Coming up at City Council: September 7-11, 2015

Monday is a holiday so the public hearing will take place on Tuesday and the Council meeting has been pushed to Wednesday. It looks like it’s going to be a finance-heavy week!

Untitled

On Friday the City announced a new proposed Vehicle for Hire Bylaw, intended to give companies like Uber a way to operate legally. You can download the PDF to read here and be sure to fill out this survey by September 10 with your feedback. The results will be presented along with the bylaw at Executive Committee on September 16.

And tomorrow, Sunday, September 6, the Metro Line LRT will finally open to the public. It’s not going to be operating as expected, with slower trains, manual signals, and big delays, but it’s a start.

Meetings this week

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

Projected Year-End Operating Financial Results

As of June 30, 2015, the City is projecting a loss of $10.6 million for the year, or 0.4% of the overall expense budget. This is being blamed on higher than expected costs for snow removal, pothole repair, and vehicle maintenance, plus greater than expected losses on tax appeals and other tax adjustments. It could have been worse though, as the City has saved a lot on fuel costs across the board and also on personnel due to the delay of the Metro Line LRT which delayed hirings.

Under the heading “potential impacts to be monitored”, the report highlights the following:

  • Police Association and Senior Police Officers Association contracts expired last year and are currently under negotiation.
  • Snow and ice control costs are weather-dependent and difficult to predict.
  • Fluctuating fuel costs have historically impacted results, even though the City buys half its annual fuel at a fixed price.
  • The exchange rate could make parts for vehicle maintenance more expensive.
  • The general economic downturn could have an impact.

Here are the Municipal and Consumer Price Index projections:

price index updates

For an update on inflation, employment, and other economic indicators in Edmonton, check out this report.

Reserves

As required by City Policy C217B, Administration is currently reviewing the City’s reserve and equity accounts, with a report to be presented to Council in October. The last review was completed in October 2012. Our current or year-end projected reserve balances are as follows:

  • Financial Stabilization Reserve – $90.9 million
  • Current Planning Reserve – $28 million
  • Traffic Safety & Automated Enforcement Reserve – $25.3 million

CRL Updates

From the report: “Community Revitalization Levy revenue and/or expense variances may change throughout the year as work progresses and financial impacts become more certain.” Here’s the status of our three CRLs:

  • The Belvedere CRL is projected to end 2015 with a deficit of $0.4 million and a cumulative deficit balance, since inception, of $5.8 million. It’s not expected to have an annual positive net position until 2023.
  • The Downtown CRL is projected to end 2015 with a deficit of $4.6 million and a cumulative deficit balance, since inception, of $8.2 million. The Downtown CRL is expected to have an annual positive net position from 2019 onward, but we’ll still be playing catchup until 2022.
  • The Quarters CRL is projected to end 2015 with a surplus of $3 million and a cumulative deficit balance, since inception, of $5.9 million. The report says the Quarters CRL is “performing better than forecast” in the original plan, and should be in a positive position as of 2024.

You can learn more about CRLs here.

Debt Update

There was a lot of discussion about Edmonton’s municipal debt during the municipal election back in 2013, which I wrote about here. At the time, our debt stood at about $2.2 billion or 53.4% of the MGA-allowed debt limit.

According to the latest figures, Edmonton’s debt currently sits at just over $2.9 billion and is expected to top $3 billion by the end of the year, which would be 59.3% of the MGA-allowed debt limit. Our debt servicing, which includes annual principal and interest repayments, is expected to reach 33% of the allowed limit for the year. The City has set more conservative limits than the MGA does:

“For 2015, debt servicing is projected to be 53.6% of the debt service limit for all borrowing and 70.6% of the limit for tax-supported operations, as defined under the City’s policy.”

The report notes that “the percentage of the debt servicing limit utilized increased significantly in 2015 and will increase again in 2017 due to the repayment of $60 million of short-term borrowing in each of 2015 and 2017.” Those repayments are for $120 million that was borrowed to fast-track capital expenditures for projects that were ultimately funded through MSI or the provincial fuel tax.

Capital Finance Update

This report provides an update on financial results for the first six months of the 2015-2018 Capital Budget. Because we’re so early still in the four-year plan, most projects should be on-time and on-budget. The approved budget value is $7.9 billion, which includes carry-forward from 2014 and approved expenditures beyond 2018. The City has 448 active profiles with planned expenditures in this budget cycle.

As of June 30, 2015, the six month spend was $321.6 million. Of the 85 significant capital projects identified (meaning they have costs greater than $20 million), 77 have been classified as green, two are categorized as yellow and 6 are flagged as red.

You can see the complete breakdown of project status here, but I’ve summarized the high profile ones as follows, sorted by size of budget:

Project Status Planned Completion Projected Completion Approved Budget
Valley Line LRT Green December 2020 December 2020 $1.8 billion
Metro Line LRT Red April 2014 September 20151 $665.8 million
Blatchford Redevelopment Green December 2038 December 2038 $631.9 million
Downtown Arena Green December 2017 September 2016 $605 million
Neighbourhood Renewal Green Annually Annually ~$452 million
Westwood Transit Garage Yellow December 2017 March 2018 $201.5 million
Walterdale Bridge Red December 2015 December 2017 $154.8 million
Northwest Police Campus Yellow December 2017 March 2018 $106.9 million
River Valley Alliance Projects Red December 2014 December 2017 $76.1 million
41 Avenue/QEII Interchange Green Fall 2015 Fall 2015 $72.5 million (City)
$205 million (total)
Milner Library Renewal Green December 2018 December 2018 $62.5 million
Great Neighbourhoods Red December 2018 March 2020 $60.4 million
The Quarters Phase 1 Green December 2015 September 2015 $52.1 million
The Quarters Phase 2 Green December 2018 September 2018 $43.2 million
102 Avenue Bridge Red December 2015 October 2016 $32.0 million

1 – Yes the Metro Line technically opens tomorrow, but it’s not what we were expecting.

