Voice could not have said it better: D. Brown’s letter in the Record

D. Brown’s letter in Saturday’s Record has raised many of the same issues Voice has been raising for the past several years.

While we do not know who D. Brown is, nor is he/she known to Voice, we could not have articulated these issues better and we fully agree with Brown.

For example, D. Brown points to the fact that “The city is piling on residential units at an astonishing rate, yet is not balancing that with infrastructure to support them.”

Of course, one of the consequences of expanding the city’s population without increasing public infrastructure, as Brown states, is the meagre allotment of swim times and skate times “suitable for school children” on weekdays, which Brown says “compares very poorly to other municipalities’ leisure centres, such as Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Delta and Vancouver, which are available, in part or whole, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.”

The 37-year-old Canada Games Pool, is the most used facility in the city. Fourteen thousand children a year take lessons there.” (from D. Brown’s letter in the Record)

D. Brown also comments on the Pier Park and states: “The city has seen fit to commit to $53-plus million for a riverfront, perimeter road/rail-hugging park that is looking more and more like a taxpayer-supplied amenity for the Larco towers that will be built between Sixth and Eighth streets.”

This mirrors the central point that Voice has been trying to make over the past several years; i.e., that during the last eight years the city has slowly but steadily been turned into a bedroom community.

There has been a clear and dramatic increase in density in the city accompanied by the steady erosion of jobs. This has resulted in a shift in the city’s tax base, and what used to be a consistent tax-producing commercial-industrial base has been converted for the most part into multi-family housing which requires a significant increase in costly public services and amenities.

And as D. Brown points out, these public services and amenities, including those vital to children and families, have not kept up with the increasing densification of New Westminster.

Ironically, it was the announcement of a New Westminster Children’s Charter, and its juxtaposition with the strain being placed on New Westminster’s only public indoor pool, that occasioned D. Brown’s letter.

While we reserve judgement on the new Children’s Charter until we see whether it translates words in concrete action, as Brown points out in his/her letter, if things don’t change in this city “the playroom at McDonald’s could be the major recreational facility in New West” and our children will be adults by the time urgently needed school replacement projects are completed.

The Toxic Blob That Ate Due Diligence

News this past week that the Pier Park is home to a much greater amount of toxic contamination than was previously thought comes as little surprise to many observers. After all, the site has a long history of industrial use from an age when environmental considerations, regulations and awareness were not what they are today.

Sadly, the due diligence that could have identified a costly issue like this one early on was lacking at the outset of the project.

We want to be very clear here in stating that Voice and its members are not at all opposed to opening up New Westminster’s long-derelict waterfront to productive new uses such as parks, walkways, housing and commercial enterprises. Reclaiming the city’s derelict waterfront and making it accessible and useful once again have been a goal of the community for several decades and all of these would be welcome improvements.

In fact, in a September 25, 2008 Voice press release, we stated our full support for “the creation of a properly planned foreshore park on New Westminster’s waterfront” while at the same time expressing our concern that negotiations for the sale of the Westminster pier property were nearing the completion stage without any public consultation or planning.

In our assessment, it looked very much like the purchase deal had been put together quickly to meet the deadline of the 2008 election and that the mayor was “trying to conjure up an election goody to dangle before the voters without any regard for logical planning, just like he did with the Plaza 88 development prior to the [previous] election.”

Due diligence was clearly warranted considering the history of the property but was just as clearly lacking, and we offered several recommendations in our September 2008 press release outlining what we felt the appropriate course of action should be in relation to the Westminster pier property purchase:

1. That the City of New Westminster should acquire an option to buy the Westminster Pier parcel of land with the stated intention that it plans to use the property for a foreshore park and a pocket cruise ship destination.

2. That after an option to buy has been acquired, the city should engage in a transparent and comprehensive public consultation process regarding the proposed use of the property.

3. That all owners and occupants of properties in the vicinity of the proposed foreshore park should be notified in writing of the proposed consultation process.

