We Knew. We All Knew.

January 27, 2015

We did.

bigsurprise

Anyone following along with the “Great” Scarborough transit debate of Two-Ought-One-Ought to Two-Ought-One-Three couldn’t help but know that once city council reversed course once again and decided on the 3-stop subway plan over the 7-stop LRT, we would be on the hook for some money. Lots of it. Lots and lots of money.

So when news broke late last week that an amount had pretty much been settled on, an amount not far off of what had been bandied around during the aforementioned debate, somewhere likely in the $75-85 million range, it shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. topsecretWe knew. We all knew. We did.

That we found out in the manner we found out, from the city manager, as done and done, it’s already accounted for and in the capital budget, whoah, wait, what?! “Yes, it’s in the capital plan,” Joe Pennachetti stated, perhaps a little too imperiously. “No, you’d not be able to see it.”

I think it’s fair to call that something of a surprise. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said it was news to her, literally. She heard about it the first time everybody else did, in Jennifer Pagliaro’s Toronto Star article. “I think the public should be very concerned about the dearth of accountability and transparency,” Councillor Josh Matlow, perhaps one of the Scarborough subway’s most vociferous critics, said. According to him, city council was never fully briefed on the final costs of deciding to ditch the LRT.

Yet, there it is, now in the city’s capital budget plan, with none of our elected officials (as far as we know) sure of the exact amount.burnmoney

It is a fitting, highly appropriate twist to this sad, sordid tale of malefic governance and shameful political self-preservation. Appropriate too that two of the most shameless proponents of the Scarborough subway, councillors Rob Ford and Glenn De Baeremaeker have gone silent on the issue, not a peep so far from either of them. This despite the fact Councillor Ford’s opinion has been sought out on almost every other matter going on at City Hall.

The fact of the matter is, actual support for the Scarborough subway has never been as deep or clamorous as the noise its supporters on council have made it out to be. Polls that set out the LRT and subway plans for respondents to see regularly came back showing a preference for the LRT. “If you get past all of that rhetoric and you get down to how much is it going to cost,” Dave Scholz of Leger Research said, “who’s going to pay for it and who’s going to be serviced by it, then people have a very realistic view of what they want.” scarboroughsubwaybellowLast February, just as the municipal campaign was kicking into gear, Leger showed that 61% of those asked, including a majority in Scarborough, favoured the LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway.

Just think of what those polls might say if these sunk costs of $75-85 million are run up the flagpole for full public viewing. Which probably explains this attempt to bury them instead. Already putting ambivalent residents on the hook for an annual property tax increase to help pay for the subway, oh yeah, and **cough, cough, cough, cough** an extra $75-85 million. **cough, cough, cough, cough** I’m sorry. What was that again?

Subway supporter and TTC Chair, Josh Colle isn’t prepared to just simply take those numbers at face value. He wants some full accounting. “Absent of any construction happening, where is this supposed money?” he wondered.

A fair enough question from the councillor, and maybe one he should’ve asked before he voted in favour of the subway back in 2013. icouldtellyou“I can show you my notes from City Council Oct 8/9 2013,” Councillor Paul Ainslie, the only Scarborough councillor who voted against the subway, tweeted last week in response to the Toronto Star story. “I wrote answers to my public questions [of city staff]…I wrote “sunk costs est. $85M” I did not make this number up. So I was not surprised by TO Star.”

The numbers were out there. Councillors who ended up voting for the subway did not make their support contingent on a full breakdown of the costs the city should be expected to pay for that decision. They collectively shrugged and pressed the ‘yes’ button. Their sudden demand for fiscal probity rings a little hollow now.

