City Council opens the door for Uber to operate legally in Edmonton

After a marathon meeting that lasted until nearly 10pm, Council eventually decided to look at new regulations that could make Uber legal while enforcing the existing bylaws in the meantime. The motion put forward by Councillor Knack also seeks additional data on the taxi industry and directs Administration to look at issuing additional taxi plates. “The world has evolved and people want choice,” he said.

Here’s the motion that Council passed unanimously this evening:

  1. That Administration work with the Transportation Network Companies and other stakeholders to provide a report, before the end of the third quarter, to include a draft bylaw that would establish public safety rules and regulations for the operation of Transportation Network Companies.
  2. That, in parallel with the work in part 1, Administration work with the Taxi Industry to provide a report, before the end of the third quarter, with a draft bylaw to amend the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 14700 to provide for improved taxi service standards, and with recommendations for issuance of additional taxi plates.
  3. That, in the meantime, Administration request that UBER temporarily suspend operations in the Edmonton market and if they refuse, Administration take all steps necessary to apply for an injunction against UBER to prevent its unlawful operation in Edmonton until such time as UBER complies with the applicable City of Edmonton bylaws.
  4. That Administration work with the taxi brokers to obtain data from dispatch systems on number of taxis dispatched at given times, wait times for taxis, and other information relevant to allow for determination of appropriate customer service standards and expectations.

With bullet #1, the motion seeks to create rules that would allow companies like Uber to operate legally in Edmonton. With bullet #2, it seeks to address the shortcomings that currently exist in Edmonton’s taxi industry.

“I think this approach makes sense because it leaves the City’s options open,” said Mayor Don Iveson before the motion was voted on. He also reiterated the need to have more data in order to make better decisions in the future. The mayor said it makes sense to ask companies like Uber to abide by the regulations that are in place while the City works to align them with the market.

Uber is currently operating illegally in Edmonton. It launched its service back in December and the City declared that any Uber car caught operating would be considered a “bandit taxi” and face a $1,000 fine. Uber has argued consistently that its technology and business model are fundamentally different and are therefore not explicitly covered by provincial or municipal regulations. Sometimes called a ridesharing app, a more general term for Uber is transportation network company.

Yellow Cab
Photo by Dave Sutherland

The discussion centered around the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 14700, which “regulates taxi brokers, drivers, and vehicles, but does not regulate passengers.” From the report:

“The number of allowable taxi plates within the city was frozen in 1995 to facilitate a financially viable taxi industry. The taxi rates are controlled by the City of Edmonton to ensure consumer price protection.”

Edmonton caps the number of taxi permits or plates at 1,319. It has increased the number of plates allowed a few times over the years, but the City recognizes there are still too few plates to meet demand. A report from 2007 suggests that Edmonton is 177 plates short. Council mentioned repeatedly that they have heard from constituents that there aren’t enough taxis and that wait times are too long.

At one point, Councillor Scott McKeen asked Edmonton Taxi Group president Phil Strong if the industry has been lobbying for more plates to be issued, but of course they haven’t been. “I wouldn’t know where to go,” he claimed. The issue is that by making more plates available, the value of each declines.

“Almost everybody agrees the status quo doesn’t work,” the mayor said.

There was quite a bit of discussion about the idea that the City create its own app for taxi services. The problem with that in my opinion is that what makes Uber attractive is that it works in hundreds of cities. That’s great for Edmontonians travelling elsewhere, and for visitors to our city too. A local-only app would not benefit from the economies of scale that Uber provides.

There was also a lot of discussion about driver’s licenses and insurance. Most of us have Class 5 licenses, but in order to transport passengers for profit, you need to carry a Class 4 license. You can learn more in the Commercial Drivers Guide PDF. On the topic of insurance, there was some confusion about whether or not Uber’s policy, which only kicks in if a driver’s personal insurance fails to cover an accident, was sufficient. It has not yet been tested in Canada.

Most of the speakers present at the meeting today were from the taxi industry, either drivers or representatives of the brokers. Uber’s sole representative was Chris Schafer, the Public Policy Manager for Uber in Canada. It was a packed house for most of the meeting.

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The reports that the motion seeks will include a draft bylaw, so don’t expect them to return to Council until sometime in the fall. In the meantime you can try to take Uber, but know that they are operating illegally.

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

The winter break is over and Council is getting back to business 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.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, January 19, 2015

Council starts the week with a Community Services Committee meeting scheduled to take place all day.

Civic Precinct Master Plan – Addressing Current Square Design

The situation here is that back in April 2013, a number of festivals expressed concern with the proposed Civic Precinct Master Plan. The City hired a consultant as a result to work to identify changes. Festival groups had issues with being limited to 99 Street for programming, concern about safety when the LRT opens along 102 Avenue, and concern about additional trees resulting in limited movement between spaces. Businesses around the Square are “largely supportive of the principles of the Civic Precinct Master Plan” the report says. In short, the City is going to move ahead with some aspects of the plan, but focused mainly on programming, operations, and governance. Revising and advancing the entire plan is “not recommended” at the moment and will be revisited once LRT construction is complete and the new line is operational.

Edmonton Arts Council Grant Recommendations

The Edmonton Arts Council has recommended that eight projects receive funding under the Cultural Diversity in the Arts program for a total of $86,700: May Banh, William Belcourt, Sofia Cristanti, Yong Fei Guan, Todd Houseman, Erika Namsechi, Yukari Meldrum, and Elisa Marina Mair Sanchez. They have also recommended $29,500 in Festival Seed Operating Grants for 2015 for the Edmonton Latin Festival, Relish Film Festival, and Sand on Whyte.

Edmonton Heritage Council Grant Recommendations

The Edmonton Heritage Council has recommended a little over $363,000 in their Operational, Project, Seed Project, and Travel grant programs. Operational grants would be going to the Alberta Aviation Museum Association, Alberta Genealogical Society, Alberta Labour History Institute, Alberta Pioneer Railway Association, Edmonton and District Historical Society, Edmonton Radial Railway Society, Edmonton Telephone Historical Information Centre Foundation, Friends of Rutherford House Society, The Olde Towne Beverly Historical Society, and Societe historique francophone de l’Alberta. One of the most interesting projects to receive a grant recommendation is ECVO’s History of Edmonton’s Human Services Sector, to “document the history of the nonprofit human services sector in Edmonton.”

Other

Here are some of the other agenda items that caught my eye:

  • Council will likely approve a recommendation to have Mayor Iveson write to the Premier and Minister of Education to share the Youth Council’s strong opposition to Bill 10 in its current form. The report states that “Bill 10 will adversely affect the lives of some of Edmonton’s most vulnerable youth and undermine the principles of inclusiveness and diversity in Alberta schools.”
  • Canada Post is undertaking the conversion to community mailboxes in Edmonton this year. The City had asked if mail carriers might use the 311 App to report incidents and issues they observe, but Canada Post has come back and basically said no.
  • It doesn’t sound like big changes are underway for recognition of citizens, but the City is considering a digital museum and Wall of Fame in City Hall.

There will also be a response to an inquiry from Mayor Iveson on charitable donations to Community Leagues, but the report for that is not yet available.

A large number of reports have been rescheduled to later dates so if you were looking for those you’ll have to wait:

  • Support to Not-for-Profit Organizations (M. Nickel) – February 23
  • Entrance Signage – March 9
  • Status Update on the New Africa Centre Facility and Strategy for the Involvement of the African Community – March 9
  • Community League Collaboration – March 23
  • Single-use Recreation Fees – April 20
  • Lewis Farms Recreation Centre – Program Statement and Recreation Facility Master Plan Updates – November 9

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On Tuesday Council will be holding its next Executive Committee meeting, also scheduled to go all day. Here are some agenda items that caught my eye:

Municipal Development Corporation Business Plan

The recommendation here is that Administration proceed with establishing a municipally owned and controlled for-profit land development corporation “to focus on City-building initiatives in addition to earning profits.” The report includes a 73 page business case for the creation of a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC) prepared by Deloitte. Benefits of an MDC include:

  • The MDC could act “more closely like a private company” to benefit from less constraints and capitalize on private sector expertise.
  • The MDC could be a catalyst to bring underutilized sites to market.
  • The MDC could “generate a financial return and also execute on key city-building objectives.”

