Transition pay for Sohi, silencing street preachers, local food perceptions

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

Transition pay for Amarjeet Sohi

There has been a bit of discussion recently about the transition pay that Amarjeet Sohi collected when he left office. As outlined in Council’s Compensation, he collected a little over $46,000 for his 8 years of service (the transition allowance is “three weeks salary for each year served, to a maximum of 36 weeks”).

Prayer Service - International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Amarjeet Sohi in March 2015, photo by Paula Kirman

Councillor Michael Oshry feels that by collecting the pay, former-Councillor Sohi went against the spirit of the allowance. He told the Journal:

“What I have a problem with is having a situation where somebody leaves mid-term, is basically quitting the job. I have a problem with that because it’s now their choice to do that.”

The transition allowance has been in place since after the 2001 election which is when a February 2000 motion to implement the final recommendations of the Independent Committee to Review the Renumeration and Benefits of Members of Council took effect. That motion was carried unanimously, by the way. At the time the transition allowance was “equal to 2 weeks salary for each year served to a maximum of six months salary.” Here’s the rationale the committee provided:

“Severance allowances serve the purpose of assisting individuals to bridge the period between the time that they leave a position until they re-enter the workforce in another position. Most severance allowances are linked directly to length of service and include a maximum pay out. In addition, most employees have access to Employment Insurance benefits to help bridge the gap during a transition to another job.

Members of Council currently do not have access to any severance or transition benefits; nor are they eligible for Employment Insurance benefits. The Committee felt that Members of Council should have access to some severance/transition support; however, they felt strongly that the provisions should not be retroactive. Having the current Council establish the policy for future Councils was viewed as a more appropriate and prudent way to manage the transition to this new policy.”

The transition allowance was increased by one week in 2006, with this rationale from the Independent Council Compensation Committee:

“Members of Council are not always in control of when they leave office and the Committee recognizes it takes time for members to re-establish themselves back into the workforce. Employees in government and non-government agencies, when laid off or the position is phased out, would receive some transition allowance and are eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits for this transition period. Members of Council are not eligible to receive these benefits. The Committee felt increasing the transition allowance by one week per year served allowed for fair remuneration comparable to other jurisdictions and Alberta MLAs, who receive three months salary for every year served.”

Council voted on this issue back in June 2006, and actually made it retroactive to 2001. It passed 12-1, with the only dissenting vote coming from Councillor Mike Nickel (he voted against the entire motion to adopt the report’s recommendations).

The Independent Council Compensation Committee reiterated support for a transition allowance back in 2012/2013 when they last issued a report, stating:

“The existing transition allowance is modest, is comparable to other jurisdictions and to the public sector, and provides appropriate economic protection to citizens who must leave other employment to serve on City Council.”

While I can see the point Councillor Oshry is making, I don’t agree. Amarjeet Sohi served for eight years (in my view quite effectively) and I think he’s entitled to all of the compensation that goes along with that.

Silencing street preachers

Earlier this week Council discussed the “use of amplified noise on City sidewalks”. Street preachers, essentially. Councillor Oshry made an inquiry about the issue back in November, saying that “the use of amplified noise by individuals on public property can often disturb the peace of others and infringe on their peaceable enjoyment of public space.” The two page report notes:

  • Excessive noise is regulated by the Community Standards Bylaw (PDF)
  • Section 14 of the bylaw states that a person shall not cause or permit any noise that disturbs the peace of another individual
  • Enforcement Officers “apply objective standards” to determine if an offence has occured
  • Last year a total of 959 noise complaints were received from citizens, most related to garbage collection, street cleaning/snow removal, and construction
  • Activities related to street preaching on public spaces fall under the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Any legislative change would have to fall within the rights of the Charter, and would also apply to “all variations of amplified noise”, including sporting events and outdoor concerts, so that could make a solution tricky. One idea is to restrict amplified noise in certain locations, such as within a certain proximity to building entrances. Another is to require preachers to obtain a permit, just as buskers must do. Ultimately, Council decided to request a report outlining “what other municipalities have in place to regulate amplified noise in public spaces” and information on legislative options that could be used to address the issue. That report is slated to come back to Council in April.

Bylaw
Fine for Violation, photo by Linelle Photography

Some street preachers are concerned the issue isn’t about noise at all. From CBC:

“I think the noise complaint is really a content complaint, wrapped in a noise complaint,” said Nehemia Smeding, who preaches on street corners twice per week. Smeding said he and his fellow street preachers use amplifiers so their message can be heard over the roar of traffic and crowds downtown.

I generally don’t have an issue with noise downtown, especially during the day. There are often organized protests that wind their way through the core making use of a megaphone along the way. I’m even happy with the odd outdoor concert that takes place on the streets during the summer months. However, because of all the buildings downtown noise is already amplified, even without a speaker. So while I can understand what Smeding is saying about wanting to be heard over the traffic (crowds? really?) I think there’s a reasonable limit. It’s probably too loud when I can hear clear as day on my 12th floor condo on 104 Street the preaching coming from 103 Street and 102 Avenue, which seems to have happened much more frequently in recent months. Blame the nice weather, I guess?

As you might expect, this isn’t the first time the issue has come up. Back in 2000, street preacher Tony Hritzuk was charged for apparent disruptions along Whyte Avenue. But not noise disruptions – he was charged obstructing pedestrians. The Traffic Bylaw (PDF) states that “a person shall not stand or be in any other position on a highway so as to obstruct the entrance to a building or to obstruct pedestrians or vehicles using the highway.” He and his lawyer said they’d fight the charge under the Charter, and the charges were dropped.

Perceptions about Edmonton’s local food system

The Edmonton Food Council (which I am a member of) is running an online survey until February 15:

“The Edmonton Food Council is interested in tracking how Edmonton’s food system is changing over time and would like to hear your thoughts and perceptions about the local food system. The Food Council intends on releasing an annual scorecard of Edmonton’s food system using the results from the following questionnaire.”

Please take a moment to share your thoughts with us! And if you’re not already a member, consider signing up for the Edmonton Insight Community to give input to the City on a wide range of topics each month.

Why City Council’s approval of ridesharing in Edmonton matters

Edmonton became the first Canadian city to legalize ridesharing services like Uber with Council’s approval today of a new vehicle for hire bylaw.

“The regulatory framework in the new bylaw helps to answer citizen and business demand for more choice in the vehicle for hire industry,” says Mayor Don Iveson. “It represents a significant evolution of the industry and creates a model that will enable the taxi business and private transportation providers to co-exist.”

You can read more about today’s news in Elise Stolte’s story here. As she noted (and tweeted), “the bylaw passed 8-4 with councillors Dave Loken, Bryan Anderson, Mike Nickel and Tony Caterina against.”

Uber in Edmonton

Here is Uber’s statement on the new bylaw:

“Uber applauds the City of Edmonton for its leadership in being the first Canadian jurisdiction to adopt progressive regulations that embrace ridesharing. We thank Mayor Iveson, Councillors and City staff for supporting Edmontonian riders and drivers who want more affordable and reliable transportation options.

While these newly adopted regulations contain concessions for ridesharing service providers, the rules put in place a workable regulatory approach.

The spirit of collaboration and willpower demonstrated by the City of Edmonton to modernize its transportation laws can serve as a model for all Canadian regulators and elected officials.”

They were pretty happy on Twitter too:

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The new bylaw will come into effect on March 1, 2016. Uber will be able to operate under a new class called Private Transportation Providers (PTPs). As they operate more than 200 vehicles, Uber will pay a license fee of $50,000/year plus $0.06/trip, with a $20,000/year accessibility surcharge on top of that. Only taxis will be able to pick up street hails or use taxi stands, but both taxis and PTPs will be required to charge a minimum of $3.25 for any trip. Drivers will be required to carry the appropriate insurance as outlined under provincial law, something Uber is working to acquire.

The new bylaw supports The Way We Move

I think the new bylaw supports Council’s transportation goals as outlined in The Way We Move, Edmonton’s transportation master plan. Here’s what I wrote back in September:

“The discussion about Uber in Edmonton lately has focused primarily on the fight between taxis and Uber, understandably. Lots of Edmontonians have horror stories to share about taxis, and there’s no question that competition from Uber will have a positive impact on the industry. But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. Uber and other transportation network companies can positively contribute to Edmonton’s transportation mix. We should do what we can to allow them to operate here legally.”