Councillor Paula Fletcher wondered why the city now should be on the hook for the entire amount of cancelling the LRT. “Let’s not forget the provincial government ran a by-election on the Scarborough subway, with their candidate, Mitzie Hunter, named as a subway champ for Scarborough,” the councillor said. “To come back and say the onus is all on the city is a bit disingenuous.” Ahhh, there’s that word again. Disingenuous. If there’s one word to describe this entire fiasco, the entire past 4 years, really. Disingenuous.wishlist

Still, it’s a legitimate question for the councillor, who, it should not be forgotten, helped bring the subway debate back to the floor of council in the convoluted transit vote of May 2013, to ask. A question that should’ve been asked over and over and over again until an actual answer was given before an actual vote with actual repercussions was cast. While Councillor Fletcher eventually wound up opposing the subway, 24 of her then-council colleagues pushed ahead, costs be damned! Scarborough deserves a subway!

And drip, drip, drip goes the money down the drain. At a budget committee meeting yesterday discussing the staff recommended 2015 budget, Councillor Gord Perks listed a bunch of council directives that staff were ignoring. “The budget drops 3 youth lounges from the Council directed 10,” he tweeted. “City turned down climate change and health funding proposal that the Board of Health approved.” “Budget ignored Council vote on playground repair funding. On average we repair once every 80 years. Council said get to 1 in 30. Cost $3M/yr.” “We have been told budget doesn’t achieve Council direction on planting trees. We don’t yet how short.”

We can’t blame all of this nickel and diming on the fact that without any debate on the specifics the city has to come up with some sum of 10s of millions of dollars to pay for the Scarborough subway. A below the rate of inflation property tax increase and a mayoral dictate to all departments to find 2% in “efficiencies” will contribute too. buryingmoneyBut in a largely zero-sum game of a municipal operating budget, money going somewhere has to come from somewhere. So, residents who may soon find themselves paying more to use city services and facilities can rightfully wonder if that Scarborough subway is actually worth it.

Trying to bury the evidence won’t change that fact.

serves us rightly submitted by Cityslikr


Will The Real Josh Colle Please Step Forward

February 14, 2014

There are more than a few sitting city councillors whose presence on the municipal scene baffles me. headscratcherWhether they seem ill at ease in a public forum or are just complete busts when it comes to understanding policy issues, I scratch my head and wonder what forces brought them to where they’re currently sitting. Accidents of circumstance or just freak electoral accidents?

Curiously, none are more of a mystery to me than Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence). He seems smart and is definitely articulate. No dummy is Councillor Colle. It’s just, I can’t get a handle on the man.

Even before he started sporting a goatee that made him look like the son of Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale), he struck me as someone who was up to something. That something, I haven’t been able to figure out. Colle’s like the thinking man’s Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East), City Hall’s Machiavellian Prince.

Back during the highly contentious 2012 budget debate, Councillor Colle was the face of the pushback to save some $20 million in cuts that the Ford administration had put on the chopping block. twofacedHe stood defiantly in opposition to the mayor when it wasn’t necessarily politically advantageous to do so. It was probably the first symbolic lump Mayor Ford took.

A little more than a year later, the very same Councillor Colle stood up and gave perhaps one of the most dispiriting defences of city council not doing a single thing when it came to dealing with revenue tools for building transit. He was pushing an amendment to colleague Councillor Josh Matlow’s motion to proceed with some of the revenue recommendations from city staff that essentially struck all the suggested revenue streams out of the motion. In effect, Colle was seeking to turn a pro-tax motion into a non-tax motion. He won.

It was a shrug. An outright rejection of responsible governing. Councillor Colle’s version of Homer Simpson’s I’m not not licking toads denial.

Looking through the councillor’s voting pattern via Matt Elliott’s council scorecard reveals little up about what he represents. lickingtoadsHe sits at just over 40% of agreement with Mayor Ford, almost smack dab in the middle of the pack. That’s not far off the number he was at after year one on council. While support for the mayor from his strongest allies has dropped off precipitously over the last couple years, Councillor Colle has remained fairly steady throughout.

Even in this last budget cycle where the mayor was pretty much abandoned by everybody but the hardest of hardcore, far right on council, Colle punched in at 33% alignment with Mayor Ford. A very small sample size mind you, but it was on par with the usual unthinking mayoral yeah-sayers like councillors Cesar Palacio, Gary Crawford and above even the likes of the normally dependable Councillor Mark Grimes.