The City currently has 9,355 land holdings across Edmonton, and estimates suggest nearly 200 could eventually be appropriate for the MDC, though roughly 30 would be appropriate to seed the corporation.

A list of possible properties that could be transferred to the MDC will be presented at the meeting, but is not available under sections 24 and 25 of the FOIPP act. Properties within West Rossdale and the Edmonton Research Park are possible candidates.

If Council approves the recommendation to establish the MDC, Administration will return by the end of Q2 with a more detailed business plan for Council’s consideration. The initiative could require up to $2 million in funding over the next two years for startup costs. The creation of an MDC also requires approval from the Province.

Uber & Vehicle-for-Hire Regulations

The highly anticipated report on vehicle-for-hire regulations and Uber is now available, and while it talks about the regulations and the taxi industry, it doesn’t say much about how the City is going to deal with Uber. The report notes that a 2007 study found that Edmonton should have 17 taxis per 10,000 people, but 2007 was a long time ago and there’s no updated information included. We currently have 15 taxis per 10,000 people, which means we have a shortfall of roughly 177 taxi plates.

The report does talk about some considerations with UberX, including: drivers and vehicles are unregulated, so no background checks are done; drivers with a Class 5 license cannot transport passengers for hire in Alberta; vehicles are not required to obtain a mechanical inspection on a regular basis; and, drivers can carry personal liability insurance rather than commercial insurance.

An attachment called “Options for Edmonton” outlines the following “options that the City of Edmonton could pursue to improve overall taxi services”:

  • Release a close number of night plates
  • Release night plates with no cap
  • Release winter plates
  • Release accessible taxi plates
  • Release regular plates
  • Allow for taxis and drivers from nearby jurisdictions to be licensed to travel from Edmonton to home
  • Encourage executive car services by reducing minimum fares, setting lower pre-booking time frame
  • Ride Share Services (essentially a modified shuttle service)
  • Open system: remove the cap on taxi license plates
  • City of Edmonton to develop its own app

Notably absent from that list? Any mention of updating the regulations to make services like Uber and Lyft legal! Nor is there any discussion of the benefits of services like Uber.

It should be an interesting discussion!

Ballpark Update and State of Baseball in Edmonton

Executive Committee had previously requested information about Telus Field, and this report is the result. “Baseball has been part of Edmonton’s social and sporting scene since the late 1880’s,” the report says. The Edmonton Prospects (a Western Major Baseball League team) played at Telus Field in 2013 and 2014, and are negotiating terms for their 2015 schedule. The report also includes an attachment called The State of Baseball Report, prepared by RC Strategies, which assesses “the current state of professional and high-level amateur baseball in Edmonton.”

Edmonton Capitals

The City owns the ballpark, which it leases to the Oilers Entertainment Group, which in turn subleases it to the Edmonton Prospects. A condition assessment was completed in 2013 and found that an investment of $1.3 million will be required over the next ten years. The report does not recommend any specific action at this time, but suggests that Administration could further explore options including the creation of a business case to make the ballpark more viable, physical changes to the ballpark, and also the implications of removing or replacing it.

River Valley Access Mechanical Lift Options

This report provides an update on the proposal to “advance the Mechanized Access and the Touch the Water Promenade projects.” Council previously approved $34.4 million for the River Valley Alliance Connective Infrastructure, $24 million of which will go to the West Rossdale Mechanized Access Project with the remainder going to the Touch the Water Promenade. Both projects are required to be completed by 2017. The City will return to Executive Committee in Q2 with another project update.

Other

A few of the other reports include:

Here too, a few reports were delayed:

  • Building Canada Fund Projects Yellowhead Trail Improvements – February 3
  • TOD on Coliseum LRT & Northlands – February 3
  • Amendments to Policy C533 – Revolving Industrial Servicing Fund – February 24
  • Designation, Preservation & Restoration of McDougall United Church – February 24
  • 109 Street Corridor ARP – March 24
  • Recreation Lake in Blatchford – March 24
  • Greyhound Main Depot Site Operations – April 21

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The next Transportation Committee meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon and to run into Thursday if necessary.

Valley Line LRT & Churchill Square

There are two reports here, one that provides information on the Valley Line LRT Churchill Station structure and integration with the Civic Precinct, and one that provides information on the impacts of the Valley Line Stage 1 construction on Churchill Square and its users.

Preliminary Engineering for the Churchill Connection Structure was completed previously, and here’s an aerial rendering of what it might look like:

churchill station

The successful P3 proposal is expected to be selected by the end of the year, with major construction set to begin in 2016. The Valley Line LRT Stage 1 is not expected to be complete until 2020.

It is expected that 102 Avenue will be totally closed for LRT construction starting in 2016 and lasting until the project is done in 2020. Churchill Square itself will remain open, with only temporary partial closures as necessary. Any closures will be limited to the period from October 1, 2016 to April 30, 2018 in an attempt to minimize the impact on festivals (affects just the 2017 summer festival season).

The Valley Line Public Engagement Plan implementation will include opportunities for meetings, updates, and Citizen Working Groups to discuss the construction and its impact.

Metro Line Update

This report has not been made available under FOIPP, but the item is time specific at 3pm. Let’s hope that Council hears the line is ready to open soon, rather than that another delay is necessary.

Other

There’s a response to an inquiry from Councillor Nickel on the Customer Intake Model for DATS. It outlines the current policies and procedures for booking DATS trips and provides an update on the process to determine applicants’ eligibility for the service.

Tons of reports have been delayed here:

  • Installation of Traffic Lights – Criteria and Process – February 25
  • Hotel Street Parking Access – February 25
  • Parking Options 66 Avenue – 88 Street – February 25
  • LRT Funding Strategies for Other Lines – February 25
  • Streetlight Pole Maintenance and Replacement Program – March 11
  • Potholes in Back Alleys – March 25
  • Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board Bylaw – April 22
  • Bike Lane Infrastructure Engagement Plan – May 6
  • North/South Connections to 83 Avenue – October 28

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 – Special Council Meeting

City Council is holding a Special meeting on Wednesday morning to get an update from Administration on public engagement. They will no doubt talk about the Building the Momentum event which is scheduled to take place on Saturday, January 24 at the Shaw Conference Centre. You can learn more about the Council Initiative on Public Engagement and about Open City initiative on the City website.

Wrap-up

Ah, isn’t great to have Council back in session? 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.

Edmonton Police Association’s reaction to the 2015 budget is disappointing

Last week, I wrote about the Edmonton Police Service and its growing budget. Now that City Council has approved the 2015 Budgets and the police have shared their reaction, I thought it was worth a follow-up.

As part of the 2015 budget, EPS had already been approved for 52 new officers. On top of that they asked for 84 more officers and FTEs, citing the new arena district and transit policing, but in the end Council only agreed to fund 35 new positions.

EPS Recruit Graduation 2009
Photo by Aaron

Councillor Loken did make a motion to increase the EPS budget by $5.183 million, but only he, Councillor Gibbons, and Councillor Caterina supported it. A later motion from Councillor Caterina proposing to increase EPS funding by $1.589 million for Transit Policing failed by a 5-8 vote, and a motion to increase funding by $7.810 million for Downtown Revitalization and Transit Policing was withdrawn. Mayor Iveson’s motion to approve the package for 35 FTEs with $2.437 million narrowly passed with a 7-6 vote.

