OPINION: Grow “Up” and Grow “Out”

As a growing city, we have had several community dialogues over the years to address the question “how do we grow responsibly?”   Guelph was well ahead of its time when we initiated SmartGuelph before the Province had legislated Places to Grow or the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan regulations. In 2009, Council approved a made-in-Guelph growth plan — remember Envision Guelph? Residents told us they would rather grow “up” than “out” and our latest Official Plan incorporates that vision. New information about the capital, operating and environmental costs of sprawl illustrates why this was an excellent direction for Guelph. Urban vs Suburban Here is more detailed information explaining why higher density urban development is good for us. Demand for single family residential development in Guelph is a fact of life.   High density development cannot be the only form of residential growth in our city.  Striking the right balance is tricky, and is more complex that simply supply and demand.  Supply and demand variables change over time and differ between demographic groups.   Perhaps the solution is overhauling the municipal taxation system to accurately reflect the true cost of servicing urban and suburban development?  Or not.  Perhaps using property assessment value to calculate municipal taxes is no longer a workable system at all, and we should consider using an income-based system like most European cities? What do you think? LP

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OPINION: City Streets for People?

Public “rights of way” existed long before the automobile. It’s Heritage Week in Ontario and I have been looking at old photos of Guelph. Here’s one of many that intrigued me from days gone by.

C6-0-0-0-0-802_STGeorgesSquare

This, and many other photos, depict pedestrians, carts, horses, cyclists and streetcars sharing the streets.  No right angles, fluid and unencumbered.  Yes, I know that times have changed.  Our roads are paved, we drive cars, traffic volume and speeds have increased.  We manage traffic through lights, signals and intersections.    After all, roads are just for cars.  Or are they?

Councillor Allt recently posted a link to an interesting article about the History of Jaywalking.   Current regulations are the legacy of a very deliberate lobby effort by the automobile industry to turn our public spaces into car alleys.  Citizens fought this effort and mass protests tried to reclaim streets for people first, cars second.   The offence of jaywalking was designed to punish conscious acts of defiance.    Yes, Guelph Police still enforce on occasion.

Today, our conversations about active transportation (cycling and walking) focus on getting people off the roads.   Safety is the primary reason.  Let’s face it, any interaction between a car and pedestrian/cyclist usually ends badly for the latter, regardless of who is at fault.   Perhaps we need to shift the conversation back to why we built roads in the first place – for people to get from point A to point B.   City Council recently lowered speed limits around school zones, and there is further conversation to be had about lowering all speed limits on residential streets.   These actions recognize that multiple users must be considered in how we govern our roadways, that they are public spaces, for everyone.

Is it time for the City of Guelph to repeal our jaywalking by-law?  It would be a first step in a cultural shift towards walkable city building.   Perhaps a starting point would be to allow public all-access on all non-arterial roadways, including downtown side streets (Cork, Douglas, etc.).

I welcome the discussion.

Photo Credit: Guelph Public Library Archives (C6-0-0-0-0-802) St. George’s Square

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NEWS RELEASE: Interim Solution Allows South End Rink to Continue

News Release from CAO Ann Pappert:

An update from the CAO on the skating rink in Pine Ridge

Guelph, ON, January 30, 2015 – We said yesterday that we’re interested in working with the residents of Pine Ridge on a mutually satisfactory solution with respect to what has become a well-used neighbourhood rink.

Our challenge is to work with residents to balance a number of competing interests. In this case we need to balance the desire for community recreation with the right to peaceful enjoyment of private property; liability issues and the safeguarding of the environment.

While the City works through these matters we will allow Pine Ridge residents to continue to use the rink they’ve built until a significant thaw. They can use the rink from sun-up to sun-down, without music, lights or electrical hook ups and at their own risk, thereby limiting the impact on some residents’ enjoyment of their adjoining property.

This interim solution doesn’t reflect a final decision, but it gives the City some short-term assurance while allowing residents of Pine Ridge to continue to enjoy their rink.

Next week, senior City staff will work with Pine Ridge residents to discuss this interim solution and longer-term options.

Outdoor rinks are wonderful neighbourhood assets. The City believes wholeheartedly in their benefits which is why we support neighbourhood groups working with the City, through a number of in-kind supports, in building their own rinks.

But rinks need to be safe. And they need to respect the rights of every resident in the neighbourhood. And, finally, they can’t compromise natural areas or the infrastructure built to protect those natural areas. That infrastructure, after all, is funded by every resident through their property taxes and the City is obliged to look after that investment.

The City looks forward to next week’s conversations. We’ll keep you apprised of how they go.

For more information

Ann Pappert
Chief Administrative Officer
City of Guelph
519-822-1260 extension 2221
ann.pappert@guelph.ca

Posted in City Issues, Parks and Natural Spaces | Leave a comment

OPINION: Full-time or Part-Time Councillors?

The following article was recently published in the Guelph Mercury:  Opinions Differ on Ward Boundaries, Work Status of Councillors.   Guelph Citizen also recently weighed in with this article — Councillors deserves a raise.  A big raise. 

