Friday, November 17, 2017

City Council Timeline: Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Housing issues dominated the Tuesday  night session of Prince Rupert City Council, with the topic consuming close to forty five minutes of their one hour, ten minute session on the night.

With many of those currently living in the tent city just outside of the City Hall doors, along with a supportive group of community members in attendance, Council members heard a report from North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, who touched on many themes as part of her review of how the province views the housing situation both in BC and on the North Coast.

And while she offered up a range of information for those in attendance to digest, it was her announcements on two themes that gained the most notice and applause on the night. With the MLA receiving cheers when she advised that 44 modular housing units would be coming to Prince Rupert by March of 2018 and that work was now underway to try and find a location for a winter shelter in the community for this winter season.

Beyond the housing discussion, Council also heard a report on the progress for the McKay Street Park project, as well as the September Variance reports from the Finance Department.

Along the way, Council also reviewed a recommendation from the Civic Innovation manager that called for an extension on the prohibition for zoning for marijuana operations, that while the City awaits further information on federal and provincial plans when it comes to pot regulations.

For some background on the items of note on the evening, the Agenda the Regular Council 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 November 14, 2017

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

Video Archive for November 14, 2017

  ( 0:00 -- 1:30 ) 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.

( 2:26 -- 45:00  ) Presentation to Council from North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice and members of the North Coast Transition Society -- North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, along with representatives of the North Coast Transition Society provided an update on the current housing situation in the community, though Ms. Rice held off on the most important piece of news until the end of her forty minute or so presentation.

As she made progress towards her announcement on some assistance coming to the Prince Rupert area, the MLA first opened her presentation with a review of the first 119 days of the new NDP government, recounting for Council a list of the governments initiatives when it comes to housing, poverty reduction and social assistance.

Her commentary covered a range of material with some startling statistics to catch the attention of the City Council members, among them that the North Coast Regional District has the highest poverty rate of all Regional Districts in the province.

As well, she observed that Prince Rupert has the highest percentage of individuals on income assistance in BC, while the Regional district has 6.4% of the population on income assistance compared to the provincial average of 1.9%, Prince Rupert itself has 7.3% on income assistance compared to that 1.9 percent rate in B.C.  Ms. Rice also pointed out that those figures were from 2012  prior to the recent closure of the Canadian Fish Cannery and other economic changes in the region.

To highlight the nature of the situation in Prince Rupert, she further observed that the community with the second highest income assistance rate in BC, is listed at 4% which shows just how challenged Prince Rupert is on economic issues and the impact on residents here.

She also relayed some numbers on child poverty in the region noting that 32.5% of children in the North Coast Regional district live in poverty, with Prince Rupert registering 29.7% of the children living in poverty, or as she reviewed, one third of the children in the city live in poverty.

Prior to moving on to her information on housing, she took time to introduce her staff at the Prince Rupert constituency office, who she noted were available to the community should they need information on government programs and other local matters.

When it came to the major announcement on the night, Ms. Rice offered up some hope for the near future for ways to alleviate the current housing troubles in the community, sharing with Council and the public gallery the plan of the Province of British Columbia to bring 44 modular housing units to Prince Rupert, sometime before March of 2018.

Those units will be placed upon a still un-identified parcel, or parcels of land in the community owned by the City of Prince Rupert, while the North Coast Transition Society will provide for the supports required to establish the housing stock which will be a temporary location for those in need, until they can access more permanent housing within the community.

The MLA's announcement was one which elicited a strong and positive reaction from those sitting behind the MLA in the public gallery.

On the theme of emergency housing, Ms. Rice provided a short overview of the state of emergency shelter in the community, which is provided by the Salvation Army through twelve rooms at Raffles Inn.

According to Ms. Rice however, the occupancy of those rooms is at a low rate, and because of that Prince Rupert did not meet the guidelines in place to receive provincial emergency shelter funding at this time.

It was something she observed that was not the city's fault, nor is it the province's fault, adding that she hoped that the finger pointing and harsh criticism seen in the city in recent months would cease a bit, as collectively all were working on a solution.

Towards a solution for the emergency shelter need, the MLA offered up that  the low occupancy of the Raffles shelter does not accurately reflect the true number of homeless in the community and as a way to address that situation she outlined how her office, the City and community partners were now looking to access a winter shelter option, advising that there would be more details on that work in the days to come.

The Mayor elaborated a bit on both of the announcements, first speaking to the 44 modular housing units, something he stated the City had been working with the MLA on since they first heard about the program in  September.

When it comes to immediate need for a winter shelter, he reaffirmed the work that the City, MLA and community partners had embarked on, with the group having scouted out potential locations earlier that day.

He then issued a plea to the larger community to reach out to the North Coast Transition Society if they have a property that could be used for the winter shelter project and noted that as the Transition Society would be taking on a larger role for social services in the community, that the community should get behind their efforts and provide assistance towards the organization.

