EndPoverty Edmonton recognizes volunteers and moves closer to finalizing its strategy

When I last wrote about EndPoverty Edmonton, the task force had formed a series of working groups tasked with generating recommendations that would form the basis of a strategy to end poverty in Edmonton. Now five months later, after countless hours of hard work from hundreds of volunteers, the strategy is inching toward completion.

EndPoverty Edmonton is a task force chaired by Mayor Don Iveson and Bishop Jane Alexander and is composed of 18 leaders and stakeholders representing a broad array of communities. The vision is to eliminate poverty in Edmonton within a generation (roughly 30 years according to the OECD definition) and the task force’s mandate is to develop a long-term plan to achieve that vision.

Volunteer Appreciation

Last week, Mayor Iveson and the City staff working on the project hosted a volunteer appreciation event. “It’s so encouraging to see how many people stepped forward to help,” Mayor Iveson said. “Thanks for caring and wanting to make a difference for your fellow citizens.”

Over 200 volunteers contributed to 7 working groups, 2 round tables, and a few other subcommittees of the task force. Most groups met at least once a month from September 2014 through March 2015, and sometimes they met much more frequently than that. Countless hours were put in to help develop the recommendations required to construct the strategy.

The mayor acknowledged that although the structure and timescale that was imposed was difficult, it was important to maintain momentum, and seemed happy that that had been more or less achieved. He admitted that he’s not sure what EndPoverty Edmonton will look like after the strategy is finalized, but said that multiple options and models are being considered.

The goal now is to build a movement and the challenge is to figure out how to sustain it for a generation. “We have mugs now so we’re an official thing!” he joked. Everyone got to take one home at the end of the night. They won’t make a movement, but they can help to spark the conversation, we were told.

EndPoverty Edmonton

Toward the end of his remarks, Mayor Iveson talked about the TRC recommendations and The Walrus Talks Aboriginal City event from a couple months ago. He shared some thoughts on treaties, on what the Cree word for poverty means (it doesn’t talk about money), and on Canada being “an unfinished country” before joking that he didn’t mean to deliver his nation building speech. I thought the question he posed was entirely appropriate though: “What would it look like if we set out to build a city that lives and breathes the treaty spirit?”

The parting message to volunteers was to stay involved, as ambassadors if nothing else.

Recommendations

The working groups and round tables generated approximately 80 recommendations with over 400 actions. These were presented to the task force in March, and over the last few months they narrowed the list to 59 recommendations by combining similar ones and reworking others. To give you a sense of what the recommendations look like, here are a few selected at random:

  • Establish an Aboriginal Culture and Wellness Center
  • The City of Edmonton should ensure the design of transportation modes and access for citizens from all walks of life to basic services within inclusive Edmonton neighbourhoods
  • Improve income security as a pivotal factor for achieving good health and wellness
  • Improve timely access to a range of preventative-oriented mental health and wellness services
  • Grow entrepreneurship initiatives to build sustainable livelihoods and assets
  • Spearhead a “Make Something Inclusive Edmonton” movement of public space that create opportunities to inspire caring relationships, mutual sharing and learning among community members

Earlier this month, the number of recommendations was further reduced at a two-day facilitated event for task force members. They established criteria, priorities, and categorizations for the recommendations to help narrow the list down to just the most critical ones. For criteria, they considered:

  • Upstream/prevention
  • Impact on vulnerable populations
  • Foundational/sustainable change
  • Ripple effect
  • Achievable

As for priorities, they decided upon two types: “must do” and “why not?” They further categorized these as recommendations that fall within the mandate of the City of Edmonton, recommendations that the City will lead along with other stakeholders, and recommendations that belong with the broader movement.

In the end, 26 priority recommendations were identified and they are expected to go into the strategy that Council will consider in the fall. Half of these are considered “must do” while the other half are “why nots”. The list could still change in the end, but it feels like the task force is very close to finalizing it.

At the volunteer appreciation event, Mayor Iveson made a point of reassuring everyone that “the detail is not lost” and that the broader list of recommendations and actions has simply been parked for now and will become critical again as we get into implementation. He noted the importance of ensuring the work would “resonate with and have an impact on some key audiences” like policy makers and politicians.

Public Support

When Mayor Iveson first talked of elevating poverty elimination to a task force with the weight of the mayor’s office behind it, he wasn’t sure how the idea would be received. “It’s a bold goal, but we are not afraid to take it on,” he said publicly, but privately he was uncertain about announcing the task force in front of 2200 business and community leaders.

State of the City Address 2015

Of course he charged ahead, and the room expressed its strong support for the initiative. And in April, further support was identified through a benchmark survey on Edmontonians’ awareness and attitudes towards poverty. That survey found that “Edmontonians consider poverty as a significant problem in Edmonton” and that most “would like to know more about how they can contribute towards eliminating poverty.”

Though the feeling that poverty is inevitable lingers, the survey found that the majority of Edmontonians believe that poverty can be eliminated or drastically reduced. There’s also strong recognition that there’s more to poverty than just money.

Count yourself in

The biggest challenge will be turning the work of EndPoverty Edmonton into a movement that can last for a generation. In recent weeks the City along with its partners has developed some marketing material to help build toward this goal.

“Fighting poverty and social exclusion is a collective responsibility. Everyone can play a role. We encourage you to raise your voice. Join the dialogue. Show your support. Rally for change.”

A big element of this was the launch of the new website and the increase in activity on social media. Both are continuing to develop and will gain new improvements in the months ahead, but already I’ve found the Twitter account a great source of information and resources related to poverty elimination.

EndPoverty Edmonton

You can share your ideas on the website, and stay tuned for additional opportunities coming up such as a series of community conversations over the winter.

What’s next?

A two-phase approach has been adopted to take this work forward. The first phase is the approval of the strategy, which is slated to go to City Council’s Community Services Committee on September 14, followed by a full City Council meeting on September 22. The second phase would be the adopt of the implementation plan, which is expected to be complete around April 2016. In between, a series of community conversations are being planned to give Edmontonians an opportunity to learn about the plan and about what they can do to help implement it.

endpoverty edmonton

You can follow @EndPovertyYEG on Twitter, on Facebook, and you can check out the new website at endpovertyedmonton.ca.

Coming up at City Council: June 22-26, 2015

It has been a while since my last Council update! I’m going to try to get back into it, with some experimentation on the format. Instead of going day-by-day as I have in the past, I’m going to try a more general overview this time with a focus on highlighting a few specific items. Let me know if you have any feedback or suggestions on how to make this update more readable and useful.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

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

2013-2017 Council Initiatives – Status Update

There are 23 Council Initiatives underway and by policy they are reviewed annually by City Council. There is an attachment for each initiative here, with work accomplished as of May 2015. Here are some highlights of the next steps:

  • Child Friendly Edmonton – Plans are underway for a Pecha Kucha-style forum in the fall, and development of an intergenerational toolkit is underway.
  • EndPoverty Edmonton – The strategy will be presented to Council in September 2015, with a full implementation plan to be finalized by Spring 2016
  • ELEVATE – Work continues on a collaborative project to demonstrate the intent and approach of ELEVATE, primarily with the Greater Hardisty Community Sustainability Coalition.
  • Emerging Economy – Make Something Edmonton is working on supports for ambassadors of Edmonton, Edmonton Original is working on “52 fishhooks” (a reason to come to Edmonton every week of the year), and EEDC is scaling up its Entrepreneurship 101, Front Desk, and Vacancy Hall programs.
  • NextGen – Projects like Pecha Kucha, MEAET, the Ideas Conference, and others will continue, and an RFP is out for the redevelopment of the website.
  • Public Engagement – There are plans to establish a Public Engagement Advisory Committee, and also to undertake the 2015 Everyday Political Citizen campaign.
  • Public Transit – There are a number of sub-initiatives here, but the report notes that 30% of buses are equipped with Smart Bus Technology with plans for another 500 buses to receive the technology by the end of the year. Also, ridership increased 2.5% in 2014 to 89,283,000 trips, and so far in 2015 there has been “a modest increase” over 2014 levels.

You can read the rest of the updates here.

Ward Boundary Review Implications

This report outlines some options for a ward boundary review. This review could address population criteria, may better align ward boundaries to community league boundaries and easily identifiable borders, and could even result in changes to the number of Councillors. You can see the current wards here.

Option 1 is called Ward Boundary Correction and would change the borders of wards 9, 10, 11, and 12 to “balance them to the optimum population levels.” This option is expected to cost $40,000 for public engagement and consultation, redrawing of boundaries, and map creation.

Option 2 is called Ward Boundary Review and is a more in-depth analysis. The last review was completed after the 2007 municipal election, which resulted in a change from 6 to 12 wards. According to last year’s census, there are no wards that have exceeded the minimum or maximum population growth threshold, so a review isn’t required. Moving ahead with a review would allow Council to consider other changes like adding more Councillors or staff, which could result in building, technology, and governance changes. The cost for this option is estimated at $200,000.

