ceremony should be exclusively run by the community. And this is how I feel as well. When the Royal Lancers dance was cancelled by the city, the community stepped up to do it themselves. There is nothing to suggest that the same couldn’t happen with the May Day ceremony. Perhaps it could be rolled in with the popular Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery Salute held on Victoria Day to honour Queen Victoria?

So yes, let’s get the May Day celebration out of the hands of the school district and into the hands of a community organization such as the Hyack Festival Society or the organizers of the May Day picnic.

I’ll leave with this one last quote from the report:

“I agree it is time for change so let’s work together to make it effective such as connecting more to our community and history in New Westminster.”

On Preserving Single-Family Homes in New Westminster

There are five houses near the corner of Ash Street and Gloucester Street in New Westminster. Four of them were built in 1900 or earlier, making this one of the oldest cluster of houses in the city. The fifth was built in 1971. From building details it appears that the five (and possibly one other) properties were subdivided from one larger property sometime around 1889 and built over the next ten years. The 1971 house previously had a house built in 1890 on it.

One of the older houses is currently up for sale. Here’s part of its listing:

A true heritage home gem. Built approximately 1898 this home has been cared for but not at the expense of its character. You will be surprised at how large the home feels, the owner loves to entertain and regularly has social functions with over 25 guests. Double french doors lead to a fully fenced, landscaped backyard that adds to the livable space and creates an outdoor oasis. The ancient grapevine trunk has been carefully pruned and gives off shade from the supporting trellis as well as a bountiful harvest from its shoots.

It sounds really nice, and given the current asking price of $848,000, it’s amazing that it’s been on the market for weeks now. It was previously listed for $899,000, and I guess being on the market for so long has got the sellers to drop their asking price.

Houses at Ash & Gloucester

It probably isn’t selling because it’s on a very small lot: 33 feet by 66 feet. Compared to the standard New Westminster lot size of 50 feet by 130 feet, this lot is about a third the size of a standard lot. And the house is almost as big as you’re allowed to build (you could add another 170 square feet) so it’s probably not worth knocking the house down to build a new one.

In fact, this cluster of houses is an excellent example of fairly gentle densification with single family houses. The total area of these five houses is just about the same as two standard lots (1,202 m2 compared to 1,215 m2), meaning it’s 2.5 times denser than your standard New Westminster single-family house neighbourhood.

Gentle densification! Yay! Single-family homes! Yay! (for some non-extreme value of yay)

But let’s mention the last part of the listing for the house that’s for sale. This part wasn’t in the listing until the recent price drop, as my wife pointed out to me at the time:

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY: This home along with the surrounding houses is not on the heritage registry. It is likely that at some point they will be assembled as a multi family development.

No!

First off, the houses on either side of this house sold at separate times within the past year. Sure, “at some point” there might be some land assembly but I’m willing to bet that that won’t happen for years to come. There’s already a lot of low-hanging fruit in Brow Of The Hill where land assembly will mean two lots being merged instead of five. Dealing with two owners is a lot easier than dealing with five.

Second, this corner is exactly the type of gentle densification that’s great! It’s got heritage, it’s got curb appeal, it’s even got a mid-70s house with a carport. What more can you ask for?

I mean yes, I’m all for densification, but not here. Let’s densify two standard single-family lots and put six townhouses on them. But let’s not tear down five single-family houses to put eight townhouses on them. This corner is already perfect, let’s not ruin that with some mad rush to assemble lots and put multi-family buildings everywhere we can.

Mapping New Westminster – Building Ages

New Westminster has published a bunch of datasets under its Open Data portal, one of which is building age. A couple of months ago I grabbed the dataset, converted the SHP file (details forthcoming, mostly because I did it a couple of months ago and can’t remember how I did it) and followed Mapzen‘s One Minute Map tutorial series to make a map showing every building in New Westminster coloured by when it was built!

I’ve made two colour schemes for this map. The first colours buildings along a seven-colour spectrum. Basically red is old, white is mid-century, and blue is new:

  • earlier than 1900
  • between 1900 and 1919
  • between 1920 to 1939
  • between 1940 and 1959
  • between 1960 and 1979
  • between 1980 and 1999
  • between 2000 and older

The second one uses the pre-1941 cutoff used for the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area. Buildings built before 1941 are afforded greater protections in Queens Park and are coloured orange in this colour scheme. I came up with this one to see if there are any areas in the city that have similar age distributions to Queens Park, and maybe spur people to ask why Queens Park is considered more special than, say, parts of Moody Park, Sapperton, and Glenbrooke North…

Map Detail for 217 Ninth Street

Toggle between the colour schemes by using the little ‘layers’ icon in the top right corner.

You can also click on any building to find out when it was constructed and who the developer and architect were! And if you move around and zoom into a specific spot you’d like to share with friends, the URL will reflect that. For example, here’s Port Royal in Queensborough.

Enjoy the map!