For their part, Grainne Barthe and Christine White from North Coast Transition provided a short overview of their involvement with the expanded program, but  as things had happened really fast to bring the two initiatives together they couldn't really go too far into the details of the service delivery plans at this time, as they had not fully worked out how the program will be delivered to the community.

Council Members offered up a range of opinions related to the announcement of the night and the current protest that had been set up outside the doors of City Hall in the fountain square.

Councillor Kinney asked about her notes on child poverty reduction and inquired further about what steps the Province might have in place to help reduce the impact of the numbers in place in the Prince Rupert area.  He also looked for some more background on the units that will be coming to the city in the New Year, inquiring about furnishings for them and what their place in the scope of the housing process.

Ms. Rice observed that the purpose of the 44 units was more towards temporary shelter and are not to be lived in forever, but are to be in place to tackle the chronic homelessness in the community.

Councillor Thorkelson led off her discussion themes by thanking both the Mayor and the MLA, among her questions what kind of a timeline and application process would be in place when the 44 modular items arrive, she also urged that all the groups in the community that have been working on housing issues in the past should be brought into the process ahead to lend assistance to the program.

On the need for a winter shelter Ms. Thorkelson recounted an incident earlier in the day at the Fisherman's Hall where EMS personnel had been summoned to attend to three individuals suffering from hypothermia behind the hall, noting how it is indicative of the need for an emergency shelter.

She reviewed a letter she had presented to Council in March of last year once again delivering her frequent call for emergency shelter operating 24 hours a day in the community and how she was pleased to see the forward momentum towards that goal at this point.

She outlined how if there isn't enough funding to move it forward quickly then the community needs to know soon so they can hit up organizations in town to provide funding for the shelter in the daytime hours.

Ms. Thorkelson observed that such corporate groups as the Port, or Ridley could be an avenue for those looking to fund the shelter to provide for proper assistance to operate it.

Councillor Cunningham also reminded the chamber that there are still issues related to affordable housing for those that have accommodation now, but face challenges with rent increases and renovictions in the community, he noted that the people in the gallery reflect the people that council and those interested in solving the housing issues need to listen to.

He noted the many past meetings that had been held on the issue, and how he was pleased that the MLA had been able to move the issue further and that the Transition House Society were taking on the task of delivering the program.

Councillor Niesh offered his thanks for the good news and how he looked forward to working with the North Coast Transition Society to make it all come together.

Councillor Mirau as well echoed his thanks for the work done to this point and thanked Ms. Rice for the work they have taken on in poverty reduction, he also had kind words for the work of the Transition House Society in the community.

Mr. Mirau noted that as local government the City doesn't have the resources available to deal with such a massive issue and how this kind of partnership and collaboration is crucial.

He asked for a bit of clarification on the nature of the 44 units and what purpose they would be serving towards the city's housing needs.

The Mayor followed with two takeaways for the night, the first being the immediate need to find a building for the emergency shelter for this winter, seeking the assistance of the public and local businesses to offer up their empty buildings for the program.

Mr. Brain also urged the community to get behind the work of the Transition House Society as they expand their efforts to deliver the wrap around programs associated with the housing initiative.

He suggested that those organizing the tent city should be canvassing and raising funds and providing them to the Transition Society, along with members of the community who he urged to support the group in their efforts.

As the Mayor looked to bring the discussion on the housing presentation to an end, a bit of controversy popped up, as Mr. Brain announced that Council would not be accepting any comments from the public gallery on the  night.

That proved to be a decision which did anger some of those in the gallery who made their disappointment quite clear to the Council members, such was the nature of the situation that the City Manager came over to the Mayor's chair and suggested that he should call a short recess to the session, advice which Mr. Brain acted upon.

( 45:00There is a brief gap in the video presentation at the time that the Mayor called the short recess . As a result, the video replay stops shortly after all of the assorted thank you's and then restarts as the next presentation to Council began to take place. That missing gap would have included the exchange between the Mayor and those in the gallery related to the lack of an opportunity to speak at the Council session.

45:00 -- 1:02:30  ) Presentation to Council from Ken Shaw from Transition Prince Rupert, An Update on Plans for the McKay Street Park --

Mr. Shaw provided a fairly extensive review of the timeline of the genesis of the McKay Street proposal over the years. He made note of the past Transition Prince Rupert meetings, the placemaking event featuring urban planning representatives from Portland, Oregon,  as well the various community engagement opportunities and design sessions that the group have held on the theme over the last several years.

Towards some progress on the development of the Park project, the Transition Prince Rupert President recounted how the community had pulled together to help to win the BCAA funding program and how they are now ready to begin to put the 100,000 dollars in funding to work on the site.

