Mayor Malcolm Brodie 2015 Annual Address
Richmond: Building Our Future
Presented on February 12, 2016
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Soon, we will reflect how 2015 was an important year in a remarkable time of growth and transformation for the City of Richmond.
We are starting to realize the city’s bold future expressed in our ambitious Official Community Plan. As proof, look at our unprecedented level of new construction, the rapid transformation of our City Centre, steady job growth – these are a few of the many examples of change which are planned, managed and sustainable. Targets, such as those found in our City Centre Area Plan and Official Community Plan, are supported by strategies to enhance our robust economy, protect our environment, provide the requisite civic infrastructure and maintain Richmond’s enviable quality of life.
Sound financial planning has enabled us to add to our community amenities while we enhance civic services and innovate to improve customer service experience. As nearly half of Richmond’s land mass is open space, City Council is investing millions of dollars to expand our green spaces, parks and recreational areas.
Our success has been recognized by many of our colleagues in local government. Richmond is well respected for our leadership in service delivery and excellence. Yet, we also experience real challenges. From over-sized new single-family homes to threats posed by port expansion on agricultural land, Richmond City Council has counteracted initiatives that might undermine our community’s quality of life.
So to start the year, let’s look at some of Richmond’s progress and interesting challenges in the context of:
- Building our City;
- Room to Play;
- Serving our Residents;
- Innovation through Collaboration;
- Keeping Richmond Sustainable;
- Financing the Future;
- Facing our Challenges; and
- Commitment to Excellence.
Building our City
2015 was a record year for construction activity. The construction value of building permits issued in 2015 almost hit $1 billion, about 23% more than our all-time high. The number of permits for all construction sectors increased over the previous year. Cumulatively, we’ve seen nearly $3 billion in new construction in the past five years.
Most prominent in our growth remains multi-family residential construction. The most active areas of growth include the Oval and Capstan Village gateways. The Oval Village is rapidly becoming the highly-livable, urban waterfront community that Council originally envisioned when building the Richmond Olympic Oval. Development levies for units in the Capstan Village have already raised over one-third of the $25 million needed to build the Capstan Canada Line station.
The commercial sector is also active with major projects such as the McArthur Glen retail outlets on Sea Island and the soon-to-be opened Smart Centres retail complex. Because of heightened construction activity, hundreds of permanent jobs are added to our local economy.
Generally, over the next few years, City Centre redevelopment should encourage many major proposals such as the Lansdowne Centre site and the massive commercial development proposed for Duck Island. YVR is also in the midst of a large capital expansion.
Last September, to serve the growing residential community, we opened the much-anticipated 28,000 square foot City Centre Community Centre in the heart of downtown. Assisted by development contributions, this state-of-the-art facility was opened at a modest City expense. In the same building, we welcomed the Richmond campus of Trinity Western University.
The City has invested more than $500 million for civic capital projects over the past five years with over $100 million in capital expenditures budgeted for 2016 alone.
Work is now progressing rapidly on three major projects under our facilities construction plan: the multipurpose Minoru Complex in addition to the new Brighouse and Cambie Fire Halls.
To replace the aging Minoru facilities which are now inadequate to meet our growing demands, the $80 million Minoru Complex will incorporate new aquatic and seniors centres as well as additional recreation and sports programming. As building design and site preparations are now complete, we look forward to a late-2017 opening. Also set to open next year are the new Brighouse No. 1 and Cambie Fire Halls. In order to realize both safety and economic synergies for our taxpayers, the Cambie Hall will house a new fire hall as well as become home to BC Ambulance Service units.
In the last decade, with five new fire halls, a sixth being retro-fit and a new home for the Richmond RCMP, City Council has ensured that public safety facilities will meet current and future community need. The capital cost of all of this building has been completed through effective use of reserves and modest borrowing to avoid raising property taxes.
Affordable housing remains another urgent Richmond need. Last year, we celebrated the opening of the Kiwanis Towers, two apartment towers on Minoru Boulevard. Providing 296 rental units with affordable rents to cater to our rapidly growing seniors’ population, the City contributed almost $21 million through a partnership of non-profit, private and public sector organizations.
Partnerships have also been the key to the Storeys project, now under construction on Granville Avenue east of No. 3 Road. With a civic commitment over $20 million, this development will eventually provide 129 affordable housing units for adults at risk as well as space for programs, offices and social enterprise for non-profit partner agencies, including Turning Point Recovery Society, S.U.C.C.E.S.S., Atira Property Management, Tikva Housing Society, Pathways Clubhouse and BC Housing.
