Council Update: June 2015

PW4.1 - The Gardiner Expressway

The issue of what to do with the Gardiner Expressway is coming to the June 10 and 11 City Council meeting.  After listening to experts such as Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, Former-Chief City Planner Paul Bedford, and Professor Richard Florida, reading the City’s reports, and listening to the residents of my ward, I am confident in my decision.  I will be voting to take down the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, from Jarvis Street to the Don Valley Parkway. 

There were three main issues that both residents and I saw when examining this issue: budget, transportation, and opening our waterfront.  In all cases I believe that removing the Gardiner is the right thing to do for our City.

Budget

Keeping the Gardiner up is very expensive. It would end up costing twice the amount as taking it down, costing the City an extra $500 million. As we have seen through this year’s budget process, money is still tight at City Hall. Half a billion dollars could pay for the desperately needed Waterfront LRT, or half the repairs to Toronto Community Housing. As I have heard loud and clear from the residents of Ward 13, we are already paying too much for the Scarborough Subway extension for the next thirty years. I cannot support more overspending on transit infrastructure.

Transit

The largest issue I heard from residents in favour of the hybrid model was concerns that the removal would have negative impacts on entering and leaving the downtown core, and limit access to the Don Valley Parkway. The section being proposed for removal is only 1.7 km long and is the least used area. Replacing it with an eight lane boulevard will have minimal impacts on travel time. Cities including San Francisco, Portland and Washington DC, have all removed their elevated highways and in every case traffic continues to flow.

Keeping the Gardiner up is not a method to tackle congestion. If that is our goal, we should spend money on transportation that efficiently reduces congestion and travel times, which can be done at an equal or lesser cost.

Opening Our Waterfront

Access to our waterfront is a paramount issue for many in the City.  We have seen the success of Waterfront Toronto in recent years, with items such as Sugar Beach and the WaveDeck opening our waterfront to residents and visitors alike. Through the hybrid model, our eastern access to both the Waterfront and the Portlands would be blocked by the elevated Gardiner and its on ramps. By transforming this land into an eight lane Boulevard similar to University Avenue, we would allow for quick travel for vehicles, while having lights and a substantial, green median to allow pedestrians to cross.  As part of this land is owned by the City, we can create dynamic and diverse new communities, while removing the barriers the current elevated Gardiner has created.

The environmental impacts are also of paramount concern.  As Vice-Chair of the Board of Health, I have heard that full removal of the east Gardiner is the best option when looking at the Environmental Assessment through a Public Health lens. Removing the Gardiner will allow us to build our City, not just for today, but for a century to come.

Cities around the world, from New York to Seoul, have decided to remove their downtown elevated expressways.  It is now Toronto’s time.  I believe as Councillors, we must build a better City than we had when we were elected, and for that reason, I will be voting to remove the eastern section of the Gardiner.

Council Update: March 2015

PG2.8 - Heritage Conservation Districts

I am thrilled to share that Council adopted recommendations concerning the study of heritage conservation districts, which included the start of the consultation for the Baby Point and Bloor West Village in 2016.  Our community has worked very hard to get to this point, and it is wonderful to see the validation from the City. 

MM5.15 - Protecting Toronto’s drinking water

I was honoured to second Councillor Layton’s motion concerning oil pipelines that pass through the northern part of Toronto, including across two major watercourses. Council agreed to ask Enbridge to install automatic shutoff valves in its Line 9B pipeline on either side of the two watercourses as a way to limit the amount of oil that could enter and contaminate the waters should a pipeline break/spill occur. The two watercourses flow into Lake Ontario, from which Toronto draws its drinking water.

EX 4.4 - Schools as community assets

Council directed the City-School Boards Advisory Committee to consult with the Toronto school boards and the Province on the projected closure of some local schools with low enrolment. Council asked that the plan for the school properties must take into consideration the value of schools as community assets such as sports fields, playgrounds, swimming pools, and childcare facilities, and report on how we can retain public ownership of former school properties.  As a member of the City-School Boards Advisory Committee I look forward to working on this to help keep our communities vibrant.

EX4.16 - Expanded gaming at Woodbine Racetrack

I agreed with Council to authorize the City Manager to conduct public consultations on the matter of expanded gaming at Woodbine Racetrack. Following last terms debate primarily focused on the downtown casino, residents of Ward 13 told me they were equally divided regarding gambling at Woodbine.  This consultation will allow staff to report back on technical requirements such as the number of slot machines and gaming tables, as well as on the merits and risks of expanded gaming. The City will also be looking into the public health impacts and a transit strategy for the area.

PE2.5 - Extending the outdoor skating season

Council directed the Parks, Forestry and Recreation division to include a contingency to extend the outdoor skating season if weather permits. For the past two years the City has had to look for alternative funding as the winter remains cold going into March.  This will ensure that residents know that if cold weather continues, our outdoor rinks will remain open.

