Council Chambers Online: Resident says “Meh, it’s not that hard”

New Westminster Mayor and Council

Monday night council meetings are a thing to behold! They are open to the public and while many citizens do attend, the process of a council meeting, which can be long and tedious, is often just a bit to late, or early (or dull) to attend in person.

Hey, the city gets that, and for several years the civic goings on of our wise and venerable Mayor & Council have been available on TV on the Shaw community channel. It makes for some … er … riveting viewing … but at least you can do so in the comfort of your own home and with a brewskie or two. In fact I know of a few folks so infused with civic pride that they have made these meetings a regular drinking game with friends! I don’t quite know how this works, a drink for every motion? Each time Councilor McEvoy mentions the poor and downtrodden? Each time a civic supplicant humbly offers up a set of ‘special’ T-shirts to M&C? Perhaps a swizzle each time the ever-smiling Councillor McIntosh flashes those pearly whites? I don’t know, but it sounds like a good time!

But what happens to those of us in our increasingly fragmented media landscape who do not have access to Shaw’s service? There was a time when the radio was the universal communicator and could reliably provide information about local proceedings, alien invasion etc., but today, many media compete to deliver the message. Many folks receive their cable service from a different provider or via satellite. Others don’t have cable or, like us, have no TV channels at all coming into our house. Increasingly, families are cutting their TV services and turning to the Internet for news, events and entertainment. Now no doubt, all of these groups are a minority, but it is a growing minority, an ever-widening slice of the pie.

What would council do to address these lost eyeballs? As related in a recent blog post by Record Reporter Theresa McManus our intrepid M&C directed staff to study the cost of streaming council meetings over the internet via video to the taxalicious cost of close to $25k per year and a one time $25k set up cost. A mind-boggling sum! Incredulity from the younger members of council filled the air as our august body of sober leaders absorbed the high cost implications of communicating data via a medium known for cheap or free broadcasting. (I can see it now, Cote and McEvoy rolling their eyes in unison as if they have just witnessed their grandfolks trying to change the TV channel with an iPod). Thankfully curiosity (or procrastination) prevailed, and our beloved M&C chose to look further into what the whippersnappers say is popular with those crazy kids today.

While there are special considerations governments must consider when choosing new technology, there are several popular free live video streaming services on the Internet, including Ustream, Justin.tv, and more. With a webcam or video camera and a tripod (we’ll even loan you ours), a laptop and an Internet connection, Council could test public response to streaming video at very little cost. If a more robust solution is needed, then they could consider spending a little more on a proprietary solution or invest some staff or contractor time to slice & dice the video into shorter, subject-specific segments that could be made available for watching & embedding via YouTube or another free video hosting service. Ustream and Justin.tv both also offer live chat integration with Facebook, so council could broadcast meetings and those watching could share real-time feedback via Facebook chat. How’s that for public participation?

Meanwhile, as if to say, “Look, it’s not rocket science people!”, local resident Matthew Laird ( Quayside board President and also on the board of NWEP & the Royal City Farmers Market, active on various committees, and a former provincial and civic candidate) has been industriously tweeting about how it can be done easily and has uploaded video from every council meeting since December. Says Matt:

I’m still getting my process down, determining what video format to post them in, getting my routine down to record and post them, etc.  I think I have a system in place now…I agree with Jonathan’s comment…it should easily be possible for less than $20,000.  Sounds like an excuse not to get the issue done.

Matthew Laird

Sure it is little grainy and may take 5-10 minutes to load but Laird’s work clearly demonstrates that with a minimum of effort and flexibility, streaming council meetings over the web can be done. What is more, they can be viewed at any time – not just on the broadcast date. For the referees in us who want to review the tapes before calling the penalty, these files can be stored and reviewed for reference should the need arise. As with Pitt Meadows and North Vancouver, the Royal City should also leap into the digital era and allow all residents to monitor council proceedings, and review them at will, via the Internet.

