The London Plan – Initial Thoughts

Standard

I just finished reading The London Plan last night. It’s a good read, albeit much longer than I anticipated. I know the rationale for the length (it’s explained in the document), but it does make parsing the what, why, and how a bit more difficult. The video provides the highlights on precisely why The London Plan promotes what it does, and is worth watching. These are the things I jotted down as I went through the plan.

Likes

  • Focus on intensification — continuing to grow outwards is going to cost every citizen far more money in property taxes and user fees; it’s unsustainable.
  • Focus on more cost effective development (from a servicing perspective) — hybrid or compact growth model must be the focus
    • This does not, however, mean that new suburbs and single-detached homes will not be built. It means that a smaller percentage will be built than normal, and the focus will be on infill, intensification, and redevelopment of existing sites and built-up areas.
  • “Emphasis on neighbourhoods” — direct quote from the plan
  • Encouraging street grids; fewer courts and crescents, both of which greatly hinder efficient traffic flows
  • “Complete” neighbourhoods — the ability to age in place, have necessary amenities in your neighbourhood, etc.
  • Primary Transit Areas
  • “Growth pays for growth”
    • That means ensuring development charges actually cover the City’s costs of those developments; something the current City Council can’t seem to come to grips with.
  • Applications are only approved if they’re consistent with the Official Plan (this is probably true now).
  • Mandated(?) secure bike parking for multi-unit residential, commercial, institutional, retail, and recreational buildings.
  • Emphasis underground and structured parking, instead of surface parking.
  • Structured parking would be enhanced to look nice through the use of architecture, screens, etc.
  • Downtown transit hub to help more easily connect riders – Kitchener has a very good model for this.
  • Park and ride system; a boon for visitors to the City, and also for commuters. This would be my preferred method for getting around London.
  • Community housing strategy – a big win to help ensure an ample stock of affordable housing.
  • Greenhouses in civic gardens
    • Why not install these in local parks? Another way to meet neighbours.

Dislikes

  • No mention of building out high speed network infrastructure – The London Plan still leaves this completely in hands of the private sector, and that has not worked for London thus far. There are large swaths of the City where you cannot obtain fast, reliable, high speed Internet access. Internet connectivity is now the backbone for many businesses. It is now a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
  • There is nothing in The London Plan about reducing visual noise pollution; signs, signs, everywhere signs! I feel London needs a São Paulo, Brazil-like approach to reduce visual noise pollution and help beautify the city.

Questions

  • Did Toronto’s City Structure, or Official, Plan spur all the new condos downtown? If not, what did? Toronto’s condo market has been booming for several years now, and London is going to need something like this boom to build up the areas around the proposed rapid transit routes.
  • Point #933; home occupation – does this mean telecommuting 100% of the time (a.k.a. work-from-home arrangement like mine) won’t be allowed?

If The London Plan is executed through to completion by 2035, I think London and the region stand to benefit in a huge way. Property taxes will stay lower thanks to reduced servicing costs (you will actually get more for less), an even more cost-effective transit system with more ridership, good investment in your communities/neighbourhoods, and a plan/vision that will attract businesses and new residents alike. Now you need to elect the people that will ensure it starts getting executed in October.

Bill C-23, the “Fair Elections Act”

Standard

Anyone that is not a blind partisan Conservative can recognize quickly that bill C-23, dubbed the “Fair Elections Act” by Minister Pierre Poilievre, is anything but fair. I called my MP, Mr. Bev Shipley, several weeks ago to discuss my concerns. I explained that while I felt the bill had some redeeming qualities, overall it is deeply flawed and will only serve to further cement the Conservative Party’s ability to win additional elections.

I was able to bring up three points/questions during the call, to which Mr. Shipley repeated the same Conservative Party talking points being touted by everyone else that currently forms government. It was actually rather sad. My representative in Ottawa didn’t listen to my concerns. Instead he repeated the same tired talking points I’d already heard on TV and radio from other Conservative MPs.

I took to email last week to send Mr. Shipley the links to a five-part series by The Globe & Mail on just how poor of a job bill C-23 would in fact do at making elections more fair. You can read them here for yourself: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Additionally Press Progress has collected some anecdotes from Mr. Mayrand, dozens of electoral law experts, and even some foreign election/democracy experts. It doesn’t help that Mr. Poilievre constantly misrepresents the Neufeld report that allegedly supports many of the changes the bill attempts to make. I encourage you to read their concerns.

And just this week my friend Abe Oudshoorn was called to testify in front of the committee currently discussing bill C-23. He provided the vantage point of someone working with homeless citizens on how bill C-23 would affect homeless citizens’ voting abilities. The short version: it makes a hard situation even worse. The full video is worth watching, and also includes some advocates from Burnaby, BC who provide their points of view and experiences poignantly.