Comparing to other cities is difficult, but the report notes that Calgary has 14 wards, Ottawa has 23, and Toronto has 44. Vancouver doesn’t have wards and instead has 10 Councillors at large.

If Council wishes to make changes to the Ward Boundaries and Council Composition Bylaw (15142) they need to do so by April 18, 2017 in order to have it passed at least 180 days before the general election as required by the MGA.

104 Avenue Corridor Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP)

The 104 Avenue Corridor ARP is going to Council on Monday.

104 avenue corridor

This is a big item that you’ve probably been hearing about, especially if you live in Oliver where a series of open houses were held, as well as meetings with community leagues, businesses, and others.

“The 104 Avenue Corridor Area Redevelopment Plan provides a holistic vision and framework of policies and initiatives for the transformation and integration of the 104 Avenue Corridor into a transit supportive, sustainable community.”

The plan covers the area between 111 Street and 123 Street and is important because that is the future alignment for the west leg of the Valley Line LRT. You can read the final version of the ARP and learn more about the project here.

2016-2018 Operating Budget Guidelines

Work continues on the 2016-2018 Operating Budget, but this report had a few things I found particularly interesting:

  • Population growth rates for Edmonton are estimated at: 1.9% for 2016, 2.4% for 2017, and 2.6% for 2018.
  • The consumer price index increase is estimated at: 2% for 2016, 2.2% for 2017, and 2.2% for 2018.
  • Maintaining current services would result in a general tax increase of: 3.5% in 2016, 3.7% in 2017, and 3.6% in 2018.
  • Including the Neighbourhood Renewal Program and Valley Line LRT funding requirements, the forecasted tax levy increase would be: 6.0% in 2016, 6.1% in 2017, and 5.9% in 2018.

The City will be updating the City Budget microsite with more information as the operating budget is developed, so stay tuned. They’re also planning to “go to the people” for public engagement on the budget, rather than simply hosting their own open houses.

Committee recommendations

Here are some recommendations from Council’s committees that will be voted on this week worth highlighting:

Other interesting items

  • A rezoning for the North by Lamb Development tower is on the agenda for the public hearing. The rezoning would accommodate a 123 metre high tower (approximately 37 storeys) at 10160 106 Street.
  • The City is researching what other cities in Canada are doing with respect to Enterprise Risk Management. “It appears that Edmonton is a leader in its Enterprise Risk Management efforts,” says the report.
  • Council has been told to expect The Way Ahead Progress Report 2014 in September. That report will provide “an account of how well the City is meeting its goals and corporate outcomes.” Administration also says the Citizen Dashboard reports performance, though only 4 of the 26 corporate outcome measures are included. The rest are expected to be added after the Progress Report is released in September.
  • Bylaw 17233 will amend the parking bylaw (5590) to allow pay-by-plate parking, which the City is rolling out under the name EPark.
  • The 2016-2018 business plans for Waste Management Utility and Drainage Services are now available.

Private Reports & Motions Pending

There are seven private reports on the agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting, covering some very interesting topics. For instance, Council is slated to hear about Valley Line LRT expropriation, an update on the City Charter, and a major event hosting opportunity.

There’s also a motion pending from Councillor Oshry called 95 Avenue Bike Lane Removal.

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.

City Council endorses phased approach to Edmonton Galleria project, but many questions remain

The long-discussed Galleria project received a fresh injection of life today after Council threw its support behind a phased approach that would see the $1 billion project constructed through 2020. The item was up at Executive Committee again after last year’s request by Council to find a way to lower the risk to the City.

Galleria

The Galleria project consists of the same components today as it did then: four performing arts theatres (1600 seat theatre, 650 seat theatre/concert hall, 200 seat theatre, 200 seat recital hall); the relocation of the University of Alberta’s School of Music, Department of Art & Design, and one other department; construction of an office tower; development of a covered public galleria; and commercial and retail opportunities. The difference is that now it’s not an all or nothing proposition.

Today’s decision by Council to endorse a phased approach means the project backers can seek funding from the other orders of government. It also means in theory that certain triggers must be met before the City needs to spend any money, the first of which is agreeing to a memorandum of understanding in September and giving final approval to the City’s financial contribution.

So how much would the City be on the hook for?

“The total project costs outlined in this report that would be the responsibility of the City total $58.3 million. When factoring in interest charges on the amounts that are eligible to be borrowed for, the total expected cash expenditure for the City is estimated at $75.2 million.”

It sounds like any City money would come with strings attached too: “The release of city funds would be dependent on EDAC achieving certain milestones including the securing of a tenant in commercial/residential development with income sufficient to cover the capital and operating commitments of the Foundation.” That’s a much better approach than they took with the arena. For now they’ve approved $7.5 million for the pedway between Churchill LRT Station and the Royal Alberta Museum.

As I mentioned last year, I’m fine with the land acquisitions the City would be making. That’s probably a wise investment whether the Galleria project goes ahead or not. But there are still too many questions outstanding for me to support this project.

Provincial or Federal funding

The Galleria project is only going to move forward if funding from the other orders of government can be secured, and that’s far from guaranteed.

We saw absolutely zero interest from the PCs in supporting the project, even with Irv & Dianne Kipnes as donors, so I don’t see why the NDP would be any more likely to support it. The Provincial government has stuck to its hard line against funding the downtown arena, and I’d be surprised to see them all of a sudden come to the table on the Galleria.

On the federal side, Mayor Iveson has said that Council has received “mixed signals” and that he’d be surprised if the project could secure any federal funding at all. It has not been easy to get money out of Ottawa. Council had to agree to a P3 in order to get federal funding for the LRT, for instance.

Furthermore, the reality is that the City and specifically Council is going to have to go to bat for the project if the Province or the Feds are going to pony up anything at all. And that begs the question, is this really the project you want to burn important political capital on? Is this more important than the City Charter, LRT, poverty elimination, or any of the other significant priorities Edmonton has?

Lack of support from the Arts Community

Crickets. That’s what we’ve heard from most arts organizations about the Galleria project, at least publicly. Privately many have argued against the project, but the Kipnes are powerful enemies to attract.

A purpose-built opera house would undoubtedly be a good thing for the Edmonton Opera. It’s probably the most expensive art form in the world. For example, the Jubilee is effectively dark for about 90 nights a year to stage just 3 or 4 opera performances because of the construction and rehearsal time that each one takes. That’s a lot of lost revenue when you consider that events like “The Book of Mormon” can arrive and be setup in a day and will nearly always sell out.

Without hearing from other organizations, how can we be sure the proposed four theatres would meet the need that exists in the arts community? How much of the new Galleria space would be open and available to other arts organizations? How often would it be unavailable thanks to either opera or University of Alberta use? What costs or other requirements would go along with use?

Perhaps those details are yet to be finalized and that’s why it is difficult for arts organizations to decide whether or not to support the project. But it’s not a good sign that the arts community at large has been so quiet on the project.

Breaking up the University of Alberta

With MacEwan and NorQuest consolidating their campuses downtown, I can understand that perhaps the University of Alberta feels a little left out, but breaking up its own campus doesn’t seem like a wise move. For years it was pretty clear in all U of A long range plans that a downtown campus was not in the best interests of the university or its students. The South Campus vision was the preferred approach, allowing for a more connected campus.

There has been some vague lip service paid to the fact that being connected via the LRT to all other post secondary institutions would be a beneficial thing, but as soon as the Metro Line opens we’ll already have that. No need for a new campus.

Innovation doesn’t seem to be happening by segregation. The most interesting and powerful ideas that are changing the world are coming from interdisciplinary efforts. Why separate the arts from the science and engineering part of the university?

Furthermore, what impact would a downtown arts campus for the U of A have on MacEwan’s new Centre for Arts and Culture? Does it make sense to have two arts campuses so close to one another?

More empty space left behind

Look up and you see cranes. Look around on ground level and you’ll see a bunch of empty space.

We’re coming up on four years since the EPCOR Tower opened, the first new office tower built downtown since 1990. Originally known as “Station Lands Tower A”, the building still to this day has empty, unused space (such as the entire 16th floor where the recent downtown event was held). The other buildings that were slated to be part of the Station Lands development have never materialized.

The old EPCOR tower, rebranded First & Jasper, still has plenty of empty space, such as most of the ground level commercial. Even Edmonton’s premier downtown street, 104 Street, is home to its share of vacancies. The old Carbon space near 102 Avenue remains empty as does the old Sobey’s on the corner of Jasper Avenue, one of the most visible – and in theory attractive – locations in all of Edmonton.

All of this space is empty today, before development has really gotten underway. What will happen when the City of Edmonton offices consolidate into the new tower? Scotia Place, HSBC, Century Place, and other buildings are going to have a lot of vacancies. What about when Stantec consolidates into its new tower? All of its existing offices will need new tenants. What happens to City Centre when the new hotel and theatre open in the arena district? It’s already struggling to keep retailers.

