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.

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’s 2014 Municipal Census goes online

The City of Edmonton is conducting its biennial census this year, and for the first time, you can participate online! The census is an important tool for collecting up-to-date demographic information that is used in decision-making and also for per-capita grants. Completing the census online is optional, so if you do nothing, a census worker will come to your door as in years past.

Here’s how it works. Over the next couple days, every household will be receiving a letter with information on how to complete the census online. That letter will include a PIN that you’ll use to access the online questions. The questions being asked online and in person are the same, except for one extra question that only online respondents will get to answer:

“In the future, what additional channels or sources would your household like added to receive information regarding City services?”

The idea is for the City to get an idea of citizen expectations for getting information out about services. The reason that question is only being asked online is because it requires a written response (presumably it would be too slow for door-to-door collection). If you’re wondering how to answer it, my suggestion would be to write “open data”!

The online census is powered by Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based company that sells electronic voting machines (it was founded in Toronto in 2002). Their solution for Canadian municipalities is also being used by Lethbridge this year.

In an effort to help people complete the census online, the City of Edmonton is hosting a series of outreach events over the next couple of weeks:

“The staff will be there offering guidance and support to individuals who wish to complete their census online using computers available at the various venues. Any one who would like information on the online census option, or assistance with completing their census online, are welcome to attend.”

The online portion of the census starts tomorrow, April 10 at 8am and will run until 8pm on April 27. Door-to-door collection will begin on May 10, which will enable workers to avoid visiting any household that has already participated online. Census workers present City-issued identification so you can ensure they are legitimate workers before answering any questions. If you’re interested in being a census worker, you can apply here.

I was disappointed when Council voted last year against adopting online voting, so I’m quite pleased to see the City taking another step in the online direction with this year’s census. I hope it is a success and builds confidence for future online endeavours!

You can see my post on the results of the 2012 Municipal Census here. If you’re curious, here’s Policy C520B, the Municipal Census Policy.

The Make Something Edmonton Rope

What’s a rope? "A rope is a linear collection of plies, yarns or strands which are twisted or braided together in order to combine them into a larger and stronger form," according to Wikipedia. I like to think of Make Something Edmonton (MSE) as a rope. As such, it’s made up of a number of different strands that had to come together. There are three strands that I want to highlight.

strand

The first started with a wall.

In the spring of 2011 while still working at the Edmonton Journal, Todd Babiak wrote a series of stories on what he called "interventions". It began with the blank, unattractive wall that he saw every day when looking out the window. Todd wanted to do something about it, so he wrote about it. And he encouraged readers to email him with their suggestions.

A few months later at the downtown-focused Pecha Kucha 10, Todd spoke about the interventions project. He stole the show that night with a hilarious, entertaining, and thought-provoking presentation. Todd called Edmonton "a magpie town" and shared with us a lesson he learned through the interventions process: "I should have asked people to do something, then email me."

Six months later, Todd had a new startup called Story Engine, and he found himself pitching the City of Edmonton. "I had worked on the City Vision for 2040, and I had noticed — in community halls all over the city — that citizens were obsessed with the Edmonton story," he later wrote. Todd wanted to help tell that story. He was persuaded to start a blog, appropriately called magpietown, and he used it to explore the ideas that would form the groundwork for Make Something Edmonton.

The second strand is a long one. If you follow it back far enough, you might find yourself at Edmonton’s beginning.

Like most cities, we aspire to be recognized and loved on the world stage. We want our city’s image to be positive and well-received. Branding is a part of forming that image, and over the years there have been numerous attempts at identifying or creating our brand. We’ve always had this inferiority complex, and many Edmontonians have tried to do something about it. Most recently, the City of Edmonton embarked on a project called Edmonton Stories. By most accounts it was a disappointment, masked only by the repositioning of the project as a tool for recruiting rather than as a tool for emboldening Edmonton’s image.

Last year, the issue once again came up at City Council. One of the outcomes of The Way We Propser was a desire by those involved to better define and communicate our city identity. So in July 2012, Council decided to strike a task force. It got off to a rocky start due to significant differences in approach, but by the fall everything was in place.

That’s when Brad Ferguson, the new CEO of EEDC, spoke up about the issue. "On a scale of one to 10, we’re a one and a half. I’m not going to sugar-coat it," he told Council. All of a sudden, the new task force on image and branding became even more important.

