Less Is Not Always More

January 15, 2015

In today’s ‘how not to city council and still hold public office for over a decade’ news, I give you Ward 6 Lakeshore-Etobicoke councillor, Mark Grimes, first elected in 2003.

What am I looking at, you ask. Basically, Councillor Grimes putting forth a ‘technical amendment’ that states the builder of a condo development in the councillor’s ward will pony up $150,000 in Section 37 money to the community via the councillor. Section 37 money? A negotiated amount a developer agrees to pay in return for variances to their development. Variances? Essentially, aspects (usually increases) of the building that are not in accordance with city by-laws.  More stories, higher density. Bacceptlessuilding by-law indulgences, let’s call them, in which money is offered up to compensate for any negative consequences the variances might have on nearby communities.

In a nutshell.

So, on the surface, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about what Councillor Grimes is doing in the above video. Except for the fact, as the CBC report points out, what the ‘technical amendment’ the councillor successfully pushed through did was reduce the amount of Section 37 money the developer would pay from $250,000 to $150,000. No, it didn’t, the councillor told the CBC in an email response. “There was never an agreement reached with the applicant for $250,000 in Section 37 cash contribution,” the councillor wrote. “I recommended the $250,000 to try and negotiate the maximum benefit for the community.”

Again, except the CBC flags a final staff report sent to the Etobicoke York Community Council a month before the councillor’s city council ‘technical amendment’ that states, right there in black and white (page 11), expectless“It had been agreed by the owner that they will provide a cash contribution in the amount of $250,000 for local parks improvements as their Section 37 contribution.”

In essence, the local councillor (Mark Grimes in this case) has it in writing in a city staff report that the owner of a proposed development has agreed to pay $250,000 in Section 37 money but a month later introduces a ‘technical amendment’ reducing that contribution by $100,000.

Who does that?!

Let’s avoid going to the darkest corner of possibilities here. The potential shadiness of Section 37 transactions are always bubbling near the surface.  “A shakedown”, then-mayor Rob Ford once called Section 37 money.  While wildly off the mark (as Rob Ford tends to be about almost everything to do with governance), it’s difficult to fully justify the practice.followthebouncingball

Follow the bouncing ball. Developer wants to build something not allowed by current city planning by-laws. If the city doesn’t agree, the prospect of an OMB appeal going against it, granting the developer free rein, always hangs over the proceedings. So negotiations begin to arrive at some solution that makes nobody entirely happy but is something most can live with. Part of the deal making involves money, a payment to, as I wrote earlier, compensate for any negative consequences of the development might inflict on the community. Assuaging bitter feelings.

A far from perfect way of doing business, obviously, with plenty of open space for behind closed door unsavoriness. Moreover, it’s probably the least efficient or productive way to maximize the community benefits from such projects. Section 37 never provides enough money to ultimately offset the infrastructure stress these kinds of developments impose on communities like public transit. Instead, the city has to be content with building parks and green space, occasionally a library.spikeandchester

But it’s something. An unsatisfying solution to a highly problematic dynamic in terms of city building. The best councillors make the best of a bad situation. If there’s been any genuine claim of any sort of impropriety from a Toronto city councillor in terms of misusing Section 37, I don’t know of one. There’s no reason to think anything different with Councillor Grimes and this case of the disappearing $100,000.

The only conclusion I can arrive at, however, is hardly more heartening. “Councillor Grimes purpose at City Hall,” Luca De Franco tweeted in reaction to the CBC story, “as he sees it — aiding developers, even against the interests of Ward 6 residents.” That’s not corruption. It’s just willful disregard of the people who voted for you.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


A Tale Of 2 Community Councils

June 19, 2013

The downtown versus suburbs pissing match flared up again this week, ignited by the usual suspects, councillors Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti, pissingmatchover the redevelopment of a northern portion of St. Lawrence Market.

“When it comes to the downtown part of the city, it freaks me out,” Councillor Mammoliti spouted, “it freaks me out that everybody can find money to be able to do these things when the rest of us are told no.”

“We’re going out and we’re spending (a) disproportionate amount of money downtown all the time,” Councillor Ford mouthed. “Etobicoke North we get crumbs,” the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat quotes the councillor saying, “people out in Scarborough get crumbs.”

It’s a very easy political fight to pick. All appearances would back the councillors’ claims up. crumbsAttending the North York Community Council meeting yesterday, it was wrapped up before lunch. On its agenda were some 56 items, accompanied by about 10 deputations from the public.

This allowed for enough time to get back downtown to City Hall and take in the Toronto-East York Community Council meeting when it resumed after lunch. Its agenda included 128 items with over 20 deputations for one item alone. (For the record, the Scarborough Community Council meeting dealt with 37 items and the Etobicoke-York Community Council, which both councillors Ford and Mammoliti are part of, had 52 items before it.) If you’re counting along at home, the 3 suburban community councils had just 17 more items combined than their downtown counterpart.

