Feb 12

Developers, businesses want mayor to back Queens Quay LRT

From a letter submitted by John C. O’Keefe Jr., managing partner of 3C Lakeshore Inc., a consortium of realtors and developers currently working on waterfront development, submitted as part of this week’s council debate on transit:

I am writing to you on behalf of numerous Landowners and Investors on the East Bayfront corridor between Yonge & Cherry Streets.


Last fall, this group conveyed our disappointment to the Mayor’s office in the delay and possible elimination of the Queens Quay LRT. All of the aforementioned stakeholders made significant initial investment totalling well into the hundreds of millions of dollars on the promise and expectation of LRV’s connecting this burgeoning community to the wider transit system at Union Station.

via Letter from John C. O’Keefe Jr. (CC.New.CC17.1.57) | Toronto Council.

The waterfront light rail projects planned for the east side of downtown have been mostly overlooked over the past couple of the years, lost in a sea of other contentious issues. As originally planned, streetcar tracks would be extended down Cherry Street through the West Don Lands development to (eventually) connect with a new LRT line on Queens Quay East extending out of Union Station. Both lines would run in private right-of-ways, like Spadina and St. Clair, using a side-of-road design.

As it stands, the rail line for Cherry Street seems set to move forward — it’s promised for the Pan Am Games –, but Queens Quay East construction has stalled out. At issue: missing funding of $120 million, some technical issues related to the Union Station connection and, of course, a mayor ideologically opposed to surface rail.

Ford has spent much of the last week talking about what people want. He says he’s listening to what people tell him. But here’s a case where a group of businesses are clearly and unequivocally telling him that they want just one thing: surface rail. Hanging in the balance is billions of dollars of economic activity to be forged through neighbourhood development. Compared to the amount of cash tossed around this week as council debated various transit schemes, the investment required is almost trivially small.

But is the mayor willing to listen?

Sep 11

“The item as amended carries unanimously, 45 in favour”

As expected, Waterfront Toronto’s plan for the Port Lands is — more or less — safe. This is nothing less than a major defeat for Rob Ford, with significant implications for the power dynamics on council going forward.

A big day.

Sep 11

Victory on the waterfront (for now)

The Toronto Star’s David Rider:

Mayor Rob Ford and his councillor brother Doug have abandoned their dream of seizing the Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto and replacing neighbourhood-based development with glitzy attractions.

Faced with public uproar and a revolt among council allies, the Ford administration was forced to reach across political divisions and has reached what one councillor calls “a consensus, not a compromise,” for council to vote on as early as Wednesday.

via Toronto News: Ford gives up goal of seizing Port Lands – thestar.com.

Rider goes on to describe the consensus outcome — someone has been very clear that this is not to be described as a compromise — as “a stunning defeat for the Fords.”

And it is. Despite the sure-to-be-a-good-time displays of bravado we’ll see from the mayor and his brother over the next few days, there’s no way to conclude this as a victory for the Ford brothers. This battle was never about a monorail or a ferris wheel or a competing vision for Toronto’s waterfront: it was about wrenching control of land away from an established agency — Waterfront Toronto — in order to ensure all development revenues would go directly to the city. Under the current scenario, Waterfront Toronto will retain virtually all those revenues and use them to fund further development.

This crazy gambit in the Port Lands didn’t emerge because Rob Ford rolled over one day and decided to make city building a priority. It was a calculated move designed to play a significant part in fixing the city’s long-term budget problems.

Hell, the budget chief even admitted as much in an earlier story by Rider:

Councillor Mike Del Grande, the city’s budget chief, noted Tuesday that, under the current arrangement, the proceeds of land sales go to Waterfront Toronto.

If the city gets out of the Waterfront Toronto agreement, every dollar from sales of the city’s 263 hectares in the Port Lands would go straight into the city’s coffers.

via Waterfront Toronto ‘keen to collaborate’ on Port Lands | Toronto Star.

