Wilshire

January 31, 2016

Where I am in west Los Angeles, there are 5 arterial east-west (more or less) thoroughfares within a quickish bike ride or a lengthier walk. lawestsideWilshire Boulevard above, Santa Monica, Olympic, Pico and Venice boulevards below. All are 6 to 8 lanes wide, give or take, depending on parking restrictions and turning lanes. The stretch of the Santa Monica Boulevard I’m thinking about here, in fact, has a service road running along the side of it, access for numerous residential side streets.

While all 5 boulevards have very distinctly different vibes, the one common thing they share is speed. These are fast roads, with very few “natural” breaks in car traffic. The posted speed limit signs I’ve seen put it at 35 miles per hour. That’s 56 kilometre an hour metric and frankly, my sense so far, standing at the side of these roads, wondering if I have to retreat the one or two country blocks to the closest traffic light in order to cross the street, the speed limits aren’t rigorously or regularly enforced. To the naked eye of a very vulnerable pedestrian, many of these cars and trucks zipping by are moving at low-end freeways speeds, 10, 15 miles over the limit.

In other words, these aren’t places you want to spend much time if you’re not behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. wilshireblvdBased on how quickly drivers race along these roads, it’s obvious no one wants to linger very long. The design is to keep people moving. Nothing to see here.

Which is what they were designed to do, these types of automobile boulevards. You can imagine as the city mushroomed west to the coast, these roads being constructed to facilitate hasty flight from the interior to the real California dream of sunsets, beach, the ocean. Corridors between communities, as writers much more knowledgeable about the city than I am, have referred to them.

All fine. That was/is the intent. The limits of those designs are now certainly being tested.

But I stood on the sidewalks of these roads and wondered to myself, Why bother? Why waste money on the cement to lay these down when clearly pedestrians really aren’t that welcome? wilshireblvd1Any sort of non-driving along much of this terrain seems like an unwanted imposition. You could put in more parking spots instead, maybe widen the road for another lane of car traffic because, as we know, that always speeds things up.

A couple of these streets, Santa Monica and Venice, have, interestingly, painted out some bike lanes and sharrows in a nod to the city’s surprisingly embryonic cycling scene. Welcome, cyclists. Share our roads.

Now, in Toronto, I consider myself something of a brazen cyclist. Not courier brazen but I generally ride with little fear for my life. I helmet up and proceed under the assumption I will get from point A to point B alive.wilshireblvd2

On my first outing here in Los Angeles this week, I quickly realized I wasn’t at all prepared to share the road with vehicles travelling at excessive speeds, fleeing up on to sidewalks, against every instinct in my body except for that survival one. Not that there wasn’t lots of room for me to do so. What’s that joke about suburban bike lanes? They’re called sidewalks.

As a pedestrian or cyclist, in this epicentre of car-centricity, you might concede the main thoroughfares to vehicular traffic. What’s done is done, and it’s going to take a lot more than painted bike lanes or a sidewalk café to realign the transportation hierarchy here. Leave the seismic shifts to the geological realm. (I will abandon the earthquake references in due time.)speedingfact

The problem with speed, as I’m experiencing it so far in Los Angeles, is that it spills over. Drivers don’t suddenly become law-abiding when they turn off onto residential streets. In this neck of the woods on the westside, north and south of Wilshire, the neighbourhood roads are quite wide, allowing for ample parking and increased speeds. So you don’t go out for a leisurely walk or bike ride. You are constantly on guard, on your toes. Drivers seem surprised to encounter you standing at the crosswalk, ready to interrupt their customary rolling stop.

Making my way from the beach ride at Venice the other day, heading for an off-road path taking me inland to Culver City, I cut in from the bike lane on Washington Boulevard for what I thought to be a more leisurely glide through Marina Del Rey. Imagine my surprise to find curving roads past condos, apartment buildings, hotels and restaurants with a 40 mile per hour speed limit. 64 fucking kilometres an hour! No bike lanes. speedkillsSidewalks inaccessible due to construction.

It was my mistake. There was a bike path that I missed by deking off the main road early and didn’t find until a few minutes later but it did give me the opportunity to wonder why on earth the speed limit was so high on this road. People lived here. Tourists came to stay, to eat. The water was right there with boats floating in it. What was the fucking rush?