In fact, a Cushman and Wakefield report suggests that by the end of 2017, Edmonton’s office vacancy rate could reach 17%, the highest in the country.

I’m all for getting rid of additional parking lots, but where’s the demand for yet another office tower? Especially one that needs to generate revenue to help fund the project.

Competition with the Edmonton Arena District

So far the Katz Group has been publicly supportive of the Galleria but I have no doubt that would change if their significant real estate investments came under threat. There’s simply too much money at stake.

The arena deal is done and for better or worse the Downtown CRL depends on it. So as taxpayers, we need that project to be successful. Does it really make sense to build a competitive project right next door? Another office tower to fill, with additional retail spaces that need to attract patrons? Proponents of the Galleria would argue that the project will drive significant additional traffic to the area but I find their estimates unrealistic and I’ve not see any new data that would change my mind.

Plus we’d have yet another big, open public space to program or have sit empty. Is there really a need for Churchill Square, the EAD square, and a public galleria?

A holistic decision needs to be made

I completely understand that when someone comes forward with $50 million as the philanthropists behind the Galleria project have, there’s a desire on the part of Council to leverage that money. Acquiring funding for projects is hard and having private money brought to the table is a huge help and doesn’t happen every day. But just because you come to the table with money doesn’t mean that your project should go ahead.

Galleria

Council needs to decide not only if the Galleria itself is a good project, but whether it is going to bring a positive, net benefit to downtown and to Edmonton as a whole. Does Edmonton need the Galleria right now? Will it have a positive impact, without negatively impacting the other major projects we have underway?

With so many big questions still unanswered, I remain unconvinced that Edmonton should support the Galleria project.

Coming up at City Council: May 18-22, 2015

With the provincial election and other things on the go, I haven’t posted a Council update in a couple weeks! Below I’ll cover what’s coming up next week, plus a few notes about what Council has been up to over the last couple of weeks. You can find my previous roundups here.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

May 4-8, 2015

Council started the week with a Community Services Committee meeting. Here are the highlights:

On Tuesday they held an Executive Committee meeting. Here are the highlights:

And finally on Wednesday they held a Transportation Committee meeting. Here are the highlights:

May 11-15, 2015

This was a fairly light week in terms of meetings. There was an LRT Governance Board meeting on Monday which focused on private updates for the Valley Line LRT project. And on Wednesday there was an Executive Committee meeting that focused on two 2016-2018 business plans: Office of the City Manager, and Sustainable Development.

Wednesday May 18, 2015

With Monday, May 18 being Victoria Day and thus a long weekend, Council has an abbreviated week coming up with just two meetings, both scheduled for Wednesday. Council will start with a special Community Services meeting in the morning, followed by a City Council meeting in the afternoon. The agendas are both short, with just three items total.

2016-2018 Edmonton Police Service Business Plan

This draft business plan is another step on the way to finalizing the 2016-2018 Operating Budget. The City says it serves three objectives:

  • It is a decision-making tool designed to assist the Edmonton Police Commission and City Council with the 2016-2018 Operating Budget.
  • It is a high level business planning tool for the Edmonton Police Service to focus on future critical resource planning and allocation.
  • This plan sets out for each Bureau the major activities planned, their alignment to the strategic goals of the Edmonton Police Service and the expected performance measures.

The document is 92 pages long and outlines goals, measures, risks, and financial impacts for the entire service and for each of its bureaus. Here is what the organizational structure looks like:

Here are some of the performance measures identified:

  • Reduce Edmonton’s Crime Severity Index (CSI) by 2.0 points annually from a benchmark of 93.34 in 2013.
  • Achieve annual reductions in the four violent crime indicators (homicide, sexual assault, assault, robbery).
  • Achieve annual reductions in social disorder incidents, which are composed of 17 specific disorder-type events like mischief or prostitution.
  • Achieve 5% annual increase in Domestic Offender Management Checks from 2014 levels.
  • Achieve 2% annual increase in Domestic Violence Victim Interventions from 2014 levels.
  • Achieve annual reductions in the four property crime indicators (break & enter, theft from vehicle, theft of vehicle, theft over $5,000).
  • Achieve 2% annual decrease in traffic corridor/intersection collisions.
  • Achieve annual increases in gang disruptions from 2015 levels.
  • Achieve 43% weighted clearance rate or greater.
  • Respond to 80% or more of priority 1 events within 7 minutes.
  • Dedicate 25% or more of patrol shift work to prevention, intervention, or suppression based activities.
  • Conclude 75% or more of public complaints investigations within 6 months.

For the 2016-2018 period, EPS has identified the following major challenges:

  • Violence Reduction – “As detailed in the Violence Reduction Strategy, this goal is directly related to reducing crime and victimization and promoting investigative excellence through prevention, intervention or suppression activities.”
  • General Growth of Edmonton – “Continuing growth in all areas of the city is expected with the approval of three new area structure plans (Horse Hill, Riverview and Decoteau), the development of other new neighbourhoods and mature neighbourhood redevelopment.”
  • Revitalization of Downtown Edmonton – “Significant projects in the Downtown area are attracting people to live, work and play downtown. A safe, secure place for the public to interact and enjoy these new amenities is important.”
  • Potential Annexation – “The EPS will take on significant new responsibilities and challenges including policing highways 2 and 19 and the international airport. To police these adequately, the EPS will need to increase overall sworn member strength and begin recruitment approximately 20 months prior to annexation. Information provided to the EPS from City Administration is that annexation is now anticipated to occur as early as 2018. An initial ask for 60 sworn resources is therefore anticipated for 2018.”

While the business plan does highlight that “the current fiscal situation of the Province of Alberta is sub-optimal” it doesn’t say enough about the downloading of responsibilities from other orders of government onto EPS, in my opinion. Aside from a few bullet points, there’s just this:

“Decisions made by other orders of government on social policy and funding social programs have a direct and measurable effect on police resources. Of note are program changes or cuts related to mental illness, addictions, homelessness and other vulnerable populations.”

I wish they would have quantified that to some degree. It’s often mentioned by Council as a challenge, but there’s rarely any data presented to back it up.

In terms of financials, EPS anticipates growing from 2419.5 FTEs in 2015 to 2517.0 FTEs in 2018. The net operating requirement is expected to grow from about $280 million in 2015 to $302.6 million in 2018.

City Charter

This item is a private report, so there’s nothing I can point you to for further reading. That said, we know that city charters will be a big topic of discussion for our new provincial NDP government. They committed to incorporating charters as an option in the MGA by the end of 2016. “Alberta’s NDP will support charters as a new legislative framework within the Municipal Government Act to provide greater responsibilities for those municipalities wishing to choose such responsibilities for themselves and their citizens.”

Mayor Iveson said last week that having Rachel Notley and the NDP leading the Province provides “a great opportunity to move ahead” with initiatives like the city charter.

Northlands Update

I’m not sure exactly what this update is about, but I suspect it’s related to the recent news that the Northlands Board of Directors has accepted the recommendations of the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee (NASC). City Council will need to be involved and supportive of whatever plan the Northlands management team ultimately puts in place before September 2016, and with the acceptance of the NASC report, Council will now have clarity about what’s on the table.

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: April 27 – May 1, 2015

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye. You can find my previous roundups here.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, April 27, 2015

Council will start the week with the regularly scheduled public hearing beginning at 1:30pm. There are eight bylaws on the agenda.

Buena Vista Apartment Redevelopment

Bylaws 17177 and 17178 deal with the Buena Vista building east of 124 Street NW and south of 102 Avenue NW in Oliver. Edgar Development Corporation has proposed an 85 meter (approximately 26 storeys) mixed-use residential tower, with commercial/retail uses at street level. The building would contain 240 dwelling units and with four levels of underground parking, approximately 229 parking stalls.

The developer is committed to maintaining the three historic facades on the north, south, and west. Together these two bylaws allow for the dismantling and reassembling of the facades and rezone the site from CB1 to DC1 to enable the development to move ahead.

You can learn more about the history of the Buena Vista Building here.

