Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Can't the Pan Am/Parapan Games Benefit the Whole Community?

Today the City of Hamilton (ON)  Council was finally allowed to see the design of the new Pan Am Stadium.  They weren't impressed.  To quote Councillor Clark (from @EmmaatTheSpec) 

"It's a glorified Ivor Wynne. It's not even close to the original (west harbour) design. But we have no authority," says Brad Clark.

I wrote a piece way back on July 13, 2010 on the Spectator's Poverty Blog No Excuses.  I've reprinted here is a bit of history and, OK I can't help myself, as "I-told-you-so.


I had problems with the pursuit of the Pan Am/Parapan Games but I put those aside when the games were actually awarded last fall.

I'm one of those guys who think these big international events don't really build community and, in fact, can do damage. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 when the unheard of happened and a man had a baby.)

But there's been some encouraging talk about "inclusivity" and "legacy" for these games. Maybe my concerns were unwarranted.

Now, with what appears to be the inevitable move of the stadium to a site apparently not even on the radar until last week, all the promised good stuff is being thrown out the window.

To win the Games, a 245-page pitch called a Bid Book was put together. Read the Legacy section (page 212):

Urban renewal is a priority as in: "Revitalize the communities in which they (the facilities) are located."

Good consultation is the way to go: "Establish consultative processes that allow the region's diverse communities to engage in the decision making in respectful and meaningful ways."

Or hear the words of Mayor Eisenberger in a Spectator piece from early May on the preferred West Harbour location:  

"…a strategic decision and, arguably, one of the most important decisions in the history of our city. Now, we must come together as a community, along with our key stakeholders and Pan Am partners, to get on with the task of planning for the Games.

"The legacy of the Pan Am Games will be social inclusion, healthy and active living, engagement of our young people, economic growth and civic pride. That future starts now."

But here we go, to paraphrase Councillor McHattie, letting private interests dictate what is good for the community.

In April, following publication of its disturbing Code Red series, the Spectator held a public forum.  Terry Cooke, one of the panelists that evening, was quite clear that we've created some of our problems through bad planning decisions: The kind of decisions that promote urban sprawl and ignore the needs of existing neighbourhoods. I guess we haven't learned anything.    

With the clock ticking down, I hope people will speak out in the next month. If we are going ahead with these events in Hamilton (and I think the "if" should now be a consideration), the Games need to benefit the whole community.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

More Nimby

I’m getting rusty, I guess.

My plan was to read a city of Hamilton Planning report and provide an update to a story I’d done recently. http://whenthemayorsmiles.blogspot.ca/2012/09/local-governments-and-distance.html

That was the plan but to my eyes the report is pretty much incomprehensible and that is saying something for a planning report.

As a recap the City of Hamilton denied the approval of a “Residential Care Facility” (their word) at 121 Augusta Street in Hamilton.  This would have allowed a mental health program for teenage girls to relocate to this address from the city owned building the non-profit operated.  This building requires   extensive renovations and costly repair. The denial was based this on the City’s Radial Distance Separation (RDS) Policy.

Many believe that   these RDS policies violate basic human rights and the city may be forced to address that matter in an Ontario Municipal Board hearing later this year.

But out the blue and I’ll quote from the planning report here:

staff’s attention was drawn to the difficulty the applicant had in securing alternative locations within the City limits that were conducive and appropriate for the proposed use.”

Not said here, but important to note, is that the city caused and continues to cause a lot of those difficulties.ck to the staff report:

“On closer examination of the search parameters identified by the applicant, staff determined that the proposed function of the facility will not be that of a Residential Care Facility, and that the characterization of the proposed use as a Residential Care Facility by the applicant’s planning consultant is not representative of the intended use, having regard for how the By-law treats a Residential Care Facility.”

At a preliminary OMB hearing last week the city argued that they don’t want the RDS policy considered.  

That is the same policy, of course,  that they previously used to argue against approval before their “closer examination” produced another planning argument.  The hearing officer reserved judgement on this.

Councillor Brad Clark put it well, I think.

"It’s embarrassing to have the human rights commissioner intervene at the OMB when our vision is to be the best place to raise a child.” http://metronews.ca/news/hamilton/395199/human-rights-chief-will-fight-hamilton-at-the-omb/

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Moving Cars Faster

I’ve moved away from Burlington and I must say that the news that is reaching me on events from that beautiful lakefront city is making less and less sense by the day.

Take this one.

Burlington is increasing the speeds on some of its roads.

I’ve said it different ways before but I’m thinking Burlington should change its motto from ‘Stand By’ to ‘We March to a Different Drummer.’

Just last month the Chief Coroner of Ontario came out with a report called the Pedestrian Death Review.  This review examined the circumstances of 95 deaths that occurred from Jan. 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2010 in the province.  As coroner’s report do, this one makes recommendations to help prevent future deaths. The 26 recommendations and accompanying comprehensive analysis can be found here.