A deliberate strategy to keep people from (ma)lingering? If you have business here, tend to it. Then, on your way. Nothing to see here.

Remember that scene in The Big Lebowski (not promising I’ll let go of those references any time soon), when the Dude is picked up in Malibu, carless? He’s unceremoniously sent packing in a cab, after taking a coffee mug to the head thrown by the police chief, and told never to show his face in Malibu again. Without a car, you’re immediately suspect.deathrace2000

Perhaps, I’m reading too much into it, searching too hard for some anti-socialness in it all. But I’m going to revel, at least for a while, in the irony of the possibility that this thing, the automobile, the great leveller and democratizer, the vehicle of freedom, can also be used to exert a certain community exclusivity. You don’t need gates to keep people out. Just vehicles, travelling at lethal speeds, to serve up your unwelcome notice.

speedily submitted by Cityslikr


Pacific Standard Time

January 27, 2016

So here’s how it happened.

I was at my doctor’s, checking in for my annual checking up. To see what condition my condition was in. (I am of that age, yes.) sayahhEverything but my attitude came out just fine.

“You have the heart of a 57 year-old man,” my MD informed me.

“But I’m only 54.”

“A very healthy 57 year-old man,” the doc said, as if somehow… Never mind. That’s beside the point of this particular story.

Like I said, I was not feeling particularly ebullient at this juncture. It could be just a case of the post-holiday, January blues, my doctor suggested. “SAD, maybe.” He told me to seek out some light, shine it on the darkness.

“The days are getting longer.”

While I felt comfortable leaving my physical health in this man’s hands, I was less inclined to adhere to his mental health diagnosis. I knew the January blahs. feelingblueI’d never been prone to the deeper seasonal affective disorder, and wasn’t entirely sure why I might be now.

No. This was different. I didn’t feel sad or depressed or down in the dumps. I was just angry. Anger mixed with an occasional dose of despair. Angrair. Despry.

“What on earth do you have to be angry about?” my doctor asked me. “You’re a healthy, middle-aged man with no family history of prostate cancer. You know how many people would be ecstatic about that prognosis? Get your angry ass out of my office.” A little too dismissive, I thought as I headed down the hallway toward the receptionist’s desk to make an appointment for my next physical a year from now. But not entirely without merit.

I have very little to be angry about, let alone despair. Aside from all that creeping mortality business that begins to make a serious appearance when your life’s well more than half over. I know, I know. 55 is the new 25 and all that. That’s what the kid’s are saying these days, isn’t it?

Still. You do reach an age when you always think before getting down to shovel the snow from the walk, angryWill this be my last shovel of snow? Dying with your winter boots on.

That said, in my medical opinion, this wasn’t really about my impending death. It had more to do, in my humble opinion, with what I was doing with my dwindling time here on earth. Pounding your head ceaselessly against a wall doesn’t feel like a productive use of your time. I’m not sure it ever did. It’s just started to feel especially useless at this point in my life.

And let’s face, that’s what I’ve been doing, have been doing for at least a year now here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. When the Ford’s were defeated back in October 2014, I imagined myself stepping back from the fray, the political side of things, to concentrate on the stuff that really interested me. The nuts and bolts of building a better, fairer, more sustainable city. Lots of the nerdy, geeky stuff I didn’t know enough about but wanted to learn in more detail.

Obviously, that’s not what happened. While I never entertained the highest of hopes in John Tory, I never thought he’d flounder as much as he has. angry1Competent if not inspirational or reform-minded, I’d hoped, for no other reason than hoping for less would be too soul crushing to imagine.

Maybe he has turned a corner with his recent conversion on the public transit file. Maybe not. Maybe competency is possible! I don’t know and, frankly, it just makes me angry and despairing more than a little that that’s the straw I’m left clutching at. Maybe our mayor may just be less worse than he was shaping up to be.

Huzzah and hurrah!

Angrair. Despry.

Which brings me to the point of all of this, if you’re still following along.beverlyhillbillies

LA, CA. Los Angeles, California. Swimming pools and movie stars. That’s the place I ought to be.

