A Section 37 Set-To

October 12, 2012

I hesitatingly wade into the cold and murky waters of Section 37 fees, knowing that almost immediately I will be out of my depth.

But hey! If the Toronto Sun can do it, why not me?

Much has been made recently in the pages of our little tabloid that could about… how did they put it?… ‘the wild west’, ‘shakedowns’, ‘legalized extortion’, ‘bribery’ and ‘… getting away with murder forever’!

Holy cow. It sounds like Tammany fucking Hall down there. Dirty politicians with their greasy, grafty hands, reaching into developers’ pockets to pay for their personal yachts and country estates. Corrupt Ward Bosses.

Or, as many devoted Sunshiners would say: Councillor Adam Vaughan.

Make no mistake, the Toronto Sun’s new found civic activism has less to do with improving the quality of life in this city than it does on zeroing its sights on a potential 2014 rival for their beloved and beleaguered mayor. Councillor Vaughan is knee deep in section 37 funds, his ward 20 in the midst of a development and intensification boom. And of course, Mayor Ford stands vigorously opposed to Section 37 money. “I’ve never liked Section 37 (funds),” the mayor said yesterday. Except when he does. Back in 2010 as a councillor, Ford used $75,000 in Section 37 money to build change rooms at – you pretty much guessed it already – Don Bosco High School.

But look, I’m not here to exchange tits-for-tats or defend Councillor Vaughan. As written, the guidelines on the protocol of Section 37 funds – intended to mitigate the downsides of permitting taller development with higher density than bylaws allow — are both much more thorough than the Sun and critics would have you believe and more open to interpretation than some defenders might care to admit. Although, evidence of nefariousness in the use of the funds or the building of political pet projects is in scant supply in the accusations hurled at Section 37 practitioners.

Still, should the system be examined and other options explored? Sure. “It’s fair to say the process needs to become more clear and it ought to be administered by city staff,” said Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. “In part, because city staff are not in a conflict of interest when administering it.” (Again, I’d like to see more concrete examples of conflict of interest than simply theoretical possibilities.) Ms. Keesmaat also believes that Section 37 funds could go to city wide infrastructure needs. Not long ago, I was talking to a councillor staffer from a left-leaning, heavy development ward who suggested spreading Section 37 funds more equitably city wide might help in easing downtown-suburban tensions.

Fair enough, I say.

Let’s talk about all that.

While we’re at it, however, I’d like to ask suburbanites and those representing them at City Hall what they’re prepared to give up in return. It seems to me to be all a little one-sided at the moment. Bulk up all you want, downtown wards, Willowdale, Scarborough Centre, Mimico. But share the proceeds with us. A casino would be a great source of jobs and revenue. Put it downtown where we don’t have to deal with any of the negative aspects of it.

It’s almost like, parts of Toronto adapt to being a big 21st-century city, divy up the benefits of doing so with the other parts that just want to remain as is. Give us money from your densification. Accommodate our single rider car travel. Give us subways. Don’t you dare try to impose on our single family, detached homes and cul de sac communities.

“It’s about equity and fairness,” Councillor Mike Del Grande said. (And I’m trying to stifle a derisive snort here.) “This money should improve all of Toronto.”

Absolutely, councillor. But as you might say yourself, shouldn’t improvement start at home? This tilt he’s undertaken smacks a little of the ‘widow and orphan’ syndrome he brushed aside during previous budget cycles. Demanding something for nothing.

I’m all for spreading the wealth. For this city to prosper, it has to prosper for everyone. That can only happen, however, when every part of the city contributes to its evolution from 6 bickering municipalities to a unified whole at the centre of a global metropolitan region. It’s a willingness that has been in short supply from some quarters, who seem more intent on exploiting the inequities for political reasons rather than addressing them for the greater good.

brokeringly submitted by Cityslikr