Councillor Knack spoke about this today, highlighting that ridesharing is an important way to help shift away from private vehicles to more sustainable options. “The status quo can no longer exist and change has to happen,” he said.

Council did what it was supposed to

Back in the summer of 2011, Council was already investigating ways to “provide increased capacity in the City of Edmonton taxi market.” The reality was already that Edmonton’s population had grown faster than its supply of taxis, and quality of service was suffering as a result. In 2012 Council wanted to issue 100 new licenses, but the Vehicle for Hire Commission refused to go along with the plan. So Council amended the bylaw to allow Administration to issue the licenses.

Something had to change, so it’s no surprise that when Uber showed up back in December 2014 Edmontonians embraced the service. All of a sudden at the touch of a button a ride could quickly and reliably be found. Ultimately Council’s role in this debate had very little to do with supporting taxis or welcoming Uber. Instead, it was about ensuring Edmontonians could move around the city efficiently.

I think Councillor Walters said this well in his post today:

“So equality is not the goal here, but rather equity – fairness – for our public. This is not about a big, bad, sophisticated multinational giving away free cupcakes, or the local taxi companies who come in to Council and scream and shout and take their shirts off. This about the kind of vehicle for hire service we want to facilitate with our bylaw. It is about Council’s role as a maker of public policy, not as a referee in an on-going battle between two different companies.”

Perhaps City Council’s most important job is to ensure that all taxpayer dollars spent result in the best possible value for citizens. They are charged with defining a vision for Edmonton and for making sure the City is operating effectively and efficiently toward it. I think their decision today is a reflection of that commitment.

The new bylaw supports innovation & choice

Nearly every Councillor spoke today about the importance of offering choice to Edmontonians by passing the bylaw. “We have to recognize there’s a huge part of our citizenry that want something different than we’re offering them,” said Councillor Henderson. Even Councillor Oshry, who had reservations about the bylaw despite voting in favor of it, said the taxi industry had become complacent. “They have to provide a better service than in the past,” he said.

Although a few Councillors tried to include more restrictions in the bylaw, I think an appropriate balance was ultimately struck. “This bylaw enables innovation and competition, rather than constraining them,” Mayor Iveson said. Too much regulation could have hampered the rapid innovation that is taking place in the industry. Making the Uber of today legal is a great outcome, but the bylaw also opens the door to additional services in the future. For instance, UberPool is a great twist on the Uber service that could have been restricted by overly aggressive minimum fare regulations.

The new bylaw actually specifies two levels of PTPs – commercial for providers with more than 200 vehicles, and regional for those with fewer than 200 vehicles. The license fees for regional PTPs are the same as taxis at $1000/year for dispatch plus $400/year per vehicle and $60/year for drivers. That’s much lower than the $50,000/year for commercial PTPs and means we may even see a homegrown alternative to Uber.

I’m hopeful that making ridesharing legal in Edmonton will entice competitors to Uber such as Lyft to enter the market also. It would be great to have some competition and choice in the ridesharing market.

Edmonton leads the way on ridesharing in Canada

It may have been painful to get there, but Edmonton has provided a way forward for other municipalities in Canada to adopt regulations that enable ridesharing for their citizens as well. I think it’s great that Council (most of them anyway) did not shy away from this challenge and instead chose to provide leadership on the issue. And as Mayor Iveson said today, there’s an opportunity for the City to work with other municipalities in Canada as well as the Competition Bureau to ensure that citizens are getting the best possible value from big organizations like Uber.

A look ahead at 2016 for City Council and the City of Edmonton

This year is going to be a difficult one. “While technically it won’t be a recession, for many people it’s going to feel like one,” said City of Edmonton chief economist John Rose. Our economy is expected to grow by just 1% with unemployment rising, perhaps as high as 7%. We’re less energy-dependent than the rest of the Province, but low oil prices are still going to hurt many.

Angles on Clouds
Angles on Clouds, photo by Dave Sutherland

While the economy seems certain to dominate the headlines this year, there are plenty of other topics that will come up throughout the year. Here are some key things that City Council and the City of Edmonton are going to have to deal with in 2016 that we should keep an eye on:

New City Manager

With the firing of City Manager Simon Farbrother back in September, City Council will need to select a replacement this year.

I think this will be the single most impactful decision that Council will make in 2016 – who is the right person to lead the City in the years ahead? Council has already indicated they are looking for someone who is more involved in the day-to-day, “someone who can meet the aspirations of this city head-on.” The job posting further specifies that the successful candidate will be “a community-minded relationship builder and a consummate communicator who can advance an effective culture through accountability and ingenuity.” I think interim City Manager Linda Cochrane is doing a fine job, and she certainly has the knowledge, experience, abilities, and relationships that are critical to succeed in the role. But I don’t think Council will go with an insider. I think they’re looking for a fresh perspective.

A new City Manager will no doubt want to make changes to the organization, so expect more dominoes to fall this year.

Ward 12 By-Election

With Amarjeet Sohi being elected as MP for Edmonton-Mill Woods in October’s federal election, residents in Ward 12 are currently without a representative on Council. The by-election to fill his seat will take place on Monday, February 22 and there are already 29 declared candidates. That’s an incredible number of candidates, and it means voters in Ward 12 are going to have quite a difficult job deciding who should succeed Sohi. During the 2013 municipal election, Amarjeet Sohi raised more than $130,000 and spent more than $85,000 to win his seat. On average, the winning councillors spent $73,000. I don’t think we’ll see sums that large this time, however.

This is City Council’s first by-election in more than two decades. The new Councillor will need to get up-to-speed quickly, and won’t have much time to have an impact before we find ourselves in another municipal election.

With Amarjeet Sohi being named Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, I think Edmonton is very well-represented in the current federal government. Furthermore, we have a minister responsible for infrastructure in this country who knows first-hand the challenges faced by big cities like Edmonton. That bodes well for our city’s relationship with the federal government and for our interests.

LRT (Metro Line, Valley Line, Future Expansion) & Transit Strategy

Last year was not a great year for LRT in Edmonton, so I’m sure the City and Council will be hoping for a much-more train-friendly 2016.

The Metro Line LRT still has issues, of course. The City still hasn’t accepted the safety certification of Thales, and the line continues to run more slowly than planned (and seems to break down awfully frequently). The City says it wants to reach “Plan A”, which would be full operation using the computer-based train control system, but is currently at “Plan B-” (seriously? this is Plan C guys), which is reduced speeds and “line of sight” operations. The middle step, “Plan B”, is full speeds but using the new system only between Churchill and NAIT. It seems there’s still a long way to go.

Brad Smid, who “managed the planning, design and construction of the $700 Million Metro Line Stage 1 (North LRT Extension) from Downtown to NAIT” was just this month named Director of the Valley Line LRT Design & Construction. That could be good or bad, depending on your point-of-view. Some argue that Smid is a very capable manager who spotted issues with the Metro Line LRT early on and was instrumental in getting the project constructed under budget. But he didn’t do himself any favors this summer when he downplayed the issues with the Metro Line LRT. Saying that the project was completed “on time and on budget” from a design & construction point-of-view doesn’t mean much to taxpayers who ultimately ended up with less than they were promised. Maybe Smid is the right guy to lead the Valley Line LRT project, but he’ll have to earn the trust of Council and the public.

On the Valley Line LRT, things are looking better though. The City selected TransEd Partners late last year to design, build, operate, maintain, and finance the first stage of the project. The first task in 2016 will be to finalize the contract, which is expected to be complete in February. Construction will begin shortly thereafter (preparations have already been underway, of course). We’re promised that this line will be different, because it’s a P3. We’ll see about that.

A couple of reports on future LRT expansion were postponed from 2015 to this year, so we should see Council consider a long term funding plan for the LRT, a communications plan on LRT funding, and an “interdepartmental approach” for investing in transit and LRT, among other things. There’s also the ongoing work to create a new Transit Strategy that kicked off over the summer. The strategy won’t be complete until early 2017, but the bulk of the work will take place this year, and is an opportunity for Edmontonians to provide input on “how transit can best support the city we want to live in ten years from now.”