Until April, at any rate. Until the snow begins to retreat. Until it’s baseball season again

It’s an enforced step back that I could not execute under close proximity. A little breathing space. Some distance.

Now, there’s a little history between Los Angeles and me. This ain’t my first… a-hem, a-hem… Rodeo… Drive. LA and I go back some.

Back to the early-90s, when I had dreams of being a big time sitcom writer. (Don’t believe everything you read in the About section of any blog. Hell, you might not want to believe anything I’m writing right now.) laxI had my Home Improvement and Murphy Brown spec scripts tucked under my arm, and made my way south and westward to find the kind of fame and fortune that is so lavishly heaped upon screenwriters. Swimming pools, movie stars.

The early-90s turned out to be an interesting time to live in Los Angeles. Fires, floods, riots, lurid celebrity murders, surreal police car chases and trials, earthquakes. Did I miss anything? A “string of disruptions and upheavals, both natural and civil,” as David L. Ulin, who moved to LA from the east about the same time as I had, describes it in his recent book, Sidewalking.

With my career plans not panning out like I’d hoped and the city I was pursuing them in feeling more and more like Old Testament times, I decided to cut and run back home to Toronto, never to return but twice. sidewalkingIn 1995 to pitch a sitcom pilot to the Seinfeld production company, Castle Rock, the closest I would come to a full on sitcom career, and not again for nearly 20 years, a couple years back, on nothing more than an extended long weekend visit.

A funny thing happened in those ensuing two decades. I had begun writing about city and urban issues, albeit one city in particular but not without some wider overlap, and Los Angeles, for its part, had started taking on some of those same urban issues. When I left the city in the fall of 1994, there was one light rail line and a 5 station stubway, largely serving downtown LA. Outside of that, it was buses operated by a litany of municipalities that make up Los Angeles County. It was generally acknowledged that to live in LA, you drove in LA.

Today, the city has two subway lines, consisting of 22 stations and 4 light rail lines serving nearly 70 stations with further expansion right around the corner. It’s pushing dedicated bus lanes in other under-served areas. In the kingdom of the private automobile, the last two mayors of Los Angeles have seemed serious about pursuing mobility alternatives to the car.

During that same time span, Toronto has what? Built a stubway of its own after having buried a previous project already underway. Converted a couple streetcar lines into their own ROWs without any other sort of traffic priority. californiadreamingThere’s another subway extension in progress and only a couple years from completion. The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is still 4 years away.

And plans for more. Plans, lots of plans. Always with the plans.

You see what I’m talking about here?

We need a little break, me and Toronto. A trial separation. If you can’t say anything good, then maybe don’t say anything at all. Shut it down and open up space for other, more constructive, voices to speak up and be heard.

Settle in for a spell, down here in Southern California. Take in how another city is attempting to deal with the 21st-century. Don’t get caught up in the politics of it all. Just observe and report. californiadreaming1What’s working. What’s not. Why and why not.

Maybe try to learn a thing or two instead of driving myself and everyone else crazy with the know-it-all pose. Stop being so angry and try to embrace the whole mellow thing. At least for a couple months. A little change of perspective might go a long way to brightening my outlook when I get back home.

dreamingly submitted by Cityslikr


Stumbling Toward Progress

January 22, 2016

Wow!

And what a week it was.whirlwind

Under the steady, competent and business-like stewardship of John Tory, this kind of wild ride at City Hall was supposed to be a thing of the past. Granted, not your garden variety, crack-fueled, more-than-enough-to-eat-at-home sort of melodrama we’ve previously witnessed. Purely political, up and down the daily calendar. But still.

It all began with a fairly standard bit of annual budgeting that’s happened for the past few years. Ix-nay he-tay alk-tay bout-ay ew-na evenue-ray. Pilfer reserve funds. Continue to squeeze a little harder on the stone in the hopes of getting blood this time around. Circle three times, click you heels twice. Declare the budget balanced in the fairest, most reasonable, prudent manner possible.

Then it started to rain staff reports and the going got crazy.

SmartTrack. Redrawn options for the Gardiner East hybrid. The Scarborough subway extension. New numbers and projections. countNew configurations. New realities. New respect for expert staff advice, depending on the project, of course. Proposed compromises that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the original plans. Fewer subways. More LRTs. More developable waterfront land. Tighter turn radii.

