Thursday, October 19, 2017

City Council Timeline, Monday, October 16, 2017

A presentation from NorthWest Community college made for one of the main focus points for the first Council session of October, as Council members heard of some of the strategic planning underway at the college and heard a request for support towards plans to seek a name change for the post secondary institution.

When they turned their attention to the remainder of their Agenda, Council reviewed a range of variance permits on the night, sparking some discussion on themes of downtown housing and subdivision plans for the Van Arsdol area.

Some interesting themes were also developed at the end of the evening during the Reports and Inquires portion of the night's Agenda, with the Mayor outlining a number of upcoming Community initiative update and engagement sessions ahead.

Council members also weighed in on a number of topics, ranging from the homeless situation in the city, as well as ongoing notes of frustration related to affordable housing in the community.  Council also engaged in some lively discussion related to potential measures to engage residents more in the council process.

For some background on the items of note on the evening, the Agenda for the Regular Council session can be reviewed here.

Further information from our overview and placement in the video archive can be found below, with the permanent record of the minutes added as they are posted to the city website.

In attendance October 16, 2017

Mayor Lee Brain-- Present  
Councillor Barry Cunningham-- Present
Councillor Blair Mirau -- Present 
Councillor Wade Niesh -- Present
Councillor Nelson Kinney --  Absent
Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa--  Present 
Councillor Joy Thorkelson --  Present 

Video Archive for October 16, 2017

( 0:00 -- 1:20:00 ) Regular Council Session -- The Mayor reviewed the list of minutes and agenda items to be noted by Council members, with Council then approving the Agenda while the past minutes of previous council meetings were adopted.

( 1:20:00 -- 33:15  ) Presentation to Council from Northwest Community College on proposed name change -- A delegation from NWCC provided an update for City Council on their vision and strategic planning as well as their work towards introducing a new name for the educational institution.

Sarah Zimmerman, NWCC's Director of Communications and Public Relations took the lead for the group, which also included Herb Pond from the College Board of Directors and Pouan Mahboubi, the Dean of instruction at the Prince Rupert campus. Her overview provided some background to recent planning at the college and how they have addressed some of the economic challenges as well as concerns over declines in regional enrolment.

Among her notes was a review of how the college is looking to increase the number of international students in the region, with Prince Rupert's campus set to receive a number of students in the fall as part of those programs.

The main focus for her presentation was to offer up a review and a bit of a timeline towards the name change initiative and how the college believes it will assist their efforts in attracting new students to the Northwest campuses.

Ms. Zimmerman also observed that the college is seeking letters of support from around the Northwest to assist in the process required as part of the college's name change initiative, noting that they have received letters from the City of Terrace and a number of School District's in the region.

Following her review Council members offered up a number of comments and asked questions related to the name change theme, with many expressing their support for the project.

Councillor Mirau offered up his strong support for the name change initiative and how he would be urging council to write the letter of support and highlighted his support for the college's desire to develop their vision towards  "experiential place based learning".

He further added that the name change would also serve as a tool to make the region a destination for international students to come and study and help to boost enrolment.

He had one question, noting that he had heard through the grapevine that the local School District (SD52) had not supported the name change, asking if they had received the same presentation as the one council had just hosted, and how he was at a loss as to why they are opposed to the name change.

Ms. Zimmerman observed that while she had offered to make a presentation to the School District they had chosen to not take her up on that offer and instead based their decision on the news release that had been forwarded to them. She outlined that she did not know the nature of their opposition to the name change initiative but would be willing to meet with them if they wish.

Councillor Randhawa also expressed his support for the name change, but offered up a cautionary note when it comes to attracting international students and how there should be a preference for local students when it comes to enrolment.

In answer to the question, the NWCC rep noted that there are no resources being taken away from existing programs to support the international programs at this time  and how by attracting a larger pool of students the college may be able to offer more programs that local students can take part in, pointing towards the success NWCC is having with their business program at the moment.

Councillor Cunningham also offered up his full support for the name change initiative, making note of the declining enrolment at both the secondary and post secondary level is alarming and how bringing in the foreign students may assist in providing more programs locally.

He particularly was pleased to hear of the upcoming project to bring some of those international students to Prince Rupert, noting of his concern of the lack of courses that NWCC makes available in Prince Rupert.

Councillor Niesh recounted a dinner conversation with Herb Pond  at a recent event and how the Board member provided further background on how the proposed name change will assist the college in its plans for the region.

Councillor Thorkelson offered up that it's probably a good thing that the college changes its name, but did relay some of her concerns about the level of course content available in Prince Rupert and recounted for the delegation the mandate for the college when it was established.