The third and final strand I want to highlight is probably pretty boring to most people, but it’s highly intriguing to a City-watcher like myself.

Since 2006, the "big C" City (the City of Edmonton) has been undergoing a significant transformation. A new City Manager, a new approach to visioning and planning, and a progressive Council working cohesively to move things forward all contributed to a very different mood around City Hall.

One of the side effects of that transformation, in my opinion, has been an expansion in the kinds of things the City is willing to take on. Whereas in the past certain things may have been ignored because they were not seen as central to the City’s mandate (such as establishing a Food Council), today there’s almost an expectation that the City tackle such endeavours. On the whole this has probably been a good thing for citizens.

I think the City has gone back-and-forth on who should own the image and branding piece. Should it be Communications? Should it be a new City-led office? Should it be a partner, most logically EEDC? If the expansion trend continues, I would not be surprised to see some within the City push for MSE to remain a City-led initiative.

These and other strands all came together to form Make Something Edmonton. How exactly the strands came together, I don’t know for sure. But I like to imagine that the committee was sitting around trying to figure out how to get from being 1.5 out of 10 to something better, and Todd said, "I have an idea!" He pitched Make Something Edmonton and everyone declared, "our work here is done!" That’s probably unfair to everyone who put some significant volunteer time into the project, and I don’t mean to belittle that effort. But I also think it’s probably not far from the truth.

The initiative, or movement, or experiment – take your pick – officially launched in March of this year with a splashy party attended by the same people who always show up at these sorts of things. It was a good start, and the launch party was energizing and created a certain amount of momentum. There have been a number of really successful projects added to the website, and the Twitter hashtag remains as popular as ever. It’s a great way to showcase the many exciting things happening in Edmonton.

There is, however, a certain amount of spin surrounding Make Something Edmonton. It was evident at the launch party, and has become somewhat more evident in recent weeks.

Is MSE a grassroots movement, by the people for the people? The funding and committee structure behind it would suggest otherwise. There’s a big MSE committee, and a number of smaller sub-committees, all made up of the same 300 or so people who get involved in most things. Furthermore, that committee is expected to submit a report back to Council. It is, after all, just an expanded form of the task force that Council struck.

Is MSE a new approach to city branding, because traditional branding doesn’t work? The process would seem to suggest otherwise. The City hired a firm to design the MSE logo and identity, and another firm to build the website. There was Brand Camp a few weeks ago, but the only element of it that didn’t resemble a traditional branding exercise was that it was called Brand Camp. It was a bunch of people in room talking with no clear idea about what the outcome should be. Pretty typical consultation piece for a branding exercise if you ask me.

Does MSE tap into a fundamental truth about Edmonton? I feel it does, but many others dispute this point. "Can’t I make things in Winnipeg?" they ask. "Maker is too exclusive," others will say. If MSE isn’t resonating with the smaller group of the same 3000 people that are already hyper-engaged, how can we ever hope to get to 30,000? Or to 300,000?

Since March there have been a number of smaller MSE-related events (like Brand Camp), but the big success has undoubtedly been the creation of the website and its listing of hundreds of projects. I think "maker" is absolutely the right word, because otherwise we’ll end up with the lowest common denominator and that’ll get us exactly nowhere. It needs to be aspirational. Seeing all of the projects on the website and thinking about all of the people behind them gets me incredibly excited about our city.

But as great as that website and all of those projects are, thinking about them inevitably leads to the question that I’ve been hearing people ask more and more: what’s next?

The City of Edmonton has funded MSE so far (by way of the task force on image and reputation) which means they not only feel a sense of ownership, but need to be careful about how they spend the money. It also means that MSE is going up against everything else the City does for resources. And practically it means there will need to be a report that goes back to Council.

Another thing is that while our current Mayor and City Council support the initiative, they’re gone in October. There’s no guarantee that the next Council will be as supportive. So you can almost certainly expect the report to come out before then.

Beyond that, I’m not sure anyone knows what’s next. Maybe there’s not even a correct answer. Let’s phrase the question differently: what are we going to do with this rope?

Are we going to have a tug-of-war to see who hangs on the tightest? Are we going to give up and let it collapse into a pile on the ground? Or are we going to keep using it to climb ahead?

