Thursday, June 30, 2016

Time for bold action: City’s new economic development strategy released

At Monday night’s council meeting, the City of Langley’s new Economic Development Strategy was received by council. This strategy builds on current plans such as the Regional Growth Strategy, Langley City's Official Community Plan, and our Downtown Master Plan. It is an update of previous economic development strategies.

The new economic development strategy has four goals. The City should:

  1. Support a distinctive and vibrant downtown
  2. Encourage a diverse base of employment land
  3. Target development in emerging economic sectors
  4. Leverage sector and institutional partnerships

Out of these goals, the following action items were developed:

Place making: Increase the City’s exposure and awareness in the business community through the deployment of a cost-effective marking program.

Place building: Use land and infrastructure to stimulate private sector investment that creates jobs and enhances quality of life for residents.

Business care: Collaborate on the retention and expansion of existing businesses in the community.

Creative economy: Support creative economic sector that leverage Langley’s land and institutional assets while contributing to downtown development.

The Economic Development Committee recommended the following ten priorities:

  • Downtown Building Scheme
  • Relationship Building
  • Update Downtown Master Plan
  • McBurney Plaza Programming
  • Destination Retail Store
  • Downtown Anchor Tenant
  • Streetscape Upgrades
  • Business Walks
  • Night Market
  • Business Attraction Website

These priorities should be done. Some of them are low hanging fruit, and aren’t that different from what every other community is trying to do in the region. I believe that Langley City needs to be bolder, and that means investing in the creative economy. The presenter of the new Economic Development Strategy was excited about two other action items.

The economic development strategy recommends creating a fibre optic network to attract good paying creative and knowledge-based jobs to the community. For example, the City of Stratford, Ontario (population 51,000) is globally recognized as a leading “smart city” due to free citywide WiFi and a 70-kilometre fibre-optic network that can run at speeds of up to one gigabit per second.

Another key recommendation is the construction of a preforming art centre in Downtown Langley. This would enhance arts and entertainment programming locally, make Downtown Langley an “urban magnet”, and would attract quality redevelopment to the city.

Both of these items will costs a substantial amount of money, but will pay back dividends by attracting more jobs, reducing negative activity, and enhancing the quality of life for residents in Langley City.

The priority list identifies a destination retail store and a downtown anchor business as a priority. I believe that the City will need to implement the bolder items in this plan to attract these types of stores and businesses.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What did the City of Langley do with your money in 2015?

At last night’s City of Langley Council meeting, the 2015 Annual Report for the city was presented to council and subsequently adopted. The annual report provides an outline of the corporate structure of the municipality, an overview of the city’s department, and descriptions of the major activities completed during the year. The annual report also includes the city’s consolidated financial statements for the year.

The City of Langley had $45.0 million in revenue for 2015. That is a $2.8 million increase over the previous year. While there was a modest increase in property tax, the largest increase in revenue was $900,000 from the casino, and the use of an additional $1.1 million in money received from developers (DCCs). The full breakdown of revenue can be found on page 30 of the annual report.

The city invested $38.9 million into ongoing operations. That includes things like making sure our police and fire-rescue crews are being paid, parks are maintained, garbage collected, and the like.

The City also invested $17 million in infrastructure, buildings, and equipment. This includes things like renewing roads, upgrading water & sewer lines, and building the new Timms Community Centre. I know that the numbers don’t add up, but that’s due to how local government accounting works in BC.

An interested fact, in 2014 Langley City property owners contributed $2.8 million in property tax to TransLink. In 2015, that number went down to $2.7 million. This is because the overall assessed value of property in Langley City went down.

The annual report also contains a breakdown of where your local taxes went during 2015 in Langley City.

Where did your 2015 taxes go in the City of Langley? Select chart to enlarge.

You’ll notice that there is a category called “General Government” where 9% of tax revenue goes towards. As this is a bit of a vague description, I’d thought I’d explain in more detail.

About 80% of “General Government” expenses go towards information technology, financial services, and legislative & administrative support services. About 8% is for community grants and the Council “Enterprise Fund”. Another 8% goes to City Council.

The follow chart shows a breakdown of council compensation during 2015. Current council policy sets the mayor’s remuneration at 85% of the regional average for mayors. Other council members receive 40% of the mayor’s remuneration.

2015 council remuneration and expenses. Select table to enlarge.

You’ll notice that there is also expenses. This is for travel, food, and non-alcoholic beverage expenses as part of attending conferences hosted by UBCM and LMLGA. Other expenses can only be authorized by council at public council meetings. In 2015, Langley City Council costs represented 0.7% of all revenue collected during the year.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

June 27, 2016 Council Meeting Notes – SkyTrain & Bus Rapid Transit, 203rd Street project moving forward, increased policing costs.