City Charter, MGA Review, Edmonton Region

Discussions about the City Charter will continue this year. Mayor Iveson was careful to set expectations last month that he doesn’t anticipate a charter being in place until the end of the current Council term, but we may see elements of it move forward in the year ahead. Both Mayor Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi see the charter as a critical step forward for Alberta’s big cities, bringing fewer restrictions, a new relationship with the Province, and long-term sustainable funding.

Also ongoing this year is the effort to modernize the Municipal Government Act (MGA), the legislation that guides how municipalities in Alberta operate. The MGA review began in 2014 and made progress last year with Bill 20 being approved by the Legislature. Additional changes will now be considered, with a goal of competing everything in time for the next municipal election in 2017. The City of Edmonton has put forward some key principles and considerations that it would like to see reflected in the new MGA. I expect a new set of recommendations will come to Council for approval this year.

Council will also need to continue pushing ahead with its regional partners. The focus for the Capital Region Board this year is to finalize its Growth Plan 2.0. It is a 30-year strategy for managing growth in the region that was originally developed in 2010 and is now getting its first major update. The current plan is for the CRB to approve the final plan in September so that it can be submitted to the Province in October (roughly a year behind schedule). Also, while a decision likely won’t be made this year, the City’s annexation plans will continue to be a focal point for regional discussion.

Last year saw the launch of the Metro Mayors Alliance and “a blue ribbon panel on improving the competitiveness of the Edmonton Metro region.” I expect we’ll hear much more from that group in 2016.

Northlands & Rexall Place

Back in April, the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee (which I was a member of) released its final report and recommendations, which were accepted by the Northlands Board in May. Since then, Northlands has been hard at work on completing its Strategic Plan. That work is now complete, and it will be presented to Council in the next month or two. A report on enhancing the Coliseum LRT Station and perhaps building a pedway to the Edmonton Expo Centre was put on hold in 2015 while Northlands worked to sort out its strategy, so that could all come up this year too.

Some aspects of the plan have already begun to leak out, including repurposing the entire 160 acres of land, the oft-discussed possibility of joining Northlands and EEDC, and perhaps even the end of horse racing at Northlands Park. I understand we’ll also learn more about a potential agreement between Northlands and the Oilers Entertainment Group (outright competition would be detrimental to both).

This could prove to be one of the most difficult issues for Council in 2016. The fallout of previous decisions – to build Rogers Place, to keep Northlands out of the discussion about the new arena, to build the expensive Edmonton Expo Centre – all of that will need to be dealt with this year. In a worst case scenario, Northlands goes away and the City is left with debt and expensive, problematic assets on its hands. In a best case scenario, a new vision for that area of the city is agreed upon and led by Northlands. Either way, the City is going to have to contibute taxpayer dollars, so Council will need to determine how it wants to spend its limited money.

Blatchford

Blatchford is a long-term project, but this will be a critical year for the development of the future community. Late last year Council decided to cut the large lake from the vision, the latest in a number of features that have been cancelled. On the plus side for Blatchford, the cost of environmental remediation has been far lower than anticipated.

A report is expected in the first quarter addressing the District Energy Sharing System that has been proposed for Blatchford. Administration will be preparing “a comprehensive business case” for the implementation of such a system, plus a “detailed rate setting analysis”. Council will need to determine if the district energy system is critical or if it too will be cut. There are some other big decisions coming up as well, so it should be an interesting year.

The City is still planning to sell fully serviced lots at Blatchford to builders this year, if all goes well.

Walterdale Bridge, 102 Avenue Bridge over Groat Road

Both the Walterdale Bridge and the 102 Avenue Bridge experienced major setbacks in 2015.

The $155 million Walterdale Bridge remains on budget according to the City, even with the year-long delay. The completed bridge will span 206 metres and will be 54 metres tall. All of the arch steel is now on site, the heaviest piece of which weighs 125 tonnes. The current plan is for the new bridge to open by the end of the year, with the old bridge slated to be removed in 2017.

The best date we have for the completion of the new 102 Avenue Bridge over Groat Road is “fall 2016” but for a project that has already faced a number of delays, that’s not very reassuring. The installation of steel girders in March was a disaster, with three of them buckling (#girdergate). It was determined that “the spacing braces failed upon crane release of the second last girder, resulting in the buckling of three girders.” They were repaired off-site and have since been reinstalled.

The City can’t afford anymore delays with these two important projects. Apparently a new integrated infrastructure services department has been created to try to avoid issues like the ones faced by the bridge projects. Let’s hope it helps and that they’re completed successfully this year.

Affordable Housing

This is an issue that Mayor Iveson has made clear on numerous occasions he’d like to make progress on. But as he wrote back in December, while “City Council remains strongly committed to supporting affordable housing projects in Edmonton” they believe funding needs to come from other orders of government. “There has to be a better way, one that is fairer to city taxpayers,” the mayor said.

Affordable housing was most recently discussed by Council at the October 27 Executive Committee Meeting. In addition to having Mayor Iveson approach the other orders of government to help advance the Londonderry Regeneration Project, Council asked for a report to come back in April outlining “how a Community Development Corporation could be established” and to address “the role of current housing provides in the Edmonton Metro and the possibility for better integrating and coordinating their work.” Council is also expecting a report to come back in March addressing affordable housing at Blatchford.

Municipal Development Corporation

Over the last year or so Council has been investigating the creation of an arms-length development company. The idea is that a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC) could be used for city building and could even pay a dividend to the City. UDI Edmonton sent a letter to Council back in June offering support for Council’s desire to develop City-owned land assets more efficiently, but expressing “serious concerns” with doing so through an MDC. They don’t want to compete against the City, understandably.

Despite that opposition, Council seems keen to move forward. They approved a motion at the November 26 Executive Committee meeting to have Administration return with a report on April 12 that outlines how to get a Municipal Development Corporation up and running with the preferred “super light” model, and that includes identifying which lands “would be more suitable for primarily profit-motivated development” that the MDC could activate.

An alternative to creating an MDC could be to establish an advisory board made up of existing developers, but I think they’re likely going to go ahead with the corporation this year.

Infill

Last year wasn’t a great year for infill. We’re nowhere close to meeting the 25% target for infill development, and there was a lot of frustration shared by communities as some projects started to move ahead. Still, Council and the City have committed to infill as a critical component of building a sustainable city, so they need to find a way to keep it moving forward.

Infill was most recently discussed at the October 5/6/7 Executive Committee meeting. Council is expecting a report by March that addresses how to deal with infill sites in mature neighbourhoods. Among other things, Council is looking for “options to create an integrated inspection and enforcement team” and “options to implement a performance bond/letter of credit and/or liability insurance, and/or warranty programs to provide security for the adjacent City and private property.” Hopefully some of those options will provide a way past the negative headlines that seemed to dominate the last year.

Following that meeting, Mayor Iveson wrote that infill “is about creating more housing options for Edmontonians and their families, which is important for the social sustainability of our community over the short and long term.” He promised to “assist the communities where this important development will occur.”

Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap identified 23 actions, and roughly half of those have been completed so far. The remaining actions will be completed this year, but it’s not quite clear what will come next. The Mature Neighbourhood Reinvestment Report is to be released in the spring with numbers on the infill taking place around the city.

The Quarters, Rossdale

The Quarters project suffered a setback in 2015 when the deal between the City and BCM Homes to develop a 28-storey residential tower at Five Corners fell through. I went by the giant hole in the ground the other day and discovered it has become home to dozens of pigeons. Apparently just one interested party came forward to look at taking over the site, but no announcements have been made yet. With $56 million in infrastructure upgrades and new construction going into The Quarters, the City desperately needs private partners to come on board to help build out the area. Not to mention the City’s first CRL project at Fort Road has not been very successful, and it would be a shame to see The Quarters follow in its footsteps.