This is not necessarily a good or bad thing. Early on in the term, when Councillor Colle had inherited the Lawrence Heights redevelopment in his ward, you could sense he was forced into some horse trading with the mayor who’d campaigned against the redevelopment, in order to protect it. orelseA scenario where he was operating with a gun to his head, as is the mayor’s standard operating procedure.

But Mayor Ford doesn’t swing that kind of pipe any more. Still, Councillor Colle continues to play ball. Maybe he’s comfortable politically aligned with the mayor 40% of the time on the big issues affecting the city. It’s just odd that his predecessor in Ward 15, Howard Moscoe, famously said Rob Ford couldn’t pass gas if a majority of council didn’t let him, and here’s Councillor Colle – who Moscoe endorsed to replace  him – enabling Mayor Ford to pass gas 4 out of 10 times.

It all leaves me cold with ambivalent uncertainty toward Josh Colle.

As the scion of the local MPP and with all the Liberal party election machine operations that entails, it’s hard to see how a candidate could dislodge him in October. In 2010, Colle’s main opponent was the established conservative candidate Rob Davis, so picture him running as the reasonable progressive in the field. beatfromthebushesMaybe it might be worth a try this time around for someone to run against him from the left, challenge the councillor on his progressive credentials. Ask Councillor Colle why he continues to support the Scarborough subway extension while voting against ways to fund it.

Ask him anything that might chase him from the bushes and force him to define who exactly he is and what he stands for. After nearly 4 years in office, we deserve to know that much, I think.

— curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Missed Opportunity

August 8, 2013

You guys know me. I’m partial to municipal politics and politicians. ballotboxIt’s not that I’m disinterested in the other two levels of government but I approach them with much suspicion. In the end, we’re not even voters to them but just votes. Our interaction comes almost exclusively at the ballot box.

And yet, nearly everything any elected official does ultimately affects us at the local level. Immigration, transportation safety regulations, healthcare decisions, all have an impact where we live. Our streets. Our schools. Our homes.

In spite of that, our municipal governments have the least amount of control over these decisions than either their provincial and federal counterparts. They have limited access to the purse strings. Their jurisdictional reach is likewise stunted. Municipal politicians have all sorts of responsibilities but very little power in conducting their business.

Not surprisingly, local government doesn’t always attract the best and the brightest to its ranks (with exceptions, of course). twitWhy would it? There’s more money to be made, more glory and exposure to be had, for, arguably, less work as an MP or MPP. Even in a big city like Toronto with lots of media swirling around, the lure of the backbenches at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa is considerable for many toiling away in the relative obscurity of City Hall.

This creates one of those chicken-or-egg scenarios where it’s impossible to answer the question: Do municipal politics get the politicians it deserves or do municipal politicians deserve the politics they get?

I mean, how many times have you found yourself in a conversation, bemoaning your city’s inability to bring about some change in your day-to-day life owing to the fact it doesn’t have the proper powers to do so, and the response is always, You want more power in the hands of these jokers?

twit1No?

Really?

That’s a discussion I have, like, a couple times a day on average.

Clearly I need to get me some new friends.

It certainly doesn’t help my Up With Municipal Politicians cause when they pass up a golden opportunity to prove their worth, to show those who’ve cast a ballot for them that, in fact, they are competent public officials with the best interests of the city’s residents at heart.

I’m talking about Toronto city council’s most recent Scarborough LRT subway decision / indecision / debacle / clusterfuck, natch. twit2As outlined in last week’s letter from Metrolinx honcho Bruce McQuaig to city manager Joe Pennachetti, all work on the Scarborough LRT will now grind to a halt, pending council’s search for the extra cash needed to convert it to a subway. Money, so far, not evidently forthcoming from either the province or the feds which, according to a flurry of amendments at last month’s council meeting, would be absolutely necessary for the subway dream to remain alive.

