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


Striking Out At Striking Committee

November 19, 2012

If anyone’s still patiently waiting for the Ford administration to get its shit together after two years at the helm, you only need to look at Friday’s events to realize that’s probably not ever going to happen. Either through sheer incompetence or simply not giving a fuck, the mayor and his… brain trust, let’s call them, seem content to simply fly by the seat of its collective pants and let the chips fall where they may. No direction. No design. No over-arching bigger picture.

No nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

As Mayor Ford took the stand to defend himself against a case of libel, his Striking Committee settled in to sort out councillor (re)assignments on council’s committees, boards and agencies for the second half of the term. How badly did it go? Well, the mayor did better in court than the Striking Committee did doing its work, and the mayor didn’t do very well. Following along with both events via the Twitter, it wouldn’t be out of line to call it all a two-pronged shit show.

Establishing councillor representation of the city’s ABCs goes a long way to determining how successfully mayors roll out their agenda. Deftly beating out the wrinkles in items and motions at the committee level smooths the ride out for them when they arrive at council meetings. Arguably, good, thorough work done at committees will help lessen the time and length of full council meetings.

Naturally, any mayor wants and should have a majority of like-minded councillors in control of the committees. At least the ones they view as important. (Take a peek at the proposed line-up of the Community Development and Recreation Committee to see what little interest the mayor has with those issues. If the committee gets too big for its britches, he can bury its motions at Executive or Budget Committees.) There has to be an upside to our semi-strong mayoral system. Committees shouldn’t be a quagmire for an administration, the places a mandate goes to die.

That said, committee make-up also needs to reflect the diversity and regional representation of Toronto. From the outset back in 2010, Mayor Ford has shrugged that obligation off, choosing instead to load up the committees he cares about with loyalty first and foremost. Nothing from Friday’s Striking Committee circus suggests he plans on anything different for the second half of his time in office.

His Executive Committee, nine of the thirteen members there “…by virtue of office or having been appointed by the Mayor as a Standing Committee Chair” and the remaining four selected as at-large members are all from the inner suburbs and only one isn’t male. Ditto the Budget Committee. Its six proposed members are all suburban and only one is female. If Councillor Mike Del Grande is re-named chair by the Executive Committee, the rigid and narrow gender, regional and ideological pattern will be reinforced.

Such flagrant disregard of even a semblance of bi-partisanship led to the Striking Committee meeting’s biggest flare up. According to tweets from the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat and Star’s David Rider, Councillor David Shiner appeared to have lost his cool with the proceedings and the mayor’s staff over moves to leave him on the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and remove Councillor Gord Perks.

“At striking committee where midterm council appointments being hashed out, [Councillor] Shiner is blowing his top,” tweeted Rider. “[Councillor] Shiner now very mad at Mayor Rob Ford’s office staff,” from Peat. Peat again, “”Your boss doesn’t consult, your boss works in a vacuum. The chief of staff doesn’t consult & guess what, you don’t win like that,” from Councillor Shiner. Summarizing, David Rider tweeted, “Backstory to Shiner flipout is he was angry that mayor’s staff want to take uber-knowledgable Cllr Perks off public works.”

So a noted conservative councillor, a regular ally of Mayor Ford (plastic bag ban aside) goes all snake (to paraphrase the mayor) on the mayor’s staff and the Striking Committee process because he feels that they’ve put politics ahead of good governance by moving to replace a qualified but ideologically opposed councillor on the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee with, let’s face it, nothing more than a major mayoral toady, Speaker Frances Nunziata.

And there’s poor Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday seemingly baffled by the kerfuffle.

“I would have thought someone would like the opportunity to serve on executive.” 

Why, when only the most blindly loyal need apply?

No, that’s not entirely true.

The blindly loyal, nakedly political and/or most highly delusional.

After musing out loud earlier this year about leaving the Executive Committee, Councillor Jaye Robinson will be back for another kick at the can. In replacing Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti as the chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, she will return to the Executive Committee, the lone female representative. Councillor Michelle Berardinetti has jumped ship, citing a desire to be free of “…intense vote-whipping pressure from Ford’s staff… on even minor issues.”

For her part, Councillor Robinson still believes she can be a “moderating influence” on the Executive Committee. Just like the committee’s newest member, Councillor Josh Colle. “My hope is that I can inject some reason and ration and new ideas into some of those [Executive Committee] discussions,” he said.  “I think I can contribute to that discussion and hopefully some refocusing.”

Well, good luck to them on that front, I say. Both have, at times, been the faces of moderating influence on the Ford Administration. Councillor Robinson led the pushback to the mayor and his brother’s wacky waterfront plans while Councillor Colle announced the proposal to eliminate some proposed cuts in last year’s operating budget. But I would argue that was done at council level where there are actual allies for them to count on.

The Executive Committee?