Somewhere in the midst of all that doubling and tripling back mayhem, the man who should be chief of police leveled a broadside against his organization, demanding fundamental reform of the way it goes about its policing business. He then went silent or was silenced. The head of the Police Services Association responded with a public pout. The former reform-minded chair of the Police Services Board filed a complaint against the actual chief of police and the Police Services Board for not clarifying statements the police chief made during a year end interview questioning the accuracy of statements the former TPSB chair made about implementation of proposed reforms. joustingWe then learned the police were deploying some 50 combat ready assault rifles for front line officers as tools of de-escalation and in no way was militarizing policing in the city.

Mayor Tory deemed it all to be reasonable. Nothing to be alarmed at. As you were.

You could look at all this and conclude that it was simply the result of an industrious administration dealing with the inevitable array of issues that come from governing a growing and busy metropolis. Shit happens, am I right? Roll up your sleeves and get down into the goo. This city isn’t going to run itself.

But it doesn’t feel like that at all to me. At week’s end, it kind of feels like a reckoning. Bills have come due and need to be paid.

The mayor’s refusal to have a serious discussion about proper revenue streams, holding tight onto his campaign promise of keeping property tax rate hikes to at or below the rate of inflation, continues to hamstring the city for yet another year in dealing with a wall of serious fiscal matters, both on the capital and operating sides of the ledger. madscrambleIt’s even more ridiculous in light of how he’s backtracked on other hare-brained campaign promises, mostly revolving around public transit. He’s insisting on putting off a tax and spend conversation that will only get more difficult the closer we get to another election.

On the policing front, the mayor took his spot on the board rather than designate a council colleague in his place. So he was right there, hands on, to change the culture both on the board and in the services itself. A shot at serious reform, which he keeps talking about, within reach. A new, forward thinking chief waiting in the wings, reports and recommendations for implementation of change on the table in front of him.

But he blinked, retreated, embraced the status quo. More business as usual.

Where there is some brightness, some hope for more positive outcomes is on transit, a file the mayor, and as a candidate before that, made even more problematic and difficult to negotiate, layering on additional fanciful talk and plans in his bid for the job. headlesschickenBut he’s backtracked on SmartTrack. He’s rethought his once adamant support of the Scarborough subway extension. Having joined the crowd in politicizing transit planning, he’s now attempted to hand it back, tattered and somewhat worse for wear, to those who actually know a thing or two about transit planning.

The retreat comes with some potentially good results. The city could end up with an Eglinton Crosstown running from Pearson airport right through to the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto. We might build fewer subways in Scarborough and more LRTs. So much new transit could be in the offing that we as a city will have no choice to not only talk about new revenue sources but to actually implement some in order to help pay for and operate it.

This comes, unsurprisingly, with a whole boatload of caveats. The new SmartTrack mock up is still so dependent on unknown variables like capacity and fare pricing as to remain highly theoretical, and yet, is something of a linchpin for the new proposed Scarborough subway alignment to work properly. chaseyourowntailIs $2 billion (or more) for one subway station too steep a price to pay to try and ensure a non-fractious majority of city council buy in? All the delays and false starts have pushed timelines further and further down the road, past upcoming elections cycles, leaving most of today’s proposed projects susceptible to future political interference, still just lines on a map.

Unlike the budget process and the policing news, however, I don’t see this week’s transit resets as steps back or no steps taken at all. At least in the light of recent transit upheavals in Toronto, what’s occurred over the past few days is something akin to progress. If not forward momentum, let’s call it forward motion.

It shouldn’t have to be this fucking hard, and I will not absolve Mayor Tory of any blame for contributing to the ongoing difficulty. fingerscrossed1If he had’ve met the parochial chest-beating of the Ford’s head on, and not derided and sneered at his opponents who did so, none of this would’ve been necessary. We wouldn’t have lost so much time and money while he and his team pretended SmartTrack was actually a thing, that the Scarborough subway had any legitimacy whatsoever.

But, there it is, and here we are.

Try as I might to wrap this up on an optimistic note, I can’t bring myself to do it unless you consider It’s Not All Bad News upbeat. In the flurry that was this week, there may be some cause to be hopeful. Maybe. When it could be worse is not good enough, it will have to do.