Committee Recommendations

Recommendations that have come forward from Committee include:

Bylaws

There are a number of bylaws on both agendas. Here are a few highlights:

  • Bylaw 17298 makes amendments to the Community Standards Bylaw regarding backyard fire pit use, and is ready for three readings.
  • Bylaw 17297 makes amendments to the Public Places Bylaw to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes, and is ready for three readings.
  • Bylaw 17353 makes amendments to the Procedures and Committees Bylaw to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision prohibiting prayer at Council meetings.
  • Bylaw 17361 would rezone the property at 10349 122 Street NW in Oliver from RA7 to DC2, to allow for high density, mixed-use development. Plans call for an 11 storey residential building. I hope they don’t interfere with the beautiful boulevard trees on that street.
  • Bylaw 17347 would allow for the development of a grocery store at 403 McConachie Way NW.
  • Bylaw 17359 would rezone the property at 13218 102 Avenue NW in Glenora from RF1 to RF2, to allow for the existing house to be replaced with three new single detached homes. A notice was sent to surrounding property owners and the Glenora Community League, and in response the City received 8 letters and 23 emails of concerns and opposition. Such is the state of infill in Edmonton.

Other interesting items

Wrap-up

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

Coming up at City Council: August 31 – September 4, 2015

Council is back to Committee meetings this week. 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.

Metro Line Update – Testing Results

The report is not yet available, but Council is slated to receive an update on the results of testing at the Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday. The City is planning to open the Metro Line LRT on September 6 using a modified approach (slower trains, line of sight operation, etc). Last week Council discussed the auditor’s report.

Wildlife Management

A response to an inquiry by Councillor Walters provides some information on the management of coyotes within the city. Here’s what we learned:

  • 311 received 3600 inquiries/complaints about wildlife in 2013, 4500 in 2014, and 2500 so far in 2015. “It is estimated that coyote-related issues represent the majority of these calls.”
  • The City has started tracking coyote-specific inquiries in June 2015.
  • Research shows that coyotes are the top animal predator in an urban area. They help to reduce the abundance of “pests” like mice, rabbits, and grasshoppers, but they can get too comfortable around people and then become a nuisance.
  • Coyotes are considered a nuisance if they attack a human or animal, pose a risk to public safety, loiter in “safety sensitive locations”, establish a den in residential neighbourhoods, or are sick or incapacitated in residential neighbourhoods or parkland.

Coyote
Coyote near Elk Island Park, photo by Shawn McCready

“While most of the existing and future plans seek to enhance and protect wildlife habitat diversity and reduce human wildlife conflict, there continues to be a growing need for a faster enforcement response, improved educational effort and more support for wildlife research and rehabilitation.”

Project Watch

UPDATE: This item has been moved to September 3.

Project Watch is “a collaborative initiative between the City of Edmonton and Province of Alberta to ensure safe housing conditions for vulnerable individuals and families that are temporarily housed in commercial accommodation.” Mayor Iveson made an inquiry about the program back in June and the report being discussed this week provides background and an update on what Administration has done to help.

Here’s how the City has been involved:

  • Research, inspections, and enforcement for infractions to the Zoning Bylaw 12800.
  • Review of business licenses.
  • Coordination and assistance from the Landlord and Tenant Advisory Board and Housing Programs.
  • Enforcement of the Community Standards Bylaw 14600, to address “any exterior aesthetic deficiencies, including nuisances on land and on buildings.”
  • A Fire Prevention Officer attends all Project Watch inspections and provides public safety and awareness.
  • Inspections and enforcement for Building Safety Codes.

Administration is working to “develop clear communication protocols” with the Edmonton Police Service and the two will continue meeting to support the initiative.

While additional budget is not being requested, Administration is assigning one full-time employee to the project.

Valley Line LRT Street Closures

Wednesday’s Transportation Committee meeting will include a non-statutory public hearing for 38 different road closure bylaws. These closures are intended to “promote the safe interaction of trains, vehicles and pedestrians along the Southeast to West LRT (the ‘Valley Line’) alignment.” The associated documents say that “construction of the Valley Line is scheduled to begin in 2016 and will result in changes to various streets and vehicular access points along the alignment.”

Implications of the Alberta Wetlands Policy in the Edmonton Region

Implementation of the Alberta Wetlands Policy began on June 1, 2015, but there are still plenty of details yet to be released. Council previously recommended that the Mayor write a letter to the Province outlining concerns with the policy. The Province responded acknowledging the concerns and committed to working with the City to address them.

The report identifies a number of implementation issues, including a risk that “if the Province maintains current compensation rates it may result in further loss of wetlands in the City.” Other potential issues include “hydrological impacts that make it difficult to sustain natural wetlands,” “an increased number of wetlands regulated by the Province within the City of Edmonton,” and “the transfer of compensation funds collected in Edmonton and spent on wetland restoration/conservation projects outside of Edmonton represents a flow of money from one municipality to another municipality without any benefit to the citizens of Edmonton.”

Whitemud Wetland
Whitemud Wetland, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Administration has identified three options for addressing recommendations of the Wetland Task Force (which was formed in 2014 to consider the impact of the new policy). The first is to advance work with existing resources, the second is to add a full-time employee and spend $500,000 on “external services” over two years, and the third is to add a full-time employee and spend $700,000 on external services over two years.