Aside from the occasional renegade in Councillor Shiner, there’s not a single face of moderation on the committee. Maybe councillors Ainslie, Milczyn or Thompson on particular issues but even then, that’s still a minority in the room. So why would either Colle or Robinson want to waste their time and energy trying to roll that rock up the hill?

If anything, the messy, partisan cock up at Friday’s Striking Committee session should only have emphasized to them that Team Ford remains in highly immoderate mode.

just sayingly submitted by Cityslikr


Is This A David Simon Project?

October 4, 2012

The Rob Ford Story was starting to play out like a classic Hollywood narrative.

Underdog outsider, derided by all the cool kids, defies the odds and becomes student council president mayor of Toronto. The heady heights go straight to his ego, hubris rising, he nearly throws it all away, forgetting where it was he came from and alienating all those who believed in him when nobody else did. He wallows in self-pity, mistakes piling on mistakes, looking very much like he’ll fall back into the little man obscurity he’d just escaped.

That part where Rocky, having achieved international fame after the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, has tapped him to be his next an opponent, slacks off, distracted by adoring fans and all the temptations of celebrity. Burgess Meredith is always yelling at him and makes him chase a chicken. I think that’s in Rocky, right? Maybe Rocky II. I just know it’s not the one with the Russian robot.

Redemption awaits.

Or as former campaign director and chief of staff, now unofficial Fordian gadfly, Nick Kouvalis exclaimed: Rob 2.0 He gets his shit together, bounds up the set of stairs and dances/shadow boxes triumphantly. Flying high now! Flying high now!

At the fall city council meeting, the first after his summer of deep discontent, Mayor Ford promises and delivers to beat back those angling to keep the Jarvis bike lanes, one of his early shows of power in Act One. “It’s what the people want,” the mayor pronounced, embracing the populism that got him elected. The foul weather now behind him, it was playing out like a blockbuster storybook tale. Eye of the Tiger and all that.

Except that there seemed to be some genre busting going on. It wasn’t really the mayor who trumped his adversaries on the bike lane issue but, instead, his diabolical evil henchman, Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He seemed to do all the heavy lifting while Mayor Ford basked in the accolades.

And then there was the addition of a mystery element.

Three middle of the road councillors inexplicably flip-flopped and swung the vote in the mayor’s favour. Why? As Matt Elliott pointed out yesterday, councillors Ana Bailão, Michelle Berardinetti and Josh Colle had all expressed their intention to keep the Jarvis bike lanes and had they all voted that way the result wouldn’t have been a 24-19 win for the mayor but a 22-21 loss. What happened?

Probably some horse trading. One of the amendments was to pay for the removal of the bike lanes not from the biking infrastructure budget as has been floated earlier. Some good ol’ tit for tat. But there was little other glaringly obvious swapping in evidence.

Surely none of these shifty three were still intimidated by the mayor or the power he didn’t really yield. Maybe back in the day when his power was absolute and they were greenhorn rookies. Not now. They were in control, the decision in their hands. Such capitulation seemed more than a bit baffling.

We had now entered Sidney Lumet territory.

Everybody but Mayor Ford, that is.

He continued on his rag-to-riches-to rags-to riches arc. With victory secured, redemption was now at hand. Reaching out to his enemies as represented by the downtown elitists at CBC, the mayor would admit to his own failings, how he’d learned from them and would now rise above the fray to secure his rightful place as the mayor of all people. Everyone hugs (or in the Bollywood DVD only version for increased global sales, dance and sing together), credits roll, The End.

But again, Mayor Ford went off script.

As John McGrath beautifully detailed at the Torontoist this feel good ending did not come to pass. The mayor blustered, made up facts and figures, disputed staff numbers, spouted platitudes and empty rhetoric. Basically reverted back to his desultory Act Two behaviour.

This is what happens when your script is written by committee.

Mayor Ford returned to council to slay the dragon of the much hated plastic bag ban but there was no deus ex machine in sight, the cavalry did not ride in over the hill. The mayor did not have the 30 votes needed to re-open the ban debate. It ended just like that. A whimper. Wait, what? It’s over? Where’s the twist? The surprise plan B that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat?

Worse still for Mayor Ford, he faded into the background, became a bit player. Yesterday’s news was not about him, not about his ignominious defeat but about the Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti-Gord Perks face off. City Hall Brawl, the Toronto Sun screamed.

Earlier in the day, before the plastic bag ban showdown, Councillor Mammoliti rose in chambers and harrumphed something about the Ombudsman’s Report that was to be debated later in the meeting being ‘politically motivated’. Chastised by council and told by Speaker Frances Nunziata to retract his statement and apologize. He refused, stomping from the council floor before being forced out, and up to the media gallery, the councillor continued his tirade in front of the cameras.

Enter our shaggy anti-hero, Councillor Perks. He gets all up in his colleagues face, demanding he apologize or leave the chambers. Back off, out my face. Get out. Stand back. Get out.

Conflict. The key ingredient of any good drama.