Glenora Blue and Breakfast
Glenora Blue and Breakfast, photo by Dave Sutherland

Here’s a brief overview of the other six bylaws:

  • Bylaws 17173, 17174, and 17175 deal with proposed rezonings in Rosenthal. Some AG-zoned (Agricultural Zone) land is going to be rezoned to RF4/RF5 (semi-detached and row housing) and to RSL (Rsidential Small Lot Zone)
  • Bylaw 17172 would rezone the property at 11312 119 Street NW in Prince Rupert to IB (Industrial Business) from IM (Medium Industrial).
  • Bylaw 17171 would extend the DC2 provisions currently in effect in Griesbach (west of 97 Street NW and south of 153 Avenue NW) until 20125.
  • Bylaw 17139 would rezone the property at 3810 111 Avenue NW in Beverly Heights from RF1 to RF2. The proposed rezoning supports The Way We Grow by “encouraging infill, promoting family oriented housing and walkability, and by optimizing the use of existing infrastructure.”
  • Bylaw 17177 would allow for the development of a mixed-use high rise building east of 124 Street NW and south of 102 Avenue NW in Oliver. This is the Buena Vista building.
  • Bylaw 17178 would rezone the land from CB1 and DC1 and would allow for the dismantling and reassembling of the north, south, and west facades of the Buena Vista building.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Next up for Council is a regular City Council Meeting scheduled to take all day Tuesday. There are 10 public reports, 22 bylaws, 2 motions pending, and 4 private reports on the agenda. Looks like a full agenda. Here are a few highlights:

Make Something Edmonton Update

This item was meant to be discussed at the April 14 Council meeting but it was postponed along with Councillor Oshry’s motion on our city’s entrance signs. I wrote a couple weeks ago about the history of Edmonton’s entrance signs and also about the signs & slogans debate. I plan to share some additional thoughts on Make Something Edmonton in the next few days.

Committee Reports

There are 9 Committee reports that were all recently discussed at one of the four committees and have been referred to Council, usually with a recommendation for approval. They are:

Bylaws

There are 22 bylaws on the agenda. Here are a few I wanted to highlight:

  • Bylaw 17103 – 2015 Property Tax and Supplementary Property Tax Bylaw (report not yet available)
  • Bylaw 17129 – This bylaw would designate McKay Avenue School as a Municipal Historic Resource as Council directed back in January.
  • Bylaw 17130 – This would designate the 1881 School as a Municipal Historic Resource as well.
  • Bylaws 17168, 17169, and 17170 deal with the 2015 CRL Rate for the Belvedere, Quarters, and Downtown CRL projects.
  • Bylaw 17196 – This bylaw would amend the Animal Licensing and Control Bylaw to formalize the licensing process for urban beekeeping.

Honey Bee
Honey Bee, photo by Bill Burris

Private Reports

As mentioned there are 4 private reports on the agenda this time. Council will be receiving updates on:

  • Greys Paper Recycling Facility – Follow-up Information
  • Top of Bank Update – Verbal Report
  • Civic Agencies Appointments – Externally-Nominated Representatives
  • Appointment Recommendation – Women’s Advocacy Voice of Edmonton Committee

Motions Pending

There are two motions pending:

  • Amendment to Bylaw 12408 – Non-Profit Community Organizations Exemption Bylaw (Councillor McKeen)
  • Entrance Signs Removal (Councillor Oshry)

One report, The Way We Finance – Electrical Franchise Fee Charges, has been given a revised due date of July 7.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On Wednesday Council is holding a special meeting to discuss the Community Energy Transition Strategy, which was postponed from the March 17, 2015 meeting.

The strategy calls energy transition “the golden opportunity of our age” and says that “few places are better positioned than Edmonton in terms of knowledge, experience, and financial capacity to lead and excel in this area.”

There are 11 strategic actions, 7 opportunity areas, 45 focus areas, and 10 community scale programs. Targets include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2035 (compared to 2005 levels), reducing energy consumption by 25% per person by 2035 (compared to 2009 levels), and generating 10% of Edmonton’s energy locally by 2035.

I wrote more about the strategy here and Graham and I discussed it on a recent episode of our podcast too.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The next Utility Committee meeting will take place on Thursday. There are six reports on the agenda.

Analysis of Ratio of In-House Work to External Consultants

This report seeks to clarify the use of external consultants in the 2015 Utilities budget. Drainage Services allocated $72.092 million for External Services, 12% of which is to be spent on engineering consultants with the remainder spent on contractors and suppliers. The report says that in-house design staff generally work on long-term programs and that external consultants are used “primarily because of their specialized knowledge and to supplement in-house resources during periods of high demand.” Futhermore, the report states that external consultants “are important agents in developing and transferring technology for the use and benefit of society.”

historical expenditures comparison

An average of 43.7% of work, based on actuals from 2010-2014, is performed by in-house resources as the table above shows. The report says that Administration will continue using both in-house resources and external consultants “based on the needs and requirements of the capital programs to ensure effective and efficient delivery.”

2014 Waste Management Utility & Drainage Services Utility Annual Reports

These two reports provide an update on the business and financial performance of the Waste Management and Drainage Services utilities for the year ending December 31, 2014. A couple of highlights:

  • Waste Management collected waste from more than 358,000 residential dwellings, serviced more than 1000 non-residential customers, processed close to 475,000 tonnes of waste and recyclable materials at the Waste Management Centre, and interacted with more than 22,000 residents through tours and presentations at the facility.
  • Drainage Services replaced 7 forcemains and refurbished 6 others, completed 821 home inspections in the Flood Proofing Program, repaired or replaced 6,000 manholes and catch basins, and achieved a 14.4% increase in new service connections.

Other

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: April 20-24, 2015

If you haven’t watched or listened to Council on the Web recently, you’ll be happy to know they have made some improvements! They are no longer using Windows Media Player. I’m not really sure why they decided to replace it with Flash though. Oh well, they have mobile-friendly (HTML5) streams too.

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, April 20, 2015

The week begins on Monday with a Community Services Committee meeting scheduled from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are eight reports on the agenda, plus one response to an inquiry from Councillor Esslinger. Here’s what caught my eye:

Comparison of Policing Costs

Comparing the cost of policing across municipalities is difficult because they all have different services, funding sources, and reporting approaches. Still, EPS has attempted to provide some comparison in this report. They surveyed Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal and received responses from Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, and Toronto. Here’s what they found after trying to account for differences between the agencies:

Comparison Cost Per Capita – Tax Levy Cost Per Capita – Gross Expenditures
Edmonton vs. Regina (2015) $317 vs. $352 $405 vs. $398
Edmonton vs. Winnipeg (2014) $314 vs. $305 $387 vs. $367
Edmonton vs. Calgary (2015) $317 vs. $291 $396 vs. $365
Edmonton vs. Toronto (2015) $317 vs. $366 $413 vs. $407

Gross Expenditures refers to the annual Operating Budget before applying Revenues. Tax Levy refers to the Operating Budget after the application of Revenues.

They also compared the Cost per Authorized Employee:

eps comparison

Here’s a comparison of Staff per 100,000 Population Ratio:

eps comparison

And here’s a comparison of the percentage of budget spent on support services:

eps comparison

There is no summary or concluding remarks in the report. Just the data.

Winspear Centre Staged Funding Agreement & Parking Solution

The current Winspear Centre was built in 1997 and they’re ready for expansion. Plans call for two main components:

  1. $53 million towards a new 540 seat acoustic hall theatre, six multipurpose rooms, and commercial space
  2. $25 million towards a new 380-stall automated robotic parking system

If funded, the expansion would be complete by 2019. Here’s where they expect the funding to come from:

  • $13 million from each of the three orders of government for a total of $39 million
  • $14 million from fundraising
  • $25 million for the parking system in debt financing

So far the City has already approved $3.75 million for the project. The additional $9.25 million will still need to be approved, and could come from the Downtown CRL, the 2015-2018 Spring Capital Budget Update, or the Community Facility Partner Capital Grant Program.

The City anticipates bringing forward a capital budget profile in June.

Single-Use Recreation Fees

The City’s current recreation membership fees are organized into three tiers: facility (access to 13 smaller facilities), facility plus (access to the 13 smaller facilities plus Kinsmen and Commonwealth), and all facility. If you want to get access to the newest facilities, like Terwillegar, Clareview, or The Meadows, you either pay per use or you need to pay for the highest tier. Now the City is looking at the possibility of introducing a membership fee for use at a single facility.

A single-use pass would reduce revenue for the City but could make it more affordable for some citizens to access recreation facilities, which would be positive for health and wellness outcomes. I’m not sure if Council will take any action on this (there’s no recommendation) but my guess is that the fee structure will remain the same.

Other

Councillor Esslinger’s inquiry was made in January and is about the review of off-leash dog parks. Administration is doing that review now and expects public consultation to begin in May.

Here are some of the other reports on the agenda:

One report, on options for prohibiting smoking at all outdoor City-owned recreation facilities, parks, and attractions, has been given a revised date of June 29.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On Tuesday, the next Executive Committee meeting is scheduled to take place from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are ten public reports on the agenda, plus three private reports. Here’s what caught my eye:

IT Composite Profiles

This report provides an overview of the 2015-2018 IT composite profiles and funded IT investment initiatives. Here are some of the highlights:

  • For 2015-2018, $73.2 million has been allocated to IT in five profiles, three for renewal and two for growth. This represents approximately 1.6% of the total approved capital budget.
  • Additionally, IT funding of $31.6 million was approved for the Edmonton Police Service and $5.6 million was approved for the Edmonton Public Library.
  • The IT Infrastructure Renewal profile “maintains over 15,000 devices, two petabytes of storage and 100 kilometers of network cable.”
  • The total replacement value of IT infrastructure assets is $55 million.
  • There are five key Enterprise Applications utilized across the City: POSSE, PeopleSoft, SAP, TACS, and Geospatial (SLIM and Microstation).
  • The total replacement value of Enterprise Applications is $189 million.
  • The City has a current inventory of 145 business unit applications with a replacement value of $132 million.

