Municipal Election 2014

October 2014 Brad Clark vs. May 2014 Brad Clark

Clark's latest policies are a total repudiation of his analysis in May, when he understood that investing in urban intensification is more economically sustainable than low-density, high-cost sprawl.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 16, 2014

While mayoral candidate Brad Clark continues to double down on his Hail Mary pass to angry anti-urban voters, it's worth taking a few moments to look back at what Clark was saying before he settled on his platform of divisive wedge politics.

We have already contrasted Clark's new position on LRT with his position in September 2011, back when he still thought Hamilton's leaders should "be fighting tooth and nail to get the Province to keep their promise to pay 100 percent of the capital cost for LRT."

But Clark has also begun claiming the city spends too much time and money on downtown when it should instead be investing more in the suburbs. Let's compare that to what Clark said back in May of this year, during the Tactical Taxation event organized by the Hamilton-Burlington Society of Architects.

Tactical Taxation is a presentation by Joe Minicozzi, architect and urban planner, who demonstrates that higher-density urban land use makes vastly more productive use of public infrastructure than lower-density sprawling land use. The following infographic illustrates the huge discrepancy in property tax revenue per acre between urban and suburban land uses.

Infographic: What is our Tactical Tax Base? (Image Credit: Hamilton-Burlington Society of Architects)
Infographic: What is our Tactical Tax Base? (Image Credit: Hamilton-Burlington Society of Architects)

Hamiltonians learned that the Ancaster Home Depot generates less property tax revenue per unit of land area than a two-storey single family house in southwest Hamilton.

A three-storey mixed use building on Aberdeen Avenue generates three times as much property tax revenue per unit of land as the Home Depot. Astonishingly, the Core Lofts on Bay Street generates a staggering 23 times as much property tax revenue per unit of land as the Home Depot.

Clark's Tactical Taxation Response

Minicozzi's talk was followed by a mayoral candidates' debate in which candidates were asked to respond to the following question:

How would you as mayor of Hamilton change the current city policies and fee structures regulating new development, redirect city resources and work with citizens to ensure that the future development will reduce our per-capita infrastructure costs and collective tax burden across the city? Please describe the three most important changes or initiatives you would undertake, and when.

Thanks to Joey Coleman, we have a video recording of the event. Please take five minutes and listen to how Clark responded. You can jump directly to the start of Clark's response.

Here is the text of Clark's response (emphasis added):

This is kind of right up my alley. I've spent the past two terms as chair of the Development Charge Review Subcommittee, which has been looking at these fees themselves and slowly moving the city in a direction where we're getting full cost recovery for both the hard services and the soft services. So the city has moved forward in some very dramatic ways.

One of the things as a result of that - and it pretty much proves what Joe said tonight - we did a study, and just in downtown Hamilton, on the stormwater costs that the developers are paying to develop in downtown Hamilton. And we learned that the stormwater costs that are being charged are about $300 more per unit than is required because of the infrastructure that already exists. So that's a very recent report that shows very clearly what Joe is talking about.

That $300 could be taken off of those DCs for stormwater in downtown Hamilton, which makes it more advantageous per unit - $300 per unit - for the developers and it becomes a bit of an incentive. But we're not finished there, and one of the things that we have requested was that we look at the actual engineering studies of the hard services and the soft services. We have combined sewers in downtown Hamilton, so we really need to understand very clearly what the costs are from an engineering standpoint so that we can actually back out and that's what we do with the DC review.

So from my perspective, I really do believe that we can develop special policy areas for DC costing that is actually informed by these financial statements. And this will really demonstrate to the public - but more importantly, provide those inventives that we can change the DC structure for downtown Hamilton. And for that matter the outlying downtowns also, so that you're not paying for something that's already in the ground. And that's the key that I think is important, and that provides significant incentive to develop those items.

