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Meet New Westminster council candidate: Karima Budhwani

Council hopefuls responded to our city council-focused questionnaire. Here's what they had to say.
Karima Budhwani 2022
Karima Budhwani is running for the New West Progressives in New Westminster's 2022 council race.

Affiliation: New West Progressives

Tell us a bit about yourself:

Driving through the city, we fell in love with the neighbourhood and moved to Queen’s Park. We have two children who have grown up enjoying the parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities in our city. My educational background is in law and environmental studies, and for over 20 years, I worked in the justice sector promoting access to justice in B.C. in partnership with non-profit organizations, institutions, and government. I love gardening and am a longtime Scouter with the Ismaili Scouts Group. I am passionate about life-long learning and have a practice as a life/leadership coach.

Why are you running for city council?

City leadership needs to be effective at the day-to-day basics, be able to lead and plan for the future, and be reflective of the diversity of the city. The current council has not been effective at managing the day-to-day basics in the city (cracked and lifted sidewalks, dying trees), has not engaged meaningfully with the residents, and is not planning for the future. We need a city council that has the skills to manage, that values diverse perspectives and is willing to engage and listen to its residents, and develop a vision and plan for the future of our city.

What do you consider to be the Top 3 issues facing New Westminster at this time?

Housing Affordability and Choice

Finding affordable and appropriate housing is a challenge for many families who wish to move to or within New Westminster. New Westminster is now considered one of the priciest rental markets in Canada.

Crime and Safety

Residents all over New Westminster are expressing that they do not feel safe on the streets in our city, and this feeling is shared by residents of all ages and across gender lines. At the same time, people feel that incidents of crime are on the rise in their neighbourhoods and that police are not responsive to their concerns or do not have the capacity to deal with these issues. Partnership with the police department is needed to find creative approaches or solutions that allow the police to do their job and make residents feel safe.

Infrastructure Deficit

Investment in community infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth in the city and, at the same time, asset management and long-term planning have not been prioritized leaving many residents unable to access recreational facilities in our city for basic programs such as gymnastics and swimming lessons.

What is the biggest success and/or failure of the current city council?

The biggest failure of the current city council is its inability to grasp its lack of transparency with residents from failing to inform and consult with residents about the city’s moniker, to the failure to notify residents about consultations around development permits, to burying quarterly financial reports in consent agendas.

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?

No. I do not support city council’s decision to drop the Royal City moniker and crown logo as part of its official branding. This issue appears to have been unplanned and placed on city council’s agenda as a last-minute item resulting in a decision without community input and with significant impacts on individuals and businesses. Consultation is to take place after the fact — this decision is problematic.

If elected with a majority on council, the New West Progressives will reverse this decision. A significant change of this nature should only be undertaken after consultation with residents, businesses and Indigenous Peoples including about whether this is a priority item needing to be undertaken at this time given the costly and time-intensive nature of a rebranding exercise.

What is your housing situation? Homeowner, renter, other? Landlord?

My husband and I are homeowners and have a monthly mortgage for our home.

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?

New Westminster’s official community plan (OCP) was developed with extensive, thoughtful input from the community, expert technical advice, and provides a broad framework for managing growth and change. The OCP reflects the ideas and inputs of the people who live, work, learn and play in our city. It was developed with a residential development capacity analysis that confirmed that there is enough capacity for 100,000+ homes. The city needs to rely on the OCP as it develops and grows.

The OCP has a significant amount of housing growth being absorbed in Queensborough and Downtown and the rest in transit-oriented areas (around the SkyTrain stations), followed by pedestrian-oriented transit corridors such as Sixth, 12th and East Columbia areas. The OCP contemplates parallel growth for retail, office, industrial and institutional floor space.

As the city grows, the infrastructure needs to grow as well to keep pace with needs of our community. All new development must integrate plans for community amenities needed to support the growth.

The New West Progressives have a comprehensive housing and homelessness action plan that includes reducing permitting times and streamlining processes, supporting and fast-tracking construction of at least 1,500 non-market and lower-end of market family friendly rental units, facilitating development of 25 per cent more secondary suites and laneway houses by 2026, increasing choice by supporting development of the missing middle (duplexes, townhomes, etc.) by 40 per cent by 2030, and includes a plan for helping the unhoused and those at risk of joining them.

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 areas and up to six storeys in other residential areas, without a rezoning requirement). Is this something you would support?

As noted above, New Westminster has an OCP that was developed with extensive, thoughtful input from the community, expert technical advice and provides a broad framework for managing growth and change. The OCP reflects the ideas and inputs of the people who live, work, learn and play in our city. Growth and development in the city should conform to the OCP.

If elected with a majority, the New West Progressives’ 5- Point Housing Action Plan has a commitment to introduce processes that would speed up approvals of social and affordable housing projects that fully conform with the OCP. With these changes, the need for spot rezonings will be reduced. As well, provincial legislation is anticipated in the Spring of 2023 which will speed up the approvals process for affordable housing projects as long as they conform with the OCP.

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? 

No. The city police have to deal with far more than policing activities. By default, the police are left to deal with mental health and substance-related issues because of lack of appropriate services for those issues. Budget cuts would only result in aggravating the situation. The provincial government needs to provide appropriate supports for mental health and substance- related services so the police are not the default service providers for services that are outside their expertise.

If elected, New West Progressives will work with the Chief of Police to develop more community policing initiatives and higher police presence in Downtown and in Queensborough.

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?

The Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action were announced in 2019. Whether the city has done enough or needs to do more is unclear as there is no progress report available to track what has been accomplished in the last 2.5 years. Much of the publicly available information is from the initial rollout of the Seven Bold Steps. When progress is not tracked, it becomes challenging to engage residents and difficult for residents to become passionate about what the city is trying to accomplish in this very important area.

The urban forest strategy is a good example where a progress report would be useful. The city has planted trees and it has also involved residents in planting trees on their properties. It would be helpful to know the net increase in the number of trees in the city, and also an explanation of why there are so many dying trees on city streets. Is anyone paying attention and if so, what needs to be done to save these much-needed trees?

You have 24 hours and your calendar is open. What would be your ideal day in New West?

My ideal day would start with a cup of coffee and some time puttering in the garden followed by a lovely breakfast with the family. I would then head off to Queen’s Park to enjoy the rose garden or Quayside for a walk and the beautiful river view. The afternoon would include a walk in the Glenbrooke Ravine or the Queensborough boardwalk. This would be followed by a cup of afternoon tea and some downtime. The day would end with more time in the garden.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell voters?

I was born in Kisumu, Kenya and lived for a while in Mwanza, Tanzania and then in Nairobi, Kenya. I moved with my family to Calgary, Alberta and have lived in Toronto, Vancouver, and now in New Westminster. I have fond memories of growing up in Nairobi and living in a multi-family complex with a shared courtyard. I enjoy learning about other cultures and hope to travel again in the not-too-distant future. I love old homes and thoroughly enjoy living in New Westminster and discovering unique old homes.

How can folks contact you?