Ms. Thorkelson, calling on her extensive knowledge of the Northwest over the years, highlighted for the delegation the three pillars of labour, aboriginal and academic that made for that foundation to build the college, observing that those pillars had been dropped sometime in the 1980's.

She expressed a cautionary note that in their ambition to attract international students that the college not lose the flavour of the area and using the college's vision statement of experiential place based learning, observing how the college should continue to reflect the unique nature of the Northwest and not reduce the trades programs and other courses that reflect the interests of the region.

Ms. Zimmerman addressed some of those concerns, noting how the college has expanded on their field school initiatives which take students to different areas of the Northwest and Haida Gwaii to gain a better understanding of the region as they explore those programs and how that initiative is shaping the educational format.

She in particular recounted her experience at a recent field school as part of the Truth and Reconciliation field school which she attended, as students learned more about the life of Indigenous workers at the North Pacific Cannery site.

She observed as to the detailed nature of the program and how the access and impact of having an elder share a story of the past works into the college's vision of experiential place based learning and noted how that experience offered much more for those in attendance, than what they might receive hat if they had just been taking the tour of the cannery museum from the  museum staff.

For his part Mayor Brain also offered his support to the name change and outlined how he has benefited from experiential learning himself and how he believes its the right strategy for the college to pursue.

He also called attention to some of the conversations that he had at the recent UBCM conference and the perception for many in the region that NWCC is very much a Terrace college and that there is a consolidation taking place in Terrace, particularly after the closing of the Houston campus.

The Mayor also observed that the perception in the region, whether right or wrong, is that there is a plan to make Terrace the benefactor of all the provincial funding and that the outlying areas are left with crumbs.

To further his themes, Mayor Brain offered up his message to the college that as part of any re-branding initiative that they should recommit to the communities in the area and strengthen the student associations in those communities.

Ms. Zimmerman noted that she would be bringing the Council's comments back to the college for further review.

To bring the theme to a conclusion, the Mayor called for a friendly motion to offer support for the name change, with Councillor Randhawa noting that they should include an element to encourage preference for local students.

Council then voted to approve the request to provide a letter of support.

(34:00 -- 35:30   ) Report from the Community Planner, related to a request for a variance permit for a property on on Eighth Avenue East-- A review of a proposed renovation project for a home on the city's east side.

Council moved the motion forward.

(35:30 -- 45:00  ) Report from the City Planner related to a request for a variance permit for a property on on  First Avenue West-- Mr. Krekic provided a review of a proposed construction of a new triplex in the downtown core area of the city, the subject of the variance permit one related to the height of the proposed building.

Council members offered up a number of questions related to the proposal, with Councillor Cunningham expressing some concern over the drainage in the area. Mr. Krekic reviewed some of the particulars related to the issue, noting that the Engineering department is satisfied with the approach being taken.

Councillor Randhawa inquired as to the difference in height between the property in question and the adjacent properties.

Councillor Niesh offered up some of his observations on the proposed development towards the height issue and concerns over the thoughts on drainage, for his part he considers the proposal to be an improvement on what was there before and looks forward to hearing what the neighbours have to say about the development.

Councillor Thorkelson inquired as to how the parking related to the development will be accessed.

Councillor Mirau weighed into the discussion by reviewing a list of items that provided for his support for the development.

Council moved the motion forward and send the proposal to public notification.

(45:09 -- 55:30  ) Report from the City Planner related to a request for a variance permit for a property on Van Arsdol Street -- Mr. Krekic provided a review of a request for a subdivision of a lot on the West side of the city, with the City Planner offering up background on the theme and asking for the process move on to public notification.

Councillor Thorkelson led off the discussion, asking for a reminder from the City Planner as to how the subdivision process works. Following Mr. Krekic's explanation, Councillor Niesh inquired as to the situation of the existing house and its placement in the subdivision request. He then offered up some concerns related to how the request fits into existing lot provisions.

The City Manager then offered up some clarification on the policies related to subdivision development process, though it did not appear to resolve Mr. Niesh's concerns over conformity, he noted that a previous attempt elsewhere in  the same neighbourhood provided for significant push back from other residents of the area, something he noted is probably the destiny for this proposal.

Councillor Cunningham raised issues related to parking for the subdivision proposal, Mr. Krekic observed that the proposal fits into the city standards. Mr. Cunningham held to his belief that the proposal would lead to increased street parking, but like Councillor Niesh observed that the topic may come up during the public notification process.