I hope we can use it to keep climbing ahead, but to do so we’ll need to know what outcome we’re moving toward.

Here are some suggestions on how we can establish that:

  • Let’s figure out where Make Something Edmonton will live. Right now I think it should be EEDC, because if it remains City-led there’s too great a risk that politics and/or bureaucracy will cause it to fail (or at least to hold it back). (And if we’re going to give it to EEDC, let’s ask them to drop something that doesn’t align as closely with their vision and strategic plan as a consequence.)
  • Let’s recognize that there’s a difference between the organization that funds & supports Make Something Edmonton, and the people who lead it. EEDC can provide meeting space, coffee, and administrative support, but it doesn’t need to be EEDC staff setting the direction.
  • Let’s identify the gaps between the successful projects and the ones that haven’t gotten off the ground. That’ll help us seed opportunities and remove barriers for makers, hopefully resulting in even more great projects for our city.
  • Let’s clearly define our desired outcomes. We want the language, tools, and confidence to be able to talk about Edmonton. From there, we want the City of Edmonton, EEDC, the University of Alberta, Northlands, and everyone else to make use of that toolkit.

Thoughts?

Recap: 2013 State of the City Address

Thousands of Edmontonians filled the Shaw Conference Centre during lunch today for the Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City event. Featuring Mayor Mandel, the event was an opportunity for our city’s business, community, and government leaders to reflect on the past year and to talk about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Or at least, that’s what we were supposed to be talking about. Instead, the only thing on the minds of those in attendance was Mandel’s decision – would he be running again in October or not?

State of the City Address 2013

Many members of Mandel’s family joined him at the head table, including his adorable grandson, and that only fueled speculation that he would be announcing his retirement. As Mandel took the stage, he received a thunderous standing ovation. It was the kind of standing-O that said, “thanks for nine great years.” But it turned out to be premature.

“I know that there is expectation in this moment – one that I set myself – that I would answer a key question today about whether I would seek re-election this fall.

And as much as I pride myself on giving clear answers – I do not have an answer today.”

There was an audible gasp as he spoke the words. Most people were expecting a yes or no – the possibility of a maybe hadn’t even registered! I’ll admit that I was fairly certain he was going to announce that the current term would be his last, but it seems Mandel had more difficulty making a decision than anticipated. “Key issues affecting the state of our City are genuinely unsettled in my mind,” he said.

While Mandel touched on Make Something Edmonton and some of our city’s successes in his slightly-longer-than-normal speech, most of his comments were directed at the Province. And they weren’t positive. Specifically, Mandel focused on spending cuts to the post-secondary sector, and the imbalance of regional costs and funding.

State of the City Address 2013

First, he addressed the post-secondary sector and it’s very large impact on Edmonton, both to our economy now and to our future competitiveness.

“We should expect nothing less than passionate, relentless defense of this sector from our provincial representatives who should know better than to just stand by. We should expect that our Minister would actually engage this sector and challenge them to find solutions.”

Mandel stated that our post-secondary institutions have the potential to be “amongst the best in the world.” He went on to discuss his concerns with short-term thinking, and called for real leadership. “It means setting a course that people can believe in, and being clear about long-term intent.”

Next, Mandel addressed regional issues. While the Capital Region Board has at least started to address the issue of collaboration and planning together, the imbalance in provincial grant allocations “has not been touched,” he told us.

“The taxpayers of a city of 850,000 cannot continue to pay an unfair share of the costs of urban services for a region of 1.2 million. Making all municipalities responsible on both sides of the ledger is the only way to make growth fair – it is also the only way Edmonton can sustain itself.”

Here again, Mandel questioned decisions made by the provincial government in its most recent budget.

“If you really want to make a difference, not just for Edmonton – but for Alberta’s bottom line – this is a great opportunity for change. Because it will cost billions less to pay for a single coordinated regional plan – than for the wish lists of 25 municipalities.”

Mandel clearly had the element of surprise on his side today, and that helped to make the speech even more impactful. Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk reacted strongly to Mandel’s criticisms. “I don’t know who pissed into his corn flakes, and you can quote me on that,” he told the Journal.

State of the City Address 2013

Mandel very much positioned himself as the defender of Edmonton today, and his call-to-action was to speak up for the city. “You know, Edmonton is a funny city,” he said. “We are so fiercely proud of what we have, but too often scared to tell others that we have it.”

