Budget 2016-2018 approved, Best Bar None 2015, Edmonton Journal Power 30 for 2015

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

Budget 2016 approved

City Council unanimously passed Edmonton’s first multi-year Operating Budget today, with a tax increase of 3.4% in each of 2016 and 2017, and 4.8% in 2018. For a “typical home valued at $401,000” that’ll work out to an extra $76 next year, according to the City.

“We made fiscally responsible decisions to control cost increases in certain areas, find reductions, and to reallocate existing funds to civic services that residents told us are their top priorities,” said Mayor Don Iveson. “Edmontonians expected us to show restraint. We delivered, while enhancing the services that are needed for our growing city, such as more police officers, firefighters and traffic safety measures.”

Roughly 2.6% of the increase is to cover population growth and inflation, and 0.8% is for the Valley Line LRT. The 0.1% decrease for 2018 comes from the $1.2 million that was leftover when all of the requests were decided upon. A small gesture, but still.

It’s probably not as much fiscal restraint as some would have liked, but Council did make some important decisions to reduce the increase down from the originally proposed 4.9%. First, they cut the 1.5% for neighbourhood renewal in 2016 and 2017, leaving the decision about 2018 to the next Council. Second, they finally did something about the ballooning police budget, capping increases to population growth and inflation. And third, they stood firm on affordable housing and the low-income transit pass, saying they are important initiatives but need funding from the other orders of government. Whether or not they get any additional funds remains to be seen.

One thing Council is planning to spend money on is the full service review, a process that could take three years and cost up to $3.75 million. They approved the preliminary terms of reference for the project today.

Props to Elise Stolte for all her live budget coverage on Twitter over the last week! Check out her list of budget winners and losers here.

Best Bar None 2015

The 6th annual Best Bar None awards took place last week. The awards recognized 67 bars, clubs, pubs, and lounges “for their commitment to high service and safety standards.” This year’s winners included:

  • Bar/Lounge: OTR Kitchen + Bar
  • Hotel Bar: The Lion’s Head Pub – Radisson Edmonton South
  • Restaurant and Bar: Teddy’s Palace
  • Pub: Hudsons Canadian Tap House (Whyte Avenue)
  • Large Pub: O’Byrne’s Irish Pub
  • Club: The Ranch Roadhouse
  • Campus: The Nest Taphouse Grill
  • Casino: River Cree Resort and Casino

Best Bar None 2015
Photo by Sticks & Stones, courtesy of AGLC

A new category, Event Venue, was introduced this year too so next year there’ll be one more award. I wasn’t able to make it this year, but I did attend last year and enjoyed learning more about the program. In addition to competing for the awards, venues receive accreditation for meeting specific standards related to safe operation and responsible management.

“The value of Best Bar None lies in the fact that those bars that meet stringent standards have demonstrated that they are responsibly managed, and that they are committed to ensuring their patrons can socialize in a clean, safe, well-managed establishment,“ said Brian Simpson, Deputy Chief, Edmonton Police Service.

You can see the full list of accredited venues for Edmonton here. Congrats to all!

Edmonton Journal Power 30

The Edmonton Journal released its Power 30 list for 2015 on Saturday, and so begins the season of lists.

“Sometimes it feels like a game of rock-paper-scissors, playing who ‘tops’ whom. Sometimes it’s very much a reality check, tracking a lack of diversity or gender balance. But most of all, it’s a reflection of this community and a snapshot of the year that was.”

There’s nothing particular surprising about the list. Premier Rachel Notley at number 1 was easily predicted, and Amarjeet Sohi at number 2 is hard to argue with. I’d say my eyebrows went up seeing Daryl Katz at number 3, ahead of Mayor Don Iveson at number 4. I think Mike Nickel at number 8 (the only Councillor on the list) is a great choice – he’s been a pleasant surprise on Council this term. I would have expected to see Police Chief Rod Knecht higher than 25 and Bob Nicholson lower than 11. Great to see Andrew Leach on the list at 15.

Many were quick to criticize the lack of gender and racial diversity, but the list doesn’t show who should be considered powerful, but who actually is.