Last night's council meeting started with a Committee of the Whole to allow people to comment on the City’s 2015 Annual Report. There were no speakers nor written submissions. Seeing that there was no public comments, we resolved into the regular meeting.

We adopted the 2015 Annual Report. I’ll be posted more information on this reports later this week. In the meantime, you can read the report which is available on the City’s website.

There were two delegations to council last night. The first delegation was from Marg McGuire-Grout who is the chair for the Langley Terry Fox Run. She gave a brief update of their 2016 plans, and thanked the City of Langley for its ongoing financial and logistical support. The run will take plan on September 18th, 2016. More details are available on the Terry Fox Foundation website. Former Councillor Dave Hall was a strong supporter of the Terry Fox Run; the organizing committee will be planning a tribute.

The next delegatation was from Daryl Dela Cruz who chairs SkyTrian for Surrey. At the last council meeting, we heard from the Light Rail Links Coalition. The current Regional Transportation Investments vision calls for light rail along Fraser Highway, King George Boulevard, and 104th Avenue.

Dela Cruz points out that SkyTrain is faster than light rail because it is grade-separated, can provide more frequent service, is automated, and has less stops. The trade off is that SkyTrain costs significantly more money to build than light rail.

Because of the significantly higher cost to build SkyTrain, Dela Cruz is advocating for bus rapid transit along King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue, and SkyTrain along Fraser Highway. This would keep the price tag within the current funding envelope of Regional Transportation Investments vision. Personally, I don’t think that Surrey would support a bus rapid transit only solution along King George/104th.

Regardless, Langley City Council approved a motion at the last meeting to have City Staff compare SkyTrain and Light Rail technology for the Fraser Highway Corridor and present their findings back to council. TransLink in partnership with the province is also developing a detailed evaluation of SkyTrain and Light Rail for rapid transit in the South of Fraser. This should be completed by the end of this year.

After the delegation, Councillor Storteboom provided an update about the regional district. He highlighted that Metro Vancouver is calling for the province to make mattress manufactures responsible for recycling their products.

Councillor Martin provided an update on programs at the library. She noted that the library has started its summer reading programs.

Next, council gave first, second, and third reading to a bylaw which would allow the 203rd Street Project to proceed with an increased budget. The original budget was not in line with the received tender packages. TransLink will be providing an additional $171,500 while money from the casino will provide the remaining $506,000 needed. Council will review the successful tender package at a future meeting.

Council also gave first, second, and third reading for a housekeeping bylaw which would allow “the Director of Engineering, Parks and Environment to execute agreements and other related documents pertaining to issues including land use, development, development works, extended services and latecomer agreements.” Two signatures are required from authorized City staff for any agreement to be executed.

Council heard a presentation and received a new Economic Development Strategy for the City. I’ll be posting more about this at a later date.

The federal government requires that municipalities approve in principle the next year’s police budget even though council hasn't approved the overall 2017 budget for the City. This is because the feds contribute 10% of the revenue required for municipal policing, and need an idea of how much to budget for in the coming year.

The City is not planning to increase the amount of RCMP members for the community. Due to inflationary pressures, the City will need to budget an additional $241,485 in 2017 to maintain policing levels. Council approved this increase in principle. Personally, I’d like to hold the line on policing costs as much as possible as the cost of policing has rapidly increased in the past decade, leaving less funding for other City priorities.

Next, council received a report which outlines council member remuneration and expenses for 2015. The report also includes a list of City employees that made over $75,000 per year, and a list of suppliers which the City spent more than $25,000 with during 2015. I’ll post more about this in the week ahead.

Finally, the City received a letter from the Downtown Langley Business Association about the proliferation of thrift stores and donation bins in the downtown core. Council directs staff to respond to the letter, and work on a solution.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Feds give region $17.9 million to reduce homelessness over next four years

With the introduction of the new federal budget this year, additional funding has been allocated to communities to reduces homelessness under the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS). This strategy seeks to provide long-term solutions to reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness in the country.

Funding is allocated to various “Community Entities” throughout the country. In our region, Metro Vancouver is the Community Entity. Between this year and 2019, Metro Vancouver will be given around $17.9 million for projects that align with the HPS.

One of the big pushes in the HPS is focusing on Housing First initiatives. 65% of all federal funding must be allocated to Housing First projects. The HPS has six mandatory principles that must be including in all Housing First initiatives.