In December, Council voted to sell some land in West Rossdale to the Province for $13 million. Mayor Iveson said there will be plenty of discussion about the impact of this decision on the West Rossdale project in the year ahead. “I think we have signalled an intent we want to work with them and just want to work out some of the details,” he said. The West Rossdale Urban Design Plan was first approved in 2011, so it would be great to see some progress in the year head.

Uber, Taxis, Bike Lanes

After a year of illegal operation and some very heated debates, we should finally get a resolution on the Uber issue in 2016. Proposed changes to the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw were discussed by Council in November, but they deferred a decision until later this month. I remain a fan and happy Uber customer, and I have no doubt that Council will provide a way for Uber to operate legally in Edmonton and I’m confident they will remain here.

The other aspect of the Uber debate is what to do with taxis, if anything. Back in March Council asked for an independent study on Edmonton’s taxi service levels, and that is expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2016. The taxi companies won’t be happy about Uber, but additional changes could be on the way for their operations too.

The other contentious transportation issue that Council will need to deal with this year is bike lanes. They voted over the summer to remove bike lanes on both 95 Avenue and 40 Avenue, with an argument that doing so would pave the way for better bike infrastructure going forward. Well, now they need to prove that. As Mayor Iveson wrote in July, “Council’s statements about implementing the next generation of spaces must be quickly followed with action.”

New Civic Tower

Rogers Place isn’t the only major downtown project expected to open this year. The City of Edmonton’s new office tower is also slated wrap up construction later this year. Featuring 29 storeys the tower will stand 129.8 m tall, putting it in the top five (until the other towers in the arena district are built). The City has signed a 20 year lease for roughly 60% of the tower and has an option on naming rights too. The currently approved name is simply “Edmonton Tower”.

Council will remain at City Hall of course, but the new tower will no doubt have a large positive impact on the culture of the City, putting thousands of colleagues under one roof for the first time. With two-thirds of the City’s downtown employees moving to the tower, it will also have a potentially negative impact on other downtown buildings, creating a lot of vacant space very quickly. The City of Edmonton’s leases at the CN Tower, HSBC Building, and Scotia Place all expire in March.

And that’s just scratching the surface

There’s no shortage of issues for Council to consider throughout the year, as the list above demonstrates. But those are just the big items. Some of the other issues that will come up this year include:

  • Proposed changes to the Public Hearing process
  • An update on efforts to protect & preserve the McDougall United Church
  • An update on the City’s Image, Brand and Reputation Strategy
  • Managing the availability of Park & Ride facilities and a Gorman Park & Ride Strategy
  • Options for Alley Rehabilitation and Renewal
  • An update on the Traffic Management Pilot in Prince Charles and Pleasantview
  • An Electrical Bus Pilot
  • EFCL’s 100th Anniversary Project
  • The proposed Lewis Farms Recreation Centre
  • Funding for the Milner Library Renewal & Upgrades
  • An update on the Urban Beekeeping Program
  • An update on the Urban Hens Pilot Project
  • Plenty of Zoning Bylaw Changes (including reduced parking requirements in three pilot areas and around eating & drinking establishments)
  • An update on the proposed Galleria project
  • The 2016 Municipal Census

This is going to be a busy, difficult year. Get ready!

Mayor Iveson on Budget 2016-2018

As he did last year, Mayor Don Iveson hosted a lunchtime “editorial board” for some local bloggers at City Hall last week. We covered a range of issues during the lunch hour, including his proposal to cut the 1.5% neighbourhood renewal levy, the need for affordable housing, the latest on the City Charter and his alignment with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, and the ballooning Edmonton Police budget.

Mayor Don Iveson
Mayor Don Iveson discusses the budget with local bloggers

Communicating about the budget

It was suggested that public sentiment is that the City announces a high percentage tax increase and then Council works to bring it down throughout the budget process, looking like heroes in the process. Mayor Iveson rejected this notion. “It’s not a game, it’s us showing all the cards,” he said. The City is “the most transparent order of government” according to Mayor Iveson.

“If decisions were made in private, there’d be no cynicism,” he continued. “But there’s no cure for cynicism like participation!” He called the entire budget process a “good example of local democracy” in action.

Neighbourhood Renewal

The economic situation has changed and property owners’ ability to pay is different, is how Mayor Iveson explained his proposal to suspend the 1.5% neighbourhood renewal for three years. “For a while we were the only order of government raising taxes,” he said. “Now the other two orders of government are raising taxes.”

He wanted to be clear that cutting the levy does not mean slowing down, however. “The discussion is just how to pay for it,” he said. So if we’re cutting the levy, where will the money come from? First, Mayor Iveson suggested that the tough economy means that costs for the work could actually come down. Second, he’s counting on transfers from the Province and the Feds. “I’m quite confident we will get predictable, sustainable transfers from the Feds starting next year, potentially closing in on nine figures in transfers to Edmonton,” he said. On top of that, the mayor said it’s “a reasonable assumption” that there will be a successor to MSI. That program is getting a $20 million bump next year, but its future beyond 2018 is uncertain.

Mayor Iveson indicated the levy could be reviewed annually and brought back if necessary, though some of his Council colleagues have questioned whether it would really be that easy.

Housing

We talked a little about affordable and social housing. “It sounds like there may be funding for affordable housing in the new Federal budget,” Mayor Iveson said. He told us the City is working to influence how that money will flow. “There’s lots of opportunities to redevelop old sites where the land is the most valuable asset,” he said.

Building housing isn’t enough though. Mayor Iveson talked about the need for an ongoing funding source and said that could come from social enterprise. He mentioned the proposed Londonderry project and said that social housing with wraparound services could be very viable. “Cities are the places where creativity can occur,” he said.

Edmonton Police Service

I’ve written in the past that I think the Edmonton Police Service budget has grown too large and needs to be reigned in. It seems that Council finally agrees, as on Friday they agreed to cap budget increases for the police to the rate of inflation plus population growth. Mayor Iveson blogged about his proposal today.

Mayor Iveson didn’t give any indication he would introduce such a motion when we spoke on Wednesday, though he did say “it’s true that EPS has gotten almost everything they’ve asked for in the last eight or nine budgets.” He also suggested that the Edmonton Police Commission needs to play a role in scrutinizing the budget.

Mostly though he defended police spending and suggested the Province needs to do more to help. The mayor said Edmonton’s police budget is perhaps larger than other cities because of demographics, the boom/bust cycle, and the number of prison spaces in the region. As with health care, demand for policing is growing faster than population, said Mayor Iveson.

“The cost drivers are real,” he said, noting the impact of homelessness and poverty. “But we need to fund a response in the meantime.”

City Charter

Mayor Iveson acknowledged that the timeline for the Charter that was agreed with former Premier Jim Prentice will not be met, but said that everyone is still committed to getting it done with this Council term (the next municipal election is October 2017). He noted that kind of timetable also aligns nicely with the proclamation of the new Municipal Government Act.

Mayor Iveson outlined three phases for the City Charter discussions:

  1. Phase 1 has been about legislative changes. The goal is to have fewer restrictions on Edmonton and Calgary, and maybe over time that can trickle down to other municipalities like Red Deer. It’s really about the Province having trust in Edmonton and Caglary.
  2. Phase 2 is “an earnest discussion about roles and responsibilities.” The prime example is policing. Mayor Iveson noted that smaller communities in Alberta have their policing expenses paid for, but the big cities do not. On top of that, Edmonton picks up the tab for the region. He said “there’s a busines case here,” for example by better aligning the justice system and police to “work together more efficiently.”
  3. Phase 3 would be about financial changes. The term used most often is “long-term sustainable funding” for the big cities.

He also told us that both he and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi have aligned around four key priorities:

  1. Policing & Community Safety
  2. Housing
  3. Transit
  4. Poverty

They feel that “implementation is best done municipally” but that there’s a lot of opportunity to work together. Both Edmonton and Calgary have community plans around ending poverty, and they want to see the Province align its efforts with those plans. He noted the Province has not abandoned its Social Policy Framework and that Edmonton’s strategy is consistent with it. When it comes to funding for the plan however, “that remains to be seen.”

Budget deliberations continue

Council will continue discussing the budget right through December 10 if needed. You can dig into the budget here or you can check out the interactive budget simulator.