4. That all necessary amendments to the Official Community Plan (OCP) and all necessary zoning issues be dealt with completely prior to the city exercising its option to buy the Westminster Pier property.

5. That the intentions of TransLink with respect to the construction of a new Pattullo Bridge be determined prior to the completion of a purchase of the property.

There was clearly no good reason why the pier property needed to be purchased in a rush in the Fall of 2008 other than to serve as a pre-election announcement for the Mayor. The property certainly wasn’t going anywhere, especially when you consider the “brownfield” status of the property and the high cost of remediating the impacts of past industrial activity on sites like this.

There was more than enough time for the proper due diligence to have been carried out, but sadly it was not and that omission is now coming home to roost.

Where this will all end up, and what the full financial impact will ultimately be for the already overburdened taxpayers of New Westminster, remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Due diligence is essential to good governance and there is always time for it in any well-planned, transparent public process. It is truly unfortunate, therefore, that due diligence was not observed in the purchase of the pier property and, even worse, that due diligence was trumped by political opportunism.

Enjoying the summertime lull

Everyone deserves time off and the Express crew are no different. We hope everyone has been enjoying their well-deserved summer hiatus and making the most of the hot, sunny weather we’ve had in recent weeks.

But September is approaching fast and the cooler weather today is a reminder that summer is starting to wind down.

And despite the summertime lull, there is no shortage of issues requiring the attention and participation of the community.

Notable on the list of simmering issues are the school district capital project and the waterfront pier project.

Waste-to-energy is also back on the table at Metro Vancouver and concerns are being expressed about the implications for New Westminster.

The replacement of the Pattullo Bridge is also emerging as an issue requiring community attention with word that city hall has received a proposed bridge replacement plan from Translink and that Translink is awaiting a response from the city.

As summer winds down and we start returning to our posts we wanted to put some of these issues on people’s radar because September in really just days away now.

Best wishes to all from the Express and we hope everyone fully enjoys the rest of the summertime lull.

The Positive Role of Voice

Some time ago the Voice directorship decided to re-energize the Voice blog, “The Express”. Through our blog we have attempted to bring to your attention issues of concern in New Westminster, and also some news items that we deem to be relevant. Sometimes we comment on items in the media, sometimes we arrive at issues before the media does, and we think it is important to put all of these issues before you.

By its constitution, Voice is an electors’ organization, whose main purpose is to find and support candidates for the positions of Mayor, Councillor and School Trustee. Our constitution also provides for us to raise issues of concern and to put them before the community.
Voice pursues a “big tent” approach, and to facilitate this we do not get bogged down in the debate regarding policy issues or ideologies. On some things, however, we all agree. Voice is committed to transparent and accountable government. We also believe, firmly, that government should deliver value for money.

Unlike many of the current and past office-holders in New Westminster, we are not beholden to special interests; we are not funded by them, nor are our strings pulled by them, or by anybody, for that matter. We answer to the residents, businesses, and taxpayers of New Westminster – that’s it. Many of our directors and members come to community involvement via the resident’s association movement, and thus we are very grass-roots and community/neighborhood oriented.

To get to the core of this posting, we are very aware that those who oppose us have labeled us as negative and wish we would just go away. We are also aware that this negative label has had some traction in the community. We understand why and how this has happened, but we feel we have a constructive role to play and we would like to carry this out and be perceived in a positive light.

On our blog, you will find posts of all kinds. Some of these could be interpreted as being positive, others as negative and several fall somewhere in between. Not all comments that are sent to us are appropriate to be posted and the blog’s moderators reject a number of comments.

We do not apologize for the fact that we were formed because we would like to see the City and the School Board go about their business in a very different way than is currently done. Our blog has played a vital role in getting out our message. We have been very vocal about lack of transparency and accountability, and also about value for money.