Though he acknowledged that his eventual decision about whether or not to run again will impact this year’s election, Mandel urged candidates who may want to run to make their intentions known on their own schedules, not his. That’s easier said than done, of course. No one on City Council seems willing to run against Mandel. If he were to run for an unprecedented fourth term, it’s widely expected that he would win.

Mandel’s non-announcement today has the speculation engines revving. Is there funding news about the downtown arena forthcoming? Is he considering a jump into provincial politics? Who knows, maybe he simply hasn’t made up his mind yet. My own sense is that Mandel must feel as though he can resolve a couple of those “key unsettled issues” over the next few months, otherwise, why not just announce that he’s running again?

Edmonton is a better place because Mandel has been our mayor for the last nine years. He’s given so much to this city and it must be taking a toll, but clearly Mandel feels he has more to give. “My focus remains on the job at hand, on what I owe to Edmonton, and what Edmonton needs.”

Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce for inviting me today. You can read my recap of previous State of the City events here: 2011, 2012. You can read the full transcript of Mayor Mandel’s speech here (PDF), and the rest of his speeches here.

The ten year cycle of food security in Edmonton

The more I learn about the history of the Food & Agriculture Strategy, the more I find myself wondering: are we going to be at this again in 2022? It turns out that 1992 and 2002 were both key years in the history of “food security” here in Edmonton, yet here we are in 2012 talking about it again. Here’s a look back at two previous efforts to get food security on the municipal agenda.

1992: The Edmonton Food Policy Council

The first and most concrete recommendation that the current draft strategy makes is to “establish the Edmonton Food Council by June 1, 2013.” It’s one of the recommendations that I think everyone can agree upon, and indeed the preamble notes that “it was also strongly supported by stakeholders and the community during the consultation phase as a key pillar in implementing the Strategy and in making Edmonton a leader in food and urban agriculture over the long term.”

The strategy notes that these councils generally exist as advisory bodies for city councils:

Food councils may take many forms, sometimes commissioned by government and sometimes through a strong grassroots and community effort. Food councils have been successful at educating officials and the public, shaping policy, improving coordination between existing programs and starting new initiatives.

If the draft strategy is approved and implementation moves forward, Edmonton will join the long list of more than 200 municipalities across North America that have formed food councils. But what I learned recently is that it would not be our first.

In 1988, a group of community health and social agencies came together to form what was known as the Edmonton Food Policy Council (EFPC). According to a handout produced for a conference a few years later, “the group believed that the community needed to find new solutions through joint action on hunger-related issues.” The initial member organizations included:

  • Boyle Street Community Services Co-operative
  • Edmonton Board of Health
  • Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation (E4C)
  • Edmonton Gleaners Association (Food Bank)
  • Edmonton Social Planning Council

The group was later expanded to include CANDORA, KARA Family Support Services, Edmonton Potato Growers Ltd., Christian Farmers Federation of Alberta, Edmonton Community and Family Services, and Grant MacEwan Community College.

Edmonton Food Policy Council Report

The EFPC scored a victory two years into the effort, receiving $158,000 from the federal government in 1990 to conduct a study on the problems of food availability. Led by Kathryn Olson, the project completed in May 1992 with the release of the final report entitled “Community food needs assessment – a community development approach.” A total of 460 low income Edmontonians were interviewed and the study found that “three-quarters of them were having trouble getting enough healthy food on a regular basis.”

The term “food security” appears on the cover of the report, but when Liane Faulder wrote about it in the January 21, 1991 edition of the Edmonton Journal, she used the term “food insecurity” which she defined in laymen’s terms as “going hungry.” We generally define food security differently today, but in the 1980s and 1990s, the definition was more akin to what we now call food justice.

