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Previous post: Ward 2 Votes

Election Day is finally here!

Today finds us in a very different place than November 2010. Mayor Fontana stepped down before completing his first term after being convicted of fraud. Councillor Joni Baechler is now Mayor Baechler after being appointed to the position until the election. Several wards are without an incumbent, with councillors not seeking re-election, and Councillors Swan and Brown vying for the mayor’s chair. On top of that, we’ve had upsets in the mayoral race as Roger Caranci stepped down from the campaign, after the advanced polls had opened, to endorse his once-rival Paul Cheng, a complete unknown who is polling close behind front-runner Matt Brown.

So – a lot of potential for big changes on council! I’m hoping that this election will help renew interest in the electoral and civic process, and I plan to continue blogging and closely following the next council session.

But most importantly – make sure to get out there today and VOTE!!!

If you aren’t sure about any part of the election, there is still time to get acquainted with where to go and who your candidates are:

Not sure which ward you are in? Check out this map on the City’s website.

Not sure who your candidates are? The City’s website lists all candidates here.

Looking for where to vote? The City website will show you where to go.

Looking for more coverage of the campaigns? My friend Thomas Thayer (@talkw3rds) has written excellent posts on the campaigns in his blog.

Looking for an election night event? Check out Election Night at the Convention Centre!

To finish this post, I’ll leave you with this poem “Your Voice, Your Vote” by the amazing Holly Painter (@Hey_MissP), check it out!

 

Next post: London Votes 2014 Recap

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Ward 2

Ward 2 debate, London Free Press

Previous post: Cheng’s Campaign of Contradictions

I believe Nancy McSloy would be the best representative for our ward. Not only are her views on the ward and our city progressive and closest to mine, but I’ve had the opportunity to get to know her as a person before the election. I was able to volunteer with her on the Strengthening Argyle Neighbourhood Task Force and the Argyle Community Association, and have witnessed her passion for the our ward and the city firsthand. The London and District Labour Board removed their endorsement of Bill Armstrong (more on that below) and endorsed her campaign, saying she would be a progressive voice on Council. As her About page shows, she has volunteered and worked in on a number of fronts, and I’ve been very impressed by what I have seen. In volunteering with McSloy at Argyle local events I’ve been amazed by the amount of community members who know and deeply respect Nancy. Her heart is here, and the community seems to know it. It’s not a far jump from knowing a community well to representing a community well, and shifting from being a researched, dedicated and communicative volunteer to a councillor.

I also believe that her two opponents are not the best representatives for our city.

Bill Armstrong has been known as a progressive candidate but over the past council term has been slipping towards the “Fontana 8” on key votes, including the Reservoir Hill and PenEquity developments. This trend seemed to accelerate once Fontana stepped down from office and Councillor Swan became the heir-apparent of the group, including Armstrong voting against the Fanshawe-Kingsmills deal. This is despite the fact that it would help the school expand operations in ward 3 and likely bring more student activity to ward 2. This didn’t miss the notice of the London and District Labour Council – he lost their endorsement to McSloy because of his voting pattern over the last term. Armstrong has reacted passionately about a few issues in the ward, like the sound barriers along Veterans and opposition to a home for autistic adults that’s scheduled to be built near us (only a few neighbours actually seem to be against this development). Generally his votes are unpredictable, and appear to be based on his personal opinions. Most of the people I have spoken to in the ward who have made efforts to communicate with Armstrong were met with silence. Armstrong seems to have coasted for twenty years on voter apathy and a lack of strong candidates who can beat the automatic boost from being incumbent. Last election he won with only a small margin over Steve Polhill.

On the conservative side is Steve Polhill. If the donations for Bud Polhill and Steve Polhill in the 2010 election are any indication, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Bud Polhill was a staunch member of the Fontana 8 in the last Council term, and has been involved in both secret meeting controversies investigated by the Ontario Ombudsman. The last thing we need is a second Polhill at the Council table. He appears to have made his banner issue the proposed rec centre to be built in 2018 in East Lions Park, and how it should be relocated to another site like the former Churchill Public School site. This issue didn’t actually appear to be an issue to anyone until Polhill made it an issue (we live near the park, and everyone we’ve spoken to has been enthusiastic about the project and what it will mean for the East Lions neighbourhood), and I’ve seen very little else from his campaign to distinguish him as a candidate other than being a Polhill.

How will this ward race go? I think it is still anyone’s guess. 2010 saw a close race between Polhill and Armstrong, I believe down a conservative/progressive divide. Incumbency is hard to defeat, but Polhill has spent these last four years involved in the community, and the lines of progressive/conservative have been blurred. Nancy is a well-known and well-respected member of the Argyle community though and I think has really shook up what could have been a 2-candidate race. The London Free Press gives this assessment: “A horse race, with McSloy winning endorsement from the London and District Labour Council and a record of activism under her belt. Polhill has name recognition, from his politician father, and a pro-development stance.”

How has the campaign gone? These are Nancy’s thoughts on the campaign, in her own words:

The past eight months have been a whirlwind of being out in the community and knocking on doors. I have been through three seasons, spring, summer and now fall. I have also been through almost every kind of weather except for a blizzard.

Ward 2 is full of beautiful streets and neighbourhoods. I have seen so many beautiful front yards and gardens and now I am seeing many awesome Halloween displays. This shows the pride that the residents of the ward take in their homes and communities. I want to work hard for the great people of the ward for the next four years.

My team of volunteers has been amazing; we have walked hundreds of miles as we have been to every street at least once, some two or three times. I have had many people ask for signs for their lawn and many people who have donated to my campaign. For that I want to say thank you to each and every one for putting their support behind me.

Of course there have been some hiccups along the way, but I have been working throughout the community for many years and decided that no matter what I was going to keep going as I want to represent the people of Ward 2 at City Hall. I have made it to “Election Eve” and now it is a matter of waiting for the results. Tomorrow is going to be the longest day of the campaign, but to everyone who has been part of this journey I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Next post: London Votes 2014

cheng brown

Mayoral candidates Brown and Cheng, from London Free Press

Previous post: About Time

In a mayoral campaign full of twists and turns, Tuesday night – less than a week before Election Night – delivered another stunner. Mayoral candidate Paul Cheng, who moved from relative obscurity during the campaign to becoming the closest contender to front-runner Matt Brown, owns many unlicensed rental properties in London.