Progress updates will now be included in quarterly capital financial reports, the next of which will be presented to Council in June/July.

2016-2018 Financial Services and Utilities Department & Branch Business Plan

You may recall that all City branches and departments are going to be submitting updated business plans as part of the implementation plan for The Way Ahead. This one is for the Financial Services and Utilities branch which consists of five departments: Assessment and Taxation, Corporate Strategic Planning, Financial Services, Drainage Services, and Waste Management Services (business plans for the latter two will be presented at a future Utility Committee meeting).

The business plan serves three objectives, according to the report:

  1. it is a decision-making tool to aid City Council during the 2016-2018 operating budget deliberations for the City of Edmonton
  2. it is a tactical business planning tool for Administration to remain focused through future resource planning and allocation
  3. the business plans set out the work each branch will carry out over the next three years showing the relationships to strategic priorities and expectations including performance measures

Based on feedback from Council, the City will further refine and finalize the business plans. The final plans will help in the development of the 2016-2018 Operating Budget.

Pattison Outdoor Advertising Outline Agreement

Last year, following an open RFP process, the City entered into a 10 year agreement (January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2024) with Pattison Outdoor Advertising for advertising space on the transit system. The agreement provides Pattison with the exclusive right to sell ad space on buses, LRTs, and transit centres.

The City needs to buy space for its own ads, and that has averaged $580,000 per year over the last three years. Administration intends to spend about $500,000 per year going forward, and the outline agreement is intended to provide “an efficient approach” that allows the City to negotiate for the best possible advertising rates.

Other

Here are a few notes on some of the other reports:

The two private reports are a verbal update on the purchase and sale of land in the Quarters, the settlement of expropriation claims in Blatchford, and an update on the Vehicle for Hire program.

The following reports have been given revised due dates:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The next Transportation Committee meeting takes place on Wednesday from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are nine reports on the agenda, plus two responses to Councillor inquiries. This one is going to be interesting!

102 Avenue Bridge Replacement Project Update

Missed opportunity here, they should have called this report “Update on GirderGate!” There’s a lot of other information here, but that’s really want Council will want an update on.

Here’s where the project is at:

“The current status of the 102 Avenue project is that the girders now in place are currently being assessed. Until this review is complete the impacts to the project completion timeline are not fully known. The 3 week delay for stabilization of the girders to the project will impact the planned opening date however the exact delay is currently not known until completion of the girder assessments.”

The City has looked at some options to try to minimize the impact of project delays on commuting traffic and businesses:

  • They considered a temporary lane reversal system along Stony Plain Road (3 lanes in direction of peak flow, 1 in the opposite direction) but as it would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, it is not being recommended.
  • They are considering dedicated tow truck operations for the area, which could cost $500 to $1000 per day.
  • Vacant lots west of 124 Street and north of Stony Plain Road could be leased by the City to offset parking meter bans. They applied for this, but a local business owner successfully filed an appeal, so this is on hold until at least August 2015.

We’ll have to wait for future updates to understand just how far back the opening date has to be pushed.

Low Income Transit Pass Pilot

This report provides an update on the potential for a low income transit pass. The Edmonton Transit Advisory Board recommended a $35.00 per month pass, which would replace the existing AISH pass. Here are the details of the City’s report:

  • Applicants would need to be residents of Edmonton and would need to meet one of the following criteria: household income below the LICO figures, recent immigrants to Canada who have lived here for less than a year, children under government care, recipients of AISH.
  • ETS estimates that a low income transit pass would result in sales of 19,000 and 20,000 per month, which includes the 4,800 AISH passes currently sold per month.
  • ETS also estimates that total ridership would increase by 1 to 1.3 million trips per year. In total, low income pass purchasers are expected to make 9.5 million trips per year.
  • Although revenue generated from new ridership is anticipated to be between $1.1 million and $1.4 million, it is offset by anticipated losses in revenue from existing riders paying less than they do now of between $3 million and $7.5 million, depending on the price of the low income pass.
  • Full implementation of a pilot project would cost $1 million annually.
  • At a 35% discount, the estimated tax levy impact would be $3.7 million. At a 50% discount, it would be $6.4 million. And at a 60% discount, it would be $8.5 million.

The report also touches on the work of EndPovertyEdmonton, and notes that it recognizes that “accessible, affordable transit plays a key role in ensuring all Edmontonians have equal access and opportunity to jobs, services and travel in our city.”

West Edmonton Mall Transit Centre Options

This report outlines options for temporary enhancement, refurbishment, or replacement of the West Edmonton Mall Transit Centre taking into consideration the Valley Line LRT expansion. Built in the early 1980s, the current transit centre building is “nearing the end of its useful life” and is “no longer able to adequately support the operational needs” of the transit centre.

Here’s an overview of the four options:

  1. Temporary Enhancement – This option would include repairs and some replacements for things like doors, but would not change the look of the building. It would cost between $300,000 and $500,000 for the next four years, after which the building would need to be refurbished or replaced.
  2. Refurbishment – This option would basically retain the bones but would give the building a modern look, complete with upgrades to major systems. This should extend the life of the building by 10-15 years but at a cost of $3 million.
  3. Full Renewal – This option would demolish the existing building and replace it with a new one. The risk is that the Valley Line LRT is only in the preliminary design stages so things could change. The cost would be $4.4 million.
  4. Modular Shelter – This option would demolish the existing building and replace it with a shelter similar to what is currently at the Jasper Place Transit Centre. The estimated life of the shelter would be 20-25 years and it could cost around $3 million.

The recommendation is to go with the Refurbishment option which the report says will provide better value than the full rebuild.

Other

The two responses to Councillor inquiries are as follows:

  • Councillor Nickel made an inquiry in October 2014 about the 97 Street on-street bike route between 34 Avenue and 63 Avenue. The report states that since 2009, “73 kilometers of on-street bike routes have been constructed in Edmonton” which brings the total on-street network to 79 km. The report provides history and context, and also costs involved with relocating the 97 Street bike route.
  • Councillor Gibbons made an inquiry in August 2013 about the potential of having bike lanes along utility corridors (power lines and pipelines). The report says that shared-use paths “are an important part of an integrated bicycle network along with on-street routes.”

Some of the other reports include:

And a bunch of reports have been given revised due dates:

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.

Branding Edmonton: Signs & Slogans

For more than 20 years, Edmontonians have been discussing whether or not our entrance signs should feature a slogan and if so, which one. Whenever City Council or other local leaders have felt the need to shore up our city’s image, the entrance signs have been the go-to starting point. And whenever someone has suggested the entrance signs are dated and need to be replaced, the conversation has inevitably morphed into one about the slogan and brand for our city.

Questions were raised about “City of Champions” as soon as the signs went up in 1989. That prompted Economic Development Edmonton to do some research and a few years later they found there were at least 27 slogans being used to describe the city, like “Gateway to the North”, “Canada’s Oil Capital”, and “Official Host City for the Turn of the Century”. But only one was highly visible, and that was “City of Champions” thanks to the entrance signs.

IMG_6621.jpg

You only see the entrance signs if you drive into Edmonton, but that hasn’t diminished their importance in the eyes of community leaders and commentators. The entrance signs and debate about them have often been considered the manifestation of our identity as a city. Gene Dub’s controversial entrance pyramid design that won a national design competition in 2008 was a good example of this. It would have done away with slogans and logos in favor of striking public art. The jury called it “a symbol of a city that is poised, confident and energetic.” But not everyone saw it that way. Former Edmonton Journal columnist Lorne Gunter compared the idea to Bedford, Nova Scotia’s giant “Clearwater” lobster statue and said Dub’s proposal would have been “an artificial symbol erected by civic leaders to try to force a recognition of their community that isn’t happening on their city’s or town’s own merits.”

It’s no surprise then that the entrance signs as they exist today are a perfect representation of this conflation of issues. The signs have been cobbled together, piece by piece, just like our city’s brand. In the absence of a strong place brand for Edmonton, we used the City of Edmonton’s corporate logo and the “City of Champions” moniker as stand-ins. When we felt that perhaps we weren’t a welcoming enough place, the words “Welcome to” were added. When we didn’t feel important enough in the province, we added “Alberta’s Capital”. Whenever our sports teams have endured slumps, we’ve suggested removing “City of Champions” from the signs (but someone has always pointed to another local success as a reason to keep them).