Now look, I’m not letting either of the senior levels of government off the hook on this. There’s little question the provincial government, facing the August 1st by-elections, played footsie with city council and didn’t discourage talk of re-opening the Master Agreement with Metrolinx in order to promote a Scarborough subway. Their winning candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood, Mitzie Hunter, proclaimed herself a ‘Subway Champion’ and joined the ranks of the other Scarborough Liberal MPPs who’ve marched in lockstep demanding equality of treatment that can only be provided by a subway.

And the federal government? MIA when it comes to any sort of transit discussion.

But this was a chance for our local politicians to step up and be the adults in the room. To set aside thoughts of political ambition or survival and decline opening up this debate once again. offacliffThanks but no thanks, they could’ve collectively said. We’ve thought long and hard about this and have decided the LRT option is the way we’re going to go. The money’s there. The plan’s in place. Let’s keep those shovels in the ground.

While it’s easy to blame the mayor for this unwelcome turn of events, it wasn’t his fight to win or lose. He’d been relegated to the sidelines on the transit debate over a year ago. Only the echoes of his Scarborough Deserves Its Subway chant remained and council could’ve just plugged their ears and stopped listening, recognizing the mayor’s contribution for nothing more than what it was. A politicized, ill-informed view of public transit planning that has resulted in massive delays and unnecessary costs.

Instead, a majority of council chose to follow him down that particular rabbit hole, succeeding in only more delays, more costs and, most importantly for my purposes here, cementing their reputation as bumbling, inept, dithering, irresponsible local representatives. You want more power in the hands of these jokers?

I know, right?offacliff1

It’s hard to argue with that, listening to Councillor Josh Colle’s interview with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning. Oleaginous is the word I want to use to describe it. But that’s not quite right. Evasive. Disingenuous. Not exactly forthcoming in a smarmy fashion, if I’m free to use more than one word. In no way contributing in any positive sense to building transit in this city. Pointing the finger rather than stepping up and accepting responsibility to provide leadership for this city on a matter of vital importance.

Unfortunately, there have been too many Josh Colles on city council lately especially on the issue of transit. It’s a willing acceptance of the supplicant role of municipal politicians in our governance framework. Don’t look to us for answers. We’re just here to help further gum up the works. Never seizing the initiative. Only looking to wipe their hands clean of it so they never have to accept the blame for anything.

disappointment

Misrule by don’t rule.

Making it hard for us municipal politics boosters to continue throwing our support their way.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Brick By Brick

May 10, 2013

Well, you have to hand it to him.strongmayor

No ifs ands or buts about it, Mayor Ford had his best day at city council yesterday in a long, long time. Not since the honeymoon period of his administration, when he was able to obliterate anything he didn’t like, has the mayor’s limited and dim view of government so thoroughly triumphed. Small wonder he proclaimed it the greatest day in the history of Toronto or some similar variation on the usual Fordian hyperbole.

He stood firm by his principles of not burdening the voters with taxation, and the majority of city council went along with him, outright rejecting almost all of the ‘revenue tools’ city staff had recommended as a way of funding Metrolinx’s Big Move. The mayor threatened all who dared to defy him with certain electoral defeat in next year’s campaign. cowerSome 30 long months into that heavy-handed schtick and with little evidence he’s ever carried that kind of clout, enough of his council colleagues tucked their tails between their legs and rolled over for him.

None more so than Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker who put his political self-interest right out there front and centre. On Wednesday, the councillor boldly stated on council floor that he would only support any revenue tools recommendations if, in return, the proposed Scarborough LRT extension was reverted to a subway. In effect, another demand, yet again, to alter the terms of the master agreement between the city and Metrolinx that’s in place for what is the first wave of the Big Move which includes the Eglinton crosstown LRT that is already under construction.