Cheng has said that he refuses to license his properties or to have them fire inspected as of a matter of principle, because many other London properties are not licensed and not under the same level of scrutiny, so why should he pay when others don’t? When asked if a mayor should choose which laws to follow, he backtracked and said that he would of course properly licence his properties before taking office.

He went on to talk about how painful his experiences with city hall have been, but denies that these experiences had an impact on his decision to leave his business career to run for mayor. In his defense about his decision, he said: “If you want to crucify me for that, yes, I protested and I stood up for my right to defend myself. . . . Is it wrong for me to stand up for my belief? Do you want a mayor that just craters under everything?” 

The more Cheng’s platform and business conduct surface in the last days of campaigning, the more he seems akin to fringe candidate Arnon Kaplansky, who has also run foul of city hall with his development plans. Kaplansky is all about decrying “red tape” at city hall – but his “red tape”, to me, is code for “due diligence”. Kaplansky argues his properties would be so much better if city hall would just get out of the way and let him do whatever he wants.

(There are concerns being voiced that this article from the LFP is somehow tied to Cheng’s opposition, and the timing is suspect so close to the election. This comment was made by the article’s author, Jonathan Sher: “No one leaked anything. I investigated Mr. Cheng’s experience as a businessman as it is that experience that has been a cornerstone of his campaign. In London, his business experience is almost exclusively as a landlord. I conducted land registry searches to find out which properties he owns (many are under a numbered company), then asked city hall bylaw enforcers whether those properties had been duly licensed — a question that any civil servant is required to answer, as these are public records. As best I can tell, neither Brown nor Swan were aware of the issue until I asked them about it.”)

These revelations come on the heels of another controversy, starting the night of Sunday Oct 19 when one Scott Sproul (who has since deleted his account) tweeted a racist message to Forrest Bivens (@ForrestBivens) over his taking over the People of London (@PeopleofLdnOnt) Twitter account. This was awful but not unique for Sproul, who has been trolling London social media for years, but it was revealed to many that he is part of the Paul Cheng campaign team. I and others called the Cheng campaign office Monday to ask what capacity Sproul has on the team, and if the Cheng campaign knows that Sproul uses his vitriol to attack Matt Brown supporters as well as support Paul Cheng. I was contacted by the campaign manager Tom Linden that morning, who told me that Sproul was not associated with their campaign. That afternoon, Paul Cheng’s campaign announced that Sproul was a volunteer with the campaign, and no longer welcome. Hm.

Following that, am980 wrote the story about it and Forrest continued to talk to Linden. Forrest shared the latest e-mail he had received, where Linden denied one of the quotes they had published from Cheng, and said “I honestly don’t know how to get the media to report the truth without editorial sensationalism”. This prompted Craig Needles to publish this blog post including the sound clip of the quote, and saying that Cheng owed him and the station an apology. That evening Cheng contacted am980 and Craig Needles to apologize and say that he never meant to cast doubt on the professionalism of either… but didn’t address all the inconsistencies, nor the fact he referred to some of those questioning him as the “old boys network”.

These are only the latest contradictions from the campaign. Paul Cheng has insisted his campaign is about results not paper, and that London has enough talking and enough studies, time for some action! But he has then stated that some of his first actions as mayoral will be to meet with the top 100 businesses in London and talk with them to find out what they need from city hall, and create plans, including transportation plans, to evaluate what is to be done. Sounds like a lot of talking and studies – all of which are already done. As candidates Swan and Brown have indicated, if Cheng knew his way around City Hall he would already know that, and realize that this work has been done for him.

In an article Wednesday, Cheng himself admitted that his campaign team is “rag-tag”, without experienced team members. Cheng made Tom Linden his campaign manager after he came to Cheng’s door to offer his support, because Linden came across as someone genuine, with his heart in the right place. In speaking to Linden on the phone I was given the same impression – but he immediately admitted to me he was far out of his depth running this campaign. With this knowledge, the glaring errors in the past week make more sense.

This campaign just doesn’t add up.

Worse, Paul Cheng seems like a candidate that sees himself as above the rules. From wondering aloud if all matters before Council even need to go to a vote to now seeing exactly how he runs his own land management business, it’s easy to see the City snared in needless controversy with the OMB and Ontario Ombudsman, should Cheng take office.

I ask anyone considering voting for Paul Cheng to look into his campaign, and these controversies piling up before the big day. The more his campaign is examined, the more it looks like a second rendition of the Fontana years on Council. We know how that story went. I hope that after Election Day, we don’t repeat it.

Next post: Ward 2 Votes

downtowrooftop2

Previous post: Letter to Council – Supporting Fanshawe

I closed one of my last posts with “I say this every time I write and then there is a massive gap between posts, but…I hope that this will mark a return to writing. There has been so much to write about both locally and around the world, will aim to be here much more often.”

That was a couple months ago…

This year has gone by astoundingly quickly, with Molly born in April, and suddenly now 6 months old. I’m still adapting to becoming a father but enjoying every minute of it, though between work and Molly-time it has become very easy to revert to introversion and not make it out to Election 2014 events. Speaking of…

The election season has managed to both drag and blitz by – it’s hard to believe that election day is less than a week away, even as some aspects of the election have made it seem endless. The last weeks have been marked by some major upsets including that once-presumed front-runner Roger Caranci withdrew from the mayoral race and endorsed once-fringe Paul Cheng, who has been making massive gains on front-runner Matt Brown. Yesterday alone saw two racism controversies: a) Paul Cheng dismissing a campaign volunteer who wrote racist/abusive tweets, mostly to Matt Brown supporters, and b) three candidates running against presumed Ward 3 front-runner Mohamed Salih tried to ambush him on CJBK radio with bogus questions about Mo’s residency etc. that they have chased his campaign with since the start. As things have gotten frantic in the last days of campaigning there have been complaints on all sides of campaigns turning negative, and even many that are passionate about politics have been feeling burned out.

