Coming up at City Council: February 22-26, 2016

Monday is Election Day in the Ward 12 By-Election, so I’m sure Council will be paying attention like the rest of us to see who their new colleague is. I understand that the Elections Office expects the results to be posted in a large batch, hopefully by 8:30pm, so it shouldn’t take long to find who wins. The Swearing-In Ceremony for the new Councillor will take place on Friday afternoon.

Photo by City of Edmonton

But enough about the election for now, there’s work to be done. As I wrote about back in January, a reorganization of the City Administration is slated to take effect on March 1. Mayor Iveson wrote about the reorg yesterday, and highlighted that Council will be changing its committee structure to match:

“On the City Council side of the table, we’ve also begun the process to change Council’s committee structure to support more coherent decision making and build clear lines of accountability into the departments. The new Urban Planning Committee should mean a better alignment of the City’s planning functions; City operations now report to the Citizen Services committee; and all infrastructure work will now report to the Executive Committee.”

Those changes have not yet taken effect but will soon.

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.

MacEwan West Operating Models: Governance & Tenancy

Although Council approved the purchase of the MacEwan University West Campus back in November 2012 for $36 million, the transfer of the facility isn’t expected to take place until the fall of 2017 (just $5 million has been deposited thus far). To prepare, the City has established a Community Stakeholder Committee as well as a cross-departmental Internal Committee. The proposed vision for MacEwan West is “an Intercultural, Interagency Community Hub for arts, recreation, wellness and learning.”

MacEwan West
Photo courtesy of MacEwan University

The building was constructed in 1981 and contains 257,000 square feet of space, about half of which is considered available for programming (the rest is common areas, mechanical, etc). Over 80 groups initially expressed interest in being tenants or offering programs at MacEwan West. In addition to their input, research on governance, operating, and tenancy models has been completed. Three different models have been identified:

  1. Mixed Used Model – accommodates the greatest number of tenants/stakeholders with an anchor tenant occupying 30% of the space
  2. Hybrid Model – anchor tenant would occupy 50% of the space
  3. Predmoninate Single Use Model – anchor tenant would occupy over 70% of the space

Under the first two models, the City would be responsible for ongoing maintenance and renewal costs, estimated at $1.6 million annually. Under the third model, the City would consider selling the facility to the large tenant, but would “would retain the parkade for future LRT development.”

The next steps are to establish a Tenant Selection Committee, finalize a tenant selection process and criteria, report back to Council in Q4 with a “recommended tenancy structure, governance model and operating model,” and complete the MacEwan West Business Plan and budget by early 2017.

Corner Store Pilot Program Update

Back in March 2014, Council approved the Corner Store Pilot Program to “stimulate local small business growth, enhance access to local amenities and contribute to community building.” The pilot began with three sites in Ritchie, Elmwood, and Newton and has been successful enough that the City will be expanding it to five additional sites later this year. More than 100 business owners and residents in Ritche were surveyed about the pilot and they expressed strong support:

  • 88 percent of business owners feel the Corner Store program is important to their business and are confident the program will positively impact their commercial centre
  • 86 percent of community members feel the program is important to their community
  • 77 percent of community members are confident that the program will positively impact their commercial centre

The new sites “will be chosen based on the program criteria and possible alignment with the Neighbourhood Renewal program.” A total of $1.25 million has already been budgeted for “public realm enhancements” for the new sites, so no new funds are required to expand the program.

Measures of Social Return on Investment and Other Community Well-being Indicators

Last year, Council asked for an update on how Edmonton and Calgary measure social return on investment and other community well-being indicators. Both cities are working together to share information, tools, and techniques in this area. “The most common area that captures well-being indicators in both the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary is through Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).” Edmonton and Calgary (and other municipalities) are mandated to report on outcomes for FCSS funded programs.

The overarching goal of the FCSS Outcomes Model is to enhance “the social well-being of individuals, families, and community through prevention.” In Edmonton and Calgary, three dimensions are evaluated: economic well-being, social well-being, and physical well-being:

community well being indices

Calgary has gone further and has experimented with Social Return on Investment, “an innovative, principles-based methodology and increasingly sought-out approach that assigns a financial value to a social impact that would otherwise be overlooked or misunderstood.” After pilot projects in 2008-2009, Calgary decided to offer grants to agencies that wish to complete a Social Return on Investment evaluation.

Edmonton currently has two Social Return on Investment evaluations underway, one on the “Net Analytics Pilot” and one on “The Youth Transit Access Project”. Both are expected to go to Council in the next month or so.

LRT History and Principles

How are we going to build the next phases of the LRT network? That’s one of the key questions that Council is going to have to address this year, starting with Wednesday’s discussion. “Council has laid the foundation for the next phases of LRT expansion with a principle-based plan,” the report says, highlighting The Way We Move, the Valley Line planning process, and the LRT Network Plan.