That $100,000 will be put to use on development of one segment of the wide reaching plan that Transition Prince Rupert has presented as their vision for the urban space on the west side of the city.

Mr. Shaw observed as to how the City had recently reached an agreement with the civic union to allow for volunteer contractors to commence with some land clearing on the site, that approval apparently one of the elements that had held back any work taking place on the site to this point.

He also noted that the group had been seeking out some in kind donations from the community to move the project forward.

An additional element of the presentation was to seek by resolution the approval of support from the City Council for Transition Prince Rupert to begin its work on the site which remains City property.

Mr. Shaw wrapped up his commentary with a review of those groups which had provided their support through the process, calling particular attention to the way the community residents had rallied to the cause.

Council members offered up a few thoughts on the project, with Councillor Randhawa opening the discussion by asking what the total cost of the project would be and when we could expect the project to be completed.

The cost of the playground element was estimated to be at 100,000 dollars, with hopes that with Council's resolution the work could begin as soon as possible.

Councillor Thorkelson offered up some thoughts on the design of the proposed park and inquired as to the placement of area of play for the little kids and whether it was considered a safe location for them to play in.

Councillor Cunningham also provided a few suggestions towards the design, wondering if some of the other portions could be introduced in the first phase, he was advised that as they only had enough money at the moment for the playground area, the other elements would have to be added as more funds became available.

Councillor Niesh thanked the organization for their work, and also offered his congratulations to the Mayor for his work on bringing success to the community vote process.

The Mayor then, provided further background on the nature of the city union vote on the project and then after consulting with the City Manager, revised the motion of resolution that would be voted on by Council.

The new wording was changed to reflect that "the City authorized Transition Prince Rupert to use City property for the purposes as stated" from that Council members voted to approve the motion.

After some mutual expression of thanks between the Mayor and Mr. Shaw, Council then moved on to their next item on the agenda.

1:020:30 -- 1:03:30   ) Report from the Community Planner, related to a request for a variance permit for a property on on Hays Cove Circle -- Some background related to the request was delivered by the Community Planner, with no questions from Council members the motion was approved with the process now to move to public notification.

(1:03:30 -- 1:04:30  ) Report from the City's Financial Officer  --  Ms. Corinne Bomben provided the September 2017 Financial variance report, noting that the operating and utility revenues and expenses are on track for this time of year and are on budget, the capital projects are ongoing and estimates are that projects remain on target.

Council received the report for information purposes

1:04:30 -- 1:06:0 ) Correspondence For Action -- Council reviewed the details of the Mayor's letter to be forwarded to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson related to the city's housing issues. The Mayor explained the the letter in question had actually been started in draft form back in October when Councillor Cunningham and he had met with MLA Rice, to discuss the prospect of accessing the modular housing units from the province. 

In light of the announcement of the evening, the Mayor recommended that the letter now be turned into a thank you letter to the Minister to thank the Provincial government for the forty four units and to reinforce that they are looking forward to partnering with them. Adding as an aside, that the Province had gotten to the situation before the Council could even send their correspondence out, which he called great news.

Councillor Mirau suggested a friendly amendment to the letter to reflect the  need for an emergency shelter in the community.  The Mayor noted that as Ms. Rice already has a copy of the original version of the letter, that they should move forward with the thank you letter  as a formality and then to send a second letter to reflect the need for an emergency shelter.

Council moved to forward with those two correspondence.

(1:06:00 -- 1:08:30  ) Report from the City's Community Development and Civic Innovation Manager, Re: Interim Zoning Amendment to temporary establish commercial marijuana operations prohibition in all zones --

The Mayor noted that he wasn't sure that there a need for any further presentation and reviewed the themes of the written report, observing that it in effect extends the delay of the zoning requirements until 2018 when legalization framework is available from senior levels of government expected by July 1st.

Council voted to give two readings to the motion and to hold a Public Hearing on December 11th.

Councillor Thorkelson observed that the provincial government had been collecting feedback and in put when it comes to their policies related to legalization and suggested that if the timeline has not passed, that people let Council know what they think the provincial government should include in their legislation.

The Mayor noted that the deadline had passed for comments from the provincial process, however he did accept the idea of collecting more information for the City's position on the issue.

( 1:08:30 -- 1:09:00 ) Reports, Questions and Inquires from Council

Councillor Randhawa offered up some thoughts on the housing situation and asked if there was a timeline in place for providing for the emergency shelter as some people had been asking him when they would be able to access the park at City Hall again.

The Mayor advised that they would like to work towards the shelter as soon as possible, adding that they had been looking at a building that day, but he couldn't provide for a timeline at this time as to when such a facility would be available for those that are homeless, including those in the Tent City at City Hall.

That was the only comment for the final portion of the evening, with Council then voting to adjourn the meeting.

You can access the City Council Review for November 14th 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 November 14th, 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 November 27th.

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