Uber decision deferred, $41 million for Edmonton City Centre, have your say on the budget

I’m trying something new, where I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. I’ll organize them here. Have feedback? Let me know!

Uber Decision Deferred

Today was the big Council meeting to discuss the proposed Vehicle for Hire Bylaw. Last week the City informed the media they’d need to pickup a press badge in order to be present today, and security was increased at City Hall in anticipation of heated protests. But despite a few minor outbursts during the meeting, it all felt a little underwhelming. Many Councillors used the opportunity to get on their respective soapboxes to complain about whatever – some ripped into Uber, some expressed anger at Administration, and one or two questioned why we regulate taxis at all. But that was the only drama, because in the end Council asked for more information and deferred a decision on the bylaw until late January.

Make no mistake, Uber is going to walk away from this whole situation happy. Why? Because there’s a lot more Edmontonians that want to see Uber here as an option than there are Edmontonians willing to speak up for the taxis. Council is hearing loud and clear from constituents that they want Uber in Edmonton, and that’s the most effective way to get Council to budge on something. And even if the rules that do eventually get passed aren’t ideal for Uber, they may be good enough as Councillor Walters points out. They’re threatening to leave now because it helps them secure a better negotiating position. But once there are rules to play by, it’s a simple business decision – can they make money following those rules or not?

$41 million for Edmonton City Centre

Today via Ted Bauer I saw that Oxford Property Group is planning to invest $41.3 million to “revitalize the entire retail experience” of Edmonton City Centre. A big part of the plan is to “relocate and significantly upgrade” the food courts. Currently located on the lowest level of the mall, one on the west and one on the east, the existing food courts will be consolidated centrally on the top level (as is now common in other malls and shopping centres).

Edmonton City Centre
Edmonton City Centre, photo by IQRemix

The news release mentions that “over 23,000 new residents are expected to be living downtown by 2019.” It’s great to see that Edmonton City Centre is looking at this as an opportunity and that they’re willing to invest in order to compete with Ice District. There are already a lot of empty spaces in the mall, including many that have been empty for months or even years. With a new hotel, new theatre, and lots of other retail moving just a block or two away into new buildings in Ice District, it was starting to look like Edmonton City Centre would be even emptier in just a few years.

I would suggest this investment is the minimum necessary in order for Edmonton City Centre to compete. And their relative silence on all the development happening downtown was not inspiring much confidence, so this is a nice surprise. But let’s keep it real, ok? Here’s what the Oxford site currently says:

“There’s a huge buzz coming out of downtown Edmonton—and it’s resonating entirely from Edmonton City Centre.”

That’s a bit of a stretch! Still, good to see them willing to make a play for a piece of the pie.

Have your say on the 2016-2018 Operating Budget

We’re in the middle of budget season, as you are probably aware. On Monday, November 23 a non-statutory public hearing will be held at City Hall from 1:30pm to 9:30pm. It’s an opportunity for you to speak directly to City Council about the proposed budget before a decision is made in early December. If you’d like to register to speak, you can do so here.

The full budget is available at edmonton.ca/budget2016. If you’d like a friendly introduction and overview to the budget, check out yegcitybudget.ca. And finally, if you’re a geek like me and want to dig into the data, budget.edmonton.ca is the best place to start.

The final budget discussions get underway starting November 27.

Coming up at City Council: November 9-13, 2015

This coming week Council is back to Committee meetings. I think because of the budget, a lot of reports have been postponed or rerouted. Below are a few highlights from the week’s agendas with links to the reports and more information.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

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

First Responders Memoriam

Councillor Anderson made an inquiry back in June about how Edmonton Police, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, Emergency Medical Services, and other first responders who have died on duty are honoured. Some highlights from the response:

  • “There is no one existing record or public location that identifies the names of all first responders who have died in the line of duty.”
  • EPS and EFS both have programs that honour their fallen members.
  • The City has both the Civic Employee Memorial and the Naming Committee does honour people and places in the City.
  • “The Edmonton Police Service recognize members by adding the names of fallen officers to their flag (or colours), which is on permanent public display at City of Edmonton Police Headquarters. The names of ten fallen officers, dating back to 1918, are recorded on the flag.”
  • For Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, “there is a bell tower that contains the ceremonial bell and the honour roll which names all of Edmonton’s fallen firefighters.”

The City holds a memorial event every two to three years, the next of which will take place in September 2017. “The program includes an Honour Guard procession provided by Edmonton Police Service and Fire Rescue Services, and the laying of the wreaths in honour of the deceased.”

The response also says it could be possible to identify a permanent location for a “First Responders Memorial” within City Hall.

Current Status of the Film Commission

There’s some interesting background in this report on Edmonton’s film industry. The role of Edmonton Film Commissioner was created in 2001 and since then two people have filled the position. But it has been vacant since March 2015 as EEDC “has been evaluating a new strategy which encompasses other forms of media and technology.”

There are also two recommendations, based on public engagement and other evaluation:

  • “That the Edmonton Film Commission and the role of the Edmonton Film Commissioner continue to reside with Edmonton Economic Development Corporation.”
  • “That Administration work with the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, Alberta Media Productions Industries Association and representatives of the film, music and digital media industries, to develop an industry collaboration and development framework, and provide a report to Executive Committee with the results of these discussions.”

EEDC’s new strategy is called “Intersect – a collision of artists and geeks”.

“Intersect offers a multi-disciplinary environment for content creators, interactive designers, hardware engineers, and data scientists, working to transform the way we visualize and analyze data, tell and share stories, and interact with technology.”

The strategy notes that although the digital/interactive media industry generates $7.5 billion of revenue in Canada, just 14% of digital media production takes place in Alberta, and 80% of that is in Calgary. That means there’s a big opportunity for Edmonton to take a bigger piece of the pie.

A separate strategy from AMPIA proposes the creation of an Edmonton Screen Industries Office that would support the local industry. But: “Ultimately, there needs to be collaboration with municipal and provincial organizations and government departments to align goals and resources where appropriate to grow Edmonton screen and cultural industries.”

There’s also a report on the Film Funding Agreement between the City and EEDC. “Administration sees a continued economic benefit in supporting the previously established agreement.”

Distributed Energy in Edmonton’s Downtown

The report begins:

“The City of Edmonton has long understood the benefits of a district energy system and has been monitoring district energy opportunities for several decades. Feasibility studies were done in 1980 and 1992 to explore implementation of district energy in the central core. Since that early work, the technology has evolved considerably and the infrastructure needed takes less space and is more cost-effective than traditional boiler installations.”

The business case for a district energy system in downtown Edmonton is now ready for Council’s review. The City would need to provide a few things in order for it to work: commit City-owned building connections, provide a central located building site for the energy hub, and encourage other organizations to use it. It would also need to contribute $9 million over three years to “help to offset ENMAX’s financial investment and risk” in developing the system.

The benefits of the district energy system for downtown include:

  • “A reduction of 18,100 tonnes (3,800 cars) of greenhouse gas emissions per year in the initial build out of the district energy system.”
  • “Reduced environmental footprint for municipally owned and operated buildings.”
  • “Increased power grid resiliency for the urban core.”

Administration will likely bring forward an unfunded service package for the system for Council to review during the 2016-2018 budget process.

Low Income Transit Pass

This report is a follow-up to Council’s request from April on options for implementation and distribution of the Low Income Transit Pass for 2016. The pass is to have an initial discount of 60%, funded by property taxes. Administration is recommending a $35 pass for eligible customers.

“The most significant challenge for implementing a low income pass program is ensuring that there are enough distribution points so that qualified individuals and families can purchase the pass with relative ease, while still ensuring that only those intended to benefit from the tax levy funded subsidy do so.”

There are more than 100,000 individuals in Edmonton with incomes below the Low Income Cut Off (LICO). ETS expects that an average of 20,000 Low Income Transit Passes will be sold each month (which includes the roughly 5,000 people who already qualify for the AISH Pass). The report recommends four sales locations: Clareview Recreation Centre, Mill Woods Recreation Centre, St. Francis Xavier Sports Centre, and City Hall.