Certainly the Toronto-East York Community Council represents significantly more of the city’s population than the other three, with just under 1/3 of the entire population of Toronto. And without question, it’s the area of town getting the lion’s share of the development, what with the business core within the boundaries while sitting on a good chunk of the waterfront. pieceofthepieThis is where a majority of the action’s at, baby.

But that somehow this translates into receiving a disproportionate piece of the total budget pie? The claim never really comes with any concrete proof or reliable sources. It’s cache comes purely through the repetitive chant not any actual facts.

We’ve written a few times about the study commissioned back in the day by Councillor Norm Kelly, Fair Share Scarborough. Ostensibly it set out to see if Scarborough was getting its fair share of city services under amalgamation. Turns out there was no solid proof Scarborough was either getting ripped off or making out like bandits in the situation. A wash, let’s call it.

Nothing since that study has surfaced to prove otherwise.

Yet that doesn’t stop the likes of Doug Ford or Giorgio Mammoliti (Councillor Frances Nunziata is also a avid proponent of the divisive tactic) from trying to make political hay out of it.

Oh, but what about all that Section 37 money the downtown gets and the suburbs see nothing of? The slush fund. The dirty bribe money. section37moneyWhy does it only go to the wards where the development is?

“Distribute the money equally to all the boroughs not just downtown all the time,” Councillor Ford demanded.

Fair’s fair, right? All for one and one for all, yeah? We’re all in this together.

Except for the development part of the equation.

Seems the likes of Councillor Ford is all for section 37 funds as long as the development that provides it goes elsewhere in the city.

Next time the councillor from Ward 2 Etobicoke whines about his share of section 37 funds ask him about Humbertown.

 “We’re all in consensus, we’re going to kill this thing.”

So spoke Councillor Ford at a public meeting about a proposed development in his neck of the woods.

It seems that you can suck and blow at the same time.crybabies

There are many residents of this city who can rightfully claim that they are being left out of the politics, the planning, the development of Toronto. Their claim is legitimate. But politicians like Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti are simply piggybacking on that grievance, attempting to leverage it for political gain. They’re looking for others to do the heavy-lifting of governance and city-building while they just squawk away noisily in their little corners of the city.

submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayoral Shakedown

November 30, 2012

There was a moment during the recess. A recess called by Deputy Speaker John Parker after Mayor Rob Ford lost his shit. Vintage Rob Ford losing his shit. angrybirdLosing his shit like we had not seen since he was Councillor Rob Ford.

The matter in hand was about parking. A proposed development in Councillor Adam Vaughan’s ward was going ahead without the amount of parking spaces the mayor deemed appropriate. Parking spaces the developer didn’t want to build.

The mayor thought it inconceivable anyone would want to live somewhere they had to take the streetcar to and from. Or bike in the winter. It was just another project Councillor Vaughan was trying to sneak through under cover of the dying moments of the third day of council meeting.

Heated words. A time out called. Both sides retired to their respective corners.

In that moment of recess, Rob Ford looked very contented. Unfazed by the fact he’d just got walloped in a previous vote over another proposed development in Councillor Vaughan’s ward that the city planning staff was not yet entirely on board with.alrightmrdemille Another item he’d lost his shit over.

But clearly, losing a vote hardly mattered to the mayor. Losing his shit was the whole point. He needed the clip, the sound bite, the TV moment. “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Throughout the three days of this council meeting, Mayor Ford had been absent, both physically and.. what? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? He’d checked out. Yet he hung around yesterday long after the higher profile items and motions had been dealt with. Long after his presence had been required. He wasn’t engaged so much as he was lurking.

“A shakedown! A shakedown of developers!” he bellowed on the first item he’d held for no apparent reason other than the opportunity to bellow ‘Shakedown!’ Under questioning, it was revealed he knew absolutely nothing about the development. He hadn’t talked with staff. He hadn’t attended community council meetings on the issue. He most certainly hadn’t consulted with Councillor Vaughan about the development.

He only knew that a million dollars in Section 37 money had been ponied up during the modification period between plans and that city staff still weren’t entirely ready to sign off on the project. hohumThat the gears for an OMB appeal had been set in motion and the city faced not only losing the Section 37 money but also the possibility of seeing an earlier version of the development nobody wanted didn’t factor into his thinking a bit. The mayor never uttered the words ‘corruption’ or ‘skulduggery’. ‘Shakedown’ was going to have to do.

Of course, under pressure, he retracted the statement. There must be limits even he has to going to court to defend his indefensible claims. But his purpose had been served. He’s Rob Ford, dammit! Listen to him roar! The base’ll love it.

Or at least that must have been his thinking.

The fact that the likes of Councillor Frank Di Giorgio saw through the ruse should set some alarm bells off for the dwindling ranks of Ford Nation. As any regular reader here knows, we’re no friend of Councillor Di Giorgio. He is often an object of ridicule for us. But during the insane hullabaloo the mayor triggered, the councillor made his way over to the planning staff, had a conversation with them and came back to make a speech in favour of Councillor Vaughan’s item. He even waved off Councillor Peter Milczyn’s placating motion of deferral. During the vote, with the mayor hissing at him and making menacing faces, Councillor Di Giorgio stood his ground and voted against the mayor.