Our investments in public works are critically important as they provide the framework for building our city. These include:
- To support the flow of goods and people throughout the important industrial areas in East Richmond, we recently completed major roadworks along portions of No. 6 Road, Westminster Highway and Nelson Road to augment the new overpass; and
- With the assistance of $5 million in federal infrastructure funding, Richmond constructed many road improvements such as on the south end of No. 2 Road and on Lansdowne Road where you will soon be able to travel on a full, four-lane east-west roadway from the Garden City Lands to the Oval Village.
As an island city in the midst of the Fraser River, the daily challenge of flood protection is met through a robust network including dikes and pump stations into which Council invests about $10 million annually. Last year, Bath Slough, Horseshoe Slough and the No. 2 Road North pump stations were upgraded to provide extra drainage capacity. With the anticipated significant financial support from our federal and provincial governments, Richmond must invest hundreds of millions of dollars in future decades to provide adequate infrastructure in the event of changes in climate.
In November, we celebrated the opening of the Richmond Olympic Experience, popularly known as the “ROX”. This innovative, interactive celebration of the Olympics and local sport history promises to provide a major new regional tourist attraction. Most of the project’s capital funding exceeding $10 million came through external sources including corporate partnerships, tourism funding and senior government grants. Featuring state-of-the-art sport simulators, fun interactive experiences as well as engaging exhibits of priceless Olympic memorabilia, the project has had rave reviews from all. We also unveiled the long-awaited Richmond Sports Wall of Fame to showcase an important component of local sports traditions.
Room to Play
Richmond’s population, now nearing 210,000, is expected to reach 280,000 by 2041. Over 90% of residents regularly use City facilities and parks. While current studies demonstrate how users are now highly satisfied with those facilities, expanded recreational services are needed as our community grows.
Given the many new parks and existing park improvements underway, Richmond’s focus on healthy recreation is apparent. Some examples are:
- Work starting this Spring on the Phase 1 development of the Garden City Lands: to include construction of perimeter trails along with an in-depth study of the site’s hydrological and ecological conditions;
- City Council’s concept for an expanded park on the former Steveston High School site: soon the north and south greenways will be built with park construction to begin in 2019;
- Opened last spring, a major make-over of playing fields in Minoru Park: involving a relocated artificial turf field together with a new combination baseball/soccer artificial turf field. Upgrades to the cricket pitch, throwing areas and tennis court will soon follow;
- Design for the Tait Riverfront Park in North Richmond: completed in 2015 with actual construction to continue throughout 2016;
- Completion of design for the Oval East (River Green) Waterfront Park: the first phase along the Fraser River between Hollybridge Way and the Dinsmore Bridge. Actual park construction, which includes a new public plaza and pedestrian pier at the north foot of Hollybridge Way, should begin this summer. Eventually, this will all be part of a continuous waterfront park stretching northward from the Oval almost to Cambie;
- Design and site preparation for the new Gardens Agricultural Park: this 12 acre site, formerly the botanical gardens for Fantasy Gardens, promises to become a major new community park complete with a large community garden and a farm school program;
- Redesigned Lang Park Plaza in the City Centre: to better meet the needs of the community, construction should be underway shortly. Opening later this Summer, the site will include many animated children’s play opportunities;
- The Richmond Olympic Oval: with over 75% of almost 6,300 members being Richmond residents who engage in programs from physical fitness to rock-climbing, we recently celebrated the announcement by Volleyball Canada that the Oval is to be the National Training Centre for the Canadian Women’s Team, beginning in 2017. High performance summer and winter activities enable the Oval to continue to receive significant operating funding from the Games Operating Trust Fund.
- Our newest City Centre neighbourhood park at Brown and Cambie Roads in the Capstan Village area: construction is now underway for opening this Fall;
- An Accessible Playground at McNeely School: completed with the assistance of private fundraising, this site was officially re-opened showcasing many inclusive play structures;
- In Steveston, the Town Square Park Concept Plan: to connect the Japanese Benevolent Society Building with the Museum and improved outdoor programming spaces. The City is also working with the Steveston Community Society on a major upgrade to their park playground;
- A new gymnastics facility: a City-owned building on River Road is being renovated to accommodate local gymnasts since their former facility was lost to redevelopment; and
- West Cambie neighbourhood park: public consultation and design development will soon begin for the link between Cambie Road and the Garden City Lands.
