This Month at Council: Troubles on Gordon, Social Housing Debate, and Mostly the Budget

November was a busy month at city council with some very long debates about housing and the 2020 budget. From harm reduction housing to the allocation of five new buses to the passage of the 2020 Capital Budget, let’s look back at the very long month in the council chambers.

Committee of the Whole – November 4

PS-2019-23 Allocation of New Buses – Guelph Transit GM Robin Gerus and Deputy CAO Collen Clark revealed the plan for the five new buses approved in last year’s budget, but Committee’s discussion focused on how the new routes will impact the City’s Revenue/Cost (R/C) ratio of covering between 40 and 45 per cent of Transit’s budget with revenue.

Primarily, this came in the form of an objection from Ward 1 Councillors Dan Gibson and Bob Bell about the need for a new bus route to specifically handle service to the Hanlon Creek Business Park, when they could just change the #16 Southgate route to cross the Hanlon and access the area.

Gibson, Bell and Councillor Christine Billings voted against the second recommendation on the basis that the projected ridership of the new HCBP route didn’t justify the expense even after both Clack and Gerus explained that it takes time to build ridership and that the R/C ratio must take the whole system into consideration and not just one route.

PS-2019-24 Harm Reduction Housing Update – Adrienne Crowder, the manager of the Wellington-Guelph Drug Strategy, delegated on the work that’s been done to date on the creation of new harm reduction housing. The business plan will see the creation of 10 units for $50,000 a piece, which could end up costing $600,000 in total if the units are built on City-owned land.

Councillor Rodrigo Goller tried again to pass a motion to have staff come back to the January 2020 Committee meeting with a plan for options to build the housing at 106 Beaumont. Gibson, like he did at the October 21 meeting, raised objections asking why this didn’t come to his committee, the Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise committee, and then repeated his concerns about making people think it was a done deal to build this housing at the Beaumont site.

In the midst of an increasingly rancorous debate, Mayor Cam Guthrie asked Chair June Hofland to call the vote. The motion was passed 12-1 with Gibson voting against.

CS-2019-19 Transparency and Removal of Barriers Related to Non-Council appointed Working Groups – In the Corporate Services agenda, a simple matter of changes to add transparency to working groups became a bigger debate.

Several councillors were concerned about the proviso that would allow people who are part of a working group to keep themselves, or the group they represent, anonymous. Staff said it was a matter of trying to keep the peace between neighbours if one were to advocate for a point of view that the person next door might see the opposite way, but some on Committee were concerned that keeping participants anonymous made it hard to vet the feedback for potential ulterior motives.

Piper made the point that anonymity has become a “scourge” to politics and political discourse, but Councillor Dominique O’Rourke countered that there are people with lived experience in areas like mental health or addiction that might want to offer their perspective without identifying themselves. Councillor Mike Salisbury proposed an amendment to disclose the list of participants in a working group if that advice should make it back to council as part of a staff report.

In the end, the simple two-part recommendation got split into four parts with council approving the posting of terms of reference, agendas and minutes for working groups on the City’s webpage, and that a list of working group participants be attached when group feedback comes back to council. The “anonymity option” failed 5-7.

CS-2019-78 Guelph General Hospital Capital Funding Request – While Committee enthusiastically referred the Hospital’s ask for $4.5 million over five years to the December 3 budget meeting, there was some controversy about a supplemental motion. Guthrie wanted to send letter to the Minister of Health to request a review the 90/10 funding formula for hospital capital costs, calling it “reprehensible” to download provincial responsibilities on municipalities. Gibson said that this was a move on the part of Committee that got into the realm of activism, but Hofland suggested that now might not be the best time to stir the pot when Guelph is looking for help to get important expansions at the hospital. Guthrie agreed and pulled the motion.

Planning Meeting – November 12

Statutory Public Meeting Report 166 and 178 College Avenue West – This proposed development will see 116 units, plus space on the ground floor for a seniors or daycare centre in a new six-storey building. Area residents expressed concerns about the potential for increased traffic along College and in the back roads around it, and several councillors expressed concern for the people who currently live at College Place, which is a residence for people with special needs. The developer noted that the building doesn’t meet the standard of care that the residents there deserve, and they will all be relocated to other facilities. All this is still a couple of years away because the lease isn’t up till the fall of 2021. The report was received with a vote 12-1 with Councillor Phil Allt voting against.

