July 8 storm still making waves.

Reading between the lines of a letter from Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to City Manager, Joe Penachetti, the question from Joe appears to have been, ‘OK, unlike Mississauga, the City of Toronto screwed up and missed the deadline to claim some disaster relief from the province. Please bend the rules – oh, and while you’re at it look for any other money that we could tap into’.

The reply from Deputy Minister Laurie LeBlanc says ‘no’ in the nicest possible way, pointing out that Toronto failed to act within the two-week deadline. If you’ve ever seen episodes of Yes Minister, you’ll really appreciate the talent required to enclose an upright middle finger inside a letter.

While Toronto keeps the province and much of the country awash in cash, rules apparently cannot be broken.

The medium is the message.

The flood information meeting held on Wednesday July 31st at Archbishop Romero High School was a follow-up to the one held on July 19th at York Council Chambers. Again, almost 200 residents filled the gym. It was immediately apparent that steps had been taken to control their response. For whatever reason, a uniformed police officer was posted at the back of the room. If Ms. Nunziata felt threatened by this crowd of grandparents, parents, and children, she must lead a very sheltered life.

The meeting format was organized by Ward 11 resident, Sean McConnell. He began the proceedings by restricting questions to ‘only those who live in the area and whose homes have been flooded’.

Organizer Sean McConnell sets the ground rules.
Organizer Sean McConnell sets the ground rules.

Once the introductions were over, the meeting began with a series of anonymous softball questions allegedly emailed from residents. Whether the authors of these questions were in the audience or not seemed irrelevant. A phalanx of City of Toronto and TRCA officials was on hand to provide responses. After these had been answered, Councillor Nunziata talked about what the city was doing  to address residents’ concerns. Residents were then permitted to come to the microphone to seek answers.

Representatives from the city, TRCA and Granite Claims listen to residents.
Representatives from the city, TRCA and Granite Claims listen to residents.

Some interesting points were raised during the audience questions.

One resident’s basement flooded on the 7th July, the day before the storm and he was told by a city representative that the sewer was blocked. The resident showed proof that a city employee had reported the matter in spite of statements to the contrary from the official at the meeting.

A resident shows proof that sewers were blocked the day before the flood.
A resident shows proof that sewers were blocked the day before the flood.

City Council has passed a motion to ‘look at opportunities to advance’ a ‘sewer overflow control’ public meeting scheduled for the fall of 2013.

Until the assessment is done it will take 3-5 years to get a solution implemented.

Quick fixes such as a berm along Black Creek might provide a temporary solution.

The city has ended its special garbage collection ( information to the contrary was given during the meeting).

Some residents reported that Backflow prevention valves had failed. Apparently they require a homeowner inspection every three months and flushing out twice annually otherwise they are liable to fail.  There is a proposal to increase funding to allow a greater subsidy but the process is complicated, expensive and probably beyond the reach of many. As one resident pointed out, the unpleasant task of inspection and flushing will likely be neglected too.

Another council motion has requested consideration of an increase in backflow valve subsidies.

If your backflow valve failed, the city says your contractor is responsible, not the city.

If residents think that city negligence caused damage to their properties, they should make a claim.

Backflow valves and a sump pump on display.
Backflow valves and a sump pump on display.

The bridge on Humber Boulevard that crosses the Black Creek concrete trench is irreparably damaged and will be replaced.

The City had an opportunity to apply to the province for state of emergency funding but unlike neighbouring Mississauga, failed to do so before the deadline.

Here is a list of basement flooding protection projects taking place in Toronto from 2013-2016. Nothing is planned for Ward 11.

Laura Albanese confirms that unlike Mississauga, Toronto failed to act before the deadline.
MPP Laura Albanese confirms that unlike Mississauga, Toronto failed to act before the deadline.

Towards the end of the meeting I was challenged by Sean, one of MPP Laura Albanese’s staffers, stating that I would need signed releases for the photographs I was taking. Luckily, not having been born recently (or even yesterday) I was able to help the young man with this particular gap in his education.

Albanese staffer Sean possibly obtaining legal advice on photography.
Laura Albanese staffer Sean possibly listening to legal advice on photography in public meetings.

No doubt Ms. Nunziata considers the meeting a success. Nobody shouted at her and her message was heard clearly. The message was, ‘we’re doing all we can to help’. If only that was true.

The fact is that residents have been let down by a lack of action. The flooding of basements in certain areas of the city has been public knowledge for years – for example this map from 2005 clearly shows chronic flooding areas (Ward 11, areas 6 and 4) in Weston and around Cordella Avenue. If planning had started in 2005, the problem would have been solved by now.

Politicians have focussed on more glamorous projects and on keeping property taxes low. If anyone needs evidence of the neglect of sewers, all they have to do is walk through Lions Park where a large sewer runs alongside the Humber. On most days the park smells like, …well, a flooded basement.