We also need to look at - and we've tried for a long time on brownfield development, we need to really begin a strong push on the brownfield development and lower the industrial DCs for the brownfields. We have a very competitive industrial development charge - it's $11.78 and it's subsidized by the city. We need to switch that around a little bit in terms of greenfield versus the brownfield and provide incentives so that people will come in and the developers will look and say, so if I'm doing this fiscal accounting, and you're providing me this subsidy here, it helps to offset the cost to remediate as well as the ERASE grant. And that would assist us in terms of bringing industry and factories into the city itself.

The other item that I think is really important is twofold. One, we need to ensure that the incentives are across the entire city for all of the downtowns. But more importantly, we need to educate the suburban voters as to why those subsidies are so vitally important in the downtown. And if, you know, if we could have this presentation to every taxpayer in the city of Hamilton, it would really enlighten them significantly about the fact that if we intensify, we end up developing significant economic growth for the city and the land itself, the value goes up in those areas. And then we wouldn't need to develop as much in the greenfields.

So I hear frequently, as I have been knocking on doors and talking to people, that the suburbs are concerned about all the money going into the downtown. They don't really understand the economics, because quite candidly, we've not done a good job of explaining those economics. And without that support, and without the city coming together with some unified vision, we're not going to get there. So we need to make sure that they're informed as well as the folks who live in the downtown communities.

This is a thoughtful, even refreshing response from someone who has not resorted to letting politics get in the way of speaking clearly on factual matters.

Cultivating Ignorance

Unfortunately, Clark has decided not to use his mayoralty run to help explain the economics he so clearly understands. Instead, he is cultivating the ignorance he so recently decried.

Here is what he said to the Flamborough Review on September 30:

For years, residents of both Hamilton Mountain and our suburbs have felt council has been too focused on one part of the city. To move forward, it's important for our new mayor and council to spread their focus beyond downtown Hamilton.

Just as in his cynical reversal on LRT, Clark has decided that the wedge politics of stoking resentment and playing the old lower city off against the suburbs offers him his best shot at winning the election.

The fact is that Council agonizes over every small investment in the lower city and downtown while quietly approving comparatively huge infrastructure investments for sprawl projects.

Councillors spent more than four hours debating whether Wards 2 and 3 should use $867,200 of their own capital infrastructure funds to build a protected two-way cycle track on Cannon Street.

Earlier this year, Council couldn't bring itself to proceed with minor, inexpensive two-way conversions it approved all the way back in 2001 because suburban Councillors were suddenly outraged that some of their streets don't have sidewalks - even though some local residents apparently prefer it that way.

Meanwhile, the decision to spend $3.7 million rebuilding a mountain access or $18 million on an arterial road on the East mountain just happens with no fuss or controversy.

Energizing Anti-Urban Votes

In 2010, Bob Bratina managed to energize some anti-urban votes by promising to revisit the amalgamation of Hamilton and its surrounding communities, a policy over which the mayor has absolutely zero control and in which the Province has expressed zero interest.

This time around, Clark promises to negotiate for the Province to take over the Lincoln Alexander/Red Hill Valley Parkway and expand them with additional lanes.

Thanks to the law of induced demand, widening a highway to reduce congestion is an expensive exercise in futility, as the mere existence of additional lane capacity will generate enough new traffic to fill it up.

The Province has promised 100 percent full capital funding for rapid transit in Hamilton - either a light rail transit (LRT) line as specified by Council or, alternately, a cheaper-to-build but more-expensive-to-operate bus rapid transit (BRT) line.

Clark supported Hamilton's LRT planning for years but now rejects it. Instead, he wants to butter up the status quo with additional express buses that he insists on calling "BRT" even though they do not meet the minimum BRT criteria of running on dedicated lanes to stations where riders can board directly after having prepaid.

Perhaps Clark thinks he can convince the Province to throw out its own smart growth policies and spend the rapid transit capital money on widening the highways instead.

More likely, he merely thinks he can convince Hamilton voters that this is possible.

In any case, it is a total repudiation of his analysis in May, when he still understood that investing in urban intensification is more economically sustainable than spending money we don't have on low-density, high-cost sprawl infrastructure.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 15:11:02

Last night a CH report on the Ward 13 Council race included a man in the street segment decrying the fact that their tax dollars "go to Hamilton".