Other interesting items

  • The Community Services Advisory Board 2014 Annual Report and the City of Edmonton Youth Council Annual Report will be discussed by Community Services Committee on Monday.
  • Bylaw 17297 will amend the Public Places Bylaw to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in the same manner as tobacco products.
  • Bylaw 17298 will amend the Community Standards Bylaw to “formalize the creation of a nuisance condition related to backyard fire pit activities.”
  • A response to an inquiry from Councillor Knack provides information on the Home for Life Initiative, part of Age-Friendly Edmonton, “focused on promoting home design features that allow seniors and people with varying abilities to live in their homes independently.”
  • The first Neighbourhood Structure Plan (NSP) with the Decoteau ASP is being developed. Currently identified as the North Neighbourhood, it will include parks, roadways, and sewers as you might expect, but will not include a library, fire station, or police station. Development is slated to start in 2020.
  • A new report outlines the authority of Administration to grant variances as part of Development Permit applications.
  • Bylaw 17353 is an update to the Procedures and Committees Bylaw to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on prayer at Council meetings. “On April 15, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in Mouvement Laique Quebecois v. Saguenay (City) 2015 SCC 16, 2015 CSC 16. The court ruled that municipalities must be neutral in matters of belief and non-belief.”
  • Amendments to the Zoning Bylaw are being considered to reduce parking requirements for minor eating and drinking establishments.
  • Currently you don’t have to be a resident of Edmonton to be appointed to civic agencies, but a new report details a couple of options to change that. Many other municipalities require residency but allow Council to make exceptions.
  • Council will receive a private update on the Vehicle for Hire bylaw on Tuesday. We must be getting close the proposed changes for Uber. UPDATE: This item has been moved to September 3.
  • The only item on the agenda for the Performance Evaluation Committee is a verbal report on Consulting Firm Interviews.

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: August 24-28, 2015

Council really hit the ground running on Monday with a big discussion on the Metro Line LRT. That topic looks set to dominate the news next week too, as Council discusses the City Auditor’s report on the delayed project. The other topic you’ll probably hear some grumbling about is the report on what to do with our city’s entrance signs. Replacing them could take two years and cost up to $2.5 million!

Meetings this week

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

Metro Line LRT

As it was last week, the biggest item before Council will no doubt be the Metro Line LRT. On Monday morning Council will start with a special Audit Committee meeting, to discuss the City Auditor’s report on the issue.

Metro Line LRT
Metro Line LRT testing on August 21, 2015 at 106 Avenue and 105 Street, photo by Sharon

There are some pretty shocking things in the report, including the fact that senior management at the City seemed to be completely in the dark about potential delays until late 2013, as Mayor Iveson wrote about. Delays in planning were identified as early as January 2010 and construction delays were identified as early as August 2010, but these delays were not adequately communicated.

One of the key issues identified was the decision in February 2010 to split the Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling contract and the civil construction contract. This meant that the construction activities were not coordinated and that contributed greatly to the delays. On top of that, the contractors involved seem to have agreed to timelines that were unrealistic and unlikely to have been met even if everything else had gone smoothly.

In addition to identifying a number of lessons learned, the Auditor made three recommendations:

  • “That the General Manager of Transportation Services ensure that for all major projects consistent principles and methodologies of Contract Administration are adhered to including quality assurance and quality control activities.”
  • “That the General Manager of Transportation Services ensure that project roles, responsibilities, lines of communication, management of working relationships, and decision authority levels are clearly defined, assigned, and communicated for all major projects.”
  • “That the General Manager of Transportation Services in conjunction with Financial Services and Utilities’ and the Corporate Centre for Project Management staff develop a standard corporate reporting methodology for major capital projects which includes schedule, scope, and budget status as well as overall risk assessment and quality management.”

City Administration did accept all three recommendations. They’re still going to get grilled hard by Council though.

Entrance Signs

The other item I’m betting will have lots of Edmontonians talking is the update on our city’s entrance signs. I wrote about the history of our current entrance signs here and discussed some thoughts on how they should change here.

Edmonton Entrance Sign

As Council previous directed, all the “City of Champions” placards have been removed. So the signs just say “Welcome to Edmonton” now.

The report identifies four options for changing the signs, ranging from low cost to high cost:

  • Option 1 would range from $150,000 to $175,000 and would replace the existing signs and flower beds with an internally designed sign.
  • Option 2 would place a new facade on the existing sign base, which could be developed internally or externally. The cost could range from $500,000 to $600,000.
  • Option 3 would completely replace the signs with an open competition for the design of the new signs. The cost could range from $1.2 million to $2.5 million, and it could take up to two years for the project to be complete.
  • Option 4 is a hybrid recommendation, where some signs could be cheaper and others could be more expensive.

In part to facilitate construction of Anthony Henday Drive, some signs have been removed over the years, and the report says it could be an option to look at adding some of those back.

Where would the money come from? For option 1, existing operating budgets would be enough to cover it. For any other option, an increase of funding or a delay to other projects would be required.

Employees or External Consultants?

One of the reports on the Utility Committee meeting agenda compares the incremental cost of City employees to the cost of hiring consultants. Here’s the key table:

employee vs consultant
(CEA is the Consulting Engineers of Alberta)

As you can see, the hourly incremental rates for City employees range from 42-51% of the hourly rates for external consultants. The report states that based on the above comparison, “increasing internal capacity could be more cost effective than retaining external consultants.” But not in every case, apparently. “There are situations and specific value to retaining external consultants,” the report says.

The report concludes: “Drainage Services will continue to be vigilant in hiring internally while practicing due diligence when retaining external consultants.”

Jasper Place Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP)

The Jasper Place ARP, Bylaw 17260, is ready for three readings after the public hearing has been held. The ARP covers the neighbourhoods of Britannia Youngstown, Canora, Glenwood, and West Jasper Place, as well as portions of the Stony Plain Road BRZ. Developed over the past two and half years, the Jasper Place ARP “provides guidance on future land use and City investment in Jasper Place, and will help to guide change and growth over the next 15 to 20 years.”

In order for the ARP to become the established planning document for the area, the Britannia/Youngstown Neighbourhood Planning Study, the 100 Avenue Planning Study, and the September 1980 resolution known as “Newman’s Resolution” will all be repealed. Newman’s Resolution states:

“Whereas the large majority of home owners have previously expressed a strong desire to remain single family area, therefore, I move that the area from the lane west of 149 Street to the lane east of 156 Street between 95 Avenue and 100 Avenue remain RF-1, which is the equivalent zoning to what presently exists in the area.”