Cityslkir slams ‘Queen Frances’

If you ever get a chance to watch Cable 10’s live broadcasts or webcasts of Toronto City Council meetings, you’re in for quite an interesting time. This is where politics, personalties and dogma come together to exchange verbal blows and while the result isn’t pretty, it’s compulsive viewing for political junkies. It’s also a chance to view our councillor, Frances Nunziata in her other main role as Council Speaker.

Toronto blogger Cityslikr has written a scathing indictment of Councillor Frances Nunziata’s performance in this other role. Cityslikr puts our councillor’s performance right up there with the antics of wildly controversial Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, both tireless, partisan defenders of Mayor Rob Ford and his team. According to Cityslikr,

Hectoring, nakedly partisan, she has maintained the fractious, contentious tone bestowed on council chambers by Don Cherry in his inaugural address.

Read the full article here.

City’s final offer, higher pay but no job – updated

The war of words is just beginning and it looks almost certain that Toronto’s outside workers will be locked out. At a press conference on Friday, a visibly shaken Mark Ferguson seemed a little out of his depth when compared to the resolve and experience of Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. This is a battle that Team Ford are eagerly anticipating as it will distract from everything other than the weekly weigh-in and has the potential to revive the flagging fortunes of Ford Nation. Union bashing is increasingly popular these days and here’s a chance for the sagging right wing to win back a few points if they can engage with the union.

Looking at the ‘Final Offer‘ it has some aspects that are quite interesting. Firstly regarding pay, the union has offered a wage freeze. The city has insisted on an increase, but in the form of lump sum payments averaging 1.5% annually rather than additions to salary. Salaries would increase by 1.75% in 2015. This approach limits pension increases—but still is puzzling if the City could have had a freeze. Combing through the offer there are various downward tweaks to sick leave and medical benefits, but the real bombshell is quickly found;

Employment Security: Delete Letter of Agreement protecting ALL Permanent Employees when work is contracted out (LOA from 2005)

This is basically a termination notice for employees with less than 22 years’ seniority whenever jobs are contracted out and will be key to ending jobs as soon as a private contractor can be hired. In addition, actual notice of termination drops from 2 months to two weeks.

The union will be fighting for survival, and therefore it is likely that this will become a long and bitter dispute. You can be sure that other city employees will be watching this intently.

Update: A tentative agreement has been reached; it will be interesting see what has happened to the employment security clause and other contentious issues. Both sides are to be congratulated for averting a disruption of services.

Monster LED billboard coming to Weston

A Planning Department photo rendering of the proposed sign.

The 18.6 square metre billboard on CN property along Lawrence Avenue east of Weston Road may soon be replaced by a (nearly twice as large) LED display billboard.

According to Dave Meslin’s blog.

The new signs are much much more intrusive, brighter, and larger than anything we’ve ever seen in these neighbourhoods.

The city Planning Committee is recommending the approval of ten of these much bigger and brighter signs along the CN Rail utility corridor to replace some existing billboards while removing others (for now). This is being done at the urging of Blair Murdoch of outdoor advertising firm Allvision. Apparently since neighbourhoods along the CN line already put up with noise and diesel pollution, the additional light pollution will hardly be noticeable.

No doubt Allvision and the Planning Committee were hoping that the signs would be quietly approved. As a result of a deputation from concerned citizens, a consultation meeting regarding the LED billboards will be held at City Hall (2nd Floor, Committee Room 1) on Wednesday, December 14th from 6:30 – 9:30 pm.

Another Licence Application Challenged

Councillor Frances Nunziata is seeking to protect us from another licensed restaurant, this time at 1784 Jane Street. According to our councillor, complaints were received regarding ‘drug activity, late night noise, and late-night construction’ at this address.

It seems that the previous tenant is in rent arrears and so is probably not behind the application to open a licensed restaurant.

With the public not having access to the complaints in question, the councillor may be treading on shaky ground. Are the complaints legitimate? If so, why visit upon the new tenants the sins of the old ones? Is this unnecessarily impeding the birth of fledgling businesses? Certainly, our police are capable of enforcing laws and responding to noise complaints, yet this is the second straight month that the councillor has opposed a licence application in York South Weston. If a licensed restaurant is not in compliance with the law, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission (AGCO) can fine them up to $5000, suspend or revoke their license. A restaurant could continue to operate but would not be allowed to serve alcohol.

There are some important issues here that need to be addressed:

  1. When politicians oppose liquor licence applications, the process should be transparent so that business owners (and the public) know that allegations are genuine (and not someone else’s fault) while protecting the identity of the complainants.
  2. A few vocal residents should not be allowed to impede the improvement of our community.
  3. Jane Street and Weston Road are commercially zoned and desperately in need of vibrant thriving businesses. Perhaps councillor Nunziata could share her vision for these streets and what she is doing to attract businesses that meet her approval.