Statutory Public Meeting Report 1354 Gordon Street – The developed noted that the eight-storey, 88-unit apartment building will be geared to renters, but not necessarily geared to either income (affordable) or students. Councillor Leanne Piper asked if there was any way that the heritage and history of the Hamilton Corners area could be memorialized on the site, and the developer said that they will look at that. Concerns? There was a worry about the height, and the general amount of development around the area that might test the patience of the people living around Gordon and Arkell, and the report was received 13-0.

Decision Report 1533-1557 Gordon Street and 34 Lowes Road West – The do over from last month was even more tense in November. First, there was some concern from members of council that voting for this project all over again was going to create confusion and potential legal action because a tie vote is supposed to be a failed vote. Councillor Allt asked if there should be a motion to reconsider, but the deputy clerk noted that you only do that when a motion is carried. Allt pointed out that if a motion isn’t carried, it’s defeated; there are no tie games with council decision. Still, clerk and staff assured that council was good to proceed.

The delegates from the area tried again to convince council that this was the wrong development in the wrong place, that they wanted QIMBY (“Quality In My Back Yard”), and we’re not NIMBYs. Still, one of the delegates started talking about their concern people with “social differences” moving into the area and bringing crime and vandalism. The term “social incompatibility” was used, and asked what that means, the delegate in question said that it was a group of people of the same “socio/economic circumstance […] they work as a community, bring in other groups, they lose that dynamic.” Another delegate then accused the council of doing a backroom deal with the developer, which many on council reacted strongly to.

Council asked the developer about the prospect of affordability of these units, but they said that the units would be “attainable” when lined up against the price of single detached homes in the area. Some on council were still concerned that the motion was in order, and Councillor Piper apologized for her absence last month which prompted this “quagmire” of a vote in the first place. In the end, Councillor June Hofland said that she reacted too favourably to the delegates in October, and Councillor Rodrigo Goller said that he’s decided to put his faith in staff’s expertise. The vote passed 8-5.

Deliberations on the 2020 Capital Budget and 10-Year Forecast, and Non-tax Supported Operating Budget – November 13

First, council discussed the Capital Budget:

The 0.73 per cent Levy – The first amendment was a proposal from Councillor Mark MacKinnon to postpone the implementation of the 0.73 per cent levy for the City Building Strategy by one year. Tara Baker, general manager of finance, said that there will not be an effect on the Capital Budget for the 2020 projects, but it does put increased pressure on future years. MacKinnon said that his rationale was that there are still a number of unanswered questions about funding and grants from other levels of government that could have an effect on how much money that the City needs to collect through the levy. The fact that it also brings down the tax rate for 2020 is a nice, unintended side effect too. The motion passed 12-1 in two parts.

The Locomotive – Councillor Goller made a motion to direct staff to find a way to dispose of the train car at Guelph Central Station, or otherwise sell it off. Many impassioned pleas were made for the heritage value of the Locomotive, and there was really no stomach to have the train destroyed. Deputy CAO Colleen Clack said that the timetable is the issue; basically, the City has to find a buyer by the end of January because otherwise they have to put out tenders to move it, so that the Locomotive will be off Metrolinx’s property by December. The motion failed 3-10.

Bike Skills Facility – Councillor Mike Salisbury moved to have staff to prepare a report by the end of the first quarter of 2020 that outlined the impacts on parks projects if the construction of a bike skills facility was moved up in the work plan. Salisbury said it’s because this project has been in the works for 10 years, but it’s still a number of years from being built. The motion passed 7-6.

Ward-to-Downtown Bridge – Councillor Bob Bell made a motion to defer the construction of the bridge till 2021 so that staff can look at co-ordinating that construction with the redevelopment of the area around Macdonell and Wellington, including the reconstruction of the Guelph Junction Railway bridge that two people have fallen from to their deaths in the last year. Staff tried to explain that the prep work on the bridge, including the Environmental Assessment, has already been completed, and the E.A. on the other work in the area will not be complete for another two years. Construction on the corner, meanwhile, will not begin for another five years, and there’s a sense of urgency in creating a safe path for people to be able to cross the river. There is also the matter of needing to engage a number of other agencies on construction with the railway bridges, and CAO Scott Stewart said that council was on the verge of changing carefully laid plans on the fly. Bell withdrew his motion and refiled it as a straight deferral, but he couldn’t find a second. Salisbury moved to delay the bridge construction till the end of the E.A. process on the other Macdonell Street projects, and it failed 3-10.