That’s Kenneth Newman, the last mayor of the Town of Jasper Place. When the town amalgamated with Edmonton in 1964, Newman was elected as an alderman. He retired in 1983. The park at 10802 150 Street is named after him.

jasper place arp

The Jasper Place area will eventually receive three new LRT stations as part of the Valley Line LRT, which provides a great opportunity for transit-oriented development. Other goals of the ARP include: “enhancing the Stony Plain Road commercial corridor as a vibrant, mixed use pedestrian shopping area”, “increasing housing choice by introducing more housing options”, and “providing adequate infrastructure now and in the future.”

Committee Recommendations & Bylaws

There are 11 committee reports on the agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting, including:

  • Community Services Committee recommends that $1.5 million be transferred to the Whitemud Equine Centre for arena replacement and rehabilitation work. Related to that, the committee recommends that the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre Association be allowed to seek facility naming rights.
  • Community Services Committee recommends that $1.8 million in funding be approved for the Fort Edmonton Park Catering Kitchen Project.
  • Executive Committee recommends that Edmonton’s Community Energy Transition Policy C585 be approved.
  • Transportation Committee recommends that the revised Capital Profile for LRT Escalator & Elevator Renewal be approved. This is not a change in funding, just in approach.

There are 28 bylaws on the agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting, most of which are for the closure of vehicular access. Others include:

  • Bylaw 17256 – To authorize the City of Edmonton to finance the Francis Winspear Centre for Music parking structure with up to $25 million.
  • Bylaw 17257 – To authorize the City of Edmonton to lend money to the Francis Winspear Centre for Music, which is necessary for the previous bylaw!
  • Bylaw 17154 – To rezone from RF1 to UCRH at 14035 and 14039 106 Avenue NW in Glenora to allow for the development of row housing. Interesting because there has been a lot of opposition to infill in Glenora.

Other interesting items

  • Three city networks – C40, ICLEI, and UCLG – have come together in a worldwide effort called the Compact of Mayors aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the impacts of climate change. According to a report on the issue, “The City of Edmonton is well-positioned to participate in this initiative.” Participation would not cost us anything, but a separate strategy coming forward during the 2016-2018 budget process would have funding requirements.
  • There’s a recommendation that Councillor Caterina be appointed as the City of Edmonton representative on the AUMA board.
  • There’s a pending motion from Councillor Henderson called Councillor Absence from Regular Council Meetings.
  • There are a bunch of private reports on the agenda for Tuesday, including: an update on Northlands, an Intergovernmental Update on the City Charter, and an update on LRT Advocacy. The report on the Communications Plan for LRT Funding has been delayed until Q1 2016.
  • On the agenda for Monday’s public hearing is an amendment to the Calgary Trail Land Use Study, “to close an undeveloped portion of the east side of Gateway Boulevard immediately between 34 Avenue NW and 38 Avenue NW and to rezone of the lands from (AG) Agricultural Zone to (CHY) Highway Corridor Zone.” This will allow for “the existing berm to be removed and the land to be developed for highway commercial uses.”

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: August 17-21, 2015

The Fringe is underway and Council is back to work on Monday which means summer in Edmonton is winding down. Next week we’ll hopefully learn more about the Metro Line LRT, now slated to open with modified service in time for the start of the school year. Council will also be discussing some other contentious topics like Park & Ride at Century Park and the Traffic Shortcutting trials currently underway in Prince Charles and Pleasantview.

Below are links to the meeting agendas for the week as well as some highlighted items and notes.

Meetings this week

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

Metro Line LRT

Council is slated to receive an update on the Metro Line LRT project on Monday afternoon (it’s a verbal update on the agenda, so no report to look at). It follows news today that the Metro Line LRT will open to public service on September 6:

“Testing a modified approach to Metro Line operations has already begun and ETS training starts Monday,” said Transportation Services General Manager Dorian Wandzura. “We are confident the Metro Line will be carrying passengers for the start of the 2015 school year.”

The line will open with modified service: “line of sight” operation, a 25 km/h speed restriction, headways of 15 minutes between Churchill Station and NAIT Station, and a decrease in capacity along the existing Capital Line. Instead of getting from Churchill Station to NAIT in 7 minutes, it’ll take 14 minutes.

Dorian Wandzura
Transportation Services General Manager Dorian Wandzura

Shortly after the news conference this afternoon, Mayor Iveson cautioned that interim service is “no cause for celebration”:

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This news should make Monday’s meeting more productive, in that Council can focus on what went wrong and how to get the line to full operation rather than spending a bunch of time expressing disappointment that the line still won’t be open. At least I hope that’s the case.

On July 31, the City announced that it had initiated an independent safety audit of the Metro Line signalling system. The audit, to be conducted by Rail Safety Consulting, is supposed to provide confidence in the safety of the system as well as certification in order to open the line. The City is still blaming Thales, saying that “Thales has failed to provide some essential documentation required for the City to accept Thales’ safety certification.”

There has been a lot of concern about the quality of the infrastructure and workmanship of the Metro Line LRT, but the City has said issues are just part of doing business and are dealt with during the warranty period. A separate report on warranty periods for transportation contributed assets says “a warranty period of two years is applied to both City and developer-constructed transportation infrastructure to ensure the construction material utilized and the associated workmanship are performing in accordance with City standards and expectations.”

On a somewhat related note, the City is currently running a survey on “how to make Edmonton’s transit system greater in the future.” You can fill it out online, or look for the street team at events around the city (like the Fringe).

Recreation Centre Security

This report comes to us in response to an inquiry made by Councillor Nickel back in April. He wanted to know more about crime in relation to our large recreation centres. Here’s what the report says:

  • “In general, calls for service to major Community Recreation Centre facilities have been relatively stable year-to-year since 2011, with predictable increases corresponding to the opening of new facilities.”
  • The situation is a bit worse this year, however. “Calls for police response to recreation facilities have more than doubled in 2015.”
  • Why? “The increase in calls for service for 2015 is driven almost entirely by calls to Clareview Recreation Centre.”
  • City staff have also reported an increase in security incidents this year, but say that “these increases can be attributed to the opening of Clareview and the Meadows Recreation Centres and the increased attendance.”
  • The report says that we’ve seen this before, with the Terwillegar Community Crecreation Centre in 2011: “there was a similar surge of incidents, followed by declining incident rates in 2013 and 2014, as facility staff implemented changes to improve facility security.”
  • Which begs the question – are the security incidents taking place at the new centres all different than the ones we saw at Terwillegar?
  • So what’s being done about this? As you might expect, “a strategic planning exercise is currently underway to improve facility security and public safety.”
  • An external security audit for the Clareview Community Recreation Centre has also been initiated.

