Mayor's Update - 5 April 2021
It's just over a year into the pandemic and Mayor Jonathan Cote kindly updated NewWest.tv's viewers with the current situation for New Westminster. The last time that we talked to the Mayor was July 2020, four months into a very hairy situation, where everyone was having to scramble to make things work, including the City.
Mayor Cote says that to some large extent things have stabilized. They know the budget that they are working with, even though they lost considerable revenues because many city programs stopped and also Starlight Casino, a big tax payer, closed for the year.
The fact that the new Community Centre and Pool construction is underway is a good sign. Also, while the city got slammed with unexpected expenses because of the big fire at the waterfront, they were able to build some portion of the lost amenities on Pier Park, including an excellent kid's playground. The Mayor says it's for kids of all ages.
As Cote is the Chair of the Mayors' Council on transit, he says that there is still a real concern for the long-term viability of the transit system, although ridership has gone up from its low of 14% of the pre-Covid numbers up to 40% now. He says that it is still not enough to keep the transit system alive and well, and it's not clear that ridership will go up to its former levels for some time, as many people may continue to work at home, and others may have gotten used to driving their cars. Once we're through the pandemic, pencils will be out planning for the next stage. The provincial and federal governments both have provided money to buttress transit, understanding its importance to big cities.
The City's Environmental program has been chugging along, but at a lower speed than originally planned. Their work in fostering more cycling and walking has borne fruit and they recently won an award for their efforts in opening avenues for more cycling. The tree canopy is expanding particularly in the Queensborough area. And car emissions are down mostly thanks to the pandemic, as we are all staying at home. Also, sales of electric cars are escalating.
The City has worked with many non-profit and BC housing to help the more vulnerable among us. They opened a gym a the New Westminster Secondary school to provide shelter for the homeless, as existing shelters could not take in as many people. They also started some innovative programs for the homeless including showers at the Canada Games Pool and Laundry service for them, among others.
With respect to social and non-market housing, Cote says that they have a couple of projects in the works, (beyond the ones already up in Queensborough and downton) but it's too early to talk about them. The city has also been playing a role in the housing project on 6th street being built by a two groups, a First Nation group and a Somali group. It has caused some push back from the surrounding community which comprises largely single homes. The city is working to help find a compromise.
On the reconciliation front with First Nations, work has slowed down somewhat as they cannot meet in person, but Zoom meetings have been going on. The city is working on some de-colonization issues too. For example, the new pool and community centre will have a First Nation's name.
As for businesses in the city, they have been unevenly affected, says the Mayor. Hospitality businesses being the hardest hit, the City has done what it can to promote the idea of shopping locally, and to take-out food from local restaurants.
And how far has the Mayor walked so far.? He is planning to walk around the globe, step-wise, over 5 or 10 years. As of the end of 2020, he had made it to Ottawa. Congratulations, Mayor.
by: Susan Millar