Politics

Hammer Love in Council, Spectator

By RTH Staff
Published August 08, 2008

The Spectator caps a week of articles promoting sustainable urban revitalization with a Friday edition chock-full of Hammer Love that rides a welcome wave of sensible Council decisions.

Two-Way Street Turnaround

After a vacation-depleted Council voted in July to reject the Downtown Transportation Master Plan Five Year Review on the basis of opposition to planned two-way street conversions, they reversed that decision yesterday and endorsed the plan, conversions included.

Even West Mountain Councillor Terry Whitehead, who had made a monthlong campaign out of opposing two-way conversion, came around yesterday and decided "to support it cautiously."

Kudos to Councillor Whitehead for demonstrating a willingness to change his mind when confronted with new information.

Today's Spec editorial applauded the decision, pointing out that the city needs to balance the needs of through motorists with the needs of local residents.

This came after a Wednesday article by Rob Faulkner highlighted the issue in anticipation of Thursday's council vote. (Shameless self-promotion: yours truly was quoted as part of the article.)

Area Rating Rates a Review

Council made a similar reversal after previously rejecting a staff proposal to review area rating, the city's practice of charging variable tax rates for certain services - including transit, fire, and recreation facilities - depending on geographic location.

Downtown residents pay the highest tax rates for these, while suburban residents pay much lower - in some case, five times lower - rates on their property tax bills. Not surprisingly, council is split between urban councillors who want to amend or end it and suburban councillors who want it to continue.

A staff report argued that it's unfair for some residents to pay more for public services that all residents are equally entitled to access.

After a mealy-mouthed debate on Wednesday, Council decided in a committee of the whole meeting not to touch area rating until after the next municipal election in 2010.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who previously claimed that area rating is "too divisive" to change, defended his opposition to the staff recommendation on Tuesday by saying, "Harmony overrides fairness."

However, they had a change of heart yesterday, and voted unanimously to fix the system before the next election. Councillor Tom Jackson called the decision "a turning point".

Spec columnist Andrew Dreschel called area rating an "unfair and illogical system" in a column today that credited Ward 7 Councillor Scott Duvall for "getting Hamilton councillors to accept a deadline" instead of sloughing it off for the indefinite future.

Cycling Advocacy Gets Rolling

The week started on a roll with Faulkner's great front-page article on bicycle commuters.

That generated the predictable stream of vitriol from unrepentant automobile exceptionalists but also a supportive editorial by Lee Prokaska and a follow-up segment today compiling pro-cycling letters from residents struggling with the city's patchwork of cycling infrastructure.

Turning Up the Heat on Heat Response

Finally, after considerable pressure from advocates for the poor and vulnerable, the city is launching a pilot project to open cooling centres sooner during hot spells (of which the city has had scarcely any this wet summer).

The city will now open two cooling centres - the Good Shepherd Family Centre on Wentworth St. S. and the Sackvill Hill Seniors Centre on Upper Wentworth - and extend evening hours at municipal pools after two days with a humidex of 40+ or one day with a humidex of 45+.

Read about our contributors.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted August 08, 2008 at 15:43:55

Add to that, news of the Feds supporting the area's bid for the Pan Am games and a Ticats thumping of the Argos... a good week all around :)

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 08, 2008 at 16:25:17

I think you may have mischaracterized the Spec editorial. When I saw the headline re 'balance', I thought - here we go, another finger-wagging lecture about how we have to water down what's best for downtown in order to protect the delicate sensibilities of motorists, but I was surprised that their support for two-way streets was pretty unequivocal, and the only 'balance' they were talking about was balancing the cost of conversions with the cost of necessary road repairs. That's a balance I can live with.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 08, 2008 at 17:14:37

yep, good stuff all around (especially that Cats-Argos game!). Again, kudos to Whitehead for his change of mind. Goes to show the importance of citizens being involved in the political process and sharing information with our elected officials at times. Now onto the tough part - actual implementation!

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By adam1 (anonymous) | Posted August 08, 2008 at 22:49:43

Wendy's letter - the last one in the pro-cycling letters link is great. People living on the mountain who want to enjoy the downtown without being forced to use a car. I didn't know such people existed! But according to her letter there are MANY of them. Definitely something for the Whiteheads of the world to think about.

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By Mel (registered) | Posted August 09, 2008 at 03:27:28

Well, I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm not happy about the two-way conversion -- unless it has massive lane reductions, we just turned a one-way expressway to a two-way expressway running through downtown, which is really no change at all. A complete waste of money.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 09, 2008 at 08:57:18

Highwater, I re-read the editorial and I think you're bang-on about it. It's even more positive and constructive than I indicated.

I was reading it in the context of the first sentence: "A livable city is not just about the people who drive its streets"; yet it goes far beyond simply splitting the difference, as the following passage demonstrates:

"Reporter Rob Faulkner looked this week at the state of Hamilton's bicycle lanes, and there's no doubt continuing investment in repairing and expanding that network is essential."