In terms of budget implications:

“The net impact for the recommended $35 Low Income Transit Pass, for all transit services, is $3.1 million in 2016, $6.3 million in 2017 and $8.4 million in 2018.”

Administration is also providing a couple of enhancement options and alternatives:

  • One enhancement would mean that qualifying families only pay for adults and all children under 18 would get a transit pass at no cost. This would further reduce ETS revenue by $2.3 million.
  • A separate enhancement could be to provide the pass at no cost to all eligible Edmontonians. A further reduction in ETS revenue of approximately $8 million would anticipated.
  • An alternative would be a $1 pay-as-you-go cash fare. The cost to ETS of such a program would be “significantly reduced compared to the monthly pass” but the cost to Edmontonians could be more or less, depending on how many rides they take each month.

The City is also recommending that 500 transit passes be distributed monthly to homeless citizens.

Another interesting item from the report is that the “new Low Income Transit Pass operational program should be considered as an interim process” because the regional Smart Fare system will incorporate all fare products, including low income. The report says the new Smart Fare system is expected to be operational in 2018.

Neighbourhood Renewal Program Status Update

There’s lots of really interesting information in this report! From 2009 to 2014, Neighbourhood Renewal Program investment has totaled $660 million. That includes:

  • 22 Neighbourhood Reconstruction Projects
  • 44 Neighbourhood Overlay Projects
  • Total of 1651 lane kilometres of Local/Collector Roads renewed

The Capital Budget for 2015-2018 would total $615 million in Neighbourhood Renewal. That’s 1.5% annually and will fund:

  • 20 Neighbourhood Reconstruction Projects
  • 24 Neighbourhood Overlay Projects
  • Total of 1122 lane kilometres of Local/Collector Roads renewed

The report includes a possible reduction to just 1.4% for 2016, 2017, and 2018, which would reduce the funding by $41.6 million.

Other interesting items

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.

Coming up at City Council: November 2-6, 2015

The City released its proposed 2016-2018 Operating Budget today, something that Council will start discussing in the days ahead.

“The City of Edmonton’s proposed 2016-2018 Operating Budget recommends a 4.9 per cent general property tax increase in 2016 for all civic operations. Similar increases are proposed for the budgets in the second and third years. The proposed budget holds the tax increase for all civic operations to 2.5 per cent.”

For the typical household (a single-family dwelling with an assessed value of $401,000), that would mean an increase of $109 in 2016, $114 in 2017 and $120 in 2018.

Untitled
Photo by City of Edmonton

The City says it has “restrained base operating costs” and has found some savings as part of Council’s 2%:

“The City’s efforts to find efficiencies and innovation has identified $29.9 million in operating savings or cost avoidance for 2016. Of that, $10.1 million is being made available for Council to reallocate to areas of greater priority.”

You can learn more about the budget here, and you can fill out the online survey to provide your input by November 14.

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.

2016-2018 Operating Budget

The public release of the proposed budget is a big step forward toward approval, but it’s only a step. A non-statutory public hearing will be held on November 23, offering the public a chance to speak to the budget. Council deliberations will take place from November 27 to December 10, after which Council will have approved the budget and all amendments.

This is the first time the City is planning its Operating Budget on a three-year basis. The City provides these three reasons for the change:

  • Stability: Planning a budget over multiple years allows Council and Administration to take a ‘longer view’ of Edmonton’s needs, and build out stable program and service delivery. This allows Edmonton to better plan stable revenues and expenditures, providing consistent funding levels for the programs and services Edmontonians expect.
  • Flexibility: Multi-year budget planning allows the City to be more flexible in how it finances operations, allowing Council and Administration to reallocate funding priorities across the different years of the longer budget cycle. This enables the City to bring in programs and services when they are most needed, and to adapt to the ever-changing needs of our city.
  • Future Planning: As one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities, Edmonton needs to be able to plan for its future vision while also meeting its present day demands. Multi-year budgeting permits Council and Administration to implement or revise programs and services over a longer time frame, rather than being limited to yes/no decisions on a yearly basis. This means, for example, if a new program or service doesn’t fit into this year’s budget cycle, it can still be planned for a later year.

I think another benefit of a three-year budget is that Administration should be able to save much of the time, money, and stress that goes into preparing the budget every year. The budget dominates much of the City’s work through November and December.

Stay tuned, there will be much more budget discussion to come in the weeks ahead!

Augustana Redevelopment

Bylaw 17423 will rezone the property at 9901 107 Street downtown from CMU to DC2, to make way for Pangman Development’s planned Augustana Redevelopment (which you can learn more about here on SkysraperPage). The residential building will be a maximum of 96 metres high with up to 235 units, and it’s likely to be a rental property.

augustana redevelopment

The Edmonton Design Committee approved the application with conditions back in September. The current site is home to the former Augustana Lutheran Church, which closed its doors last December after 85 years.

Committee Recommendations

Recommendations that have come forward from Committee include:

There are also two Executive Committee reports that have been referred without a recommendation:

Other interesting items

  • Bylaw 17396 will rename “Horse Hill Neighbourhood 2” to the “Marquis Neighbourhood”.
  • Now that a judicial recount has confirmed that Amarjeet Sohi won his seat in Edmonton-Mill Woods, Council will receive a verbal report on the Ward 12 by-election.
  • Council will consider participation in the Leadership in Asset Management Program which will allow the City to receive grant funding from FCM’s Green Municipal Fund.
  • Bylaw 17289 is ready for three readings and will amend the Speed Zones Bylaw to change various maximum speed limits throughout the city.
  • There are motions pending from Councillor Henderson (on food waste), Councillor Oshry (on public engagement stats), and Mayor Iveson (on procedures and committees).
  • Council is slated to hear from the City Manager Recruitment Committee as well, though that update will be kept private.

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.

Coming up at City Council: October 26-30, 2015

This coming week Council is back to Committee meetings. Below are a few highlights from the week’s agendas with links to the reports and more information.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

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

Affordable Housing

Executive Committee will be discussing three related reports on Tuesday:

Here is the Edmonton context, according to the first report:

“In Edmonton, an estimated 11,600 social housing units will be affected by expiring operating agreements representing approximately $22 million in federal funding. These units are scattered throughout the city and include seniors self-contained housing, nonprofit housing, continuing co-operative housing, urban native housing, rent supplement housing and community housing. Of the community housing portfolio, the City of Edmonton is the whole or beneficial owner of approximately 3,400 units. The operating agreements for these units will begin to expire in 2022 with the majority ended by 2034.”

The ongoing City Charter negotiations with the Province are expected to address the issue of affordable housing, specifically when it comes to money. On the issue of the budget:

“Assuming that the City continues to participate in funding social housing at the current level, Administration estimates the need for an additional $4.6 million per year for the next 13 years (total of $59.8 million) in order to regenerate all 13 wholly City-owned social housing projects.”

The proposed Affordable Housing Strategy would replace the existing Building Together strategy, and would guide the City’s role in affordable housing for the next ten years (2016-2025). The strategy establishes four goals:

  1. Increase the supply of affordable housing in all areas of the city.
  2. Maintain the supply of affordable and market rental housing.
  3. Enable stable residential tenancies and transition people out of homelessness.
  4. Anticipate, recognize and coordinate action to respond to housing and homeless needs.

While stating that “municipal governments are best positioned to understand local housing needs,” the report says that “increasing the supply of affordable housing requires dedicated, sustained sources of funding, which must be provided by the other orders of government.”

Once the Affordable Housing Strategy is approved, the City will develop an implementation plan with specific initiatives that would begin early next year.

Council has previously directed that 20% of the housing units in Blatchford be affordable. The report linked above outlines the Principles for Development of Affordable Housing at Blatchford, details the Affordable Housing Allocation, and notes that “the $10 million earmarked for affordable housing from the proceeds of future land sales at Blatchford be used to offset the market value of land to be used for permanent supportive housing in Blatchford.”

River Access Guiding Principles Policy

Recognizing how important the North Saskatchewan River is Edmontonians quality of life, these guiding principles are being developed as “the backbone of a comprehensive river access strategy that will inform future programming, operations and infrastructure improvements that support access to the river and activities associated with the river.”