Operations Campus Development – Bell asked to go in-camera so that council can discuss the transit portion of the facility under the land acquisition proviso of the closed meeting rules. Council moved into closed session and timed it with a half-hour break. Before the break, Bell put a motion on the floor to have staff proceed with a “conceptual design” of the transit facility. DCAO Kealy Dedman told council (again) that they cannot proceed with the development of a business case until detailed design is complete. Councillor Dominque O’Rourke, who seconded Bell’s motion, withdrew her support, and the motion died.

The amended Capital Budget and 10-Year Forecast was passed 12-1.

On to the Non-tax Supported Operating Budget:

Parking Services – Councillor Dan Gibson moved a couple of changes to the parking fees to reduce the burden on the tax-supported budget on subsidizing parking. Gibson’s changes to the parking fees, including an extra quarter on hourly rates and an extra quarter for special event parking, would collect an extra $200,000 in parking revenue. MacKinnon pointed out that the motion, as worded, would impact parking rates by the Hospital and St. Joseph’s, but Gibson said that he was looking specifically at permitted use in the downtown. MacKinnon then tried to increase the rates by 50 cents, but that was voted down by council 2-11. The main motion was then split into three portions and passed by council.

More Parking – Councillor Christine Billings made a motion to amend part 3(a) to have staff bring back a report for the 2021 budget on options to reduce the tax burden on parking. Councillor Cathy Downer noted that staff has brought recommendations twice already, and council refused to adopt the biggest one (Hint: on-street parking fees). Dedman said that an update to the Downtown Parking Master Plan will be coming to council in 2020, so staff is already doing that work, and the motion was passed 8-5.

There were no questions or intentions on the other aspects of this budget. The entire Non-tax Supported Operating Budget was passed 13-0.

O’Rourke had a number of follow-up motions including one that asked for options to fund the Downtown Streetscape project, which will begin in 2022. The motion passed 12-1, with a couple of councillors arguing that they have to watch the margins because that’s where the budget goes up. Mayor Cam Guthrie added that it is not his intention to ever vote for $22 million for streetscaping downtown.

After that, O’Rourke tried to make a motion to examine transit in a holistic way with the City’s climate strategy, but she couldn’t find a second. Next, she tried to pass a motion to look at the impact of not taking Federal grants for transit when it comes to moving forward with an electrified bus fleet, but the motion was withdrawn when it was noted that staff is already doing that work.

In her fourth motion, O’Rourke asked for more detail about the scope of the digital signs project for transit, but again staff said that work was in progress. O’Rourke’s final motion asked staff to look at implementing the phasing of the operations campus over a longer time period, which was passed 13-0.

Looking ahead to the Operating Budget, Gibson said that he’ll be asking staff to look at expanding a current route to service the Hanlon Creek Business Park as opposed to funding a while new route.

Budget Meeting, Tax Supported Operating Budget – November 18

Council heard staff present the Tax Supported Operating Budget and got the chance to ask questions about key funding decisions and program updates. There weren’t a lot of surprises, but Mayor Cam Guthrie did say that he’s working hard to find the funding for a second year’s worth of initiatives from his Task Force on Homelessness. There was some late breaking news on that front from DCAO Colleen Clack, but she didn’t share what that news might be. The mayor will lay the asks on the table at the December 3 meeting. In terms of intentions, it looks like council is getting ready to nickel and dime on decision night, and Guthrie mentioned a possible supplementary motion to have staff look at resurrecting Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.

Budget Meeting, Presentation of Local Boards and Shared Services Budget – November 20

City council received the budget presentations from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, the Elliott Community, Wellington County, the Downtown Guelph Business Association, the Guelph Public Library, and the Guelph Police Service. The most probing questions were reserved for the County, whose representatives were asked about social housing development and funding, and Chief Gordon Cobey, who was asked about the 9.8 per cent bump in the police budget and how we got there.

Regular Meeting of Council – November 25

Harm Reduction Housing Update – The evening started with delegations and there was a good mix of people concerned about the construction of container homes at 106 Beaumont Cres for harm reduction housing, and those concerned about the state of homelessness in the city. One of the most persuasive delegations seemed to be Bryan McPherson who noted that the open space at 106 Beaumont was the only “park space” in the area. He tried to make the point that the neighbourhood was already underserviced by amenities, before adding a community of people with their own unique needs.