Councillor Thorkelson returned to her questions related to conformity seeking clarification on that aspect of the variance request.

Council voted in favour of the variance permit and now send the proposal to public notification.

( 55:30 -- 56:30  ) Correspondence for Action proclamation request -- Council received a request for a proclamation of October 2017 as Foster Family month in the City of Prince Rupert. Prior to adopting the proclamation the Mayor delivered a shout out towards a friend of his who has been a Foster parent in the community.

Council approved the motion.

(56:30 -- 57:00 ) The Mayor made note of a Verbal Report from the City's Financial Officer related to the adoption of the 2018-19 Permissive Property Exemption bylaw, he then noted that the topic required no further discussion to adopt the bylaw.

Council approved the motion.

(57:00 -- 57:30 ) Recommendation of First, Second and Third Reading of the 2017 Five year financial plan amendment bylaw -- Council provided for the three readings without discussion.

( 57:30-- 1:18:00 ) Reports, Questions and Inquires from Council

The Mayor led off the discussion noting that the City has three public engagement plans on the horizon, first noting of the receipt of $150,000 in funding from the Rural Dividend Fund to be directed towards the city's Redesign Rupert initiative.

The Mayor observed that owing to the slow government changeover the funding was delayed, with Mayor Brain recalling how he viewed the first phase of the project as a great success, adding that Council will soon receive a report that will outline what the city has planned for phase two and how they will act on some of the feedback and engage the public further on the initiative.

The second public engagement note was related to plans for an Open House for Watson Island in November with the date, time and location still to be determined. The Mayor outlined how the city will update the public on the progress that the city is making on their Watson Island plans.

The third of the Mayor's public engagement themes is a session designed to return the Hays 2.0 vision plan. With the City to host a Town Hall format at the Lester Centre on Wednesday evening, November 22nd. The meeting which is to be called the Hays 2.0 Blueprint Presentation will review how they plan to implement the Hays 2.0 vision. Among the themes to be presented will be infrastructure priorities including the RCMP station situation and water supply notes, regional transportation initiatives and access to the airport.

As well, the city will discuss strategies on how to potentially improve City revenues, included as part of that topic will be thoughts on Watson Island, the city's Legacy Fund and the vision for Prince Rupert's future.

Towards that future, the Mayor observed that the session will explore the current challenges and some of the solutions that may be available, he outlined that more information on the information session will be distributed later this week.

Councillor Cunningham was next to offer up a few points for discussion, his contribution began with his thanks to City staff for their work at UBCM.

He once again raised the theme of his past request that the city look into the creation of a Fish Market style opportunity at the Cow Bay Dock, asking if City staff had moved any further towards reviewing that proposal. The City Manager offered up that staff continues to explore the proposal and to determine how to bring it to operation.

Mr. Cunningham then outlined his concerns over a cancelled Committee of the Whole session from September, observing that even if the City doesn't have an agenda they should not cancel the opportunity for the public to come before council, observing that by cancelling those sessions it sends a wrong message.

On the theme of those meetings, he added that he doesn't believe that the Committee of the Whole sessions are as effective as they could be, suggesting that the Council may wish to discuss how they could improve that element of the council process. He called attention to concept put forward by Councillor Mirau that would see the meetings evolve into more of a coffee shop type of discussion, where residents come together in an informal setting to talk to council members.

He also reminded Council of his frequent requests over the last few years for City department heads to provide reports to council and how council members could make use of the Committee of the Whole process to provide the venue for those reports on a more frequent schedule.

Councillor Mirau followed up on the theme of Committee of the Whole, observing how he believes the process could be improved and how it's an opportunity for the public to come to speak to Council, seemingly suggesting that the current situation of the venue of the council chamber and having the cameras on serves to intimidate the public.

As for his approach to moving forward towards engagement, he observed as to how Smithers hosts informal coffee talks that offer up for conversation, and how a new approach might provide for a better way to engage with the community.

The Mayor weighed in with his own views on how the Committee of the Whole process works observing that how the Committee of the Whole's function is to provide a conversation on a specific topic and is not designed as a public engagement tool. He offered up the idea of a mix between using the Committee of the Whole and other public engagement opportunities such as the Redesign Rupert initiative as options  to explore.

On the theme of the cancelled Committee of the Whole meeting of September, the Mayor offered up that it's not the first one that they have cancelled, and that normally the city wants people to register to appear and if no one comes forward then they determine that there is no interest, not that the council doesn't want people to come forward.

He also noted that other communities have different approaches towards delivering the Committee of the Whole, and how the feedback he has received related to the process is that people don't feel comfortable coming on a microphone just to chat with the council members.

