RECAP: Mayor Guthrie Facebook Town Hall – August 15

This evening, Mayor Cam Guthrie held a town hall on the Facebook group “Guelph This & That” live from his hotel room in Ottawa. The 90-minute Q&A covered a wide variety of topics, so in case you missed it, just want the highlights, or are not a part of the “This & That” group, here’s the blow-by-low of what the mayor discussed, and what questions were asked.

8:01 – Mayor Guthrie confirmed that the link was working. He’s presently at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario with a delegation of staff and other councillors, and will be flying back to Guelph tomorrow. And he’s got a beard!

8:02 – “I’m good to stay on for an hour,” Guthrie says, noting that it’s up to Carmela [Geyn] who’s moderating the session. “I have no where to go,” says Guthrie with a laugh.

8:04 – The first question is about the long-term population of Guelph, how high can it do? Guthrie quotes the Places to Grow number: 191,0000 by 2041. Infrastructure, transit in particular, will be issues as we approach that number, he says.

8:06 – Until recently, Guthrie was in Newfoundland on a family vacation. He was back for a day before heading off to AMO in Ottawa. He was also asked about road resurfacing about a stretch of Victoria Road, and Guthrie asked the questioner to send him details by email so he could follow-up.

8:07 – Susan Carey asks Guthrie to stop by the Two Rivers Market in the future. He notes her enthusiasm and promises that he’ll try and stop by soon, adding “it looks really, really good.”

8:08 – In a follow-up to the population question, Guthrie is asked if the Places to Grow numbers take into account the limitations of local aquifers. The mayor said that the water supply is reexamined every five years, and that staff and consultants deal with growth targets. Guelph is good until 2041, “but it’s tight,” Guthrie added. There could be conflict in “very significant situations,” he said.

8:10 – A question about transit, are the forthcoming changes geared towards students? Guthrie said that the previous changes to the transit routes, “weren’t good. They did not work very well, there were a lot of complaints.” Guthrie assured that this time Transit has reviewed all the routes to find efficiencies, and that there was “no reason” to have buses run when no one is being picked up on certain routes. “I am hoping that there will be some very good transit investments made come budget time that council can consider, and be in place for 2018,” he added.

8:13 – Whatever happened to Lowes? Council voted unanimously to approve in the first six months, one of the quickest developments to go through, Guthrie said. As to what happened after that, Guthrie said that is was his personal opinion that the project stalled when Lowes bought out Rona in 2016. Guthrie says he still calls “every two or three months” to find out what’s happenng. “It would be nice to get it done,” he added.

8:14 – What infrastructure concerns is he discussing at AMO? Stormwater, active transportation, brownfields, and York Lands development, Guthrie said off the top of his head.

8:15 – Someone asked about a bus shelter on Watson and Eastview. Guthrie said he would pass that along to engineering and transit, and added that bus shelters are a big issue for him, and that money from both Metrolinx and and federal government will add more shelters to the city. “It bothers me when I drive by and see anybody out in the elements,” Guthrie said.

8:17 – Sarah made the point that those 12 people that take the underused bus route matter too. Guthrie said he realizes this, but “the collective taxpayers” can’t run an efficient route system when leaving two loads of people on Gordon. “I hope everyone knows it’s not that I don’t care about the 12 people, but it’s a balancing act to make sure [the budget] has the most impact,” he said.

8:18 – Question about the old Royal City Gardens at the corner of Hanlon and Woodlawn. It’s one of many buildings and properties in that area that will form part of the new Highway 7 to Kitchener.

8:19 – We pause for praise from new Guelphite.

8:20 – With Guelph getting bigger, might we get another hospital? Public health falls under the province, with each hospital run by a board of directors who decide what they need to do, Guthrie explained. A business case for a new hospital would have to be made through the local health network, which reports to Ministry of Health. City Council does not get involved, so he has not heard anything about a second hospital being proposed, but upgrades and innovations are being looked at for Guelph General.

8:21 – What’s not happening in the east end? Fran asked sarcastically. Council has done a lot of work on the east end, said Guthrie, even though doesn’t look like it “and I understand that,” Guthrie said. He referred to his own blog and the blog of Ward 1 Councillor Dan Gibson so that people can get the whole story. As for Loblaws at the Starwood and Watson site? He’s been in contact “over, and over, and over again,” and it’s still not moving as quickly as he would like. Guthrie said that government can’t force Loblaws to build, but they can create the right conditions, “And we have done that over and over and over again,” he said.

8:24 – Any new bylaws about homeowners salting their own sidewalks? Guthrie said that Guelph is only one of a handful of municipalities that provide snow removal of sidewalks, and when council discussed taking it away, many people delegated against it, and creating a new bylaw means hiring another bylaw enforcement office. As to his personal opinion, Guthrie doesn’t think we need snowploughs for residential sidewalks, as the machines sometimes end up damaging sidewalks and ripping up yards. People rake their own trees, Guthrie said, then “Why can’t we take 30 seconds and be a good neighbour?” For those with mobility issues and seniors, Guthrie said there’s the Snow Angels. In any event, maybe it’s time for a discussion at council.

