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!

ACTBiPed Meeting Report for September 20, 2017

Okay, this report is three weeks late. Sorry! At the September 20, 2017 ACTBiPed meeting we talked mainly about snow and ice removal and a development on Royal Avenue that could have seen improvements to multi-use paths near Qayqayt Elementary but won’t. Let’s go!

First, snow and ice removal. Last winter was pretty brutal on the Lower Mainland, and it was especially brutal for people who rely on safe access to sidewalks to get around. There are already bylaws on the books for getting residents and businesses to clear their sidewalks, but those bylaws are slow to be enforced, and they have issues. What happens for residents that are physically incapable of clearing their sidewalks? Not everybody can rely on a nice neighbour to help them out.

Further, there are large gaps in the snow removal plan that have bad repercussions on pedestrians. Take lanes as an example. They’re very low on the city’s priority list for being plowed. But sidewalks cross lanes, and if a lane doesn’t get plowed then the part of the lane that the sidewalk crosses doesn’t get cleared, which is a poor result for pedestrians. Whose responsibility is it to clear these paths? It’s city property so the city should, but at what priority?

The city has updated their snow and ice removal plan, and council has directed staff to prioritize pedestrian safety, which is pretty much what we advised council to do.

The city is also going to be improving its communications around residents’ responsibility for snow and ice removal. I suggested that it might become a Metro Vancouver communications issue, given most municipalities have similar bylaws and issues around snow and ice removal, but honestly I’d be surprised if that happened. Honestly, there’s more communication about watering your lawn than there is clearing your sidewalk, and given the latter is a safety issue, that balance seems all wrong to me.

We received a report on a rezoning application for 118 Royal Avenue. Normally we wouldn’t receive reports on rezoning applications, but in 2015 and 2016 ACTBiPed committee members identified this section of Royal Avenue as being a potential connection for a multi-use path, and the properties along that route were flagged within the city’s GIS system for provision of a multi-use path upon receiving a rezoning application.

Qayqayt area multi-use paths

The proposed land use for this site will have multiple townhouses instead of the single family house currently on the lot. Unfortunately because of economic considerations, the developer wasn’t willing to give up a part of the front of the lot to allow the city to widen the existing sidewalk into a multi-use path that would connect to the existing path along the north side of Qayqayt Elementary.

This section of New Westminster has been a bit of a disappointment for multi-use paths. It’s disappointing that one wasn’t built into the east side of Qayqayt Elementary to lead down from Royal Avenue to Cunningham Street, and then to the future Agnes Street Greenway. This, in my opinion, partly falls on the school district, as they seem to talk the talk about promoting cycling and walking to school to make healthier children, but don’t walk the walk when it comes time to actually put improvements into place that would enable this. There was a similar lack of will when we were talking about a multi-use path through a part of the Fraser River Middle School grounds leading from Ninth Street to the corner of Royal Avenue and Eighth Street.

We also talked about our action plan a little bit, which is a list of all of the things ACTBiPed has raised with city staff and that the city staff may or may not be working on. One of these items is the corner of McBride Boulevard and Columbia Street. A lot of people I know think it’s a dangerous intersection for cyclists and pedestrians, and the current signage is… sub-optimal. The city is going to change the sign to make it clearer that vehicles cannot turn right on a red light, which is about all the improvement that they can make without reconfiguring the corner. And that won’t happen because the new Pattullo Bridge is going to change all of that anyhow, and plus there’s that pesky heritage wall to deal with…

Our next meeting is October 18, and hopefully I’ll have a quicker turnaround time for putting up my report!

Richard McBride Elementary School to be replaced

BC’s Ministry of Education announced today that New Westminster’s Richard McBride Elementary School will be replaced with construction starting in 2018.

“We have known for a long time that Richard McBride Elementary has been seismically unsafe, and we are glad to announce its replacement,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming in a press release. “As an H1-ranked school, McBride has been a priority for years and although the previous government chose not to act to keep our children safe, we are glad to put the focus on learning in a safe environment.”

The school will be replaced with 26 earthquake-safe portables that will arrive in time for September 2019.

“By using portables we can quickly adapt to changing enrollment numbers, making education in New Westminster cost-effective yet safe for our children,” Fleming said.