Richmond’s natural areas form another important component of our community. As we live amidst the Fraser River Estuary, one of the world’s most important eco-systems, City Council recently approved an Ecological Network Management Strategy. As Richmond’s first city-wide environmental strategy, it encourages the enhancement of our natural environment along with the establishment of greener infrastructure.
Serving out Residents
Richmond is growing, so our residents need new and improved services, preferably without adding to our financial burden through increased property taxes. Thus, we must focus on programs that cost-effectively deliver the greatest return.
To improve literacy, the Richmond Public Library offers a broad array of services for every member of the family. For instance, new outreach programs have been implemented including “pop-up libraries” at select locations across the city. To provide family programs, the Library also established a number of library partnerships with community organizations, such as S.U.C.C.E.S.S., Richmond Multicultural Community Services, Richmond Family Place and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
A measurable improvement in Richmond is in regards to solid waste. Our single-family residents have exceeded the regional goal of 70% diversion of garbage from the waste stream. The reduction helps to protect our environment and reduce disposal costs. However, especially among the commercial and multi-family sectors, there is much work to be done. The City is now introducing a new garbage cart service so that by April, garbage pick-up will take place only once every two weeks. Watch for public communication as we get ready for this change.
After a successful pilot program, Council has approved continuation of the Inter-Municipal Business License program developed with the assistance of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. Particularly, for the tradesperson who operates in many cities, a single business license can now be purchased to allow business operations in all of Richmond, Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, Delta and New Westminster.
To highlight our diversity, the renovated Japanese Fishermen’s Benevolent Society Building and Exhibition annexed to the Steveston Museum opened last summer featuring stories about Steveston’s Japanese-Canadian community. The City also staged the inaugural Richmond World Festival over the Labour Day weekend. This celebration of international music, food, and culture was a huge hit and should become an annual event.
At the same time, City Council updated some of our plans, such as:
- Our Affordable Housing Strategy together with a new Affordable Housing Resource Guide: from secondary suites and coach houses to subsidized rental housing and affordably-priced entry-level homeownership, City Council is working to broaden the inventory of affordable housing options;
- The Seniors Service Plan: this will provide direction as we strive to meet the service and program needs of our seniors’ population, Richmond’s fastest growing group. As a result of this Plan, Richmond was recognized as an Age-Friendly Community by the Province; and
- The Youth Service Plan: to identify priority program and service areas for Richmond youth. The Plan provides a strategic approach to making decisions on youth-related matters.
Extensive planning is now underway for activities to celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary of Confederation in 2017. This should involve major Tall Ships events such asa return visit from Japan’s Kaiwo Maru, one of the largest tall ships in the world. Many will remember how this majestic sail-training vessel visited Richmond in 2004 as part of a community-wide festival. In addition, in order to take part in Canada’s special anniversary, the historic Interurban Tram will now undergo its final phase of restoration.
The City of Richmond’s long-established website (www.richmond.ca) was upgraded last year to better communicate the civic scene. The homepage re-design takes advantage of an improved search engine and gives easier access to various online services. In addition, the City’s Digital Strategy will provide the framework and vision for a ‘citizen centric’ technology and engagement focus. Besides enhanced online access, there is now free Wi-Fi access at more than a dozen City facilities. With these approaches, our residents and businesses can instantly access a greater variety of civic services online and personalize their interactions with City programs and services. The value of these upgrades is shown by the heightened level of public response to important issues.
We always remain alert to possible emergencies in the City. To protect our residents and businesses, Richmond BC Alert was recently launched. This provides an emergency notification system. Residents and businesses may sign up to receive important notices by phone, email, fax and/or text by going to www.richmondbcalert.ca. To enable on-scene radio contact among emergency responders, the City also launched a communications vehicle capable of multi-frequency radio operator positions.
Another interesting project involves10 street signs with iBeacons installed in Steveston. With this technology, smart phone users can access informative videos to highlight some of our history in the words of a member of the Japanese-Canadian community.
Keeping Richmond Sustainable
For the benefit of future generations, Richmond City Council takes seriously its obligation to preserve our current high quality of life. To achieve this, we must make sustainable decisions.