So of the 136 new positions they were hoping for, EPS got 87 funded. Pretty good, you might think, but the police are not happy about it.

The police reaction to the budget outcome was charitably called “disappointing” by Councillor Oshry on Twitter. Tony Simioni, outgoing president of the Edmonton Police Association, made most of the comments. Here’s a sample:

“It has reached a point now where I think it’s critical,” he told the Journal.

“We’ve been very lucky in the City of Edmonton in the last 25 years. It’s just been by the grace of God that we haven’t lost any more members in the line of service,” he told the Edmonton Sun.

“I shudder to see that day coming but, if this trend continues, it’s going to occur,” he told Global Edmonton.

“We’re going have some grave consequences in public safety and in our ability to get to the calls in a timely fashion, where we already are having difficulty.” he told CTV Edmonton. “We’re the only agency that’s open twenty four seven, 365 days. So many agencies have shut down services due to lack of funding or whatever the case may be, and it’s been downloaded on sloughed off on the men and women in the Edmonton Police Service.”

Nevermind that back in 2011 when the police were under heavy scrutiny thanks to a record number of homicides, Simioni was basically saying the opposite thing. “I don’t think Edmonton is a dangerous place to live,” he told the Journal at the time. “The average citizen walking the streets in Edmonton is as safe as the average citizen walking the streets of Calgary.”

Simioni wasn’t the only one “sounding the alarm” on Friday as many in the media put it. Staff Sgt. Bill Clark also shared his comments with the Edmonton Sun:

“We’ve got several councillors out there that just don’t get it,” said the veteran officer, adding some, including Councillors Tony Caterina and Ed Gibbons are the odd ones out who do seem to get it.

“How you can justify $8 million for bike lanes, $3 million for a net on the High Level Bridge when you can look at the Groat Road Bridge and go jump off of that bridge, are you kidding me?” said Clark.

“It is simply ridiculous and we’re tired of it. The buck stops with city council. The provincial government needs to step up but that should have been done years ago.”

In my opinion, these comments are intentionally misleading and sensational, to say the least. If I worked for the police in any capacity, I’d be embarrassed by them. Heck as a taxpaying citizen I can’t believe that was the reaction!

New EPS Cruiser Livery
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt

First of all, these representatives are willfully conflating the Operating and Capital Budgets. Both bike lanes and the High Level Bridge safety rail are funded out of the Capital Budget, whereas police officer salaries are funded out of the Operating Budget. I would suggest that if you’re going to question the decisions made by Council on the record, you should know the difference. It’s not like the police received nothing in the Capital Budget, either. Council funded a new helicopter, a new Emergency Operations Centre, a police investigation and management centre, and a new police division station for Northwest Edmonton, among other things. Many tens of millions of dollars will be spent on police-related projects this cycle.

Second, whenever they don’t get their way, police representatives seem perfectly happy to suggest that crime is on the increase. All published statistics suggest otherwise, and whenever you question their performance rather than their budget, the story is that crime is down and the police are doing an effective job. This has been documented again and again by the local media. I suggest the eight crime indicators that EPS claims to measure daily be made available in the open data catalogue and on the Citizen Dashboard, so that there’s no uncertainty about the crime stats.

Third, I think it’s ridiculous that police representatives are willing to suggest that funding the police service is the only way to improve community safety. Council increased the REACH Edmonton budget by $500,000 to fund Schools as Community Hubs and Out of School Time, for instance. They also approved $107,000 to fund the Green Shack program in 20 high needs communities. On the Capital Budget side, the High Level Bridge safety rail is the most obvious example. There’s a wide range of initiatives and projects that Council supported that will ultimately contribute to the health and safety of our community.

Fourth, let’s be real: many organizations in Edmonton contribute to the safety of the community in a very direct way, and they do it with far smaller budgets than the police service does. Look at the Edmonton Public Library for instance, which recently expanded its outreach program with Boyle Street Community Services to help those in need. I don’t see them “sloughing off” any work to the police.

About the only comment made by the police that is easy to agree with is the assertion that the Province needs to provide more funding to help deal with the pressures of growth and the unique challenges that come along with being a large city. But again, I call on the police to make their case with facts and data, rather than offhand comments in the media. Work with Council to build a solid case.

I think the police in Edmonton do great work in our city, but I’m disappointed with the way they play the game when it comes to budgets. Instead of facts, we get dire warnings. Instead of a can-do attitude, we get negativity and blaming. I think they can do better.

Coming up at City Council: December 15-19, 2014

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

2015 Budgets

Yesterday, City Council approved both 2015 Operating and Utilities budgets, as well as the 2015-2018 Capital Budget. The Operating Budget average tax increase is 5.7%, of which 1.5% is still dedicated to the Neighbourhood Renewal Program. Here’s what the mayor said in the news release:

“This Budget demonstrates how the City of Edmonton works at improving our operations and finding more efficient ways to deliver on our commitments to Edmontonians,” said Mayor Iveson. “City managers have been committed to positive changes that create better value, ensuring maximum payoff for every taxpayer dollar.”

The Capital Budget will see investment of $4.3 billion in infrastructure throughout the city. Here are the mayor’s comments from the news release:

“The Capital Budget strikes a balance between investments in a growing city and the requirement to keep existing City assets in good repair,” said Mayor Iveson. “We’re building a great city for the people who live, work and play in Edmonton.”

Mayor Iveson also wrote a wrap-up blog post which defended the tax increase and called the budget a “value-for-money kind of budget”. He said it “makes responsible use of every dollar we’ve asked for.”

The budget was approved unanimously by City Council.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Council starts the week with a public hearing scheduled to take place all day. After the incredibly involved budget discussions, I’m sure all of Council will be happy to get back to business as usual!

There’s not much on the agenda that caught my eye, but here are a few things:

  • Bylaw 17023 proposed to close a portion of Winterburn Road (215 Street NW) to allow for the development of business and industrial uses in the area.
  • For those of you annoyed by such things, bylaw 17019 is a rezoning to allow for digital signs in Place LaRue near 184 Street and 100 Avenue.
  • Bylaw 17025 is for an amendment to the Stewart Greens NSP. Nothing major, and doesn’t result in any changes to the approved Land Use and Population Statistics.
  • Bylaw 17015 is an amendment to The Hamptons NSP and Bylaw 17016 would allow for the development of a medium rise apartment site (four apartment buildings with 364 total units and 88 townhouse units). Together these two bylaws increase the density of the site by enabling the development of additional apartment buildings in place of the townhouse units.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The LRT Governance Board will meet on Tuesday in the River Valley Room at City Hall. As a Committee of Council, I thought I’d include it here.

The main item is the LRT Governance Board’s semi-annual report. Here are the highlights:

  • The board met six times this year.
  • Five RFQ submissions were received and evaluated, resulting in a recommended shortlist of proponents for Stage 1 of the Valley Line LRT project.
  • The three shortlisted proponents were issued an RFP in September.
  • A public engagement plan was approved in July, including the “accountability, transparency, and disclosure framework.”
  • As a P3 project, the LRT Governance Board is tasked with ensuring the Valley Line LRT project delivers “long-term value for money, and cost and scheduled certainty.” So far, they are confident the project does indeed “demonstrate value for money as a P3 project.”
  • Also in September, the board approved the draft Project Agreement, which is the main contract between the City and the winning proponent that covers the 35 year period of design, construction, operations, maintenance, and financing for Stage 1 of the Valley Line LRT.