Edmonton Fall Season
Edmonton Fall Season, photo by IQRemix

Work began back in 2013 and consultation has identified strong support for the guiding principles. Over the next year, the River Access Strategy and implementation plan will be developed.

“Approval of Policy C586 will ensure that the provision, development and management of river access and river-based activities in the City of Edmonton is responsible, orderly, equitable and environmentally appropriate, while providing opportunities for recreation, education and learning.”

The seven guiding principles are as follows:

  1. Ensure public access to the river and riverside infrastructure as public domain.
  2. Value and protect the unique character and environment in the river valley by stewarding, protecting, conserving and restoring the integrity of the river.
  3. Educate and engage Edmontonians to build lifelong skills, as well as awareness and appreciation of the river and its natural surroundings in order to nurture stewardship of a valued resource.
  4. Foster collaboration and partnerships so that infrastructure and facilities are shared and programming is coordinated.
  5. Promote public safety and responsible use to communicate safe water recreation behaviors, emergency response and bylaw enforcement.
  6. Provide and support a range of river recreation opportunities to enhance Edmonton’s unique quality of life.
  7. Celebrate the cultural, historical and social role of the river in the city to build awareness and appreciation of the river.

You can read the full strategy here.

Process for New Libraries

This report outlines EPL’s prioritization process for new libraries and its rationale for advancing the preliminary design for the Penny McKee – Abbottsfield Branch. There’s a lot of information here, but I wanted to highlight a few things I learned:

  • “The need for a new full service library branch is determined through an analysis of current and projected population in a particular area of the city, along with proximity to other full service library sites.”
  • “Planning for a new location generally begins once an area’s population has reached 20,000 and is projected to grow to 30,000 to 35,000 within the next five years, and where there is not another library branch within four to five kilometres.”
  • Selected sites must be highly visible, close to or on premium transit routes and roadways, close to current or planned LRT, and be readily accessible to pedestrians.
  • EPL “seeks opportunities for co-location of library service points with other municipal services” like recreation centres.
  • EPL branches are classified into three sizes: Small (10,000 square feet and under), Medium (over 10,000 up to 18,000 square feet), and Large (25,000 square feet).

The key unfunded capital project priorities over the next 10 years identified in Edmonton Public Library’s 2015-2024 Capital Plan are the following, in descending order of priority:

  • Riverbend (existing branch)
  • Lewis Estates (will replace West Henday Promenade eplGO)
  • Heritage Valley (new branch)
  • Woodcroft (existing branch)
  • Pilot Sound (new branch)
  • Whitemud Crossing (existing branch)
  • Castledowns (existing branch)
  • Abbottsfield (existing branch)
  • Ellerslie (new branch)

There’s a lot of information on the rationale for moving the Abbottsfield branch “to an owned facility in 2022-2024 (design and build timeline).” The current branch is serving the public well and the existing lease doesn’t expire until 2020, but “the importance of a library accessible to a community, particularly one that faces higher than average social issues, is a factor for consideration.”

Transit Fares 2016-2018

Earlier this year, Council decided that transit fares would be set within the multi-year budgeting process. Administration is suggesting that the increase be set at an average of 3% per year. Adult cash fares would therefore be:

  • 2015: $3.20
  • 2016: $3.25
  • 2017: $3.50
  • 2018: $3.50

Thankfully they are rounding fares to the nearest 0.25 now to make it easier to pay. Adult monthly pass fares would be:

  • 2015: $89.00
  • 2016: $91.50
  • 2017: $94.25
  • 2018: $97.00

You can see the full fee schedule here. There has been no public engagement on these fares yet, not even an online survey.

With the new fares, ETS cost recovery would remain fairly constant between 41% and 42%. Ridership is slated to increase slightly, but rides per capita will decline.

Air Conditioning on ETS Vehicles

Councillor Sohi made a request for information on this topic back in July. The report says that 57 of 94 LRT cars have air conditioning and just two hybrid-buses have air conditioning – the remaining 884 buses have none. In Calgary, they have 150 buses with air conditioning that engages at 24 degrees Celsius. And surprisingly, Winnipeg has 256 buses with air conditioning!

ETS Platinum (6002)
ETS Platinum (6002), photo by Kurt Bauschardt

I don’t think this is worth pursuing, given that we have an average of just 42 days per year with temperatures of 24 degrees Celsius or above, but the report does provide pricing information. The cost to add air conditioning to new buses is $22,500 per bus, and the cost to retrofit is $43,000 per bus. On top of that, if the entire ETS fleet were to be outfitted with air conditioning, it would cost an additional $457,000 per year to operate.

2016-2018 Waste Management & Drainage Services Utility Operating Budgets

The 2016-2018 Waste Management Utility Operating Budget is now ready for Council review:

  • 2016: Revenues of $187,952,000 and Expenditures of $189,998,000.
  • 2017: Revenues of $199,290,000 and Expenditures of $197,327,000.
  • 2018: Revenues of $207,332,000 and Expenditures of $206,461,000.

The 2016-2018 Drainage Services Utility Operating Budget is also ready for Council review:

  • 2016: Revenues of $172,890,000 and Expenditures of $133,896,000.
  • 2017: Revenues of $181,059,000 and Expenditures of $143,471,000.
  • 2018: Revenues of $187,142,000 and Expenditures of $149,920,000.

Council has until October 26 to submit written questions, which Administration will respond to by October 28. Budget deliberations will take place in late November.

Other interesting items

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.

Edmonton will be well-represented in our new federal government

Though most of Alberta voted blue in yesterday’s election, there were a few key races that went red, including two here in Edmonton. Current City Councillor Amarjeet Sohi narrowly won against incumbent Tim Uppal (Conservative) in Edmonton-Mill Woods, and Randy Boissonnault defeated James Cumming (Conservative) and Gil McGowan (NDP) in Edmonton-Centre.

trudeau & sohi
Justin Trudeau & Amarjeet Sohi, photo by Sukhpreet Benipal

Sohi’s victory (assuming it is confirmed) means that Council will see it’s first by-election in more than 20 years. As I wrote earlier this year, a by-election must take place within 90 days according to the MGA, but the City is planning to ask the Province for a 30 day extension so that the Christmas holidays can be avoided. That will likely mean a nomination day sometime in January with the by-election taking place in mid-February.

Throughout his time on Council, Sohi has proven himself as a strong, effective leader who understands the importance of cities. He could have run for mayor in 2013 if Iveson hadn’t. Sohi has been a consistent supporter of both expanding the LRT here in Edmonton and of our city’s efforts to eliminate poverty. I’m sad to see him go from Council, and although he leaves behind a very capable group of colleagues, I know they’ll miss his wisdom and dedication. At the same time I’m thrilled to have such a great Edmonton champion in our nation’s government.

Randy Boissonnault was the other successful local Liberal candidate. I’m sure he’s excited to get to work in Ottawa, but I bet he could also use a moment to catch his breath as it feels like he has been campaigning forever! Boissonnault has been a consistent supporter of many important initiatives in Edmonton, including TEDxEdmonton and Startup Edmonton. He’ll bring a great Edmonton perspective to the government, and seems to have a strong relationship with Justin Trudeau as well.

Randy Boissonnault
Randy Boissonnault, photo by Dave Cournoyer

Edmonton-Centre was previously held by Laurie Hawn (Conservative) who announced he would not seek re-election after serving since 2006. He defeated Anne McLellan (Liberal) to win the seat, who was at the time the Deputy Prime Minister (the last person to hold that position as the Harper government did not name anyone).

We won’t know until November 4 if either Sohi or Boissonnault are named to Trudeau’s cabinet, but it’s a positive sign that the Prime Minister-elect was in both Edmonton and Calgary on Sunday doing some last minute campaigning.

It’s also a good thing that Edmonton has strong representation from all three parties, because opposition MPs do important work as well. Linda Duncan (NDP) won re-election in Edmonton-Strathcona, and Mike Lake (Conservative) won re-election in Edmonton-Wetaskiwin. Both have represented our city well in Ottawa and will continue to do so, although in slightly different roles. Joining them are new MPs like former City Councillor Kerry Diotte (Conservative) who should also bring an interesting municipal perspective to his new role.