“We define “power” as this: well-connected, well-known individuals with the means, influence, vision and leadership skills to get things done. They have a little celebrity, certain skills and/or work ethic, and sometimes, just enough luck to land in the community’s spotlight.”

By that definition, it’s not surprising that many of the people on the list are there just because of the positions they hold. Like, um, Connor McDavid. He’s got celebrity and the spotlight, but really? And at number 10?!

Mayor Iveson on Budget 2016-2018

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

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

Communicating about the budget

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

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

Neighbourhood Renewal

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

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

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

Housing

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

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

Edmonton Police Service

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

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

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

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

City Charter

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

Mayor Iveson outlined three phases for the City Charter discussions:

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

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

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

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

Budget deliberations continue

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

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

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

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

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

First Responders Memoriam

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

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

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

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

Current Status of the Film Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distributed Energy in Edmonton’s Downtown

The report begins:

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

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

The benefits of the district energy system for downtown include:

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

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

Low Income Transit Pass

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

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

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

In terms of budget implications:

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

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

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

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

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

Neighbourhood Renewal Program Status Update

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

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

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

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

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

Other interesting items

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Dominoes are falling at the City of Edmonton

There’s a lot change taking place at the City of Edmonton right now and you should expect it to continue until well into next year. You might say the dominoes have started falling and no one knows when the final one will land. There are both internal and external causes for this change. Before we get into the changes, let’s consider some context.

Where It All Began
Photo by mckinney75402

Certainly the new Provincial and Federal governments have had an impact, both directly and indirectly. By directly I mean that the City has lost some key individuals. For instance, former City Clerk Alayne Sinclair left earlier this year to work in Premier Notley’s office, and of course former Councillor Amarjeet Sohi was just named to Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet. And by indirectly, there’s the uncertainty about funding and working relationships that always comes with new faces. At the Provincial level, the review of the Municipal Government Act and the ongoing discussions about the Big City Charter will also have an impact depending on the outcome.

As a result of the last municipal election, both Council and Administration identified public engagement as a key challenge area of focus. Council launched the Public Engagement Initiative while Administration launched the Open City Initiative. Now with the release of the Phase 1 report back in September, work is underway to establish an Advisory Committee and working groups organized around the five strategic areas of focus. That work is expected to last through the remainder of the current Council term.

I think another big factor to consider is The Way Ahead, the City’s strategic plan. That document, which was approved in 2009, was just reviewed and updated last year, but planning will soon be underway for a more thorough overhaul leading up to 2018 (though we need to ensure we do and not just plan). How public engagement and the municipal election in 2017 factor into that work is still an open question. And at some point, the new City of Edmonton office tower will be completed allowing staff to consolidate at a single location, which could have big cultural impacts.

Top of mind at the moment is the Operating Budget. Instead of an annual budget as in years past, the City has switched to a multi-year budget, and that’s having all kinds of knock-on effects. It should mean less effort is required each year to prepare the budget, but it also means that Council can be more strategic about spending.

And of course the City’s missteps have been well-documented this year. Major projects like the 102 Avenue Bridge over Groat Road and the new Walterdale Bridge have been significantly delayed, and the Metro Line LRT was perhaps the key catalyst for much of the change that has taken place.

Simon Farbrother
Simon Farbrother, photo by City of Edmonton

The most obvious change was Council’s decision to fire City Manager Simon Farbrother back in September. I must admit I was caught off-guard by the news, mainly because although Councillor Nickel called for Farbrother’s head during the Metro Line LRT discussions, he was the only one really doing so. Mayor Iveson and other Councillors suggested Nickel was grandstanding and said Farbrother had their full confidence. So the about face just a couple of weeks later was a surprise.

Linda Cochrane has been the Acting City Manager since late September. I think she’s a fantastic choice, certainly to maintain some stability throughout this uncertain time. But I don’t think it’s likely she’ll get the job. Here’s what Councillor Anderson said after she was made the Acting City Manager:

“She’s certainly been a part of everything that’s happened here for a long, long time and has a way with people,” he said. “I think an excellent choice.”

