Thanks for the feedback on the new format last week. I’m going to stick with it for now.
A big week for Taproot Edmonton
Last week was a big one for us at Taproot Edmonton. Emily Rendell-Watson started as managing editor, our first full-time hire. We’re so glad to have her on the team! Emily will be taking over the Council and Tech Roundups, leading much of our People’s Agenda work, and tackling many other upcoming editorial projects. As Karen said, it feels good to have created a job in journalism, especially given the constant stream of layoffs at mainstream newsrooms in our city.
Our growth has been made possible in part by our B2B service, and this week we were named a finalist for "Business Idea of the Year" in the 2020 LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers Awards for that effort. It’s a welcome bit of validation for us.
We capped the week off with the 100th episode of Speaking Municipally. It has been more than two years now since our first episode, but in a lot of ways it feels like we’re just getting started. I know that’s a cliché, but downloads continue to rise, we’re incorporating new voices into the show, and we have a municipal election coming up in a year.
Beautiful colors in the river valley
Winter is coming, but hopefully not too soon. I took this photo today in the Mill Creek Ravine near the Shamrock Curling Club.
It’s a beautiful time of year to be in Edmonton!
Other recent headlines
I’m thrilled that city council endorsed Indigenous names for the city’s wards. Assuming the names receive final approval by the end of the year, they’ll be in use for next year’s municipal election. My ward will be called "O-day’min" from the Anishinaabe language which means "Strawberry or Heart-berry (The heart through which the North Saskatchewan River runs)." It’ll take some practice for the rest of the names, but I will learn how to say them all.
Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) is now Explore Edmonton Co. rather than Edmonton Tourism as had been anticipated. The Explore Edmonton campaign has been fantastic, so I can see why they’d want to build on that. Not to mention that exploring your own city is going to be increasingly important as the pandemic continues to restrict tourism from elsewhere.
The Stanley A. Milner library downtown reopened this week after nearly four years of revitalization work. Capacity was limited for the grand opening weekend, but we booked a timeslot for Saturday and were able to visit. The inside is beautiful, and I look forward to spending a lot of time there post-pandemic. Emily had lots of fun exploring the children’s library, and I was very happy to see so much seating (all with power oulets) throughout the building. I didn’t have a chance to explore the new Makerspace, but I did write a little about that in the Tech Roundup.
While the inside of the library looks great, I still think the outside is ugly. Saying "you can’t judge a book by its cover" or "it’s what’s on the inside that counts" are just nice ways of saying what is plainly true – the outside of the library is a big disappointment. Edmonton deserves better.
I hope the gigantic air vent outside the main entrance of the library is temporary (maybe it is particularly loud right now because of LRT construction). It sounds like a jet engine. You simply cannot have a conversation with someone anywhere near the front door. The beautiful central library in Calgary literally has a train running through it and I don’t remember any uncomfortable or unpleasant noise during any of my many visits.
Other recent headlines
City Council’s Audit Committee has directed Administration to look at reducing the number of supervisors in the City of Edmonton’s workforce. That’s the right call. The excuse that the numbers are off because the City hired more technical people in-house to help make sure projects would be delivered on-time and on-budget feels anachronistic to me. That said, tens of millions of dollars on a few too many City staff is better than hundreds of millions of dollars on far too many consultants, so I guess we’re making progress.
Edmonton will host the 2021 world junior hockey championship from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 without fans in attendance. I hope the bubble is smaller than it has been for the NHL playoffs. I want to be able to cross 102 Street again without needing to make a huge detour. If it must be closed for the bubble, maybe we can get a walkway installed to allow pedestrians to cross over top of the fencing? I mean, if we can spend more than $100 million to save 3 minutes for drivers on Terwillegar Drive, surely we can put up some temporary stairs for pedestrians downtown.
The Edmonton Police Service unveiled its new $500,000 tank – I mean, armoured vehicle – this week. "Without the proper tools, things get more dangerous and we can’t respond as quickly," said Sgt. Rick Abbott. Uh huh, I’m sure that vehicle is going to help with response times. He continued: "It does look aggressive. But the reality is we can’t get involved in politics in my job. We’re too busy trying to keep Edmontonians safe." Oh FFS. Council, and Councillor Scott McKeen in particular, should be ashamed for letting this purchase go ahead, especially after making such a big deal about the e-bike rebates earlier this year.
Looks like it is business-as-usual for the Edmonton Police. “We’ve pulled in virtually every warm body that we can to give us a hand on these because with this influx and the amount of work that’s involved in each one, were tasked to the max right now,” said Supt. Brad Doucette about an increase in violent crime last month.
