A citizen asks: “where’s the briefs?”

A local resident has informed the Express editorial team that there’s nowhere in New Westminster’s Uptown area to buy men’s underwear.

This may seem like a small issue to many readers of the Express, but it may be indicative of deeper issues in the local retail community.

Women’s underwear is apparently readily available in the Uptown. And dollar stores seem to abound. But “where’s the briefs?”

We’ll admit that men’s underwear and its availability is not something we’ve really thought much about before.

But you would think, in a city the size of New Westminster, that a well-functioning commercial area would be able to meet consumer demand for a basic item like men’s underwear.

So we really do need to ask: Is there is an uncracked niche market for men’s underwear just itching to wedge itself into the Uptown?

We don’t know the answer to that question. But if anyone knows if or where you can buy men’s underwear in the Uptown, please let us know.

If the absence of men’s underwear can be ascertained beyond the shadow of a doubt then it may just be a canary in a coal mine indicative of a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.

Concerned Citizen Acquires Legal Opinion on Conflict of Issue Situation

Well, it appears that the conflict of issue situation within SD40 just won’t quit. Recently, Patrick O’Connor, who ran as a Voice trustee candidate in the 2008 election, received a legal opinion on whether Trustee Watt is in a conflict of interest situation in relation to the interests of her employer (and major campaign funder) CUPE BC.

Mr. O’Connor has started New Westminster’s latest blog to, it would seem, share this issue and all the information received with the public.

One can see Mr. O’Connor’s covering email to John Woudzia at:

http://focusnewwest.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/covering-email1.pdf

The written legal opinion can be found at: http://focusnewwest.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/opinion-letter.pdf

Additionally, a “tweet” is available on Twitter that people can use to point their friends to the documents online… Go to @focusnewwest on the Twitter website.

Here’s a link to the blog’s home page: http://focusnewwest.wordpress.com/

This issue was also covered recently by the City Caucus blog as well as the education reporter of the Vancouver Sun and our own local media.

CityCaucus.com: http://www.citycaucus.com/2011/02/legal-opinion-on-conflict-of-interest-causing-heartache

Janet Steffenhagen’s blog on the Sun’s website: http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/reportcard/archive/2011/02/04/conflict-of-interest-allegations-in-new-westminster.aspx

NewsLeader: http://www.bclocalnews.com/greater_vancouver/newwestminsternewsleader/news/115138769.html

Record: http://www.royalcityrecord.com/Trustee+says+legal+opinion+political+attack/4228323/story.html

Peace, order and good government

As everyone knows, Canada was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… No, wait… That’s the United States.

Canada was actually founded on quite different principles: Peace, order and good government.

On a civic level, these broad principles of peace, order and good government are ones that many people can get behind and support. And in many ways, these are the very same principles that Voice New Westminster was founded on.

If nothing else, Voice New Westminster has proven that people from different political perspectives on a federal and provincial level can find much common ground on a civic level.

Civic issues are very immediate and direct and they cut across political lines: Should a road be widened here or there or not at all? Where should new schools go? Should the city spend money on this project or that one? What level of taxation do the city’s residents and businesses feel is appropriate and bearable? How should the school board allocate its resources?

These are questions best answered through informed community consensus and that’s what Voice has sought to achieve.

After all, good decision-making never results when decisions are made by a select few in the absence of open, honest consultation and thorough discussion with the public.

There’s an endless supply of examples we could provide to illustrate this point, but the recent controversy surrounding the United Boulevard Extension, and whether the city agreed or didn’t agree with the City of Coquitlam to move forward with the project, is a prime example.

And contrary to what one commentator has suggested, seeking transparency and accountability in public affairs is not some sort of sinister gimmick being employed in a cynical way to disguise negative shots. Pointing out the foibles and the errors of decision-makers and their decisions is essential to the process of achieving peace, order and good government in a community.