Also on the agenda is a verbal update on the Valley LRT Line project, as well as on the RFP activity. The LRT Governance Board is slated to meet five times in 2015, in March, May, July, August, and November.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Council’s final meeting of 2014 will take place on Wednesday, and there are some big items on the agenda.

Municipal Development Corporation Business Plan

The first report listed (though not yet available) is a business plan for the proposed for-profit municipal development corporation. This is a follow-up to the September 2014 meeting decision to proceed with the establishment of a municipal land corporation (you can see that report on options here). The business plan should include “a governance model, financial analysis, non-financial analysis, and a detailed implementation strategy for the establishment of a for-profit municipal development corporation.” Administration was also tasked with generating “a list of potential City-owned properties to be included in the initial transfer to the entity.”

Emerging Economy Initiative

This item was known until September as the “Economic Development – for Start-ups Initiative” until Council decided to change the name. The main update here is the draft terms of reference for this initiative, which “outlines the background and recommended future state for the five Council recommended small-business and entrepreneurship focused programs.” The five programs include:

  • New Canadian and Aboriginal Business Start-up Supports
  • “Make Something Edmonton” and “Edmonton Original” marketing strategies
  • TEC and Startup Edmonton mentoring and accelerating programs
  • Live Local and Local Economy Organizations
  • Corner Store Program

The City is meant to be a partner in this effort along with EEDC and the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. In some cases the City has provided seed money to these programs, in other cases the City indirectly funds them through contributions to parent organizations (like TEC and Startup Edmonton through EEDC).

Can I just say I really dislike how they include the dash in “start-up”! Seems unnecessary.

Bylaw 17001: Edmonton Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre Pedway Connection

This bylaw is ready for first reading and would authorize the City to borrow up to $22.5 million to build a pedway connection to the proposed EDACC (or Galleria as it is more popularly known). Because this is on Crown land, second and third reading would only take place after the Minister of Infrastructure has approved it. No valid petitions to this project were received.

The proposed pedway is an underground connection from Churchill LRT Station into the Station Lands through the new Royal Alberta Museum. The total cost of the project is $30 million, 25% of which will be financed by the City. The remaining $22.5 million will be financed “by way of local improvement assessment against the abutting property owners.” But this bylaw allows the City to borrow that money to complete the project, with the debt to be repaid over a period of 20 years.

The capital profile for the pedway justifies the project as follows:

“A significant factor of the Galleria project is the partnership with the University of Alberta. The establishment of an academic facility campus will bring more people to the downtown core every day, catalyzing services and development in and around the downtown area. The University participation is conditional upon connecting 104 Ave to the Churchill LRT Station via an underground Pedway.”

In terms of timing, it was argued that the pedway needed to be built now or a connection to the RAM would not be possible.

2015 Council and Committee Meeting Schedule

The schedule was approved back in October, but Council asked to hold their City Council meetings more consistently on Tuesdays (with a continuation on Wednesday mornings). This report changes a few of the meetings to better align with that schedule. So in general, Public Hearings take place on Mondays and Council meetings take place on Tuesdays.

Special Meeting on Public Engagement

The Council Initiative on Public Engagement is well underway, and a public event has been planned for January 24, 2015 to “discuss the vision for the Initiative.” Mark your calendars! In order to get aligned, a joint City Council and Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) facilitated session is being proposed for January 21, 2015.

Capital Region Board Appointments

Both Mayor Iveson and his alternate Councillor Gibbons are unavailable for the CRB meeting in January, so it is being proposed that Councillor Walters attend instead. Additionally, Council is looking to update its appointments to the CRB Subcommittees and Task Forces as follows:

  • Advocacy & Monitoring: Mayor Iveson, Councillor Gibbons as the alternate
  • Governance, Priorities & Finance: Councillor Walters, Councillor Gibbons as the alternate
  • Land Use & Planning: Councillor Gibbons, Councillor Walters as the alternate
  • Regional Services: Councillor Gibbons, Councilllor Walters as the alternate
  • Transit: Councillor Walters, Councillor Gibbons as the alternate
  • Growth Plan Update Task Force: Mayor Iveson, Councillor Gibbons as the alternate
  • Housing Task Force: Councillor Gibbons, Councillor Walters as the alternate

BRZ Budgets & Travel Grant Recommendations

Just when you thought Council was done with budgets, they’re right back it! On Wednesday they will approve the 2015 Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) budgets. There are 13 BRZs in Edmonton.

Council will also be discussing the latest Community Investment Program Travel Grant Program grant recommendations. This program is intended to support round trip travel from Edmonton for individuals working in the arts and festival communities. Grants of up to $750 per traveler can be awarded. A total of $21,600 is being recommended in travel grant funding to 27 individuals. The Edmonton Arts Council has recommended $82,240 in travel grant funding through the program in 2014.

Other

A series of updates from Council on Agency and Initiative appointments is being made available at this meeting. These include updates on work with AUMA, the ELEVATE initiative, the Urban Isolation/Mental Health initiative, Child Friendly Edmonton, and the Edmonton Women’s Initiative.

Council is being asked to approve expropriation of four properties for Stage 1 of the Valley Line LRT project: Property 1, Property 2, Property 3, Property 4.

There is one listed motion pending, from Councillor Knack, on electronic cigarettes.

Three private reports are listed:

  • Edmonton Business Revitalization Zones – 2015 Boards of Directors
  • Process and Timelines for City Manager and City Auditor 2014 Performance Evaluations
  • Reappointment Recommendation – Audit Committee Public Member

One report has been revised to March 2015 on Electrical Franchise Fee Charges as part of The Way We Finance.

Winter Recess

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Council will be on winter recess. They’ll resume on January 19, with Committee meetings on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday that week. A public hearing is slated for January 26, with the first City Council meeting of the year scheduled to take place on January 27.

That’s it! 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.

Why isn’t City Council pushing back on the Edmonton Police Service?

An Edmonton Journal editorial in late 2002 discussed the potential decision between the police union’s campaign for 300 new officers and the operating expenses of the new helicopter that had just been donated by the Edmonton Police Foundation:

“Some would argue that the city should find the money to provide both more officers and the chopper. Yet how realistic is that? And if we must choose, which option will provide the best policing?”

In the end, Council voted to add an extra $5.1 million to the 2003 operating budget to hire 55 new officers, but rejected an increase to pay for the helicopter operating expenses. Police chief Bob Wasylyshen promised to find money elsewhere in his budget to enable the helicopter to fly.

Oh how times have changed. Now, the police get a new helicopter paid for by taxpayers, along with the operating costs of that helicopter, and they’ll get likely an increase in officers too.

Instead of asking EPS to find efficiencies in its budget as in years past, recent Councils seem content to go out of their way to support the growth of the police budget, both operating and capital. Instead of applying “Council’s 2%” to the police, Mayor Iveson is instead going to lobby higher levels of government for more money. And this year he went further – inexplicably, he’s going to lobby the helicopter industry to build a better product!

I want to live in a safe community and I have great respect for the work our police officers do. But as a taxpayer, I also want to know that I’m getting the best return on my investment. So I think it’s fair to question the police service, and as the largest part of the budget at between 16-18%, to question them harder than other departments. Is EPS really operating at maximum efficiency? Is there truly no room in the budget, now more than $360 million a year, to improve the way our police service runs?

The 20 year drought ends

Though police staffing levels have increased considerably in recent years, there was a long period of time during which the number of officers remained stagnant, despite increases in our population.

In 1991, police chief Doug McNally fought to add 11 officers, but was left with a budget of $76 million and the ability to add just one officer. He said EPS “desperately” needed additional staff, partly due to the roughly 90,000 more people that were living in the city compared with 1981.