I’ve been thinking repeatedly about writing on the election but have struggled to find inspiration, even as my friend (and fellow Fanshawe ILPT graduate) Thomas has written excellent coverage in his blog. His posts have been referenced by many as he has thoroughly and impartially written about the council and mayoral candidates. It’s been great to be able to follow his posts, but has left me with little to do! I appreciate him encouraging me to get back into writing.

So: it has been great to get back to this blog, and hope once again to write more regularly. There might not be too much more to say on this election, but I’m very excited to see who we’ve elected, and what direction they will lead our city. After the disaster of the Fontana 8 I’m hoping for better days ahead… we shall see.

Next post: Cheng’s Campaign of Contradictions

I’ve been asked by Abe Oudshoorn to share his letter to Councillor Denise Brown about the Kingsmills/Fanshawe proposal, keeping his blog focused on his Housing First series. You can check out more of his awesome writing and work in London here

Good morning Denise,

I hope your summer is going well, it was nice to touch base at the Great Places in Canada celebration for Wortley Village.

Just one quick thought on the Fanshawe/Kingsmill’s situation. The debate reminds me a bit of this sculpture:

politicians

It’s by Issac Cordal and is called “Politicians Discussing Global Warming”. The idea is that their city is drowning while they get buried in the details.

We talk a lot about economic development and revitalizing the downtown, but our vision and goals are also dependent upon the right opportunities arising from the public and private sector. It seems like a shame to me that when an opportunity presents itself at our table like Fanshawe College coming forward that we get mired in distrust of their due dilligence. Sure, there might be a hypothetical better deal to be had in the future, but this one is very real, and is available right now.

I hope you reconsider your vote against the increase in the municipal contribution,

Abe Oudshoorn, RN, PhD
Assistant Professor
Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing
Room H142, Health Sciences Addition
Western University
London, ON, N6A 5C1
519-661-2111 x86042
aoudsho@uwo.ca
www.abeoudshoorn.com
Twitter: @abeoudshoorn
kingmills_2

Proposed Fanshawe College building at Kingsmills.

08/16/2014 12:25pm UPDATE: I’ve added responses received from councillors to the bottom of this post. 

I’ve been following with excitement the Fanshawe College proposal to renovate the historic Kingsmills building downtown into new classroom space for 1,600 students – as a Londoner and alumnus I’m glad to see the rapid expansion of the school. I watched the Fanshawe presentation to the London Advisory Committee on Heritage (LACH) with great interest (in the gallery with Molly, as Sarah is a member of the committee). The committee seemed equally impressed, and felt that the proposal, though extensively renovating and updating the building, took prudent steps to maintain the heritage of the site. A downtown heritage building that is no longer useful is at risk, and this proposal balanced preservation and occupation.

It is then with great disappointment that I watched Council vote down the proposed project and request for $10M investment by the city, despite the $66M being paid by Fanshawe to make this happen. I was especially surprised that one of the reasons cited by Joe Swan was concern about preserving the heritage of the building – why have advisory committees if their recommendations are ignored? Did he think LACH didn’t dig deep enough, or did he simply not read the report? Fanshawe’s pitch made it very clear that they would be undertaking hassle and expense to not just preserve but to restore the historic Dundas Street facade.

A lot of the issue has been chalked up to an election year – voters are scrutinizing how councillors spend their tax dollars, and with a city that elected Joe “0%” Fontana four years ago, many candidates are probably concerned with being perceived as big spenders. In particular, with Ward 3 Councillor Swan taking a run at the big seat, he is trying to channel a similar “friend of the taxpayer” persona.

However, this is foolhardy on two fronts.

First, this makes it seem that the money would have to be levied through higher taxes, when there is already money set aside for exactly this kind of project. The city has funds for investment and the economic prosperity of the city – surely investing in one of city’s largest institutions to purchase and reinvest in one of the historic downtown buildings is exactly the purpose of those funds? The only other project on the horizon that could be a contender is the hotly debated Performing Arts Centre, and there are assurances that should such a project go forward, there are ample funds for both projects.

Second, Swan of all councillors should be supporting this project, with the main Fanshawe College campus in his ward. Beyond the massive investment in the downtown core, it gives Fanshawe much-needing breathing room as their attendance continues to climb as they expand their course offerings, and they stretch the limits of the main property. Already they have expanded to a massive new building at Oxford & Third as well as the first phase of downtown development, across from the now-empty Kingsmills building. Investing in Fanshawe brings more students to the city and higher demand for jobs including faculty, and gives Fanshawe space to bring 1,600 new students to Swan’s ward. This is exactly the kind of innovative and progressive vision we need for our city, the kind of vision Swan is evidently lacking.

The last vote failed with a tie vote, with Henderson not there – he has indicated had he been there, he would have also voted against the proposal. Those that voted against it were Councillors Bud Polhill, Bill Armstrong, Joe Swan, Stephen Orser, Paul Van Meerbergen, Denise Brown and Sandy White.

Today, the London Downtown Business Association has called an emergency meeting to address what can be done, but there is only a faint hope – to reignite the debate at Council it would take 2/3 to vote for a renewed discussion, meaning several councillors would have to change their vote.

It may seem a slim chance, but if you think this project is what London needs, please take a few minutes to write to Council to express your views. This is the letter I’ve sent to Council, you’re welcome to use it as a template if it would help frame your thoughts on this important issue.

To London City Council,

I’m writing today to ask you to reopen the debate on the proposal by Fanshawe College for $10M towards their investment in the now-vacant Kingmills building downtown, and to support the proposal. Accepting this proposal would show excellent leadership and investment in our city by this Council. Fanshawe is putting forward $66M into this project, noting that they could much more easily build a new building on cheaper property, but they are choosing to move downtown and invest heavily in one of the historic storefronts, and teaching their culinary students while opening a new restaurant downtown. As well, LACH and senior city staff including Martin Hayward and John Fleming support this plan – as Councillor Branscombe has noted, whether to support this project seems to be a “no-brainer”. This project will pay massive dividends for our city, and be one of the shining moments of this Council session, should it go through.