As the consensus decision coming to council tomorrow apparently leaves Waterfront Toronto in place as the lead agency responsible for Lower Don Lands & Port Lands, the city isn’t going to be able to look to the water’s edge to solve their apocalyptic budget crisis. The Fords lost the only part of this battle they probably ever cared about: they’re not going to be able to use our waterfront as an ATM.

What next?

I think it’s safe speculation to say that selling the Port Lands was probably one of a number of options bandied about in the mayor’s office as a strategy for improving the city’s fiscal outlook and potentially for allowing the reduction or elimination of the Land Transfer Tax prior to 2014. Ford seems very serious about honouring that campaign promise, despite the logistical challenges associated with its removal.

With the Port Lands now firmly in the hands of Waterfront Toronto — for now, anyway — Ford will have to turn his attention to other assets. This is where things like a potential sale of Toronto Hydro — Rocco Rossi’s big budget fix-all — could work their way back into the discussion. More ominously, this is also where we could see a fight for the future of Toronto’s streetcar system.

A half-hearted defence of all this

Over at the Globe, Marcus Gee, doing that contrarian columnist thing, tries to spin a tale that tells this saga as a good thing for this city. “We may thank [the Fords] some day,” he writes, because they’ve “shook us out of our complacency about progress on the city’s most valuable asset”, which is, of course, our undeveloped waterfront lands.

And, yeah, I guess the groundswell of support for Toronto’s waterfront and the current planning process has been a good thing. It’s raised awareness. It’s engaged people. But if the Fords really gave a crap about developing the waterfront, they would have expressed their vision and desire in a way that wasn’t so much a transparent attempt to cash-in on valuable property. Portraying the Fords as well-meaning types who just wanted to build a great Toronto waterfront is, I think, a charitable take.

If the mayor really wanted to create a legacy on the waterfront, he could have engaged himself in the process of working with Waterfront Toronto. He could have attended board meetings instead of skipping them. He could have discussed a vision for these lands in his campaign, instead of telling the crowd at a waterfront debate last year that he didn’t feel the city could afford to develop its waterfront right now. If you want to contribute to building a great waterfront, surely leveraging a bureaucratic turf war between two agencies and getting your brother to play the huckster for ferris wheels and monorails is not a good or sensible way to do it.

The power of council

If nothing else, I think this is worth stating clearly. Let’s look at this saga in three parts: 1) the mayor tried to do something; 2) the people of Toronto rose up and expressed outrage; 3) councillors effectively blocked the mayor by opposing him.

This is a beautiful example of how city council can work — and should work — to protect our interests. Let’s hope it continues.

Sep 11

The week Rob Ford unravels

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate just how critical this week is to the continuing success of Rob Ford’s mayoralty. Either he and his backers find the workable strategies they need to navigate the coming obstacles or all the political capital built over the last ten-and-a-half months will simply and spectacularly blow up in the mayor’s face.

Here’s some thoughts on the stories that will shape the week ahead:

Marathon Meeting 2: The quick, cash-in sequel

Damned reruns. In an echo of that thing that happened six weeks ago where hundreds of people signed up to give deputations and contribute to the longest committee meeting in amalgamated Toronto’s history, we’re looking at yet another marathon-length meeting Monday. The circumstances are almost identical: executive members — and, yes, the public — are only nominally closer to having any real sense of which program and service cuts are actually on the table. The mayor continues, as a point of communication policy, to deflect blame and point fingers at consultants and staff whenever anyone accuses him of supporting cuts to service.

Committee members will undoubtedly complain about both the length of the meeting and the lack of workable solutions brought forth by those giving deputations. The latter is a familiar refrain at this point: those lefties just want to keep the spend-spend-spend status quo but we have a massive budget hole, so we need to make cuts, so where are their ideas and suggestions for cuts?

