Affiliation: Community First New West
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I was born and raised in Ethiopia. I live in the Queensborough neighbourhood with my wife and children. I work for TransLink and am a strong advocate for public transit as a vital tool for urban growth and environmental sustainability.
I am the former president of the Ethiopian Community Association of B.C. I am also the executive director for the Ethiopian House Project and a board member for the African Canadian Soccer and Cultural Association. I have served on the Co-op Community Radio and the Chartered Professional Accountants of B.C. boards.
Why are you running for city council?
I am an avid community organizer and volunteer with many local organizations. I am running for New Westminster city council because I am committed to bringing communities closer together and profoundly care about highlighting underrepresented voices. I also work for TransLink and have a strong background in public transportation issues.
What do you consider to be the Top 3 issues facing New Westminster at this time?
· Infrastructure improvement,
· Increasing transit service in underserved neighbourhoods, and
· Expanding partnerships with local organizations and community groups
What is the biggest success and/or failure of the current city council?
I’m so impressed that 1,000 new purpose-built rental units were approved and built under this current council — that’s such an important part of solving the housing crisis. And we have opportunities to find more interesting and creative solutions like co-housing and investing in a land trust.
Do you support city council’s decision to have the City of New Westminster stop using the Royal City moniker and crown logo as part of its official branding? Why or why not?
I think it's a good time to discuss how we can demonstrate our values to the community through avenues including branding. I believe it's healthy for organizations, cities, and provinces to engage in a rebranding process. Rebranding New West helps nurture a unique set of ideas and connections that would activate our local businesses. I am interested in people's thoughts on how that rebranding process should unfold so we are inclusive in our approach and method.
I look forward to robust community engagement on this issue.
What is your housing situation? Homeowner, renter, other? Landlord?
I am a homeowner
New Westminster’s population is currently 82,590 and is projected to grow to about 100,000 by 2031. How – and where – do you want the city to accommodate that growth?
The current council has done fantastic work in this area which has placed New Westminster as a leader in housing policy. We must continue that work and protect the city’s existing rental supply by enhancing housing security. We need to increase the number of homes everyone can afford in new multi-family developments in transit-focused areas. We should also explore opportunities to partner with non-profits and senior governments guided by the principles of housing first and housing for all.
Some organizations are calling on municipal governments to support the creation of non-profit housing by allowing projects to be built without fulfilling rezoning requirements. (As an example, Women Transforming Cities wants social housing initiatives of up to 12 storeys to be permitted in multi-family area and up to six storeys in other residential areas, without a rezoning requirement). Is this something you would support?
I’m looking forward to exploring ways that the development process can meet our housing needs. I’m hearing from folks that the delays in getting affordable housing built aren’t meeting our housing needs. There’s a lot of opportunity to explore what those options are. We follow the bylaws set out by the province on housing.
The New Westminster Police Department’s budget has been a contentious issue in recent years, with some council members supporting cuts (to the requested budget increase) to the NWPD’s budget. (Budgets put forward by the police board were ultimately approved by council.) If elected, would you support cuts to the New Westminster Police Department’s budget in the city’s next budget?
Again, we have great opportunities to explore how we can best meet the community's needs. I'm excited about the PACT pilot program. My commitments include strengthening our community to support unhoused folks and our non-profit organizations in meeting people's needs for employment and basic needs. I believe no council member has supported cuts to the police budget, and I intend to continue to support our police department.
City council has developed and used the Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action (and its strategic plan) as the basis for making all decisions. Has the city done enough to address the climate crisis? Too much?
New West has been a leader in tackling the climate crisis, which is the most pressing issue of our time. I am so proud that the city won an urban planning gold medal award for the Seven Bold Steps on Climate Action to tackle the climate crisis locally. We need to be proactive and have a plan to ensure our community's safety during climate-related events linked to the heat dome, floods and forest fire smoke. I believe we should also continue investing in our public spaces by planting more trees in parks and boulevards.
You have 24 hours, and your calendar is open. What would be your ideal day in New West?
My ideal day would be a combination of quality time with my family, healthy eating, exercise, and work that I enjoy doing. Since I enjoy personal interaction with people, I would envision spending considerable time interacting and listening to my community members' concerns.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell voters?
I am excited about promoting New Westminster’s rich history and cultural diversity. I am passionate about improving our infrastructure, especially sidewalks and beautiful parks. One of my favourite places is the perimeter trail of Queensborough, where I enjoy evening strolls with my wife, and I hope to champion its completion.
How can folks contact you?
Social media: @bereketneh