8:28 – Someone asked about mental health resources outside of CMHA (Trellis)? Like the hospital question, Guthrie said mental health care is under the purview of the provincial government, but there is a role for the City to play in advocacy and lobbying. He suggested the questioner reach out to Liz Sandals and keep him in the loop.

8:30 – What’s been Guthrie’s most memorable moment as mayor? There’s a lot of them, but Guthrie admitted that he should be able to think of something specific off top of his head. After a minute he said that the service reviews were something he wanted to get done as councillor, so that was a pretty big moment. He also highlighted the creation of the Project Management Office. “After the city hall fiasco it was really incumbent on the city to handle large capital projects,” he said. “The staff that work in this office and around it have done an outstanding job. It doesn’t make the headlines this kind of stuff, but they are on top of any capital projects we’re doing right now.” He added that they’re really respecting the taxpayer a lot more too.

8:33 – Some asked why the parking lot at Holy Trinity school is closed in September? Guthrie said he’s not aware of the situation, and it might not have anything to do with the city.

8:34 – Some in the area of Eastview asked why that street was closed without warning, losing them their area bus stop. Guthrie said he was surprised that would happen because usually only an emergency like a water main break would engineering and comms typically proactive.

8:36 – Apparently, there was a about a month of notice about the bus stops on Watson and Eastview.

8:37 – A question about the Niska parkland. My feed froze in the middle of the mayor’s answer, but he said that this land was owned by the Grand River Conservation Authority, and that the matter is at the Ontario Municipal Board now, and there are pre-public meetings about coming to some kind of settlement.

8:38 – Another question about Highway 7. Guthrie gestured to scroll up, and said that the province promised it a long time ago, and it’s about to finally get started. He also said that he’d like to get the lights off the Hanlon, and asked for some thumbs up from those watching live. Several thumbs flowed.

8:40 – Excessive speeding? Guthrie suggested that traffic calming might be something to look at for this particular street, and there are “lots of tools in the tool box” and not just speed bumps, which can be a nuisance if you’re living near one, he said. There’s better enforcement and signage as options, as well, but the mayor noted that about 75 per cent of residents on the street in question has to agree to the implementation of traffic calming.

8:42 – Someone asked about the Ontario Mayors pushing for a 1 per cent HST increase dedicated to infrastructure. Guthrie’s against it saying that it’s his personal position that we’re taxed enough, and that if there’s one per cent that needs to be found, then maybe the province can find it from within. He added that most of the party leaders from provincial government are also not interested in that idea, but they have been talking about at AMO how the province is going to give municipalities sustainable funding for the future?

8:45 – Speaking of the AMO, Guthrie said he and the Guelph delegation had several meetings about the York lands, or the Guelph Innovation District. The city’s had plans for about seven years, but the hiccup is that the York lands aren’t owned entirely by the City. Guthrie says they’ve been pressuring the government to dispose those lands as quickly as possible as they’re doing nothing for either Guelph of the province, and that usually province likes to dispose of lands to the highest bidder, In tis case, Guthrie says he hopes the York lands, will be released in a manner that respects Guelph, and he’s sent that same message to the province.

8:49 – Someone was curious about this new downtown parkade they’ve heard about. Yes, Guthrie said that Wilson street is “pulled up” at the moment, and will be shut down for three months. “It’s going to be beautiful once its done,” the mayor added, and he encouraged people to show the business owners along Wilson some love. Guthrie said he expects construction on the parkade to start before the end of the year, and noted that there’s been no increase to parking capacity downtown since 1987.

8:50 – What’s up with the 100 steps? Guthrie said he doesn’t know, as he found out about closure while on vacation, and he hasn’t been able to follow-up with staff. Yet.

8:51 – Some asks about a stop light at Auden and Grange, and the spread of Emerald Ash Borer. Guthrie told her to email him on the stop light and send ash borer concerns to staff.

8:52 – Not exactly a municipal issue, but Guthrie was asked about financial literacy, and he said it’s a huge issue for the younger generation, and teaching it should be mandatory from a young age.

8:53 – Will Victoria Road go to four lanes between Stone and College? “I don’t think so,” Guthrie said adding that such a move is not in the plans, but he’s more than happy to be corrected. Guthrie added that there’s a Transportation Master Plan under way right now, and it will be an 18 month long process that’s only a few months along right now.

8:54 – What resources are there for the working poor? Guthrie pointe to the Guelph-Wellington Circles program, Hope House, and various provincial programs, and added that there’s not a lot funded by municipally.

8:55 – Go Storm!

8:56 – Will Woodlawn East be two lanes again? “I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I agree,” Guthrie said. “It’s part of the Bicycling Master Plan, which I voted for, but when I saw [the traffic effects] that took place I got a lot of emails about that.”