Being “a part of everything that’s happened here for a long, long time” is certainly a good thing for stability, institutional knowledge, and efficiency. But it’s not necessarily what you look for when you want to change things up. And that’s what Council seems to be interested in.

As Paula Simons noted, Al Maurer was widely considered a micro-manager and perhaps had too much control over the operations of the City. In contrast, Simon Farbrother brought more hands-off approach and focused on communication and culture. The assumption now is that the right person for the job can straddle the fence, able to get into the details and also able to articulate and connect the work to the big picture.

It’s clear that Council, led by Mayor Iveson, wants to go in a different direction:

“The scale and complexity of the challenges ahead demand a fresh perspective,” Iveson said. “This is about setting our administration on a new path to manage the next chapter in the city’s growth.”

Whoever the successful candidate is, it’s very likely they’ll want to make some big changes. That could mean even more turnover in senior staff than we have already begun to see.

Scott Mackie, who was in charge of Current Planning under Sustainable Development, tendered his resignation a couple weeks ago and will leave the City on November 13. I understand that Peter Ohm has been tapped to take his place. That’s a big branch, responsible for some of the most contentious issues that the City has dealt with this year.

Changes in transportation continue, with Eddie Robar joining the City from Halifax to lead ETS, filling the role that has been vacant since Charles Stolte was let go earlier this year. Robar will start on January 4. He’s very likely to shake things up upon arrival, bringing his experience overhauling Halifax’s transit system to the ongoing debate about our own.

And the biggest change could still be coming. Yesterday, Council voted to have Administration outline steps for a full program review. Mayor Iveson repeated a phrase he has used many times before, saying that setting targets for cuts is “the old ‘pin the tail on the budget'” and that the review should be focused on efficiency instead.

“Of the give or take 87 different things that we do at the city of Edmonton, there may be some that we should either stop doing or do less of versus other priorities,” said Iveson in support of the review. “Budget is not the best way to make those decisions and yet it is the default by which we make those decisions.”

The full program review is likely welcome news for some, like the Canadian Federation for Independent Business, which called current spending “unreasonable” and said property taxes have “ballooned”.

The last major review took place in 1997. Bruce Thom, who joined the City of Edmonton as City Manager in 1996, wasted no time in making changes. One of the first things he did was spend $500,000 to have Ernst & Young evaluate the City’s operations. That resulted in City ’97 (subtitled “Preparing for the Future”), a plan to save $52 million per year by the year 2000, principally by eliminating roughly 750 of the City’s 8,700 jobs. In the end about 400 positions were eliminated and the City reorganized from thirteen departments to just eight, resulting in a savings of roughly $22.5 million annually between 1997 and 2000.

It was a stressful time for City bureaucrats, and Council raised that as a concern with conducting another review now. They cited the importance of a clear communications plan and downplayed the idea that the review is being undertaken solely to find opportunities for job cuts.

full time positions

Though Simon Farbrother led a relatively minor reorganization in 2011, the City’s workforce has generally been growing in recent years. Prior to City ’97, the last major round of layoffs took place in 1983. At the time the City had about 11,000 employees, a number the City surpassed once again in 2012.

I think a review of the City’s operations makes sense, and perhaps the timing is right. With a new City Manager coming in, the possibility of a new relationship with the Provincial and Federal governments (especially with the City Charter), and a new round of strategic planning coming up, it’s entirely appropriate for Council and Administration to get aligned on priorities.

Expect much more change to come!

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

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

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

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

Untitled
Photo by City of Edmonton

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

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

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

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

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

2016-2018 Operating Budget

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

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

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

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

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

Augustana Redevelopment

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

augustana redevelopment

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

Committee Recommendations

Recommendations that have come forward from Committee include:

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

Other interesting items

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

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

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

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

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

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

Affordable Housing

Executive Committee will be discussing three related reports on Tuesday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

River Access Guiding Principles Policy

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

Edmonton Fall Season
Edmonton Fall Season, photo by IQRemix

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

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

The seven guiding principles are as follows:

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

You can read the full strategy here.

