Leadership Starts From The Ground Up

July 25, 2014

4 out of 4 transit experts agree. Toronto needs to start building the [fill in your preferred first name here] Relief Line now yesterday! expertsagreeWhile we can, should talk about other transit modes i.e. GO electrification, the only one that is going to take pressure off our already too tightly squeezed subway system is another subway line moving people to and from the downtown core, “… the fastest growing part of the entire GTA.”

There’s a reason we’ve been talking about a relief line for 30 years now. The necessity for it has been known for that long. It’s not new or news.

The problem is, it will be a messy, disruptive, expensive undertaking. Building a “new subway through the core — underground and with truly urban station frequency” can’t be anything but. subwayconstructionEven if crews started digging today, many of us wouldn’t be around to see the fruits of the labour and money. And, of course, it will be a project assailed on all fronts by parochial interests, convinced that downtowners, once more, are getting more than their fair share of public money and attention.

Despite all that, a Relief Line remains, in the words of our subway loving mayor, a Need to Have rather than a Nice to Have. Unlike say, the Scarborough subway extension?

A couple weeks ago in CityLab, this article headline appeared: “NYC Can’t Afford to Build the Second Avenue Subway, and It Can’t Afford Not To”. Read through the article and replace 2nd Avenue subway with DRL and Toronto and New York are pretty much having the same conversation right except for the fact, New York has at least started building their vital subway.

And yet, the Second Avenue line DRL has become a beacon for New York Toronto’s future and a symbol of the numerous challenges facing a global city that must, in light of massive costs and slow build-outs, expand its transit network to stay competitive. Ask anyone who has to ride the 4, 5, or 6 trains into Manhattan south of 60th Street Yonge Street line during a morning rush hour, and the need for a Second Avenue line DRL becomes clear. These trains aren’t just crowded, they’re packed to the gills. Very often, riders standing on a subway platform…have to let multiple trains go by before they can squeeze on board.

Even the cowering reaction by New York politicians to the enormity of building a needed subway has familiar echoes of leaders here in Toronto and at Queen’s Park.

As a knee-jerk reaction to the issues, leaders have begun to think small. They propose ferries, with ridership that tops a few hundred per day, as opposed to a few hundred thousand per day for a full-length Second Avenue subway. They urge bus rapid transit as a lower-cost option, without discussing how lower costs inevitably lead to lower capacity. Only subway lines can sustain New York’s projected growth, but New York can’t sustain multi-billion-dollar subway lines.

Ringing any bells? Ferries? Where did I hear about ferries recently?

“Thinking big — building more than 750 miles of track in five boroughs,” the CityLab article concludes, 2ndavenuesubway“made this city great, and to keep it great, New Yorkers will have to remember how to think big.”

And in Toronto’s case, ‘thinking big’ doesn’t just mean big projects like a subway. It means planning beyond simply local asks or demands, and looking at the proverbial bigger picture. The city in its entirety. The GTA region as a whole.

Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much of that from our elected officials. The non-political make-up of the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, has been hijacked for political purposes by the Liberal government. The only major mayoral candidate really talking serious nuts-and-bolts about transit so far in this campaign is David Soknacki, and he remains stuck in single digit numbers of voter preference.fullfinchbus

So we remain crammed onto subway and streetcars, buses and on the roads while the best possible solutions are picked clean to the bones by opportunistic and do-nothing politicians, driven by their own agendas and the tax-and-spend aversion that has gripped residents.

The end result is not at all surprising.

Allow me a metaphor to point how this all winds up, if indeed it is a metaphor. I’ll have to confirm it with Doug Ford and get back to you.

“Faulty towers: The hidden dangers of low condo maintenance fees” is the headline for a Globe and Mail real estate article back from 2011.

The lack of interest [in a condo unit up for sale] has nothing to do with market conditions, and everything to do with a 30-year history of indifference by the residents who were content to keep condo fees low at the expense of necessary maintenance.

Hmmm. Do go on, Mr. Ladurantaye.

“This is a coming crisis that nobody is talking about”, said Chris Jaglowitz, a lawyer who specializes in condo law for Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP and a member of the Condominium Managers of Ontario. “You have all of these older buildings, and someone needs to pay for long-neglected repairs. And many people won’t be able to cover their share.”

That’s because condo buildings are owned collectively by the residents, and all repair bills are shared equally. Condo boards are able to levy special assessments in addition to condo fees to pay for projects. But the boards are made up of residents, who are sometimes motivated to keep fees low. And they serve short terms, which means long-term planning is often difficult.