In particular, I ask Councillors Armstrong and Swan to reconsider their position on this proposal, as this plan will greatly impact their wards. Fanshawe is already stretched to the limits of their existing property even as they are continuing to expand their attendance and course offerings, if this project were to go forward 1,600 students would be admitted to the downtown campus, opening space for 1,600 new students at the main campus. London desperately needs new, innovative minds, every effort should be made to bring more students to the city, and retain them after graduating. Investment downtown creates opportunities all over London.

With this proposal, Fanshawe College is showing vision, innovation and leadership. Today I ask that you stand with them, and do the same.

Thank you for your time and consideration, please contact me if you’d like to discuss this issue further.

Sincerely,

Brian Gibson

Ward 2

 

UPDATE: Below are the responses I’ve received from Councillors. 

I received this response from Councillor Matt Brown 3:05pm August 15:

Thank you for taking the time to write this Brian. Best regards, Matt
Matt Brown
City Councillor, Ward 7

I received this response from Dawn MacLean on behalf of Councillor Russell Monteith 3:43pm August 15:

Good afternoon Brian,

On behalf of Councillor Russell Monteith, thank you for your email. Your comments and concerns have been noted and will be taken into consideration.

I received this response from Councillor Joe Swan 5:31pm August 15:

Dear  Brian

Thank you for writing. I know you care about doing the right thing for London,

Here is some excerpts from my letter to the downtown business association in a genuine effort to keep the project moving forward:

I indicated to the Business association  that it is my belief that all city council members  seek a solution that is good for the entire community and is within the existing City of London budget allocation.

The city has committed $20 million to ensure the College locates in the downtown. The College has indicated up to 20 other properties in the downtown that may be available to make their campus a reality without the need for an additional $10 million of local taxpayer support. Those buildings may be a more economical solution, with the same or better economic impact.

I indicated this particular property (Kingsmills)  was from a construction and facility cost point of view too expensive at $660 per square foot basis, (Fanshawe’s own consultant said the price was “exorbitant” school costs are usually about $350 per sq ft.). Also the location of the project meant the College would exceed the approved budget allocation of the City. The proposal will also demolish an important heritage property. The project does not have Provincial government financial support, yet it is a Provincial responsibility to fund Colleges. As Chair of the City Investment (IEPC) committee I have been made aware of at  least two other private sector owners that have indicated they have viable alternatives that do not require additional city funds. I presume they have not contacted Fanshawe or the downtown association yet as the current plan appears to be an intractable position for the benefit of one property owner.

I met with the downtown business association in good faith to suggest how we all might be able to move forward with a plan for Fanshawe downtown. I believe the downtown business association has the mandate and the capacity to take a professional business minded approach to help overcome difficult issues in the interests of all stakeholders.

I laid out to the association what I believe is a positive process that would move the project forward. I respectfully suggested I and others would welcome an LDBIA task force to look at all options. The LDBIA task force mandate would engage Fanshawe, the City and the Province and the private sector in a problem solving exercise that would achieve the result we all seek which is a vibrant downtown that welcomes education institutions locating in the downtown at an affordable price.

I have been a big supporter of the downtown. The results are clear. I chaired the downtown committee that was recognized internationally as the best in the business. Under my leadership the city committed millions for residential development, public infrastructure, and major destination venues such as the Budweiser Gardens, Covent Garden market and the new library. Much more city investment is on the way with Kilmer, transit, greening the Forks of the Thames and the Dundas flex street to name a few.

It is my view that the opportunity to build a positive and affordable plan for Fanshawe in the Downtown  remains. The city has allocated $20 million dollars to make the Fanshawe downtown campus project happen.

I have done difficult and challenging projects many times. I have done it before and can do it again. The deal with Fanshawe can be done with determined and skilled leadership that gets results.  

I remain confident the Fanshawe campus will be a reality in the downtown. We have the skills and talent we need in London to take a positive leadership role and get the results we all want.  

The College and the business association owe it to taxpayers to look at other viable properties and by doing so taxpayers will get the best value and highest rate of impact in the downtown.   

Regards

Joe

This was my response to Councillor Swan at 10:30pm August 18:

Hi Joe, 

Thanks for sharing your view about the proposal. Having spent the weekend reading about and considering the proposal and speaking to other councillors, I am still convinced that this proposal would be ideal for Fanshawe, the downtown and the entire city. Since you wrote, the LDBA has pledged $1M from their membership towards the proposal, signalling the downtown business community’s support for this specific project. As well, Councillor Denise Brown in speaking to her constituents has indicated that she would be willing to support a $9M loan to Fanshawe instead of a direct investment – is this something you could also support? I think it would at least be a very positive beginning to have partners in the proposal back to the table. 

Also, I noticed that the e-mail I received from Councillor White was very similar to the closing lines of your letter, without citing the source. When I asked her about it she told me that you had “shared his information and gave us permission to use what we found helpful”. Was this information shared with all of Council or just certain members? 

Thanks for your time, 

Brian

I received this response from Councillor Joe Swan 7:16am August 20:

I am glad to see that the dialogue is still open

I support Fanshawe downtown and am confident the project will move forward, I do not see the need for the City to add another $10 million dollars and I believe the Province has to step up and help fund the school. That is their responsibility.

Further I do not support local taxpayers providing an annual operating subsidy of $150,000 a year to the College every year especially when we have so many local responsibilities to be funded.

Joe

I received this response from Councillor Sandy White 8:21am August 16:

Brian,

Thank you for writing.  I know you care about doing the right thing for London.

 It is my view that the opportunity to build a positive and affordable plan for Fanshawe in the Downtown  remains. The city has allocated $20 million dollars to make the Fanshawe downtown campus project happen.

