2020: Mayor's Year in Review

Jan 26, 2021

New Year's greetings everyone,

This Council is now halfway through its term, and when you consider that much of 2020 was focused on responding to Covid, it’s really remarkable that we accomplished as much Council business as we did.

2020 started with the horrendous crash of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 that ended the lives of 176 people, including fifteen with ties to British Columbia and more than 100 people with ties to Canada—brilliant minds, full of potential—scientists, engineers, teachers, students, parents, children, husbands, wives, sisters and brothers.  I’m very proud of how our North Shore communities came together in an outpouring of sympathy and compassion to support friends, neighbours and loved ones who suffered, and continue to suffer, unimaginable loss caused by this senseless tragedy.

The raging wildfires that hit Australia last January, and California in September, were the worst ever recorded—taking lives, destroying homes, and devastating the natural environment. Climate change is real and remains our greatest and persistent threat.

And then Covid struck. As a district we led  – we were among the first municipalities to take drastic steps to respond – shutting down all district facilities quickly and completely; using our website and social media to advise the public of the pandemic threat; and as a Council invoking a local state of emergency.  In hindsight, these look like obvious responses, but at the time, they were bold decisive steps.  And our community was with us, and is still with us showing strength and conviction not seen in my lifetime.

The impacts of the Covid-19 global pandemic cannot be overstated—it has turned our lives upside down—thousands have died, families have been separated for months, our health care workers are mentally and physically exhausted, our staff have pivoted like never before, and many, many people have faced significant financial hardship.

I’d like to look back at and reflect on the many positive things that we did accomplish in 2020, as well as how we plan to recover and move forward in 2021, and create a more resilient West Vancouver for the next generation

At the beginning of its term, in 2019, Council worked together to set its strategic direction. We agreed on a vision “to make West Vancouver a complete community; one that is liveable, vibrant and inclusive; where a full spectrum of people can live, play and work”. We set six high-level goals and 30 tactical objectives to accomplish in the first two years, to be reviewed annually. 

Last year, we added Major Project Priorities including a new Arts Centre, a new Youth Centre, and an enhanced Seniors Centre; as well as a process for amending our Strategic Plan as opportunities and challenges arise. At the May 25th regular Council meeting, we unanimously approved these changes, and the updated Goals and Objectives, as Council's Strategic Plan for 2020–2021.

This plan is our roadmap, and my job as Mayor and Chief Executive Officer of the District is to review how far we have travelled, ensure that we stay on the road despite bumps big and small, and remind Council and our staff where we are headed, and why.

Housing

Our goal is to “Significantly expand the diversity and supply of housing, including housing that is more affordable.”  Why?  Because we are losing the people we need in our community—seniors are struggling to stay due to a lack of accessible housing; workers are commuting here from farther and farther away; and young families with children can’t afford to come back to the community they grew up in.

What have we done to respond? We advanced the project at 2195 Gordon Avenue and rezoned this District-owned site to allow a combination of strata units, secured below-market rental housing and an Adult Day Centre. It will provide more affordable rental housing for our professional workforce, families, and seniors, while also recouping our initial investment.  And no matter how you look at it, this property, which was purchased by the District for $16 million from the proceeds of the Grosvenor sale, now has an estimated value of over four times that. The Request for Proposals to the development community will go out this month.

We also added 95 secured rental units to the Gateway Residences at Park Royal, and 35 units to 303 Marine Drive (the former Earl’s site).  And we put over $10 million in cash into the bank in the form of Community Amenity Contributions, all while adding thousands of dollars to our property tax roll.

Because of its significant social benefits, Council unanimously advanced, ahead of the Taylor Way Local Area Plan, a development proposal from Baptist Housing to invest more than $500 million, including public funding and financing, to replace the aging Inglewood Care Centre. The plan will not displace any residents and will add assisted living, below-market seniors’ rental housing, workforce housing and, potentially, child care. Covid has shone a bright light on the deficiencies of many long-term care facilities where residents too often must share rooms, which allowed the virus to spread unabated.

In December, we received the recommendations of the Neighbourhood Character Working Group.  The value and protection of neighbourhood character has been discussed for decades, and this Council now has a citizen-led vision that will support new bylaws and guidelines to manage the scale and fit of all new houses, while enabling more coach houses and the creation of smaller lots in our residential neighbourhoods.