It was a difficult time for many Edmontonians. The project’s background noted that between January 1983 and December 1984, “the amount of food being distributed by the Edmonton Food Bank increased by a factor of seven from 18,000 pounds to 135,000 pounds of food per month.” By 1987, the Edmonton Food Bank was serving nearly 60,000 families in Edmonton. In 1992, the year the report was released, 105,086 people used the Edmonton Food Bank, according to data from the Edmonton Social Planning Council (totals do not represent unique individuals, and some may access the food bank multiple times per year). Usage peaked in 1996 at 192,067 individuals, and after falling to a 14-year low in 2007 at 125,069 individuals, usage has risen again in the last few years to more than 170,000 individuals per year. But to put those numbers into context, remember that the city’s population has increased from just over 605,538 in 1990 to 817,498 today.

edmonton food bank use

The report was met with a significant amount of criticism. Some attacked the methodology, others demonstrated a lack of understanding of what hunger is – “it doesn’t mean ribs sticking out,” was how Liane Faulder put it at the time. “There are a lot of pieces to hunger,” Kathryn Olson said. A total of ten recommendations for action were made, ranging from reducing the cost of shelter to increasing the opportunity to increase nutritional knowledge and food preparation skills.

I wanted to find out what happened next, so I tracked down Lorraine Green who served as the EFPC’s chairperson from the end of 1991 on. She’s currently the coordinator of the Health For Two program at Alberta Health Services here in Edmonton. We had a great discussion about the council, the report, and other initiatives that were underway at the time. “Edmonton Food Policy Council was probably not the most apt name,” she told me, noting that the group did not actually create any policy.

The EFPC was very active, however. They engaged Planning & Development to work on community gardening, they organized a conference called Food Fight! to discuss issues of food security, they talked to Edmonton Transit about needs they heard in the community, they met with grocery store managers, they met with people from Alberta Agriculture, and they regularly reviewed information and research from other sources. That information sharing proved to be very valuable as each member organization pursued its own initiatives.

While the group mostly served as a place for members to get together to discuss strategies and ideas, a few small projects did get off the ground. Lorraine told me about the “Shopper Shuttle” that was piloted in 1992. In talking with low income families, it was discovered that transportation was a major hurdle for getting to the “mega” grocery stores that had lower prices. Safeway opened its first Food For Less store in Edmonton at 3803 Calgary Trail on July 29, 1984, and Superstore followed suit the following year. Like big box stores today, they were built far from the established residential areas where most lower income folks lived, and with limited bus service you needed a car to get there. The shuttle would drive people from their neighbourhood to the big box stores so they could do their grocery shopping. Enthusiasm for the service was high, but usage turned out to be smaller than expected. Looking back, Lorraine identified a number of practical issues that hampered the shuttle. One was scheduling – if the shuttle came on Friday but you didn’t get paid until Friday, you likely wouldn’t be able to go (you had to get your cheque and cash/deposit it first). Another was perception – the shuttle was quite large and it parked right in front of the grocery store, which meant anyone getting on or off stood out. In the end, the pilot only last about six months.

The EFPC was never an officially registered organization, so there was nothing to really shut down when the time came. “By the end of 1992,” Lorraine remembered, “it had become more of an information sharing group.” Once the funding for the study came to an end, the group was faced with determining next steps. “Coalescing the group around a longer-term mandate was difficult,” she said. The issue was not that there was a lack of interest, but rather that the members were busy with other projects. Their energies were being put into initiatives that are still around today, such as the school lunch program and WECAN.

2002: Edmonton’s Food Charter

The second recommendation that the current draft strategy makes is to “explore the creation of an Edmonton Food Charter.” While the recommendation is a good example of the passive, non-committal language found throughout the document, it does recognize the value in having a food charter. Toronto adopted its food charter in 2001, and I discovered recently that Edmonton nearly followed suit just a year later in 2002.

It was the action in Toronto that prompted Marjorie Bencz of Edmonton’s Food Bank to start exploring the adoption of a food charter in earnest. She had attended a national food security conference there, and discussed Toronto’s new charter with her board members. Despite some reservations about the content of Toronto’s Food Charter, the Food Bank did send a letter to Mayor Bill Smith expressing interest in working on a similar initiative here in Edmonton.

He referred the letter to the Family and Community Services Department, and thus began a series of discussions between the City and the group of stakeholders that Marjorie had helped to bring together (many of the same folks were involved in the Edmonton Food Policy Council actually). Throughout 2002, the group met on a number of times to discuss what a food charter should include and how it might be adopted. While the drafts created were certainly broader than the work the EFPC had done ten years earlier, they still dealt primarily with food justice.

Community Services drafted a report for Council in September 2002, but it never actually got onto an agenda. I wanted to know what happened, so I got in touch with Joyce Tustian, who was the general manager of Community Services at the time. “There was concern that perhaps we were moving beyond the City’s mandate,” she recalled. Her department was trying to plan for the future, but there was lots of uncertainty about what should be considered municipal work and what was out of scope. “The boundaries weren’t as clear as they are today,” she told me.

