Transit Intransigence

October 30, 2015

Just a quick (here’s hoping) update on the post yesterday re the Brampton city council rejection of the north of Steeles section of the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT, and the ugly horrors the intrusion of parochial interests have on transit planning. columbo1(Still looking at you, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker).

I late linked to a more in-depth article about the Brampton debacle from Sean Marshall at Marshall’s Musings. If you didn’t catch it then, I advise you to do so now. Here’s a snippet.

The Hurontario-Main corridor was selected for LRT simply because it is one of the busiest transit corridors in the Greater Toronto Area outside the City of Toronto; it connects three GO lines and several major bus corridors, it would help urbanize south Brampton and several neighbourhoods in Mississauga. It’s part of a larger regional network, yet six city councillors in Brampton, looking out for narrow, local interests, sunk it.

Earlier in the post, Marshall points out that the line at its proposed southernmost terminus, at the Port Credit waterfront, had been snipped off in a similarly, if less dramatic fashion, due to what he called “community opposition”.

This brought to mind stories our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, told us about the obstacle that city faces in its transit plans, a place called Beverly Hills, swimming pools and movie stars. It is one of 88 municipalities in Los Angeles County, home to 35,000 of the county’s 10 million people, and yet it has the heft to be constantly throwing up road blocks to wider regional projects. Bike lanes? Forget it. Rush hour dedicated bus lanes? No way, José. As for a westward subway extension tunneled under Beverly Hills High? Ummmm…

Yikes!

What often times gets lost in the back-and-forth debate over transit planning and proposed projects, all the wonkery and nerd talk pushing it from polite conversation, is any discussion on class and race. The northern portion up into Brampton of the HMLRT was opposed by that city’s well-heeled living in big houses on Main Street. This group included former Ontario premier Bill Davis. monoclewearingTerms like ‘heritage preservation’ or ‘maintaining neighbourhood character’ get tossed around but it’s hard to avoid looking at the deeper context. Public transit is for other people.

Rarely do you hear those who depend on public transit — many, economically and socially marginalized — complain that the service is too close to where they live. That it negatively impacts the character of their street. That it threatens the heritage of their neighbourhood. How the overhead wires interfere with their view. Those kinds of concerns are for other people.

Equally, just how much say should we be giving to individual communities when it conflicts with wider objectives? Yeah, I’m talking about the greater good here. As Marshall writes in his post, the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT was chosen because it runs along “one of the busiest transit corridors” in the GTA and “connects three GO lines and several major bus corridors”. upyoursAnd it gets tossed aside because a handful of elected officials, listening to a handful of voices, albeit persuasive ones, don’t want it?

It’s a prickly situation, to be sure. I’m advocating for the railroading, so to speak, of local opinion because it’s acting as a detriment to a wider regional transportation plan for no other discernible reason aside from self-interest. But I’m at a loss how else you put the ‘we’ ahead of ‘me’ when it’s the emphasis on the latter that’s got us all bogged down in the first place.

classically submitted by Cityslikr


A Disturbing Reflection

October 29, 2015

I’ve been thinking about variations of the We Get the Politicians We Deserve quote over the past couple days and decided to run with H.L. Mencken’s version:

hlmencken

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

This comes in light of the Brampton city council’s decision a couple nights ago to reject a plan for an LRT connection, fully funded by the provincial government. Why? Well, I’ll let other people who’ve been following the proceedings much closer than I’ve been explain it. I’ll just sum it up in a word: change. No, wait. More words. Change, we don’t care for it.

It gets darker and somehow sillier still. brilliantideaTurns out the plan, after rejecting money from Queen’s Park, is to solicit cash from the new federal government to build an LRT more to the city’s liking (h/t Andray Domise). Just like that, as if there’s no sort of co-ordination of infrastructure building between Ottawa and the provinces. As if the federal government is simply going to hand over money to a proven capricious municipal government.

But presumably, the Brampton city council was simply doing the will of the people who elected it to office.

Similarly, here in Toronto, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker reflects the views of his constituents who’ve sent him to City Hall since 2003.