To bolster support in his Scarborough ward, Councillor De Baeremaeker argued that any other form of rapid transit aside from a subway was inferior, and that his residents and all of the residents of Scarborough were tired of living with inferior rapid transit (long a tactical political argument pushed by Mayor Ford). plottingFellow Scarborough councillor Michelle Berardinetti, bringing along some weird internecine provincial Liberal party baggage, helped prop up the argument with slides and talking points that must’ve brought tears to the eyes of the mayor. I’ve taught them so well. Fly, fly my children.

Of course, such cynical pandering was merely a prelude to the heaping helping of it that was to come. If there’s a more calculating member of city council, someone so utterly devoid of principle whose name isn’t Peter Milczyn, it has to be Josh Colle. His motion which was kinda-sorta an amendment to Councillor Milczyn’s, laid out the proposed revenue tools the city would not be supporting which was almost all of them. Let’s call it a negative motion because it put forward nothing, was big on nots with scant mention of anything positive.

When Councillor Matlow stood to ask Colle what exactly he was seeking to do with an amendment which sought to delete a segment of an earlier motion of Matlow’s supporting a proposed sales tax, fuel tax, parking levy and development charges, Councillor Colle said he was seeking to provide the province with an answer to their questions about revenue tools. faceplantNot answering would be impolite, I guess. But delivering an across the board no and a couple lukewarm shrugs of indifference represents the height of active engagement.

After more than a year of having her way on the transit file while stoking talk of a mayoral run along the way, TTC Chair Karen Stintz has taken her first serious stumble on this. By supporting a motion that essentially throws no support behind any revenue tools to build transit and by openly siding with misguided parochial pro-Scarborough subway councillors, Councillor Stintz positions herself with very little daylight showing between her views and those of Mayor Ford. The only difference, and it’s a very big difference, is that the mayor is upfront expressing his opinions. Councillor Stintz is simply pretending to express her opinions.

That’s a distinction voters pick up on and usual gravitate toward the one that feels more genuine.

One of the discouraging aspects of the outcome of all this is the pure abdication of responsibility shown by a majority of our city councillors. Not only did this overarching decision to avoid getting behind any of the transit building revenue tools simply dismiss the work done by the city manager and staff — that’s not an unusual occurrence — but it disregards the contribution made by thousands of residents who took time out to participate in the town halls and public sessions put on by the likes of Feelingcongested.ca and others. patontheheadSure, we appreciate your opinion, folks. *patpat* Now let us get on with the business of governing.

And by governing, of course, council displayed its preference to not govern. In deciding to sidestep the revenue tools discussion, they left the heavy lifting of persuading a public wary of new taxes that new taxes were necessary up to the provincial government. There is some merit to that since taxation is largely under the control of Queen’s Park. But to so thoroughly disavow any involvement in the funding discussion, to throw up your hands and say, hey, not me, all the while upping your ask for the transit you want built in your part of the city?

It just emphasizes the junior aspect in the junior level of government.

If you don’t want to make any of the difficult decisions in how something as important as transit gets built (all the while demanding your fair share of it), the next logical step is to cede control of the operations of it, isn’t it? busboyWhy should one level of government do all the politically risky work of getting the money together to fund public transit up and not make sure it is properly run and delivered? I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Metrolinx to do one of two things in the wake of Toronto city council’s decisions yesterday: walk away and say, have fun wallowing in your congestion or, thanks for all the help, guys. If you don’t mind stepping aside, we’ll take it from here.

And city council basically turns its attention to the more mundane matters of collecting our garbage, keeping our streets clean and our toilets properly flushed. Exactly the stuff Rob Ford tells us local politicians should be doing. By deciding to remain defiantly on the sidelines in the transit funding debate, city council embraced Rob Ford’s political philosophy of do little, tax little and always keep your cell phones on.

Which is fine if that’s all residents want from their councillors. But you can’t expect that and demand things like fully functioning public transit as well. There’s an additional cost that comes with it. One Mayor Ford and every councillor rejecting the idea of new transit taxes and fees refuses to acknowledge.