It doesn’t seem like there’s cause for concern here, just growing pains associated with running such large facilities.

Options & Incentives for Preserving Trees on Private Residential Properties

Mature trees are critical for environmental quality and biodiversity and, as the City says, they “contribute to the livability of our neighbourhoods.” But sometimes they need to be removed, such as “when they conflict with the location of utilities or are unhealthy (diseased/dying).” The question is, can we do anything to preserve them?

“There is no requirement to plant trees or shrubs for low density residential development, thus there is no incentive to retain existing vegetation on site,” the report says.

Mature Residential Trees
Mature Residential Trees, photo by City of Edmonton

There are three options put forward by the City to try to address this:

  1. Create a Minimum Planting Requirement for All Low Density Residential Zones
  2. Develop Planting Ratios and Require Mandatory Landscape Plans
  3. Include Tree Protection in the Zoning Bylaw

Those three are roughly in order of complexity and impact. Option 2 would go beyond the minimum requirements outlined in Option 1, while Option 3 offers the greatest certainty about existing mature trees. The removal of any tree over a certain size would require a development permit, under Option 3.

The City recommends Option 1, “as these changes can be implemented quickly and are supported by stakeholders.” The suggestion is to have landscaping requirements similar to the RF4 and RPL zones, which is one tree and two shrubs per dwelling. “This would allow development officers to encourage the retention of existing vegetation as a way to meet the minimum landscaping requirements.” It would not prevent the removal of existing trees, however.

Century Park Site Park & Ride Options

The current lease agreement between the City and Procura Development (which owns the Century Park Park & Ride site) expires in 2020, so the City needs to decide if its wants to build its own park & ride facility or extend the lease on the existing Century Park site. The original lease with Procura was for five years from 2010 to 2015, with an option for an additional five, one-year renewal terms. The proposed park & ride facility would be located at Ellerslie Road and 127 Street and would be operational by the fall of 2019. It is known as the Heritage Valley Park & Ride.

  • The current site has 1,300 parking stalls, 1,000 of which are leased from Procura.
  • One third of the funding needed for the Heritage Valley Park & Ride was approved in the 2015-2018 Capital Budget.
  • Discussions are underway with the Province to secure land for the site that may fall within the Transportation Utility Corridor.
  • City Policy C554 on Park and Ride states such facilities should be “located primarily at sites where more intensive development is not possible or feasible such as the Transportation Utility Corridor or other major utility rights of way or where such development is not expected to occur in the immediate future.” Since we want to make Century Park a TOD site, having a park and ride site there is inconsistent with this policy.
  • Procura is apparently not interested in extending the current lease, but has been open to discussing various options with the City.
  • The Century Park lot “gets 98% full on weekday mornings” with approximately 1,500 people parking there between 6am and 9am to get on the LRT. It gets to 85% capacity by 7am! Those passengers make up 29% of the total passengers who board the LRT during the morning peak period.
  • Looking at all eight park & ride locations in Edmonton, “the average utilization of park and ride sites on a typical weekday is 97% at LRT stations and 60-70% at Transit Centres.”
  • The proposed Heritage Valley Park & Ride would require a shuttle bus service, which would cost $2.1 million annually after five articulated buses are purchased for $4 million.
  • The City also anticipates an increase in bus usage if the Century Park Park & Ride were to go away, which would require another $1 million annually plus the purchase of ten new 40-foot buses for $6 million.
  • The City does own some land at Century Park where a parking structure could be built but an assessment found that “the high cost of construction would require unreasonably high parking fees or significant subsidies from the City in order to recover the high capital and operating cost.”
  • A position paper developed by the City found that “over 50% of park and ride users come from within 8 km of a site” and are “only willing to back track up to 3 km to a park and ride facility.”

Century Park Station & Park and Ride
Century Park, photo by City of Edmonton

The report does not make a recommendation on what to do. Moving the park & ride from Century Park to Heritage Valley is aligned with the City’s existing policies and future direction, but the question is how to pay for it. The remaining funding required for the Heritage Valley Park & Ride is assumed to come from other sources, but the City says Green TRIP is not an option.

Other interesting items

  • The Edmonton Heritage Council’s 2014 Annual Report is available and talks about the City Museum project. The Heritage Council has focused on “building an audience” rather than acquiring a building thus far, but “anticipates a full business case going forward in 2018 in consideration of the 2019-2022 City of Edmonton capital cycle.”
  • The City recommends that $1.8 million be approved to fund the Fort Edmonton Park Catering Kitchen Project.
  • Utility work on Phase 1 of the new Louise McKinney Riverfront Park project is expected to begin this summer, with construction completed by the end of 2016. Phase 1 includes a new accessible pathway and staircase, while phase 2 consists of a full service restaurant and upgrades to existing facilities, coinciding with completion of the Valley Line LRT.
  • The next priority of Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap is “to conduct the review of the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay.” The City also anticipates updating Residential Infill Guidelines when the new MDP is updated in 2018.
  • The City is recommending that Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy and Policy, which I wrote about back in March, be approved, that an Energy Transition Advisory Committee be established, and that the Mayor write a letter to the Province to “explore issues through an enhanced Provincial/City working relationship.”
  • PCL Construction Management Inc. is the construction manager for Rogers Place, and the City is recommending that Council approve consolidating previously approved adjacent construction projects under the same agreement to “provide efficiencies” and “coordination and scheduling of the work.”
  • There’s a report on the Feasibility of Re-Establishing a Natural Channel between Mill Creek and the North Saskatchewan River. Basically in order to build freeways in the 1960s we destroyed many streams and creeks resulting in “water pollution, flooding, erosion, and loss of ecological services.” Now we are looking to mitigate these impacts through a practice called “daylighting”.
  • The overall reliability of escalators in LRT stations in 2014 was 85%. ETS has set a goal of 90% by 2016, with at least 87.5% to be achieved for 2015. As of June 30, 2015, the City says overall year-to-date escalator reliability in LRT stations was 89.3%.
  • An update on traffic shortcutting issues, and in particular the trials underway in Prince Charles and Pleasantview, says that a City Policy for Community Traffic Management will be considered in June 2016. The City says that “the short turnaround time anticipated with this new Traffic Shortcutting pilot project will constrain typical public engagement strategies in favour of faster implementation of traffic management measures to better respond to concerns voiced by the communities.” The next report on the trials is expected to go to Transportation Committee on October 7.

