Only In My Back Yard: A different double standard at City Hall

I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the city is fighting over a baseball diamond, but here we are. Little leaguers in Orleans wanted to build a second, kid-sized diamond at Heritage Park. However, it’s also an off-leash dog park, and the two uses couldn’t co-exist. Local councillor Jody Mitic sided with the doggos and got the city to kill the diamond.

I don’t know enough about the park to weigh on in the specific issue (though, in general, I side with kids over dog-owners), but something about Mitic’s stance was striking.

Mitic is quoted by the Citizen’s Jon Willing as saying, “It’s something the community absolutely does not want.”

There’s an online petition against it, and a bunch of residents are upset. (Though I would have assumed that people within the league were part of the community, too, but anyway…)

This is an interesting standard for Mitic to trot out. If you’ve been following this blog, you know about the developed planned for 890-900* Bank Street. The development company (decidedly not part of the community) wanted to build higher than zoning allowed. The community pushed back.

There was near-unanimity within the community. Feedback was strongly against this. The local councillor, David Chernushenko, was against it. Council approved it, nonetheless. Mitic voted in favour.

I’m not trying to re-litigate the planning decision. Nor am I looking to debate the dog park. Hell, I’m not even trying to pick on Mitic, specifically.

No, my problem is with councillors who have double-standards. We see this all the time (and I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while). They care about issues when they crop up in their ward, but don’t care much at all when it’s another ward.

Or take street safety. Have you heard about how councillors in sububan and rural wards are very concerned about speeding and safety? It’s all very sincere, until we’re talking about having safer, slower streets inside the greenbelt–say Main Street or Elgin. Bank Street is a traditional main street, but it also has to be an arterial, and we’re not going to take any concrete steps to keep people to the speed limit.

This is sort of the corollary to NIMBY-ism. It’s an Only-In-My-Back-Yard situation. Only In My Back Yard will I worry about traffic safety. Only In My Back Yard will I protect zoning regulations. Only In My Back Yard will I consider the wishes of the community. Only In My Back Yard do residents matter.

This isn’t about a baseball diamond or a retirement home or a lower speed limit. This is about treating all neighbourhoods and all residents fairly (which we really don’t). This is about having consideration for the safety, comfort and basic value of everyone in this city.

Not just the people in your back yard.

*Or something like that. I’m too lazy to double-check right now.

The War on Cars in eight lines

[Hey! I just found is in my drafts. I wrote it back in May. Figured I’d finally publish it.]
By now, everyone should know that the so-called “War on Cars” is utter bullshit. It doesn’t exist. Driving advocates, nonetheless, try to pull it out whenever cars aren’t totally, 100% catered to. We’re seeing this with the Elgin Street re-design. Here, in 8 lines, is what the “War on Cars” is:

The City of Ottawa: We’re re-designing Elgin Street. It’ll have two driving lanes, wider sidewalks and no bike lanes.

Driving Advocate: But I need to drive.

City: There’ll be two driving lanes, just like before.

Driver: But I need to park.

City: There are hundreds upon hundreds of spots on nearby streets and in nearby parking lots. We even make parking at City Hall cheap on weekends.

Driver: Not good enough!

City: You can park on the sidewalks.


What to do if racism flows across the river

So I was watching Mike Patton’s Ottawa City Hall Update again, and I came across this video:

Okay, so any non-racist, non-sexist, thinking person knows the recent anti-(mulsim-)face-covering law is absolute bullshit, but Patton brings up a good question. How will this–and by extension, how should this–affect certain public services in Ottawa.

All signs point to this law being a 1950s-Alabama type law, banning muslim women who cover their faces from riding the bus. (I mean, how tone-deaf to the arc of history do you have to be?) Patton wonders, how is this going to affect OC Transpo buses that cross over to Gatineau? Will they be forced to abide by the law.

In addition, he wonders about STO buses that come over here. Will they refuse to serve Ottawa residents who cover their faces?

Now, it’s not clear that STO is willing to play ball with this racist law, but if it is going to be the law, these are worthy questions.

All right, first things first. I can’t possibly believe the law will apply to OC Transpo. It is decidedly not a Quebec public service and I can’t see how they (we) could be subject to the law. However, if Quebec authorities are going to press the issue, there are basically two avenues we should be willing to take.

First, refuse. We can’t let our public services be hijacked by the racist and Islamophobic agenda of some bigoted politicians across the river. But if that’s untenable, if the authorities decide to harass our drivers or passengers, then we have to stop servicing Gatineau. We can’t be a party to the institutionalized racism of Quebec (not that we don’t have our own problems with racism to deal with).

Okay, so that takes care of OC Transpo. What do we do if STO decides to comply with and enforce the new law? Well, in this situation there’s only one option. We don’t let them operate in Ottawa.

These are our streets. We can’t abide the discrimination. We can’t accept a transit service that actively discriminates and oppresses vulnerable groups to keep doing business in our city.

(I imagine there’d be a pretty straightforward human rights challenge to any attempt to run a racist business in Ottawa.)

Don’t get me wrong. This would complicate things for a lot of people. This would radically change the way people have to move between cities (and with so many government offices across the river, residents really need to move between cities). This wouldn’t be easy, and a lot of people would be mad.

But we can’t value convenience over the equality of women and minorities. We can’t sacrifice the rights of the oppressed to make our commute easier.