The good councillor was at it again yesterday during a TTC meeting, his fitness to serve on full display. madhatterAfter a staff presentation on the state of Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack, the councillor assured the room that this plan was just another name for the downtown relief line. It isn’t. Not by any measure. Not in a million years.

“… And people wonder why we elected Rob Ford,” Councillor De Baeremaeker said. Huh? Wait?Apparently, according to the councillor, in response to “Scarborough parts of Transit City being ‘lobbed off’”.

Correct me if I’m wrong here but it was Rob Ford who, on his first day of assuming the office of mayor, declared Transit City dead, effectively lobbying off the Scarborough parts along with it. So what the hell is Councillor De Baeremaeker talking about?

More to the point, here’s Councillor De Baeremaeker in 2012, Transit City supporter and especially the Scarborough parts of it.

And here’s Councillor De Baeremaeker just a couple years later, after having been scared by then Mayor Ford about his re-election prospects for his support of the Scarborough parts of Transit City.

Fact is, it was Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker who helped lob off the Scarborough parts of Transit City, long after Rob Ford was elected mayor. He’s somehow — and very conveniently, I might add – got cause and effect all mixed up.

But the nonsense didn’t simply end with that, however.

In a press scrum after the TTC meeting, responding to the commission’s decision to sue Bombardier for its failure to deliver new streetcars to Toronto as per its contractual obligations, the councillor spoke into the microphones about his feelings toward Bombardier. iloveyouto“I can’t repeat what we’d say in Scarborough…” What? Presumably, once you cross east of Victoria Park Ave, people use different, extremely local invective?

I should not be amazed but I still am that such parochial pandering works. It’s the political equivalent of a musician up on stage shouting I LOVE YOU, TOR-ON-TOE! in order to garner wild applause. Totally cheap and meaningless.

Yet, it does the trick, evidently. Glenn De Baeremaeker is a totally unremarkable politician with an undistinguished record in office who’s wrapped himself in a Captain Scarborough cape in order to seem relevant. Brampton city council rejects both a transit connection to the wider GTA region and the opportunity to redevelop its downtown core for no other reason than it being a break from past approaches.

And there doesn’t seem to be any consequences to those decisions.captainscarborough

So what does that say about us, the electorate?

We like our municipal politics local, extremely so? Politicians succeed by pandering to our worst, most myopic instincts? When push comes to shove, it’s being the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know. The status quo bias. In the case of Glenn De Baeremaeker, he’s conflated his own personal, political best interests with the best interests of his constituents and Scarborough as a whole.

Politics as comfort food. Don’t upset the apple cart. Don’t do anything to disturb the as is. No sudden moves. Placate our concerns and, above all else, don’t challenge our preconceptions.

We get the politicians and politics we deserve. Why would we expect them to act any differently if this is what we expect of them?

reflection

reflectingly submitted by Cityslikr


Why We Don’t Have Nice Things

September 1, 2015

Allow me, if you will, to make this a Rob Ford story, while he plays a cameo in it, the familiar part of “former Toronto mayor…allegedly smoking crack” basketball1(Allegedly? The man’s admitted it already!), there are, admittedly, much bigger, wider, deeper issues at play.

Courting controversy: Push for public basketball courts runs up against misguided fears,” is the last in a 4 part series in the Globe and Mail “examining support programs and services for lower-income residents in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon – the cities and towns of Peel Region more known for their affluent middle and upper classes than a growing population who live in poverty.” Once more we are faced with our “veiled racism”, as a young Tristen Mason generously sees it in the article, in continuing opposition to building and operating basketball courts throughout the GTA.

“Veiled racism”? What’s the kid talking about? What’s racist about opposing basketball courts?

Let me ask you this.

When I say, Fill in the blank in the following statement: basketballBasketball is a game played mostly by _______, what’s your first response?

Yeah. Exactly. And then follow that through with the usual equating of basketball to drugs and gangs and gun play. Like I said. Mr. Mason’s talk of ‘veiled racism’ is generous indeed.