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.

Frustration abounds and public support for future LRT projects in Edmonton is at risk

It has been made abundantly clear that LRT is a key priority for this Council. They reiterated that point again during Tuesday’s update on the delayed Metro Line LRT (the extension to NAIT) and they made it clear to Administration that they’re not happy about the delays, nor about being kept in the dark on progress. “This has been an embarrassment,” Councillor Esslinger complained. “It’s embarrassing to say the least,” added Councillor Sohi. Earlier this week, Councillor Nickel called it “a boondoggle” and Councillor Oshry described the project as “a s**t-show”.

Metro Line LRT

The Metro Line was supposed to open most recently on Sunday, July 5. That follows failed attempts to open on June 7, and May 31, both of which follow countless previous delays. “We are still not in a position to announce an opening date,” Transportation GM Dorian Wandzura told Council when pressed yesterday. The reason? According to the City, there are still issues with the signalling system and Thales is to blame.

Thales claims they’re not the hold up and feel that trains could be operating along the line. They’re still here working on the line, but say that further work consists only of “additional functionality that was not needed for initial revenue service.” We still don’t know why the City and Thales appear to be on such different wavelengths, but there’s speculation that this is all just posturing for a coming legal battle between the two.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, on Monday the Journal revealed that it had acquired a leaked report from 2013 that outlined a number of construction issues plaguing the Metro Line. The report prompted speculation that perhaps there was more to the delayed opening than the signalling system issues the City has consistently cited. Council hammered away at this report during Tuesday’s meeting, and it was clear they were caught off-guard and had not been kept apprised of the situation in previous private updates.

It turns out the leaked report is just one of 80 total reports commissioned by the City on the project. Of the dozen issues identified in that report, nine have been closed and four are live issues that are still outstanding. There’s no word on how many deficiencies were reported and are outstanding from the other 79 reports.

“There are always deficiencies,” Wandzura said. “It’s a normal process that some of those issues are not resolved on opening day, they are dealt with in the warranty period.” Trying to provide context, City Manager Simon Farbrother explained that “every single construction project going on in this city has deficiencies, and that’s normal.” Wandzura added, “if you had a construction project with zero deficiencies, I’d be very concerned.” He reiterated a couple of times that the issues identified in the leaked report “have been or are in the process of being resolved” and that they did not contribute to the delay in opening the line. The City still feels that Thales is to blame for that.

Despite all of this bad news, Brad Smid, project manager for the line, told the Journal that he thought “the project has gone very well.” Yes, he really said that.

Is the City really being made whole?

I get the point that there are always deficiencies. In my world, if you shipped a software product and didn’t find any bugs, that’d be a clear sign that your testing processes are broken. There are always bugs. Still, attempting to reassure Council and the public by explaining that every one of our multi-million dollar projects has problems may not have been the best strategy. It’s clear that not all deficiencies are created equal, but the ones identified in leaked report were discussed as if they were all critical.

“Our objective is to get what we pay for,” said Wandzura during Tuesday’s meeting, adding that the City takes actions “to make the City whole” when deficiencies are found. This could be accomplished by some sort of remediation, financial compensation, or in the worst case, litigation.

Councillor Caterina in particular hammered away at this, suggesting that the City has accepted lower quality work because of mistakes made by the contractors. Pipe that was a smaller gauge than originally specified may have been accepted in exchange for some form of financial compensation, for instance.

The problem with that is any financial amount rendered today is likely far less than what it’ll cost if any work needs to be done in the future. I can envision the news now at a future Council update. There will be some sort of project that a future Council wants to implement, maybe running new cable to take advantage of some future technology, and they’ll be shocked when the price tag comes in significantly higher than expected because this pipe needs to be replaced with the appropriate gauge.

DSC_0803
Photo by Bill Burris

On the signalling contract, the City is holding back some of the payment until the work is done. The contract with Thales states the City can hold back 40%, which is about $19.8 million. Currently 49% of the contract has been paid. Responding to comments from Council that the amount is small to a big company, Farbrother said that “perhaps it’s not seen as punitive, but they are in the press every day” taking heat for the delay.

What these approaches don’t take into account is the wider impact of deficiencies and delays. What about all of the students and staff at NAIT who still can’t take the train? What about the numerous pedestrian and vehicular closures and detours that have added time to commutes and caused endless frustrations? What about the shattered confidence of the public in a year where we’ve had delays with nearly every major public project?

There’s too much in-camera & too little communication

City Council was scheduled to get an in-private update on the Metro Line yesterday. Thankfully, Mayor Iveson requested that the item be discussed in public instead. He wrote:

“Frankly, hearing yet another discussion of yet another private report does nothing to give the public confidence that this city council is getting information and in turn the public is getting information that we all need to determine what is going on with this project.”

“Too much of the discussion around this has been in private so I would like a public report and an opportunity for members of council to ask questions of Administration at least pertaining to these latest issues of deficiencies on the line, so there may be an airing of what is going on. At least any issues that can be clearly communicated to the public there is an opportunity to do that.”