Process for New Libraries

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

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

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

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

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

Transit Fares 2016-2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Conditioning on ETS Vehicles

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

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

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

2016-2018 Waste Management & Drainage Services Utility Operating Budgets

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

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

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

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

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

Other interesting items

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Edmonton will be well-represented in our new federal government

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

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

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

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

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

Randy Boissonnault
Randy Boissonnault, photo by Dave Cournoyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Untitled

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

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

Zoning Bylaw Amendments on Urban Agriculture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Schedule & Council Appointments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Circumpolar Secretariat Memorandum of Understanding

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

Adoption of the Aster NSP

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

meadows asp

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

The neighbourhood will include:

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

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

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

Committee Recommendations

Recommendations that have come forward from Committee include:

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

Bylaws

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

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

Other interesting items

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

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

How Uber supports Edmonton’s transportation strategy

Uber launched in Edmonton on December 18 last year, and it has been operating here illegally ever since. Now the City has put forward a draft bylaw that aims to provide a framework within which Uber can operate legally, but in a lot of ways it has just become a fight between taxis and Uber. I think this fight has shifted focus away from the bigger picture.

taxis
Taxis on the way to City Hall to protest, photo by Lincoln Ho

Edmonton’s transportation system should always be evolving to meet the needs of Edmontonians. There’s a place for taxis, but there’s also a place for new approaches to transportation like Uber.

The Way We Move, our city’s Transportation Master Plan, states:

“How easily we move through our city, the distances we must travel, the transportation choices we have and how readily we can move between different transportation modes profoundly affects our relationship with the city, the environment and each other.”

In general the strategy focuses on “mode shift” which “is about adding more walking, cycling, car-sharing and transit in Edmonton’s transportation mix.” There’s a consistent goal of offering Edmontonians more options for getting from point A to point B without needing to use their vehicles. The strategy identifies seven goals to help achieve this. Let’s look at how Uber might fit in with those.

Transportation & Land Use Integration

This goal encompasses building so-called complete communities, where people can live, work, and play, reducing the need for driving. It also highlights transit-oriented development and making it possible for people to live closer to great transit service that can get them to where they need to go.

I think carsharing services like Pogo are probably a better fit with this goal, but Uber can play a role too. In fact, they wrote about this earlier in the year:

“What we discovered is that 36% of trips started or ended within 400m of an LRT stop. Of the trips that start or end close to an LRT stop, almost 90% pick up or drop off in an area that isn’t conveniently served by public transit.”

We have a great vision for the LRT Network, but it’s a long way from being completed. Taking a train and Uber together could be a great option until more of the LRT is built out.

Access & Mobility

This goal deals with addressing the transportation needs of a diverse urban population.

“An accessible transportation system addresses the transportation needs of a diverse urban population regardless of mobility challenges or vehicle ownership.”

Believe it or not, Uber does have a story to tell here. The company often talks about the accessibility of its mobile app, which includes features for those with audio or visual impairments. In some cities, they also have UberACCESS, which “offers access to wheelchair-accessible vehicles through partnerships with fleet owners.”

Uber has also started to bring other options to Edmonton, launching uberXL earlier this year which offers spacious, high capacity vehicles.

Regulation will probably be required for this goal more than most, but Uber can play a role in ensuring Edmontonians have accessible transportation options.

Transportation Mode Shift

Though The Way We Move talks primarily about shifting transportation modes from driving to transit and active modes of transportation (cycling, walking), that can be a big shift for people to make. We know that the majority of Edmontonians agree we need to drive less, but they’re somewhat less willing to make the shift themselves.

“In recent research, 84% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘Edmontonians need to reduce driving’. however when this general desire is applied specifically to individuals, the population is essentially split 50/50 into two groups, those who are totally committed to driving and those who are potential experimenters.”

Uber, Pogo, and other services could offer a stepping stone from to the other. Why stay shackled by your car? Take an Uber to get somewhere, but then consider walking or taking transit for your next short trip. It’s incredible how stressful driving is after you haven’t had to do it for a while.