Council has done difficult and challenging projects many times. We have done it before and can do it again. The deal with Fanshawe can be done with determined and skilled leadership that gets results.  

I remain confident the Fanshawe campus will be a reality in the downtown. We have the skills and talent we need in London to take a positive leadership role and get the results we all want.  

The College and the business association owe it to taxpayers to look at other viable properties and by doing so taxpayers will get the best value and highest rate of impact in the downtown.   

Regards

Sandy

This was my response to Councillor White at 9:47am August 16:

Hi Sandy, thanks for your time and consideration. 

I am glad that you want to see the plan for Fanshawe to expand their campus downtown go forward. I sat in on the presentation to LACH for the Kingmills building and found it a win-win for the college, downtown and a valued heritage site, but understand the concerns about cost and the money requested of Council. 

With the news yesterday that the business association has worked hard to put together $1M over 10 years to help pay for this particular proposal, does it change your views on it at all? I think they’re making a clear statement and commitment to bring Fanshawe specifically to the historic Kingmills building. 

Thanks for your time, all the best.

This was Councillor White’s response at 9:52am August 16:

Brian, the point is best value for dollar and heritage remains a concern. I believe Fanshawe wants to make this happen and they will work hard to find a better deal. Sandy

Noticing that her first e-mail was almost the exact same as the closing line of Councillor Swan’s, I sent this forwarding Swan’s e-mail 5:51pm August 16:

Hi Sandy, I wanted to bring to your attention this e-mail I received yesterday from Councillor Swan, and the similarity in the closing lines to your e-mail to me. Was your response taken from this letter to the downtown business association? If so, you should cite the source. Just wanted to check. 

Thanks, 

Brian 

This was Councillor White’s response with Councillor Swan cc’d at 10:56pm August 16:

Thank you, Brian. Councillor Swan (included here) actually shared his information and gave us permission to use what we found helpful. For me, one very important aspect is the heritage value of the building. It’s not the façade; as much as, the interior of the building. Regretfully the historical significance of this store site has been lost on most of Council and the media. It would be despicable to demo this building rather than preserving the historical value that is far greater than the 10 million. sw

This was my response to Councillor White at 11:00am August 17:

Hi Sandy, thanks for the clarification. Was this information shared with all of Council? 

I agree that the heritage value of the building is extremely important. However, the concerns about the interior will have to be addressed by anyone looking to purchase the Kingsmills property, not just Fanshawe College. From the LACH meeting it was noted that the building is not AODA compliant. To bring it up to code would have to include the installation of a new elevator (the existing Victorian one is not up to code), changing the street entrance including accessible doors and a smoother entryway, to name a few features. There are also structural/safety issues that will have to be addressed. All of these concerns make the site very difficult to work with, yet Fanshawe has taken great pains to address every concern and bring the building entirely up to code. Finally, Fanshawe in their proposal outline how they will save as much of the interior as possible including incorporating original materials into the design. I feel that it would be difficult to find an applicant more sensitive to the heritage of the site than Fanshawe, and should Fanshawe not purchase the property, it will be difficult to find another applicant willing to face the sizable challenges presented by the site. 

Sincerely, 

Brian

I received this response from Councillor Denise Brown 1:53pm August 16:

Thank you for your email Brian.  Although I do not represent you directly, I feel every decision such as this one affect the entire city.  I am sharing the information below with those who contact me, as I feel the press can be very misleading.  Once you have read this information, I would like to hear from you again.

1.  May 9, 2011 – council approved 20 Million dollars over 10 years for Fanshawe to come downtown with a result of 1000 students.   Today, there are 400 students downtown.  For the record, the Province only gave Fanshawe 6 Million and Fanshawe contributed 14 Million.  So, the municipality paid 1/2 of the total contribution. 

2.  Fanshawe publicly said that they would move forward with the 2nd campus, with or without additional municipal funds. 

3. Fanshawe requested that council give them another 10 Million dollars to bring it to a total of 30 Million which would bring additional 1000 students downtown.  Fanshawe and the press keep referring to 1600 students, but that includes the 600 students that are already part of the 20 Million dollars approved in 2009.  The new proposal would see the City now contributing a total of $30 Million dollars, the Province $25 Million Dollars and Fanshawe $27 Million.  Question:  If Fanshawe already had  an extra 13 Miilion dollars, why did they ask for $20 Million originally.  Why not $10 Miilion.  How much more does Fanshawe have?  

4.  The London Downtown Business Association has now agreed to contribute 1 Million Dollars to this project.  I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, but the request from this group for funding from the City submitted March 2014 was over 1 Million Dollars – from the taxpayers.  Question:  Where does the 1 Million Dollars they are contributing really come from?  Is it the merchants reaching in their own pockets or is it the 1 Million Dollars the city gave them for business improvements?

5.  It is to Fanshawe’s benefit to bring as many students in one location as possible. 

6.  Education is a provincial issue.  The province downloads on municipalities on a regular basis and we should be careful not to pay for expenses that clearly fall under the Provincial budget. 

I am speaking to constituents this weekend, and this is the top subject.  I appreciate you taking the time to contact me, I look forward to hearing back from you.
Sincerely,Denise Brown
Councillor – Ward 11

This was my response to Councillor Denise Brown at 7:30pm August 16:

Hi Denise, thank you for the information you have provided. I will try to address each of the points you raised. 

1. Fanshawe currently has 400 students at the new downtown campus, however the facility is still new, and will see expanded use over time. If a brand new facility is at capacity right away, then that facility was built to be too small. Fanshawe have likely left themselves room to grow, and as programs expand there over evenings, weekends, etc we will see more students using that facility.

2. Going ahead with a second campus does not indicate size. Fanshawe could go ahead with a reduced facility that does not meet it’s demand, or allow them to grow. 
 
3. Fanshawe’s ability to raise money is for this project shows their dedication. The additional money they found for this project likely means that something they originally wanted to do will have to wait (that money could have been originally earmarked for something like renovations to main campus, more residences or purchasing property to expand satellite campuses). It is also not prudent to spend everything you have.