  1. Rapid housing with supports: This involves directly helping clients locate and secure permanent housing as rapidly as possible and assisting them with moving in or re-housing if needed. Housing readiness is not a requirement.
  2. Offering clients choice in housing: Clients must be given choice in terms of housing options as well as the services they wish to access.
  3. Separating housing provision from other services: Acceptance of any services, including treatment, or sobriety, is not a requirement for accessing or maintaining housing, but clients must be willing to accept regular visits, often weekly. There is also a commitment to rehousing clients as needed.
  4. Providing tenancy rights and responsibilities: Clients are required to contribute a portion of their income towards rent. The preference is for clients to contribute 30 percent of their income, while the rest would be provided via rent subsidies. A landlord-tenant relationship must be established. Clients housed have rights consistent with applicable landlord and tenant acts and regulations. Developing strong relationships with landlords in both the private and public sector is key to the HF approach.
  5. Integrating housing into the community: In order to respond to client choice, minimize stigma and encourage client social integration, more attention should be given to scattered-site housing in the public or private rental markets. Other housing options such as social housing and supportive housing in congregate setting could be offered where such housing stock exists and may be chosen by some clients.
  6. Strength-based and promoting self-sufficiency: The goal is to ensure clients are ready and able to access regular supports within a reasonable timeframe, allowing for a successful exit from the HF program. The focus is on strengthening and building on the skills and abilities of the client, based on self-determined goals, which could include employment, education, social integration, improvements to health or other goals that will help to stabilize the client's situation and lead to self-sufficiency.

Metro Vancouver has a two-step Request for Qualification/Request for Proposal process to determine what initiatives will receive funding. Applicants can include provincial and local governments, individuals, and organizations. 50 submissions will be moving onto the second step of the process for our region. Funding announcements are scheduled to be made on October 1st.

This model of funding delivery makes a lot of sense to me. The federal government is able to set the broad outcomes of programs while letting local governments, with local knowledge, evaluate and allocate funding to initiatives that make the most sense in their communities. Hopefully funding is further increased in future years for this program.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

You don't need SkyTrain or Light Rail to make transit better along Fraser Highway

Fraser Highway is congested during peak travel periods. As an example, TransLink schedules the 503 Aldergrove Express to take about 30 minutes to get from Surrey Central SkyTrain to Downtown Langley during off-peak travel times, and 40 minutes during the afternoon peak travel period.

As I take the 502/503 every weekday, I know that congestion can make the trip even longer some days. The variability of travel time doesn’t serve transit riders well.

Fraser Highway is a major transit corridor, but unfortunately without any transit priority measures. Transit service speeds and reliability will decrease as the corridor becomes more congested.

TransLink commissioned a study created in 2012. It found that if transit investment continued at its current level, transit travel times would increase to 51 minutes between Surrey Central and Downtown Langley in 2021, jumping to 54 minutes in 2041. Light rail would take about 30 minutes, and SkyTrain 22 minutes in 2041.

That same report found that if smaller-scale changes were made to the transit network, the trip between Surrey Central and Downtown Langley would remain at about 40 minutes until 2041.

The greatest amount of congestion happens between Whalley Boulevard and 148th Street today. This section of Fraser Highway is one-lane per direction.

The City of Surrey is proposing the following cross-section for that highly-congested part of the corridor.

Proposed scope of Fraser Highway widening through Green Timbers in Surrey. Select map to enlarge.

Proposed cross-section of Fraser Highway through Green Timbers in Surrey. Select images to enlarge.

Rapid transit along Fraser Highway is a long way off, if the proposed “light rail” lanes were used for bus service, it would greatly improve transit service speed. In fact, even adding one reversible transit lane along that section of corridor would do wonders for transit speed.

While the federal, provincial, and local governments hash out how to pay for rapid transit along Fraser highway, it is important that improvements be made to transit today to maintain current transit service levels.

Making changes to Fraser Highway which improve transit today is possible, and can be funded within existing municipal and TransLink capital budgets. Rapid transit is needed along Fraser Highway, but we can’t wait another 10-15 years. We need to make improvements along Fraser Highway to keep transit running smoothly now.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Powerful video from Langley dance company; Call-to-action to reduce youth homelessness

When people think about — and talk about— people who are experiencing homelessness in Langley, they are usually thinking about the people that live on the streets and in our parks. While this is the most visibility form of homelessness, there are people who are experiencing homelessness that go unnoticed.

There are people that “couch surf” who have no place to call home which includes people of all ages, including youth and seniors. At the April 25th Council meeting, I heard from a group of students from Brookswood Secondary and LSS that gave a presentation on homelessness and youth.

This group found that 162 students in Langley secondary school experienced homelessness in the 2015-16 school year. Trying to learn while not having basic needs met like housings is a near impossible task; it can impact people for the rest of their lives.

Vitality Dance Company, which is Langley-based, created the following video to bring awareness around youth who are experiencing homelessness in Langley.

This is a very powerful video, and serves as a call to action to reduce the number of youth experiencing homelessness in Langley. The City of Langley recently adopted a new Homelessness Strategic Plan. Action item number 7 is to support the feasibility of developing a youth safe house.