He saw what we all saw.

Mayor Ford is unprincipled. Mayor Ford doesn’t give a shit about good governance. Mayor Ford doesn’t give a shit about good planning. Mayor Ford doesn’t give a flying fuck about the unwieldy oversight the Ontario Municipal Board possesses on development in this city. Mayor Ford doesn’t fucking respect the taxpayers.runforyourlife

Mayor Ford only cares about the Ford brand.

That’s what this whole unseemly set-to was about. Reasserting the maverick mayor. The lone wolf. Captain Shouty. Admiral Bluster.

Red-faced populism masking a deep seated contempt of democracy.

The mayor had reached back into that reserve in the hopes of reviving his Everyman image in the eyes of those still wanting to believe that’s who he was. It’s all he’s got. He seemed satisfied with his performance, perhaps even emboldened that once again he’d come out, drubbed, on the losing end of a council vote. He’d summoned the black magic that had worked so miraculously before, counting on enough people being fooled a second time to save him from the more ignoble fate that is slowly taking shape and waiting in those dark clouds off in the horizon.

still reelingly submitted by Cityslikr


Suck And Blow

November 1, 2012

Tuesday’s hours’ long debate on the Toronto Community Housing Corp.’s report – Putting People First – represents a microcosm of the political division this city faces. An overwhelmingly daunting capital expenditure To Do list. One side says sell as much of the operation off as you need to pay for the expenses (and in so doing, conveniently reduce the size of government). The other views it not as some zero sum equation, an impermeable circle of set dollars that can only change in a downward direction. Let’s call that the more than one way to skin a cat camp.

That a compromise solution was achieved, a partial sell off, much, much less than the real deficit hawks were eyeing, is moderately good news. But make no mistake, once the sale of 55 TCHC homes is done, there will be less housing in this city where some 80,000 families sit on a waiting list. That cup is still half empty.

This is an act of civic cannabilization, just as cutting TTC service in order to use the savings to pay down the capital costs of buying new streetcars is. Without talk of increasing revenues, this conversation is simply travelling along a one way street. Make Do With Less Boulevard. It’s all in the mayor and other right wingers’ favour. The rate of reduction may be slower than they want but it’s certainly up their slash and burn alley. (Yeah, I couldn’t resist).

While it’s only and always been just about attacking the role of government in the functioning of the city, the argument made out loud is inevitability. It’s always about inevitability. Queen’s Park downloaded this file on us without the financial resources to keep things running properly. It’s been ages since the federal government expressed any interest in social housing. The city’s left holding the bag. There’s only so much we can do. So stop being poor if you want a reasonable roof over your head at a reasonable price.

That some of the argument is true makes it sound convincing. The senior levels of government have walked away from the issue, leaving cities to cover for them. But by following their lead – and selling off housing stock is walking away, no matter where the proceeds go – the situation can only get worse.

There’s only so much we can do.

Ummm, well, we could talk about raising revenue. You know, that other side of the economic equation the mayor and his flock of right wing supporters never want to talk about. Except to say, “We’re up to our eyeballs in taxes!” Or, how about a downtown casino? That’ll pay for everything. And the latest gambit they’re rolling out in order to evade an honest discussion about taxes is to demand a redistribution of Section 37 wealth from wards that see a lot of those funds to those that don’t.

In brief, Section 37 funds “permits the City to authorize increases in permitted height and/or density through the zoning bylaw in return for community benefits…” So developments outside zoning bylaws cough up cash to help mitigate any negative effective they might cause to the surrounding neighbourhood. Such money might be used to build a park, playground community centre.

Wards with a lot of that type of development have access to more Section 37 funds than those that don’t. Some of the have not councillors have noticed this discrepancy and want to even things up a bit. Now, I’m not going to get into the arguments for or against this sentiment except to say it’s not as easy as all that since, among other complications, provincial legislation becomes involved. A bid on Tuesday by Councillor Michelle Berardinetti to have 10% of Section 37 funds put in a pool to go toward the TCHC repair backlog got rightfully shot down.

What I do find interesting though is that some councillors (cough, cough.. Giorgio Mammoliti.. cough, cough) are all for this type of equalization payment, let’s call it, but would go red in the face and his head explode to hear talk of property tax increases. Unsurprisingly he has the stones to call Councillor Adam Vaughan who is flush with Section 37 funds the “$51 Million Man” and a hypocrite for not supporting a pooling of this resource (which is not true anyway). It seems collectivism is fine and dandy as long as it doesn’t involve any socialist talk of increasing taxes.

This bid by some councillors on the right to lay claim to Section 37 money to help fix TCHC housing is nothing less than a tacit admission new revenues are needed for the city coffers. Evidently Toronto does have a revenue problem despite Mayor Ford’s campaign mantra. By refusing to honestly face that fact by keeping any discussion of reasonable tax increases off the table, it’s hardly surprising budget cuts and city owned property fire sales are presented as our only viable option.

But that’s not inevitability. It’s a conscious choice.

predictably submitted by Cityslikr


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