For some reason people fail to understand that Amalgamation was the smokescreen that hid the intro of market value assessment and the downloading of social services to municipalities - the real reason everyone (including those in the old city) saw their taxes rise.

Funny how one of the disciples of the regime that made it all possible is now somehow appealing to them.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2014 at 18:35:56 in reply to Comment 105422

Indeed. The so-called "local services realignment" took place in 1998 and 1999. For example, municipalities assumed full responsibility for transit funding as of January 1, 1998, the same day they assumed responsibility for full funding of municipal airports.

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By Al Anon (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2014 at 06:34:02 in reply to Comment 105422

"Last night a CH report on the Ward 13 Council race included a man in the street segment decrying the fact that their tax dollars "go to Hamilton". "

My folks are like that. They live in Dundas, and I was raised there. My parents see area rating, amalgamation etc as problems, as they now pay more and get less. I agree that it's happening, but it comes after years of subsidization from the old city to their benefit. They do however see de-amalgamation as a red herring. I wish there was a right answer but it certainly isn't Mr. Clark's vision of the city.

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By Anticlark (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 15:21:02

Clark = political whore.

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By tactical decision (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 15:46:06

As repugnant a campaign as his, it has some direct advantages. Namely it puts him apart from the others and caters to the angry votes from the outlying areas without which few mayors ever get in. He uses negativity and devisiveness but the likes of Di Ianni did too and he got in. Further, since the media and therefore much of the public are only paying attention to the three top candidates, two are looking more alike and one stands out. In a race of three, who do you think usually wins?

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By RobF (registered) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 16:16:40

Thanks for this. It's hard to argue with your own words ... hope this changes a few minds, but i won't hold my breath.

I'd hadn't seen the tactical taxation graphic before ... it's very useful for us in public discussions about intensification to be able show straightforwardly the value of mid-rise infill projects, and the importance of investments like LRT in catalyzing them. Graphics like this are worth a 1000 words.

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-10-16 16:17:28

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2014 at 17:17:09

You know, Councillor Clark was someone I could at least respect, even if I didn't always agree with him. He supported the Cannon Street Bike Lanes, even saying that he "would like to see similar projects in [his] ward", he was always thoughtful and process-oriented, and while I might not have always agreed with some of his assessments (especially re: the consultation process on Cannon Streets), I could at least understand where he was coming from, because I respected him and his principles. I saw Clark as someone that would, if elected, be a Mayor that would take facts into consideration, work with his Council and move Hamilton forward thoughtfully, even if I didn't always agree with his approach.

Candidate Clark, on the other hand, has proven to be complete snake. Focusing on the politics of confusion and division, catering to the "War on the Car" narrative and hoping that business-as-usual will move our City forward. You don't solve a problem with the same thinking that gets you into it - period. We need new ideas, and I was really hoping that we'd see one of those magical elections where no matter who won, we'd be better off in 4 years than we would have been under our current leadership. Unfortunately I don't see that being the case with Clark. I see his regressive, divisive style of politics keeping the City mired in mediocrity for the next 4 years. Hamilton will continue to get better, that much is certain, but it will happen despite the efforts of the leadership at the City rather than because of or in tandem with them. I hope that this election cycle has shown more people what Clark's true colours are - I know my respect for him has all but vanished. Here's hoping on October 28th, he'll do the same from Hamilton's political landscape.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 17:49:08 in reply to Comment 105426

"Councillor Clark was someone I could at least respect, even if I didn't always agree with him."

And I (still) think he'd be the same as Mayor, to be honest. But what he has done since he declared has not reflected well on him.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 16, 2014 at 17:41:04 in reply to Comment 105426

I like you am disappointed. Had great interactions with Clark the few times we touched base the past few years. I always felt that he had the city's best interest at heart. And it appears as though he did right up until sometime since June.

THIS is why people like me have no use for political parties and politicians in general. Too many of them are more than willing to harm their own city and set us back decades if it means 4 more years with a government cheese pay check.

So sad.

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