Such sentiments are ham-fistedly stoked by local knuckleheads like longtime Ward 7 York West city councillor, Giorgio Mammoliti, who features prominently in Dakshana Bascaramurty’s piece. “We don’t welcome the concept, at all, of gang bangers…selling drugs on outdoor basketball courts,” he once said. Basketball courts, and all their yelling and screaming and fights and guns! Having changed one over to a place for ball hockey instead, I mean, what’s more Canadian white bread than ball hockey, Mammoliti claimed police told him crime dropped ‘dramatically’. Of course, the police claimed no such thing.

The councillor was at it again, late last municipal campaign where, probably not coincidentally one of his opponents, Keegan Henry-Mathieu, just so happened to be black. fanningtheflamesWhen Mammoliti was asked about his dim view of basketball courts, he pretty much replayed the dog whistle tune. “For one reason or another, [basketball hoops] seem to attract the wrong crowd outside. What I’ve heard loud and clear is that nobody is playing outdoor basketball any more, they seem to be selling drugs.”

That’s always a distinct possibility when you actively neglect a public space into dereliction.

Which brings me back to the subject of Rob Ford.

One of the dilapidated basketball courts that went untended and disregarded had originally been built with the proceeds from a foundation of one-time Toronto Raptor superstar, Vince Carter. The “Rolls-Royce of outdoor basketball courts,” the Globe and Mail called it. Now?

These days, the backboards are rusted. One rim has no net; the other is torn-up and ratty: like a once-voluminous coif thinned to a comb-over. Empty water bottles, McDonald’s cups and even an old 3.8-litre bleach container are scattered over the grass around the court. For a stretch, even the rims were taken down, effectively rendering the city-owned court useless.

Here’s the kicker.

Our friend over at Marshall’s Musings, Sean Marshall, pointed out that this one time ‘Rolls Royce of outdoor basketball courts’ is located right smack dab in Ward 2 Etobicoke North, fiefdom of the Ford clan, Rob-then Doug-then Rob again. basketball2Of course it is. Irony or poetic injustice demands it.

While serving as councillors/mayors, rarely was any opportunity passed up by the brothers Ford to squawk about private section participation in the running of the city. Want to build a subway? (And who doesn’t?) The private sector’ll pay for it. (Still waiting.) Want to host a splashy international event? (Don’t we all?) Corporate sponorship’ll foot the bill. (Honest.) Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. Blah, blah, blah.

Here we have a perfect example of such a model. The private sector, through a private donation, builds the ‘Rolls Royce of outdoor basketball courts’ for the city, serving it up on a platter for the Boys of Ward 2 to make political hay with, and what happens? They let it go to shit. “Nobody has done more for black people than me,” Rob Ford crowed during the 2010 mayoral race. And by ‘more’, obviously he meant more, as in, more to promote drugs, guns and violence through underfunding services and programs and undermining the marginalized community he’s represented, in one way or another, for more than a decade now.

This is the absolute and abysmal hollowness that forms the core of the Ford brand of fake populism. pretendpopulismTalk a big game about looking out for the little guy, assure them there are easy ways to serve their best interests and when the chips are down, when it comes to putting money where their mouths are? M.I.A.

Worse yet, go missing and then blame the failure on everybody else. Bloated and misdirected spending at City Hall. The suburbs never getting anything. Thugs that they don’t hug.

What we really ought to do is post signs around the abandoned basketball court, pointing out the reality of continuing to fall for the politics of the Fords. This basketball court, brought to you by Vince Carter. This basketball court, destroyed by Rob and Doug Ford.

suggestingly submitted by Cityslikr


Reading The Tea Leaves, Scientifically Speaking

June 7, 2015

garyowens

With the Gardiner east debate revealing city council to still be a place full of cut-rate representation, we sit down and talk with Marshall’s Musings‘ Sean Marshall to ask the burning question: What the hell went wrong in last year’s municipal election, Sean?

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Supercilious

May 14, 2015

In the back of my mind, I’ve always viewed the word ‘supercilious’ as onomatopoeic, sounding just like it means. Silly.twitoftheyear Shallow, nonsensical. Super silly. Really, really silly, shallow, nonsensical, childish in the extreme. Strap a diaper on that thing because I think it’s about to poop itself.