Counterpoint to Paul Van Meerbergen’s “Inside London” Interview

Standard

A little while ago London Ward 10 Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen was interviewed on Inside London regarding the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation into the social gathering/illegal meeting at Billy T’s.

If you watch the interview (it’s only 5 minutes), you’ll see he dances around the topic a bit in order to once again point out all of his issues with the Ombudsman’s office. Why? He clearly has a bone to pick with how Mr. Marin does business, and that’s fine. I feel like Mr. Marin steps over the line occasionally as well, but overall he clearly takes his job very seriously and approaches it with a passion many would envy.

Coun. Van Meerbergen pointed out in the interview that this is the third time the Ombudsman has come to London in recent years. He’s right, but he must remember that this is at the behest of citizens inputting complaints and asking the Ombudsman to get involved.

He said he felt like the Councillors at Billy T’s were being told by “left-wing” councillors that if it’s a social gathering you shouldn’t need lawyers, and then said that the Councillors were wrongfully accused.

First, it was primarily members of the public who made the complaints. And many, many members of the public have also stated the same opinion regarding the need for lawyers; the only thing Coun. Van Meerbergen and the other Councillors involved could have been fined or jailed for was lying. Sadly it became clear that that is exactly what several Councillors did during the first round of interviews, which made it necessary for the Ombudsman’s team to come back for a second round of interviews and insist that Councillors testify under oath. We see that in the statements that came out of this where many conflicting answers were provided to the Ombudsman’s team about what was discussed, who was there, how the “gathering” came about, and so on.

Coun. Van Meerbergen clarifies that it’s not Mr. Marin who came to London to conduct the interviews, but his staff. Well no kidding. Does the Councillor really expect the Ombudsman himself to conduct all the interviews? There are thousands of complaints every year, hundreds a day recently solely regarding the investigation into Hydro One’s billing problems. Surely Mr. Marin can’t conduct the interviews himself.

Coun. Van Meerbergen seems to be flabbergasted the investigation took 8 months! 8 months! Of course sir, for a few reasons:

  • This is partially due to the inconsistencies provided during the first round of interviews, which led to a second set of interviews.
  • There are other complaints being investigated at any given time. Hundreds, perhaps thousands. They all require attention.
  • London City Council has taken years to make decisions regarding seemingly simple issues. And he takes issue with a proper investigation taking 8 months? Hmm…

Coun. Van Meerbergern felt this was a witch hunt. I assure you sure, there was no witch hunt. Just citizens of your city and the surrounding area wanting to ensure Councillors and the Mayor were acting in accordance with the law. Many of us are now on high alert given this council’s behaviour since taking office in 2011.

Coun. Van Meerbergen explains that the two lawyers hired (TWO!) helped write the municipal act, that they are experts, and that they found no meeting took place.

Interesting, because we can all find cases of murderers that are convicted of their crimes who had lawyers urge them to plead not guilty and then go to trial. Your lawyer is there to provide you with the best defence possible. Did London City Council expect to pay $97,000 for two lawyers who were going to tell you that you were wrong? Also, Prof. Andrew Sancton wasn’t there and didn’t conduct the interviews, so why you care about his opinion is beyond me.

Coun. Van Meerbergen then goes on to discuss the opportunity cost, and ask the rhetorical question about what cases didn’t get investigated. Unfortunately it sounds like he doesn’t know what the Ombudsman does. All cases that the Ombudsman’s Office determines warrants an investigation is, in fact, investigated based on the number of complaints and initial findings. The Billy T’s situation doesn’t cause other complaints to get thrown aside simply because it occurred.

So there you have it. Rebuttals and answers to Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen’s questions and issues with the Billy T’s investigation. If he doesn’t like it, perhaps he should ensure that he is beyond reproach while in office? It’s what many citizens expect from the representatives at Council anyway.

Big Idea: Homeless Rehab Centre

Standard

What this is:

This is an initiative to end homelessness in London, Ontario. Full stop. A just society does not allow its citizens to spend nights outside, cold, hungry, and lacking access to basic necessities (unless a citizen chooses to live this way). This is an initiative that we see us house the homeless, provide them the assistance they need to get back on their feet, and have them assume responsibility for their futures all at the same time. Support and empowerment hand-in-hand.

What this is not:

This is not an initiative designed to segregate London’s homeless population. Instead the basic premise is that they should not have to travel far to access the help they need to get back on their feet and become fully participating and contributing citizens in society.

The following is an draft sketch/plan using the former Regional Mental Health Care London (a.k.a. London Psychiatric Hospital/LPH) grounds as its basis. Empty public schools no longer required by the Thames Valley District School Board or London District Catholic School board should also be considered, especially for a pilot.