Ten years later, in budget discussions in 2002, Councillors asked EPS about their staffing levels. The police noted that despite an increase in population of about 115,000 people from 1982 to 2001, the number of authorized police officers increased by just one to 1,138. That means the ratio of police officers to citizens went from one for every 485 people to one for every 585 people. Total FTEs had increased just 332 to 1,494.

change in ftes

Since 2001, the population has increased by about 212,000 people, and the number of FTEs at EPS has gone up by 780, to more than 2,200 today. The number of officers totals a little over 1,600. And with the 2015 budget, EPS is proposing to increase to more than 2,400 (with more than 1,700 officers), as shown in the chart above.

Declining crime stats

Despite the stagnation in staffing levels through the 1990s, crime statistics in Edmonton fell along with the rest of Canada. In 1995, Edmonton led the country with a 19% drop in crime. If the number of officers didn’t increase, how did the decrease happen? Tony Mandamin, chair of the Edmonton Police Commission at the time, offered his opinion: “What I take from that is we’re doing something different and the number one thing we’re doing different is community-based policing.”

Acting chief Al Buerger agreed, saying “no police department on its own can have that effect.” The local push to support community-based policing began in 1991. Crime rates continued to fall through the 90s and into the early 2000s.

change in csi

Despite some blips over the last 15 years, we can see that crime has continued to fall. The Crime Severity Index (includes all Criminal Code violations including traffic, drug violations, and all Federal statutes), which for Edmonton stood at 150.57 in 1998, was down to 93.34 in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

The latest statistics show that crime is down across the entire country more or less uniformly.

The disconnect

Despite the decrease in crime, we hear the same refrain year after year. We need more police officers, because the work is getting more complex and our population is increasing so dramatically.

In 1994, facing cuts in provincial grants to EPS, chief Doug McNally said “we’re absolutely assured the quality of policing will go down.” But we know that in fact it went up.

In 2001, Council cut the proposed EPS budget by $1.7 million, and they shaved $1.5 million off the capital budget too. Police chief Bob Wasylyshen said the move left him “flabbergasted”. Yet they found a way to improve the service being offered anyway.

One could argue that the increase in officers throughout the last 15 years is the reason for the decrease in crime, but you can’t make that argument for the 15 years before that. There seems to be a disconnect between the dire warnings from EPS and the facts.

Air-1, Air-2, and the helicopter debate

Despite the correlation between community policing and a decrease in crime rates, we have increasingly decided to spend money on other approaches. Like helicopters.

The push to acquire a police helicopter picked up speed in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2002 that Air-1 was purchased and brought into regular service. A one year pilot project began in August 2001 with a leased helicopter, and a public lottery raised the $1.7 million needed to purchase it the following year. Initially, it was expected that Air-1 would cost EPS about $600,000 per year in operating costs.

In response to questions from Council in 2002 about replacing Air-1:

“The helicopter has an expected life cycle of 30 years. The EPS has an obligation to ensure the on-going maintenance will enable the equipment to remain in top condition.”

“Replacement of the helicopter has not been contemplated at this time. City funds are not anticipated to be used for any replacement of this citizen sponsored initiative. Partnership and other funding sources will be explored when this becomes a necessity.”

Then in September 2006, it was revealed that EPS was assessing the feasibility of a replacement or a complete rebuild of the helicopter. Instead, we ended up with a second helicopter. Total funding of $2 million for Air-2 was approved in 2008 ($1.65 million for the helicopter, $350,000 to outfit it for police work) and the helicopter was purchased and went into service in August 2009.

When Air-2 was purchased, the rationale was for it to take over as the primary eye in the sky, given that Air-1 was said to be unavailable 30% of the time because of maintenance.

Air 2 - Dim
Air-2, photo by Buie

We’re currently spending about $1.9 million each year on the police helicopters. Operating costs like fuel and maintenance account for $1.1 million, with the remaining $800,000 spent on personnel for six positions. In response to a question from Councillor Sohi, the EPS said “this $1.1 million is equivalent to 8 constables, but in all likelihood this $1.1 million would just be used to offset the productivity efficiencies that are realized as a result of Air-1.” Back in 2000 when public campaigns to fund a helicopter were picking up steam, an EPS official suggested a helicopter could be as effective as 30 officers.

Helicopters “are operationally available 4,845 hours over 365 days in a year, weather and maintenance permitting.” That’s half the year that they are available, but they are only budgeted to be in the air for a total of 1,700 hours, or 35% of the available time. In 2013, they flew 1,611 total hours.

We know that while the helicopters are effective when they are involved (with a 99.2% apprehension rate) the problem is they aren’t involved very often. The average response time to respond to a call is 73 seconds, but most “criminal flights” as they are called are quite short. In 2012, the helicopters were only involved in 64 or 37.6% of all recorded criminal flights.

Combined with poor weather, the helicopters just aren’t available or useful to police very often, a point that Councillor Knack returned to again and again during the most recent debate. Is that something we should be spending money on?

New helicopter(s)

In proposing the purchase of two helicopters this budget cycle, EPS Chief Knecht suggested the police would not be back at Council asking for new helicopters for close to 20 years. “Yeah right!” was my first thought. And I think that EPS’s own recommendations would call the chief’s comments into question. In response to a question from Mayor Iveson on the viability of purchasing a new EC130, EPS wrote:

“To maximize trade-in value and minimize maintenance, the EPS’s life span recommendations for any single engine helicopter within the program is 8-10 years. For a twin engine helicopter a 10- 12 year consideration is advocated.”

So realistically, EPS would be back in 10 years asking to replace their twin-engine helicopters had Council approved them.

And they didn’t want just any old helicopter, they wanted the Cadillac option at $7.2 million a piece. That’s firmly in the want category, as far as I am concerned.

In response to a question from Mayor Iveson about the pros and cons of the EC130 helicopter, EPS wrote, “EC-130’s are rarely used for law enforcement service in North America and are not viable for flight patrol operations.” If that’s the case, then how did our police service end up with two of them? UPDATE: Our service flies EC120 choppers.

EPS was looking for twin-engine models, but Council discussed the possibility of a single-engine option instead. Here’s what EPS had to say about the difference between a single-engine and a twin-engine helicopter:

“Generally, the major difference between a single engine helicopter and a twin engine helicopter is the ability for the twin to continue flying in the event one engine fails. The redundancy of this second engine would allow the EPS to reliably and safely navigate the helicopter into small spaces like helipads, heliports and forward operating bases within congested areas of the city. This redundancy also would contribute to the increased safety associated to flying longer distances over the ever expanding “built up” areas of the growing city.”

For the safety of the officers flying them, let’s hope the engines don’t fail very often. Still, that redundancy doesn’t seem like a great reason to buy a new helicopter, let alone a much more expensive one.

Though Mayor Iveson did ask about the potential for using drones, EPS basically responded that current Transport Canada regulations make them impractical for police work (despite the fact that the RCMP already uses them in some situations). “Helicopter’s and UAV platforms are not mutually exclusive,” they wrote, presumably in a bid to hang on to their helicopter funding. While that may be true, it’s not difficult to look at the rapidly increasing level of investment into drones and the changing regulatory landscapes around the world to see that we should be examining the technology more closely.

Let’s put data analytics to work on the budget

I think the helicopter debate is instructive, because it’s full of information that just doesn’t hold up upon inspection. Just like the disconnect in staffing levels vs. crime rate, there seems to be a big gap between what EPS says about the helicopters and what is actually the case.

Here’s another example. Question after question from Councillor Nickel about the 2015 operating budget was met with the same response from EPS: “The EPS does not formally measure and report on the “insert measurement here” as defined by Statistics Canada, and hence this data is not provided for 2014.” This is what we hear all the time – local police don’t use the same statistics, so it can’t be compared. Well, why not? Why aren’t we demanding comparable data? It makes it seem like they’re hiding something.