That’s incorrect, I know. And frankly, I think it’s a waste of a very good word. There are far, far better ones at our disposal that give meaning to the notion of arrogance or disdain or contemptuousness. In fact, I prefer those three even to supercilious. How about, lordly, imperious, uppish? You fucking toff.

When I watch our mayor in operation, I immediately think ‘supercilious’ but in my definition of it. He doesn’t project competence or a depth of understanding on any particular issue, just enough to string together a bunch of words on the topic at hand. Words and sentences that, when added up, seldom amount to much meaning of anything in particular.

Look at me, mommie! I’m mayor of Toronto! Stop being silly, Jonathon. Go wash up for dinner. Silly. Super silly.

Listening to Mayor Tory’s take on the Gardiner east removal/hybrid debate, and I’m all like, supercilious. The guy’s a mile wide and an inch deep. He actually has no ability to see more than 10 minutes ahead. toff1He cannot conceive of a future that isn’t almost exactly like the present which has changed little from the past.

Yes, he talks and talks of the challenges of change, the need to adapt but only based on immutable principles firmly anchored in a tradition, a tradition, not coincidentally, that favours people like John Tory.

John Tory cannot imagine a time when car drivers might be further inconvenienced for the sake of simply building and developing a less auto-centric city. It makes no impression upon him that it happened before, right here in Toronto, 15 years ago when another eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway was removed with little of the deleteriously overwrought fall out he’s now so concerned happening this time. This time. Never mind the evidence from other cities around the world that removed entire expressways and none burned to the ground because of it. This is Toronto. Things are different here.

At a Ryerson City Building Institute forum last night, Mayor Tory also came down against the idea of extending the municipal vote to permanent residents who live in the city. toff2“Tory said citizenship brings with it privileges and responsibilities and he has long advocated keeping voting as one of those privileges,” David Rider of the Toronto Star writes. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man, am I right?

When asked by the mayor of Ajax, Steve Parish, if permanent resident voting might help diversify a city council’s make up, our mayor shrugged, couldn’t see how. Teach `em how to get elected, Mayor Tory countered, teach `em how to fundraise. Money makes the world go around, am I right?

It is a view where the status quo can only be challenged by embracing the status quo even tighter. Besides, do you really want to challenge the status quo? It’s done perfectly right by John Tory. We just need to all be more like John Tory, united around a bulging rolodex.

So with the more pressing aspects of running the city left largely untouched (not to mention unchallenged), Mayor Tory busies himself with the appearance of being a serious agent of change, stumping for relaxed rules for food truck vending around the city and the taxi app, Uber. See? Who’s disruptive now? toffThis guy, that’s who.

Food trucks and taxi apps. The silly stuff. Supercilious.

But the truth is, I wouldn’t be far off the mark describing Mayor Tory with the correct usage of that word. He is proving himself to be contemptuous of facts that don’t coalesce with his very rigid view of the world, how they city should run. There’s a certain arrogance reflected in ignoring contrary evidence. His is the privileged disdain of change that could challenge the privileged position he is accustomed to, that he was born into, that he doesn’t believe exists because he can’t see it.

Yeah. Supercilious. Actually, I think it fits quite nicely.

down-to-earthly submitted by Cityslikr


How High Sir?

February 19, 2015

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 17 million times.

You want to fix City Hall? Start electing better city councillors. upthehillEasier said than done, for sure, given the disheartening results of last year’s municipal campaign. Thirty-seven of thirty-eight incumbents returned to office including one still under the cloud of a police investigation. Another, Frank Di Giorgio in Ward 12 York South Weston.

The councillor was on Metro Morning today along with another former budget chief, Shelley Carroll, to talk about the city’s need for more revenue, new revenue tools. “Do you think we need new taxes, Frank Di Giorgio?” asked the show’s host, Matt Galloway. Here’s how the councillor responded:

Not at this point. I think certainly, I think the one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor…

Say what?