Most branches of the Edmonton Public Library reopened this week. The library has also launched EPL on the Square in Churchill Square downtown to "give the city’s homeless a place to read books and magazines, use a laptop computer or participate in adult classes." Or they could, I don’t know, open the Stanley Milner branch that was supposed to open on Feb. 14.
From the very-creative-accounting department: "Premier Jason Kenney estimates that Edmonton being a hub city for the remaining games of the NHL season will add $40 million to the province’s GDP and create at least 1,500 jobs."
The temporary shelter at the Edmonton EXPO Centre will close by July 31, but right now there’s no replacement plan in place. "Between 400 and 600 people used the drop-in shelter daily since it opened in March, while dozens with COVID-19 symptoms have been sent to the isolation side."
Edmonton’s first Black-Owned Market "saw a massive outpouring of community support Saturday," reports Global News. Follow them on Instagram to find out about upcoming events.
Edmonton Transit has unveiled its first 21 electric buses, built by Proterra. ETS is the first customer in North America to put the 40-foot Proterra Catalyst E2 max vehicle with 660 kWh of onboard energy into service (the new buses will start in August).
Council is now on summer recess after wrapping up the debate on policing and community safety with an underwhelming decision. The key takeaways included an $11 million reduction to the police budget increase, spread over the next two years, and the establishment of a new task force.
The Edmonton Eskimos released another statement on the team’s name, this week. "We will be seeking further input from the Inuit, our partners and other stakeholders to inform our decisions moving forward," it reads. Now that the sponsors are speaking up (Belair Direct and Boston Pizza) maybe they’ll finally change the name.
We spoke about the policing motion, COVID-19 financial update, and renewed calls to rename the Edmonton Eskimos in Episode 92 of Speaking Municipally.
The Misericordia Community Hospital closed to new patients and cancelled all surgeries this week after an outbreak of COVID-19. At least six people have died at the hospital as a result of the outbreak.
"From May 20 to July 6, Edmonton had 204 millimetres of rain, almost double the average rainfall of 107 millimetres for the time period," reports CBC News. Sounds like we can expect more of the same throughout the summer.
Alpin Sun plans to develop a 627-acre, 120-megawatt solar farm at the Edmonton International Airport. Slated to be operational by the end of 2022, the project will bring "an estimated $169 million in foreign direct investment to the Edmonton Metro Region."
Great question on the NHL hub city from University of Alberta public-health specialist Dr. Hakique Virani. We asked people to stop weddings, funerals, and other events due to the pandemic. “The question people may ask is, if we made sacrifices in the interest of the common good and public health, what is it about hockey that is more important than my family, my job and my life?”
The debate on policing and community safety will continue this week with Council considering a number of amendments to the main motion that was made a few weeks ago. It seems likely that any budget adjustments would be limited to about $11 million and won’t be official until the fall budget discussions.
Edmonton will not require people to wear masks after the Emergency Advisory Committee considered the idea on Thursday. "Face coverings are recommended, but they are not mandated," said Dr. Chris Sikora, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services. The Province will be distributing another 20 million masks starting July 13, once again through drive-thru locations.
Kris Harvey and Victoria Balint recently recovered from COVID-19 and are calling for discussing the illness to be normalized. "I think a lot of people are ashamed to even mention they’ve been tested or they’re isolating or they’ve tested positive," said Harvey.
Council voted 10-3 to put the $100,000 e-bike rebate program on hold for 2021-22. Only Mayor Don Iveson, Councillor Aaron Paquette, and Councillor Ben Henderson voted to keep the program. Troy and I focused on this in Episode 91 of Speaking Municipally.
Council voted 10-1 to transfer four parcels of land to Homeward Trust to building roughly 150 units of permanent supportive housing. Only Councillor Nickel opposed the decision.
Edmonton surpassed Calgary in active cases of COVID-19 in this week. Currently, 242 of Alberta’s 520 active cases are in the Edmonton zone. #WearAMaskYEG
City Council voted unanimously to remove minimum parking requirements from the Zoning Bylaw, making Edmonton the first major Canadian municipality to do so. "Effective July 2, 2020, developers, homeowners and businesses will be able to decide how much on-site parking to provide on their properties based on their particular operations, activities or lifestyle."
Edmonton public school trustee Cheryl Johner has resigned after she suggested that refugee students could sometimes be violent. "All they’ve known is violence," she said during a board meeting on Tuesday. "The safety of students is critically important — that other students feel safe as they go to their own school." She suggested school resource officers "act as a deterrent." EPSB chair Trisha Estabrooks called Johner’s remarks racist and said "it’s wrong, and it’s completely unacceptable." At that EPSB meeting, trustees voted unanimously to commission an independent study of the efficacy of the school resource officer program. A motion to immediately remove officers from schools was narrowly defeated.