If the emperors-that-be aren’t wearing any clothes, the citizens must say so. Mindlessly applauding the emperors-that-be and agreeing that their non-existent new clothes are truly wondrous serves no purpose other than pure sycophancy. What our city needs is clearheaded thinking, honest, open-eyed discussion and an end to the apathy that holds us back.

Ultimately, no public good comes when the public’s business is conducted in the shadows and special interest agendas are allowed to replace the interests of the community. Peace, order and good government can only be achieved when light is allowed to shine in.

And that is what Voice was formed to bring about; because nothing good grows in the absence of light, transparency, accountability, and a strong voice for the community and its citizens.


Brace Yourself for Another Tax Increase

Well, City council has received the draft 2011 – 2015 Financial Plan and it calls for an increase of 4.87% in 2011. This would mean that the owner of a residential strata property with a 2010 assessed value of $272,000 would face an increase of $88 and the owner of a residential single family home with a 2010 assessed value of $561,000 would face an increase of $175. Budgeted figures for 2012-2015 are estimated to range between 3-5% increases with the drivers for these increases being commencing operations of the Westminster Pier Park in 2012 , the Multi-use Civic Facility in 2014 and the outcome of future collective bargaining.

The staff report lists a number of new initiatives, amenities and hiring that are one-time capital costs but also present ongoing operating, maintenance and financing costs. Other budget drivers are our aging infrastructure, annual wage/benefits increment and other factors such as the recession and BC Hydro and Metro Vancouver Utility Rate increases.

It is interesting to note that the report (published before BOC governor Carney’s recent comments re: debt and future interest rate increases) mentions that debt and interest costs will increase as the City takes on more debt. The report also mentions that the City increases its tax base with revenue from new construction. The flip side to that, and not highlighted or mentioned, is that the more construction the City has the more people we have all wanting to use the City’s few amenities. So it really is a short-sighted solution.

The report ends with four options for reducing the increase. These increases include advertising revenues, reducing Strategic Projects Budget, capping 2011 salary increases for exempt staff at the rate of inflation and using non-stat reserves to reduce tax increases in 2011 offset with slightly higher tax increases in future years (read: after the 2011 election).

It would be interesting to read this staff report in conjunction with the recent Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses report.

Serious Fiscal Responsibility Questions Raised regarding 150 Celebrations

Also at last night’s council meeting James Crosty requested an audit of the 150 celebration finances. James inquired as to how an initial budget of approx. $386,000 could balloon to over $1 Million. Neither council nor staff seemed prepared to offer any suggestions on how this happened.
We certainly know how to throw a party, don’t we?

Mr. Crosty has now provided us with a copy of the comments he made before council. See below.

James Crosty has provided us with the delegation that he presented before council on Monday. Included in his comments is a handy history of the issue.

Here is a copy of the delegation by James Crosty to city council:
December 13, 2010

Good evening Mayor, council members of city staff and residents of New Westminster

I am here to ask Mayor and council how a budget that was approved for $174,162.44 after grant reductions ballooned to over $1,013,000.00 when you include in kind expenses for the 150th Birthday Celebrations in New Westminster. How can the city justify a 500% increase over the initial budget submitted and approved by council on January 19th 2009?

Further I would ask that council request an full internal accounting audit on the final cost of the 150 Celebrations including a breakdown of in kind expensed items, who provided the in kind items, details on city staff time and wages incurred for the 150 Celebrations, income generated from events and number of tickets sold and number of people that attended these events, clothing income and expense details and finally an explanation from the committee as to why this celebration went over budget.

I ask for this review not to criticize the organizers’ of the 150 Celebrations because I know they worked hard and I even attended some of the events it was an exciting time. I ask for this information to ensure that this kind of over spending will never occur again. You may remember 2009 was a tough year for many of our not for profit organizations with Provincial cutbacks and city funding. Yet here is our own city having expensed $838,000 more than the budget allowed when many not for profit groups had to cut back or go without. If I am correct in my calculations then the issue here is fiscal mismanagement of tax dollars. I believe it is incumbent upon our Mayor and Council to request a review of the 150 Celebration expenses in order for the people of New Westminster to fully understand these costs.