Open ended. That’s all I’ve got.

unfinishedly submitted by Cityslikr


Physics Lesson

January 19, 2016

Think budgeting in this city has evolved under John Tory, out and up from the morass of political sloganeering and accounting sorcery of the Ford administration? clownsinavolkswagenThink again, mes amis. Here’s a pre-masticated chunk for you to chew on.

In the rate supported solid waste budget already approved in December by city council, there was a savings of a little over $2 million with the elimination of the city rebate for those XL garbage bins some households have. You know, the ones the size of a fucking Volkswagen. A family of 7 clowns could comfortably live inside one. City staff thought maybe we shouldn’t be subsidizing people to throw away a lot of garbage that costs all of us to haul away and store in landfills especially since it seems that those with XL garbage cans recycle and green bin their organics less than others.

Council agreed. But now, with a submission to committee yesterday, the budget chair, Councillor Gary Crawford (presumably with Mayor Tory’s blessing) headscratcherwants that $2.23 million XL garbage bin rebate “reinstated”. This, while they’re raiding reserve funds, demanding $5 million more from the TTC and not funding about 60% of the promises and pledges council and the mayor have made. The budget chair wants to remove $2.23 million from the proposed operating budget back to rebate XL garbage bin users. (h/t to Matt Elliott for explaining the nuanced dance of rate and tax supported budgets.)

Maybe it’s simply being used as a bargaining chip, to be given up during the horse-trading that’s going to only intensify between now and mid-February when city council finalizes this budget. Still. It seems impossibly, I don’t know, short-sighted and… dumb. There’s not a word in my arsenal I can summon to describe it.

I get that XL garbage bins are used in multiunit residences, like rooming houses for example. Surely though, we have the technology to determine between those and single family homes using this type of receptacle, and can adjust the rebates accordingly. Because, right now, in 2016, there’s no way single families shouldn’t be paying full cost for the use of XL garbage bins. None. Zip. aimlesslyForget about it.

It’s a tiny, tiny matter in the bigger $11 billion picture of the 2016 budget for sure but it just epitomizes for me the amorphous direction of this administration, two budgets into its term now. Keeping taxes low is the only touchstone, exactly like the Ford years, with big promises of improvements to our quality of life but woefully short on the follow through. Outside of that (and keeping talk of new sources of revenue at bay), anything goes. Just meet that property tax rate increase cap, and it’s all good.

Actually, what it feels like, and forgive me the sports analogy here, is a baseball manager’s long, deliberate walk from the dugout toward the mound, taking his time to make sure the bullpen arms are good and ready to jump in and offer immediate relief. Mayor Tory’s stalling, waiting, hoping for money to start flowing in to the city’s coffers from senior levels of government, fullclosetespecially the feds who seem itching to start spreading infrastructure money around in order to help out the teetering economy. If he can just string things out a little bit longer, keep things duct taped together for one more budget cycle, until the cavalry arrives…

That would be welcome, of course, and long overdue. But it isn’t realistic to think either Queen’s Park or Ottawa is going to fill our every need, is it? Should they? Yes, they should be redirecting money back to cities on things municipalities should never have been paying for off of the property tax base in the first place including affordable housing and a transit system that provides a regional service. Arguably though, we aren’t even properly funding the things we should be paying for, like parks, planning and libraries, off the top of my head, forcing ourselves to make hard choices about need-to-have versus nice-to-haves through our collective refusal to reach a little deeper into our own pockets.

John Tory promised to bring a more clear-headed, rational, reasonable way of doing things to City Hall. We gave him a mulligan on his first budget, as we tend to do to most new mayors, as they are inheriting somebody else’s work in progress, let’s call it.bulldurham Second time around, however, we’re expecting a little more ownership, a sense of purpose, a manifestation of a mandate.