Not just condos, is my point here.

thinkbigInfrastructure, transit, the city as a whole, all left in a serious state of disrepair and neglect because we residents, to paraphrase the article, have been content to keep our taxes low at the expense of necessary maintenance and needed expansion to keep up with the continued growth of the population. We’ve come to expect easy (and cheap) solutions to complex (and expensive) problems, succeeding only in making the solutions more complex, more expensive.

But hey. Not on us. Not on our dime.

That’s how you get an infrastructure deficit. That’s how, years, decades later, we find ourselves precipitously and willfully under-served by even the most basic of the necessary amenities. Housing, roads, public transit, all inadequate in dealing with the ever increasing numbers of people choosing to live here.headinsand

That’s the legacy we’ve already passed on to our kids with little expectation it won’t be even worse for our grandchildren. Unless we choose to step up right now and say, enough is enough. It’s time to start accepting a little responsibility and stop clutching our pocket books and narrow self-interest and leaving future generations to make even tougher decisions.

buck stoppingly submitted by Cityslikr


Carefully Picking Sides

March 19, 2014

Earlier this year I attended a Ward 10 York Centre community town hall meeting hosted by Councillor James Pasternak. townhallIt was just pre-2014 city budget and post-ugly holiday season ice storm. Despite the timing, the atmosphere wasn’t hostile or toxic, at least, not initially.

Unsurprisingly, the hot topic was the storm clean-up which, like in many parts of the city, wasn’t happening quickly enough for most folks in the room. Even more than 3 weeks after the weather bomb, swaths of the local area remained unnavigable because of fallen and uncollected foliage. Some branches still hung dangerously from trees.

Transit, traffic and congestion ran a close second, however. While not evenly split certainly, there was a respectful representation from among the attendees of those asking thoughtful and reasonable questions about public transit. Frequency, capacity and route ideas were part of the discussion. These were offset, of course, by demands to widen Bathurst Street for another lane of cars or the possibility of opening a local cemetery road to make it a neighbourhood thoroughfare.

But things didn’t really get out and out zany until about hour three. No elected official should be expected to endure a 3 hour Q and A session. None of us are made of such hardy stuff. It’s too much. anymorequestionToo, too much.

A lady, who earlier in the evening had been gently subdued after her time at the microphone, waving a 3 year old issue of NOW magazine with a nearly nude Rob Ford Photoshopped on its cover, regained control of the floor and began reading from the provincial health act, I believe it was. I’m sure there was a reason for it but it slips my mind at the moment. Suffice to say, it was beyond the jurisdiction of Councillor Pasternak.

That just kicked open the door to crazy. Without the aid of the mic, a gentleman began berating the councillor, accusing him of hording TTC tokens before a fare increase. The man had been fairly aggressive in questioning Councillor Pasternak a couple hours prior but this was just flat out lunacy, as he ended up yelling at anybody approaching him until a poor young staff member of the community centre had to guide him to the exit. “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me or I’ll have you charged!!”

The meeting petered out after that. I felt compelled to approach the councillor to shake his hand and offer condolences of a sort. Before you run around slagging a city councillor, you really should go to a town hall meeting they hold, see what they have to put up with.

Besides, I personally, as a Ward 10 non-constituent, can think of far bigger issues to yell at Councillor Pasternak about than just making up nutty stuff like token hording.angrymob

Three things stand out for from his time at City Hall since 2010. None of them particularly good or inspiring.

One: re-opening (and opening again) the whole Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid marching at Pride hullaballo. Not only was the councillor on the wrong side of a free speech issue, city staff had firmly held that there was nothing hate speech-y involved in the expression and nothing wrong with the group participating in Pride, he helped provide cover for the homophobia the new mayor and the likes of Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti like to indulge in. Why do you want to defund Pride? Because QUAIA. Why won’t you march in the Pride parade? Because QUAIA (and other things).

Two: He possesses a remarkable tone deafness and ward-ccentric view of public transit. What about the North York Relief Line he asked again, just last week. Wondering why everyone running for mayor was stumping for the DRL. What about the North York Relief Line?

What about it, councillor? I don’t even know what it is. Oh right. Connecting the under-used Sheppard subway, from the Yonge Line west to the University-Spadina line. beatingadeadhorseNobody else thinks it’s necessary at this time, councillor. It’s a parochial distraction. Stop it.

And thirdly, Councillor Pasternak is awfully demanding of city services and programs while towing a fairly fiscal conservative line. By ‘fiscal conservative’, I mean Ford fiscal conservative. Keeping revenues down, low property taxes, eliminate other streams like the VRT, requesting a report for reducing the Land Transfer Tax, all the while not being averse to spending money, most times on very admirable and necessary items. The councillor recently expressed displeasure at possibly losing a priority designation for a neighbourhood in his ward in the proposed staff reshuffling of newly designated Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

You gotta pay for the things you want, Councillor Pasternak. A strong city isn’t built on the cheap.