I for one am in support of working with other levels of government to get this built for Langley, and I know I’m not the only one on Langley City Council that wants to get this done. This is a first step, but we have to start somewhere to give young people a safe home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Making progress on improving the reliability of SkyTrain

On Thursday, TransLink will be holding its AGM and an open board meeting. In preparation, the agency has posted several reports online.

Back in the summer of 2014, there were two major service interruptions to SkyTrain. This was followed by several smaller interruptions. TransLink ended up commissioning an independent review of the SkyTrain system which resulted in 20 recommendations to reduce the frequency and duration of service interruptions, improve the safety of the system, and enhancing customer communication.

As of June 6, nine out of the 20 recommendations have been implemented. The following chart shows progress made, and estimated completion dates of all recommenations. All projects are planned to be completed at the end of 2021.

Progress status of implementing SkyTrain independent review recommendations. Select chart to enlarge.

Here is a quick summary of the recommendations, and what’s happened to date:

  1. Install an auto re-started component to the SELTRAC technology package: Completing business case and getting quotes for upgrade. Also replacing copper communication cables with fibre optics.
  2. Modify the Line of Sight Operating Rule to allow manual operation of multiple trains at one time: Completed.
  3. Install system continuity redundancies for critical system elements: Draft feasibility study completed, working on funding document to allow implementation.
  4. Work on system-critical control components should only be allowed during non-revenue operating hours: Completed.
  5. Updated and create new operating and maintenance manuals and procedures: Work in progress, should be completed by June 2017.
  6. Decouple important systems and develop an asset management plan: System Architecture review should be completed at the end of this month. Assessment Manage Plan in progress.
  7. Upgrade the guideway intrusions system: Platform intrusion system repaired which cut false alarms in half. Draft study on additional improvement being reviewed.
  8. Introduce a single emergency radio band for all of TransLink’s operations: Draft report scheduled to be completed by the third quarter of the year.
  9. Establish an “alarm-based” warning system for appropriate management and supervisory staff: Completed.
  10. Set frontline staffing level and their service area locations so qualified staff can respond within a specified period of time: Complete with 30 part time staff providing additional coverage during peak travel periods.
  11. Install system-wide CCTV coverage: No longer required.
  12. Install platform edge CCTV coverage: Rolled into item 7.
  13. Communicate during lengthy delay that windows can be opened on some trains: Completed.
  14. Delineation of walkway edges on SkyTrain guideway: Draft report on moving forward to be completed this month.
  15. Increase visibility of frontline staff: Completed.
  16. Improve the quality of the PA system: Speaker being replaced on old SkyTrian cars to be finished this month. Signal quality tests completed. Working on acoustics studies.
  17. Introduce programmable messaging signboards, fixed signage and PA speakers at the entrances to all stations: Will be completed along the Evergreen Line in time for opening. New signs for Expo and Millennium Line to be installed starting in 2017.
  18. Strengthen the resiliency of the Call Centre phone system and webpage: Completed.
  19. Establish protocols and communication links with local municipalities: In progress.
  20. Introduce a bus scrolling message advising of major delays: Completed.

Sometimes when governments and government-controlled organizations complete independent reviews, it is because it is the politically expedient thing to do. After a year, these reviews tend to be forgotten. I’m happy to see that TransLink has taken the recommendations from this review, and are implementing them. With the exception of item 6, all the recommendations should be implemented by the end of 2019.

Monday, June 20, 2016

More information on fare gates, plus solutions for accessible access at SkyTrain stations

Last week, I posted about TransLink’s first quarter results. Compared to the same period last year, revenue was flat.

This week, TransLink is having its Annual General Meeting and Open Board Meeting on June 23rd. Full details are available on the TransLink website. In preparation for the meeting, TransLink has released various reports that will be presented at the Open Board Meeting.

What caught my eye was the report on the Compass Card Project. As of April 30th, the total project cost was $190.4 million. In April, total transit revenue was up $2.9 million compared to the same period last year (or 7% compared to the same period last year.) It will be interesting to see if this trend continues, and what the final second quarter numbers will be.

According to the report’s author “the closure of the faregates, the high visibility of front line staff, and a marking campaign” are the reasons for the revenue increase. Interestingly enough, another report in the Public Board Meeting Package (page 73) notes that if fare gates remain open at all time, there would be a $8.3 million estimated annual loss in revenue. This is less than the total lifecycle cost of the fare gates.

The Compass Card itself is useful as it makes using transit easier to use for customers, and provides information to TransLink about how its services are used. It also seems to be having a positive impact on revenue. The fare gates themselves? I’m not so sure.