The Oliver Community League (OCL) has launched the "Uncover Oliver" campaign which calls on the City of Edmonton to initiate "an inclusive co-creation process to discover a new community name" for the neighbourhood currently known as Oliver. Mayor Don Iveson called the OCL’s calls-to-action "thoughtful" and committed to "do our best to facilitate these tangible steps for reconciliation and anti-racism."
The City of Edmonton said it will be mowing and trimming grass and weeds more often starting in July in response to frustration over its previous decision to reduce maintenance frequency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Council unanimously approved the proposed conversion of the former dormitory building at the Exhibition Lands into bridge housing at a cost of $600,000. The building is expected to be move-in ready by the end of the year.
Poplar fuzz is piling up along river valley paths and in parks across the city though the amount of fluff seen this year "is actually comparable to what we see most seasons," said Katelynne Webb, community forest leader at the City of Edmonton. “It’s a really healthy and natural process for our urban forest.”
Edmonton has now surpassed Calgary in active cases of COVID-19 with 238 of Alberta’s 534 active cases in the Edmonton zone. There were just 44 active cases in the Edmonton zone at the start of June.
The public hearing on policing will continue on Monday and Wednesday as about half of the registered speakers are still awaiting their turn. Some speakers have called for an overhaul of the City’s anti-racism advisory committee.
A number of construction projects are on time or ahead of schedule, though the Valley Line LRT is still delayed, reports CBC.
Recreation facilities will start to reopen in Edmonton on July 2 though the City warns "there will be necessary and significant changes to how the public will use the facilities and the overall operations."
Journal columnist Keith Gerein speculated on what may happen in the 2021 civic election. "Should Iveson decide to seek a third term, he would be the presumptive favourite and would undoubtedly scare off some would-be contenders — though the race is still likely to be more competitive than the landslides Iveson won in 2013 and 2017."
"Edmonton has everything going for it but location, location, location," reports Sportsnet regarding the NHL hub city bid. "We know, Edmontonians don’t want to hear this."
City Council considered a multi-pronged motion on Wednesday that could lead to a $16.3 million reduction to the Edmonton Police budget in 2021, reports the Edmonton Journal. Police chief Dale McFee defended the current level of funding for the service in relation to the workload.
“We’ve hired diversity in an extremely aggressive manner,” said police chief Dale McFee cautioning that budget cuts would hurt efforts to increase the diversity of the police force. “When you hire in a collective agreement … if you reduce your numbers, it’s last in, first out.”
The Downtown Business Association has accepted the resignation of executive director Ian O’Donnell, effective immediately. "I fully and completely apologize for using ‘ALM’, a term that is associated with hate and racism. I was wrong to use it and am sorry for the hurt that it has caused," wrote O’Donnell.
Troy and I spoke with Sahr Saffa on Episode 89 of Speaking Municipally. I found his perspective on the events of the past couple of weeks incredibly thought-provoking.
This week, City Council unanimously approved a short-term housing plan that will turn a former jockey dormitory on the Northlands site into temporary bridge housing, reports the Edmonton Journal. "I’m done asking for other people to step up and help and I’m not going to use the provincial government’s abdication of leadership within their jurisdiction on this anymore, to justify the city waiting to make substantial change around supportive housing towards the goal of ending homelessness," said Mayor Don Iveson.
The City of Edmonton has laid off another 60 employees this week in positions ranging from administrative to information technology to planning, reports CBC News.
Alberta moved to Stage 2 of the Province’s relaunch plan on Friday. I’m not sure how I feel about this.
The City of Edmonton is distributing 500,000 masks at four transit centres and three LRT stations starting Monday, June 15. Free masks will be handed out, upon request, daily between 7am and 7pm. Transit fares and front-door boarding will resume on Monday, June 15 as well.
"The reopening of facilities is very complex and given the financial impacts of the pandemic, some services will not return this season," said David Aitken, chair of the City’s COVID-19 task team, in response to the provincial launch update. The funicular is reopening on Monday, June 15 with operation from 7am to 9pm and ridership limited to two people at a time, and the Valley Zoo also reopens on Monday, June 15 with additional signage, timed tickets, and capacity limited to 1,500 people.
The Edmonton Public School Board is cutting 611 full-time positions and suggested more cuts are still to come, reports the Edmonton Journal. “When you continue to squeeze, what’s affected are the classrooms,” said board chair Trisha Estabrooks.