Although we now have fewer Edmonton representatives in the government than we did under the Conservatives, I don’t think that necessarily puts us at a disadvantage. Trudeau and the Liberals are arguably a better fit with progressives like Premier Notley and Mayor Iveson. And the Liberal promise to invest $20 billion over 10 years in transit aligns very well with Edmonton’s top infrastructure priority.

For now I’m cautiously optimistic about what the new Liberal government means for Edmonton, and I’m thrilled for both Sohi and Boissonnault!

Coming up at City Council: October 19-23, 2015

Monday is the federal election, so that will be the focus for most Edmontonians and I’m sure Council will be paying close attention also. Mayor Iveson joined other big city Canadian mayors in calling for cities to be a key factor in determining who to vote for. FCM has setup a website to provide information on all of the promises the parties have made related to cities.

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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.

Zoning Bylaw Amendments on Urban Agriculture

Bylaw 17403 is a text amendment to the Zoning Bylaw 12800 that will add several urban agriculture uses and associated regulations. There are three new uses:

  • Urban Gardens “is for personal, community, or institutional food production and will be allowed in most zones.”
  • Urban Outdoor Farms “is for commercial food production on private property, primarily intended for vacant and underutilized lots in Edmonton.”
  • Urban Indoor Farms “is for commercial and industrial operations that take advantage of new technologies and processes to increase yield and operate year round.”

Additionally, “Farms” will be renamed to “Rural Farms” and “Greenhouses, Plant Nurseries and Market Gardens” is renamed to “Greenhouses, Plant Nurseries and Garden Centres” and will be updated to better align with the products those businesses sell.

The goal of these amendments is to more closely align the Zoning Bylaw with the policies identified in Fresh, Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy. Importantly, the three new uses “are proposed to assert that primary food production is legal and encouraged in Edmonton.”

Anthony Henday Drive & 135 Street Interchange and Manning/Meridian Interchange

The City is recommending an interchange at Anthony Henday Drive and 135 Street, which could cost in the order of $125 million, “as one of the three top candidates for the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component of the New Building Canada Fund.” They say the return of investment would come from further development of Heritage Valley.

Also up for Council’s consideration is a project bundle for the Edmonton Energy and Technology Park. The planned 4800 ha area envisioned as “a world-class eco-industrial park” is off to a slow start.

“Development in the Edmonton Energy and Technology Park to date has been limited. It is unlikely that development will occur as desired without infrastructure investment. A significant impediment to development taking place in the Edmonton Energy and Technology Park currently is the lack of existing infrastructure and its associated cost.”

The infrastructure investment in both transportation and stormwater drainage could cost in the order of $230 million. However, Administration advises that “it would be appropriate for Council to first provide direction with respect to the degree to which, and where, public funds should contribute to infrastructure servicing that is otherwise provided by developers.”

Meeting Schedule & Council Appointments

It’s that time of year again – Council needs to approve its meeting schedule for the year ahead. There’s nothing too surprising in the proposed schedule. Council would resume after the Christmas break on January 11 and would meet through March 24, right before the Easter break. The summer break would begin on July 15, with Council resuming on August 15.

“The draft January 1, 2016, to December 31, 2016, Council and Committee Meeting Schedule has 19 Council and Standing Committee meeting rotations, 19 Statutory Public Hearings, 18 Non-regular City Council meetings, along with three half-day Council meetings and eight Committee meetings for civic agency recruitment and selection matters.”

The report helpfully includes some statistics from 2013 – 2015 to compare the proposed schedule with previous years. Council must also set the Deputy Mayor and Acting Mayor schedules for the coming year. Each Councillor gets a turn.

As of December 31, a number of Council appointments to civic agencies will expire. The following appointments are being proposed:

  • Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Exchange Agreement Coordinating Committee – Councillor Anderson and Councillor Walters
  • Canadian Urban Transit Association Transit Board Members Committee – Councillor Sohi
  • Capital Region Board – Councillor Gibbons
  • Capital Region Waste Minimization Advisory Committee – Councillor Anderson
  • Edmonton Police Commission – Councillor McKeen
  • Edmonton Public Library Board – Councillor Henderson
  • Edmonton Salutes – Councillor Loken
  • Inter-City Forum on Social Policy – Councillor Esslinger
  • REACH Edmonton Council for Safe Communities – Councillor Loken (as advisor/liaison)

If Councillor Sohi is successful in Monday’s election, then a future report will be brought forward to replace his existing appointments. There is also a list of appointments not yet up for renewal if you’d like to see which Councillors are representing us where.

Northern Circumpolar Secretariat Memorandum of Understanding

The Northern Circumpolar Secretariat is a collaborative effort between the City, EEDC, Chamber of Commerce, U of A, and the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority. It was established earlier this year and the report on the table presents the Memorandum of Understanding for approval. It is “a policy tool to ensure the long-term stability of the Secretariat as it executes its mandate in support of the Northern Relations Council Initiative.” The MOU is 10 pages long and also attached is a 22-page business plan which outlines the budget, governance model, goals, vision, and timeline and deliverables for the Secretariat. The City is providing $90,000 this year, $35,750 in 2016, and $62,000 in 2017.

Adoption of the Aster NSP

Aster is the 7th and final neighbourhood in The Meadows ASP. Larkspur, Wild Rose, and Silverberry are considered 100& complete in terms of low density residential units while Laurel, Tamarack, and Maple are considered 45% complete.

meadows asp

Aster will accommodate approximately 3,499 dwelling units and 8,755 people, which is a density of 33.3 upnrha, barely meeting the CRB target for the region. It will account for approximately 15% of The Meadows ASP’s gross area and population.

The neighbourhood will include:

  • one school/park site, with two K-9 schools located in the centre of the area, and three pocket parks throughout the neighbourhood
  • approximately 22 hectares of preserved existing natural areas
  • approximately 13 hectares of stormwater management facilities
  • a system of shared use paths and a bicycle network

The initial neighbourhood infrastructure costs are being largely funded by developers – $104.7 million compared to the City’s $14.8 million – but as usual “there will also be associated operating and life cycle costs that would require City funding allocations in Operating, Utilities and Capital Budgets.” City funding could be required as early as 2017 if the planned construction begins in 2016.

Bylaw 17366 will be considered along with Bylaw 17365 to amend the Meadows ASP and Bylaw 17367 to amend the boundary of the North Saskatchewan River Valley ARP.

Committee Recommendations

Recommendations that have come forward from Committee include:

There are also two Executive Committee reports that have been referred without a recommendation:

Bylaws

There are a number of bylaws on the agenda. Here are a few highlights:

  • Bylaw 17352 will allow for digital signs to be erected in South Edmonton Common, between Gateway Boulevard and Parsons Road and 23 Avenue and Anthony Henday.
  • Bylaw 17373 and Bylaw 17374 together will “ensure the continued operation and preservation of the Oblats Maison Provinciale building, a Designated Municipal and Provincial Historic Resource.”
  • Bylaw 17297 would amend the Public Places Bylaw to include the prohibition of e-cigarettes in the same manner as tobacco products.
  • Bylaw 17432 authorizes borrowing of up to $250 million for the Valley Line LRT project.
  • Bylaw 17390 will increase the borrowing authority to finance construction costs for the Valley Line LRT from $152 million to $1.1 billion.

Other interesting items

  • Council will once again be discussing the Youth Council recommendation of vegetarian eating, in the name of sustainability.
  • There is a small change being proposed to the 2016-2018 Budget Process, to allow for an early release of the Utility Budget. Council must now submit written questions regarding the budget by October 28.
  • The City Manager Recruitment Committee, made up of Mayor Iveson and Councillors Esslinger, Loken, and Walters, met for the first time on September 30. Pretty much all of their activities will be carried out in private.
  • Tuesday’s agenda includes six private reports, including an update on the Valley Line LRT Funding Plan, an update on City Infrastructure Priorities for the Provincial Budget, and a status update from the Acting City Manager.
  • Wednesday’s agenda includes just two private reports: verbal shortlistings for both the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority and the Edmonton Police Commission.

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.