While Mayor Brain did agree that an informal process such as coffee talk would be helpful, he also observed that there are formal times when people need to come forward.

He also noted for Councillor Cunningham that Council had started the process of receiving presentations from departments, noting for the record, that Council had recently hosted a presentation from the RCMP detachment and would be moving forward with other departments in the months ahead.

The Mayor suggested that Council review the theme of how to address the Committee of the Whole questions as part of the next Committee of the Whole Session which would come at the end of this month.

Councillor Thorkelson took her turn at the microphone to once again raise issues related to homelessness and the need for affordable housing.

She opened her commentary by noting the rainy season is about to arrive and how despite all of Council's engagement on housing issues with local providers, the community still does not have a proper shelter other than Raffles, a facility run by the Salvation Army which does not house women, leaving those couples that don't want to be split up to seek their own housing.

She expressed frustration with the ongoing theme on housing that council has examined over the years and noted that Council needs to continue to put pressure on the government to deliver proper supportive housing resources to the community. Calling as well for some kind of place where people who have mental health and addictions problems can sleep and have an actual home and not have to live on the streets as many Prince Rupert residents currently do.

She also had a pair of other issues to call attention to Council, calling for the support of the business community to establish some kind of a day area, where homeless people could stay during the day, something that could take them off the streets around town and out of the elements, offering shelter and washroom facilities.

She recounted some of the issues of safety and health that the current situation is delivering with the homeless having to relieve themselves outdoors in the community. She observed that the City should find a way to ensure that there are public bathrooms available in the community for residents and visitors alike.

Ms. Thorkelson reviewed some of her observations from other communities where facilities are provided, suggesting the use of port-a-potties, or to have Council speak to local merchants,  as they look to try to find a day area to provide a dry option and washroom facilities for the homeless.

To provide an example of how the project could work, she recounted what the Fishermen's Hall had offered over a three week period last year during the worst of the weather, noting that the homeless were very appreciative of their assistance at that time.

She observed that the City could engage with the community to try to come up with a solution for the issue before the worst of the weather arrives, and how its not right that some of the city's population should have to face this issue.

Mayor Brain noted that those were some great points and outlined a discussion that he and Councillor Cunningham had with MLA Rice last week, where they discussed the housing and homeless situation in the city, noting that she had said that she would be meeting with the housing minister this week. He suggested that council could have her address council in the future to update the city on the progress of any provincial initiatives related to housing in the community.

Councillor Cunningham had some final thoughts on the theme  of housing, observing that the time and effort that Council had put into housing and the results that have come from it have been very frustrating. He outlined some of the steps the city has taken, a well as noting how the issue is a provincial situation that the city has to find a way to gain more assistance on and while they can't create affordable housing, but what they can do is put enough pressure, they might get some results.

Stepping into a bit of partisan politics, he added that with the MLA now on the government side, she may be willing to help the city, comparing the current situation from Victoria with how he viewed the recent past.

During the course of his thoughts, Mr. Cunningham observed that the previous government had tied everything into LNG, treating that like a carrot they kept dangling in front of the community. He offered up his opinion that the new government is a bit more perceptive about situations like this, adding he sees a human side to them as its their first time in government and they look at things differently as opposed to a party that had been in power for three terms and was getting kind of arrogant and feeling as though they were untouchable.

He also held out some hope that the recent discussions at UBCM will be productive and deliver some solutions to the problems that the community faces and that the province will deliver a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Mayor noted that there are a multiple organizations working on the housing issues, a theme that Councillor Thorkelson added some notes on, highlighting the work of Metlakatla on housing, but stressing her concern over the need for supportive housing to address the needs of those with mental and addictions issues and how that is an area where the City will have to continue to push the province on.

For the shorter term she made note of some of the empty buildings in the downtown area and how she hoped someone would open those doors to help out with the need this winter, suggesting that the City might want to seek out a grant to ensure that a dry space is available with a washroom to provide for a solution for this winter

And with those final thoughts, the evening's session came to a close.

You can access the City Council Review for October 16th herewhere a number of items regarding the council session, including links to local media coverage, if any, can be found.

As always, our Council Timeline is only a reflection of our observations from the Council session of the night. Be sure to consult with the official minutes from the City, when posted to their website for further review.

Official Minutes of the Regular Council Session from October 16, 2017 (not available yet)

In addition to the city's official minutes, the City's Video archive provides a helpful record of the events from each public council session.

Council members will hold their next public session on October 30th  2017 .

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