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Annual interview with Mayor Malcolm Brodie

By Florence Gordon

Published 12:00 PDT, Fri July 5, 2024

The Richmond Sentinel, Jim Gordon (JG) sat down with Mayor Malcolm Brodie (MB) to review the city’s annual report. 

JG: It’s a great pleasure once again to welcome you Mr. Mayor. It’s been a year and before we get into today’s issues, I want to put into perspective for our viewers when I say you’ve been in office for over 20 years it’s because it’s very rare these days. There are some cities that seem to change their mayor every term.

MB: Richmond has a history of longevity, since 1973 I’m the third mayor. We had 17 years with Gil Blair, eleven years with Greg Halsey-Brandt, and I've been mayor for about 23 years. So, it's been a good run. The beauty of longevity, from the city's point of view, obviously, is that when council comes up with plans, if you can be here long enough to see those plans through, it's a big advantage.

JG: That’s a great testament to a mayor that plans can be implemented or may occur long after they're gone from this role. It must be gratifying to see some of the things, that you were supporting eight or nine years ago are now a reality.

MB: Some of the initiatives are short lived, but yes, five to ten years for a project is not a long time to make it happen. Look at the Steveston Community Center, we've been talking about that at least ten, twelve years. It takes a long time for an initiative to be built, to get all the approvals together before going ahead with it.

JG: We have lots to talk about, as we do every year, sir. An issue that was important and top of people's minds a year ago still is, and that's housing and affordability. How are you and the council members ensuring stable and affordable housing for Richmond’s residents?

MB: Cities are growing and the number of people coming into the cities is growing dramatically. Immigration is also very strong. 

First of all, having enough housing units for the people who want to live here is important. Secondly, the market has taken the price of housing up so dramatically that affordable housing or for housing to be affordable, is a contradiction. When you're talking about an average house price or unit price here in Richmond it’s something like a million and a half dollars. How many people can afford that? So, affordability is a big deal, as is availability.

JG: I've always found it challenging because it's so subjective, that, as you said, some people can afford a million-dollar condo or home, most people can't. The thing that goes almost hand in hand right behind housing and affordability, is homelessness. Can we talk about what the city is doing to address this as well?

MB: I remember when I was growing up and hearing my parents and grandparents talking about the days of the depression, and whole encampments of people who had no home. Overtime, there was little evidence of any such thing. Today, for a whole host of reasons, the number of people who have no home has grown and so that's necessitated our city council’s attention. 

Even though, it's a provincial responsibility, we have a duty to assist in any way we can. Eight, ten years ago, we didn't have a shelter, now we have a shelter during the winter months when the weather gets cold. We have a couple of centers where they can come in from the elements at night. We have the two housing units for people who have no home and we have a project called Storeys on Granville near City Hall, where various social agencies have available housing. There's this whole area that we've had to become involved in, and the taxpayers of course, have supported the project to help those who simply have no home.

JG: I understand that this concern includes a lot of different categories that you have to address.

MB: There are people who are living in tents or living in the shelters, who do have a job and for a variety of different reasons they are homeless. The reasons can be very complex, substance use being one or mental health issues. Again, the city has had to do what we can to assist those who are in need.

JG: One of the topics that has been consistent in the four years since we first started engaging in these talks is community safety. No community is always 100 per cent safe. You and I talked about this a number of times where COVID-19 and a number of other factors has been a contributing factor of not feeling as safe. I understand that the city has incorporated more community RCMP officers.

MB: People need to feel safe. I think one of the big evolutions, in public safety is the fact that if a person is acting out or committing a crime of some sort in public, traditionally the police would arrive and lock the person up. Today, we have a program called Fox 80—an RCMP officer goes along with a medical clinician who is specially trained. 

JG: Since we last talked, you just launched a program called Yankee 30 youth program can you tell our viewers about this program?

MB: It's a partnership between the city, the province and the RCMP, where like the Fox 80 program you have the clinician and the RCMP working together. You also have various social workers that work with the police, to review the situation and individuals involved. The program is to understand the situation better and provide assistance for those who need assistance.

JG: I’m going to switch topics here and talk about climate change. I know from past discussions the city has been very proactive. Can you update our viewers with where the city is on this important subject?

MB: Probably the biggest factor is that we are an island city, at sea level or maybe a meter above sea level, depending on where you are, so we have to take steps to make sure that we have flood protection. We are taking flood protection very, very seriously. We started a long-term program to raise all the dikes all the way around the city. It's a big job, 49 km dikes to hold the water out and 39 pump stations to keep the inland dry. We know that we are at risk of flooding, and it is important to be proactive if we don't, we will pay the price.

JG: Mr. Mayor, you released a community energy emissions plan to guide the city to achieve 50 per cent reduction in GHG emissions by 2030. Can you explain how this will be achieved?

MB: I think provincially, every city is coming up with their own plan as to how to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, which are so damaging to the environment. By 2030, we want to have reduced our emissions by 50 per cent, and by 2050, we want to reduce them down to zero. That's a tall order, but we are taking steps in that direction. 