In late 2020, we conducted the first engagement survey for the Upper Lands and Cypress Village neighbourhoods, and Council is looking forward to hearing the results of residents’ input regarding the trade-offs between the number of housing units and protecting Eagleridge Bluffs.

The District’s Housing Needs Report, which has been completed ahead of the Provincial deadline and of many other municipalities, largely confirms our housing needs and policy directions as set out in our Official Community Plan (OCP). Under the OCP and the Metro Regional Growth Strategy, we’ve been working towards a goal of roughly 250 new units per year, of which 50 should be rental. We have not met that goal in actual construction for a number of years.

Local Economy

Our goal for our local economy is to “create vital and vibrant commercial centres”.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, West Vancouver Council recognized the need to support and revitalize our business community; and to address the challenges businesses were already facing such as attracting and retaining staff, and a diminishing local customer base. The impact of the pandemic and the dramatic economic downturn have increased those challenges exponentially. While the Federal and Provincial governments provided some economic relief for businesses and their employees; and we launched a webpage to connect businesses with those resources, walking around our main commercial districts, I have sadly noticed several more empty storefronts.

In the early days of the pandemic, we took steps to protect the supply chain for businesses, which is why the District waived bylaws restricting delivery times even before the Provincial Health Officer ordered that change.  We’ve worked with businesses to find creative solutions to the need for more space to accommodate physical distancing. The outdoor patio program was quickly implemented including on sidewalks, in curbside parking spaces, and on private property. One lane in Dundarave has been closed to traffic so that merchants can implement outdoor patio space for the challenging winter months ahead.

This past summer Harmony Eats was embraced by the community, but despite our best efforts, the Province would not issue liquor licences to the three restaurants in Millennium Park. When I personally contacted David Eby, he quite liked the idea but indicated that if other municipalities asked for it, he wouldn’t have enough staff to respond. Fortuitously, I have recently met the President and CEO of the Restaurant and Foodservice Association who has offered to help me with his government connections in anticipation of this summer’s program.

In the fall, I created the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force comprised of a dozen trusted and talented business professionals to provide an umbrella of support to help our existing businesses recover and strengthen our community’s economic resilience.  In our first meeting, we generated over 50 actionable ideas; in our second meeting we assigned members to small groups to evaluate and implement them; and I will be overseeing the work of the three sub-groups, which will include representatives from all our business associations.  One key initiative that will happen in the next few weeks is a survey of our businesses, and arts and culture providers about the impacts of Covid and how the District can help them to move forward.  I will be posting more information and regular updates on a webpage dedicated to the Mayor’s Task Force in the coming months.

In the longer term, Local Area Plans play a significant role in providing a framework to improve commercial vibrancy. Although the pandemic forced a pause in this work, the last phase of the Horseshoe Bay Local Area Plan launches this week. Once complete, Council will make plans for the equally important Ambleside Local Area Plan, which may take an abbreviated form to achieve faster results given our learnings from the Horseshoe Bay experience.

Environment

Council’s third goal is to “Protect our natural environment, reduce our impact on it, and adapt to climate change.”

Before the pandemic, climate change was at the forefront of media reports. While it seemed to disappear from headlines, Council stands by its 2019 declaration of a climate emergency, recognizing our geographical vulnerability in that the two biggest threats we face as a community are wildfires and floods.

To address the threats of wildfires, a Wildfire Hazard Development Permit Area was implemented. By adopting the Fire Smart program measures, this framework will ensure that homes in the fire interface area become more fire resilient.

Staff completed a study to determine flood construction levels for our coastline, from Horseshoe Bay to Ambleside. With this information, we will bring forward a Foreshore Development Permit area for public consultation this year. This will provide a consistent regulatory framework for all properties, providing guidelines for property owners that will allow them to redevelop their properties, without the need to come before Council.

Council approved a new Tree Bylaw, based on recommendations from the Interim Tree Bylaw Working Group and data from a LiDAR tree canopy study, which determined that our overall tree canopy for West Vancouver was almost 75%, a number which exceeds the best practice benchmark. This year, we will begin the creation of an Urban Forest Management Plan to ensure we continue to collect scientific data and update best practices or restrictions as needed.  Again, this is something that has been discussed in the community for decades, and our council finally tackled it.  While protecting trees over 75 cm in diameter may seem too lenient to some and too aggressive for others, we have moved a long way as a community since the Interim Tree Bylaw was adopted in 2016. And we need to celebrate this accomplishment and know that this will be a continuing piece of work and an important contribution to combatting climate change and its impacts.