What’s on offer right now from Team Tory is a black hole, sucking the operation of this city into it. A patchwork of cuts here, additions there, amounting to little more than numbers summing up to zero for no other seeming purpose than because they have to. Governance entropy, waiting, fingers crossed, for an injection of life and energy from somewhere out there in the cosmos.

nonevently submitted by Cityslikr


Keeping Up With The Joneses

January 18, 2016

It’s odd to wake up on a Monday morning, read through your local news and information and realize there’s a lot of change in the air. goodnewseveryoneDeputy Chief Peter Sloly suggests a complete overhaul of our approach to policing. Former city council candidate and Better Budget TO co-founder Alex Mazer raises the possibility of some ‘fiscal honesty’. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has plans on completely re-imagining King Street from Dufferin all the way east to River.

Oh my. I think I just gave myself a case of the dizzies. So much… possibilities!

This comes after a weekend of occasional contemplation on what seems to be the inevitable strategic retreat by Mayor Tory on his heavily touted (by he and his team, at least) SmartTrack transit plan. On Friday stories began to emerge about scaling back and spending less on it. The always dubious ‘western spur’ dropped and replaced (Fingers Crossed!) by the westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown to the airport. The eastern branch north of the Kennedy subway station quietly binned. stepbackLeaving some sort of expanded GO train-like service tracing the much more desirable Relief Line route, the slightest impression acknowledging SmartTrack even once existed as a concept.

I wondered what the campaign architects of SmartTrack were thinking now. Was this pretty much how the saw things happening? They knew, along with a solid majority of everybody else, that the plan was wholly unworkable. Just get their guy elected, go through the motions, not to mention millions, pretending he was serious about building SmartTrack. When it hit smack dab into the wall of reality, revealed to be the sham it was, stitching together a couple good ideas into an ill-fitting and grotesquely expensive cloth, walk it back, on the advice of the experts that weren’t, apparently, available during the 10 month long campaign.lipstickonapig

SmartTrack was an election scheme in no way meant to refute the heavy-rail, off-road transit vision of John Tory’s main rival for the job, Rob-then-Doug Ford. That’s why it was referred to as ‘Surface Subway’. That’s why John Tory backed the Scarborough subway. John Tory refused to confront the political pandering that sat deep in the heart of the Ford approach to transit planning. Instead, he chose to wrestle it into his own image.

So, I look at today’s news, the transformative opportunities, and temper my immediate enthusiasm. Just how willing is John Tory, essentially, to buck the status quo, to grapple with the ghost of the Ford administration? Little so far would indicate his willingness to do so. Every restoration of TTC service he announces is more than equaled by expedited expressway repairs, Gardiner hybrids and traffic flow announcements. Do we really expect him to stand strong in the face of the inevitable outrage at the chief planner’s plans to de-emphasis car travel along King Street and in the downtown core?

Fiscal honesty? I write this as I’m following along with the budget chief’s lunchtime presser. “We did not have to use revenue tools on this budget,” Councillor Crawford told reporters. putalidonit1All the while keeping property tax rate increases impossibly low, raiding reserve funds and insisting on line-by-lines cuts to office supplies and travel costs in order to try and plug the inevitable holes in the operating budget. Sound familiar? It should. That’s what’s been passing as ‘fiscal honesty’ at City Hall for the past 5 years or so.

And as mayor, John Tory sits on the Police Services Board that passed over the opportunity to appoint reformer Peter Sloly as Chief of Police, all the while holding the door open for the similarly reform-minded chair, Alok Mukherjee, to make an early exit. He’s already had the chance to help affect much needed change and dropped the ball. Well into his second year in office, it’s difficult not to see Mayor Tory as anything but an obstacle, no less than his predecessor.

Of course, it’s hard to look forward when you’re constantly checking back over your shoulder to see what your competition’s up to. Ultimately, it’s of cold comfort that John Tory defeated Doug Ford to become mayor if, in the end, there’s little to differentiate between the two in matters of policy. kipMaintaining the status quo is maintaining the status quo even if you can’t see the gold chain around somebody’s neck.

If John Tory really wants to establish an enduring legacy during his time in office, he could do so by challenging the Ford city building and governance mystique head on, bury it six feet under the ground where it belongs. The possibilities in doing so are in evidence in today’s news. But, for me, the mayor’s motivations remain opaque. Like with SmartTrack, he seems more intent on a simple redesign, keeping a uninterrupted message, only delivered by a different messenger.

not anticipatingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Faces Of A Thousand Tiny Cuts

January 16, 2016

Want to see what years (decades even) of a relentless, tightfisted, penny-pinching, nickel-and-diming assault on a so-called ‘soft service’ looks like? Take 20 minutes of your day and watch this.