I guess it’s going to depend on what residents of Ward 10 prioritize in the upcoming election that will determine Councillor Paternak’s political fate in October. He was in one of the tightest races in 2010 in an open ward to replace long time council member, pickasideofthefenceMike Feldman, winning by under 400 votes with less than 20% of the popular vote. Will voters see his name as a tax fighter or a protector of services and programs they want in their neighbourhoods?

A jaded eye might view the councillor as making sure all the bases were covered. You have to wonder if that’s spread him out too thinly, made him not enough of anything to really have made much of a lasting impression.

gruelly submitted by Cityslikr


Loyal To Whom? (Who? Whom?)

February 27, 2014

In the inevitable sitcom that will arise from the ashes of the 2010-14 term at City Hall, we’ll have Gordon Pinsent playing the rich, misanthropic suburban council with a taste for certain vices but an earthy ability to mouth catchy populist platitudes.sitcom Leah Pinsent will portray his wily and ruthless campaign manager/chief of staff who’s the only one her father (both on and off the set…I’m so meta) is truly afraid of, and who keeps the mayor on message if not always on the straight and narrow. Ron James is the shouty and long suffering, left wing east side city councillor, fighting a losing battle against the creeping gentrification of his working class ward. Peter Keleghan, the oleaginous senior city staffer with the silky savvy to tell his elected overseers exactly what they want to hear without saying a single thing that makes a lick of sense.

And in the role of the bumbling, know-nothing but generally amiable councillor with a propensity for nodding off during meetings, and who keeps getting returned to City Hall, election after election despite never making any sort of contribution there? Sean Cullen? Andy Jones?

Who’d you pick for your Councillor Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12 York-South Weston)?scorchedearth1

Because, let’s face it, the man’s a walking, talking, living, breathing sitcom character of a city councillor. Our very own Inspector Clouseau, making a hash of things up the ladder of municipal politics since 2000, and for 12 years before that as a North York city councillor, until he winds all the way up to the lofty position of budget chief. The budget chief, people. For a city of over 2.5 million. Frank Di Giorgio. Budget chief.

Granted, we have been experiencing a type of political event horizon for the past 4 years. Anything is possible, including a Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio scenario. It probably says more about the Ford administration, that all it had in its quiver after the resignation of the previous budget chief, the loathsome Mike Del Grande, was the not loathsome Frank Di Giorgio.

Still.

I say it again.

clouseauBudget Chief Frank Di Giorgio.

Undistinguished is how I would best summarize my perception of Frank Di Giorgio. Undistinguished with a passing note of incompetence. Again, as with all these profiles we’re doing, I have to admit that the man could be a crackerjack constituent councillor, doing a bang up job for his residents. After being in elected office for 25 of the last 28 years, he must be doing something other than just putting his name out there, right? Right, Ward 12?

I’d easily rate him up there in the top 3 of city councillors to ask questions of staff and their colleagues that elicit the most baffled of responses. I’m sorry, Councillor Di Giorgio. Could you repeat your answer? I didn’t quite understand what you were asking me.

There was that time, back during deputations for the 2012 budget when the councillor did his funky mash-up of social housing and ghettos. You know, poor people. Living together in one building. We all watched Good Times, didn’t we? It was funny but…at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather be The Jeffersons?

I’m sorry, Councillor Di Giorgio. I didn’t quite understand what you’re getting at.goodtimes

I don’t think of him as the malicious sort, like his predecessor in the budget chair, nor intentionally destructive. It’s more a question of being out of his depth. Why strive for anything more than keeping taxes low and the streets paved and plowed? Does it have to be more complicated than that?

I will give Councillor Frank Di Giorgio full marks for loyalty though. When tapped for the job of budget chief by the Fords, the man did his utmost to deliver what his bosses wanted, up to and beyond defying the laws of physics* and sound economic policy. Yeah, Mr. Mayor. We probably can push down that property tax hike a bit while still making room for money to build your Scarborough subway. Yeah, why not. Let’s see if we can trim that Land Transfer Tax, yet another source of revenue, just a hair. fiercelyloyalCouncillor Di Giorgio even went along for a bit of a joy ride on Mayor Ford’s budget day wild goose chase, tracking down millions of dollars in cuts nobody would even notice.

Cut $7 million from this year’s planned tree planting? Why not. Council’s general business and travel accounts? Who needs them. $2 million in program increases in the operating budget? Gone. Gone, gone, gonzo.