While we didn’t come away with any major revelations during the update (aside from perhaps the number of reports commissioned on the construction) I think it’s critical that the discussion took place in public. Council did have a private update with Administration later in the day, but there’s no reason that everything needs to be done behind closed doors.

For one thing, Council desperately needs to restore the public’s faith in this project and going in-camera is not going to accomplish that. “The trust is gone, let’s just be honest about it,” said Councillor Nickel. “We need to restore people’s confidence,” said Councillor Sohi.

Kingsway/Royal Alex Station
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Unfortunately, it seems as though Administration’s first instinct is to go in-camera. For instance, when discussing the report on deficiencies, they attempted a few times to delay the discussion to the private session. “I’m a little disappointed that everything keeps getting reverted back to, ‘this is the normal course of construction’,” said Councillor Caterina. “At what point do we do something different?” asked Councillor Oshry, to which Administration replied, “That’s a perfect thing to discuss in private.”

This desire to go in-camera is a symptom of a much larger communications problem facing the City. Council was caught off-guard by Monday’s leaked report and is eager to prevent that from happening again. “Going forward, we’re going to want to know everything about everything,” Councillor Caterina told Administration.

To bring the discussion yesterday to a close, Mayor Iveson put forward a motion to have Administration “develop and immediately implement a public communication plan” and to prepare a report that outlines “any significant deficiencies with this project.”

“I want to be able to tell the public with confidence” that these issues “have been fully digested,” the mayor said. “The instinct to stop giving dates – we have to move past that, and just report on a regular basis,” he added. “We need to be zealous in our transparency and communication on this project.”

There doesn’t appear to be enough accountability

One thing lacking from the discussion yesterday was any accountability on the part of the City. Councillor McKeen and his colleagues did suggest a few times that the City and Council are ultimately responsible for public projects like this, but Administration seemed content to blame contractors. The public is calling for heads to roll, at least on Twitter, but there’s no sign that that is going to happen.

I’m reminded of that overused cliche about the definition of insanity. The Metro Line has been delayed again and again since December 2013, and yet the same people are in charge using the same contractors. If the inputs don’t change, how can we expect the outcomes to?

Clearly building an LRT line is a major endeavour and integrating it with an existing one has proven to be even more challenging. But it’s hard to reconcile that with the fact that so many other cities have successfully (from an outsider’s point-of-view) built even more complicated transit projects. That may not be a popular perspective within the city because it’s like comparing apples and oranges, but that’s absolutely what the public is thinking.

We’re 18 months past the first delay, and we still don’t have an opening date. How much farther down the current path do we go? We’ve heard from the City that changing contractors now and starting over on the signalling would be too costly, but that is beginning to sound an awful lot like the sunk cost fallacy. Maybe it would make more sense in the long-run to cut our losses and start over. We may not be paying Thales anything more, but we’re also not getting any closer to the end of the project.

I don’t think its wise to fire someone just to have a scapegoat, but it would go a long way toward restoring the public’s confidence in the City if some accountability measures were taken.

What impact does all of this have on the Valley Line LRT?

Understandably, Council had some questions yesterday about the impact of all of this on the Valley Line LRT. Councillor Sohi asked what, if anything, has been learned that could be applied to that project. The response? The importance of communication. Administration cited the establishment of five Citizen Working Groups as proof that things are improving with each project.

At one point, Wandzura tried to explain to Council that different procurement models result in different outcomes. The suggestion was that because the Valley Line will be built using a P3 model, we should expect things to be different. Different, yes. Better? Not necessarily. There are big concerns with the P3 model and the only reason we’re even going down that route is because it was the only way to secure federal funding. The Valley Line could very well turn out to be worse.

On the other hand, maybe expectations have been lowered so much with the Metro Line that the City will be able to exceed them with construction of the Valley Line.

When will we have an opening date for the Metro Line LRT?

Mayor Iveson asked yesterday if there’s any chance the line would be open by the start of school in the fall, to which Wandzura said he believed it would. Farbrother added that they didn’t want to suggest a date which could cause communications and public opinion to deteriorate even further. So the fall is City’s best guess, but at this point there’s no reason to have any faith in that time frame.

MacEwan Station & Rogers Place

As Paula Simons wrote, the stations and line look finished, yet they “just sit there, ghostly and pristine.” Right next door construction on Rogers Place continues, apparently on-time and on-budget. “Like a desert mirage, the promise of the NAIT LRT is always just out of reach,” Paula wrote. It’s looking increasingly likely that the new area will open before the Metro Line does.

In a private follow-up late yesterday afternoon, Council voted to hold a special meeting on the Metro Line LRT on August 17. They also made a private motion that “will move things forward” but of course we don’t know what that is just yet. An auditor’s report on the project is expected to be discussed by Council on August 24. That’s the most appropriate time for a retrospective, Farbrother suggested.

So for now we wait, with more questions than answers, and still without an opening date.

Coming up at City Council: July 6-10, 2015

Time for another Council update, this time for the week of July 6. There are a number of private reports slated for Tuesday’s meeting, including an update on the Metro Line LRT. Will it be delayed again, or will we finally get a date for the opening? Let’s hope it’s good news. Another private item is on the Communications Plan for LRT Funding.

Below you’ll find links to all the meetings and some highlighted items that I found interesting or otherwise wanted to make note of.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

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

Food Truck Alley on Whyte Avenue

Last summer, a so-called “food truck alley” was proposed for the lane beside Tutti Frutti on the north side of 82 Avenue just west of 104 Street. Well now it looks like it might actually happen.

Bylaws 17278, 17279, and 17280 will be considered at Monday’s public hearing. If approved, these bylaws would close the lane permanently, would amend the Strathcona ARP accordingly, and would rezone the area to allow for “public amenity and temporary commercial space that respects the heritage character of the surrounding buildings and area, while providing pedestrian connectivity between 82 Avenue NW and the rear, east-west lane.”