In what then appears as a reversal of fortune, Councillor Perks is forced to apologize for his outburst at council while Councillor Mammoliti issues a typical non-apology apology. The mayor’s foes have over-stepped and succeeded only in embarrassing themselves. They hand him the public opinion victory he could not secure himself.

Except the story’s not done yet.

It could be seen that our seemingly reckless anti-hero, Councillor Perks, tactically fell on his sword. In making his confrontation today’s headline, it left people wondering what the two councillors fighting about. What indeed? The Ombudsman’s Report damning the mayor’s office’s involvement in the civic appointments process.

As I sit writing this, I’m listening to city council’s debate over the report. No good can come of this for the mayor. It’s bad news about bad conduct and that’s what everyone’s going to be talking about. This council meeting, the first of what was supposed to be his comeback, will be remembered only for a report highlighting his failure of governance as mayor.

Hardly the Hollywood ending he needed. In fact, this isn’t a movie at all with its interminable requisite sequels. It’s a sprawling miniseries saga that continues to defy expectations. A cautionary tale where the hero does not triumph.

cinematically submitted by Cityslikr


Be Bold

July 5, 2012

It’s the only way to counteract the lethargy of ill-governance.

Boldness is a form of action not reaction. It steps into the void created by a lockdown of thought, a failure of nerve, an acceptance of some misbegotten notion of inevitability. Boldness requires courage.

What we are currently experiencing is the exact opposite. Ours is the Age of the Great Flinching. We flinch in the face of economic uncertainty. We flinch in the face of climate upheaval. We flinch in the face of societal reconfiguration.

We flinch, retreat, retract and call it conservatism.

I do not think that word means what self-described conservatives think it means.

It’s all a regression to the meanness of a previous era. Everyone for themselves. Winner takes all, losers work retail.

There are days when I’m unsure how we as a species ever managed to climb out of the primordial goo and start to evolve. It’s just so hard. I’m good here. Think I’ll just stay put where I am.

The path of least resistance.

So I think it hardly surprising that such an outpouring of interest was sparked by the announcement of One City last week. Hey! Look at that, would you? An idea, many ideas. A forward looking plan that poses substantial questions and tough challenges. Something we can actually sink our teeth into.

Now, much has been made of the plan already so I won’t add to the discussion except to say that, if nothing else, the proposal and the negative reaction to it on the part of the province and from some on council simply made them look tired and unwilling. Disinterested spouses at the tail end of a lifeless marriage. Don’t kick up a fuss. Think of the children.

But I do hope that unenthusiastic reaction does not dissuade other councillors who find themselves in similar positions of power at City Hall – not just in terms of committee chairs but with powers of persuasion – from observing what the TTC Chair and Vice-Chair and councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc actually accomplished. They activated an agenda. Rather than stand pat and let the chips fall where they may, a larger discussion was initiated. If you really want to talk transit, let’s really talk about transit.

I’m looking at the most unlikely of sources to take a flyer on an issue and make a big splash. Ward 43-Scarborough East councillor and Government Management Committee chair, Paul Ainslie. [Phee-ew. I was worried you were talking about Councillor Frank Di Giorgio for a minute there—ed.] Your time is now. Carpe diem.

Councillor Ainslie, you say? I’m not even sure I know which one he is. [Almost always but never quite ever holding the mayor’s hand—ed.] Are you sure you got the right councillor?

As chair of the Government Management Committee, Councillor Ainslie has the opportunity to bring about some important voting, ballot and citizen participatory reforms. He’s been a big supporter of Dave Meslin’s 4th Wall Project which is on display in the lobby of City Hall all next week with an opening reception at 6:30 Monday night. (July 9th). Earlier this year, Councillor Ainslie introduced numerous motions – ranging from using ranked ballots to using video for deputations – for further study.

But as anyone who’s followed voting reform initiatives knows, they can die a frustrating, quiet death by neglect. Those who’ve been elected to office in the traditional manner aren’t always prone to change a system that’s worked for them. Entrenched status quo is not the friend of change in any fashion.

In fact two reform motions actually passed city council unanimously recently, one to establish a working group to study the proposals and another calling for a staff report on a ranked ballot initiative. Yet somehow even these two innocuous seeming items never made it out of the meeting intact and were sent back to staff until October. The slow grinding wheel of change.

The thing is, though, civic awareness and participation has spiked here in Toronto during Mayor Ford’s term. People not only want to be engaged, they have realized the absolute necessity of getting engaged. While it may not be in the best interest of some politicians to have an increase in voter activism, those looking beyond their own self-interest know that it would be in the best interest of our local democracy.

So now, Councillor Paul Ainslie, it’s your time to shine. Use this summer interregnum and the mayor’s disinclination to actually lead as an opportunity to make the case for voter reform. Pull a Stintz, as they say, and step outside the mayor’s circle, that ever decreasing sphere of influence. You’ll have a wide and receptive audience. People want what you have to offer.

Be bold.

It’s this season’s colour.

humidly submitted by Urban Sophisticat