But it’s insane to demand that the bleary-eyed guy speaking at 5:30 a.m. in support of libraries should also give a three-point summary of his preferred fiscal strategy for the city. We elect councillors to handle the fiscal strategy — to look at the numbers and the charts –, with the full faith and understanding that they work for us and will defend the things we care about. It isn’t crazy, far-left socialism to demand that the mayor and the executive committee start doing the job the voters hired them to do.

I’m in no position to give advice to the mayor, but if I was it would go like this: step up and be a leader. Speak confidently about your fiscal plan for the city. Be plain about the programs and services you feel need to be reduced. Stop trying to scare people with talk of a 35% tax increase and instead start focusing on truth.

The Waterfront Saga

The Port Lands item goes to council on Wednesday. It will play out one of two ways. Either the mayor’s office has been successful in brokering some sort of compromise motion — moved in the form of an amendment — that they know will pass with support from the usual gang, or they’ll simply make a quick motion to defer the item and it will come off the agenda without a significant amount of debate. The latter is the better outcome, though the best thing would be an up-and-down vote that would rightly see council reject any notion of change to the current plan.

A compromise that violates any of the guiding principles of the process up until now is a very bad thing.

No matter how things shake out on the floor of council, however, this whole item has to be chalked up as a major defeat for the Fords. Every move they attempted on this file was a bad one, starting with Doug Ford’s monorail dream and continuing through to today’s revelation that the mayor’s brother apparently tried to get Councillor Josh Matlow to trade a supporting vote on this item for a guest spot by Ford on Matlow’s radio show.

In contrast to the previous contentious battles that have marked the run-up to every council meeting since Ford took office, this one had the immediate effect of pissing off an audience of older people and business types. Whereas it’s easy to dismiss those who would rage about bike lanes and affordable housing — the young! the poor! — an angry cabal of planners, businesspeople and seniors is way harder to sweep under the rug.

The vanishing Ford Nation

One poll last week had the mayor at a ridiculously low 42% approval rating. A second poll revealed that only 27% of Toronto residents would vote for the guy if an election were to happen tomorrow. The same poll also pointed out that the mayor has shed more than a quarter of his core support, when compared to the October 2010 election results.

Some have tried to dismiss these numbers as irrelevant, but it was clear late Friday that the mayor’s office is taking them pretty seriously. A hasty email was sent out to Ford’s old campaign mailing list reassuring people that “[this core service review process] is what you elected me to do as Mayor.” Someone is panicking. (The Toronto Sun is also playing defence, publishing a Ford-praising column by Joe Warmington that can only be fairly described as remarkably terrible.)

Ford is never going to be the kind of politician to draw broad, across-the-board support. He made his political fortune by demonizing certain groups across the city, including essentially all of downtown. But that his popularity is flagging with the core supporters — the true believers — is the thing to note from all of this. Without the highly-mobilized base, Ford is nothing.

The loss in popularity amongst those who bought into the stop-the-gravy-train, respect-for-taxpayers sloganeering also goes back to an issue of leadership. As a generalization,  right-leaning voters tend to appreciate a more paternalistic approach to government. Think Stephen Harper, wearing his sweater, making us feel like he’s got a plan for the economy. Ford’s erratic and irresponsible behaviour on fiscal issues — blaming others; focusing on scare tactics instead of workable solutions — isn’t giving anyone any sense of security or confidence. There’s no authority there.

In theory, the mayor’s popularity doesn’t matter. He won the election and that fancy chain is his for the taking until 2014. But the only real leverage Ford has had over council in these early months is that spectre of popularity. Without it, the only tools he has left are the confusing procedural powers of the mayor’s office, which can’t take him that far.

Sep 11

The Port Lands vote: the first significant defeat for the Ford administration

Updated Sept 16, 2011 — 9:27 p.m. The Toronto Star has now reported that Michelle Berardinetti and Karen Stintz are likely ‘no’ votes. I’ve also moved Frank Di Giorgio to the ‘maybe’ column. The remaining 15 ‘yes’ votes are the most bedrock Ford supporters, so I don’t expect to see much change from this point onward. It’s obvious at this point that the item as originally presented is doomed. The mayor’s office must now scramble to find a face-saving compromise motion.