Sustainability

The City has long supported carpooling because it not only can help you to save money, “it’s also an efficient and sustainable way to help reduce road congestion and CO2 emissions.”

Taking Uber still means there’s a car on the road of course, but being a passenger rather than a driver is a step in the right direction (and could mean you’re more likely to use a combination of transportation modes). Uber is not really a rideshare or carpool service, though it does offer a Split Fare feature which can make it even more cost effective and which makes it possible for even more cars to be taken off the road. And that’s important:

“In 2005, the total distance travelled daily by car drivers on the Edmonton region road network was 13 million — this is projected to increase to nearly 50 million kilometers by 2044. by providing less energy intensive transportation options, we have an opportunity to reduce Edmonton’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

I think UberX is a way for us to use our vehicles more efficiently. When discussing the Sustainability goal, the TMP states:

“Promoting the reuse and redevelopment of underutilized facilities that already exist will rejuvenate our neighbourhoods and help to optimize use of infrastructure, including investments in the transportation system.”

Considering that our cars sit parked more than 90% of the time, I’d say they count as “underutilized facilities that already exist”. Why not reuse some of them to drive each other around?

Health & Safety

Obviously Uber isn’t going to do anything for emergency vehicles, nor does it do much to encourage more physical activity. This goal seems to highlight safe walking more than anything.

But on the topic of safety, there has been a lot of discussion about what’s required to ensure Edmontonians are safe taking Uber. The company does highlight background checks, vehicle inspections, and having appropriate insurance. And last week it announced a partnership with Intact Insurance here in Canada.

As I wrote when Uber launched in Edmonton, the company has attracted a lot of controversy. Clearly they have room to improve. But I wonder how many safety incidents happen in taxis all around the world that we never hear about, simply because they’re all so isolated? A safety incident in one city is going to make the news in other markets that Uber operates. I think that greater awareness and visibility into safety issues will result in safer rides for everyone, not less.

Well-maintained Infrastructure

Reducing the number of cars on the road will have a positive impact on the City’s financial sustainability:

“Encouraging fewer single occupant vehicle trips reduces the pressure on the roadway system and reduces the need for increased roadway investment.”

Edmonton’s road network is already more than 4,500 km long. We have about 170 bridges. We spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting all that infrastructure. Any reduction in stress on those assets is a good thing!

Economic Vitality

Whether we like it or not, Uber, Lyft, and similar services are growing in popularity throughout cities all over the world. It’s easy to think that the advantage of Uber is just the app, and while that is part of it, I think the connection to a bigger network is also an important advantage. If I can use Uber in other cities I visit, why not here?

That mode shift report also discusses this idea:

“We are following the lead of today’s successful cities and creating urban environments that provide a high quality-of-place experience and quality of life for residents in order to attract the best and the brightest to their city. This includes providing the type of sustainable transportation choices that align with international preferences.”

We need to provide a range of options:

“Diversifying the transportation options and more effectively using our current infrastructure are critical to attract businesses for the sake of the economic development of the city as well as to allow an effective exchange of goods and services.”

I think Uber’s claims of job creation are questionable, especially with all the negative press they have received for not looking after their contractors. That said, there are plenty of stories of drivers who have made a positive financial change in their life thanks to Uber.

Wrap Up

The discussion about Uber in Edmonton lately has focused primarily on the fight between taxis and Uber, understandably. Lots of Edmontonians have horror stories to share about taxis, and there’s no question that competition from Uber will have a positive impact on the industry.

But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. Uber and other transportation network companies can positively contribute to Edmonton’s transportation mix. We should do what we can to allow them to operate here legally.

Coming up at City Council: September 14-18, 2015

The big news this past week was of course the decision by Council to fire City Manager Simon Farbrother. “This decision is not the result of any one project,” Mayor Don Iveson wrote. “Instead, this is about setting our administration on a new path to manage the next chapter in this city’s growth.” The search for a new City Manager is expected to last into 2016. In the meantime, Community Services GM Linda Cochrane will be the interim City Manager.