It shouldn’t be enough to point to an increasing population and to just say “the work is more complex.” The police have one of the most sophisticated data analysis systems/teams in the city, so why can’t we have better justification for their budget requests?

New helicopter is a go, what about new officers?

Mayor Iveson called the meeting this week “the most complex bit of procedural chicanery” he has ever seen. Councillor Oshry called the discussion “city government at its almost worst”. I listened on Monday night, when the first vote took place, confused all the Councillors, and was postponed until Tuesday morning.

After a long and difficult debate (that ended up being more about procedure than the issue at hand), Council voted to spend $3.47 million to buy a new single-engine police helicopter. They made that purchase subject to a report on how the new helicopter would be stored, maintained, and operated, and a report evaluating the pros and cons of the EC130 (the existing model of Air-1 and Air-2) versus the AC350 (the single-engine helicopter proposed by EPS). They also voted to have the mayor work with the Police Commission and federal government to explore housing the helicopter fleet at CFB Edmonton.

But wait, there’s more! They also decided it would be a good use of Mayor Iveson’s time to “advocate to the helicopter industry on the prospects for a suitable forthcoming enclosed tail rotor single engine model.” Look, if anyone can understand the appeal of digging in and truly understanding an issue, it’s me. But do we really need the mayor to become an expert on helicopters? And to use his already limited time to advocate to the helicopter industry? Not in my opinion.

So far during the 2015 budget discussions, Council has committed to a new helicopter (among other police-related capital expenditures) and to having the mayor lobby others for more money. Soon they’ll need to make a decision about growing the operating budget.

eps net operating requirement

Since 1999, the EPS operating budget has grown to more than $360 million. In the chart above, you can see the net operating requirement (the amount our taxes cover after revenue is taken into account) has increased by nearly three times, from about $101 million to almost $300 million.

Doing more with less

Not that long ago, Council seemed more willing to push back on EPS requests for increased funding. In 2004 for instance, EPS was tasked with cutting $2 million from its 2005 administration budget in order to help pay for up to 124 new patrol officers. A similar challenge doesn’t seem to be on the table this time around.

I don’t disagree that the Province and the federal government should contribute more to the police budget. If it’s true that EPS is handling an ever increasing workload for the feds, and I have no reason to question officials who say that’s the case, then perhaps EPS should make information about that available. At the moment, it’s not clear what portion of proposed increases are for local policing versus other work.

It’s not uncommon to hear that often the best solutions arise during times of restriction, not abundance. That’s what happened in the 1990s. “Community policing isn’t sexy,” wrote current Councillor Scott McKeen in his column in the Journal on December 11, 2002, noting that the helicopter had captured the public’s imagination. “It just works.”

In the midst of new helicopters and additional officers, I just hope we’re not missing out on the modern day equivalent of community policing. What could EPS do if they were a bit less comfortable?

Coming up at City Council: November 24-28, 2014

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

In case you hadn’t heard, it’s budget time!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Council starts the week with a non-statutory public hearing on the proposed 2015 operating, capital, and utilities budgets. The public hearing is scheduled from 9:30am to 9:30pm, and if you’d like to speak, you can register here.

If you haven’t already done so, check out this microsite that the City put together as a primer on the budget. When you’re ready for more detail, you’ll find everything you could possibly want to know about the City’s budget process here. If you’d like to go through some Q&A, check out the AMA that CFO Lorna Rosen did on Reddit last week. And when you’re ready, try to come up with your own budget using the CBC’s interactive tool.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

There is one non-budget-related meeting taking place this week, and that’s the Audit Committee meeting on Tuesday. The Audit Committee is responsible for “providing oversight and consideration of audit matters brought forward by the City Auditor and the External Auditor.” Among other things, the Committee will consider:

The City Streets Audit Report determines if the City is adequately protecting roads as a capital asset (it is) and assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of the Pothole Repair Program (it is consistent with previous years). Here’s a look at how many potholes have been filled over the last 10 years:

potholes

The current average condition of all roads is considered “good”, which is 6.06 on a scale of 1 to 10. Here’s a look at how that number has changed over the years:

pqi

To date in 2014, the Office of the City Auditor has provided 17 reports to Council and the Audit Committee.

Once the Audit Committee meeting has adjourned, a selection committee meeting will be held to select/reappoint the public member of the Audit Committee.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Wednesday, the 2015 budget meetings begin. Council is scheduled to discuss the 2015 budget on both Wednesday and Thursday, and also December 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 10. If they need more time, they’ll discuss it on December 11 and 12 too.

2015 Drainage Services Utility Operating & Capital Budget

The proposed 2015 operating budget for Drainage Services has revenues of $167 million and expenditures of $127 million. The proposed 2015-2018 capital budget for Drainage Services totals $727 million.

Bylaw 16980 provides for both Sanitary Drainage & Stormwater rate increases of $0.50 per month each for the typical residential customer, to take effect on January 1, 2015.

2015 Waste Management Utility Operating & Capital Budget

The proposed 2015 operating budget for Waste Management Services has revenues of $169 million and expenditures of $172 million. The proposed 2015-2018 capital budget for Waste Management Services totals $121 million.

Bylaw 16982 sets out the proposed increases in the residential monthly waste service fee, and also changes to six facility user rates at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, all of which would take effect on January 1, 2015. The change in monthly waste service fees is $3.35 per single-family home and $2.18 per multi-family unit.

Proposed 2015-2018 Capital Budget

The proposed capital budget includes expenditures of $5.962 billion for tax-supported operations, which includes new tax-supported debt of $321.5 million, new self-supporting tax guaranteed debt of $121.4 million (to be recovered by the Downtown and Quarters CRLs), and a tax increase of 1.5% per year for the period 2015-2018 for the Neighbourhood Renewal Program.

Of the $5.962 billion, $2.830 billion was previously approved and $2.699 billion is new funding. These are big numbers and you’re probably wondering about how much debt Edmonton can carry, so check out this post from last year. Here’s a look at where the money comes from:

sources

Roughly 45% of the funding will go towards infrastructure renewal projects, which are an “investment in existing infrastructure to restore it to its former condition and extend its service life.” The remaining 55% will be spent on growth projects, which are investments in “new assets as well as…projects that add to or enhance components of existing infrastructure assets.”

Some of the major growth projects include: Valley Line LRT ($1.618 billion), Rogers Place and related infrastructure projects ($403.1 million), Blatchford ($561.4 million), and The Quarters ($47.1 million).

Here’s a look at the recommended 2015-2018 allocation by service area:

renewal vs growth

There is obviously a lot more detail in the attached reports, so if you want to dive in, now’s the time!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The budget meetings continue on Thursday, with Council slated to hear presentations from civic agencies on the proposed capital budget. Starting at 9:30am, they will hear from:

  • Edmonton Police Commission
  • Edmonton Public Library
  • Edmonton Economic Development Corporation
  • Francis Winspear Centre for Music
  • Fort Edmonton Management Company
  • TELUS World of Science

Proposed 2015 Operating Budget

Following those presentations, Council will look at the proposed 2015 operating budget, they’ll have presentations from each of the major departments, like Community Services and Sustainable Development.

The budget discussions will continue over the next three weeks.

That’s it! 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.