Speaking about fare gates, TransLink estimates that there are between 15 and 50 people who used to be able to use SkyTrain independently, but can’t once all the fare gates are fully closed. The agency looked at several near-term and long-term options to maintaining access for these people. TransLink is recommending that in the near-term the current SkyTrain station assistance program be expanded, and that impacted customer have customized assistive devices to help them use the faregates which would be devolped with the agency.

The long-term solution being recommend is to build RFID enabled access doors for customers that cannot tap a Compass Card.

Proposed long-term solution for people that cannot tap a Compass Card at fare gates. Select image to enlarge.

If approved by the board, fare gates will be completely closed at the end of July.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Major announcement this morning: paying for phase 1 of the regional transportation vision

This morning there will be an announcement around funding for TransLink and the Mayors’ Council Regional Transportation Vision. The federal government has now committed to paying for 50% of the capital costs of transit projects, and the province has held the line on only committing to 33% of the capital costs of transportation projects. The mayors have tried to get the province to increase their commitment to 40%, but they have been as successful as someone trying to get blood from a rock. This leaves 17% which needs to be funded at the regional level.

Of course, you also need to pay for the on-going operating costs of transportation systems as well. The following chart from the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation shows the breakdown of transportation projects, capital funding commitments, and total lifecycle costs included in their transportation vision.

Breakdown of major components of transportation plan, and where funding for each component is coming from. Source: Fair Share Funding for 10-Year Transit & Transportation Plan.

At the end of the day, the regional will be paying for 48% of the total lifecycle costs, the federal government 30%, and the provincial government 22%. Considering that transit is funded at between 40% and 50% throughout the rest of BC by the provincial government, it seems like Metro Vancouver residences are getting a bum deal.

Regardless, the mayors have pitched the following as the regional funding component:

  • Sale of surplus TransLink property
  • One-time 2% transit fare increase in 2018, over and above regular fare increases
  • Adjust existing 3% cap on TransLink property tax
  • Regional Development Cost Charge for TransLink
  • A new $50 million per year, provincially-controller resource source that is only applied within Metro Vancouver
  • Implement mobility pricing by 2021.

With today’s announcement, it will be interesting to see if a deal has been reached on what way revenue will be extracted from the region.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

TransLink's first quarter results: Transit fare revenue flat, fuel tax revenue up, no ridership information

TransLink recently released in first quarter results. This is the first quarter in which the Compass Card system has been fully operational.

Year-over-year comparison of 1st quarter transit revenue. Select table to enlarge.

One of the items that I was interested in looking at was the increase in revenue due to the introduction of the Compass Card. As you can see, transit fare revenue was up about $63,000. One of the pitches for the Compass Card program was that the fare gates were supposed to crack down on fare cheats. This doesn’t seem to be the case. Granted, official fare gate closure only happened at the beginning of April, and some fare gates still are being left open from time-to-time due to accessibility issues.

The fare gates cost upwards of $10 million per year to operate, it is likely that the fare gates costs more to operate than they save in reduced fare evasion. The total cost to install the full Compass Card system was $165.1 million. Due to the Compass Card transition, TransLink has suspended providing ridership information until a new ridership estimation methodology has been put into place.

Year-over-year comparison of 1st quarter taxation revenue. Select table to enlarge.

One of the ironic things about our transit funding formula is that it relies on a per litre fuel excise tax. This means that as the cost of fuel goes down, the amount of money TransLink receives from fuel purchased goes up as people tend to drive more. When the cost of fuel rises, more people turn to transit to get around. It’s ironic because as people drive less, less funding is available for transit. A percentage-based fuel tax would make more sense. All that to say, revenue from fuel tax was up $10 million in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.

One of the good things about TransLink is that they focus on keeping our transit system in a state of good repair. It seems that they don’t expand transit service unless there is funding to maintain it. The following is a list of major projects that TransLink is working towards approval for in 2016:

  • 2017 Conventional Bus Replacement Program ($92.7 million).
  • Surrey Central SkyTrain Station Upgrades ($17.6 million).
  • 2016 Conventional Bus Replacement Program ($16.2 million).
  • SkyTrain Automatic Train Control Equipment Replacement ($12.4 million).
  • Signage and Station Fixture Replacement ($6.8 million).
  • Seismic Upgrade South SeaBus and Skywalk ($6.0 million).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June 13, 2016 Council Meeting Notes – Light Rail vs SkyTrain, Sink Holes, and Branding

Last night’s Council meeting started off with a presentation from Anita Huberman who is the CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade. She is also the chair of the Light Rail Links Coalition; a Surrey-based group that is advocating for light rail transit in the South of Fraser. Joining her was Paul Lee who is the Rapid Transit & Strategic Projects Manager at the City of Surrey.