It’s an interesting and timely discussion on the heels of a recent election, especially as we head into another round of budget deliberations.

LEANNE’S OPINION:   Democracy Needs Diversity of Voices

I think we can all agree that the role of city councillor has morphed over the years as the complexity of leading a thriving twenty-first century city has evolved.  Let’s have a look at the history of elected representation in our city…

From 1851 (when the Town of Guelph was officially constituted) to 1856, Guelph consisted of four elected at-large councillors and one Reeve.  From 1856 until 1879, there were four wards (North, South, East and West) with three councillors per ward (12) and a Mayor.  After achieving “City of Guelph” status (population threshold of 10,000), the city was divided into six wards — St. Patrick (1), St. George (2), St. John (3), St. David (4), St. Andrew (5) and St. James (6) — with three councillors per ward.  Yes, that is 18 councillors!   This continued until well into the twentieth century.  Councillors way back then did not make planning decisions, battle climate change, and the city boundaries were much, much smaller.

Looking through the list of councillors over the last 100 years (from Leo Johnson’s book The History of Guelph) I recognize many of the names (not because I knew any of them personally of course) because so many of them were prominent local businessmen, developers, philanthropists, bankers and lawyers.  Self-interest drips from the list of names — Gow, Stevenson, Goldie, Sleeman, Macdonald, Mitchell and many more.

Fast forward to 2015.  It has been suggested that it is time for councillors to become full-time “career” positions.  I respectfully disagree.   Here’s why:

1.  Diversity:   Twelve part-time councillors represent a wide cross-section of our community demographic — age, gender, education, expertise — and provide a diversity of experiences and perspectives.  The professional background of each councillor strengthens the quality of decision-making.  The make-up of the current council means that decisions are evaluated through the collective lens of an artist, banker, referee, engineer, teacher, landscape architect, historian, environmental scientist, certified mediator, human resource professional, real estate agent and insurance broker.  Diversity of perspective makes for better decisions.   Reducing the councillor position to a “career” also reduces the diversity of the pool of potential candidates to those who are either retired, independently wealthy or unemployed. 

2.  Democracy:   Participatory democracy is healthier when our citizens have access to their elected representatives.  Having fewer councillors working full-time hours doesn’t address access to elected representatives.  The math is the same — six full-timers or 12 half-timers — which ever way you look at it.  Access is reduced to a smaller number of representatives.

3.  Function:   City councillor is not a ‘career’.  To treat it as such does not serve the interests of the individual councillor or the community.  A city councillor is a member of a Board of Directors, which changes every four years.  There is no objective performance appraisal process, and a career politician is at risk of losing their job every four years.   What would the qualifications of a “career councillor” be?  City planning and zoning, budgeting, arts, culture, heritage, law, water, wastewater, engingeering, recreation management, parks and forestry, infrastructure, human resources, public works, traffic, and so on?   Councillors should never micro-manage staff who have professional qualifications in their area of expertise.  The qualifications of a councillor should focus on leadership, decision-making, communication, policy analysis and citizen engagement. 

4.  Efficiency:   Full-time councillors can’t be everywhere.  Meetings are generally held in the evening so that the public can participate in local government.   The bulk of constituency work, events and neighbourhood outreach takes place outside standard office hours.  The reason for that is simple:  because that’s when our citizens are available outside their own work hours.  Twelve part-time councillors can balance workload and family needs by sharing constituency work in their respective wards.  Decisions would not be made any faster with a smaller full-time council.  Meeting schedules, agendas, staff reports, and passing of by-laws are not correlated to council size, but of work capacity within City Hall and due public process. 

5.  Cost:   I do not anticipate any cost savings if we move to a full-time career councillor position.  In fact, I predict higher costs.  Twelve part-time councillors (approx $33K per year), if reduced to 6-8 councillors at a much higher wage (to attract qualified candidates) would also need office space, administrative support, office budgets, and a higher level of benefits, such as paying into the OMERS pension plan.   Only three Ontario municipalities have full-time councillors — Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton — which are also the three largest cities in the province. 

One commentator in the Mercury article suggested that a part-time councillor cannot possibly do justice to both jobs when they hold down other employment.  I strongly disagree.   There are many citizens in our community who are members of service clubs (ie. Rotary), business organizations (ie. Chamber of Commerce), non-profits ((ie. Habitat for Humanity), youth organizations (ie. Scouts, Minor Hockey) who contribute significant hours to these organizations, and also hold down full-time jobs.  Excellent time management is essential to successfully balancing one’s life, whether you are a city councillor, a working mom or an active, engaged resident.   Part of my decision to run for elected office involved doing a ‘time audit’ to see whether I could manage the time commitment.  Giving up other commitments (school councils, neighbourhood association and other local boards) and having family support was part of my decision to commit to the city councillor role.  Each individual councillor is very different.

