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Major decisions in City Council this week

BY SHELLEY CARROLL During our virtual City Council meetings, I am told by well-meaning family members — namely my grandchildren — that we're the most boring thing on YouTube.

I think we're all getting bored with seeing talking heads on our computer screens. But if you read the news the next morning, you'll find we get a lot done and make big moves. A recent article by David Rider of The Star listed major decisions in such an exciting way, I read it and thought: “Wow, was I at this meeting?” Masks The biggest accomplishment from this week's Council meeting was something many of you in Don Valley North have been asking for since the lockdown began. A little over half of you live in apartment buildings and condominiums and you have been telling us that everyone needs help understanding elevator and laundry room etiquette during COVID-19. In response to your concerns, Council has now made it mandatory for masks or face coverings to be worn in common areas of residential buildings. Property managers in many buildings have been excellent about posting signs provided by Toronto Public Health. It's true that we are going to enter Stage 3 of the province's re-opening plan, but it will only work if we stay vigilant about wearing masks and practising physical distancing to keep our families, friends, neighbours and co-workers safe.

Stage 3 means almost all businesses and public spaces will be able to open, with some restrictions. Places like playgrounds will re-open because they're considered fairly low-risk, but we still have to impress on our kids the importance of good hygiene. The same old rules from the first weeks of lockdown are still the most important and you should not forget about it just because we are all wearing masks now. E-Scooters Stalled Have you seen any electric kick scooters or e-scooters, the newest innovation in micro-mobility? I have seen the odd one whizzing along the trails in our area and zipping along the sidewalk on the way to the store. They're not supposed to be on the sidewalk because they're held to the same rules as bicycles: sidewalks are for pedestrians. That is what caused Council to put its own brakes on. We had a report before us that contemplated a proposal to allow an e-scooter rental service that would partner in some way with our city-wide bike rental service. That would put a thousand or so of these vehicles on downtown streets. However, Staff provided safety research: it turns out these little vehicles can be incredibly dangerous and especially in your first 9 or 10 trips.

Head injuries are quite common in e-scooter accidents as operators can move at 20 km/h, often without wearing a helmet, while mingling with car traffic. Once Council heard the safety stats and had a second sober thought, we decided to shelve plans to allow an e-scooter rental service for now. If you privately own an e-scooter, that’s okay — but remember that sidewalks are for pedestrians and pedestrians always have the right of way. PayIt Council put the brakes on another item as well. As keepers of the public purse, our government must conduct fair and transparent tender processes when the private sector wants to do business with us. In the case of PayIt, City staff were recommending we proceed but I moved a motion to stall it so that more work could be done on the transparency front. I think the problem arises from underestimating how much money would potentially be involved. PayIt is an American firm that came to Toronto to present their (unsolicited) idea to convert all payment transactions between you and City Hall into a digital wallet concept. City staff were intrigued and spent the better part of a year talking to the company about how this might work. Similar to the banking apps many of us use, you would be encouraged to have a City Hall app where you pay property tax, parking tickets, water bills, even building permits and street parking permits. Eventually, the wallet could become your whole interface with government. You would download forms there, search for information and surveys and have it sent to you. This is called GovTech

Sounds pretty neat, right? Well, consider this. Companies like PayIt want a percentage of every tax and government transaction in order to turn a profit. In the United States, about $25 billion passes between governments and their constituents every year. In Canada, it's about $6 billion. Now, imagine giving a private company an exclusive contract to process your bills and skim 2.35 per cent without first seeing who else in Canada or the rest of the world is interested in bidding on this work. I know we will develop a service for you just like the one PayIt described, but it will be done through proper public procurement to get the best deal for Torontonians. Tenants We also voted to mount a legal challenge against Premier Ford's bill that is heavily skewed in favour of landlords and would make it easier for them to evict tenants. What's more, Ford quietly rushed the approval of the bill without any public consultation. This is cause for alarm at any time, but to have this legislation pass during a pandemic when renters need security is deplorable.

I can remember my grandmother, a great storyteller, describing life during the “Dirty Thirties”. Young housewives lucky enough to still be running a good home kept a big vat of soup on the stove and made extra bread twice a week. So many people were homeless and wandering from town to town that you had to be ready to serve some soup and bread out the back door to passing hobos. “You would tell them to move on and leave their cups on the stoop,” my grandmother said, “but the next day there would be a new batch and you couldn’t say no.” Nowadays we have a social safety net — but these are extraordinary times. A net can only stretch so far. Tilting the law so in favour of landlords, making it easier to evict as many as 6000 households throughout Ontario would not help us weather this pandemic. Don Valley North Two major developments are now headed to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) for their hearings. Bayview Village Mall applied for intensification in 2016 and the old Universal Pictures site at 2450 Victoria Park Ave applied to add residential towers in 2017. Both developers wanted far more density than the City Plan called for. So, both developers decided to appeal to the province.

Planning staff, great organized community groups, and my DVN Ward Team have worked hard to achieve good compromises and good planning with the respective applicants so that the Provincial LPAT Hearings could potentially be used to present mutually settled terms of agreement. Up until the end, which is held in confidential Council session for legal reasons, the work was done together. When the previous provincial government abolished the old Ontario Municipal Board and created the LPAT, we all jumped for joy in fast-growing neighbourhoods like ours. Gone are the days when an OMB hearing consisted of throwing out whatever position Council took and starting from square one. However, the process is still highly legalistic. Last-minute legal arguments or terms between the City and the developer go to Council for approval in private, which is definitely not my preference.

In the case of Bayview Village Mall and 2450 Victoria Park, staff now have directions from council voted on and are ready to appear on your behalf at the LPAT. We will be presenting details as soon as these are public and the LPAT will also be a public process you can watch. Coming up If there is enough interest, I'm considering holding a virtual town hall on what's next for Don Valley North in terms of planning and growth. There is more change coming and there are, of course, more development applications. What do you think? Let me know if this is something you and your neighbours would find helpful. Depending on your feedback, we could use this virtual town hall model for other community matters, too. Even though we can't gather in person like we used to, we still need to find ways to work together to ensure good results for our treasured community.


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