Yes, we should use less water and pay more for it

I watched this video the other day. It’s something. Though I commend Mike Patton for his interest in and dedication to civic issues, his argument is a bit off the mark.

To recap, Patton accurately addresses and describes the situation. The city needed people to start using less water, so they implored them to do so. The public, thankfully, listened. Yay! Everything’s great…except that the city was totally relying on the water revenues and suddenly we’re kind of stuck.

Now we need to raise rates, and, thus, pay more for the reduced amount of water we use. The city, obviously, totally bungled this, but Patton’s solution is no better.

Patton wants the city to roll up the cost of water with your tax bill. You won’t pay for the water you use, just a flat fee. Have a pool in the suburbs? Have a small loft? We’ll all just pay the same. [Insert joke about conservatives wanting people to pay their own way.]

No, the current situation is right. People should use less water than they have in the past and people should pay more for it, if that’s what it costs. (This is a pretty straightforward market solution…insert joke about conservatives liking market solutions.)

The only problem here is that we didn’t raise rates sooner. First, that’s a great way to get people to reduce consumption. Second, we should have known that we’d still have to pay for water-related services and infrastructure even if people were using less.

Now, Patton has a point that the cost of delivering water is fixed, regardless of how much we use, but it’s not consistent across the city. It costs far less to deliver water to that loft downtown than to the single-family home in the ‘burbs.

If we’re going to just charge everyone a flat rate, we should make sure they’re paying for the infrastructure they use, rather than continuing to subsidize fiscally-irresponsible development.

(Keep in mind, a year or two ago, we decided to slash development charges so that new subdivisions don’t actually have to pay the cost of the infrastructure that has to be built.)

Of course, then there’s no incentive to reduce consumption, and that seems to be the point of the video. We should, apparently, be allowed to use as much water as we want, consequences be damned.

So, if we want to be fair, what we probably need are different rates for different areas to reflect the cost of service, and we need to charge proper rates that will bring in sufficient revenue to pay for water delivery.

This may be complicated in practice, but it’s not a difficult concept.

An admission of planning guilt

A few weeks back, the Citizen reported on the complete screw-up that is the planning around the development of the Canadian Medical Association’s new building Smyth Road Alta Vista Drive (oops).

Basically, the CMA tore down their building to build a new one…but they haven’t built it. Not a big problem, they’ve got another building across the street, so staff can just move into that one. Unfortunately, they’re still parking in the same lot, on the other side of the street from the building. Alta Vista is a nasty stroad that carves up a residential community, so this has led to some dangerous “jaywalking” for people just trying to get to work.

As reported, the city don’t care. Neither does the CMA; they’ve put up a sign telling their minions not to “jay walk”. And to the city, this is enough. Staffers should just walk a block or so out of their way to cross at the lights. We’ve built a dangerous street and allowed a dangerous situation in terms of development and the city, well, DGAF.

In defence of their callous indifference to human life, planners (inadvertently it would seem) admitted this situation, including any subsequent deaths and injuries, is their fault, if not their responsibility:

“While the (planning) department has the ability to influence where people cross, it is ultimately every citizen’s responsibility to abide by provincial law and cross at designated locations,” the planners say.

Yes, the planning department can influence where people cross. By approving (and creating!) the current situation, they have influenced people into crossing a dangerous street at a spot without any traffic lights. Well done.

You may say someone shouldn’t do something, but if your actions tell people–day in, day out–to do it, your words are meaningless.

(They’re wrong about the law, by the way, but that’s a separate point.)


Parking, bikes and meaningless words

There’s a lot wrapped up with the issue of parking in Ottawa. We devote a lot of space to parking. We encourage driving…then decide to allot more space to cars. Parking is basically allowed everywhere–parks, sidewalks, bike lanes–with only token enforcement undertaken by the city.

But one of the biggest issues is the way we subsidize parking so very very much. Specifically, as we continue to jack up transit prices, we are unwilling, politically, to raise the price of parking (then spend all-day Friday and Saturday promoting cheap parking at City Hall).

Naturally, people object to this backwards reality. At a recent budget consultation, residents asked why we don’t raise parking rates to help pay for city services. The answer, supposedly, is “that parking revenue can’t be used to pay for other things. Has to go back into parking-like programs.”

One Twitter user asked what these weirdly-named “parking-like programs” are? Transportation Chair and Knoxdale-Merivale Councillor Keith Egli decided to answer:

His colleague, Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper, decided this was a “mic drop” response.

It wasn’t. It was a cynical, bordering on smarmy, response. He said something factually true that he knew would score points, debating style.

First off, so? Raise parking rates and just sit on a pile of money that the province won’t let you spend. Or if you have to spend it, gold-plate every damned parking spot in the city. Or, you know, jack up the rates, cut demand and then reduce the amount of public space wasted for private car storage.

Of how about you actually do what you suggest?

I was at home when I read this exchange. As regular readers know, I basically live on Bank Street in the Glebe. There are some bike corralls, but not nearly enough. Bikes are locked to street signs, trees and benches. Bike posts are damaged by city vehicles and never replaced. We have a dearth of spots for bike parking.

We also re-built Bank Street really badly, and the sidewalks are not nearly wide enough for all the traffic they get. I would love to get rid of the sidewalk bike racks and install more on-street corrals. Put one on each side of the street on every block. Pay for it by finally increasing street parking prices.

I asked Egli if he supported raising parking rates to pay for more bike corrals.

His silence demonstrated the sincerity of his “mic drop”.