4. From the article http://www.am980.ca/2014/08/15/25181/, “The $1 million is a donation from the members of Downtown London, an organization made up of Main Street London and the London Downtown Business Association.” So it seems the business members are contributing their own money towards the project. There may be a misunderstanding about the funding, in speaking to Janette MacDonald of LDBA she told me they don’t receive funding from the city, only approves their budget under the Municipal Act. 

5. I agree that it is to Fanshawe’s benefit to bring as many students in one location as possible. Between the facility that has just opened and the proposed building at Kingsmills, it would create a small campus atmosphere in the middle of downtown, including a new restaurant that showcases the skills and training of culinary students. It also brings many more students to the downtown core during the day, allowing them to experience and spend money at the many excellent businesses in the area. 

6. I agree that education is a provincial issue, and that we should be careful about shouldering any of the provinces’ financial burden. However, the province, through the college, is contributing millions into this proposal. As well, they could build elsewhere at less cost, but they are showing what I think is admirable vision by proposing to renovate a historic and significant London site. I am concerned that if Fanshawe does not purchase Kingsmills whether another buyer could be found for such a unique site before the building begins to show the signs of neglect that put so many of our vacant heritage buildings at risk. 

Please let me know if you’d like to discuss this further. All the best, 

Brian

I received this response from Councillor Denise Brown 11:59am August 17:

I have had the opportunity of speaking to constituents in my ward, and many do not agree with giving the money to Fanshawe.  Some suggested a loan as we already gave them $20 Million.

What is your stand on this suggestion?

Sincerely,Denise Brown
Councillor – Ward 11
This was my response to Councillor Denise Brown at 2:30pm August 17:
Hi Denise,

I think this is an interesting suggestion, especially if it could see this project move forward. Brantford has used a similar model, using a combination of direct funding and interest free loans to bring post-secondary education to their downtown. 

Would you support the city loaning the remaining $9M to Fanshawe? Would it still be $900,000/year for 10 years, with Fanshawe then beginning to pay it back in that time? With the money already available now and the long timeline (2.5 Council sessions from now) does it make sense to propose such a long-term loan? 

If you were to support it, do you think this proposal would change the minds of other councillors that have voted against the proposal? If this would bring all parties back to the table I think it would be a good idea, especially if it could clear up how the present funds have been/are going to be used. Hopefully an understanding could be made with Fanshawe. With the money the LDBA members are willing to give to the project, it shows that the downtown wants to move forward with this proposal. 

Sincerely, 

Brian

I received this response from Councillor Denise Brown 4:39pm August 17:

It is something I can support and it is something that I think other councillors may support.  It is worth a try. 

Sincerely,

Denise Brown
Councillor – Ward 11

I received this response from Mayor Joni Baechler 4:30pm August 16:

Thanks Brian. I appreciate you taking the time to email your comments. I will continue to support the project when deliberated on Tue. Aug. 26th.

downtowrooftop2

I’ve struggled to complete my series on my experience at Tamarack, as the concluding day tackled deeper issues. These included what a strong community looks like, and how we can each return to our own communities with renewed purpose and energy to make the community visions a reality.

As I’ve reflected on community and what we can each do to grow a vibrant and caring city, two major developments passed the city’s planning committee, despite the protestations of both planning staff and many concerned citizens. The mayor has touted the construction developments in environmentally significant areas as a major win for our city because of the potential 1,200 jobs they will bring. This is against concerns that this growth further spreads the sprawl already too typical of London, the fact that the jobs would be mostly minimum wage jobs to multinational corporations not invested in the best interests of our communities, and that it would draw opportunities away from neighbourhoods across our city that are already struggling.

I was motivated to write this letter after reading Shawn Adamsson’s letter to Council expressing his concerns about the direction these developments will take our city. Please consider writing a letter to Council (wards and contact information available here). The more people who are sharing their thoughts and opinions on important civic issues, the stronger our city becomes. Please feel free to use this letter as a template if it helps to express your thoughts on this issue.

———–

To Councillor Armstrong, Mayor Fontana and members of London City Council,

I believe the two developments approved by the planning committee this week are the wrong direction for our city for several reasons.

As a student of urban planning and a participant in the highly successful ReThink London process, I’m concerned that these proposed developments are contrary to the public will and the wisdom of the city’s planning staff. The recently published ReThink London discussion papers and specifically the paper Creating a Mixed Use, Compact City demonstrate the public will to utilize our existing lands more efficiently and creatively, instead of the further hollowing of the core these developments would represent. If Council opts to ignore these massive citizen engagement initiatives, to ignore the advice of their paid professionals and instead to side with furthering urban sprawl for very little net job gain for our city, we risk further disenfranchising and losing valuable London citizens.

As a member of the Argyle Community Association board and a member of the city-led Strengthening Neighbourhoods Argyle initiative, I am very concerned about the impact these proposed developments will have on our community. Strengthening Argyle has worked diligently to survey the community to understand their priorities, with the ultimate goal of creating a vision statement and action plan for citizens to see their desires realized. One of the underlining goals for the community is jobs, especially jobs that provide a living wage that allows Argyle citizens to live comfortably and be contributing members of the community. I am deeply concerned that these jobs will do very little to provide new net jobs to our city, and only further drain opportunities from communities already struggling.

I recently had the opportunity as a member of Strengthening Argyle to  join the Tamarack Institute gathering on neighbourhoods and communities in Kitchener with many City of London employees. One of the key features of the gathering was walkabouts in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge communities to hear their success stories. One of the walks we were able to take was to see downtown Kitchener, featured as “The Revitalization of an Urban Core”. In it we saw many repurposed buildings (most notably the extremely successful Tannery District) and infill developments, making the most of existing sites. The planning staff that guided the tour noted that these kinds of projects help save the city money by slowing the need for expansion, reducing strain on public utilities and infrastructure.