McBride Parent Advisory Committee co-chair Janet Arbeau has been raising the issue of the safety of the school for a number of years, and said she gets a lot of questions from parents about the fate of the school.

“Especially some of the new parents. They’ve just enrolled their kids in kindergarten or what have you and they’re very excited, and they recognized McBride is an old school, and then they maybe do a little bit of googling, and the next thing you know, they find out the status of McBride is an H1-rated school, so then they ask the PAC what’s going on.”

She met with New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy to share her concerns and said she was “satisfied” with the discussions.

“My son Chard has been attending McBride since kindergarten and is now in Grade Four. Every year we have been told that McBride is unsafe, that it’s rated H1, and either upgrading it or replacing it has been a priority. I’m glad that we are finally seeing progress. I’m sad that Chard won’t be seeing a safe McBride Elementary, but I’m very glad that other kids will be getting the safe education they deserve.”

Fleming said some of the delays stemmed from the previous Liberal government.

“We are sorry that we could not act quicker than the 2019 school year, but unfortunately due to years of underfunding by the Liberal government, demand for portables is at an all-time high. The portables McBride will be replaced with are currently in use in Surrey, and moving them to New Westminster and other cities around the province will help us meet our promise to do away with all of the portables in Surrey within four years.”

“We didn’t say anything about portables in other cities,” he added.

Be Like Brow

On 18 September 2017 I visited New West City Hall and addressed city council about the Official Community Plan that they were voting on later that night. Here’s the transcript of what I said.

My name is Brad Cavanagh and I am a resident of New Westminster. I would like to speak with you about the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood and the Official Community Plan.

Brow of the Hill is a neighbourhood unlike any other in New Westminster. Its population is about 11,000 people, making up 15% of New Westminster’s population. It has a higher proportion of renters than the average New West neighbourhood. It has a higher proportion of lower-income families, a higher proportion of recent immigrants to Canada, and a higher proportion of younger families. It has recovery houses and churches. And the older low-rise apartments mean that it has some of the lowest rents in New Westminster, meaning it’s more affordable as well.

It is one of the most walkable neighbourhoods in New West, and has one of the highest percentage of residents using active transportation — walking, cycling, and transit — despite having zero SkyTrain stations. Traffic calming done over the past few years has resulted in quiet streets where often the only sound you hear is that of children playing in the front yards of apartment buildings, people singing while they cook dinner, or families going for a walk to the corner store.

I live in Brow of the Hill. It’s a great neighbourhood. I can walk to get groceries or to the library. I know my neighbours, we have block parties, and we have fig parties. It’s a fantastic community made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life.

And it’s been an experiment in gentle densification over the past forty years. On my block are single-family houses, townhouses, and low-rise apartment buildings. We don’t have moving vans clogging our streets as “transient renters” come and go — the renters that are in Brow stay in Brow. We don’t have traffic racing up and down our street despite having three low-rise apartment buildings on our one block alone. What we do have is a great community.

And we have heritage houses in our community too — a house across the street from me was built in 1885 and is being painstakingly restored after a 2011 fire. An 1892 house on Third Avenue is being preserved thanks to an innovative Heritage Revitalization Agreement that will restore the house and add four townhouse units.

So that’s why I’m disappointed with the Land Use Designation map for the Official Community Plan. It keeps large portions of the city untouched and reserved for single-family homes, which shows that we have not learned anything from the gentle densification of Brow of the Hill over the past 40 years. Brow shows with flying colours that you can have gentle densification in a community. Single-family houses and townhouses and low-rise apartments can all coexist on a block without negatively affecting a community. Heritage can be maintained. In fact, this all adds to the diversity, vitality, and livability of a community.

The OCP and the Land Use Designation map are meant to form a vision for what New Westminster will look like 40 years from now. 40 years from now, I wish that the rest of the city would be like Brow — a walkable, affordable, and livable community that’s welcoming to immigrants, lower-income people, and younger families, but unfortunately the OCP won’t allow that to happen for the majority of our city.

I support the passage of the OCP bylaw, but hope that when rezoning requests cross your desks for other New Westminster neighbourhoods in the coming years you keep these three words in mind: be like Brow.

I thank you for your time.