No permanent structures would be allowed, and the area would need to remain publicly accessible to pedestrians at all times, but allowable uses would include park space, carnivals, restaurants, and general retail stores.

I take that to mean that food trucks could be welcome!

District Energy in the Downtown

Interesting item on a so-called “district energy system” which is basically a more environmentally-friendly way to get hot water delivered to buildings within a specific area. The idea is to use biomass (like waste), solar, natural gas, or waste heat to provide hot water, which could be used as water or in the heating of spaces. Obviously this works better in denser areas.

Here’s the heart of the report:

“Administration has been working with EPCOR, ENMAX, FVB Energy and the Holmes Group since 2012 to develop a feasible scenario for a District Energy System in the Downtown. Initial scenarios for a District Energy System focused on The Quarters Downtown, and in 2012 construction began on a small scale District Energy System to serve the Boyle Renaissance Phases I and II. ENMAX is in the final stages of commissioning a cogeneration plant in the Boyle Renaissance Tower which will be ready to serve the 90 unit senior’s facility in 2015. This plant has the capability to generate heat and electricity for Renaissance Tower and heat for the YMCA Melcor Welcome Village. Electricity generated in excess of Renaissance Tower requirements goes back to the electrical grid for resale.”

The idea is that the City provides building connections, ENMAX owns and operates the thermal generation and would sell to customers directly, and EPCOR build, own, and maintain the distribution system. The proposed system is “estimated to result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 17,080 tonnes per year in early phases and 63,000 tonnes per year at full build out.”

If Council gives the go-ahead, then Administration will prepare a business case for Executive Committee’s review in the fall. They’d also provide an update on the viability of a district energy system in Blatchford.

Valley Line LRT RFP Questions & Answers

I have found that Q&A documents are often the most enlightening of all City documents, so I was very interested to take a look at this one. There’s a total of 98 questions and answers in the document, so there’s a ton of useful information if you’re willing to read through it all.

There are a number of questions about public engagement, which the City often answers by saying that a number of Citizen Working Groups will be established. As of June 25, five Citizen Working Groups have been established based around different zones of the project. You can see the list of members here.

A few other highlights include:

  • The P3 contractor must accommodate special events, so festivals like the Edmonton Folk Music Festival will not be impacted. Access to both the Muttart Conservatory and Edmonton Ski Club will also be maintained.
  • “A relatively small amount of green space will be lost during construction,” but the City says “the vast majority” will be returned to parkland after construction is complete.
  • Apparently there are beavers living below the footbridge, and the City says that if they are still living there when construction begins, “the P3 contractor will be responsible for relocating them.”
  • There will be a wildlife underpass at Connors Road that will “help to maintain access for wildlife to and from Mill Creek Ravine.”

You can keep up-to-date on the Valley Line LRT here.

95 Avenue Bike Lane Removal

At the City Council meeting on June 23, 2015, Councillor Oshry moved that the bike lanes on 95 Avenue between 149 Street and 189 Street and on 189 Street between 87 Avenue and 95 Avenue, be removed. The motion on the floor was postponed to Tuesday’s meeting because Council ran out of time.

Since then, Councillor Walters has indicated he’d like to see the bike lanes on 40 Avenue and 106 Street removed also and he has a motion pending for Tuesday’s meeting. Commenting on the story, Councillor Oshry told the Journal that “Administration has a hard time admitting that (these bike lanes) are not working, that they’re a mistake.”

Mayor Iveson is against removing the bike lanes, suggesting that doing so would send the wrong signal to the public. Could be a close vote!

Committee recommendations

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

  • That Administration prepare a policy for Council’s consideration to require vegetarian or vegan food for all catered City Council meetings “to support environmental sustainability.” This one comes from Youth Council, which has already adopted vegan-catered meals for its meetings, and says the meals have a significantly lower environmental impact than meals with meat. I’d rather see a requirement for local food, which I understand a working group convened by the City along with Northlands is investigating.
  • That Administration prepare a policy on traffic shortcutting that would include, among other things, “ways to address traffic shortcutting in a proactive manner.”
  • That $4.2 million in Cornerstones funding be approved for the construction of a seniors’ housing project called Sakaw Terrace and that the Sakaw surplus school site be sold for $100,000 for the project.

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.

UPDATE: Since I posted this a Special Executive Committee meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday. One of the key agenda items is an update on the Implementation Plan for The Way Ahead. Council will be discussing 23 “transformational initiatives” that are expected to help achieve a significant number of the strategic outcomes by the end of 2018.

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

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

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

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

2013-2017 Council Initiatives – Status Update

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

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

You can read the rest of the updates here.

Ward Boundary Review Implications

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

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

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

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

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

104 Avenue Corridor Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP)

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

104 avenue corridor

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

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

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

2016-2018 Operating Budget Guidelines

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

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

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

Committee recommendations

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

Other interesting items

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

Private Reports & Motions Pending

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

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

Wrap-up

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

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

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

Galleria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provincial or Federal funding

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

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

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

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

Lack of support from the Arts Community

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

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

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

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

Breaking up the University of Alberta

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

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

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

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

More empty space left behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competition with the Edmonton Arena District

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

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

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

A holistic decision needs to be made

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

Galleria

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

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

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

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

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

May 4-8, 2015

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

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

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

May 11-15, 2015

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

Wednesday May 18, 2015

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

2016-2018 Edmonton Police Service Business Plan

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

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

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

Here are some of the performance measures identified:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Charter

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

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

Northlands Update

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

Wrap-up

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

Coming up at City Council: April 27 – May 1, 2015

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

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, April 27, 2015

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

Buena Vista Apartment Redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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

Make Something Edmonton Update

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

Committee Reports

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

Bylaws

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

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

Honey Bee
Honey Bee, photo by Bill Burris

Private Reports

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

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

Motions Pending

There are two motions pending:

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

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

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

Analysis of Ratio of In-House Work to External Consultants

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

historical expenditures comparison

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

2014 Waste Management Utility & Drainage Services Utility Annual Reports

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

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

Other

Wrap-up

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