150 Celebration Review (background):

January 19th, 2009 (minutes of council) – Budget presented and Option B was approved for $374,162.44

it was noted in the minutes that “direction was given for staff to endeavor to reduce the budget by actively pursuing partnerships, donation and sponsorships. The director agreed to report back with greater budget detail as event planning progresses”.
It is noted in the budget that application had been made for a $200,000 grant from Ministry of Canadian Heritage – Building Communities through Arts & Heritage. This was not included in the budget at the time as it was an application only. As noted in the direction to staff this would reduce the city’s cost for 150 Celebrations to $174,162.44
A grant for $20,000 from BC 150th Heritage Legacy Fund was included then reduced in the budget. Further an in kind contribution of $10,000 was included in the budget towards venue rental. This should have been accounted for as in kind and not formed part of the budget cost.
I have been unable to locate any further information regarding any update.

March 23rd, 2009 (minutes of council) – Budget increased by $14,980 plus GST to allow for a publication of 500 books of poetry by Don Benson. I note that this motion was not approved by everyone with Councilor McIntosh opposed.
Total budget now $389,142.44 (Less $200,000 for the Heritage Grant).
Noted in these minutes was a reference that the 150th Celebration Operating Budget was deleted from Parks and Recreation budget and would be funded from Reserves.
April 20th, 2009 (minutes of council) – A motion to provide the two poet laureates honorariums of $500.ea was approved by council in reference to the commemorative book for a total of $1,000.
Final Budget would be $390,142.44 (less $200,000 from the grant application).
According to the staff report (DOC#149682) December 13th.
Budget as indicated is $386,000.00
Grant BC Heritage Foundation $20,000 included and expensed in the budget
Grant for $200,000.00 was received from Heritage Canada (not used to offset expenses)
Total cash expenses for 150 Celebrations $ 586,000.00
Total in kind expenses for 150 Celebration $ 427,000.00
In Kind offering are usually obtained to offset expenses.
Total expense for 150 Celebrations $1,013,000.00

By the minutes of council the expenses of the 150 Celebration as approved should have been $390,142.44 less $200,000.00 or $190,142.44 **
**should be less $10,000 from Massey in kind as well as ticket & clothing sales which are unknown

Since there is no account for income or Massey savings it can be estimated the expenses would be even larger than the reported cost of $1,013,000.00.
James Crosty,
Resident

See the following links for more on this story.
http://www.citycaucus.com/2009/02/new-westminster-bash
http://www.newwestcity.ca/council_minutes/1213_10/CWLG%20150th%20Celebration%20Final%20Report.pdf

Council Passes Motion Opposing UBE Options A-D

Well, after hearing from a very passionate public over the last month, council last night passed the following motion regarding the UBE.

North Fraser Perimeter Road / United Boulevard Extension

WHEREAS in response to concerns expressed at public consultation meetings; AND WHEREAS New Westminster City Council is concerned over intrusive impacts on residential neighbourhoods;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT TransLink be requested to continue with public consultation and planning in relation to the North Fraser Perimeter Road corridor and United Boulevard Extension project;

THAT TransLink be encouraged to seek an extension of their Federal funding grant;

THAT Council does not support Options A, B, C or D at this time, and that the City reaffirms its position regarding the entire route and mitigation of North Fraser Perimeter Road (as resolved in 2007);

THAT TransLink be requested to work with city staff and the community at large to develop alternative design options for the extension of United Boulevard and its connection with Brunette Avenue; and

THAT TransLink be requested to formally approve removal of the existing commercial truck route designation from the following city streets:

– East Eighth Avenue – McBride Boulevard to East Columbia Street

– East Columbia Street – Brunette Avenue to Braid Street.

