April 30 Council Summary & Observations

It was a quick 47 minute meeting last night (agenda here & video here). Not many folks were there. In fact, half the folks who signed up to speak to Council weren’t even there since they expected, based on previous practice to not need to be there until at least 8pm. Speaking of which, did you know that the publicly available Council procedure bylaw actually sets 7:30pm (not 7:00pm) as the meeting start time (see part 3, page 7). I assume this should be updated.

1486 Dallas Road Development Variance Permit

There was one public hearing last night and it was for an item of work that had already been completed by the applicant prior to the application. As noted in the simple staff report, it is a retroactive permit to legalize the enclosure of an existing covered deck to create an addition (new bedroom and bathroom) to the second storey.

Both staff and the applicant spoke very briefly to this ppt.

No members of the public spoke and nor did Council.

Councillor Coleman then spoke after the unanimous vote to award the DVP to suggest that something be done to educate realtors on City development requirements, perhaps a development 101 class. He mentioned this because the applicant in question was apparently told by their realtor that simple work like the applicant pursued, can be done anytime without permit.

This was a particular frustration of Council when they initially discussed this application at their March 5 PLUC and which made me think that perhaps something substantive would come out of Council last night with respect to, why is it so common for folks to do their developments and then come to the city afterwards? There has been a number of such developments at the table recently after all.

I got the feeling last night however, that most folks there (staff and council) were just excited to have a quick night, especially after the last Council meeting that went to 1am. I personally think the timelines and agendas of such meetings should be more balanced, but when I asked as much during the question period, the response I got from Mayor Helps was “sometimes that’s just how it shakes out… we don’t get in the way of the development.”

Presentations to Council

Half of the folks who wanted to speak to Council did not actually make it to Council last night. One fellow from Fernwood spoke about Haegert and Kings parks, two of the four locations proposed by Councillor Isitt a while back now for prohibition of sheltering. This same fellow was wondering if any of the public consultation that was committed to on April 2 has occurred yet. No answer was given of course because this public presentation period, is just that, an opportunity for anyone and everyone to talk about anything.

Of note is that apparently the city may be moving this section of the agenda ahead of the Public Hearings at some time in the future.

Another fellow with VPIRG got up to speak in support of recent GPC efforts to endorse “better neighbourhood agreements” and in doing so, he actually made way more sense that Councillor Alto did when she originally moved the motion last week. This fellow, Mr. Bonet was specifically concerned about the impact of gentrification (though I don’t believe he used that word) downtown with the impending influx of higher income residents who will be drawn to the new residential buildings. He wants to make sure that these folks don’t discriminate against the many services users/providers already existing downtown.

Bylaws and Unfinished Business

I’d say the biggest issue in this section was that Mayor Helps spoke of needing to wait until Councillor Isitt showed up (he was off watching his daughters dance recital/music concert or something) so that Council could actually pass their 2015 tax rates bylaw. Without Ben, the vote would have been tied and would have failed, which according to the City Finance Director, would have required some creative maneuvering for the city to then go about collective 2015 taxes.

Ever the gallant gentleman, Isitt actually showed up at the promised time (7:30pm) and thanked Council for waiting for him, suggesting that they need not indulged him. Which of course made me think that he was oblivious to the fact that the bylaw would not have been adopted without him. A reasonable thought to be honest, not as much so in the context of their debate on the tax rate bylaw that occurred just last week I suppose.

So what about the tax rates bylaw?

Tax rate bylaws are an annual thing. Commitment to certain tax structures is typically very political as folks of different persuasions tend to prefer: 1) different levels of taxations and 2) different levels of taxation between different tax classes. Belief in different taxation schemes is also a philosophical thing and because it is a philosophical thing, one would assume that subsequent/associated decisions and actions be coloured by such a philosophy.

But alas. This does not seem to happen at the city. Why is this?

Council usually votes unanimously on things. It is actually somewhat rare that someone, let alone four people, are opposed to something.

New Mayor Helps may like to say its because she fosters a new sense of collaboration, generosity and love at the Council table, which therefore encourages Councillors to support each other, even if they do not support the motion at hand.

Me being ever the cynic wonders instead about the degree to which everyone always understand what is on the table and or what is required for the decision on hand. This theory of mine is based on my observation of frequent confusion at the Council table, as well as not infrequent after the fact uncertainty about what had been decided.

According to the Finance Director and her most recent report on the taxation levels at the City, a comprehensive review was undertaken and seemingly comprehensive discussion was had when the most recent tax policy was set. I’ve been observing Council the whole time and I’m not sure I agree but hey.

Of note is that Councillor Young and Coleman were opposed to this policy when it was first decided by GPC on January 22 (see middle page 11).  Mayor Helps then joined in on the opposition when this new policy was given formal approval by Council (see middle of page 15). And Councillor Lucas who I’ve only heard speak a handful of times in the past 3 months, then joined in the opposition last Thursday as well as last night.

So what gives?

Councillor Isitt asked at one point during the city’s demented budget setting and strategic planning process, about when will there be a discussion about taxes and service levels in the City. He was rebuffed and yet we still got what is being called an “aligned strategic plan and budget” which is to suggest, that this discussion and conversation was had and everything is dandy. Presumably this is what the review of the tax policy that occurred the week before budget discussions started, was supposed to be?

It all begins to make less sense when you stop and thing about it.

And in order to think about it, you have to have a lot of time, energy and perseverance because it is often not clear what is going on, for many reasons, on many levels and in many places. I find it all fascinating though and I’d love to keep at it. However I have to admit, this whole “volunteer” label that I’ve been attached to really drags at me and I recognize that’s partially my fault since I have yet to really figured out what it is I could sell, or what it is I am selling.

I’d appreciate your thoughts.

In the meantime, I’m working on a map of recent development proposals that have come before PLUC and Council. And I am doing this because I disagree with the response I got from Mayor Helps last night. My reasons are not that I think development “should be gotten in the way of” but rather that there doesn’t always appear to be much logic behind when development C moves forward while A & B don’t.

The five year financial plan bylaw was also adopted last night.






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