A quick update on the voting chart from last week:

Lots of movement on the chart: previously up-in-the-air Councillors Colle, Bailão, and Lee were switched to presumed ‘No’ votes. Councillors Berardinetti, Lindsay Luby and Parker have been re-listed as questionable votes after sources indicated they are all feeling rather conflicted about things.

The big news, though, is Councillor Jaye Robinson who, despite sitting on the mayor’s executive committee, announced that she would not be supporting the Ford-driven item to seize the Lower Don Lands and Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto. This is an important development not only for waterfront watchers but for council as a whole, as it severely weakens the mayor’s ability to obtain a majority going forward.

It remains to be seen whether this is only a minor blip in the relationship between Councillor Robinson and the Mayor — which has always felt a bit awkward and forced, she a rather centre-left type with an interest in the arts and he an iconoclast with a hate-on for government programs — or a significant sea change. How the mayor’s office responds to this outburst of independent thinking is the thing to watch. (When former councillor Brian Ashton, as an executive committee member, voted against one of Mayor David Miller’s key items, Ashton was quickly cast into the wilderness and removed from the committee.)

The Fords now face a looming council vote that looks very challenging for them to win. With 22 likely ‘No’ votes, their only hope is that all of the remaining available votes go their way without any absences in the chamber when the bells ring. This is a very unlikely scenario.

Councillor Peter Milczyn — a Ford guy — has been rather frank about their failure on this one. He told the Toronto Star’s Royson James that this “blew up in our faces” and, also, that “there is egg on our faces for allowing this.” Their collective faces have definitely seen better days.

So what happens now? It’s unlikely the item will make it to vote when council meets next week, unless something drastic or daring happens. Expect a deferral motion or another stall tactic to send this to staff for further study. A 1,333-word epic of an email from Milczyn’s office appears to lay out a future compromise that would see Waterfront Toronto and the Toronto Port Lands Company work together to review the collective plan for the Port Lands. Why TPLC needs to be involved at all is a fair question at this point.

It continues to amaze me just how many political missteps the mayor and his brother are making these days. There were probably dozens of workable strategies that would have resulted in the technical and contractual changes necessary to wring more value for the city out of Port Lands development. None of those strategies involved the councillor from North Etobicoke trotting out to the media with visions of a giant ferris wheel and an honest-to-god plan for a monorail. What kind of political strategy is that? What kind of meeting ends with everyone agreeing that the answer is sending Doug Ford out there to really wow ’em with some razzle dazzle?

Despite all this good news, I will caution that nothing is set in stone and a lot can change in the week ahead. Keep watching CodeBlueTO for further updates, and — if you haven’t already – sign the petition.

Sep 11

2012 Budget: Trading tax cuts for service cuts in Rob Ford’s Toronto

After months packed with a weak, barely-heard consultation process and a maddeningly non-specific communication strategy employed by the mayor’s executive committee — who told us that nothing, specifically, was on the table for cuts, except everything —, today we finally received, by way of the city manager, a list of concrete recommendations for service cuts in the 2012 budget.

They amount to, at best, $300 million worth of cuts over the next three operating budgets. For 2012, the best case scenario sees $100 million worth of cuts, mostly coming in areas like transit, planning & heritage, parks & recreation, street cleaning & snow removal, policing and libraries. We could see further cuts to both policing and libraries (including branch closures) in 2013 and 2014.

That $100 million in cuts does very little to fix the city’s perennial structural budget gap. It actually only barely covers the damage done in last year’s budget, when Council voted to significantly reduce revenues by cutting the vehicle registration tax and freezing property taxes. In essence, this fills the hole Rob Ford created and leaves us staring, rather fruitlessly, at the remaining shortfall — the same one that has dogged us since amalgamation.