But perhaps Councillor Di Giorgio’s most important vote happened a couple months prior to this year’s budget.

Back in November, he was one of the few councillors that voted against stripping Mayor Ford of his procedural powers after the crack video scandal broke wide. The councillor didn’t even want the mayor to apologize for lying about the whole crack smoking business. Now, that’s loyalty, folks. Forgive and forget. Let’s just move on.

Such a display of loyalty earned Councillor Di Giorgio high props from Mayor Ford who named him one of the very few councillors, a handful really, that he thought worthy enough to be voted back on to council in this upcoming election. As the mayor’s made abundantly clear over the last few days, he doesn’t work with just anybody down there at City Hall. tickletickletickleIt takes a special breed to earn that kind of… respect, I’d guess you could call it, from someone who doesn’t make work friends easily.

So congratulations, Ward 12. Your long time councillor has dutifully earned himself an elite spot on Mayor Rob Ford’s thumbs-up roster, those who supported the mayor ‘when times were tough’. (Episode 2: Ford Nation). The few. The proud. The easily cowed.

Councillor Frank Di Giorgio. Certified member of the tattered remains of the once triumphant Team Ford.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

* Not actually defying the law of physics. Added purely for emphasis of the ludicrousness of the mayor’s budgetary expectations.


Another Chance To Get It Right

October 8, 2013

As difficult as it may be to imagine, given the… surreal? wacky? cartoonish? crazy1I’ve truly run out of adjectives to describe the performance of this current city council over the course of the last three years… this week’s meeting could well turn out to represent the… pinnacle? nadir? defining moment? of its entire term.

Check out Neville Park’s cheat sheet if you haven’t already for a most excellent and entertaining overview of what will be going on over the course of the next 3 or 4 days. As always, there’s a boat load of important matters to be dealt with including the appointment of the replacement for Doug Holyday as councillor for Ward 3. His letter to his former colleagues insisting they tap his choice of Peter Leon who was ignored last week by Etobicoke-York Community Council when they opted for Chris Stockwell should make that debate more intriguing than it really should be.

That item, of course, along with every other one on council’s agenda will be overshadowed once more by the topic of transit. backfromthedeadMore specifically the ongoing, drawn out, forever and forever until perpetuity fight over a Scarborough subway. The serial killer of our political scene that just cannot be dispatched.

Yep. It’s back. Just two short weeks ago it seemed like a sure thing too, resuscitated by an infusion of federal cash. But now, with a provincial short fall and the city manager laying out the barest minimum of property tax increases that will be needed for the city to pony up its piece of the funding pie (for a more realistic picture of what we could be paying to build the Scarborough subway, check out David Hains and Hamutal Dotan at Torontoist), not to mention its biggest booster in an ever steepening pot of brewing scandal, a slight pall has been cast over the subway celebrations.

The kicker is, after all the discussion we’ve had on the topic, the monotonous, endless back-and-forth since 2010, there’s still no rational, compelling reason to replace the proposed Scarborough LRT with a subway in either of its current alignments. youcanbeseriousThe case to do so has remained in its under-developed embryonic state.  An a priori argument, of sorts, stating a subway is the best option for Scarborough because, well, subways are the best. World class. First class.

It’s a heaping dose of head shake, bulging with a bloated sense of entitlement and misplaced resentment, encouraged mightily by excruciating political calculation at all three levels of government.

As Matt Elliott pointed out in his column yesterday, the cost of building this Scarborough subway is going to put an undue strain on the city’s budget for decades to come, threatening other programs and services as well as other transit infrastructure builds, many of them a much higher priority than a subway in Scarborough. Any member of city council who votes in favour of proceeding with this project is doing so out of nothing more than pure self-interest. They are signalling a willingness to jeopardize the city’s best interests for the sake of scoring cheap political points.

responsibilityjpg

That’s what this vote comes down to. It will define their term in office. Let’s be sure to judge them accordingly.

pleadingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Second Chance To Get It Right

October 4, 2013

Hey Toronto.

What do you say we kill this Scarborough subway nuttery once and for all? steakthroughtheheartWith city council meeting next week to consider the City Manager’s subway report it requested back in July, there seems to be a real opportunity to put a fucking nail in the coffin of this nonsense. A silver bullet through its already malfunctioning heart.

We can chalk the underground madness up to a giddy summer revelry. The heat and mint juleps got to our better judgement. Our collective fever’s now broken and we can come to our senses. A little bit self-conscious about our embarrassing outburst of irrationality but, hey, who hasn’t at least once followed a very bad idea down the rabbit hole?