Richmond continues to be a leader in reducing civic energy use while developing alternative sources of power. City operations were carbon neutral for the second consecutive year in 2014 while we expect to maintain that standard into the future. By reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, we also reduce energy costs.
Our community provides some very good examples of sustainable practices, including:
- Using geo-thermal energy, the award-winning Alexandra District Energy Utility in the West Cambie area continues to provide non-fossil fuel to heat and cool more than 1,100 units as well as the new Ismaili Jamatkhana. Soon, use of this technology will be expanded to service much of the new Smart Centres development. Similarly, the new Oval Village District Energy Utility which uses energy from Metro Vancouver’s sewer trunk line will ultimately connect with 2,500 residential units and significant commercial space;
- Along with partners, including the Richmond Olympic Oval and the International Academy of Sport Science Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, the City assumed an international leadership role by encouraging small to medium-sized event planners through a guide, toolkit and webpage that incorporate sustainable planning techniques in their activities;
- Through Richmond’s High Performance Building Program, we seek to incorporate sustainable building practices into the design and construction of all civic facilities. Our two new fire halls and the Minoru Complex are all being built to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as specified in that Program; and
- Council has also mandated that future single-family home demolitions must involve at least 70% waste diversion techniques.
Financing the Future
Though City Council constantly ensures that we provide taxpayers with good value for their money, it is easy to recognize that we have an ambitious and progressive agenda. Historically, the City has among the lowest property taxes and business to residential tax ratio among Metro Vancouver’s largest municipalities.
To provide certainty, our Long Term Financial Management Strategy encourages City Council to limit tax increases to reflect raises in the region’s annual cost of living with only a minimal amount to expand services. At the same time, we must annually replenish our infrastructure reserves. This has enabled City Council to build and revitalize facilities largely funded by savings, thus avoiding unnecessary debt or tax increases.
Historically, with the highest jobs to worker ratio in the region, Richmond values job creation and retention. Last year, we estimate at least 3,500 jobs were retained or created with the assistance of the Business Retention, Expansion and Attraction Program run by our Economic Development Office.
Tourism, in particular, continues to be a growing Richmond sector. Last summer, local hotels realized some of the highest occupancy rates in Canada. Individual spending among visitors has also been among the highest in North America. Notably, our Richmond Sport Hosting program has helped to secure over 100,000 room nights for events in the past six years with an estimated economic value of almost $13 million. With 60 events this year under the program, there is an economic return of $5 for every dollar invested.
Established as a major hub, Richmond has recorded its busiest year for filming activity. In 2015, two major feature films did extensive filming on-location, along with numerous TV shows. Even the ever-popular Once Upon A Time is boosting tourism, as many will visit Steveston to experience the setting for the fictional Storybrooke. Coincidentally, the movie "Deadpool" starring Ryan Reynolds, much of it filmed in Richmond, opens in theatres today.
Many residents expressed concerns over the scale of redevelopment in established single-family neighbourhoods. Some existing homes have been demolished to be replaced by much larger structures which may be out-of-scale with the surrounding neighbourhood. City Council consequently amended our residential zoning approach by enacting regulations for 2 ½-storey homes, thus preventing the creation of what appears to be a third floor. Because of additional concerns about proportion and scale, the overall building mass and height permitted for many single-family homes was also reduced.
Later, Council took wide-sweeping action to terminate 93 Land Use Contracts affecting over 5,000 living units across the City. An anachronism from the 1970s, Land Use Contracts often permit home construction on a much larger scale than what would be permitted under conventional residential zoning. By replacing these Contracts with zoning, the character of many neighbourhoods will be preserved.
City Council has also been reviewing our police services to ensure we keep our community safe. Local police must remain accountable and responsive to community concerns, especially since we pay roughly 20 cents of every property tax dollar for the RCMP. This makes police services the City’s largest cost centre.
Our comprehensive review of police services started years ago. City Council is now considering two options: remaining with the RCMP or establishing an independent Richmond police force while contracting out the work of the integrated teams. The local detachment of the RCMP has provided good service for our community, yet the Ottawa-based RCMP model provides many challenges such as governance, cost control, accountability and responsiveness to local input. Adding to the complexity is whether we are willing to absorb transitional costs of $19.6 million over three years with increased operating costs to local taxpayers for the same service in the range of $2.1-$3.9 million per year. What is the best model for Richmond in the long run? Input from the community is being sought. Please take the time to give your thoughts online about the options to www.letstalkrichmond.ca and advise whether you feel a change to a local police force is worthwhile. We want to hear from you.