Pattullo Bridge Repaving Project Means Closures

Pattullo Bridge
Image by janusz l via Flickr

New Westminster Residents affected by the closure of the Pattullo Bridge last January will no doubt know what is coming as Translink closed the bridge again this season for a significant overhaul of the paved surfaces. Depending on where in the city you reside, festering traffic jams or placid car free streets resulted from the last bridge shut down, caused by a fire set by a transient, that spread to a wooden flex-brace structure. Areas around 20th st. and Queensborough had a nightmare on their hands while the downtown, uptown and parts of Sapperton found a traffic holiday in effect.

This time, it is far less dramatic and the closures are scheduled to allow daytime traffic a route across the Fraser River. The bridge will be closed from May 31 from 8 p.m.  Fridays through 5 a.m.  on Mondays and after the  work week evening rush from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. While the Pattullo typically sees 80,000 commuters each day, the closures are designed to minimize the impact. No doubt Translink planners have learned from the chaos that resulted from the last event.

On a side note, I have heard the analogy, particularly from BC Green Candidate and NWEP leader Matthew Laird (who I respect) that traffic, like gas, expands to meet the vacuum. I think this is true but the analogy fails. Gas expands to meet a vacuum by becoming much less dense. If there is more space, the congestion is eliminated. In the case of a failed river crossing, the traffic volume must contract to meet the reduced space. This results in congestion, friction and a real city planning problem. I am one of those that reject the notion that building more roads leads to more cars. Zoning more bedrooms in areas with no transit coverage leads to more cars. More or better roads just leads to a given number of cars spending less time in traffic.

So, that aside, the reason for the bridge repair is a complete replacement of the paved bridge deck. A typical resurfacing can not take place as the last work done in 1980 included asbestos and now the whole depth of asphalt must be removed and replaced. Lets hope that while the workers are digging through the pavement mid-span they don’t come across a forgotten cemetery

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Sustainable development plan coming for downtown

 

Downtown New Westminster. Photo credit: Daniel Fortin (aka powderedsnow)
Downtown New Westminster. Photo credit: Daniel Fortin

New Westminster is working on a new sustainable development plan for our downtown area thanks to a $136,000 grant from the Federation of Canadian MunicipalitiesGreen Municipal Fund

The plan will guide development in a proactive manner by identifying policies and implementation strategies to ensure sustainable growth of the downtown as a high quality, liveable, transit-oriented regional town centre.

The plan will:

  • Review land use/zoning policies
  • Research innovative ways to provide public open space
  • Foster adaptive reuse of heritage resources
  • Identify options to mitigate the noise, air quality and connectivity issues relating to the regional goods movement corridor. 
  • Encourage public transit use in the more densely populated core 
  • Protecting open space and natural areas by focusing growth within existing urban areas

New Westminster development services planning analyst Eric Westberg sent me the following tips on how to get involved if sustainability is an issue that matters to you: 

Read city council’s reports & share your feedback

The Draft Framework for the Downtown Sustainability Action Plan (a sub-component of the Downtown Community Plan) at this time is scheduled to go to Council on June 1. Based on this schedule, it will be publicly available with the weekly Council package on May 29 on the city’s website

The consultant working on the project is HB Lanarc (read more info on the project and the selection of HB Lanarc in the April 6 Council report).

The Downtown Community Plan has a dedicated information page on the city’s website as well, with meeting notes and information dating back to summer 2007.  You may also be interested to reach the city’s Corporate Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan (PDF file)

If you’d like to send feedback to the city, here’s who to contact: 

 

 

Attend upcoming public consultation meetings

Eric confirmed that there will be further public consultation meetings on the overall Downtown Community Plan coming up soon, however dates are TBD. If you’re interested to know when they will be, leave a comment on this post. At these meetings, there will be an opportunity for citizens to provide feedback on various sustainability issues, including one of New West’s big hot buttons: transportation.

Watch for further related city-wide environmental initiatives

With recent Provincial environmental legislation committing to a 33% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, New Westminster may follow the lead of cities like North Vancouver who have created city-wide sustainability vision statements and greenhouse gas local action plans. Further public consultation would be included in any such plan.

Join a city committee and/or NWEP

Councillor Jaimie McEvoy chairs New Westminster’s Environment Advisory Committee, which operates on a one-year term and meets every two months. If you’d like to sit in on a meeting of this committee, the next one is June 10 at 6:30pm at City Hall (either Committee Room 2 or Council Chamber). 