“The purpose of this report,” city staff writes, “is to inform Council that the terms and conditions for supporting the McCowan Corridor Subway have been met crazyfromtheheatwith the exception of the $1.8 billion ($2010) commitment from the Province [italics mine].

“With the exception of”, in fact, negates the very claim that statement makes of all the terms and conditions for supporting city council’s preferred subway route in the McCowan corridor. Not all the funding from the two senior levels of government has been secured and, in an ideal world, that would automatically kill the subway plan and revert back to the LRT. There was a lot of chatter about the poison pill motions that were voted in favour of at the July council meeting that would ensure the city wouldn’t go ahead with building a subway without all the other money it asked for in place.

Taken at their word, a majority of council is obligated to vote against a Scarborough subway.

Yeah. My eye just popped a blood vessel writing that last sentence.

Even assuming that ain’t going to happen, the city manager’s table for the necessary property tax increases to pay for the city’s portion for the subway build, .5% in each of the next two years and .6% the year after that, dedicated solely to the Scarborough subway, should give many of the councillors pause.bestcasescenario

Let’s call those numbers a best case scenario. It doesn’t include cost overruns, interest rate increases, credit rating changes, capital maintenances, etc., etc., that the city would have to assume with a subway (that it wouldn’t with the LRT). We’ll refer to the city manager’s numbers as ‘for starters’.

Even if they were spot on, these property tax hikes will pressure not only other demands for revenue tools to build more necessary transit infrastructure throughout the GTA as part of the province’s Big Move but for the basic ongoing operations of the TTC and its capital budget for things like state of good repair. The TTC chair is already demanding more money for the transit system after years of a flat lined budget from the city and fare increases. In an atmosphere where voters are still only very reluctantly willing to consider new taxes and levies to go to enhanced transit infrastructure, saddling the public with property tax increases for a vanity project of dubious need seems counter-productive to the wider goal.

Never mind the kind of pressure this would put on the rest of the city budget. You start with a .5% property tax increase for the Scarborough subway, how much more will council be willing to stomach to help pay for other basic city services and capital outlays? takeastepbackGoing into an election year, it’s difficult to imagine many councillors signing up for the kind of bump needed in order to avoid cutting programs and other infrastructure needs.

And that’s what this is all about, all that it’s ever been about. Next year’s election. A handful of councillors have bought into the notion that being on the bad side of the Scarborough subway issue will imperil their political future. Fearful in the face of an angry Ford Nation, they’ve traded in common sense for a slab of red meat to feed their constituents. They’ve jeopardized the city’s transit planning prospects for nothing more than individual advantage.

But I truly believe they’ve miscalculated.

The biggest proponent for the Scarborough subway has put himself into an awkward position, re-election wise. Mayor Ford has held steadfast in his view folks can only afford a property tax increase of .25% and not one per cent more. Clearly, that’s well short of what’s needed. droppedtheball1So, he’s either going to have to get behind a tax increase he’s made a career of railing against or be a subway supporter in name only, unwilling to cough up the dough to make it happen.

While logic hasn’t always been the strongest suit of those supporting the mayor, I think there’s another factor his council colleagues need to consider going into next week’s transit debate. Just how potent a force is Mayor Ford going to be in 2014? With the news of his occasional driver and full time friend Sandro Lisi’s arrest Tuesday on drug related charges and today’s whammie about the police following the mayor’s movement with air surveillance, it’s increasingly impossible to see him remaining a viable candidate outside of his hardest of hardcore support.

So let’s move beyond the crass political calculations of this transit debate where one of the variables is the mayor and his Scarborough Deserves A Subway legion. In a letter to the city earlier this week, Metrolinx once again points out that the preferred option remains the Scarborough LRT. More stops providing better access to more people. No property tax increases to build it. No money burned in sunk costs. All costs overruns and other financial changes picked up by the province. Ready to go now and not 5 years down the road.

Andy Byford, the TTC CEO, has been very emphatic if diplomatic in pointing out that the next subway Toronto actually needs is a relief line, bereasonableproviding transit users in the north and east of the city (including, yes, Scarborough) a less congested route into the downtown core that by-passes the already at-capacity Yonge line. It could easily be called the Scarborough Relief Line. Here, Scarborough. There’s your subway.

A genuine do-over has presented itself to city council next week. An opportunity for councillors to re-right a previous mistake, made with the worst of intentions but under a lot of self-inflicted duress. That’s a situation that doesn’t happen very often in life. Let’s make the most of it and put this sad, sorry spectacle behind us.

 — hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 241 other followers