In which we highlight key items from the month’s city council meeting, and let you know how you can follow along.
It’s the biggest test of John Tory’s mayoralty, and the future of the east Gardiner hangs in the balance. Only six months into his term, the mayor faces the prospect of losing a major vote on which he expended a large amount of political capital. There’s a good chance he’ll pull it out and his preferred choice for the Gardiner will remain, but the fact that it’s this close must be a worrying sign for his team.
We looked at this and other items on June’s city council agenda.
The Future of the East Gardiner
We should have a pretty good idea of what the future of the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis will be at the end of this week.
Council will be debating whether to remove or rebuild the east end of the 51-year-old highway when they look at the environmental assessment proposals in the item. After going through the public works and infrastructure committee in mid-May without recommendation, council will make a decision on whether to remove the east end of the Gardiner or to go with the “hybrid model.” Removal would see the construction of a University Avenue–style, eight-lane boulevard in its place, which would cost less, create more jobs, and open up more land for economic development. The so-called hybrid, which is a different proposal from the hybrid discussed during the campaign, would rebuild the elevated highway that runs east of Jarvis to Logan Avenue, with additional off-ramps. The so-called hybrid option would see travel times in the morning rush hour increase by two to three minutes less than removal.
Mayor John Tory and Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) are the leading proponents of the hybrid option, but it seems the vote will be close when it is held. In the May 13 meeting, the public works and infrastructure committee made several recommendations on the subject and requested some additional information from City staff as well, but ultimately chose to defer any sort of decision to city council. A Mainstreet Technologies poll revealed that a majority of citizens prefer the boulevard option.
The hybrid option would cost $919 million (more than the City’s contribution towards the Scarborough subway), while a teardown and redevelopment would cost about $461 million.
New Developer Signage
Toronto is getting new signage for development proposals!
Although it seems like such a minor thing, this is really helpful, and the new signs are visually appealing while being easy to read and understand. That’s really nice, because the old signs were neither of those things.
City planning took advice from the public, including consultation with design professionals, art school students, and regular old citizens to learn exactly what people should see in a sign announcing proposed changes to their neighbourhoods.
For starters, the new ones have a clear banner that reads “Notice” to catch the eye of a passerby, followed by succinct information and diagrams describing what is to come—it also provides three ways to learn more about the project in the form of the phone number for the local community planner, a QR code, and an invitation to a public meeting.
Toronto has a $190 million surplus from the 2014 budget. This is about on-par with where it usually is, so you can tell your neighbour, or father-in-law, or whoever that this is not some kind of Rob Ford–related saving.
Our friend and chart-enthusiast Matt Elliott at Metro took a look at one reason why we have a predictable surplus, and a portion of it is because the City does not fill about 1,200 public-service jobs, a strategy known as “gapping.” These positions have consequences: they are jobs with the library, forestry, transportation, and public health, among others. As Elliott points out, the lack of people filling these positions means services that the City offers take longer to complete. So there may be more money available for other things, but it’s at the expense of efficiency from the services we pay for.
The City has a policy of putting 75 per cent (almost $143 million this year) of a budget surplus aside to use on infrastructure developments, and it also needs to use a portion of the surplus to pay itself back after borrowing $61 million to balance the 2015 budget.
Reducing Red Tape
In an effort to “reduce red tape” for businesses in Toronto, the licensing and standards committee adopted a motion to explore modernization of section 545 of the City of Toronto Act.
Section 545 is in place to “permit, prohibit, and limit businesses for the protection of public health and safety and assurance that businesses operate lawfully.” However, municipal licences and standards says there’s a need for modernization and review of the bylaw in order to preserve public safety while having less hurdles for businesses.
Mainly, they want it to be easier to obtain a business licence, and for rules and zoning laws to be clearer. In addition, the committee would like regulation reports and recommendations from City staff regarding illegal activities at holistic health centres, clothing drop boxes on private property, and how “improper activities from holistic parlours” can be shared with Revenue Canada.
Concerns about these “illegal activities” were raised by Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) and Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), because of course they were. Mammoliti once claimed a holistic centre in his ward became a “heroin den” and is also concerned about the centres that “open specifically as brothels,” while Karygiannis added the recommendation regarding Revenue Canada.
Councillor Mammoliti and Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) have teamed up to protect a tree. Seriously!
The tree in question is a red oak believed to be between 250 and 350 years young, which would be the oldest of its kind in Toronto, and it can be found in Mammoliti’s North York ward.
Currently, the landowners where the tree grows are looking to sell the property and there is local concern that it could be in danger if the land falls into the wrong hands. The red oak is considered to be a “heritage tree” by Forests Ontario, and could very well have been a witness to quite a lot of history in the region—the land was apparently once owned by participants in the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion and stood next to the Toronto Carrying Place Trail, which would’ve seen British soldiers and Jesuits pass by through the years.
In a letter to the parks and environment committee, Forests Ontario said they “support the city in protecting this tree from any potential damage with whatever means at its disposal, including the purchase of said property.”
Last year in Toronto, 51 people were killed in traffic accidents, and council could be taking steps towards reducing that number and ultimately eliminating traffic fatalities altogether.
Public works and infrastructure will be recommending that city council ask transportation services to “to report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in the fourth quarter of 2015 with a comprehensive plan to improve road safety.” The “plan” would include a review of ways other cities deal with road safety, like Vision Zero; a review of current city safety measures; enhanced analysis of traffic collision data; specific recommendations on how to make traffic safer for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians; implementation and funding strategies as necessary; and the creation of community groups and task forces for appropriate parties.
As well, transportation services would be asked to report back to public works and infrastructure with audits of intersections with high pedestrian volumes.
Vision Zero aims to eliminate traffic-related deaths by influencing local infrastructure, vehicle technology, public education about driving and traffic, and traffic control. Developed in Sweden in 1997, the program has found a lot of success: the initiative brags that pedestrian deaths dropped 50 per cent in the last five years, and that the number of children killed in accidents has dropped as well. Boston just adopted Vision Zero practices, while Seattle has seen a 30 per cent decline in traffic deaths in the past 10 years.
This item was initially considered at the March 31 to April 2 council meeting, but was referred back to public works for further consideration.
The community development and recreation committee is hoping to secure new child-care funding for the City.
Funding would support licensed daycares and the idea is that a new grant be instituted to replace the current $54.6 million from provincial and city wage-related grant programs. The new model would feature a general operating grant that goes to the service providers to help “support child care workers’ salaries, offset operating expenses and improve affordability for families.” It would be one single grant, which would make things easier for everyone involved and would be calculated based on what each business offers.
Full-time daycares that serve younger children will receive more funding than ones with fewer hours and older kids, and a new funding model has been developed for daycares serving children age five and under. A points system calculates how much each would get based on staffing requirements and age. A full-time room of 10 infants would receive $37,400, for 10 toddlers it would be $21,900, while a room of 16 preschoolers would also receive $21,900. Children in kindergarten and above would be subject to the previous model of funding.
If passed, the new funding would start next year.
Follow the Agenda
City Hall Council Chambers (100 Queen Street West)
June 10, 9:30 a.m.