“Globally competitive cities recognize the importance of an integrated transportation system that gives people choices of where to live and how to move around the city. LRT is an investment in Edmonton’s future, a critical asset for a modern city with a transportation system and land-use choices that meet the needs of a diverse, dynamic and growing population. LRT is one of the most efficient modes of transportation: a single light rail track can carry up to 20,000 people per hour compared to a freeway capacity of 2,000 vehicles per hour per lane. As demonstrated by cities around the world, modern LRT can help shape cities, communities and neighbourhoods, with LRT often becoming the focal point for new mixed-use development.”

Funding for the southeast leg of the Valley Line LRT has been approved and construction is slated to take place through 2020. But what about the other legs? Based on direction from Council a year ago, Administration has initiated the LRT Prioritization Study to “provide a recommendation for construction staging of the remaining unfunded portions of the LRT network.” One of the first deliverables from that is the LRT Prioritization Evaluation Critera. Will Council be able to agree on an order that makes sense for Edmonton, or will Councillors push their own areas of the city above all?

LRT Network Plan

The report goes on to note that “the cornerstone of the plan is Urban Style LRT” which encourages transit-oriented development, reduces construction costs, and “strengthens the City’s integrated transportation network.” While this report only deals with the prioritization of LRT, it should be noted that other complementary work is already underway, such as the development of a new Transit Strategy.

Active Transportation Council Initiative

City Council already has an expansive list of 24 initiatives but it has decided to add another one. The new Active Transportation initiative is slated to proceed through the end of the current Council term and hopes to achieve “heightened awareness of the Active Transportation options available to Edmonton’s citizens and the benefits of active, healthy living, recreation, and sustainable communities” and “education for users of Edmonton’s transportation systems about their rights and responsibilities, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians”, among other things. Currently the initiative lacks both a budget and Councillor sponsors.

Other interesting items

  • The list of CIOG Award Recommendations is now available and totals $3,546,490 that will be provided to 225 non-profit organizations.
  • An update on the Urban Beekeeping Program says that 31 beekeeping sites have been approved and licensed and that no complaints have been received about those sites.
  • Deloitte was contracted in October 2014 to conduct a review of the City’s programs and services for developing or redeveloping community league facilities. They made a number of recommendations that the City is now proposing to action including a draft Tripartite License Amending Agreement “that would reduce the risk to the City and community leagues, as well as support the future sustainability of community league facilities.”
  • One report looks at the impacts of the Provincial Budget on community organizations and says that “although the Province increased funding to the Family and Community Support Services in 2016, the City continues to advocate for further funding increases for 2017-2018.” The report also highlights that “increasing unemployment throughout Alberta is resulting in an increased need for social services, especially in larger urban centres such as Edmonton.”
  • Thus far the Edmonton Public Library has raised $3.7 million for the Milner Library Renewal project. They need to raise a total of $10 million by 2020 to support the revitalization of the downtown branch, which the City is contributing $52.5 million toward. You can learn more about the plans for the library in the Make it Possible! document.
  • An update on efforts to protect and preserve the McDougall United Church says that urgent repairs using provincial funding are underway and that “a bylaw to designate the McDougall United Church as a Municipal Historic Resource is expected to be brought to City Council for consideration on March 1, 2016.” The total cost of restoration and rehabilitation could be up to $16 million “in the immediate to short term.”
  • Council is being asked to approve an Environmental Impact Assessment and Site Location Study to advance the River Valley Mechanized Access project, commonly known as the funicular. An open house and online survey held last year found that “approximately two thirds of the respondents were supportive of the project.” Council has already approved $34.4 million for the project.
  • Proposed amendments to the zoning bylaw would reduce the minimum parking requirements and otherwise increase the flexibility of passenger pick-up/drop-off spaces to facilitate the expansion of child care services.
  • The LRT Governance Board’s fourth semi-annual report is now available and covers the period from July 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015, during which the board convened five times.
  • A detailed report on the Mill Woods Double Barrel Replacement/SESS SA1B project is on the Utility Committee’s agenda. The project is “one of the largest and complex capital drainage projects undertake by the City of Edmonton in over 35 years.” The City has run into challenges though, and the original $56.9 million budget has grown to $91 million. In order to complete the project by August 2017, Admin is recommending another budget adjustment, which would bring the total to $96.5 million. One of the lessons learned here is the same as what came out of the Metro Line debacle: “Regular communication to Council and citizens on the status of the project and more frequent updates when experiencing issues.”
  • Council is being asked to support appointing a City representative to the board of the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance. “The City has provided grant funding to the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance in the amount of 25 cents per capita.”


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.

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