(h/t to Juliann Garisto and Women in Toronto Politics for alerting me to the presence of this video.)

angrily submitted by Cityslikr


Lost In A Forest Full Of Trees

January 15, 2016

It has come to my attention that, perhaps, I have lost perspective on Mayor John Tory. forestforthetreesAfter reading a couple news items on the 2016 budget process and an upcoming SmartTrack report last night and this morning, I let fly with some intemperate Twitter remarks that weren’t particularly well thought out. In my defence, they only contained one swear word in the lot of them.

“Tory hopes to balance Toronto budget by funding less than half of new commitments,” was the headline in a Metro article by Jessica Smith Cross.

My initial reaction?

Indignation, of course.

How hard is it to balance a budget when you decide to fund only 40% of the commitments, promises and pledges that you and your council colleagues have made? blowmylidYou know that thing we all thought was a really good idea? Well, we still think it’s a good idea but I’m not prepared to pay for it. But props to us for thinking it’s a good idea, right?

It’s about picking priorities, came one response to my outburst. That’s pretty much what every budget is about. That’s what City Manager Peter Wallace put before the budget committee with an unbalanced budget of at least $67 million in unfunded council requests and implementations. The mayor and city council have to choose their priorities. Mayor Tory’s simply choosing his.

“John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan for Toronto getting smaller, cheaper,” was the headline in Oliver Moore’s Globe and Mail article this morning.

My initial reaction?

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Millions of dollars on a report that essentially confirms what every critic of SmartTrack thought from the time it was released as a headline grabbing, yellingatcloudsill-thought out plan back during the 2014 campaign. My head exploded, and I fired off some of my own headline grabbing, ill-thought opinions, undercutting possible benefits in the report for Scarborough transit users and overplaying the mayor’s embrace of the report. “The issues you reference are still being studied and staff have not yet provided recommendations,” Amanda Galbraith, Mayor Tory’s spokesperson, told the Globe.

So, there’s plenty of time still for the mayor to ignore expert advice and stubbornly insist on doing SmartTrack his way. It was unfair of me to respond in a way that suggested he’d accepted the findings in this new report yet. If he does, it will be a better SmartTrack project, probably, at least the “new” western spur which would become, essentially, a Transit City proposal from way back when. At least, it can’t be worse than the SmartTrack he used to get elected.

Maybe they have a point. (Except for the ‘love nonetheless’ business. It’s an established fact that Tim Falconer detests me for my youth and rugged good looks.) Maybe I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Better, if not good, policy should always be preferred to bad policy. humbledIt’s amazing to me that I actually find myself writing such a sentence. And the politics of budgeting has always been about trade-offs and prioritizing. None of this is anything John Tory has ushered onto the scene.

I guess the source of my frustration and resentment is that while it’s a political landscape John Tory inherited, he’s chosen instead to navigate it rather than challenge it. In the post-Ford scorched earth environment of low-taxes-at-any-cost and non-reality based transit plans, Mayor Tory has played along. Prioritizing that unfunded $67 million in the budget is a whole lot harder because he’s refused to entertain reasonable discussions about property tax rates and other revenue tools. We’re piecemealing together a more acceptable transit approach not because of Mayor Tory’s reasonableness but because, for nearly two years now, he’s also been playing along with his predecessor’s unrealistic belief that transit comes for free and shouldn’t interfere with our ability to drive around the city.

Is that an improvement? Maybe. I’m not entirely convinced, though. What Toronto needs right now is an injection of pure, unadulterated aspiration and methods necessary to achieve that. What we’re getting from Mayor Tory is a placebo.

It might work. There’s scientific evidence suggesting such a positive effect can happen. drinkingaloneAfter 4 years of backsliding on almost every conceivable front, any step forward, no matter how small or circuitous, should be seen as progress. Dampen your expectations and things look a lot less bleak. Always remember. It could be worse, in two words: RobDoug Ford.

I just have to learn that, when drowning my sorrows in a self-pity binge of What Could Bes, my booze filled glass is half full not half empty.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr