Notes from the Rafters: 20 July, 2020

Council is chafing in the muggy summer heat. Not a few councillors and/or mayors and deputy mayors sounded fed up with the rules of council and each other.

It was finally a ‘long hot summer’ vibe around Town today, and Council was chafing. Not a few councillors and/or mayors and deputy mayors sounded fed up with the rules of council and each other. Council has heated disagreements on the regular (though mostly polite these days), but this is the first time I’ve seen this “new” council all sounding like they wanted to kick a laptop. 

In the spirit of irritation, they were back to a virtual meeting and there were myriad technical difficulties. Like a bad short film at a local festival, the poor audio was the worst part. Everyone kept getting muted while speaking and also everyone kept not muting their mics while not speaking. Finally, Mayor Dan announced he simply would not mute his mic as it would not come back on after each mute. So a good portion of the meeting was indecipherable as each noise was echoed with a half second lag from the mayor’s mic as he watched it go down. Well, each noise but his own. For a pretty non-imperious mayor this was the biggest power move I’ve seen. And it wasn’t even on purpose.

So, the rage of the council (which I very much enjoy assuming was triggered entirely by the temperature being over 20 with a slight breeze) came to a head around some budget deferrals which had been discussed at The Committee of the Whole (COTW) last week. 

Battle of the Bike Plan

The new park in Danny-land [a.k.a. Galway] is approved in theory, but funding for it from the Parks and Open Spaces Committee is deferred until at least 2021.

Indeed, which park-ish things will be funded and which deferred (in this the year of our unexpectedly-scarce-city-revenue) was the MAJOR issue of the day. 

Here are the main “expenditures” on the deferral block:

  • Galway Green
  • Bowring Park Observation Decks
  • McNiven Place to Dureness St Trail Connection (Deputy Mayor O’Leary hearts this one)
  • Kelly’s Brook Multi-Use Trail Project (Part of the Bike Master Plan… this one is the thorn in the underwear)

Here is why: there is money in the Parks and Open Spaces Reserve (POSR). Right now there is (I believe) 3 million dollars. When the POSR gets yea high ($3 million), anything over that can be used by the city for general capital funding. Everyone on council agrees that the city is going to need general capital funding money over the next few years. The POSR is funded by development fees, which may not be pouring in for a while. 

All council agrees that some parks-stuff should be deferred to try to maintain the reserve high. They do not agree on what should be deferred. They all have their pet projects. But the main difference seems to be between those who think the whole list in question should be deferred, and those who think that the Bike Master Plan (BMP) should get special treatment. 

Of those who want the whole list deferred, Deputy Mayor O’Leary went out of her way—way, way, way out of her way—to emphasize that she was sacrificing her special pet trail project for the sake of the budget, only because deferring everything could really help. But, if they were talking about saving just one project, she would have fought harder for hers and it isn’t fair. Or that was the gist. Or not. Don’t consider that a quote. (It was not the most coherent passionate defence of a thing.) But, let us remember, it was pleasantly warm today and there were tech difficulties, so no one was on their A-game. 

So: the council had already deferred these particular park capital projects last month until they could check out the state of the POSR. Now they looked poised to do the final deferment of spending, but Cllr Lane moved to take Kelly’s Brook Trail off the list (i.e. defer deferring Kelly’s Brook Trail). The Kelly’s Brook Multi-use trail would run from Columbus Drive to King’s Bridge Road. He explained that some of the money for the BMP that they hoped was coming from the feds may be flowing again soon. He thought the council should find out about that money before voting on that particular project.

Cllr Lane also said the council should make it clear that they actually support the BMP. Which they have always done (on opposite days). Cllr Lane had had enough. This was his “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” moment. He has been mastering and engaging that BMP for years and has been teased (by me, and now I feel a little bad) and multiple councils have paid lip-service to it on-and-off but mostly made it seem like they were giving him a toy to play with so they could have their adult table talk. And this city is still not much more bike-able today than 10 years ago. 

Cllr Burton (via twitter) and others explained how they see the BMP as an investment into the economy. It could mean the difference for a family being able to work without owning a car, or only owning 1 car. If it is more affordable to live here, families will stay here, and our tax base will not collapse.

Now, according to council rules, you cannot debate on a motion to defer. But no one was playing by the rules today. It was a Zoom chamber of outlaws. All hell broke loose, and by “hell” I mean a schism consisting of Cllr Korab and Cllr Hanlon who threatened to immediately leave the meeting in a hissy fit of not quite understanding how the meeting worked and rebelling against the thing they thought had happened (but wasn’t exactly happening).

Once Mayor Dan finally got staff to clarify that waiting on the Kelly’s Brook part would not invalidate their larger vote to defer capital expenditures from a few weeks ago, things were marginally more calm. But Korab had gotten in his say and can never take back that “some councillors” don’t give “other councillors”  a “chance to debate.” It is not like there are a million councillors. Cllr Korab could just name names [i.e. Cllr Lane].

Then the vote happened really fast and it carried 6 to 5, but no one had a chance to see who voted for/against before the screen disappeared. Cllr Lane asked that the votes be read out. Staff said “yes” but it would take a minute. Then it just never happened. Or it did happen later, possibly, but during more technical difficulties.

Now we wait a few weeks to see if the feds give us money. Then they will vote again on whether to defer the Kelly’s Brook Trail or not. If you are letting out a big sigh right about now, remember, this is what council is for, to do things like this, save a little money one year, try to drag our city into the current century—transportation-infrastructure-wise—another. So let’s turn that sigh into a “[inhale] yup” at the very least and get together to watch them earn their keep again in 2 weeks.

Hickman’s Vision of the City

A large-ish office park is proposed for 25 Sea Rose Avenue. Council approved a change to the property from Commercial Regional Zone to Commercial Office so it could be taller. Airport Authority is tentatively on board with some considerations. There is still time for public comment.

This was interesting because Cllr Hickman opposed it on the grounds that “… for a large office building to be built away from downtown is concerning to [him].” Deputy Mayor O’Leary concurred. This put his votes in favour of the Big Yellow Box atop Atlantic Place in better context. He said this new project was “beyond [the] scale for a suburban office building.” He rued that it would not be downtown “to keep people working and living [there].” Which makes it more clear what his vision of downtown is: a thriving metropolis of city things. Which is fine, but since everyone seems to look at the same “downtown” and see completely different things (shiny tall things vs old tiny smoll things) it is good to get succinct glimpses into councillors downtown visions. Also their visions of the suburbs. His sounds like neat concentric rings getting less dense and less tall moving outward. 

Cllr Stapleton gave us her practical, ward-specific vision when she said she was in favour of the development because filling large office parks may bring more businesses into Stavanger Drive, which she reminded everyone had been a little echo-y lately. 

In Conclusion

The Guv’nor Pub is getting a Patio Deck for outdoor dining along Elizabeth Avenue. The Great St. John’s Patio Summer of 2020 plugs along.

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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