Ford and his executive committee will attempt to make up the remaining difference — they’d peg it at $664 million, but really it’ll be closer to $350 million — through the forthcoming user fee review (which will undoubtedly recommend that user fees go up sharply) and the so-called efficiency study, which might end up being yet another set of veiled cuts to services. There will also be the inevitable TTC fare increase and a perfunctory property tax increase, though Ford has said he’d like to keep any increase on the low side. (To make up for last year’s freeze, we should probably be looking at something in the neighbourhood of at least four percent, but Ford has floated numbers in the two percent range.)

If it wasn’t clear already, this morning’s announcement should kill any lingering doubt that Ford has, rather spectacularly, violated his campaign promise not to cut city services. Ford voters now must look square in the face at a fiscal reality that says that damn near every dollar of revenue — taxes — removed from the city’s coffers must be complemented with an equivalent cut to service. Most of the 2012 savings come from proposed TTC cuts, including to Blue Night service, which would have a devastating effect on low-income people across the city, particularly in suburban neighbourhoods. Many of the remaining cuts are nickel-and-dime stuff, and little analysis seems to have been done to measure the financial impacts cuts to services can have to other departments or agencies.

City Manager Joseph Joseph Pennachetti has also passed the buck on a number of items, ensuring that we’re still several months away from a real debate about what to cut. Pennachetti recommends sending nearly all of the KPMG budget considerations back to various boards, committees and agencies, where they can be further debated, deputed on, and probably once again referred to executive committee. It’s an endless cycle, which cries out for the kind of fiscal leadership from the mayor’s office we were promised on election night. Rob Ford has sat in council chambers for over a decade’s worth of city budgets: it’s time we heard his ideas for plugging the budget gap. No more hiding behind expensive consultants and endless process.

Deputants to committees, left-leaning councillors and progressives in the city have been called out several times by those in power for merely championing existing programs, instead of proposing solutions to the city’s budget shortfall. What became clear today was that those running the city — Rob Ford, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande, assorted council hangers-on and staff — have no real idea how to balance the budget either. Their last, best hope is to skate through 2012 with assorted surplus revenues, these cuts, and user fee hikes, and then begin a fire sale of city assets — including, as we learned last week, the Port Lands — in the inane hope that using those revenues to pay down capital debt gives them enough room in the operating budget to make things balance.

It’s a bad idea that could significantly damage our city, and it continues to ignore Toronto’s only real path to fiscal sustainability: a coordinated approach to intergovernmental relationships, new sources of revenue — which must include consideration of road tolls and a sales tax — and a massive push for the provincial government to take back the funding responsibilities that rightfully belong to them.

Sep 11

City Council Scorecard: How to save the Port Lands

Let’s try to save the world with spreadsheets. Again. If the people of Toronto want to stop the mayor and his brother from seizing control of the Port Lands and pushing forward with a new vision controlled by private developers, we need five votes.

As with the Jarvis vote in July, the above is a best-guess breakdown of how councillors will vote on item EX9.6 when it comes before council on September 21. Again, it’s important to remember that this isn’t written in stone — some councillors could very well change their mind. Some councillors may even hit the wrong button when voting. It happens.

The first column above refers to item EX45.15, considered by council way back in the halcyon days of Mayor David Miller. It represents the only noted instance I can find in recent history of right-wing councillors attempting to slow or stop work by Waterfront Toronto. In this instance, which took place at the July 6, 2010 meeting of council, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong rose and asked for an amendment on an item related to the Don Mouth Naturalization and Waterfront Toronto’s plan for the Lower Don Lands, a parcel of land within what the larger Port Lands area.