On a personal note, I believe working full-time makes me a better city councillor, and vice versa.  A significant part of Ward 5 encompasses the University of Guelph and OMAFRA/Research Park.  I interact with students, staff, faculty and neighbours regularly in both roles.  A well-rounded perspective helps me to be more inclusive and make better decisions in both positions.  This is not the same as a pecuniary conflict of interest.  If it was, every single councillor would be in conflict of interest if an agenda item were to overlap with their personal life, whether it be enhancement of our bicycle or trail  network, a local park improvement or downtown investment.

So what is the solution?

Based on my eight years experience as a city councillor, I estimate that one third to half of my workload is answering constituent calls and emails after City Hall has closed.  For the most part, to put it bluntly, the calls/emails are actually requests for service or information.    All I can (or should) do is to pass these requests over to the appropriate city staff or department for response.  This is not ‘passing the buck’ — it is following due process.  There is a perception that if you send your service request through a city councillor, you will get faster service.  This is false.  Once forwarded from a city councillor, a service request is processed as a work order with the same priority as a request that comes through Service Guelph or directly to the appropriate department.  In fact, in most cases, both city councillors are doing the same thing which further burdens city staff responding to the same issue twice.  The remaining emails/calls are from citizens passing along their input, information, ideas and experiences — good and bad — and I am happy to hear and respond to this input as part of my role as a city councillor.

In order to lighten the workload of city councillors, so that they can focus on their core responsibilities, there are three actions that I believe will have significant positive impact on supporting part-time councillors:

1.  Hire one full-time Council Constituency Assistant.   This individual could significantly reduce the workload of councillors by dealing with constituency inquiries, information requests, and scheduling of councillor schedules.   This would also save staff time in other departments responding to multiple service requests originating from the same source.  A Constituency Assistant could also track trends and identify gaps in communication, which could improve overall efficiency of City Hall customer service.  In addition, timeliness of response could be faster because inquiries would be handled during business hours.

2.  Improved communication and education:  City Hall has multiple routes for customer service – email, phone, social media.  The recent addition of the web portal How Can We Help You? was designed for residents to initiate their own work orders, and to receive immediate confirmation and follow up when the work is complete.  For direct contact, we have created email addresses — waste@guelph.ca, operations@guelph.ca, water@guelph.ca, bylaw@guelph.ca, parking@guelph.ca and so on — to make it easier for the public to reach the department they need.    We need to do a better job of getting this information out to the community.

3.   Balance ward boundaries and ward councillor roles:  Ward boundaries should be reviewed periodically to balance political representation by population.  This was last done in 2005 and will occur again during this term of council.   Rather than creating smaller wards (7 or 8) with one councillor each, another idea would be for each of the two elected councillors to divvy up the workload by acting as the ‘official’ liaison for different neighbourhoods (while always acting as back-up for each other).   I recall doing this when I was a school board trustee, where each of the two trustees for the same ward was assigned to act as liaison for a group of specific schools.

There may come a time when Guelph is ready for full-time councillors.  In my opinion, we are not there yet. Not even close.

LP

Posted in City Issues | 2 Comments

FAQ: What is the Threshold for Snow Ploughing on Residential Streets?

QUESTION:  What is the threshold for the amount of snowfall to trigger ploughing on residential streets?

ANSWER:  The Council-approved policy to trigger ploughing on residential streets is 10 cm (cumulative).  Our Public Works staff monitor snowfall throughout the city, but some areas obviously are harder hit than others.  If you are experiencing difficulty driving on your street, the best way to request service from our Public Works team is to fill out a work order using the How Can We Help You? customer service portal.

Link here  How Can We Help You?

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Zoning Application for 171 Kortright Road West (former St. Matthias Church) Available Online

The Zoning By-law amendment application for 171 Kortright Road West (the former St. Matthias Anglican Church) on the corner of Kortright Road West and Edinburgh Road South was deemed complete on December 22, 2014 and is now available to for viewing on the City of Guelph website under “Active Development Files”.

LINK TO APPLICATION HERE

Kortright_171_IMAGE

Above image taken from GSP Group/HIP Developments Urban Design Brief for Solstice III 

Planning staff have not yet confirmed the exact date that this application will come before Council for the first meeting under the Planning Act, but anticipate late winter/early spring it will appear on Council’s planning agenda.

Once a date has been confirmed for this application to come before Council, a notice will be circulated to all property owners within 120 m of the site.  We will also post a copy of the notice here on the Ward 5 website.  At that time, correspondence and requests for public delegations can be submitted to the City Clerk at clerks@guelph.ca.

Questions about the application can be directed to City Planner Michael Witmer at michael.witmer@guelph.ca.

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OPINION: Tough Decisions on Taxes Should Be Made by Council, Not Staff

The Guelph Tribune asked members of Council their thoughts on Mayor Guthrie’s upcoming notice of motion re: tax rate increase at inflation or less.

Read the article here.

An interesting side note:  Between November 2013 and November 2014, the Consumer Price Index in Ontario was 2.4%.*  Last year’s (2014) tax rate increase in the City of Guelph was 2.38%.  

* Source:  Statistics Canada

Posted in Finance/Budget | Leave a comment