8:57 – A question about pedestrian safety, as this person has been sick of getting almost run over at Victoria and Woodlawn. Guthrie said that this will be a consideration of the aforementioned Transportation Master Plan, and council did approve recently the Active Transportation guidelines. Guthrie added that he always stops at the Tim Hortons on that corner on his way to church.

8:58 – How’s it going in Ottawa? Guthrie said, “Pretty good.” He and the Guelph team had about 10-12 meetings back-to-back in the last couple of days, and talked about how they literally got 15 minutes with the minister to make their case on specific Guelph issues. It is an election year coming up, so this AMO was interesting, he said.

9:01 – Changes to Riverside Park? Oh yes, Guthrie says he’s seen draft plans for improvements and they look “really cool. Really, really neat.” He’s not sure there’ll be a splash pad, which he was asked specifically about, and the park will also not be expanding its boundaries.

9:02 – Guthrie was asked about social services. Basically, the County of Wellington is the social service provider for Guelph, which pays $20 million every year to county to distribute funds. They do a very good job with the money they’re given, the mayor added, but it’s also never enough. Guthrie said that while in Ottawa out of about 10 or 12 meetings talked about issue “three or four times,” and that council has looked at investing more into the affordable housing fund so that when opportunities become available, there’s an immediate investment that can be made. He added that Guelph has staff working now on Indigenous issues, working with local Indigenous groups in a collaborative process, and that he’s learned “a heck of a lot” on their issues since he became mayor.

9:06 – Full-time councillors? “I don’t know, that’s a good question,” Guthrie said. The mayor noted that they could have hired a consultant to examine the issue but council opted not to so it will come before the next term of council to debate going forward with that.

9:07 – Guthrie checks the time and suggests we go to 9:30.

9:08 – South End Rec Centre? It is coming, Guthrie said, the $60 million facility will be built next to Bishop MacDonell High School. Council approved $700,000 for a detailed design in the last budget in case infrastructure money from the federal government became available, so that the “full burden won’t fall on the local taxpayers,” Guthrie said. “Although there is only one wallet, I understand that,” he added. The mayor added that half would be paid through development charges, and pointed to how the skate park cost nearly $1 million, but $700,000 of that was paid for through D.C.s.

9:11 – Guthrie declares, “Every day I love this city. I’m trying my very, very best.”

9:11 – In other news, there’s no plan to annex any land beyond Victoria Road. It can be expensive, takes a long time, and the province is heavily involved so there has to be good reason to annex, Guthrie said.

9:12 – A concern about lodging rules. Someone who rents student housing is worried about bad landlords not taking their responsibilities seriously and not filing lodging permits. Guthrie called it an enforcement issue, because bylaw can only do something about a problem when they’re told about it. The mayor invited people to go to their app store, and download a free app called “311 GIS”, which allows people to report bylaw issues from their phone or tablet. It will show you when the enforcement issue is taken care of.

9:15 – Following up on an earlier question, Guthrie agreed that Guelph’s Aboriginal population is underrepresented, and it’s been a humbling experience to learn more over the last couple of years.

9:16 – Again, the Transportation Master Plan will address a specific concern about the increased traffic in the city as brownfields in town are remediated.

9:17 – There’s a concern about the fate of some mature trees in Mico Valeriote Park that might be removed to accommodate a new pathway. Guthrie said he’s not up to speed on trees issues, but asked the questioner to email him the details.

9:18 – More laurels and tributes for Guthrie’s community engagement. Guthrie tells Susan Farrelly that she’s “the best”.

9:19 – Guthrie asked if it’s possible for locals to use their snowmobiles to flat the snow on city trails at night in the winter. Guthrie laughed at this, but appreciated the outside the box thinking.

9:19 – Jacqueline Martin’s dad is retiring at 90 after working as an attendant in the Baker Street and Old Quebec Street lots. She asks for a shout out for her dad, and Guthrie obliges.

9:20 – Will high speed rail be built if the provincial Liberals lose next year? Guthrie says he’s been talking about that in Ottawa, and it seems clear that the project will not fall apart. The big question, he said, is how will it be paid for? “No matter what government is in power, we will hold them to account,” Guthrie said as they need to address that “parking lot” called the 401.

9:21 – Someone wrote in about concerns with stolen bikes in the west end, and heavy drug use in area green space. Guthrie sympathizes, and he’s had two bikes stolen over his lifetime. A mayor, Guthrie sits on the police board and, he can say with certainty that the stolen bike problem and the drug problem are the same, and being addressed. Guthrie said he’s speaking to the Chief of Police and and the Police Board Chair that there needs to be better communication on the issue and more community engagement on the issue.

9:24 – More thanks and tributes.

9:25 – Guthrie notes that there seems to no more questions, “and my back is killing me.” He asks the moderate if she’d like him to post the video to “This&That when he’s done. She says, “Yes please.”

9:26 – One more question about traffic concerns once Metalworks opens. Guthrie notes that the Transportation Master Plan will look at this too.

9:26 – Guthrie shows off a Guelph Proud ball cap he had made in Ottawa.

9:29 – That’s a wrap.

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