Support Local Businesses at Santa Shops Sapperton

Sapperton businesses, although happy with the end result of the street improvements along E. Columbia, have had a tough year with one thing or another related to the work that had to be done. Once again though they are looking beyond themselves and the hard financial year they’ve had and are conducting their annual “Santa Shops Sapperton” event.

The annual event, coupled with the Wesgroup Christmas Tree Sale, is a non-profit community event presented jointly by the Sapperton Business Association and Wesgroup Properties.

All proceeds raised on the day of the event are donated to the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation. This year’s event will support RCHF’s Equipment and Patient Care Enhancements Campaign goal of raising $1.6 million.

This Christmas let’s all try, as much as possible, to shop locally. We can start this weekend by supporting the businesses along E. Columbia Street.

On Saturday E.Columbia will have carolers, Starbucks hot chocolate, roasted chestnuts, popcorn and Santa visiting the local businesses.

This is also an opportunity to buy your Christmas tree at Wesgroup’s Christmas tree sale. All proceeds from the sale of the trees support the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation. Trees are supplied and BC Grown by Oh Christmas Tree Farm in Langley, BC and are freshly cut the week of the event. There will be a variety of sizes & tree types available including 5-7’ Noble Firs, Grand Firs and many more.

Guy Ciprian, vice-president of of the Sapperton Merchants’ Association, says,The Sapperton merchants are pleased to be working once again with WesGroup Properties to provide Sapperton with a festive event while embracing and supporting our worthy community partners, the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation. I believe that the first step in making a difference is to take care of your own community first.

TransLink’s Second United Boulevard Extension Consultation Meeting

Last night TransLink held their second New Westminster consultation meeting regarding the UBE. This particular meeting was much better than the first in that it began with a presentation in the Justice Institute’s theatre at 6:45pm and was then followed by a Question and Answer/Response period. This format was more effective at allowing people to express their concerns and to hear responses from TransLink staff.
The meeting went straight through to the scheduled 8:30 finish time and questions/comments would likely have continued had the meeting not been brought to a close. It was standing room only with people lined up at the back and sides of the room. Many senior city staffers and some councilors were on hand to hear the community speak out as well.
TransLink had been directed by City Council to only present on Option A, the T-intersection, and that is what the focus of the meeting was. They began with discussing some of the regional pressures and the various reasons why it is important for traffic to be moving through this intersection. Oddly, as Voice president, Neil Powell, pointed out TransLink didn’t mention the Braid Industrial area as one of these regional drivers. Nor did they take into account the future stressors of Port Metro Vancouver’s ownership of the former Canfor lands or the fact that Coquitlam wants the waste transfer station removed from United Boulevard and the fact that the Braid Industrial area has been discussed as a possible future site for this or some other (incinerator?) way of dealing with the region’s solid waste. TransLink made it clear that they are not considering the UBE for the purpose of improving commuting but are looking at this for the purpose of moving goods and trucks. That is the reason they are able to get financial buy-in from Transport Canada.
A constant question/concern expressed was that this would also only alleviate the congestion at this location but would not deal with congestion further along the N. Fraser Perimeter Road at Front St. and E. Columbia or E.Columbia and Brunette Avenue. Voice’s Neil Powell, also raised concerns regarding lost industrial revenue as businesses are expropriated and how that will impact our taxes. TransLink has also said that they would be amenable to an application by New Westminster to remove E. Columbia Street from Brunette Avenue to Braid and E.8th Avenue between McBride and E. Columbia as truck routes. Neil Powell stated that this is something that many in Sapperton and the Heights would be happy to see happen, as it is something the McBride Sapperton Residents’ Association has been requesting for a number of years. He did ask though about how trucks would be able to get onto the Pattullo Bridge during rush hour when access is usually restricted. Apparently this issue will need to be dealt with by the City. Likely a lot of this will also be dealt with by the new Pattullo Bridge, whenever that happens.
Now we leave it to our City Council and mayor to direct TransLink as to how they wish to proceed and whether they are supportive of this concept or not.