And now, because we’re feeling emboldened by population and economic growth, not to mention lots of capital spending, we’re again looking to the signs. They don’t feel representative of Edmonton today nor of the Edmonton we hope to become. They’re old and they look it.

Will the discussion be different this time? I think it could be. Yes, the sign and city identity issues have become so intertwined that maybe it’s not even possible to separate them now. But we should try.

Michael Oshry - Ward 5
Photo by Dave Cournoyer

On Tuesday, Councillor Michael Oshry is expected to make a motion requesting that the City remove “City of Champions” from Edmonton’s seven remaining entrance signs. The City says the signs are structurally sound, but that’s not why Councillor Oshry is making this proposal. Removing the slogan could finally allow us to discuss the brand issue separately from the signs, and I think that’s really his endgame.

I asked Councillor Oshry why he brought the sign debate up again at Council, and he admitted it seemed like a good starting point for a broader discussion about Edmonton’s brand. “They look dated, they’re old,” he said of the entrance signs. He isn’t fond of the “City of Champions” slogan either. “When we’re trying to attract people, the slogan means nothing,” he said. “And the slogan isn’t actually used anywhere else!”

At least, it’s not used anywhere else in Edmonton. We don’t use it for any of our internal or external marketing. But other cities use it or have used it, like Boston, San Francisco, East St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Inglewood, Tuscaloosa, Syracuse, Tampa, and Brockton, to name just a few. There’s nothing unique or particularly Edmonton about the “City of Champions” slogan.

Welcome to the City of East St. Louis, IL - City of Champions
Photo by Paul Sableman

Removing “City of Champions” is low-hanging fruit that could enable us to get started with a fresh slate, Councillor Oshry said. He doesn’t know where this will lead, but if we do end up discussing new signs, he favors simple ones. “They shouldn’t even have the corporation logo on them, it should just be ‘Welcome to Edmonton’ the place.” He also doesn’t want to spend tons of money on new signs. “They don’t have to be the greatest things the City does, but they need to be better than average,” he told me.

Ronna Bremer, Director of Image, Brand, and Marketing (or just “reputation” for short) in Corporate Communications at the City of Edmonton, agrees that the signs should be replaced with something simple but attractive. “What do those dated signs say about our city?” she asked rhetorically. “They should just say ‘Welcome to Edmonton’.”

EEDC and its predecessors have frequently been included in the discussion about entrance signs and slogans (no doubt thanks to the conflation of issues). “The decision about the welcome signs belongs firmly in the hands of the City and City Council,” EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson told me. He added that for what its worth, he thinks “the signs are dated and we need new ones” but stressed “that’s different from needing a new logo and slogan.”

It has been suggested that new signs would only come after the City makes a final decision on a new brand and logo. That would be the wrong approach to take. There are three different things wrapped up in that suggestion – the signs themselves, Edmonton’s brand and identity, and the City of Edmonton’s brand. The signs do not need to include the City of Edmonton’s corporate brand; they exist to welcome visitors to Edmonton, not to the new City of Edmonton office tower or to a recreation facility. It was probably a mistake to put the corporate logo on them in the first place.

The signs should be representative of Edmonton the place. They should reflect Edmonton’s place brand. This is the work that Make Something Edmonton has been doing. They haven’t been trying to figure out what the City’s new logo should be. They’ve been working to identify the essence of Edmonton. From their brand book:

“A place cannot be reduced to a logo and a slogan. It’s more than marketing. The Edmonton brand is about being true to who we are at our best.”

They have come up with “statements of encouragement” which are kind of like slogans, but there are many of them, and you’re supposed to take inspiration from them to create your own. “Be playful about it,” the brand book says. The statements of encouragement are conversation-starters and are “simple, memorable ways to express Edmonton-ness.” But they’re not a collection of possible slogans. It would be wrong to pick one and put it on the entrance signs.

Statements of Encouragement

The brand promise is the heart of the place brand:

“If you have the courage to take an idea to reality, to build, to make something, Edmonton is your city.”

That’s what any new entrance signs need to reflect.

So how do we do that? “We could tell people a story as they enter the city,” Todd Babiak told me. He has been working on Make Something Edmonton since the beginning, and he has thought a lot about this. What if instead of a single static slogan, we changed the message on our entrance signs every now and then? What if instead of one entrance sign, we had many, each featuring a different statement of encouragement or example of local makers? We talked about the “City of Champignons” sign that some pranksters plastered over the existing “City of Champions” sign a couple years ago. “You could argue that’s the most Edmonton thing anyone has ever done!” Todd said.

He’s not sure what the answer is, but he knows how we should go about finding it. “There’s a way to build things in Edmonton,” he said. “If you want it to work, invite the community in.”

It sounds difficult, but I think it can work. Right now we don’t see Edmonton’s place brand reflected in very many places. But over the next year or two, if Make Something Edmonton and EEDC are successful at getting others on board, that will change. And then our entrance signs simply need to be consistent with the branding we use elsewhere, like at the airport or at our post secondary institutions. Let’s see what people come up with before trying to design new signs. And please, let’s remember they’re just signs!

In the meantime, we should remove “City of Champions” from Edmonton’s entrance signs to bring clarity to this discussion. The signs don’t need logos or slogans and neither does Edmonton.

You can learn more about the history of Edmonton’s entrance signs here.

Welcome to Edmonton: How our entrance signs came to be

Until the late 1980s, Edmonton’s city limits were marked with simple blue and white signs that said “Welcome to the City of Edmonton”, not unlike the signs you’ll find near entrances to dozens of other towns around Alberta. The marker “City of Champions” was added following a streak of wins by the Eskimos and Oilers, though many also attribute that slogan to the way the city came together during the tornado of 1987. Not long after, City Council decided the existing signs were tacky and commissioned a study on the wording and design of new signs. That study decided that the word “welcome” was no longer necessary, but the “City of Champions” moniker was to remain.

IMG_6621.jpg
The sign welcoming visitors entering Edmonton via the Sherwood Park Freeway

And so, Edmonton’s concrete entrance signs, made of sandblasted concrete shaped into a stylized silhouette of the city skyline, were erected from 1989 to 1991. A total of nine signs were put up, the last of which was located so close to St. Albert that aldermen there complained and threatened to redraw the southern boundary so that the sign would be on their land.

Others also disliked the signs. In April of 1989, Calgary mayor Don Hartman said Edmonton should tear the signs down. “Calgary has replaced Edmonton as the City of Champions,” he said. A cartoon in the paper next day also made fun of the signs by depicting new signs on the north edge of Calgary that read “City of Champs, 1 KM” on the southbound side and “City of Losers, 290 KM” on the northbound side.

But Edmontonians liked the signs. In late 1991, the Journal ran a reader poll about whether or not to keep the new signs. “Overall, 70 per cent of survey respondents say the signs are fine,” the paper reported. They found that residents in Sherwood Park, elsewhere in Alberta, and even outside Alberta all liked the signs.

Some locals grew to dislike aspects of the signs, however. Alderman Ron Hayter complained that the signs did not extend a welcome to visitors and were thus unfriendly. It took a while, but in the fall of 1996 the words “welcome to” were added. The total cost for adding that box to all nine signs? Just $8,837.93 ($982.00 each).

entrance sign
Photo courtesy of CBC

In late 1999, City Council began considering updated Highway 2 Corridor Design Guidelines. They also proposed spending $65,000 to “place signage of a complimentary, but smaller nature, to that of the major entrances” at thirteen other entrances to Edmonton. While discussing the report in June 2000, City Council passed the following motion:

“That the designation “Alberta’s Capital City” or other similar phrase be added to signage on Edmonton’s nine major entrance highways and included on any future entrance signage. Further that a report, including both the feasibility of this proposal and the cost involved, come back to the August 23, 2000 Executive Committee meeting.”

In the fall the report came back and said that adding the words “Alberta’s Capital” to the nine existing major entrance signs would cost an estimated $28,500. Council decided that was a bit too expensive, but a subsequent plan to spread the cost over three years was approved in December 2000. As you can see in the first photo above, the signs have fallen into disrepair and this addition isn’t even present on every sign anymore!

In December 2005, Council approved $625,000 for new entrance signs on the Stony Plain Road and Yellowhead East entrance corridors (they had already approved another $275,000 in December 2004). Manasc Isaac Architects provided an initial concept for the Stony Plain Road entrance sign:

entrance sign

The design concept for the Yellowhead East entrance came from Gibbs and Brown Landscape Consultants:

entrance sign

In March 2006, Council decided that a design competition would be held for the two new signs and that the newly formed Edmonton Design Committee would manage it. The competition drew eighteen submissions from across the country, and in May 2007 two finalists were selected: a pyramid-based design from local architect Gene Dub and a ribbon of steel design by Montreal architect Sylvie Perrault. Both received a $50,000 honoraria to take their designs to the next stage which included preliminary plans, a model, engineering assessments, and cost estimates.

entrance sign

Throughout 2007 there was a lot of debate about the new entrance signs (frequently called “entrance markers” at the time for some reason). “At some point, the old signs do need to be replaced,” said Councillor Karen Leibovici as the discussion grew more heated. Her Council colleagues seemed on board with the idea of replacing the entrance signs, but they may have been the only ones.