The lack of clarity around what role the City would play and the lack of support outside the initial stakeholder group may have been factors that caused the effort to stall. One of the biggest differences between then and now is that the City now has an established policy framework to work with. The Way Ahead and associated plans have been very effective at providing a context within which Administration can operate. In the absence of that sort of framework, initiatives such as the food charter “had to be held up individually,” Joyce said.

There was some early work taking place on establishing a policy framework, but it hadn’t progressed very far. Council had a vision for dealing with economic development, but not much else. In 1999, Councillor Michael Phair pushed for a broader vision, an effort that ultimately led to the adoption of City Council’s Vision for Social Well-Being and Quality of Life in September 2000. The draft report in September 2002 recommended that Edmonton’s Food Charter be incorporated into that vision.

Here’s an early draft of the charter (undated, but I think it was from early-mid 2002):

It seems the final draft of the food charter was lost, but here’s what was circulating in early 2003:

In concert with City Council’s Vision for Social Well Being and Quality of Life and Canada’s national commitment to food security by signing the United Nations Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights that includes the right to be free of hunger, the City of Edmonton supports the following beliefs:

Every Edmonton citizen has the right to adequate, safe, nutritious, affordable and culturally appropriate food.

Food security contributes to the health and well-being of citizens while reducing the need for medical care and improving their quality of life.

Sustainability of our food supply means ensuring that citizens have a safe and high quality food supply for now and the future.

Food security can only be achieved when it is approached within the context of increased self-sufficiency through supportive community environments and enhanced economic opportunity.

It’s fascinating to think that Edmonton could have been one of the first cities in Canada to adopt a food charter.

Final Thoughts

When I first came across the previous Edmonton Food Policy Council and draft Edmonton Food Charter, a thousand questions popped into my head. I wondered why I had never heard of them before, and why the current initiative made no mention of previous efforts. I wondered why both the Food Policy Council and the Food Charter seemed to fail, and if there were lessons there that could be applied to today.

What stands out for me is that in both instances there was a groundswell of community support and that is what really got things moving. Neither effort was initiated by the City, though it supported both. Maybe the Food Policy Council and Food Charter were just ahead of their time for Edmonton (certainly finding information now was difficult because it’s not archived online somewhere, it’s in folders and boxes in people’s offices).

I asked Hani Quan, principal planner on the Food & Agriculture Strategy, what he thought and he agreed that we simply may not have been ready for a Food Council or Food Charter in the past. “Today people recognize food is one of the levers that has potential to help address complex issues,” he said.

The context in which today’s Food & Agriculture Strategy is being considered is certainly much different than that of 1992 or 2002. Everything has changed, demographically, economically, and politically. We have a City Council now that has shown great leadership in establishing a forward-looking vision for the City of Edmonton, and I think that’s the key that will make a future Food Council and Food Charter successful.

Translating the City’s report on the Food & Agriculture Strategy

The agenda for next week’s non-statutory public hearing on the Food & Agriculture Strategy is now available online, as is the final draft of fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy. In addition to some tidying up and a “fresh” new look, the final draft includes an executive summary. Here’s an excerpt:

fresh is not an endpoint, but a starting point. With that in mind, the Strategy does not provide a detailed implementation plan, but rather sets directions for moving forward. Implementation will occur over time as the Edmonton Food Council is established, partnerships are formed, research is continued, resources are allocated and progress builds towards results.

fresh

Also included in the agenda is a nine-page report prepared by Administration with an overview of the strategy, commentary on the recommendations, and a recommendation to Executive Committee on how to proceed. Here is the recommendation:

That Executive Committee recommend to City Council:

  1. That fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy, as outlined in Attachment 1 of the Sustainable Development report 2012SPE029, be endorsed in principle.
  2. That implementation of fresh (Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy) be postponed pending Administration reporting to Executive Committee in the first quarter of 2013 on the options and costs.

Endorsed in principle, but with implementation delayed pending an update on options and costs. I wasn’t entirely sure why they’d structure the recommendation that way. I mean, since when does Administration implement anything without first gathering options and costs? Why couldn’t Council approve the strategy, if they think it is ready to be approved, and then direct Administration to start implementation immediately, the first step of which might be to gather more information on costs?