You can see the complete list of citizen volunteer committees on the city’s website. The application process for the upcoming term will begin later this year. 

Eric also recommended becoming involved through New Westminster Environmental Partners, headed by perennial Green candidate Matthew Laird (who is also on the Environment Committee). 

There’s also New West Environmental Partners, headed by Matthew Laird, who is on the Environment Committee. NWEP suggests a variety of ways to get involved on their website, including: 

  • Joining a planning committee (areas of focus include energy, transportation and agriculture)
  • Writing letters to local newspapers and politicians on sustainability issues (and I would add, guest post on Tenth To The Fraser!)
  • Make a delegation to city council on key issues
  • Demonstrate sustainable living in your own lifestyle
  • Spread the word about environmental issues to friends & family
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Video: New West all-candidates’ meeting

Video is up for last Wednesday’s all-candidates’ meeting, courtesy of David Maidman of Pumpkinhead Productions.

Part one:

  • Introductions
  • Regional transportation & the North Fraser Perimeter Road (5:00))
  • Food security, lower carbon footprint & healthier population (10:02)

New Westminster All-Candidates Meeting, May 6th, 2009 7-9pm from David Maidman on Vimeo.

Part two:

  • Provincial support for New West waterfront park
  • Improvements to Royal Columbian hospital (4:06)
  • Provincial funding for New West schools (8:49)

New Westminster All-Candidates Meeting, May 6th, 2009 7-9pm from David Maidman on Vimeo.

Matthew Laird Campaign Statement

During the 2009 BC Election Campaign, an opportunity has been provided to all election candidates in the riding to post a brief message to their constituents. These messages will not be edited.

In the guest post below, BC Green Party Candidate Matthew Laird has responded with a few words to the voters.

B.C. Green Party candidate Matthew Laird
B.C. Green Party candidate Matthew Laird

Matthew Laird is well known in New Westminster for his advocacy for a more liveable city. He has a strong record of service in this community and can always be seen volunteering at events around town. As a founder of New Westminster Environmental Partners, and VP of both the Quayside Community Board and Royal City Farmers’ Market Society, he also has proven leadership and a connection to the community. He was drawn to the Green Party platform by their focus on forward thinking and prevention.

Too often governments act in a reactive fashion: after someone is sick and needing hospitalization, after a crime has occurred and victims are suffering, after our transportation system is in gridlock and we’re facing a climate crisis, after the economy has collapsed due to lack of regulatory oversight Most crises can be predicted and planned for, saving money and lives. Matthew believes now is time to transition our economy to a more sustainable model. One based on local business and a steady state economy – which the UK government has recently released a report advocating for. Matthew believes we can build a sustainable economy where everyone prospers.

Matthew’s priorities are:

  • Advocate for innovation in our healthcare system, programs to streamline and better use existing resources while maintaining a fully public healthcare system. (recommended reading: Dr. Michael Rachlis, Prescription for Excellence)
  • Establish a “wellness” priority for our healthcare system, the best way to lower healthcare costs is to keep people out of hospitals to begin with
  • Establish a transit-first strategy for addressing our regional transportation crisis, because no city has ever built their way out of congestion
  • Ending our reactionary justice system and instead preventing crime before it occurs by proactively addressing its root causes: poverty, addiction, mental health issues
  • Raise the minimum wage and work with the Federal government on a “guaranteed minimum income” program, because even $10/hr is still below the poverty line
  • Properly fund our education system, because a growing district should never have to contemplate school closures
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Submit your questions for New West election candidates

As previously mentioned, Tenth To The Fraser is collaborating with New Westminster Environmental Partners and the BIA to organize New West’s only all-candidates’ meeting this election.

NWEP has asked us to provide them with some questions for the candidates, but we thought we’d turn it over to you, our readers: What would you like to ask Dawn Black, Carole Millar and Matthew Laird before you vote?

Leave a comment with your question, or send us a Tweet @10thtothefraser.

As a reminder, the all-candidates meeting is Wednesday, May 6, 7-9pm at Douglas College in room 2201.