Probably one of the biggest programs, and one that I'm really very proud of is, we have been working since the 1990’s to densify the city center. In the last year, there were two more buildings bringing the total to 60 buildings that are hooked up to district energy. In the next decade, it's going to be tenfold more than that. So, all the new buildings you're seeing in Richmond, are being heated and cooled by non-fossil-based energy sources.

JG: Along that line, let’s talk about infrastructure. Are there any updates since we talked in early 2023?

MB: Probably one of the biggest decisions we made, and it's been a long time coming, we were looking for land for our public workshop, which is currently on Lynas Lane and Westminster Highway. It was originally built 25 to 30 years ago. We looked at a couple different sites where we could relocate the public works yard. We finally came up with the plan to leave it where it is. We can consolidate the activities there and make it more efficient. We now know that the investment in that site was worthwhile. Included in the corner of that site is the recycling depot. We've won awards for the recycling depot and it's been used as a model for many other cities.

JG: One of the things that we've talked about before, is when times are tough, the first things that usually get cut from budget or removed to the back burner are the arts and festivals. One of the things I love about your city is that you kept the arts vibrant and alive.

MB: There was a time when we did suffer and that was during the pandemic. Some of the events could continue but most of them we had to put on hold. But now we're back to full blown events. For example, the Steveston Salmon Festival, which we put on in conjunction with the Steveston Community center is back up to the full day celebration.

We have the two-day Maritime Festival celebrating the tradition of the maritime industry here in the City of Richmond. We have the Children's Art Festival, Doors Open, Cherry Blossom Festival and many more activities all of them are free to the user and are family friendly.

JG: I want to mention, too, one thing that you do very well is to attract big events. I'm citing one and that’s the Canadian Adult Recreational Hockey association the World Cup, that brought 1,600 participants. That's a fantastic promotion for the city and the economy.

MB: That was enormous. It was supposed to be held in 2020 and canceled because of the pandemic. In 2022, it was postponed again, and finally held in 2023. Players came from around the world including Ukraine. 

There were 1,600 players, plus families and coaches that brought a positive impact to our economy and tourist industry.

JG: Sometimes there’s a perception with cities and government that they're not moving paperwork fast enough in terms of helping businesses and developers. I'm looking at stats that the city issued for building permits with an overall construction value exceeding $900 million. 

MB: I give credit to the province and the federal government because they've been giving financial support not only for projects, but they've been giving money to the cities under various programs to assist us with our process so you can build more houses quicker. If you can process your applications quicker, more efficiently and effectively, you will then produce more living units. Some of the more routine permits you can now apply for online twenty-four seven—for example a simple plumbing permit that doesn't require a lot of staff analysis. We're expanding that program because many of the permits that are more complicated requires staff review. It's complicated, but we're getting there and it will mean we can issue the permits without people having to spend a lot of time coming back and forth to city hall.

JG: One of the other strong points I find from a communication angle, which is my line of business, is that the city is very proactive when it comes to communicating. You yourself Mr. Mayor, you're very strong on social media. Since we last talked you launched a program called Let's Talk Richmond. 

MB: That's a program that has grown over the years. It's an Internet based application where people can address a range of subjects and can send in their comments for us to review. I regularly get hard copies of what people are saying on the Let’s Talk Richmond.

Additionally, if we have a particular program or initiative that we want feedback on from the public, we put it on Let's Talk Richmond and receive specific feedback on that particular initiative and it’s linked to our website, which gets millions of views as well as social media.

JG: You mentioned a new website was launched since we last spoke.

MB: That’s right. It’s better organized, user friendly and it’s quicker and easier to search information—go to the city website Richmond.ca

JG: Let's wrap things up, as we always do—looking forward. Can we talk about important projects that you are working on and the completion of certain infrastructure projects or can you talk about the top two or three projects you’re focusing on.

MB: Okay, the first one is TransLink, and the Capstan station. We knew that North Richmond was redeveloping. We went to the major land holders in the area, the Pinnacles, Concord Pacific, and a few others, they agreed that they would levy a fee per unit which would ultimately be put towards the Capstan station for the Canada Line. It should be finished this year and it's largely funded by the growth in that particular area because the station enhances that particular area.

The Steveston Community Center and library is another major project, it's almost a hundred million dollars, it has started to come out of the ground. 

The third project is the George Massey Tunnel, a provincial project. We’re keeping the pressure on that project to make sure that it doesn't go off the rails. The Steveston highway overpass is now being completed, it has to be twinned as part of the project. The latest projection is it'll be about 2028 -2030 by the time it’s open. As part of the project, we're working with hydro to commit to putting the transmission lines in the new tunnel like they are now.

JG: It’s always a pleasure to sit and talk with you, sir. We should do this more than once a year, we do appreciate your time. We should say to our viewers we are sitting in the Council Chambers here at city hall and are grateful for the opportunity. 

To view the video interview in full go to richmondsentinel.ca/videos

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