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Council highlights and lowlights: February 2021 edition

We started the first Toronto City Council session of 2021 on Tuesday. The first meeting of the new year always has a cramped agenda since there is inevitably a list of items to bring forward from the previous year, which couldn’t be completed prior to the Christmas break. Having to hold meetings virtually due to the pandemic frustrates this work further. We all strive to get the work out the door before the annual special Council session to approve the budget, which this year is scheduled for Feb. 18th. This Council meeting is scheduled to continue on Friday. Here’s what’s unfolded so far: Community Crisis Support Service Pilot As I reported last week, staff have worked flat out since July to develop a pilot program to change who responds to certain emergency calls regarding persons in crisis. I’ve been very involved in this one. I was a member of the Toronto Police Services Board during the struggle to end the practice of racial profiling in policing through carding. During that time the board received inquiries into the deaths of Sammy Yatim and Andrew Loku, both shot fatally by police. While on the Board I pushed for change within the police service, but it was a tough slog. At the time, Council was not unanimously focused on our attempts at change, and only a small segment of the community was vocal about the need for police reforms.

Now we all see the urgent need for change. This week I worked with Mayor Tory, who still sits on the police board, to craft a motion further enhancing the Community Crisis Support Services pilot, that goes further to improve the role of 911 dispatch in response to persons in crisis. The motion passed unanimously:

I only wish that it hadn’t taken more tragic deaths of people in mental health crisis - and the murder of George Floyd recorded on video - for our whole community to begin this change. Basement Flooding Claims The City Ombudsman examined Toronto residents’ experience filing third-party claims against the City in the event of a basement flood. We haven’t had mass flooding in Don Valley North for nearly 16 years, but it does happen sporadically throughout the city annually. I always feel pain for residents anywhere in the city who have to deal with damage to their homes caused by basement flooding. The Ombudsman took us to task for one flaw in our claims procedure in particular that shocked me. All of the councillors whose communities were impacted back in 2005, myself included, were very frustrated to learn from Ombudsman Susan Opler’s investigation that the City doesn’t have a set protocol for residents to know what to do in the event of basement flooding. There is also very little available info on how to proceed with a claim against the city, and on what basis.

Council has adopted the Ombudsman’s recommendations to rectify this. We need to work to inform all homeowners to report basement floods immediately through 311 in case they plan on filing a claim. All claims information must include the key note, which is that the City will only pay out claims where city negligence can be proven. Legislation works to indemnify municipalities from infrastructure failure in most scenarios. My colleague Councillor Frances Nunziata moved that staff look into the feasibility of introducing a No Fault Grant Program, similar to the past North York system for flooding, covering homes deemed uninsurable. I will keep you posted on this as it comes forward. We do have homes in this situation in Don Valley North. More Developer Friendly Provincial Policy At Council we received an update on changes to our Development Charge rules. These were designed to mitigate a disastrous piece of provincial policy which came into effect last January. Development charges are designed to pay for infrastructure upgrades, water service, road reconstruction, made necessary by development. The City used to collect them at the point construction of the project goes above ground, to ensure the most up to date rate is applied, in order to match the cost for infrastructure upgrades. The provincial government changed this rule, and now the charge is collected based on the DC rate at the time of the planning approval. That sounds like a minor change, but consider that over 46,000 units of housing were approved prior to the November 2020 development charge rate increase. The difference between collecting the charges based on the pre-Nov. 20 rate and later when the building is under construction is estimated at $200 million - as referenced in the staff report - to the city for crucial city infrastructure needs. This might explain why we are so currently inundated with applications in Don Valley North. Few of those condo projects are likely to proceed until long after the post-pandemic economic recovery. Getting approval now potentially saves developers thousands of dollars in development charges, which are assessed per housing unit. At the end of the day, however, it is not uncommon for developers to delay construction for as much as five years. City staff have instituted an interim policy which collects interest on development charges based on certain conditions to mitigate the loss of the new provincial rule. Where affordable and seniors’ housing are concerned, we will use the new rules to advantage the development cost. I'll follow up with more detail when the City of Toronto’s Development Charge bylaw is up for review next year. By then our city planners and solicitors hope to develop a new charge scheme that is more city-friendly and requires the profitable development sector to pay its fair share. YongeTOmorrow Council endorsed a future plan for Yonge Street, south of Bloor. A hundred-year-old water main will need to be replaced, and the road reconstructed. As per our policy, when such a large project disrupts a key street, we look to coordinate capital works and update the road’s design. As is the case for a road as important as Yonge, a full Class Environmental Assessment was completed and staff have brought it to us for endorsement at the point of 30% design completion. Costs and the final design will be finalized next year through consultation with local residents and businesses. The plan reminds me of many innovative approaches I’ve seen in Europe and in particular, The Hague. I took a transportation planning workshop there that showed us how the main tourist drag is flexibly designed to be car-less at times, while also allowing fleets of limousines and media trucks when world leaders descend on the ‘City of Peace and Justice’, most famously known for housing the International Court of Justice and other major global judicial bodies:

When the plan is fully costed it will return to Council, but I want to share with you the words of Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, who grew up right here in Don Valley North. I read them aloud to Council naysayers:

Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head, Toronto International Film Festival


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