Minnan-Wong’s amendment called for two things: first, that Waterfront Toronto “submit to Council, a Business and Implementation Plan for the Lower Don Lands with priority for Phase 1 (Don River Mouth), addressing capital costs, revenue and expenditures, funding, project phasing and land management.” That language is similar to what we saw in the report associated with the Port Lands item that came before Executive Committee yesterday. The second thing Minnan-Wong asked for was that “no further funding of consultants and studies be undertaken until the funding sources and Business and Implementation Plan are approved by Council.” I’ve included the voting results from the second part of his amendment in the chart above.

More notes on methodology: Councillors who are on the Executive Committee will all presumably vote with the mayor at the upcoming Council Session. The only exception could be Jaye Robinson, who was notably absent when the vote took place in Committee Room 1 yesterday. Watch her closely. Councillors close to or at 100% “Ford Nation” percentage are virtual locks to support this Ford-driven motion, though I’ve left Gary Crawford as a question mark as a long-shot hope. I’m working off the assumption that the traditional left-leaning bloc will all vote against the item, which seems pretty safe. Both Josh Matlow and Mary Margaret-McMahon have tweeted their support for Waterfront Toronto, the latter enthusiastically so.

So, what next? Email or call the councillors identified as undecided or potential swing votes. Their contact information is below. Your voice is especially important if you live in their ward. (But if you don’t, and happen to know someone who does, spend some time informing them of the issue and ask them to contact their councillor.) Consider contacting neighbourhood associations, ratepayer groups and local BIAs as well, and ask them how they feel about a new mall opening up in the Port Lands and the impact that will have on small-scale retail space in the city. CodeBlueTO has a great letter you can use as a starting point for your communications. If you get concrete word on how any councillor plans to vote, please let me know so I can update this chart.

Contact information for councillors

Councillor James Pasternak (Ward 10 – York Centre)

Phone: 416-392-1371

Email: councillor_pasternak@toronto.ca

 Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15 – Eglinton-Lawrence)

Phone: 416-392-4027

Email: councillor_colle@toronto.ca

Councillor Ana Baiḷo (Ward 18 РDavenport)

Phone: 416-392-7012

Email: councillor_bailao@toronto.ca

Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 – Don Valley West)

Phone: 416-395-6408

Email: councillor_robinson@toronto.ca

Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36 – Scarborough Southwest)

Phone: 416-392-4052

Email: councillor_crawford@toronto.ca

Councillor Chin Lee (Ward 41 – Scarborough-Rouge River)

Phone: 416-392-1375

Email: councillor_lee@toronto.ca

Councillor Ron Moeser (Ward 44 – Scarborough East)

Phone: 416-392-1373

Email: councillor_moeser@toronto.ca

Sep 11

A visual journey through Doug Ford’s Port Lands

Future Bird's Eye View

As was widely expected, the Executive Committee today took the first procedural step toward seizing a wide swath of land in Toronto’s Port Lands from the purview of Waterfront Toronto. The item will now go to City Council on September 21, where the fate of these lands will ultimately be decided. More on that later.

The meeting also saw the unveiling of a new “vision” for the Port Lands, as created by the Toronto Port Lands Company, and a handful of development partners from CivicArts, &Co and LEA. Because TPLC’s presentation is as of yet only available online in the form of a one gigabyte Quicktime movie file, I’ve pulled out some choice screenshots so people can get a better sense of what we’re looking at.

Before we get to the pictures, let’s address the pivotal question: is this thing any good? The only fair answer to that is sure, of course it is. It’s a decent enough vision for the neighbourhood with some fun features. It also has some flaws. But there’s not a ton to complain about in terms of built form.

Setting that aside, however, it’s important to remember two things: first, this isn’t a plan at all. We’ve been told it’s a ‘vision.’ Which means detailed analysis hasn’t been done: no costing, no detailed engineering, nothing. It’s fantasy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. City-building fantasies are fun to look at and can be useful in contributing good ideas. But until there’s an actual design and process behind them, they’re not real.