As a previous employee of London Hydro working in the engineering office (2010-2011) and as a current contractor to hydro utilities, I see first-hand the costs of expanding developments into unserviced areas. On top of the massive environmental impact of clearing and developing an environmentally significant woodlot and wetland, the city needs to consider the burden servicing these developments will have on the citizens and infrastructure of London.

As a family that depends on public transportation to get around the city, we are concerned that these developments would either be unserviced by the LTC and therefore costly to reach (especially by the minimum wage employees of that site), or by being serviced by the LTC, would further strain an already over capacity and underfunded public service. There are many routes in the urban core that are unable to deliver sufficient seats to people that depend on transit (including students who pay for a bus pass as part of their tuition), and the LTC hopes to keep up with neighbouring cities by introducing express bus service. Furthering our urban sprawl will sacrifice these kinds of ambitious projects, and put us further behind the kinds of innovative communities we must compete with for our post-secondary grads.

As we struggle with 9.8% unemployment and the continued drain of our younger generation, these new developments may seem like big gains for our city. However, the generations of young educated professionals we want to keep value the environment, value having efficient public transportation, and recognize that a city with long strips of vacant commercial space (like the Pond Mills area, or McCormick area) already being serviced is short sighted to abandon that neighbourhood to decay for the sake of the appearance of progress (shovels in the corn fields).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Brian Gibson, Ward 2

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve been more out of the loop in London politics and activity than I’d like, and I hope in time to get more involved again. Having said that, I didn’t think I’d be back into it this soon.

Last week, we discovered that an empty lot (193 Clarke Road) very close to our house is being considered to an infill development project. This is the project (as stated in this article):

The project, a one-storey, 14-unit structure planned by a group of people with autistic children, is slated for a long-vacant lot in a neighbourhood along Clarke Rd. — and has the endorsement of city hall’s planning staff.

The community reaction to the project has been very negative:

But neighbours, stressing the building doesn’t fit their established east-end community, have pushed back hard, along with ward Coun. Bill Armstrong.

I find this extremely disappointing. The planning staff have endorsed the project. They have the constant challenge of trying to encourage infill developments wherever possible instead of seeing city growth continue to push against the urban growth boundary, yet when an excellent opportunity to develop happens, the community pushes hard against it.

This is the site in question:

193 clarke road map

As Councillor Armstrong says, from this perspective, the surrounding neighbourhood is all residential. But the plan is a single storey building actually shorter than the surrounding houses, and as this map shows, it is a massive lot.

Now look at this map, east and north of the site:

193 clarke road map

The site is on Clarke Road, a major city artery, and across and to the north of the site are an elementary school, a church, a secondary school, a city arena, and behind is medium and high density residences. To the south at Trafalgar and further is all commercial zoning, including one of Argyle’s largest shopping areas outside the mall itself. I absolutely don’t accept the argument that a modestly-sized apartment is not in keeping with the rest of the community.

Finally, there is the site itself:

photo of 193 clarke road

Currently, 193 Clarke Road is unlit, uncontrolled and unsafe. The site is used as an unofficial neighbourhood park, but it is also an unofficial dump, often used for disposing of garbage and shopping carts. I think the plan for this site is excellent, and having someone taking ownership and responsibility for the property would be a positive move for the community.

Though I’m sorry to see this project delayed, I’m glad that there will be further community consultation on this project, and that Sarah and I will be able to voice our support for the project in a public forum. I’m also glad to have time to be able to write to Councillor Armstrong and the rest of Council to say that I think that the design is the kind of project we should support in our community, and encourage to happen across London.

This is the letter we have submitted to Council:

To City Council,

I’m writing today to voice my support for the proposed development at 193 Clarke Road. I live very close to the site, and believe that what is being proposed is an ideal use of the site. I look forward to more information at the next public meeting about the engineering specifics of how the site will be laid out, but I believe the single-story apartments proposed are an excellent use of the space, especially since planning staff believe the site is properly situated and zoned for the use.

We should always strive to find good use of existing city structure, instead of continuing to develop and sprawl outward. As well, the site is currently uncontrolled, unlit and unsafe, so a cohesive plan to have the area developed, controlled and maintained by an owner is a positive step for the community. There are properties that connect to the proposed site that may be impacted as the site is developed, but I feel it is unfair to expect that this space would remain unutilized forever.

This site is ideally situated to the use proposed. 193 Clarke Road is along a major city artery, easily accessible to residents and visitors. The neighbourhood has a mix of uses and densities, has a bus stop to several routes very close-by, and is very close to two shopping centres, Argyle Mall and the shopping plaza at Clarke & Trafalgar.

Finally, as a member of the Argyle Community Association and the Strengthening Neighbourhoods Argyle Steering Committee, it is my understanding that our community wants to be welcoming, compassionate and inclusive. The strong opposition to this plan sends the wrong signals to the parents’ group, It’s Our Home, to the rest of the city and the greater world about the nature of our great community.

Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely,

Brian & Sarah Gibson

Ontario Ombudsman

Photo credit: Metro News

Three times in this term of office, our City Council has been investigated by the Ontario Ombudsman for potential misconduct. Once was as a whole for going behind closed doors (“in-camera”) to decide the fate of the Occupy London occupation of Victoria Park, and twice as a minority of council for meeting together in a private meeting around the 2012 and 2013 budget processes.

I have tried my best to follow these events, and learn more about the Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin and the role he plays as I went along. I wrote these three posts about the events in 2012, and after the “Billy T’s” incident and investigation were revealed, I recently wrote this post about it, giving a short summation of what lead to this second investigation, and where we are now.

In response to being investigated for the 2012 meeting (for which the group that met were cleared of legal wrongdoing, though the meeting was called “unsavoury”), some members of Council (all having been under investigation for having participated in the Harmony Grand Buffet meeting) said that we should consider opting out of using the Ontario Ombudsman as our closed meeting investigator. This is completely within their legal right as a municipality, though it would mean London taxpayers would be paying the salary of this new investigator, while the province would continue to pay for the Ontario Ombudsman with our provincial tax dollars.