Coming up at City Council: November 17-21, 2014

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

A reminder that it’s budget time! If you want to dig into the 2015 budgets, check out this microsite that the City has launched. Also head over to the Edmonton subreddit at 12:30pm on Friday, November 14 for an AMA with CFO Lorna Rosen. City Council will be discussing the budget in detail from November 26 to December 10, with optional meetings scheduled for December 11 and 12 if they need more time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

On Monday, City Council is holding a public hearing. The usual bylaws to allow development will be discussed, but three include amendments to ARPs:

  • An amendment to the Strathcona Area Redevelopment Plan (bylaw 16988), a rezoning to allow for a five storey addition to the exist Crawford Block building (bylaw 16989), and a bylaw to designate the Crawford Block as a Municipal Historic Resource (bylaw 16916). You can learn more about the Crawford Block, which was built in 1912, at the Edmonton City as Museum Project.
  • Rezoning (bylaw 16992) and an amendment to the Boyle Street/McCauley Area Redevelopment Plan (bylaw 16991) to allow for a 4 storey mixed-use development. This is for the property at 9103 111 Avenue in McCauley.
  • Rezoning at 10505 106 Street in Central McDougall (bylaw 16852) and an amendment to the Central McDougall/Queen Mary Park Area Redevelopment Plan (bylaw 16851).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On Wednesday, Council will hold its final meeting before the budget meetings take place, which means there is just one “normal” Council meeting left for 2014 (on December 17). Items on the agenda next week include:

Corporate Measures and Targets Follow-up

With this item, Administration is recommending 26 measures and targets for the 12 outcomes in The Way Ahead. There are both new and revised measures and targets compared to the 23 provisionally approved in June, based on feedback from Council. You can learn more about the 12 outcomes here.

The measures are things like “% of new residential units in mature areas”, “transit ridership per capita”, “ecological footprint in hecatre/capita”, or “City of Edmonton credit rating”. Each measure has a corresponding target and measurement frequency. The idea is to provide Council with information to aid in their decision-making. These aren’t the only things the City measures of course, as the report says the City tracks “hundreds of different types of performance measures.”

None of the recommended targets go beyond 2018 because that’s the end date of the current The Way Ahead. Once approved, an updated document will be made available, and Administration will begin to report back to Council on the outcome measures and targets.

Approval of Expropriation for the Southeast to West LRT (Valley Line) Stage 1, Phase 2

Administration is recommending that Council approve the expropriation of land required for the Valley Line LRT under the Expropriation Act. This approval will enable them to proceed with finalizing the expropriations, which needs to happen before construction can begin.

There are 17 properties being expropriated. Some are located near five corners in The Quarters, some are near Cloverdale Road and Strathearn Drive, some are along 83 Street between 76 Avenue and 77 Avenue, and some are further south. The largest property is #10 which is about 0.519 ha and is currently a parking lot owned by the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre. Seven of the properties are residences.

Construction of the Valley Line LRT is scheduled to begin in 2016, with preparation of the lands required continuing through 2015.

Committee Recommendations

There’s also approval of recommendations made from the Utility Committee, Executive Committee, and Community Services Committee, including:

Some other items that Council will be looking at include:

  • Edmonton Police Commission – Interviews and Appointment
  • Terms of Reference – Commonwealth Games Bid Oversight Committee
  • Jerry Forbes Centre Multi-tenant Project Update

That’s it! 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.

Coming up at City Council: November 10-14, 2014

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

First I want to mention that this week Council held a public hearing and its first budget meetings. If you want to dig into the budget, check out this microsite that the City has launched. There will also be an AMA on Reddit at some point, and a survey has already been sent out to members of the Edmonton Insight Community. City Council will be discussing the budget in detail from November 26 to December 10, with optional meetings scheduled for December 11 and 12 if they need more time.

If you’d rather listen to this overview, check out this episode on Mixcloud:

Or you can download it in MP3 here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Wednesday, Executive Committee will be meeting in the River Valley Room. Items on the agenda include:

TEC Edmonton’s 2013-2014 Annual Report

This is the annual update that TEC Edmonton is required to provide. A recent study of university business incubators listed TEC Edmonton 10th overall worldwide, and 3rd in North America, and in June, TEC Edmonton was named “Incubator of the Year” by Startup Canada. An increase in federal funding of about $2.5 million per year will enable TEC Edmonton to launch a new Health Accelerator “to enable the city to catalyze growth of a significant new health tech cluster.”

The Way We Finance White Paper on Debt

This item is the public launch of the third white paper presented as part of The Way We Finance. This one focuses on debt: “After establishing the Edmonton context related to the use of debt, we are going to talk about what the City of Edmonton uses debt for, why it is used and how we determine what amount of debt is reasonable for the City to carry.” Debt was a hot topic during last year’s municipal election, which I wrote about here.

Purchase of the Wellington Surplus School Site

Administration is recommending that City Council approve the purchase of the Wellington Surplus School Site from the Edmonton Public School Board for $4,755,000 (which reflects current market value for the property). Council had previously agreed to proceed with the land purchase, which ultimately will result in a new home for the Calder Library, 2.27 hectares of “civic open space”, and potentially a future multicultural centre.

2014 City of Edmonton Subsidy to the Homeward Trust Foundation

City Council last year approved a subsidy of $1,238,000 for the Homeward Trust Foundation, but approval by Executive Committee is now required to actual pay it. Since 2000, the City has contributed approximately $1.2 million per year to support the agency’s work. The Homeward Trust Foundation receives funding from all three levels of government and has allocated $154 million in funding to 95 capital projects since 2001.

A number of reports were supposed to have been discussed at this meeting, but have instead been pushed out until 2015:

  • Bylaw amendments for parking requirements for “minor” eating & drinking establishments
  • A report on business models & governance options for Edmonton Research
  • An update on the potential for commercial activity at the Rossdale Generating Station
  • An update on the West Rossdale Redevelopment

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Community Services Committee

In the morning, Council’s Community Services Committee will meet. Items on the agenda include:

Edmonton Historical Board Chair’s Report Recommendations

This one seems timely given the discussion lately about more of our historic buildings disappearing to development. The report responds to recommendations that were made on how “new leadership could be applied to extend and add to Edmonton’s existing heritage achievements.” Administration is looking for a funding increase of $500,000 to increase municipal heritage designation participation rates.

Edmonton Arts Council 2015 Festival Operating Grant Recommendations

With this report, Administration is recommending the approval of $200,000 for six festivals in 2015: Deep Freeze, Edmonton Poetry Festival, Edmonton Pride Festival, Ice on Whyte, Silver Skate Festival, and Serca Festival of Irish Theatre. The program enables a maximum of 25% of the festival’s operating budget to be covered by the grants.

Backyard Firepit Control

This one is a response to an inquiry made by Councillors Esslinger and McKeen (which many people thought was a rookie mistake). The report outlines some background, how the City enforces fire pit regulations, and clarifies the current legislation. It also says that “current Bylaw provisions provide effective enforcement tools to regulate the impacts of outdoor fires, and no Bylaw amendments are recommended at this time.” No surprise there!

Three items have been postponed until early next year:

  • Update on the New Africa Centre Facility
  • Civic Precinct Master Plan – Addressing Current Square Design
  • Options to Support Suicide Prevention

Transportation Committee

In the afternoon, the Transportation Committee will meet. Items on the agenda include:

Low Income Transit Pass Pilot

The report for this item has not yet been released, but this should be an update on the three-year pilot project that was approved back in May. At the time, the goal was for the low income pass to be in place by January, so hopefully that remains on track.

Late Night Transit Update

This report is a follow-up from August and outlines “a proposal for the phased implementation of late night service”. There are two phases proposed: the first would extend late night service until 3am on five routes, the second would further extend service to 5:30am. Funding of $1.322 million is needed to get Phase 1 going, and phase 2 would cost $2.1 million annually. If the budget is approved, Phase 1 could be implemented in September 2015 and Phase 2 could be implemented in September 2016. The five routes are the 1, 4, 8, 9, and 505 (Clareview – Central LRT replacement service).

How can we build a great city with transit?

