Oct 11

10% budget reductions, fewer cops on the streets, and reluctantly defending Bill Blair

From Rob Ford's "Financial Impact" platform document, his pledge to hire 100 more police officers. At present, it seems he will actually take hundreds off the streets through attrition to meet budget targets.

This week’s drama at City Hall: the police budget. The mayor wants all departments to cut their budgets by 10%, but Chief Bill Blair — whose budget is mostly labour costs — has refused, saying that he can’t do that without taking an unacceptable number of officers off the streets.

The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:

On Friday, the chief presented a scenario that would see a 1.5 per cent increase to the service’s $915 million operating budget, rather than the mandated 10 per cent cut.

Blair’s refusal to make concessions set [Councillor & Police Board Member Michael] Thompson off, who decided to publically question whether it was time to find a new chief if he won’t meet the budget target.

Ford made a near identical threat in January to force hiring concessions from Blair.

On Monday, in addition to his meeting with Ford, Blair set out on a daylong media offensive, giving a number of high-profile radio interviews where he spoke harshly of Thompson and defended his budget reductions.

via Toronto News: Chief Bill Blair tries to strike a budget deal with Rob Ford – thestar.com.

First: Let’s stop pretending that budgeting is easy. If running a government was as simple as pointing at budgets and demanding they be made smaller, anyone could do it. Hell, why stop at a 10% reduction? Why not 20%? Or 50%? All these blanket requests do is penalize the departments that have been run efficiently in recently years, forcing them to volunteer service cuts to meet their targets.

Second: A 10% reduction year-over-year is not an ‘efficiency’ target. It’s a number that requires service cuts to achieve. And that’s fine, I guess — some people like service cuts –, except that the mayor is attempting to have his cake and eat it too: claiming efficient victories while city departments scramble to gut services to meet his targets. In the case of the police service, the mayor’s request has a clear and direct outcome: he’s taking police officers off the streets. He can’t hide from that reality. There will be fewer police officers on Toronto’s streets this year and next year because of Rob Ford.

Third: Not that fewer police officers on the streets is necessarily a bad thing. Conventional wisdom is that Toronto spends too much on policing relative to its declining crime rate. Still, it has to be noted that Rob Ford campaigned on adding 100 police officers to the force, but instead has taken several times that many off the streets. It’s also fair to ask where the reductions in the force are coming from, because it sure would be a shame if, say, community policing in priority areas took a hit in favour of traffic enforcement.

Fourth: Bill Blair’s actions during the G20 are indefensible, which is why it’s challenging to write this: he shouldn’t resign. Setting aside that weekend where Toronto turned into a police state for no real reason — and I know, that’s hard — Bill Blair has been an effective leader of the Toronto Police Services, embracing a more liberal approach to public safety. If he goes, he’ll be replaced by the same guys who thought Julian Fantino was awesome at his job, and who seem to view allegations of corruption and excessive force as assets. It’s not worth going down that road.

Apr 11

Our new city-building strategy: sell downtown

Let’s start with this: At the Toronto Standard, Ivor Tossell writes about the recent hullabaloo surrounding Team Ford’s comments on waterfront development:

There are a few undercurrents beneath this goofiness. One is the distinction between the city as a place that people visit, and a place that people live. Urbanists want to turn the Port Lands into a breathable (and maybe even breedable) habitat for those who enjoy city living. The middle of a city is a pretty good place to do that. The Fords seem to want downtown to be a fun destination for weekend visits.

via Castles in the Sand | Toronto News, Media, Art, Business, Technology, Fashion, Events.

Downtown as a place to visit versus a place to live. That’s a critical distinction. It brings to mind some of the arguments made by G20 apologists after the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. “Why would anyone go downtown on G20 weekend?” they asked, ignoring that for a hell of a lot of people — a growing number — they don’t go downtown, they live downtown.

Mayor Ford, himself an apologist for all things G20-related, echoed the argument in the immediate aftermath: “Personally, if you didn’t want to be down there, then you shouldn’t have been down there. I didn’t take my family out when there is a riot downtown.”

A place to visit versus a place to live.

Then there’s this: this week, the city’s public works committee voted to essentially kill an ambitious plan to build a pedestrian and cyclist bridge over the rail tracks at Fort York. This was a critically important piece of infrastructure for the thousands who have recently moved into the area. It also would have looked very cool.

Why kill it? Nominally, it’s because the bids for the project came in about four million dollars above the allocated budget. But Councillor David Shiner made his real reasoning known in a comment he made following the vote, as reported by the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

Building the bridge eliminates two future sources of cash, Shiner said.

He estimated 10 Ordnance St. — the property where the bridge’s centre columns would be placed — could fetch more than $50 million if sold, while the Wellington St. city-owned property where the bridge would start is worth around $20 million to $25 million.

via Pedestrian bridge to Fort York latest casualty of war on waste | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

Translation: why invest in public space and infrastructure when we could just sell it?

You would think that city politicians would have moved past the belief that Toronto’s downtown is little more than a destination. There’s more to our city centre than various weekend attractions and athletic events, things that you load up the car and take the kids to, stopping for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.

Downtown is neighbourhoods. Downtown is homes and families and community. Different from the suburbs, sure, but not so different that it should be tossed aside as some rogue other.

With the debate over the waterfront and now this recent killing of the Fort York bridge, we’re starting to see a political climate where the mayor and his allies can’t or won’t look beyond the immediate dollar signs that downtown property represents. They’ll skip out on public spaces in favour of private ones — canyons of condos.

And if those private developments end up choking all the life and character out of downtown neighbourhoods? No big deal. They’ll just find somewhere else to take the family on the weekend.