After the last election, some things did change as a result of the concerns and issues we exposed, but in our opinion much work remains. The city’s financial position and much of our public infrastructure have deteriorated over the last seven years. Our amenities have not kept up with the needs of our residents as we moved towards major densification of the city.

Many of the issues that we have brought forward have proven to be exactly as we initially suggested. We brought up the issue of severe dysfunction in the Development Services Department specifically and in the City generally. As we exposed, this was leading to the waste of hundreds of thousands of dollars. As events unfolded, our observations were proven to be very accurate. Were we negative as our detractors have claimed? We maintain that the negatives were already there and that we were just exposing them and bringing them to your attention.
We strongly believe in the public’s right to know about the conduct of public individuals involved in the lawsuit currently being brought against the city regarding the 12th St. liquor store. We think it is important to put the facts before you. That is why we are attempting to secure transcripts of the court proceedings. Of course those who were involved claim that we are being negative. They would love dearly to have the facts remain hidden.

The same can be said for the debacle at the Pier Park. We stated at the time in very clear terms that the City should take out an option on the waterfront property and exercise it only when due diligence was completed. Our opponents were very upset with this position and they claimed that we were opposed to the park and that we were being negative. Once again though, as events have unfolded, our concerns have been borne out. The cost of the park has tripled, and only one third of the anticipated scope of the work will be done in the initial stage. Were we negative on that issue as some have claimed? We think not. We believe that for items as large as the $60-100M Pier Park project; there should have been a comprehensive, transparent and honest process to lead to a decision.

That’s how a Voice Council would have conducted the process and that is how we would approach all of our decisions.

On the School Board side of things we believe that our Voice Trustees have brought forward many positive initiatives and we look forward to that continuing.

In conclusion, we will continue to put issues in front of you and we hope that you will judge us by what we bring forward and for the issues we advocate. We hope that you will be discerning, instead of just believing what our detractors say about us and how they would wish to have us branded.

Please continue to read our blog and better yet, give us a response outlining your opinions.

– Neil Powell
Voice New Westminster

When is Municipal Tax Freedom Day?

Coming approximately a month after “tax freedom day” and the same day that New Westminster residents paid their property taxes the News Leader ran a few interesting financial articles.

On p.A4 there was “Council Expenses Mount” which highlighted how our City’s council expenses had “shot up more than $23,000 in 2009 compared to the previous year.” Apparently most of the expenses were the result of 5 members who traveled to China/Japan.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy topped spending with $10,307 in expenses, followed by Lorrie Williams ($8,727), Betty McIntosh ($8,514) and Bill Harper ($8,383), who all made the trip. Mayor Wayne Wright, who led the delegation, incurred $7,133 in expenses, and another $5,151 in expenses stemming from his role as chair of the New Westminster Police Board.

Then on p. A9 there were two more interestingly timed stories, one regarding the number of city employees making over $100K and the other about how the City (read New Westminster taxpayers) will pay for the pier park debt.Apparently we now have almost double the number of employees we had making over $100K in 2008. In 2008 we had 38 staffers making over $100K and we now have 70.

Also on this page was an article on how the City (taxpayers) will be paying for the future debt of the Westminster Pier Park. According to the News Leader, “residential taxpayers won’t be on the hook-directly, at least-for paying down the debt, which will total more than $16 million.” New Westminster council borrowed $8 million to buy the pier property and another $8.3 million to pay our share of the park construction costs. Supposedly the first loan will be paid back by 2014 using development cost charges, density bonusing and proceeds from the sale of city-owned land. Density bonusing permits developers to build higher density on a site in exchange for payments to the City. One has to ponder how much denser our City will become or how much land our City is going to sell off in the next four years in order for us to be able to raise $8 million. The second loan will cost taxpayers approximately $730,000 annually for 15 years. It should be noted that this loan is for the ‘first-phase” of the park. At this rate by the time the vision for this park is fully realized our grandchildren will be paying for it.