The second thing to remember: this whole Port Lands debate isn’t about comparing two competing visions — these visions aren’t competing at all — but rather deciding whether there’s a reasonable case to be made for taking land away from Waterfront Toronto and selling it to the private sector. I still don’t think anyone from the mayor’s office or the executive committee has made that case.

Sep 11

Selling Toronto on a new vision for the waterfront, before selling the waterfront

CBC News:

Toronto Coun. Doug Ford’s vision of developing a monorail, ferris wheel and mega-mall in Toronto’s Portlands may be closer to reality than a blue-sky concept.

The city’s economic development department has been working on the idea for months and a leading architect and a designer have also been retained.

An architect regarded as one of Toronto’s finest, Mark Sterling was hired by the city-controlled Toronto Portlands Company about two months ago to see if the plan was possible.

via Portlands plan may be closer to reality | CBC News.

Not to speculate too much, but this Port Lands story is going to take an interesting turn next week when the Doug Ford-endorsed plan is finally released with details. Because, despite a week of fun jokes and ridicule, Doug’s plan isn’t going to suck. In fact, it might actually look pretty good.

If private sector developers are good at anything, it’s making pre-construction plans and renders look really good.

For example, here’s what developer Concord told us CityPlace would look like:

CityPlace, located just north of the Gardiner on lands around Spadina Avenues, isn’t fully built out yet, but it is widely regarded as an imperfect development. It’s revealed itself to be a development plan driven and defined by profit motive, resulting in tightly-packed residential units squeezed into mostly bland towers. Despite the growing population, street life is still pretty sterile.

CityPlace, and the Central Waterfront developments that came before it, represent the clearest analogues for what Doug Ford has proposed for the Port Lands, though his plan apparently swaps out residential development for high-end mall retail. Those ‘plans’ started with nice renders packed with greenspace and happy-looking people too. That’s why this is so frustrating: we’ve gone down this exact road before and no one was particularly enthralled with the outcome. The eastern waterfront was our glowing opportunity to learn from our mistakes and do something better.

But, sure, let’s sell out on that. It’ll get us a few extra years of low property tax increases.

That’s not a vision; it’s a joke

The Toronto Star’s Royson James:

The key question will be put to the city’s executive committee Tuesday — by Paul Bedford, the city’s former chief planner who conceived the waterfront vision and defended it before the Ontario Municipal Board in 1999 when Home Depot wanted to locate there.

The developer-friendly OMB agreed with Bedford, city council and waterfront advocates that a big box retail store was not appropriate for the Port Lands; that suburbia on the waterfront was a non-starter; that retail with large parking lots was not an appropriate use.

“I am totally mystified by this,” Bedford says of Ford’s plan. “Ten years later and it’s ‘Never mind a big box, you’ll have a West Edmonton Mall by the lake.’ Where are the values of city building? They don’t get the concept. The last thing we need is a mall surround by asphalt. That’s not a vision; it’s a joke.”

via Ford’s developer friends are all smiles | Toronto Star.

Bedford sums things up pretty well. Also expressing concern — to put it mildly — over this week’s turn of events is the quickly-formed activist group CodeBlueTO and the John Tory-led Greater Toronto CivicActon Alliance, though I wish the latter was a bit more intentional and forceful with their words.

Following the money

I’ve had a couple of people point me to some research done in May by a YorkU professor who says that the Hearn Generating Station in the Port Lands is controlled by an influential Vaughan developer, who donated a significant amount of money to help pay down Rob Ford’s campaign debts.

Is there a possible link between this developer, Mario Cortellucci, and Doug Ford’s enthusiasm for Port Lands development? Maybe, but I’d discount any thought of corrupt dealings or backroom deals designed to funnel money toward campaign supporters. The Fords just aren’t the type, and I sincerely believe that their motivation these days is almost purely budgetary. Rob and Doug have never expressed much of an appetite for engaging in city building, instead limiting their priorities to maintaining and enhancing a low-tax environment.