The thrust of the report is to get municipalities to think about developing strategies to make that will make their roads safer for pedestrians. Cities should develop walking strategies and “complete streets” approach which suggests “streets should be designed to be safe, convenient and comfortable for every user, regardless of transportation mode, physical ability or age.”  Cities need to think about reducing speed limits.

This is, of course, a totally different way of looking at things then is done in Burlington.  Here a new Speed Limits Policy seems designed to acquiesce to citizen requests to be able drive their cars faster.  Just ask and the city will get the traffic engineers to check out what speed 85% of the traffic goes and, if it exceeds the speed limit, well, we should just raise that speed limit.

A recommendation going to Council on Monday October 15th if approved will increase the speed on the Queensway and the section of Upper Middle Road between Brant Street and Guelph line from 50 km to 60 km. 

Upper Middle Road will maintain those 40 kilometre zones. We’ll now see drivers getting nose bleeds as they decelerate in school zones.  Cops who enforce these zones tell me they’re cash cows and do nothing for safety.

And yet staff data demonstrates that cyclists will have more to worry about with these increased speeds.

Read the staff report http://cms.burlington.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=22770 and maybe you’ll understand how these changes contribute to vibrant neighbourhoods.  I’m still scratching my head on that one.

Typically, consultation was poor on this issue.  Relevant citizen advisory committees were merely “notified.” 

They’re marching to a different drummer in Burlington, the city by the lake, where traffic engineers rule.   

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Local Governments and Distance Separation By-Laws

This past week the City of Hamilton in an attempt to stop the relocation of a teenaged girls group home “changed battle tactics in its war against” the Lynwood Charlton Centre according to the Hamilton Spectator. http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/801502--city-launches-new-salvo-in-clash-against-group-home
The Spectator reports that only weeks before the commencement of an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing City staff have come up with a new argument to oppose the request to move from Charlton Avenue to nearby Augusta Street.
They now say that because the “home on Augusta would house both day and overnight programs it should be classified as a comprehensive institution rather than a residential care facility.”
The city looks bad on this.  But, at least, their apparent recognition that separation by-laws violate human rights is a good thing.
I’ve written about this on the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic website’s blog. http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/?post=Human%20Rights%20Lessons%20from%20Kitchener%20&id=177).
Following is a slightly updated version of another piece from www.hamiltonjustice.ca which provides a little background to how this issue has played out around the province.

Distance Separations – Different Approaches
Recently Kitchener followed through with aspects of a negotiated settlement and scrapped a controversial by-law that had imposed distance separations. City staff will now write a new by-law that will go to a public meeting this month.

According to therecord.com “the new by-law will allow group homes for people with physical, intellectual and emotional challenges to set up anywhere in the city.” Service providers will not have to worry about other group homes in the area. (http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/745791--city-of-kitchener-to-scrap-minimum-distance-rules-for-group-homes)

A couple of years ago Kitchener, Toronto, Sarnia and Smiths Falls had been challenged under the Ontario Human Rights Act to change their by-laws. Kitchener negotiated a settlement which required changing the offending by-law.
In a story on the ARCH Disability Law Centre’s recent newsletter Centre Jennifer Ramsay of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre wrote about the other three challenged municipalities. (http://archdisabilitylaw.ca/?q=read-july-23-2012-arch-alert)

Incredibly, Smiths Falls had a provision in its bylaws that didn’t allow more than 36 mentally handicapped people to live within its boundaries. They’ve removed that offensive provision but left separation requirements in place. Toronto continues to resist change and has, in fact, challenged the Human Rights Tribunal’s jurisdiction to even hear the case.

But Sarnia took a different approach. In March 2010 Sarnia amended its bylaws to remove restrictions. At the time Sarnia Mayor Michael Bradley was quoted as saying that “the rules are discriminatory and have nothing to do with planning and everything to do with negative stereotypes about disabled people.”

Beginning in 2009 Sarnia staff had reached out and talked with human rights advocates when the issue arose that their bylaw might be discriminatory.
In a report to Council staff wrote that “(W)hile special group home regulations should be based on sound planning principles and conform to the intent and purpose of applicable land use policy documents and legislation a further test is required for conformity with the Human Rights Code.”

Sarnia’s response was proactive. It applied what staff called a “common sense approach” and concluded that “the imposition of separation distances between group homes should not be necessary as they are considered to be residential uses and the impact should be similar to that of a dwelling.”

I’ve got to the point where I think the Ontario government should step in and impose such common sense across the province.

Maybe they can take a look at the concept of “comprehensive institution” too. Sounds like a classic case of Orwellian doublespeak to me.