Near the end of the debate yesterday, the mayor touted his Subway Plan, and how council had previously rejected his Subway Plan. notnotlickingtoadsThe mayor has no subway plan. He rejected the revenue tools the Chong Report pushed that he cites as the backbone of his Subway Plan. He cannot point to the efficiencies he will find to fund his Subway Plan. The private sector has remained strangely silent on his Subway Plan.

There are no subways without the kinds of revenue tools Mayor Ford and city council refused to get behind. The mayor seems completely comfortable believing that’s not true. As long as we continue to throw our support behind politicians who believe that, we join in on that magical thinking and absolve ourselves of any responsibility for building a better city. We just want our garbage picked up, our street clean of debris and our toilets to flush without incident.

dispiritedly submitted by Cityslikr


Scarborough Unfair

April 30, 2013

I can’t even.

facepalm

If Scarborough is not going to get any benefits from enhanced revenue tools, why would we support it? We’ll put our money where our mouth is as long as we get to benefit. If we are not going to benefit, then we see no reason to support either the downtown relief line or any other expansion of transit in the city of Toronto.  Councillor Michael Thompson.

It’s times like this when, if asked about the notion of de-amalgamation, I just throw up my hands and say, yeah, fuck it. Let’s do it. Such noxious self-serving toadying will be the death of any good transit planning anyway. So if a majority of Scarborough councillors want to stamp their feet and hold the entire process hostage by stirring up sub-regional resentment, good riddance to them.

(Although the transit file was dealt with on a 416 wide level long before amalgamation. kicktothecurbBut since we’re swimming in a spite pool, allow me to dip my toe in.)

It’s not that I even believe a further Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line is necessarily a bad idea. As Tess Kalinowski and David Rider point out in their Star article, there are compelling arguments for doing so. But councillors Michelle Berardinetti, Glenn De Baeremaeker and Thompson don’t bother putting them forward, choosing instead to wallow in the cheap, petulant politics of misinformation that’s usually the speciality of Mayor Ford.

Only in the minds of those more interested in grandstanding than in reason and fact based governing would getting an LRT be seen as some sort of slap in the face. By dismissing LRT technology as of no benefit and somehow getting less than other parts of the city, the Scarborough 7 have internalized the Ford Administration’s baseless and entirely uniformed transit views. metooIt’s legitimizing them and foisting them back into the debate.

So what if there’s a subway going up into Vaughan? (And I’ve only been out of town for a couple days. When did I miss Markham getting a subway?) Why compound one mistake – if the University line subway extension up past York and into Vaughan was a mistake – by making another? Mississauga seems content to build an LRT. Why does Scarborough think it’s better than Mississauga?

You see where this discussion might go, right?

It’s the destabilizing effect in opening up this debate once again that could be the most damaging. As the only rational seeming Scarborough representative, Councillor Paul Ainslie points out it simply signals the city’s unpredictable and impulsive attitude toward transit building. imwithstupidWhy should the rest of the city and the entire GTA region bother being serious if a group of Scarborough councillors are willing to scupper a deal to score cheap political points?

The increasingly Machiavellian (and I say that in the most non-complimentary way possible) Councillor Josh Colle believes that even if it throws the transit debate wide open to a pie in the sky wish list of options, it’ll be worth it to finally air out the Scarborough LRT-versus-subway for good. Uh huh. Maybe if we were actually going to have an honest debate about the issue, I could fully get behind that sentiment. But it doesn’t appear as if that’s going to happen, given the re-opening salvo from the Berardinetti-De Baeremaeker-Thompson triumvirate. Instead, we’re going to get full on crass pandering and pitting one region against another rather than region wide transit building.

Nobody “deserves” a particular form of transit especially based purely on what a nearby neighbourhood or area of the city has. You should get the transit that best fits the built environment within the budget you’re willing to spend. youhappynowSo let’s have the debate based on that premise, if we haven’t already, and not the politics of petty parochialism.