She noted that the South of Fraser is currently under-served when it comes to transit, and stressed the importance of transit service as an “economic foundation” for the South of Fraser. Light Rail along King George Boulevard, 104th Street, and Fraser Highway is being proposed in the Regional Transportation Investments plan supported by the Mayors’ Council. Anita noted that light rail is right solution for rapid transit in the South of Fraser as it is more cost-effective than SkyTrain, and provides the same benefits.

Light rail map from Light Rail Links Coalition. Select map to enlarge.

After the presentation, City Council asked questions of both Anita Huberman and Paul Lee. The majority of Council seemed to have concerns that light rail would not be the best technology along the Fraser Highway corridor, and I certainly got the impression that they’d like to see SkyTrain.

I asked questions about the difference in travel time and cost between light rail and SkyTrain. Mr. Lee noted that SkyTrian would be about 5 minutes faster than light rail between Langley City and King George SkyTrain station. He also noted that due to soil conditions, the cost of SkyTrain will be significantly more than light rail.

Councillor Martin put forward a motion at the end of the presentation to have City Staff do a comparison of both SkyTrain and light rail technology along the Fraser Highway corridor which was approved by all of council. As TransLink is already doing this comparison, this information should be easy to put together.

The transportation vision that has been approved regionally is based on light rail in the South of Fraser. If moving to SkyTrain along Fraser Highway means that another part of the vision needs to be removed; I cannot support that.

Now the provincial government has a way of turning all light rail projects into SkyTrain projects. If the provincial government comes to the table with extra funds for SkyTrain along Fraser Highway, and the rest of the regional transportation vision stays funded, I could support that.

After the motion, Councillor Stroteboom gave a brief update about upcoming events at the Metro Vancouver regional district. Councillor Martin provided an update about Tourism Langley. They are looking at increasing the hotel tax from 2% to 3% for the period July 2017 to 2021.

Mayor Ted Schaffer displayed an award that the City of Langley received for McBurney Lane by Landscape Architect Network. The recently redesigned plaza came in 4th as part of “Canada’s Got Talent — 10 Awesome Examples of Landscape Architecture in Canada.”

Following the unveiling of the award, Rick Bomhof provide an update from the Engineering and Parks departments. Bomhof noted that the Dumas Park playground upgrade was recently completed. He also said that people can submit feedback online about the City Park Master Plan until June 16th.

Last week, a sink hole developed along 56th Avenue due to a failed Metro Vancouver sewer main. City staff was quick to response, and stabilized the situation until Metro Vancouver staff arrived. This sewer main is in the processes of being replaced by a new sewer line that Metro Vancouver recently installed, but not all sewer connections have been moved off the old main. The old sewer main has been repaired to allow an orderly transition of all connections to the new sewer main.

Bomhof also mentioned that the 2016 Paving Program is in full swing. Paving along 201A Street between 53A Ave to 54A Ave, Salt Lane, and Douglas Crescent west of 204th Street has been completed recently.

Kim Hilton gave an update on City-sponsored activities. You can find out more about these event on the City’s website, but I wanted to highlight Community Day which is happening this weekend.

City Council gave final reading to a bylaw to regulate e-cigarettes. I have mentioned this in previous council meeting notes.

Council also gave first, second, and third reading to a bylaw to update our Waterworks regulation bylaw. If adopted, the update will require properties that are be redeveloping or being significantly renovated to install new water service connections if their existing service is older than 30 years, uses an undesirable material type, is undersized, or is damaged. Old water services connections are a common source of leaks in the City.

Council also approved additional funding for developing an identity manual as part of the City’s new corporation brand strategy. Banding is about more than a logo and slogan. If done right, people should know they are in the City of Langley just by looking around.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Provincial and federal support required to reduce homelessness and provide affordable housing for everyone

Last week, I posted about what affordable housing means for people in different income ranges, and different communities in the South of Fraser. I also posted about the average rents of different size apartments and townhouses in the South of Fraser. What becomes clear is the gap between what some people can pay, and the price of housing.

Metro Vancouver recently released its Regional Housing Strategy. The following graph from the report shows the gap between the supply and demand for rental housing.

2011-2015 estimated rental demand and supply by income in Metro Vancouver. Select table to enlarge.

If your household income is below $50,000 per year, there is not enough affordable rental housing. If your household income is higher, there is actually a rental surplus.

Addressing affordable housing works best when it is done at the regional level. Providing different types of housing from emergency shelters and transitional & supportive housing, to non-market rental and market rental must be done throughout the region to make sure that every part of the region is affordable.

Because of the capital investment required to address affordable housing, the region’s municipalities have to work together to pool resources and successfully lobby the provincial and federal governments for funding.

Metro Vancouver’s new housing strategy has five goals. I want to highlight two of those goals. The first goal I want to highlight is around meeting the housing demand for households that earn under $50,000 per year.