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

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

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

Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 17400

Wednesday afternoon will be focused on Uber and the City’s proposed new Vehicle for Hire Bylaw that aims to give “transportation network companies” a legal way to operate within Edmonton. The City seems quite proud of the fact that “no other Canadian jurisdiction has passed new bylaw provisions to accommodate “ride sharing” providers within a vehicle for hire framework.”

The current bylaw was passed on March 1, 2008 and regulations have remained “substantially similar” ever since the mid-1990s. It was in 1995 that the City capped the number of taxi vehicle licenses. Since then however, technology has changed significantly giving rise to services like Uber. Now the laws need to change in order to catch up.


Photo by Moments in Digital

The proposed new bylaw would:

  • Allow technology-based companies like Uber that use mobile app dispatch services to operate.
  • Standardize all vehicle for hire class requirements to include mandatory criminal record checks, proper class of provincial license, proper insurance, and yearly mechanical inspections.
  • Make fees for all classes of vehicles for hire the same.

The five classes would include taxi, accessible taxi, limousine, shuttle, and private transportation provider. The latter is where Uber drivers would fall. Intentionally, the bylaw does not attempt to regulate “matters that are more appropriately governed by the market or the industry itself” like driver training.

Calling the proposed bylaw “an important step forward” Uber was nonetheless unimpressed and said the company would be “unable to continue operating in Edmonton” if it is passed. Considering they are already operating illegally, I’m not really sure that’s a viable threat. Unsurprisingly, the United Cabbies Association of Edmonton is also opposed to the proposed bylaw changes, saying “there will be a flooding of taxis in the city.”

Uber is holding a rally at Churchill Square on Wednesday at 11:30am and I would not be surprised to see the taxi drivers make a scene as well. It should be an interesting week!

Impact of Bad Construction Practices on Mature Neighbourhoods

There has been a lot of discussion this summer about infill development and the potential negative impacts of that construction on neighbours. This includes noise and cleanliness, but also potential damage to surrounding property caused as a result of the construction. We know that infill makes up only a tiny piece of Edmonton’s growth, but it should increase in the years ahead which means tackling this problem now is a good idea:

“Over the last five years (2010-2014) 8,475 new infill housing units have been added to Edmonton’s mature and established communities. In 2014 alone, the City approved over 12,000 new housing units city-wide, and over 2,000 of these were new infill homes (a combination of low, medium and higher density forms).”

Currently when conflicts arise from infill, complaints are forwarded to the appropriate department and investigated to determine what steps are to be taken. Before the City will take any enforcement action, contact is made to encourage best construction practices and voluntary compliance. If that doesn’t work, they can issue a warning or a violation ticket. This is how it works in greenfield, suburban development too but as you might expect complaints in those areas are much less common.

Can you tell the difference?
Photo by David Dodge

To address this issue, the City has made a number of changes to the process:

  • Visible and easy to understand signs about approved development permits are being developed and are scheduled to be in place for Q2 2016.
  • The penalty for offences is incredibly low compared to other municipalities at just $400. Calgary has a penalty schedule that ranges from $1,500/day to $3,000 per day, for instance. A proposed change will be brought forward in November.
  • A new development completion permit is being added as a requirement for new construction projects, starting in Q2 2016.
  • An acknowledgment form that development permit applicants will sign to ensure they are aware of regulations and best construction practices is being developed.
  • Beginning in 2016, the City will request business license reviews for builders that do not conform to approved development permits or that continually disregard other bylaw requirements.
  • Pre-application meetings will be expanded to residential development applications in mature and established neighbourhoods.
  • In response to requests for a point of contact, the City is going to establish a Mature Area Development team that will act as conduits into all City processes regarding infill.
  • Action 5 of Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap was the publication of a Good Neighbour Guide, which happened in the spring. This fall, a public engagement process will take place to help improve the guide’s content. The City will also continue with other communication & engagement activities, such as a local Infill Tour.