Monday, August 13, 2012

We Need a National Public Transit Strategy

I’m getting more or more concerned that decision makers aren’t going to get their heads around the need for better transportation and transit planning in this country.

A couple of years ago I was optimistic that METROLINX would make a difference.

I’m not so sure now.

In that context it may make sense to look to the federal scene for leadership.

Stephen Harper, you say?

Well no - but there is a private member’s bill championed by MP Olivia Chow that, if passed, would begin the process of developing a national public transit strategy.  Most countries have one.

Bill C-305 contains goals that most of us could agree with.

Increasing use of transit, reducing commute times, improving economic competitiveness of our communities and reducing greenhouse gases are a few that are mentioned in the Bill.

To achieve these goals certain measure are recommended.  For example, the proposed strategy would include an investment plan, funding mechanisms and a leadership role for the federal government.

If the Bill passed the Minister of Transport would be required to convene a conference within six months.  That conference would include provincial governments, municipal representatives, transit authorities and aboriginal communities.

This group would develop funding mechanisms, set targets for programs and develop principles of an agreement between federal and provincial governments.

To me such a conference would seem at least as worthwhile as those First Ministers’ gatherings that we have become so accustomed to.

It is true private members bills don’t succeed very often.  In fact, not that long ago a Conservative Member of Parliament told that his party doesn’t support other party’s private members bills.  This would seem to defeat the purpose of such bills but don’t get me started.

In the meantime find out more about Bill C-305 (http://www.oliviachow.ca/2012/05/national-transit-strategy-join-the-team/) and consider contacting your Member of Parliament to ask for support.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Transit Talk

This Wednesday, I will be appearing on Unusual Sources, a CFMU radio show.

Paul Bedford will also appear on the second half of the show which is hosted by transit advocate Doug Brown.

Bedford wil be talking about the recent "OneCity" proposal for a $30 Billion programme of subway, LRT, and transit infrastructure in the City of Toronto.

This proposal calls for an increase in municipal taxes and other measures to fund an ambitious programme so that Toronto's transit system will be able to move people  efficiently through all parts of the City and end the gridlock.Paul Bedford has long advocated for a large increase in transit and transit expenditures throughout the GTHA.

I'll be talking with Doug to update listeners on the transit situation in Burlington.

While the City of Toronto is pushing for increased taxes to provide  billions of dollars for new transit funding, the City of Burlington ponders an interim service plan that would provide no net increase in transit service hours while removing holiday service and increasing  mid-day wait times to one hour on routes serving north east Burlington.

Unusual Sources runs from 5:00-6:00pm every week at 93.3 FM. The first half of this week's show features "Taxi Talk", an ongoing series on efforts to get better working conditions for taxi drivers in Hamilton and Toronto. The second half of this week's show will focus on transit in the GTA and in

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Provincial Budget, Municipalities and Social Assistance

As we wait to see how provincial budget negotiations between the McGuinty Liberals and the NDP s go over the weekend I’m a little surprised that little very little has been said about the impacts that the budget will have on Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens and our municipalities for that matter.

While the NDP appears to be working to establish a pathetic 1% increase for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients your blogger’s easily boggled mind is sidetracked by the fact that Horwath and Company have apparently shown no interest in an increase for Ontario Works (OW) recipients.

A long term solution would be to establish evidence based social assistance rates.  Having rates attached to the real cost of living just makes sense.

I’ve written about this before and Craig Foye, a staff lawyer at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, has done considerable work to make this idea a reality (see Fact Sheet #1 at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/did-you-know.cfm)

In the meantime we should worry about other matters in the budget that will impact our most vulnerable citizens and our municipalities.

A case in point is the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB).

CSUMB is a mandatory benefit provided to eligible recipients up to a maximum in a 24 month period. The CSUMB assists in establishing a new principal residence, to prevent eviction or to prevent the discontinuance of utilities or heating in an existing residence.  CSUMB may also be issued where there is a threat to the health or welfare of a recipient or a member of the benefit unit in a non-start up situation.  There is currently no cap on funding for this crucial benefit.

Right now the amount of the CSUMB payable is up to a maximum of $1,500 for recipients with one or more dependent children in a 24-month period; or up to a maximum of $799 where there are no dependent children in a 24-month period. 

But the budget brought forward on March 27th calls for the transfer of the CSUMB to the Consolidated Housing and Homelessness Program.  That program is run by municipal government.  Locally that government is the Region of Halton.

This has been called a transfer.  It is not.  The provincial government would only be sending along 50% of its share of the CSUMB funding.   No one knows what the program will look like. 

What is known from the budget document is there will be a limited and lesser amount of funding spread over a greater number of applicants.  

How will that work for municipalities?  Will they step to the plate with more dollars for their vulnerable citizens?  Don’t count on it?

The consequences for individuals and families in receipt of provincial social assistance will be serious.  The proposed changes should be stopped.