Get ready to be consulted and engaged on the development of a major transit strategy! This report “outlines the steps for public consultation to be completed as part of development of a transit strategy” that aims to discuss the question above. Administration is looking for one-time funding of $623,000 to take this work forward.

Cell Phone and Wi-Fi Coverage in LRT Stations and Tunnels

Back in July, Mayor Iveson made an inquiry about mobile and Internet coverage underground. This report answers that inquiry, and states that “today, cell coverage in LRT stations and tunnels is limited.” On the plus side, the report says the City is looking to offer cell phone coverage and Wi-Fi service in the fourth quarter of 2015 to LRT stations (and parts of tunnels). That means getting connected underground is still a year away, but at least it is coming.

Two items have been postponed to an undetermined future date:

  • Civic Precinct Master Plan – SE LRT Integration
  • Valley Line Construction Impact on the Use of Churchill Square

Friday, November 14, 2014

There aren’t normally Council meetings on Friday, but on the morning of the 14th the City Manager and City Auditor Performance Evaluation Committee will be meeting. There are no reports available as these items are protected by sections 17, 19, and 24 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. My understanding is that the committee will agree upon the process and timelines for evaluating the performance of the City Manager and City Auditor but that the actual evaluations will take place at a future date.

That’s it! 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.

Edmonton should eliminate the RF1 zone to advance infill development

City Council should eliminate the RF1 zone and rezone all of those areas to RF3. Such a move would raise the base zoning for residential neighbourhoods across the city, moving the discussion around accommodating Edmonton’s growth from “how does infill fit in” to “infill is a key part of our entire city’s future, let’s make it work.” Such a decision would make it clear that the entire city needs to evolve together as we grow.

This is not a new idea. It has been proposed before, such as by the Infill Development Edmonton Association. More recently, Councillor Michael Walters has been in the news, making the case for increasing density throughout the city rather than just in specific neighbourhoods:

“We’ve created this sense of entitlement that my neighbourhood is a single-family neighbourhood. No infill should be permitted here,” said Walters. “I don’t think that any neighbourhood is entitled to have low density.”

As long as the majority of our mature neighbourhoods are zoned RF1, we’ll always have an “us vs. them” problem. I mean, just look at what one Kenilworth resident told The Journal:

“Duplexes? No, we don’t want that,” added June Lunn, who moved in five years ago. “Those kind of things are low income. I think older neighbourhoods should just be left how they are. That’s why we live here. If you can’t afford it, go elsewhere,” she added. “I’m not trying to be rude, but we work hard for where we live.”

Entitlement and NIMBYism at its finest. But this isn’t just about building an inclusive city. This is about accommodating the amazing growth Edmonton is experiencing and is projected to continue experiencing. Suburban neighbourhoods alone just aren’t going to cut it. Mayor Iveson wrote about this today:

“We simply can’t continue to build our city and accommodate our growth by developing new neighbourhoods alone. Our suburban neighbourhoods provide great homes, communities and amenities for Edmontonians, but they can’t be the only place where Edmonton’s growth and change occurs. The way we’ll continue to be able to grow a great city in a strong region is by enabling diverse housing options across our entire city. Infill is a crucial piece in building up our established neighbourhoods and further embracing the urban shift that is already underway in Edmonton.”

Infill

The fact is, Edmonton is behind on one of the key goals set forth in The Way We Grow, Edmonton’s municipal development plan. The plan targets that “a minimum of 25 percent of city-wide housing unit growth locate in the Downtown and mature neighbourhoods” and near LRT and transit centres. That’s infill, and while it is happening, it isn’t happening quickly enough. We’re no where close to 25% and without some sort of bold action, we’ll never get there.

As a result, the City has now published its first major report on the topic. Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap is “a two year work plan to advance infill.” Many speakers today described the roadmap as “a good start” and felt it adequately captured the public consultation that went on during its development. But the sentiment was clearly that it doesn’t go far enough.

The roadmap identifies 23 actions, including 8 that the City considers priority actions to begin immediately. “They are key activities that are needed to remove barriers to the development of more new housing and to proactively manage growth,” the roadmap says. The actions are broadly categorized into communication, collaboration, knowledge, rules, and process. As is typical with these kinds of reports, the actions are mostly baby steps, especially those in the rules category.

Action 15 says, “change the RF1 (single detached) zone to allow the subdivision of properties into narrower lots that are half the average width of the other lots on the block (but not less than 25 feet wide).” Action 16 says, “create more opportunities for row housing in the RF3 (small scale infill development) zone by removing location restrictions and changing the site regulations that currently limit this form of infill on RF3 lots.”

Council could just let the roadmap run its course, and maybe learn from that to agree on the next set of actions in two years. And eventually, after many years, we’d have transformed the RF1 zone into something that better enables infill. But I think Council needs to be bolder. The time for baby steps is over.

rf3 zones

There are just 16 neighbourhoods that currently feature predominately RF3 zoning. The vast majority of our neighbourhoods are zoned RF1. But as Administration readily admitted today, RF1 is no longer relevant. It’s just not how we develop neighbourhoods anymore. New areas of the city feature greater diversity than just single detached homes, and have higher density than mature, RF1 neighbourhoods as a result. If the RF1 zone is no longer relevant, then why keep it around?

Moving the baseline to RF3 is not a silver bullet. It also doesn’t mean that every new home built is going to be a townhouse. But it does remove a key barrier to infill, and it does make the desired mix of housing possible. It would allow land prices to stabilize, making infill more affordable.

Ambleside
Medium density housing in Ambleside

Council repeatedly asked the two panels of speakers today for advice on how to get the public onside with more infill and any potential zoning changes. They talked about “social acceptance” and noted they’re the ones that field the angry calls.

Here’s the thing: some people are going to complain no matter what you do. There will always be the June Lunn’s of the world. As was pointed out in response to Council’s questions, waiting to get everyone on board prevents action. You’ll never get everyone on board. It’s important to keep the dialogue ongoing of course, and to give Edmontonians an opportunity to be heard. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep pressing pause. Take action, and clearly inform citizens about why that decision was made and what it means. Council was elected to make the best decisions on behalf of citizens for our city’s future, and if that means infill throughout the city, then let’s get on with it already.

Today, Executive Committee passed a couple of motions to move this work forward. First, they asked for a report “outlining options to overhaul our suite of low density zones (RF1-RF4)” which could include consolidation, changes to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, and information about incentives that could be offered to support increased densification. We should hear back on that in January. Second, they voted to allow garage and garden suites and to change RF1 to allow narrower lots not less than 25 feet wide. A public hearing on the changes will take place by January. Furthermore, they asked for an update on progress with the Edmonton Infill Roadmap by March 2015.

That’s all good, and as we head into a very busy capital budget season, it’s probably enough for now. But I’d like to see Council go further when they pick this back up in the new year. Let’s get rid of the RF1 zone, either by rezoning those areas to RF3, or by coming up with a new consolidated zone to achieve our infill objectives. Let’s take a bold step forward.

For more on today’s discussion, check out this post from Elise Stolte.

Edmonton moves forward with urban beekeeping

Urban beekeepers are buzzing in Edmonton now that City Council has given the green light to a pilot project that will allow hives in backyards within city limits. On July 7, the Community Services Committee approved the pilot with urgency, pushing for the rules against urban beekeeping to come to an end. The City will now undertake a pilot and will report back with recommended bylaw changes in early 2015.

Bee in a Peony
Bee in a Peony by Martin Male

The battle to keep bees has been going on for quite some time and given that numerous other cities allow urban beekeeping, this decision was seen by many as long overdue. Importantly, it’s another recommendation from Fresh that will see implementation, and it’s a sign from Council that they are serious about food and agriculture in Edmonton.

Here’s an audio story about the news:

You can listen on Mixcloud or you can download the episode here.

Further Reading

Sources