Council has not forgotten our commitment to reduce energy use and carbon emissions in the community and in District operations.  And staff have identified opportunities to speed up our response to meeting our GHG reduction goals.  We adopted amended bylaws and policies in March that directly support our ambitious plan which is now in line with the new targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—a 45% reduction by 2030 and a 100% reduction by 2050.  We are now both a regional and national leader in implementing progressive building standards to reduce GHG emissions, and the District is a model for other communities committed to doing the same.

Covid has also offered some opportunities in this regard.  To accommodate the seismic upgrades to the old Municipal Hall and stay safe during COVID, all staff have been redeployed to work remotely or in the new building where possible, including Council and myself.  Along with saving over $3 million from initial estimates, by investing in new energy-efficient technology, we will reduce Municipal Hall’s CO2 emissions from 160.3 tonnes of CO2 per year to just 10.6 tonnes. That’s a 93% reduction!

Mobility

While we saw a drastic decrease in traffic for the first several weeks of the pandemic, that didn’t last long and congestion has returned at even higher levels, largely due to decreased use of public transit.

Just before the pandemic hit, Council approved ride-hailing, allowing businesses such as Uber and Lyft to operate in our community. Once the pandemic started, we saw a significant increase in cycling and walking. The “Slow Streets” pilots along Bellevue and Fulton, provide safer spaces for people to share the road, and we have received positive feedback from the public.  And the widened sidewalks at 14th and Marine Drive are wonderful!  Diversifying, expanding and improving the safety and appeal of active transportation options are important aspects of improving mobility for people and goods.

The Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project (INSTPP) brought together all levels of government across the North Shore, including First Nations and TransLink, to identify, evaluate, and prioritize joint transportation decisions. While this work has been going on since January of 2018, as Chair of the new steering committee (NXSTPP) I’m committed to doing a better job of communicating with the public about our action items, including advancing plans for a new rapid transit connection across Burrard Inlet, and an extension of the Lower Level Road to provide another east-west connection across the North Shore.

Municipal Services

We are committed to “Delivering municipal services efficiently”, and I cannot over-emphasize the lengths that staff went to, in the face of this pandemic, to adjust, pivot, improve, digitize and humanize all the services the municipality provides.  With a commitment to keeping everyone safe and following the orders of the Provincial Health Officer, new systems were put in place to keep services operating, new technologies were implemented to support Council meetings, and staff were redeployed to meet the new demands brought to us by COVID.

The municipal budget that I spoke to you about at this time last year was completely re-done to address the quickly changing landscape and uncertainty ahead.  We suffered a $12 million revenue loss because of Covid, and were also very concerned that residents and businesses wouldn’t be able to pay their property taxes.  Fortunately, our community responded and tax collection was not affected.

A third budget was prepared in September to adjust and further align to the situation.

The proposed 2021 budget, the fourth budget that staff have prepared in the last twelve months, will reflect our response to the pandemic and our ongoing priority to provide high-quality services to our community. 2021 budget information is now posted online for public review and comment. We will hold virtual information meetings on January 28th and January 29th. Our new CAO, Robert Bartlett, in collaboration with his management team, have accomplished a miracle in my mind, which will allow us to invest in our operations while recommending a property tax increase of 1.48%, well below the rate of inflation. The recommended asset levy is also justifiable at 3%, and both are in line with our North Shore municipal counterparts.

Social Well-being

Council’s last goal, to “Enhance the social well-being of our community” will be attained by creating opportunities for people to meaningfully connect, contribute, and belong. Last year provided opportunities that we could not have foreseen.

Our Community Centres, Seniors’ Activity Centre and Library closed, depriving our community of valuable social hubs, and causing the layoff of more than 400 employees. And yet, amazing things happened!