It is against this backdrop that the Ontario Ombudsman published this editorial. He says:

It has never made sense to allow municipalities to opt out of using the Ombudsman and hire an investigator of their choice. Think of it as oversight shopping. It allows municipalities to hire friendly watchdogs — anyone at all, even former councillors or city officials — who will be more inclined to treat them with kid gloves or absolve them of wrongdoing, no questions asked.

This is the concern I and many other Londoners have about the idea of appointing a different closed meeting investigator. I am also instinctively suspicious of any council member that would want to replace the Ombudsman that has been rightfully investigating their conduct with someone else. To maintain public confidence in elected officials, it is their duty to be under appropriate scrutiny.

One major criticism of the Ombudsman’s position is that, though Mr. Marin sells himself as the province’s watchdog, he is “without teeth”. This is because he can only assist and advise councillors that are under investigation, even if misconduct is found. He can say that the Municipal Act has been breached and penalize the councillors in question in the court of public opinion (a ruling that could lose them a re-election bid), but not by any other means. So he goes on in the article to discuss the merits of being able to give out even a small financial penalty:

It makes sense, because this is about enforcing the law. Ontario’s legislation carries no consequences at all. It remains hopelessly toothless in tackling an entrenched culture of backroom dealings in municipalities.

I completely agree. As Mr. Marin states, for some councillors (including those under investigation a second time for the exact same activity), the only way to make the point stick may very well be through the politician’s pocketbook. He concludes:

The solution is simple. First, have one coherent and uniform oversight system that the public can access to hold municipal politicians accountable. Second, fine politicians who flout the system. The fines don’t have to be exorbitant — perhaps they can be in line with the kinds of fines municipalities levy on the rest of us for various infractions. But hitting rogue councillors in the pocketbook would get their attention that the rule of law applies to them, too.

The Ontario Ombudsman has worked hard to push the province of Ontario to expand his oversight jurisdiction, noting that the Ombudsman Act doesn’t give him the ability to investigate in many areas allowed to other provincial ombudsman (this chart on the Ombudsman website gives an excellent demonstration of how it compares). I agree that with his assessment that a universal oversight system should be implemented, and that politicians that don’t follow the rules should be fined.

As the chart shows, currently many jurisdictions (including the extremely controversial ORNGE) have the ability to police themselves, when a third party, impartial judge should be doing the job. And we don’t have to look further than our own London City Council to see councillors that just don’t seem to get it. The electorate are the ultimate authority and judge, but I don’t think we should have to suffer for four years under politicians unwilling to follow the rules. Right now, it seems some members of Council are much more interested in seeing how much they can get away with in their time in office, instead of working in the best interest of London’s citizens. If citizen complaints and investigations by the Ontario Ombudsman are treated with contempt, perhaps the potential for fines are the only language they will understand.

Update (3:30pm 3/20/2013): Since posting this, Councillor Orser has said that having the Ombudsman as the City of London’s closed meeting investigator has created a “culture of fear”, and that after the “Billy T” investigation wraps up, he will table a motion for Council to choose a different investigator. Details can be found here and here.

light show

Photo credit: London Free Press

An embattled mayor facing a legal battle and suspicions of misconduct.

A city council repeatedly in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Stagnant economic growth.

Spiking unemployment rates.

An increasingly bitter and pessimistic population.

This is the reality of London as it became time to host the world for the prestigious World Figure Skating Championship, an event the city has been planning and anticipating for years, since we first won the bid to host this massive event. Even against this unenviable backdrop, our city prepared to show the world the very best of what we have to offer.

Another point of contention has been the many items on the city budget connected to the event itself, especially the sound and light show projected to cost $600,000 to project a presentation on the side of the Budweiser Gardens every night of the competition. Many debates were held around the major item, and there was a great deal of public backlash, especially as other public and social services were mulled for trimming in the name of 0% tax increases. Deals were made, the project budget was trimmed, and many sponsors came forward as the event loomed to pick up some of the expense the city balked at.

Only time will truly tell if the expenses were worth it, but this week the sound and light show “Tree of Light” was a massive success with those that came out to watch it, both visitors from around the world, and many Londoners that came out to watch the show. The projection spectacular was put together by Montreal company Moment Factory, and made to both bring to life the skating event for those outside, and to showcase London itself. London journalist Larry Cornies wrote a detailed report and sparkling review of the event in this article.

But was the light show worth it? Check out the video below and judge for yourself.

This is the sound and light show, projected on the side of the event venue, Budweiser Gardens:

This wasn’t the only effort made to promote the event, by any means.

One element of London’s preparation for the event that I thought was brilliantly done was the selection of 5 London bloggers to promote the event, but perhaps more importantly, to promote the city itself. The site for the blogs is here, part of the larger “Canada’s London” promotion package. In reading through the posts, I discovered many new events and places I want to check out, and was reminded of many parts I’d previously explored and enjoyed. Perhaps then, this is the lasting magic of the event: perhaps we can collectively fall back into love with our home.

Something else that helped with this re-discovery was this great promotional video put together during the World Figure Skating Championship. Check it out:

London has been acknowledged by those that visited us this part week for the World Figure Skating Championship to be gracious hosts, welcome and courteous to the world. We have been told that we gave them a great time and lasting memories that they will share for years to come.

In no way will our problems disappear overnight. If nothing else, this wonderful event has been a respite from the problems facing our city, and hopefully, a breath of fresh air in a city that has in many ways become unable to see beyond the present woes. Let us return to the issues we must face in the week ahead, but work to do it without forgetting the week we just had. London didn’t hold up a false front to the world, this isn’t a case of “pay no mind to the man behind the curtain”. This week we showed the world what we are capable of, and I hope, rediscovered a potential we may have forgotten we have. This week, we showed the world our best. I hope that as we move ahead, we may continue to work to show this side we showed the world to each other.

Let’s take a moment to thank the world for what they have given us. A renewed sense of self, and knowledge that we are both global citizens and part of a very special community. Let’s move forward from this with renewed passion for our city, and set our minds to finding ways we can all make it a little better.