When the debate came back to council, there was some haggling over the original motion from Councillor Rodrigo Goller with Councillor Cathy Downer and Councillor Mike Salisbury both suggesting that staff could take more time to look at the options. Councillor June Hofland said that she didn’t think the project could move forward no matter how much time they gave staff, and Deputy CAO Colleen Clack more or less agreed noting that while the City is working with the County of Wellington on their own plans for harm reduction housing, the City lacks the in-house expertise and experience to go it alone. A motion to extend the deadline from January to February failed.

Next, Councillor Mark MacKinnon made a motion to replace “106 Beaumont” with “city-wide assets” in the original Goller motion. Clack noted that a lot of the work looking at City-owned real estate assets has already been done, but there’s still a lot of consulting to do with partner agencies, and only a few of the sites on the list of under-performing assets would be appropriate for such a project. Council voted on the original motion, and it failed 5-8.

Hofland then proposed a motion that that would direct staff to support the development of social housing in the event that a viable proponent stepped forward. Downer suggested that this is what the City was already doing, but Clack noted that a strong motion from council might jumpstart some interest from the community. Downer, Goller and Councillor Bob Bell all said that they felt that Hofland’s motion was more talk and no action.

Salisbury proposed an amendment to Hofland’s motion to direct staff to investigate options and processes required to facilitate harm reduction housing and report back by January 2020. At this point, Mayor Cam Guthrie said that the next phase of his task force on homelessness will tackle this very issue, and it would behoove council to take a breather for a couple of months while the experts work on options. Salisbury’s motion was amended to bring back a report by April instead of January, and it passed.

The full motion, with Salisbury’s amendment, was passed 12-1 with a Ward 1 Councillor as the lone no vote, except this time it was Bell.

Bus Allocation – Three motions were attempted to rein in the cost of the new service. Councillor Dan Gibson tried to pass a motion that brought the cost of the proposed #19 Hanlon Creek Business Park route down by running it at peak times only, and then by only running it Monday to Friday. Both motions failed. Councillor MacKinnon then tried to pass a motion to keep three of the five new buses in spare and not to expand the Community Bus. This motion failed too. The original recommendation from staff will now have to be ratified at next week’s budget meeting.

Motion of Support for the Municipal Intervention Application in the Supreme Court of Canada Case Opposing the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (Carbon Tax) – Councillor Leanne Piper said that a group of municipalities that have applied to be interveners on the Supreme Court of Canada challenge to the GGPPA are looking for support from other cities, but the Court has yet to rule on their intervener status, so this is a conversation to be had another day.

Budget Meeting, Delegations for the Tax Supported Operating Budget, Local Boards and Shared Services Budget – November 27

Council heard a dozen different delegations on Wednesday night concerning the 2020 Tax Supported Operating Budget, and the Local Board and Shared Services Budget.

Chamber of Commerce President Shakiba Shayani, TAAG Chair Steven Petric, and Transport Futures’ Martin Colloer all spoke to the need to enact transit improvements; representatives from the Guelph Community Health Centre, Stonehenge Therapeutic and the Welcome Drop In Centre all spoke to the need to continue funding on the initiatives from the mayor’s task force on homelessness; and, Dale Mills of the Guelph General Hospital Board petitioned for the requested renovation funds. A couple of delegates opted to appeal to council to not approve the 9.8 per cent increase for the Guelph Police Services budget.

As to what will happen at next week’s budget decision night, Councillor Christine Billings said that she’ll be looking at a way to get funding to keep the recently cancelled playgroups sponsored by CHC going in eight neighbourhoods. Councillors Leanne Piper and Rodrigo Goller both spoke to the desire to set up a reserve fund for harm reduction housing so that council can move swiftly if an opportunity comes up. Several councillors also discussed the possibility of spreading out the hospital’s request for funds over six or seven years as opposed to five, and what moves they can make to further fund new programs like the Support Recovery Room and the Welcome Streets workers downtown.

For regular recaps of council meetings, subscribe to the Guelph Politico newsletter, The Tip Sheet, which comes out every Tuesday and Friday. Click here to get it. 

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