Coming up at City Council: September 12-16, 2016

Expect to hear a lot next week about suicide prevention and the High Level Bridge.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Edmonton Suicide Prevention Strategy 2016-2021

This new strategy is the result of two years of work on better suicide prevention in Edmonton.

“While suicide is a complex issue involving the interaction of biological, psychological and social factors, it is preventable. The Edmonton Suicide Prevention Strategy provides an understanding of suicide in Edmonton and recommends a set of actions for implementation that reflect evidence-based practices. Recommended actions are intended to enhance known protective factors that mitigate against suicide while reducing factors that put individuals at higher risk. The strategy employs a universal preventive approach that emphasizes collaboration and coordination of services. It also takes into account alignment opportunities with existing and upcoming community and provincial initiatives.”

Research into the issue surfaced a number of key learnings:

  • “There were 117 deaths by suicide in Edmonton in 2013 and 165 in the Edmonton Zone of Alberta Health Services, which includes surrounding areas.” And that’s probably an underestimate.
  • “Three out of four suicide deaths are male, and most suicides among men take place between the ages of 30 and 69 years.”
  • “After a mental illness, the risk factors most frequently associated with suicide include substance abuse, trauma, social isolation, and higher rates of poverty.”
  • “According to the Injury Prevention Centre, the total loss costs associated with suicidal behaviour in the Edmonton Zone – Alberta Health Services, were estimated at over $89 million in 2013.”

The strategy highlights three goals:

  • “to provide awareness and education to promote positive mental health and reduce the stigma of suicide”
  • “to ensure the whole continuum of services including the promotion of positive mental health, prevention, intervention, and postvention”
  • “to promote these services to be fully accessible and address the needs of at-risk populations”

If approved by Council, an implementation plan for the strategy will be developed. “The development of an implementation plan for Edmonton will not require additional financial resources as this work falls under the Urban Isolation/Mental Health Initiative and will be funded within current operating budgets.”

High Level Bridge Pathways

Councillor McKeen made an inquiry back in June related to the development and delivery of the High Level Bridge Safety Rails project, commonly referred to as the suicide barriers. This report is the response, and provides an overview of the three options that Council considered as well as suggestions on how to make the pathways more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists.

Here were the three options that Council considered:

  • Option 1: Chain Link ($1.2-1.7 million)
  • Option 2: Existing bridge rail with additional height added ($3.0 million)
  • Option 3: State of the art design ($7.4 million)

Council voted to go with option 2 back in August 2014 and approved funding later that year.

While the City did consult with EPS, AHS, The Support Network, and other stakeholders during the development of the concepts, “broader consultation was not undertaken during the design phase because of the sensitivity of the suicide issue.” They are now of course engaged with the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society, Paths for People, and other organizations and individuals.

High Level Bridge

The City contracted Urban Systems to conduct a safety review and you can read their report here. They identified 13 issues and suggested improvements, including:

  • Consider making the pathways one-way – the east side of the bridge would be northbound only and the west side would be southbound only. Another option is to make the east side one-way only for bicycles.
  • Install “enhanced physical separation between the carriageway and the west side and east side pathways” to keep cyclists from entering the road.
  • Install reflective hazard markings on all obstructions.
  • “Consider installing additional pedestrian scale overhead lighting where feasible on the bridge pathway itself ensuring that any additional light does not obstruct the pathway itself.”
  • “Widen the pathway on the east side of the bridge approach utilizing space within the roadway shoulder and/or additional right of way.”
  • Add better route wayfinding and other signage.

Some of the recommendations have already been implemented, such as additional signage and the installation of reflective hazard markings. Other recommendations are still being considered and the City is looking for additional input on those.

Bylaw 17755 – To Increase Allowance of Participation by Communications Facilities in Committee Meetings

That’s a really wordy way of saying that the City wants to allow people to participate in Council meetings via phone or perhaps something more advanced like Skype, even if they are in the city. To do so, they are recommending an amendment to the Procedures and Committees Bylaw 12300 to “remove the requirement for persons wishing to participate by communication facility to be in a location outside of Edmonton.” The report notes that the last citizen participant by telephone was in 2007. The location restriction was put in place for technological reasons (at the time) as well as the value that was placed on in-person communication.

“This amendment could increase accessibility for residents who are unable or disinclined to physically attend meetings, and could contribute to the goal of ensuring public involvement processes are accessible to the public as per Council Policy C513 – Public Involvement.”

We don’t have the same technological barriers today, of course. Many of us use web conferencing tools all day, every day, and they work incredibly well. The report doesn’t recommend anything in particular, and it is expected that initially remote participation would be done by phone. But “technology and infrastructure upgrades” could come in the future.

Administration recommends allowing remote participation only in Committee meetings. The rationale:

“A Statutory Hearing is a City Council meeting required to be held under statute where members of the public have a right to speak. There is lack of legal certainty as to whether a technological failure, either on the speaker’s end or the City’s end, could result in a speaker being denied their right to address City Council.”

There is no expected budget impact from this change. Apparently Edmonton would be the first municipality in Canada and possibly the United States to allow remote public participation in Council meetings.

Here’s more on the story from Elise Stolte.

Other interesting items

  • An update on the Art of Living Implementation Plan notes that 13 out of 17 Arts & Culture recommendations have been completed (76%) and 8 out of 11 Heritage recommendations were completed (73%). Development of a refreshed strategy for the next ten years is slated to begin in 2017.
  • Council approved $5.3 million in the 2015-2018 Capital Budget for the Rollie Miles Athletic Field District Park Renewal. The recommended Master Plan is now available. If approved, design work will begin this year with construction starting next year.
  • A report on garage and garden suites summarizes feedback received on current regulations and proposes draft amendments to the Zoning Bylaw. Some of the recommended amendments include combining the two into a single classification, increasing the maximum heights for flat-roofed buildings, reducing parking requirements for seniors’ oriented units, and removing balconies and stairwells from floor area calculations.
  • Administration recommends the sale of up to eight City owned building sites to homeEd at 50% of market value for the purpose of constructing new market and affordable medium-density housing.
  • There are lots of interesting stats in this report on Funding for Purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates. For instance, “approximately 353,000 carbon dioxide equivalent tonnes were emitted from City operations” in 2015. The goal is to have that down to 179,228 by 2018. It’ll cost about $3.3 million to get there.
  • The 2015 Annual Report and Audited Financial Statements are now available for the Fort Road Business Association, French Quarter Business Association, and Downtown Business Association.
  • The City intended to build a public school in Evansdale at 150 Avenue and 87 Street and assembled the land to do so in 1969. But a few years ago, EPSB declared the site as surplus to its needs, so now the City is proposing to sell it at market value. The Muslim Association of Canada has expressed interest in purchasing and developing the site.
  • The surplus school site in Kiniski Gardens South is proposed to be sold at market value to the Headway School Society of Alberta.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.