It’s that that’ll kill any chances we have of getting a GTHA-wide agreement on the proper funding tools needed to get started on the Big(ger) Move. And if we fail to do so, we’ll know where to point the finger of blame. I hope all the Scarborough councillors who are now beating their collective chests demanding their subway will be prepared for that kind of exposure.

annoyedly submitted by Cityslikr


You Can’t Build If You Don’t Know Where

April 15, 2013

Planning and Growth Management Committee

Remember that time I wrote something to the affect of, aside from the Budget Committee and maybe the Executive Committee, cityplanning5no committee was as important as the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee? Friday, I think it was.

Well, it seems I might have to revise that statement slightly after attending the Planning and Growth Management Committee meeting. It’s tough to build sewers and roads, lay track for rapid transit or sell off chunks of public space in return for ad revenue without knowing exactly where to do all that. Thus, Planning and Growth Management. Providing the proverbial blueprints in order for the digging to begin.

Planning and Growth Management is the yin to Public Works and Infrastructure yang of city building.

The Planning and Growth Management Committee’s primary focus is on urban form, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on planning, growth, and development of the City.

The first thing I learned at PGMC is that you have to actually have quorum to proceed with a meeting. Fifteen minutes after the scheduled start, if more than half the committee members are not present, that’s it. cityplanning2Recess until after lunch.

A bit of an eye-opener for anyone who’s made other plans for later in the day.

Fortunately, I’m not such a person.

Setting aside any petulance I might’ve had about this meeting not being important enough for a majority of its members to attend so why should I, I returned for the afternoon session. Quorum was achieved. The meeting got underway.

What quickly became apparent was that if there’s no Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong or Doug Ford on a committee, things move along very smoothly. Smoothly, amicably, productively. Why, near the end of Thursday’s meeting, when the committee chair, Councillor Peter Milczyn, put a motion up, the rest of the committee plus staff had input editing it to everyone’s satisfaction. Right there up on the screen for all to see.

Consensus!

While it’s certainly impossible to deny city council as a whole may be dysfunctional at the moment, it would be incorrect to assume the entire place is broken. Some vital organs are still operating. cityplanning4And it isn’t as if there’s nothing potentially contentious in the Planning and Growth Management file. Just think about two of those words. Planning. Growth. You’re doing what now to my neighbourhood?

If Public Works and Infrastructure is about the big ticket items money-wise, Planning and Growth Management deals with the aspirational big ticket items. Big ideas in theory. Transformative initiatives in a bid to make a city a better place.

Here’s some of the motions discussed at Thursday’s meeting:

Official Plan Amendment Application. Updated City-wide Tall Building Design Guidelines. Strategic Forest Management Plan. Addressing Mobility, Aligning Growth and Transit.

Everybody can point to planning projects that failed, some miserably so. Utter the name Robert Moses in many circles and observe the slow shaking of heads and guttural moans of disapproval. cityplanning3Toronto is undergoing two massive redevelopments at Regent’s Park and Lawrence Heights in an attempt to correct the mistakes of a previous era’s city planning approach.

But the thing about urban planning is, as with many of the social sciences, it isn’t an exact science. Even with the noblest of intentions, we can only proceed with the best available knowledge and information we have at hand. To expect anything more, to demand perfection, is futile, unreasonable and, ultimately, harmful. There are always going to be bumps in the road ahead, tweaks and overhauls that need to be done.

The worst thing a city could do in the face of problems that arise is to remain static. Fighting change because sometimes change doesn’t work. A reasonable and fact-based approach to planning and growth management is of supreme importance to any city’s future well-being. cityplanningIt should be the buttress against rampant, greed-based development, and residents need to be vigilant that’s what the committee is doing.

Councillor Josh Colle, the PGMC vice-chair, asked an interesting question of staff after the Tall Building Design Guideline presentation. In essence he wondered how best to lay out plans for tall buildings – intensification, basically – to neighbourhoods that have never had them before. Big, necessary change is afoot, folks. Here’s how we think it should happen.

Planning and Growth Management is not just about the kind of city we want to live in but the kind of city we leave to our kids and grandkids. The big of idea of posterity. Everybody needs to be a part of that discussion and, perhaps even more importantly, everybody needs to trust that the best interests of the city are being served and not just those of a selective few.