The Homeless Rehab Centre

  • All homeless looking for permanent shelter would find it at the Homeless Rehab Centre (HRC)
  • A permanent address would allow residents to receive mail, obtain an Ontario health card, obtain an Ontario driver’s license or Ontario photo card, etc.
  • One gender would be housed in what I’m calling the Northern Quad
  • The other gender would be housed in the Southern Quad
  • Central building would house:
    • Administration
    • Kitchen
    • Cafeteria
    • Social Workers (Developmental Service Works, Personal Service Works, Social Workers, etc.)
    • Security (minimal, purely for peacekeeping)
    • Training/Classrooms
  • East Building
    • Greenhouse
    • Agricultural Training
  • Medical Exam Building
    • Medical staff (Registered Nurses, Registered Nurse Practitioners, General Practitioner [family doctor])
    • Financial Advisor

Outdoor/Indoor Sports Needs

  • Horseshoe Pit
  • Basketball Court
  • Baseball Diamond
  • Gym Equipment (weights and cardiovascular machines)
  • Ball Hockey
  • Volleyball
  • Dodge Ball

The quads would be renovated so that each resident has their own micro-apartment based on the Freedom Room concept with a few small changes to add a TV and window with black-out blinds/curtains. More about the Freedom Room here.

Basic needs would be provided day one using Homes First’s Personal Needs Kit and Home Starter Kit as a template (minus the pots and pans).

The idea, as stated, is to house the homeless. While they live at the HRC they will be expected to pitch in by cooking meals (after a bit of training/lessons), cleaning, running activities, etc. I feel that self-accountability and responsibility has to be a part of this rehab initiative, as well as providing residents with elements of control over their daily activities.

Residents would be allowed to stay free while they are unemployed. After they have obtained employment, they would work with the on-site financial advisor to address past financial issues they still need to handle, and also determine how much rent they could now afford to pay towards the HRC. In this way the HRC would start building towards a self-sustainable funding model.

Eventually, once the person has a handle on their finances and a high enough gross income to afford more rent, they would be provided an additional 90 days at the HRC before being moved into more traditional affordable housing. Again this would provide a measure of self-accountability and responsibility, while still providing them with access to the HRC’s resources (social workers, health care, financial advisor, etc.) for another 6 months to 1 year.

I don’t yet have cost estimates put together because I have yet to gather some key metrics, including:

  • The number of homeless people in London
  • Number of staff that would be required
  • Average salaries for those staff

One way to help off-set some of these costs would be to ask existing organizations to either move to, or open satellite locations at, the HRC. Organizations like London Intercommunity Health Centre could lease space and provide health services, and/or a nurse practitioner-led clinic could do the same. A financial advisor could provide fee-for-service, volunteer their time, bank on commissions from investments and insurance sold to HRC residents, or even have their salary paid in full by a participating financial institution (Libro Credit Union? MainStreet Credit Union?). There would also be room for other services and stores to be located on the property, like a convenience store, ATM, vending machines, and so on. These would all be revenue generating.

The greenhouse I envision on the east side of the property, along with additional tilled land, would help offset food costs. Any crops grown could either be used on-site, or could instead be sold at a local farmers market, generating additional revenue and providing HRC residents with hands-on retail/sales experience that could, hopefully, lead to employment later.

The types of skills that could be taught at HRC are numerous, and anything that can be taught should be. It would be possible to teach computer operation, cooking, agricultural, retail, business, and so on.

I have a list of people to contact to get additional feedback from on what would be needed, how this could be funded, and whether or not it’s doable. So far the feedback I’ve received is that this is worth pursuing, so I’m putting this out there now in order to see what type of traction it can attain. I’m happy to work with existing groups that are currently putting something similar together, and will continue to edit this as I put more time and effort into it.

Questions I need to get answered at this point:

  • How would land/a building be acquired?
  • What sort of capital costs would be incurred?
  • What sort of operating costs would be incurred?
  • Can the HRC be made monetarily self-sustainable?

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Please leave a comment below if you have any questions, comments, or anything else to add.

Closed Meeting Investigations in Middlesex Centre

Standard

It recently came to my attention, after reviewing the Ontario Ombudsman’s website, that Middlesex Centre was not using the Ombudsman, or even the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s Local Authority Services, to provide closed meeting investigation services. Instead, based on the Ombudsman’s list, this service was contracted out to a gentlemen named John Maddox. I don’t know Mr. Maddox, but I wanted to find out more details around the service he provided and how much he had been paid to do so.

I went to Middlesex Centre’s website to try and gather this information, only to find that there were not any itemized budget lines referencing Mr. Maddox or closed meeting investigations. So I found what I thought to be the names of the best people to contact and sent off an email!

January 9, 2014

Hello Ms. Smibert and Mr. Watterton,

I’m contacting you as a resident of Kilworth in regards to Middlesex Centre’s agreement with John Maddox. It is my understanding that Mr. Maddox is Middlesex Centre’s closed-meeting investigator, and perhaps provides other services as well since Middlesex Centre has opted out of using the Ontario Ombudsman for this service.