CC5.11 - Taxicab licensing

Council considered a report about a court decision regarding the validity of taxicab regulations enacted last year that created a new taxicab licence class called the Toronto Taxicab Licence. The court decision upheld the validity of the new licence but found that the deadline for converting current licences to the new licence was invalid. Council agreed not appeal the court decision.

Council Update: Budget 2015

After a two month process, the 2015 City of Toronto Budget passed with a 42 to 1 vote. In general, I am pleased with some of the changes we have made since the budget process started. We were able to include important initiatives including a new focus on the health impacts of climate change, increased funding to the City's tree canopy program, the creation of the City's first LGBTQ youth shelter, and new solid waste rate levels making those who create the most garbage pay. The budget also included investments in transit, restoring past service cuts and exploring ordering 60 new streetcars to ensure that wait times do not increase once the new fleet hits the streets.

I am also thrilled to share that the two motions I brought forward also passed. First, I brought forward a motion that restored $200,000 to the security guard budget of the Toronto Public Library. As a member of the Library Board, I heard first hand the concerns from staff this proposed reduction would have caused. By returning these funds to the library, staff are able to ensure that the minimum security needs of our branches are met.

My second motion requested that the City Treasurer examine the property tax increase, deferral and cancellation programs to determine the most appropriate income levels for eligibility and whether or not the levels should be indexed. We have not seen a consistency on the city's definition of income levels, which can have the greatest impact on low-income residents. Through reviewing this structure, as part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the City should have a consistent and fair system moving forward.

One area of great concern during the budget process was the proposed removal of Heritage staff. This would have had a devastating effects on the proposed heritage conservation districts in our ward. With the help of all the residents who wrote to the Executive Committee, we were able to save eight Planning staff, including four Heritage staff, from being cut from the 2015 Budget. I was inspired by the efforts of Ward 13 residents, who took time to write to the Executive Committee about the importance of City Planning. If the cuts had gone through, Heritage Conservation District studies and City-wide and Ward-specific Planning studies would have been delayed years at a time when our city is undergoing rapid growth.

While many programs where protected, I still have concerns over this budget, primarily focussing on how we are spending tomorrow's money today. The budget pressures that the City faces needs to be examined and we must take an honest, realistic approach to funding the services Torontonians expect. Next year we are going to face significant pressures and 2% cuts across the board. Over the last four years I have heard from residents that we do not want to see our libraries closed, recreational programs cut, childcare spaces lost, and service standards reduced. As we move towards the 2016 budget I support looking at alternative revenue sources to ensure our tax rate covers the cost of operating these services that Torontonians find so important.

Council Update: February 2015

IA3.1-3.5 – Administrative Inquires on the Scarborough Subway Extension and the Scarborough LRT

In January of this year, Councillor Josh Matlow submitted five Administrative Inquires to the City Clerk into the costs associated with the construction, operating, and maintenance of both the Scarborough LRT and the Scarborough Subway Extension, as well as potential ridership.  While the City Manager answered the inquiry with the current information available, Councillor Matlow requested three parts of his inquiry be sent to the Executive Committee for an additional input and clarification:

1)     the operating and capital maintenance costs for the Scarborough Subway Extension

2)     the discrepancy between the number of trains and projected ridership

3)     the City's inflated ridership projections for the Bloor-Danforth Subway Extension

I voted in favour of Councillor Matlow's requests as I agree with him that reviewing the full scope of the project, and the impact it will have on the City's budget should be a basic part of how Council considers public policy.  As the Scarborough Subway Expansion will be increasing our property-taxes annually for the next 29 years, I think it is imperative we have all the information available.  I am disappointed to share these motions lost by one vote.

OM3.1 - Suicide Prevention in Toronto (TTC Platform Edge Doors) 

As a member of the Board of Health, I have seen the debate first hand regarding the use platform edge doors at subway stations, and the impact they have on suicide prevention. On the Council floor, I was able to question TTC staff were we learned that installing platform edge doors would allow for more trains on the line, and an increased capacity of riders.  I voted with Council to have the TTC consider platform edge doors as the automatic train controls come into effect in the next ten years.  We also requested that new station construction include platform edge doors, or other means for restricting unauthorized access to the tracks.

MM3.12 – Request of the Province to amend its utilization assessments to consider TDSB schools as community hubs

I was happy to support a successful motion to ask that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and provincial government reserve consideration of selling or closing any school properties that are used as community hubs, have the potential for significant growth, or are the only park lands in a neighbourhood.  It was also requested that each school is individually examined for any unique roles it plays before being closed or sold.  While the TDSB and Ontario Government look to schools as daytime educational facilities, they can play a much larger role in our community, whether it is for adult education, child care, or community events.  Schools also permit their playing fields, swimming pools and gymnasiums, filling a void in public recreation facilities.  When these buildings are sold they are gone forever, and can create for a devastating loss in the community.  Through this request the City is hoping to work with the TDSB and Ontario Government to ensure our community's public spaces are protected.