The most common complaint from the public was related to the cost. The City estimated the cost of the original signs to be around $400,000 each and replacing just two with new ones would cost between $600,000 and $1.4 million. But cost wasn’t the only concern. Soon after the two final designs were unveiled, citizens registered their dislike for both. Of 268 phone calls made to the City, only 2 were favorable.

Some people defended the design competition and the spending though. Then Journal columnist Todd Babiak wrote in May 2007, “the public reaction to the city’s design competition is emerging as my new least-favourite thing about Edmonton.” He argued that “to frame this project in terms of spending priorities in incoherent.” While he agreed that Edmonton was being “starved to death” by the other levels of government, he argued in favor of spending on the signs as public art:

“In 10 years, we won’t remember the potholes of 2007. But giant pyramids on each end of the city could be there, still inspiring debate.”

“If we continue to configure our priorities, as a community, around a reflexive, mean- spirited and frankly stupid hostility to cultural spending, the filled potholes will allow a lot of very smooth one-way trips out of this cold, efficient province.”

In February 2008, the jury selected Gene Dub’s proposal. A letter from the Edmonton Design Committee said the decision was unanimous and that “the winning entry is an edgy, glowing glass and steel crystal.” They called the design “surprising, even startling” and said it would “function both as a beacon and a gateway welcoming visitors with a symbol of a city that is poised, confident and energetic.”

entrance sign

But wasn’t meant to be. By the time City Council was getting ready to make a final decision, the estimated cost had ballooned from $900,000 to more than $2.5 million. Council voted 6-5 against the proposal in July 2008, bringing the debate to a close (at least temporarily). Writing about the decision in the Journal, then-columnist Scott McKeen called Council “hypocritical” and said a majority of them “caved badly under the weight of public pressure.”

There has always been some minor discussion about the signs, but in the last two years, the debate has once again become interesting. In October 2013, vandals made their mark on the signs, replacing the “City of Champions” section with their own humorous slogans like “City of Speed Traps”, “Suck it Calgary”, and “City of Champignons”.

city of champignons

Last fall, Councillor Michael Oshry officially reopened debate about the signs, saying “we need branding that demonstrates what we are about now and where we’re going and not about where we were 30 years ago.” He has since suggested an acceptable initial step would be to simply remove “City of Champions” from the signs. He is expected to make a motion to that effect at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

According to the latest City report, just seven of the major entrance signs remain (the two welcoming visitors from St. Albert and along Highway 28 no longer exist). An option to fund new signs with corporate advertising was quickly dismissed by Mayor Iveson. “Not on my watch,” he said. A new design competition could be an option though, as could a public search for a new slogan. That’s not necessary though, according to Mayor Iveson. “We’re in the post-tagline era,” he said.

For better or for worse, debate about Edmonton’s entrance signs has always been conflated with debate about our brand and image. I’ll examine that in more detail in an upcoming post.

Coming up at City Council: April 13-17, 2015

With the Easter break behind us, Council is back in session next week.

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye. You can find my previous roundups here.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, April 13, 2015

Council will start the week with item 7.2 from the March 16 meeting, actually. Bylaw 17116 deals with elimination location-based restrictions for Garage and Garden Suites, and enables RF1 sites to be subdivided into narrower lots, as narrow as 7.6 metres wide.

After they have dealt with that item in the morning, they’ll begin the regularly scheduled public hearing at 1:30pm. Most of the bylaws deal with minor rezoning to allow for infill development. Here are a few of the items that I wanted to highlight:

Bylaw 17151 – Text Amendment to the Zoning Bylaw

This proposed amendment is intended to streamline the process for the development of paths and trails within the river valley by removing the requirement for a development permit for paths and trails that Council has deemed essential. The whole idea here is that the City and River Valley Alliance want to move forward with their plans for a connected river valley park, and they don’t want the process to be held up in permitting. There would still be “adequate environmental review” however.

Bylaw 17142 – Development of a public park in Kernohan

Can you ever have too many public parks? Not really! This bylaw would rezone the properties at 303, 311, and 551 Clareview Road NW from CS1 and CS2 to AP to allow for the development of a new public park. These properties were originally zoned for Public Parks (AP) but were set aside to support First Place development.

Bylaw 17148 – Closure of a portion of 153 Avenue NW

This bylaw will be considered along with Bylaw 17150 and proposes to close 153 Avenue NW east of 13 Street NW in Fraser. The closed area would be consolidated with the adjacent property to make way for single detached housing. There is a 153 Avenue realignment coming in October 2016, which is when the closure would take place.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Next up for Council is a regular City Council Meeting scheduled to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. There are 20 public reports, 8 bylaws, 2 motions pending, and 9 private reports on the agenda. It’s going to be a busy one! Here are a few highlights:

Make Something Edmonton Update

With this report, Council will receive an update on Make Something Edmonton. The key update is that the committee is now formalizing its approach to creating a community-led place brand. What does that mean?

“The activities and personalities of ‘makers’ inspired a set of statements of encouragement, or brand promises, that Make Something Edmonton believes truly represent the community identity of Edmonton.”

Basically all of the feel-good aspects of MSE are being written down and visualized in the hope that others will adopt some or all of it. Every Councillor has received a copy of the brand guidebook which “outlines how individuals and organizations can express the Edmonton brand in their own marketing and communications efforts.” For instance, with statements of encouragement:

Statements of Encouragement

I’ll have more on this in a separate post before next week’s meeting.

Edmonton Police Commission Recommendations on Unfunded Police Positions

This report is about an Edmonton Police Commission recommendation that the EPS Operating Budget be increased by $6.36 million, on an ongoing basis, to fund 40 FTEs for downtown revitalization. The source of funds is still to be determined.

You’ll recall that EPS had asked for 84 new positions during last year’s budget discussions, but Council agreed to fund only 35 of them. Now the Police Commission is back again with a focus on positions related to growth in the downtown area:

“The Edmonton Police Commission requests that City Council reconsider the proposal for these 40 positions during the setting of the mill rate.”

The report states that if the request is not reconsidered, the request will be brought back during the 2016-2018 budget process.

Impacts of the Bill 20 on the City of Edmonton

This report outlines the changes that are part of Bill 20, the Municipal Government Amendment Act, and the anticipated impacts on the City. Bill 20 received Royal Assent on March 30, at which time “the sections pertaining to City Charters and off-site levies came into force immediately.” Bill 20 is the first legislative piece of the ongoing MGA review, with additional amendments anticipated in the fall and the process continuing until the end of 2016.

The high level summary of impacts is as follows:

  • “Bill 20 provides the Lieutenant Governor in Council the authority to, upon request of a City, establish a charter for that City by regulation.” The report states that a charter regulation for Edmonton is “not anticipated before Fall 2015 at the earliest.”
  • “Bill 20 creates a mandatory requirement for Council to, by bylaw, prescribe a code of conduct for members of Council.”
  • “Bill 20 clarifies that an off-site levy may be imposed once for each purpose specified in the Municipal Government Act, and confirms that developers may be required to pay for public utilities that are not located on the land under development but are necessary to service the development.”
  • “Bill 20 creates a new requirement for Administration to ensure that, when information is provided to one councillor in response to an inquiry about the operation or administration of the City, the information must be provided to all members of council.”
  • “The current Municipal Government Act provides the City Manager with 30 days following the receipt of a petition to report on the sufficiency of the petition to Council. Bill 20 will increase this time period to 45 days.”
  • “The current Municipal Government Act prescribes specific requirements that must be followed when a bylaw or other City action must be advertised, such as placing advertisements in local newspapers. Bill 20 modernizes these advertising requirements by allowing the City to advertise on its website and allows the City to pass a bylaw prescribing alternate forms of advertising that are likely to ensure the advertised matter is brought to the attention of affected stakeholders.”

The overall reaction is that Bill 20 “supports City objectives” and that “no significant negative impacts are anticipated.”

Committee Reports

There are 14 Committee reports that were all recently discussed at one of the four committees and have been referred to Council with a recommendation for approval. A few that I wanted to highlight include:

  • Lewis Farms Recreation Centre Land Acquisition – That Administration proceed with Option 2 for District Park Land Acquisition (which means negotiating with the developers to defer costs and repay over time) and Option 1 for District Park Base Level Development (which means negotiating a development partnership for the park with a developer).
  • Aboriginal Day LIVE! Request for Support – That they be granted $100,000 to fund the concert and event, with funding to come from the 2015 Council Contingency.
  • Electronic Cigarettes – This item was referred to Council without a recommendation, which means it’ll likely be a pretty interesting discussion.
  • Fire Pit Enforcement Options – Same as the e-cig report.
  • EPL Board Member Extensions – That Ellen Calabrese-Amrhein, Chair of the Edmonton Public Library Board, be granted an additional one-year term from May 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016 to provide consistency during the transition to a new Executive Director.
  • Canada Packers Smoke Stack – That it be designated a Municipal Historic Resource and that funding of up to $265,000 for rehabilitation of the Canada Packers Smoke Stack Reserve Fund be approved.
  • Open City Policy – That policy C581, the Open City Policy, be approved.
  • NAIT Line Transit Security – That the requested six Transit Peace Officers be funded for June to December 2015 and all of 2016, with funding from the 2015 tax levy, and that the issue return to Council for consideration when the mill rate is set.