What I would like to know is:

  • How long has the contract been in place with Mr. Maddox?
  • How large is the retainer paid to Mr. Maddox each year, if applicable?
  • How many hours of service has Mr. Maddox billed Middlesex Centre for since he was awarded the contract?
  • Overall, how much money has been paid to Mr. Maddox from Middlesex Centre, and over what time period?

I’m very eager to hear the answers to the questions above, and expect full disclosure as a citizen and taxpayer of the municipality.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Derek E. Silva

January 9, 2014

Good morning Mr. Silva

In response to your email regarding Mr. John Maddox, I can provide the following information:

We have had an agreement for Closed Meeting Investigator Services with JGM Consulting (John Maddox) since January 1, 2012.

The municipality pays a yearly retainer of $ 1000.00 to JGM Consulting. The Municipality has not required the services of JGM Consulting; therefore nothing has been paid to him with the exception of the yearly retainer.

JGM Consulting has been paid $ 2000.00 for the period from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013.

I trust this information is helpful. All the best for the new year.

Stephanie Troyer-Boyd
Clerk

January 9, 2014

Hello Councillor DeViet and Mayor Edmondson,

Based on the dates provided by Ms. Troyer-Boyd, it would appear as though this contract was awarded to JGM Consulting while both of you were in office. I would like to know the following:

  • Why did Middlesex Centre award this contract to JGM Consulting?
  • Why is Middlesex Centre not taking advantage of the services currently provided by the Ombudsman?
  • What rationale was used to pay for a separate closed-meeting investigator in favour of the Ombudsman, which would not cost the municipality anything?

Given that every dollar spent has an impact on property taxes, and Councillor DeViet’s recent revelation that our Public Works Dept. has put off purchasing a new truck for two years now (at least partially) for this very reason, I would like to think the municipality would be looking to cut what costs it can, especially one that doesn’t impact services provided to the citizens of Middlesex Centre. For this reason I’m asking the questions above, and would like to see the municipality ultimately opt back in to using the Ombudsman to provide closed-meeting investigation services.

Thank you, and I look forward to your responses!

Derek E. Silva

January 15, 2014

Hi Derek…It took a little investigating to get all the facts around your questions.

First …the main reason that both the County of Middlesex and Middlesex Centre chose not to go with the Ombudsman at that time was perhaps the fear of having the Province do an investigation if one was required. One has to remember that this was a new initiative at the time, and one that probably had the effect on making Councils more aware of the legislation around the rules and regulations around closed meetings in the Municipal Act, and the implications of not following them. That being said, the Government permitted other options beyond the offer of the Ombudsman who seemed to be overkill for a small municipality. Thus both the County and Middlesex centre along with many other communities chose an alternative.

Second… you received the information as to the choice we made and the cost from our clerk. The County, on the other hand, chose to go with a lawyer who was also engaged by several other municipalities. Although I can not speak for everyone, from my perspective it seemed more practical to deal with someone closer to the community than to have to travel back and forth to Toronto, knowing that the rules that we have to follow are the same, and I always have a suspicion that free is not always free if it precipitates legal fees that would not normally be required. It should be pointed out that all three people are quite well qualified to do the job.

Finally…Now that we are more aware of what the experience has been across the province, we can, as you have suggested, take a look at other more cost effective options, and that will be looked at in the very near future.

Thanks very much for both the questions and the suggestion. If you wish to speak further on the matter please don’t hesitate to call.

Al

I finally got around to sending a thank you note to Mayor Edmondson (who is running for re-election) and Councillor DeViet earlier this morning! I’m looking forward to what happens next on this issue.

January 27, 2014

Good morning Mayor Edmondson and Councillor DeViet,

Thank you very much for responding to my questions. I appreciate the time you took to get the background information and send it to me. I will, however, disagree with you on the premise that “free is not always free” in this situation. As we have seen spelled out with the recent trouble in London, the Ombudsman has no authority to impose fines or sanctions on elected officials except in cases where they were found to be lying. The City of London Councillors currently embroiled in a war of words with the Ombudsman are, in my opinion, willingly blind to the poor decisions they have made two years in a row now regarding closed meetings.

Regardless, I’m happy to hear Middlesex Centre will look at other options soon. Given that the Ombudsman’s office investigates 20,000 complaints a year (and the majority are resolved within two weeks), I’m sure it is more than capable of taking on a municipality that hasn’t had any complaints (that I know of) in the last two years.

Thanks again,

Derek E. Silva

Though I searched Middlesex Centre’s website for “closed meetings” and “John Maddox” a few weeks ago and didn’t spot anything, I finally found this page today which provides links to the procedure and complaint forms in case you ever need it.