The four straggles that Metro Vancouver identifies is to:

  • Facilitate new rental housing supply that is affordable for very low to moderate income households.
  • Support non-profit and cooperative housing providers to continue to operate mixed income housing after operating agreements expire.
  • Facilitate non-profit and cooperative housing providers to create new mixed income housing through redevelopment or other means.
  • Advocate to provincial and federal governments for housing and income support programs to meet housing needs.

Since there is an surplus of rental housing available for households that earn over $50,000 per year, one of the quickest ways to make housing affordable will be for the provincial government to expand the funding available, and eligibility for, its rental assistance programs.

When it comes to reducing homelessness in the region, Metro Vancouver’s housing strategy recommends:

  • Expand housing options to meet the needs of homeless people in the region.
  • Promote measures that prevent at risk individuals from becoming homeless.
  • Advocate to the provincial and federal governments for support to meet the housing and support needs of the homeless.

When it comes to reducing homelessness in the region, Metro Vancouver and local governments have an advocacy roll to play. It really is the provincial government and federal government that need to show leadership.

For example, the provincial government needs to expanded mental health and addictions services to preventing and reduce homelessness. The province also needs to expand the Assertive Community Treatment program which works to get “street entrenched” people who are homeless help. Finally, both the provincial and federal government will need to work with the region to provide the over 6,200 supportive housing units required over the next decade.

While local governments must ensure that there is a variety of market housing options available, it will take the support of both the provincial and federal governments to provide housing and support for people who are homeless, or for household that are making under $50,000 per year.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Broken Promises: Transit Funding in BC

I remember sitting in a room almost a decade ago when Minster of Transportation at the time Kevin Falcon announced the Provincial Transit Plan. The plan would see transit service expanded throughout communities in BC. Some of the early projects included the Canada Line and RapidBus service along Highway 97 in Kelowna.

By the end of 2020, the provincial government committed to investing to:

-Build rapid transit to UBC
-Double the capacity on the Expo Line with a SkyTrain expansion into Surrey
-Procure new rail car
-Build-out RapidBus Service with seven new routes in Metro Vancouver

Map of rapid transit expansion as envisioned in the 2008 Provincial Transit Plan select map to enlarge.

Map of RapidBus service in Metro Vancouver as envisioned in the 2008 Provincial Transit Plan. Select map to enlarge.

Serious funding for transit was being poured into both BC Transit and TransLink. The province was going to contribute $4.75 billion toward the $11.1 billion Provincial Transit Plan. The province committed to funding 43% of capital cost with the remaining funding coming from the federal and local governments.

I remember talking to someone at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure who, at the time, half-jokingly said that they would become the Ministry of Transit after the completion of the Port Mann Bridge project.

Boy have times changes. Transit is chronically underfunded in the province, and it looks things aren’t getting better.

The David Suzuki Foundation recently released a report called “Breaking gridlock: B.C.’s transit investment deficit and what can be done to fix it.” The following graph from the report shows by how much the provincial government has underfunded transit in the province based on the promises made in the Provincial Transit Plan.

Provincial funding promised under the Provincial Transit Plan compared to actual funding. Select graph to enlarge.

So how do we fix the transit funding problem? With the federal government now committed to funding 50% of transit capital project costs, the Suzuki Foundation is calling on the provincial government to once again commit to contributing 40% of the funding required for transit expansion in BC. Local governments should pick up the remaining 10%. For more details, check out the report.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My City of Langley Operations Centre Tour aka We need to invest more in infrastructure

In order to get a better understanding of the City of Langley's operations, I have been meeting with people that work at the municipality. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to spend an evening with our Fire-Rescue Service. Yesterday, I spent a part of the morning at our Operations Centre. The Operations Centre is located along 198th Street in the City’s industrial area.

All the people and equipment that maintain our roads, water lines, sewer lines, parks, trails, and walkways are based out of the Operations Centre. I arrived at 8:30am, and was pleased to see that there was only a handful of people there. Pretty much everyone was already dispatched out to maintain our city.

Before being elected, I figured that there was an investment imbalance between what actually needs to be invested to maintain our infrastructure in a state of good repair, and what resources have been provided.

While things have improved in recent years, there is still catch-up to do. Even today, our current levels of investment are inadequate.

The following graph is from my friend Patrick Johnstone who is a Councillor in New Westminster. This shows per household property tax and users fees. Note where Langley City is on the chart.

2015 property tax and utility fees per household by municipality in Metro Vancouver. Select chart to enlarge.

The second thing I noticed was that the City’s Operations Centre was long in the tooth. It is in need of replacement.

One of the things that I’ve observed is the high skill level of people that work for the City of Langley. Because of the size of the community and due to policy, many staff members are cross-trained. I chatted with one person that not only looked after the supplies at the Operations Centre, but had his water and sewer tickets. He could pretty much do any job well that was handed to him.