So I kept reading. Here are the final remarks in the report:

While Administration views the recommendations of fresh as being generally reasonable and worthy of follow up, it also sees it being prudent to postpone implementation of fresh pending the development of a better shared understanding between Council and Administration on the options and costs to implement the Strategy.

Notwithstanding advice to postpone its implementation, endorsement of fresh in principle will satisfy the requirements of Municipal Development Plan Policy 3.2.1.7 relative to enabling consideration of future Area Structure Plans and will provide City Council with the means to evaluate future Area Structure Plans for the Urban Growth Areas by way of the tool kit contained in strategic direction 9 (see Attachment 3).

Right, so allow me to translate. Administration is basically saying: “Look, we have the development industry breathing down our neck and we need to get this taken care of ASAP so that the Area Structure Plans in the Urban Growth Areas can move forward. We know the recommendation that deals with land use raises a bunch of questions, but we don’t think it is important to answer those right now. Also, we don’t want your endorsement to necessarily commit us to implementing anything, even something as straightforward as establishing a food council, so we’re just going to come back with a report on costs and go from there. Cool?”

No, not cool.

I’d encourage you to read through the documents here in more detail.

The arena deal is dead, but the City of Edmonton came away the victor

After a heated discussion on the arena yesterday afternoon, City Council voted to cease all negotiations with the Katz Group and directed Administration to explore alternatives. Here are the three motions they passed:

  1. As a result of Mr. Katz’s letter and unwillingness to have an open discussion with Council and the frustration of the Interim Design Agreement, all negotiations and ongoing City work related to the October 26, 2011, framework cease immediately.
  2. That Administration provide a report, as soon as possible, to City Council to report on the completion of the cessation of negotiations and the status of the City’s current, transferable investments in a potential downtown arena project.
  3. That Administration provide a report outlining a framework for Council to explore potential avenues to achieve the long term goals of sustainable NHL Hockey in Edmonton.

That means the arena as we know it is dead, but it doesn’t mean that a new arena is completely off the table. With that third motion, Administration is empowered to explore alternatives to working with the Katz Group, which could mean the City builds a new arena by itself. Here’s the full video of Mayor Mandel and City Manager Simon Farbrother answering questions about yesterday’s meeting:

Supporters of the arena will no doubt lament the fact that we appear to be no further ahead than we were four years ago, but I don’t think that’s true. Here are some of the reasons that I think the City and Council came away the victors in this whole debacle:

  • The City owns the land. No matter what happens with the arena, that land was a great investment. And I’d much rather have the City own it than some speculator who is just going to sit on it.
  • The City owns the design of the arena. Last October, Council directed Administration to spend $30 million to get the design completed to 60%. The City can take this design to a new partner or use it as the basis for building the arena itself.
  • The City now has a head start on a CRL for downtown. I think a case could be made for a downtown CRL even without the arena. Maybe it would be scaled back, but all the work that has already been done to develop the CRL plans could be reused.
  • Council no longer look like the bad guys & gals. I’m no fan of the way that Council handled the negotiations over the last couple of years, but fortunately for them Katz handled things even more poorly!
  • It may seem as though Katz has the upper hand with the ability to move the team elsewhere, but that has always been an empty threat and remains so. The NHL still wants hockey in Edmonton, and I honestly believe that Katz wants to keep the Oilers here too. If anything has changed, it’s that the NHL would be even less likely to allow a move now that Council has done everything it can to work with the Katz Group.

I’m less confident this will actually come to pass, but I was encouraged by comments made yesterday by one of the Councillors that the “unprecedented” use of in-camera sessions should be avoided in the future. It’s clear that the private meetings did more harm than good in progressing the deal and getting Council what they wanted, and I hope that means Council will avoid in-camera sessions in the future.

The arena is getting all the attention right now, but in the grand scheme of things, there are far more important issues for Council to be dealing with. More than 150 neighbourhoods need renewal and it’s going to take billions to maintain all of that infrastructure. At the same time, Edmonton’s population and economy continue to grow much faster than the national average and that means big pressures in terms of where we put new infrastructure, how we move people efficiently throughout the city, etc. As soon as they were done with the arena issue yesterday, Council starting talking about the LRT.

Back to business.