Additionally, these potential changes are currently being evaluated:

  • Requiring an agreement between neighbours and/or neighbours and the builder, even though the City would have no ability to enforce such an agreement.
  • Implementing a letter of credit or performance bond to guarantee the completion of a builder’s work and to repair any damage caused as a result.
  • The certification of specific builders, though this may be considered an endorsement by the City.

Hopefully these changes will help to smooth the issues with infill development so that it continues to be an attractive, viable option. We need growth to occur in mature and established neighbourhoods too, so removing any potential barriers is critical.

There’s a separate report that provides more information on the Mature Area Development Team. I gather it is meant to be kind of like Civic Events – a one-stop shop for everything City-related, in this case for development rather than events. It’s a great concept, and I support trying it. But care needs to be taken to ensure authority is still clearly understood and that the team does not just add yet another step to already cumbersome processes. In a lot of cases Civic Events is just the middleman, and everything goes more slowly as a result.

Autonomous Vehicles

At the Transportation Committee meeting this week, Council will receive a report on autonomous (self-driving) vehicles, something Uber has been working on also.

“In preparing for autonomous and connected vehicle technology, the most prudent action that the City can take is to continue to focus on enhancing the transportation system as defined through the corporate outcomes.”

The report acknowledges that autonomous vehicles will provide an alternative to driving, but notes “they do not remove the urgent case for mode shift to transit and active transportation.” The City is seeking additional perspectives from researchers, other governments, and industry, and the report highlights the ACTIVE-AURORA research project as one learning opportunity.

The report concludes that “adoption of driver-less vehicles will likely require changes in provincial legislation” and that cities will need to work with the other levels of government on liability and safety issues. The City is currently undertaking “a future-oriented assessment of the implications of automated vehicles.”

Joint Road Traffic Safety Strategy

If Council decides to approve the 2016-2020 Road Safety Strategy, Edmonton would become the first Canadian city to adopt Vision Zero – zero fatalities and major injuries from motor vehicle collisions. The strategy is expected to cost at least $11 million annually on top of all currently approved operating and capital programs, and the City proposes funding it through the Traffic Safety & Automated Enforcement Reserve and cost recovery.

“The City of Edmonton will become the first major Canadian city to adopt Vision Zero, a global initiative to save lives and eliminate major injuries from motor vehicle collisions. A key component of this strategy will be the adoption of the Safe Systems Approach. Central to this approach is a shared accountability between road users and those who design maintain and operate all parts of the road transportation system. The safe system depends on understanding and implementing guiding principles.”

The strategy highlights a number of metrics and measurement criteria for collision reduction from 2016 to 2020. These will relate to four proposed road safety priority categories: Community Traffic Safety (neighbourhood shortcutting and school safety), Roadway Engineering Countermeasures (right-turn re-designs and protected left-turn controls), Speed Management (automated and manned enforcement), and Pedestrian Safety (pedestrian controls). Specific targets are still under development. The strategy also talks about “the fundamental road safety pillars of the five E’s”: Engineering, Enforcement, Education, Evaluation, and Engagement.

Heads Up Edmonton! Pedestrian Safety Campaign Launches
Photo by City of Edmonton

You can read the nicely-designed strategy in PDF here.

Design Guidelines & Regulations for Signage in the Civic Precinct

With the new arena and surrounding district, the City is anticipating increased demand for digital signs downtown but the current regulations “are not sufficient to ensure that digital signs are sensitive and sympathetic in design” to the arts and culture of the Civic Precinct area. Digital signs are fine around the arena, but need to be restricted around City Hall, for instance.

The Civic Precinct is the the area between 99 Street and 100 Street from 102 Avenue to 103A Avenue. It includes City Hall and Churchill Square. The area is “to be developed as the urban heart of Edmonton with a unique mix of cultural, commercial, and civic developments” all connected to the Square.

The proposed amendments to the Capital City Downtown Plan and Zoning Bylaw would effectively prohibit digital signs within the Civic Precinct. Admin is also going to complete a city-wide review of digital sign regulations and will present any potential amendments to Executive Committee sometime next year.

Other interesting items

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.