Cross-training is good for the City as it allows for a more agile workforce, and is good for people that work at the City. I was told that City of Langley staff members are sought after by other municipalities due to their skill levels.

I snapped a few pictures from my tour of the Operations Centre.

Langley City Operations Centre

Given the resources provided, the City’s operations staff do an excellent job of keeping Langley running. I left the tour feeling confident in the solid foundation of the Parks and Engineering departments. My job will be to consult with the community and others on Council to figure out how to ensure that we are giving them the resources needed to keep the whole City in a state of good repair.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Could you afford to rent a two bedroom apartment? Affordable housing and income - Part 2

Yesterday, I posted about household income bands and how that relates to affordable housing in South of Fraser communities. Based on income, what type of unit could a household rent in the South of Fraser? I had a look at information in the March 2016 edition of the Metro Vancouver Housing Data Book as well as the CMHC Fall 2015 Rental Market Report to put together the following table.

2015 median rents by housing type in South of Fraser communities plotted with affordable rental maximums based on income bands. Select chart to view.

The information for Bachelor to 3+ Bedroom is for purposed-built rental apartments. The information for 3+ Townhouse is for three or more bedroom private townhouse rentals. Surrey was the only location in the South of Fraser with reliable townhouse rental data.

What becomes clear is that if your total household income is less than $30,000, you are pretty much priced out of the private market. If your household income is between $30,000 and $39,999, you could afford a 2 bedroom apartment. To be able to have the most housing choices, your household income would need to be between $40,000 and $59,999.

Yesterday, I noted that various community have different mixes of household incomes. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to show what percentage of households in each municipality could afford to rent a two bedroom apartment.

White Rock: 48%
Langley City: 52%
Delta: 55%
Langley Township: 58%
Surrey: 65%

Surrey is doing better than other South of Fraser communities when it comes to affordable housing, but as a society, it is a problem that almost half of all households can’t afford to live in a two bedroom apartment.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Linking affordable housing to household income - Part 1

There is a lot of talk about the lack of affordable housing in Metro Vancouver. The Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation defines affordable housing as costing less than 30% of before-tax household income. One of the things that hasn’t been explored much in the media is the link between housing costs and household income.

For example, Langley City has the lowest household income in the region outside of Electoral Area A. The median income in 2010 was $31,040. Vancouver had a median income of $41,433. This metric is a coarse; you need to also look at household income bands.

The follow graphs show household income bands in South of Fraser communities, and what the upper limit of housing costs would be for people within those income bands. Housing costs include mortgage payments, strata fees, and property tax, or rent. It does not include transportation costs which also plays a large roll in affordability.

2010 percentage of households in income bands. Select chart to enlarge.

Upper limit of affordable housing costs by income bands. Select chart to enlarge.

As you can see, affordable housing means different things to different groups of people. Affordable housing can and should come in various styles and price points. The affordable housing mix in the Township of Langley should be different than the City of Langley.

Tomorrow, I’ll explore if the current market rental supply is affordable based on household income bands and housing types.

All information is from the March 2016 edition of the Metro Vancouver Housing Data Book.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

New report shows where there is massive flood risk in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

The Fraser Basin Council is a charitable, non-profit society that focuses on taking concrete actions to improve sustainability practices throughout the province. This includes taking action to combating climate change, and building resilient communities.

One of the impacts of climate change is increased risk of flooding due in part to sea level rise. There has been limited investment in flood protection and mitigation infrastructure within Metro Vancouver which further increases the risk of flooding which could cause major damage to the region.

The Fraser Basin Council is currently developing a Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy on behalf of the federal, provincial, and local governments in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. This strategy will be completed in three phases. The first phase looks at where there is flooding risk, and the current state of flood protection infrastructure. This has been recently completed.

The second phase will be the actual development of the flood management strategy which is expected to be completed by 2018. Phase three will be all about developing an implementation strategy.

As part of phase one of the strategy, the Fraser Basin Council has published a series of maps which outline flooding scenarios. What becomes apparent is that building in the Agricultural Land Reserve, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Richmond, and Delta is risky.

Fraser River Flood Scenarios of Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Select map to enlarge.

Fraser River Flood Scenarios of Richmond and Delta. Select map to enlarge.

Fraser River Flood Scenarios of Surrey and Langley. Select map to enlarge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fraser Health releases infographics about people in Langley

Fraser Health recently completed a series of infographics about people who live in Langley City and Township. The infographics explore age, identity, and immigration. For example 3% of the people that immigrated to Canada and settled in Langley were refugees. The infographics also look a general health indicators. For example, the top three chronic diseases in Langley are depression, hypertension, and asthma.

As the saying going, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Demographic infographic about people in Langley. Select infographic to enlarge.

Langley general health indicators of people. Select infographic to enlarge.