This situation almost surely came up as part of a frantic search for workable strategies that would fulfill the mayor’s campaign promise to eliminate the Land Transfer Tax within this council term. The only realistic way to do that is to sell off valuable assets, pay down some of the city’s capital debt, and thus reduce the debt charges that are part of every operating budget.

Doug Ford is a decent enough showman, but even he can’t hide the fact that, to him, the Port Lands represent nothing more than big, flashing dollar signs.

Aug 11

Parallel Port Land Plans: No reason to abandon Waterfront Toronto

As part of this week’s Posted Toronto Political Panel, Chris Selley does that thing where he tries to get everyone to just calm down a little bit and consider the other side:

Look, the Fords’ hair trigger on big ideas is obvious. But the major impact of these staff recommendations would concern yet-to-be-begun projects that are contingent upon a $634-million flood-protection plan. There’s no money for it. “It appears,” say City staff, “that Waterfront Toronto is not in a position to co-ordinate a comprehensive revitalization program … that would allow for significant development within the next 10 years, at a minimum.” If developers are willing to foot some of that bill — which is, at least, far more realistic a prospect than the Sheppard plan — in exchange for building something that actually exists outside the Waterfront Toronto Holodeck, then I think it’s entirely worth exploring. Why not judge any ensuing development plans on their own merits? Also: What the hell is wrong with Ferris wheels?

via Political Panel: Exploring the port lands through the power of imagination | Posted Toronto | National Post.

In answer to his last question: nothing, but why ferris wheels? That seems to be little more than a me-too gesture from a city that is already too often criticized for trying, with various gimmicks, to look “world class.” We might as well throw up an Eiffel Tower replica, too. Maybe  a little Statue of Liberty holding a Tim Hortons coffee cup.

On Selley’s larger point, there is some merit to what he’s saying. Port Lands development is slow with a capital SLOW, and there’s a large unfunded liability for flood protection. But as guest panelist and noted luminary Steve Murray says, wouldn’t the prudent move be for the city to work with Waterfront Toronto to push forward timelines and find investors? Why not make an effort to work within the established framework — that is producing results in the East Bayfront and the West Don Lands — before you decide to go out on your own with a whole new plan?

Is it still true now, as it was a few months ago, that Rob Ford has never attended a Waterfront Toronto board meeting? And what about the question of motive: is this about building an amazing waterfront neighbourhood or making a quick buck through a fire sale of land that’s currently only suitable for ramshackle tourist attractions, big box stores and parking lots?

The Fords very much seem like the types who are prone to overturn the board and all the pieces the minute they find themselves looking at a stage of the game they don’t like. They did it with Transit City, and they’re doing it now with the waterfront.

More waterfront tidbits:

  • One of the fun undercurrents to the story as it develops is that it’s becoming difficult to determine which parts of the waterfront Doug Ford is actually talking about. Is it the Port Lands, the Lower Don Lands, the East Bayfront or all of the above? As the Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle notes, “This ‘wishy-washy’ language that is typical with the Ford administration has left no one sure what’s being proposed, said one individual involved with waterfront redevelopment.”
  • Ford has tried to present his plan as something that could work in concert with the other work being done by Waterfront Toronto, but his proposed monorail — which would require a clear right-of-way, plus stations, plus vehicle storage and probably a maintenance yard — would likely require changes to any and all current plans for everything east of the Corus Building.
  • Doug Ford isn’t the first politician to present an out-of-the-blue, comprehensive and unworkable plan for Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. In 2004, Liberal MP Dennis Mills ran an election campaign at least partially centred on such a plan. You can still view most of his ideas on the plan’s website; they include things like an aquarium and a campus for the United Nations University for Peace. There was also talk he was looking at casinos, backed by companies who would step it and contribute funds to the project. Mills was defeated in his riding, Toronto-Danforth, in the 2004 Federal Election by a former Toronto City Councillor by the name of Jack Layton.