A tall order in the current environment of divisiveness and general scepticism toward the public good at City Hall. cityplanning1So it’s refreshing to watch, at least in one small corner, at a very important committee level, a communal sense of purpose between councillors of varying political stripes, and between elected officials and city staff.  Working together rather than looking to score cheap partisan points.

Yes Virginia, there can be accord at City Hall. You just need to know where to look for it.

smilingly submitted by Cityslikr

 


A Whole Lot Less Where That Came From

November 20, 2012

Taking a break from his Santa Claus Parade Promenade, Mayor Ford called into his Sunday afternoon radio show to make his case for a second term in office. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Obviously, we can’t do it in the next two years (the remainder of the current four-year term). I’m going to need at least another four to six years to complete the work, and we’ll take it from there.”

That’s the key. Never let the folks forget that we’re in a perpetual campaign. Keep the base stoked. Maybe they won’t realize just how little governing there is going on currently.

It was particularly rich, reading the mayor’s plea for four more years to git `er done, while sitting through his Executive Committee’s meeting yesterday. He was absent, of course, busy in court defending himself from libel charges. In his place, a heavy hanging sense of inertia filled the room. The exact opposite of gittin’ `er done. Not gittin’ `er done, let’s call it to double underline my point.

The agenda was just eleven items long. Meatier ones like the 2013 Rate Supported Budgets for water, solid waste collection and the Parking Authority were adopted almost perfunctorily lickety-split. No debate, no questions to staff, just got `er done.

What took the majority of the committee’s time? Some five hours, part of it in camera, wrestling with the future of three city owned theatres. And in the end? A decision deferred for four months.

Now, look.

I’m not suggesting this isn’t an important matter that needs to be carefully sorted through. But should the Executive Committee be the one agonizing over it at this juncture? We’re talking about a net expenditure last year for the city of less than three million dollars. Surely there’s a more appropriate committee to be banging out the details. The Economic Development Committee perhaps? Even the Budget Committee.

The Executive Committee is a mayor’s steering committee. The hands on the tiller, charting a direction, shaping a mandate and agenda. The brain trust.

Under this mayor, it’s now relegated to wasteful micro-managing. Stuff people devoid of bigger ideas spend time doing to make it seem like they’re doing something important. Treading water, shuffling papers, looking busy.

The only jolt of life during the meeting came from a brief spat between councillors Minnan-Wong, Shiner and Thompson. Councillor Minnan-Wong took exception to the disrespectful manner in which he felt Councillor Thompson was questioning one of the deputants (yeah, insert laugh track here. Denzil? Meet respect. Respect? Some guy who has no time for you.) Sitting between the two, Councillor Shiner interjected, causing DMW to snap something about ‘your stupidity’, apparently referring to the plastic bag ban Shiner had instigated at council. ‘Sue me, Denzil’, came the response, proving only that Councillor David Shiner is the sharpest member of the Executive Committee.

Dust settled, it was back to the matter of doing precious little.

It could be argued that this Executive Committee might be merely running out the clock. The last meeting of the first half of term, they were lame ducking it. Indeed, exiting member Councillor Berardinetti skipped out to attend a ward event, never to return. (Hey. If the mayor can beg off to coach football…) Might as well put off any serious decisions until the new blood arrives to re-energize the atmosphere. Shuffle the deck. Shake up the roster. Refocus. Get `er Done.

But the fact of the matter is, the mayor has done nothing more than retweak. One councillor in, one councillor out. The mushy middle Josh Colle will still be outnumbered on Executive Committee by do-nothing loyalists like councillors Paul Ainslie, Norm Kelly, Peter Milczyn and Cesar Palacio. That’s the mayor’s team. The one’s who’ve allowed things to grind to a screeching halt, a mid-air stall out.

And he’s out there on the hustings already, talking four more years?

Out of breath and ideas, he’s barely limping past the first halfway mark.

windedly submitted by Cityslikr


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