That’s what’s important in the immediate future? City council needs to support the mayor? [Begins flipping frantically through the city’s Code of Conduct for Members of Council. Must support the mayor…Must support the mayor….] fealtyNope. Not seeing that stipulation.

Councillor Di Giorgio has been a local representative for almost 30 years now, at City Hall in amalgamated Toronto since 2000. This is the sum of all his civic wisdom. “I think one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor.”

If the councillor actually believes that — and he’s not alone in that way of thinking, sadly, in talking to a candidate during last year’s election who was running against another deadweight incumbent, I was told that a few years earlier in discussing with the councillor why he had voted a certain way, he was told that, You gotta support the boss — why bother with city council races in the first place? Just elect a mayor, be done with it. No messy debates to deal with, rubber stamp city council meetings, items all passed with a waxed red royal seal.

Parsing Councillor Di Giorgio’s go along to get along logic a little further, consider his 2014 re-election. At Marshall’s Musings, Sean Marshall has done fantastic work breaking down the numbers October’s election. waxsealA look at the results in Ward 12 shows that less than one in five voters there voted for John Tory. The councillor fared little better, garnering under 30% of the popular vote where just over 1300 ballots separated him from the 4th place challenger.

So, less than one in three voters gave Councillor Di Giorgio a mandate to unwaveringly support a mayor who fewer than one in five Ward 12 voters backed? It’s how first-past-the-post elections work, I get it, but it’s almost as if the councillor thinks we have some sort of presidential system at City Hall, though. The Big Guy wins. You fall in line behind the Big Guy.

Councillor Di Giorgio’s views on such ring-kissing fealty to the mayor also extends to city staff. As Jude MacDonald reminded me, back during the last administration when the councillor was still TTC commissioner and voted to fire then-CEO Gary Webster, he had his reasons. “Excellence in bureaucracy means the ability to perform tasks that are consistent with leaders of a corporation, the leaders of a city,” he declared. “It’s the ability to put forward positions that are consistent with positions adopted by the mayor.”

Your councillor for Ward 12 York South Weston, folks.  Frank Di Giorgio.

So, city councillors are elected to merely to serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Such passiveness from Di Giorgio extends to the city’s dealings with the province evidently. jumphighhowDuring the Metro Morning discussion, he said exploring the idea of more revenue tools will simply let the province off the hook for paying their share of stuff like social housing. They’ve already stopped paying, Councillor Carroll pointed out. That’s why the city’s scrambling to plug the hole in its operating budget. That’s why we need to a discussion about new revenues. It’s all on us now.

The councillor was having none of it. No need to rush. We already have revenue tools in the arsenal, like the Land Transfer Tax which is bringing in substantial amounts of money to the city coffers. Maybe we could milk some more from that cash cow. If not, the City of Toronto Act is coming up for renewal in a few years, 2018 or so. Let’s revisit this discussion then. In the meantime, don’t ‘undermine the mayor’s initiatives’ because that would be ‘dangerous’. Loose lips sink ships, I guess.

Councillors like Frank Di Giorgio are throwbacks to an era when municipalities were little more than wards of the province, where we were given the property tax to play with, to largely pay for local initiatives, roads, sewers, maybe a portion of public transit. A time when the province contributed substantially more to the overall operations of this city than it sees fit to now. As Councillor Carroll (as well as the city manager, Joe Pennachetti) pointed out, Toronto is a big boy now, closing in on 3 million people. asleeponthejobIt’s time we put on our big boy pants and realize we’ve been pushed out of the nest.

Provincial contributions to the well-being of this city will be grudging and probably when it is only politically advantageous for them to do so. We can act like two year-olds and hold our breath until we turn blue in the face in hopes of changing their attitude but, well, umm, I wouldn’t…hold my breath. But that’s what Mayor Tory has in mind, and loyal foot soldiers like Councillor Di Giorgio see it as his job to follow the mayor’s marching orders.

After all, that’s what he’s been doing for three decades now. That’s what he was elected to do.

at your servicely submitted by Cityslikr