I really am just tremendously impressed with the quality of both coverage and commentary this week.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 09, 2008 at 09:45:35

the Spec has gradually embraced modern city living and ideas in the past 5 years. You would have never read this sort of commentary 5-10 years ago. I'm pleased that they are starting to understand what it will take to make Hamilton's urban neighbourhoods vibrant and much more livable. The media plays a large role in educating the public and thereby enabling good or bad public policy decisions to be made. Having the Spec embrace urban ideals is one of the most important steps to seeing city hall make a habit of proper decisions.

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By Chris Ecklund (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2008 at 14:50:40

It has been an interesting 24 hours since yesterday.

What started out sounding like another Flamborough Slot Revenue debate amongst council, turned into what many have been saying daily is a lack of leadership from within.

At my favourite coffee shop I overheard 4 gentlemen talking about the area rating debate, and they where all stunned that they where paying for Dundurn Castle but others in the City where not.

They could not understand the logic behind this thinking.

They also could not understand why council would be willing to put this off for another few years and have the next council deal with it.

They also wondered aloud where the leadership was in this City.

The last 24 hours I have talked to a lot of councilors on this issue and one in particular Councilor Duvall was especially upset with the fact that this was going to be shelved for years and the next council could deal with it.

Councilor Duvall then knew that this needed to be dealt with now rather than later, and called every councilor and explained what he thought needed to be done.

Councilor Duvall put forth an idea that every councilor agreed to.

Yes you read that right, 100% agreement from all of council!

Not only that, but once the staff report is finished and presented to council, Councilor Duvall would like to lead and form a committee to get feedback from each and every ward through town hall meetings, and openly debate and talk to residents from each ward on this issue.

The idea is to debate it now, not later, get the hard work and tough talk and solutions figured out now with a deadline of December 2010, and then implement them the following year which coincides with the next term of council.

I congratulate Councilor Duvall for his leadership on this issue.

www.chrisecklund.com

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 09, 2008 at 18:18:44

I concur Chris. Councilor Duvall deserves kudos for his leadership. It would be nice if city council could start operating with the big picture in mind on a regular basis instead of the tiny-box, ward by ward mentality that exists too often.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2008 at 15:10:51

I'd like to make a comment re: Councilor Whitehead's comments, but there appears to be no more space on that webpage.

Mr. Whitehead quote:" Recently, a woman was severely injured at the corner of Mohawk and Upper James and is in critical condition – it is not sure yet if she will survive. A few weeks ago there was an accident at Mohawk and West 5th that led to a fatality."

I used to use both of these corners on a multi-daily basis. Both of these intersections are unsafe, esp. the smaller West 5th & Mohawk intersection. Sight lines are blocked by a host of signs, boxes etc. for both pedestrian, bike, & car traffic. It is one intersection that Needs an advance green for traffic turning left onto West 5th, & from West 5th onto Mohawk. Both also could use better/longer pedestrian lights to assist people in walking across wide intersections.

'Hamilton is the Most Overtaxed City in Canada.'

Re: 'Mealy Mouth' decisions on Area Rating. O.K., so how does charging people for things that they don't have 'Fair'? Only in Hamilton, you say?.... Somebody had better get with the program. Everyone who lives in these areas is Not a millionaire! In an aging population are you generally in favour of many the elderly & retired losing their homes, so that 'You' can get a tax break? Well, that doesn't sound 'Fair'?

One comment was made in the Spec, about 'Fire Crews from other areas of the City having to respond to fires in Ancaster'. I wonder if similar B*-atching took place over this weekend when a Toronto propane explosion brought out fire crews from many areas of the City? What about the King & Ossington fire earlier last year? How insanely parocial can people get!?! It's a Fire, fer God's Sake!

We lost a vehicle to a fire that was 'suspicious' to say the least. When the Fire Dept. was called on a Saturday morning, they wanted to do '20 questions' & decided that since no-one was at imminent peril, they would take about 15 minutes to respond. (They are located less than 1 minute away.) So having a Volunteer Fire Dept. has it's downside esp. to residents. Is that 'Fair'? Why do so many arson fires happen on weekends?

Since there are no Police in attendence at the local station from quitting time Friday, to Monday's a.m. starting shift, a lot more 'stuff' happens here on weekends. Is that 'Fair' to business',residents & victims?

A bus that runs chiefly to assist local Malls, is not a bus as I know it, esp. if it doesn't run on Sundays, or connect in any reasonable way with City transit. (you know, 'City' that thing the we are supposed to now be a part of?? Or is that just when it $trike$ the City's mood to enclude u$?)

Everytime the City is presented with a viable & cost effective way to stem the rot, it won't do it. (2 way traffic on Main & King St's.) When it get's something to assist it, it's usually mostly via another Government source. (Light Rail, The new Ferguson St Bridge etc.)

When I go Downtown, the same places that flourished before are still doing well, & the same ones that floundered are still a mess. How has about 8 years worth of cash influx from amalgamation helped the downtown core? It hasn't! How has it helped the 'Burbs'? It hasn't either. All it has done is pitted the City against the Burbs in a no-win situation.

(Which is exactly what it was supposed to do! While both sides get into media hair-pullers about Basic Services, we are distracted from the fact that this a no-win adversarial situation, that provides ample opportunity for political grandstanding, abuse of taxes & tax payers.)

Maybe it's the ulimate excercise in 'Fairness' that no one seems to be getting what they need, let alone what they want.

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