Sunday, June 27, 2010

We Need the OMB

Getting back to my earlier blog on the Kitchener/Cedar Hill Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) decision (June 23rd) you’ll recall that I had more to say.

Here it is - for what it’s worth.

Remember I am not planner but… This case should give pause to those who question the value of the OMB.

What looked like good planning by the City Of Kitchener back in 2003 unravelled when the Interim Control By-Law was put in place without the additional study that was supposed to go along with it.

From where I blog it is hard to really get what happened. Reading the OMB Interim Decision, though, suggests that between the Council Committee meeting and the full Council meeting politicians changed their minds; or had their minds changed.

The “high priority” additional study was rejected at Council when elected officials voted to remove the clause that directed staff to do that work.

At the Regional level planning staff kept on expressing concern that the phase two analysis wasn’t happening. What happened?

City Planner Jeffrey Willmer gave this explanation as cited in the OMB documents:

{There was a} "shortage of leadership resources… Those efforts were not successful in having a new leader step up, and there were competing calls for resources.”

Got that?

No one appealed the laughably named Interim Control By-law. It continues in effect more than seven years after being put in place.

Human Rights Concerns

There’s a significant human rights issue here too.

Ontario Human Rights Commission Chief Barbara Hall notes:

“People with disabilities or on social assistance were the targets; they were told in effect ‘we don’t want more people like you in this neigbournood.’ The Human Rights Code says you can’t discriminate like that.”

Housing expert, Michael Shapcott, notes:

“Housing advocates have long argued that municipal restrictions that limit, or ban entirely, certain types of housing and services from certain neighbourhoods can amount to unfair discrimination and a violation of human rights laws."

The OMB has given the municipality 15 months to get it right. Let’s see what happens.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unprecedented Case

When I was a municipal politician I found that, as far as challenges went, understanding planning documents was right up there with my aspiration of swimming Lake Ontario while doing the butterfly stroke.

So earlier this year when Ontario Municipal Board ruling PL050611 came out I went looking for help to understand it.

Rani Khan, a lawyer and colleague at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, read the 49 page ruling and provided comments that were helpful to me.

But this is my blog and what follows are my opinions.

The ruling involved a Kitchener Official Plan and Zoning by-law amendment that attempted to “clean up” a 10 block area in that city known as Cedar Hill. Cedar Hill apparently needs cleaning up as twenty percent of this area’s residents are persons with disabilities and/or persons in receipt of social assistance. Many live in shelters, group homes or rent-geared-to-income housing.

The City had decided that this situation represented an “over- concentration” resulting in “an unhealthy social environment.” The neighbourhood was on “a downward trajectory.” Scary stuff, indeed.

Some of the parties represented at the OMB hearing suggested that Kitchener was doing a little bit of “people zoning.” The important planning principle to keep in mind being that you zone for uses not for people.

This is an important and probably precedent setting case. Way back in 2003 the City had put an Interim Control By-law in place that banned any new “downward trajectory” promoting facilities. But, significantly, a commitment to do more study to promote the development of new....lodging houses and residential care facilities in all other appropriate areas of the city was made.

After four weeks of hearings last year the Board accepted the municipalities’ (Kitchener and Waterloo Region) arguments that there was, in fact, a concentration and that the City is entitled to develop initiatives to distribute facilities throughout the city. The Board, though, had a problem with the fact that the promised additional study never happened. As a result the Board ruled that the restrictive measures put in place were premature and gave the municipality 15 months to do the study it should have done five years ago.

In other words if a city is going to restrict opportunities for housing people with disabilities and/or those on assistance they’ll have to do appropriate preparation required by the Planning Act.

There is, of course, a lot more to this. I’ll have more to say later this week.

In the meantime you can view this interim decision on the OMB website ( by typing in PL050611.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Election Year

(A version of this story originally appeared on the Hamilton Spectator poverty Blog.)

Here is a story about how municipal politicians can lose their way in an election year.

The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) assists municipalities with their social program costs.

Recently OMPF reconciled the 2008 allocations against real expenditures and costs and as a result many municipalities received more money. Hamilton got about $3.1 million dollars; the Region of Niagara got $2.1 million.

I became aware of this late last month when reading a bulletin from CATCH (Citizens at City Hall). CATCH is a volunteer community group that encourages civic participation in Hamilton. The CATCH story focussed on the fact that Hamilton Councillors were all going to be getting about $250,000 each to spend in their wards on sidewalk repairs. "In a shift from normal practice" they apparently decided not to follow the usual priority setting process for allocating funds. This is indeed a shift but it is an election year and you'll see more shifts and other silliness before October 25th.

The CATCH story went on to note that $3.1 million of the $3.6 million fund being divvied up by the Councillors came from the OMPF reconciliation dollars. But shouldn't that money be going back into social services? That suggestion was rejected by Council.

I mentioned Niagara. They took their monies and put $600,000 into Emergency Medical Services and the remaining 1.5 million into an account to offset the Community Services net deficit. That makes sense; seems logical.

Up in Thunder Bay the city got $1.3 million back. Government member Michael Gravelle, the MPP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, was "absolutely delighted about this additional funding for social programs and other services."

Hamilton politicians seem to be marching to a different drummer here or am I missing something?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cities Need New Revenue Sources

Caught my eye recently:

Montreal has ideas to find more revenue.

Their Finance Committee spent 67 hours meeting with various city agencies working to cut their $400 million budget shortfall, reported the Toronto Star’s Andrew Chung.

Serendipitously, perhaps, while these meetings were going on, $300,000 in extra policing costs ensued when Montreal Canadien fans rioted in the streets. Then, in a moment of enlightenment some bright spark had an idea - make the hockey club play. Ah, pure genius.

Expect feeble excuses from the Hab’s front office like:

The individuals who broke store windows, looted stores and set police cars on fire were hooligans, not Canadien fans.

These hoolifans weren’t even at the game.

Les Canadiens pay more than $8 million in property taxes each year and bring many other economic benefits to the city.

Give me a break please.

Understand this: Municipalities are behind the eight ball. They need new revenue sources. My town, Burlington, got it right earlier this year when they decided to charge residents if firefighters had to attend their car accident. Unfortunately, council backed down.

But I’ve got a few other ideas.

Park Bench Fees

An elderly couple camps out for hours on the bench at my local park. Cute, you say? But this as an opportunity. After all it’s the city’s bench. Slap a fee on these folks. Use that bench in excess of 15 minutes you should pay appropriate user fees.

Street Hockey Permits

I like street hockey; hate it when residents want ball-hockey-playing kids off the road. But, if these kid’s parents had to pay for a street hockey permit the neighbours wouldn’t have grounds to complain and the fees would enrich city coffers. Call this a win win!

Excessive Constituent Calls

Some of you will know I was a councillor once. And, yes, I loved my constituents - all of them; well nearly all of them. But there were a few, a very few, who demanded a lot of my time. Of course, many other constituents never bothered me. Wouldn’t it be fair put in place a charge against constituents who call or e-mail you more than say once a week? All these contacts could be calculated and put on the bothersome constituent’s tax bill as a user fee.

These are but a few ideas. You’ll have some too. Like garage sales. There were 46 advertised in the Burlington Post last Friday. Can you imagine how many “underground” ones were going on? What an opportunity if the city could just get back some revenue….The possibilities are endless.