Bylaws

There are 8 bylaws on the agenda. Here are two I wanted to highlight:

  • Bylaw 17100 – This authorizes the City to undertake, construct, and finance the Downtown CRL projects and to increase borrowing authorization by $78,178,839. This is ready for second and third reading.
  • Bylaw 17102 – This authorizes the City to borrow $304,186,000 to undertake, construct, and finance Sanitary and Stormwater Drainage projects. This is ready for second and third reading. The total cost of the projects is $536,976,000, which were approved as part of the 2015-2018 Capital Budget.

Private Reports

As mentioned there are 9 private reports on the agenda this time. Council will be receiving updates on:

  • City Manager and City Auditor Performance Evaluations
  • Civic Agency Appointment Recommendations
  • Police Helicopter Information and Analysis
  • Green Trip Funding Update
  • Walterdale Bridge Replacement Project Update
  • Inter-Municipal Update

Other

There are a couple of reports that are unavailable or that will be discussed verbally:

There’s also an extensive report to support that working session.

There are two motions pending:

  • Amendment to Bylaw 12408 – Non-Profit Community Organizations Exemption Bylaw (Councillor McKeen)
  • Entrance Signs Removal (Councillor Oshry)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On Wednesday afternoon and evening the Audit Committee will meet. Here is what’s on the agenda:

Office of the City Auditor 2014 Annual Report

This report highlights the operating results and activities during 2014 for the Office of the City Auditor. It proudly notes that the City Manager agreed to take action on 100% of the recommendations made in the 2014 audit reports. The report lists 20 different projects that were completed last year.

In 2014, the Office of the City Auditor was named as a best practice audit function and a leader in performance auditing by the Institute of Internal Auditors Research Foundation. Only 11 municipalities in the US and Canada received the honor.

Looking ahead to 2015, the report states:

“In 2015, we will continue to focus our audits on promoting strong internal controls that result in secure, efficient, effective, and economical City operations and services. This will assist in providing assurance that taxpayer’s dollars and resources are protected and used appropriately.”

David Wiun is the current City Auditor and he is supported by a staff of 13 individuals.

Actual Numbers & Costing for the Automated Photo Enforcement Program

This report provides an up-to-date, all-in cost comparison of the estimated and actual costs of fully absorbing the Automated Photo Enforcement program into City operations from 2007 until 2014. Prior to 2007, the program was contracted out. As a result, 2007 is the benchmark year.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousands words, so here are the key charts:

audit ape table1

audit ape table2

audit ape chart

And the key conclusion from the report:

“Instead of purchasing a commercial “off-the-shelf” application as assumed in 2007, a custom software solution had to be developed at a significantly higher cost. That cost was more than 200 percent higher than the cost projected in 2007.”

“We found that the current cost per violation is marginally lower than the expected cost in 2007. However, the program took six years to achieve an actual cost per violation that was lower than the last year of fully-outsourced operations.”

There is also this response from Administration to the report:

“In conclusion, the maturation of the program is producing benefits in 2014 that have exceeded the cost performance targets originally which were initially proposed in 2007 for 2008 operations. This confirms that the decision to bring the program in-house was sound and the benefits are greater than initially projected.”

Other

  • City of Edmonton 2014 Consolidated Financial Statements – The report for this is not yet available, and Council approval is required. This is the first item of business.
  • KPMG 2014 Audit Findings Report – This is the second item of business and again, Council approval is required.
  • Proactive Audit Involvement in Capital Projects – This is a status report that looked at project management practices for the Rogers Place, Walterdale Bridge, Valley Line LRT Stage 1, and Alex Decoteau Park projects. “Overall we found that all four project teams are applying the 13 project management principles set out by the Project Management Institute.”
  • Strategic Enterprise Risk Management – This is a big report that pulls together the strategic risk registers for The Way We Green, Grow, and Prosper (work had already been done for Move and Live). Four common risks include: local impacts of economic boom and bust, resourcing, decision-making not in alignment with strategic objectives, and ineffective collaboration with partners.

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 City Council could have its first by-elections in 20 years

With the potential loss of two Councillors this year, Edmonton could have it’s first by-elections for City Council in more than two decades.

Councillor Amarjeet Sohi, who represents Ward 12, announced in January that he would seek the federal Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Mill Woods. He was acclaimed on February 12. You can see his campaign page here. Sohi has said he would take leave from Council during the election.

Amarjeet Sohi - Ward 12
Amarjeet Sohi, photo by Dave Cournoyer

Councillor Tony Caterina, who represents Ward 7, was named the Progressive Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview on March 28. He was first elected to City Council in 2007. Curiously, Caterina has said he will remain active on Council during the election, but will not draw a pay cheque.

Tony Caterina - Ward 7
Tony Caterina, photo by Dave Cournoyer

On the school board side, Sarah Hoffman is running as the Alberta NDP candidate in Edmonton-Glenora. She was elected to her second term on the Edmonton Public School Board in 2013 and stepped down as chair in January. She still holds her seat on the school board.

Sarah Hoffman - Ward G
Sarah Hoffman, photo by Dave Cournoyer

Now that we know the provincial election is taking place on May 5, a by-election for Tony Caterina and Sarah Hoffman’s seats would take place sometime before August 4 (assuming they win office). The federal election is slated to take place on October 19, so if Amarjeet Sohi were to win, a by-election for his Council seat would need to take place by January 16, 2016.

By-Election Rules

Sections 160-168 of the Municipal Government Act deal with vacancies and by-elections for councils. Here are the key points:

  • Resignations must be made in writing and given to the Chief Administrative Officer (in our case, City Manager Simon Farbrother). The resignations take effect on the date they are received.
  • The Chief Administrative Officer must report the resignation to council at the first meeting after receiving the resignation.
  • A by-election must be held to fill the vacancy unless:
    • It occurs in the 6 months before a general election, or
    • The council consists of 6 or more councillors and the vacancy occurs in the 18 months before a general election (and there’s only one) or in the 12 months before a general election and there’s enough remaining councillors to count one more than the majority
  • A by-election must take place within 90 days of a vacancy, otherwise the Minister of Municipal Affairs may order a date for one or take any other action he or she considers necessary.

The next general municipal election will take place on October 16, 2017, which is still about 30 months away, so none of the “unless” clauses apply. If any of the three mentioned above resign, a by-election would need to be held within 90 days. And since it is very unlikely that Councillor Sohi would resign before winning a seat in October, we’ll almost certainly be looking at two by-elections – one for Caterina and/or Hoffman’s seats, and another for Sohi’s seat.

The nomination and campaign periods would be set by Council following the vacancy becoming official. In practice, the City Manager would bring a report to Council to inform them of the vacancies and would make a recommendation on the nomination and election dates. The same would apply to the Public School Board, except it would be the Chief Returning Officer (Alayne Sinclair) that would bring the report.

By-Election History

Edmonton has had six by-elections in the past, the two most recent of which were for councillors making the jump to either provincial or federal politics:

  • 1907 – Morton MacAuley resigned eight months into his term and left politics.
  • 1911 – James McKinley resigned to protest the firing of two city commissioners.
  • 1912 – Herman McInnes and Charles Gowan both resigned.

julia kiniski
Julia Kiniski at a campaign meeting in 1949, courtesy of the Edmonton Archives

  • 1970 – Julia Kiniski died on October 11, 1969. She had held office since 1963, when she finally won after about a dozen previous attempts. Her son Julian won the by-election, and was the last person to be elected at-large in Edmonton as the ward system took effect in 1971.
  • 1984 – Bettie Hewes resigned after being elected as MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar.
  • 1994 – Judy Bethel resigned after being elected as Liberal MP for Edmonton-East.

What to expect

Although Council has requested that the Minister of Municipal Affairs amend the Local Election Authorities Act to permit alternate forms of voting (which would make online voting possible) that has not yet happened and so online voting would not be an option for these by-elections.

City Clerk and Returning Officer Alayne Sinclair tells me that turnout is often even worse for by-elections than it is for general elections, so the City would try to pick a date that would maximize turnout. There would also be ample opportunity for advance voting.

With provincial and federal elections, and possibly municipal by-elections, all taking place this year, Edmontonians will be busy at the polls.