Another major area of challenge for Richmond has been the Province’s plans for the replacement of the Massey Tunnel. All of us have been caught in tunnel traffic and know that we need solutions to the difficult congestion problem. But City Council has expressed many concerns. With limited detailed information available from the Province on plans for a new bridge, we have asked questions such as:
- How effective will the new bridge be when there is no change to the northbound traffic chokepoint at the Oak Street Bridge?
- Will the new bridge funnel more traffic onto local streets as commuter traffic tries to avoid the congestion?
- What will be the level and effect of tolling?
- What will be the impact of the bridge on local farmland, including the new City park planned for the former Fantasy Gardens site?
- Will the bridge encourage additional deep sea shipping along the fragile eco-system of the Fraser River Estuary once the tunnel is removed?
Similarly, Richmond has expressed grave reservations about Port Metro Vancouver’s potential expansion onto local agricultural property. Generally, Port operation should be supported as it results in more trade, economic benefits and local jobs. However, as highlighted by its purchase of the 240 acre Gilmore Farm parcel in East Richmond, will the Port wish to use farmland to expand its operations? Since it is important that we preserve high quality farmland to ensure food security and remain sustainable, Port Metro Vancouver needs to be more accountable to local government and the residents. Richmond’s position has been unanimously supported by the Union of BC Municipalities and we plan to present a motion to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in June.
Related to both the Massey Tunnel and Port expansion is Richmond’s growing concern about the continued industrialization of the Fraser River Estuary. Richmond has questioned the validity of environmental assessment processes and whether project plans adequately address public and environmental safety. On the Fraser River, there are a number of initiatives in the development stage which will eventually serve to greatly increase the amount of shipping traffic and involve shipments of goods such as jet fuel, coal and natural gas. As we wish to ensure a consistent supply of jet fuel to the airport, City Council has long sought the opportunity to formulate mutually-acceptable alternatives to the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation’s planned jet fuel pipeline and offloading facility.
Another challenge addressed over the past year has been the increase of Chinese-only signs in our business district. While the actual number of such signs is low, their presence has generated some friction. City Council undertook an extensive review and public consultation to designate options. We expect to soon modernize our sign bylaw to better regulate all types of signage. Included will be de-cluttering regulations to reduce the amount of signage businesses may display on windows and external surfaces. This approach has proven successful in other communities faced with similar issues. The City will also reach out to educate merchants on the need to include some English language on their signage.
- The 2015 Gold Quill Award of Excellence from the International Association of Business Communicators recognizing the extensive public information program on the implementation of the expanded Green Cart organics waste recycling program;
- The 2015 UBCM Community Excellence Award for Partnerships for the Kiwanis Towers Seniors Housing project;
- The 2015 Sustainable Communities Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities recognizing the City Centre Area Plan as the roadmap for a highly livable, transit-oriented, urban centre with a strong mix of commercial, residential and public development;
- The Richmond Olympic Oval received the “All Time Award” from the International Association of Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This is an award reserved for landmark sports facilities in the world over the past half-century;
- Third consecutive selection as a Top 10 City of the Future for 2015-16 by Foreign Direct Investment magazine;
- A 2015 Climate and Energy Action Award Honourable Mention for a Richmond Ice Centre project which significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions;
- For the City’s annual report, 12th consecutive Canadian Award for Financial Reporting and 5th consecutive Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Financial Reporting;
- Selection of the Richmond Maritime Festival as a Finalist for Best Public Entertainment Event or Festival in Canada at the 2015 Canadian Event Industry Awards; and
- A Regional Citation Award from the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects for the Terra Nova Play Environment.
Richmond has so many advantages and benefits which make us the envy of many other areas. We celebrate our strong volunteer networks which can be counted on to support our quality of life in so many ways. We have many active partnerships which enable us to incorporate sustainable concepts into local decisions. Our positive financial picture enables the City to cost-effectively improve infrastructure as we grow. Though we face regular challenges in many areas, we are endowed with appropriate resources to withstand pressures and make sound decisions in the long run.
I invite everyone to review the Council Term Goals on our City website to learn more about how we are working to fulfill our key priorities.
City Council looks forward to the continued support of our residents, businesses, partners, volunteers and staff, all of whom continue to make Richmond an even better place in which to live, work, invest and visit.