Library and community centre staff created virtual programming to help residents remain active and engaged while staying at home. Seniors’ Activity Centre staff called every member—thousands of them—to ask if they were ok. This act of checking-in lifted a veil that had been in place well before the pandemic arrived, as we learned that so many of our vulnerable seniors were not getting the nutritious meals they need to stay healthy. And, without access to public facilities, many did not have the technology and information that they needed.

But our community stepped up. Hundreds of tablets and devices were donated by individuals and corporations.  The Seniors’ Activity Centre immediately started preparing take-out meals, and this has grown into the amazing “Feed the Need’ program, which would not have been possible without our community’s generous response to the fundraising campaign.

Similarly, homelessness is not a new issue, and the pandemic highlighted the need for additional temporary housing as those without a home are reluctant to stay in crowded facilities. That’s why we’ve begun working on a North Shore cross-jurisdictional task force to take concrete steps to prevent homelessness and help create pathways out of homelessness.  Without a home and the household necessities we all take for granted, it’s impossible for folks to live with dignity and participate fully in society.

Our history as a community is also an important part of our social well-being. To honour it, we need to not only understand and value it, but to invest in it. Council has been considering Navvy Jack House for several years, and in October, Council rescinded its demolition order and allocated funds to determine the feasibility and cost of restoring it. You have likely noticed physical changes to the building as we peel back decades of renovations to learn more in the coming months.  Decisions on future use will depend on fundraising and community input, especially input from the descendants of Navvy Jack and his Squamish Nation wife, Rowia.  As Chair of the Metro Indigenous Relations Committee, I see this as a huge opportunity to work on Council’s priority around reconciliation and to strengthen our relationships with both the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.  

Council also moved forward with a decision on the house at Klee Wyck Park. The house is not salvageable, but the grounds and gardens are historically significant. Council has allocated $170,000 to improving the grounds as a park. Further, in this budget, we are considering additional funding for the next steps—telling the story of the trailblazing Dr. Ethlyn Trapp, and exploring building community gardens on the site, which would also contribute to our food security goals.  Again, discussions on how to best use the property have been happening since 1972, and this Council has finally made some decisions about that.

And we took down another house on Argyle Avenue just before Christmas as part of the 1976 Waterfront Acquisition policy to convert the area to public use as a park for all residents and visitors to enjoy.  We made legal history when our application to vary the Brissenden trust in order to acquire the last two Argyle Properties was approved by the courts; and it is one of my greatest hopes that this Council will complete this 32-house program. 

And to end on something that is close to my heart, we have shortlisted sites for our new Arts and Culture Centre.  The Facilities subcommittee of the Arts and Culture Strategy committee will bring these options forward for feedback from the community in the spring.

These are just some of the highlights of the past year; and there’s still some work to be done, including finalizing a child care plan for the district.  Supporting women in the workforce with safe and affordable childcare is one of the best ways to grow our economy and support a healthy nation. Covid marked a 30-year low for women’s participation in the workforce as women dropped out to provide home-schooling to their children or care to their elderly parents.

In the next few weeks, in conjunction with the budget process, we plan to revisit our Strategic Plan and revise our priorities so they are achievable in our current circumstances. We need to reconsider our expectations of staff as they put safety and essential services first, and as they continue to be flexible and find new ways to deliver services. The organization will remain customer-focused, but in a way that is equitable to all residents.

I’d like to especially thank our residents for engaging with us, for coming together to support each other, and for being part of a resilient, caring community.

I’d also like to thank our partners in West Vancouver and the region because collaboration on many levels is necessary to achieve our goals.

I’d like to extend a special thank you to our amazing staff for their exceptional efforts to serve our community well through all of this. We ask so much of them, and they accomplish even more.  I’m very proud of the committed and professional work they do.

And a loud shout out to Dr. Bonnie Henry, our smart and compassionate Provincial Health Officer who has made B.C. a leader in bending the curve, and is saving lives every day.

Finally, to my fellow Council members, you are each here because you care deeply for this community, and want to contribute to making it the best it can be. We have made significant progress on our Strategic Plan during a global pandemic, and for that, I really want to thank and congratulate you! 

In March, we will formally review our Strategic Plan—refine the goals, add new ones, and retire others. I look forward to continuing Council’s good work in 2021, and to providing an updated set of priorities and objectives to the public by the summer.

Please stay healthy, and take care of yourself and one another.

Warm regards,


Mayor Mary-Ann Booth



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