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Deficits, social and fiscal are the common thread of what is making news the past few weeks. The tears in our social fabric could be ignored for only so long, the pandemic made it impossible to ignore them any longer.
The front section of the newsletter begins with some notes of trends and insights written by me, for the duration of the pandemic, I’ll include COVID updates at the beginning.
Today notes: Defunding police, City Hall fiscal deficit, and a LRT proxy debate at Council
COVID-19 Hamilton Public Health Summary
Hamilton’s present Rt = 1.05
[I cite the rate of transmission as calculated by Ryan Imgurnd using open data. (BBC explainer of R values here)]
Hamilton’s COVID active case trend is downward, but we continue to have new cases with no known epidemiological link. A possible reason is asymptomatic COVID cases in the community.
a trend that is being watched closely is 54% of new COVID positive cases in the past 10 days are among those age 30 or younger. Public Health states there are no other trends of note.
Hand-washing is the most important thing we can all do. Wash or sanitize your hands whenever putting on, adjusting, or taking off a facial mask.
Hamilton Public Health says they will not implement mandatory masking in Hamilton.
The messaging on this decision is a bit unclear in Hamilton,
I’ll suggest reading this thread by London-Middlesex Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie to give you a good summary of the reasons why a MoH does not order masking.
Activism shifted the Overton window this past few weeks, defunding police is now a part of the mainstream discourse.
Monday, around 100 people sat on Main Street in front of City Hall to protest the Hamilton Police School Resource Officers continuing to be in schools. (Picture above of the protest)
Monday night, they achieved their goal, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board cancelled the program in a 7-3 vote.
There is much that is different about this moment compared to similar ones in the past.
At City Hall, Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson and Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann broadcast a call for “defunding” police which they define as “re-allocating money from policing towards community-centred supports” and a call to scale back the police budget.
Over 140 letters were on Wednesday’s City Council agenda in support of the calls to defund or significantly reform the role of police.
Nicole O’Relly of TheSpec wrote a great piece explaining what defunding police means to local political players.
Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green is speaking strongly in Parliament for police reform, and a ban on the use of chemical weapons by police. Tear gas, for example, is effectively banned from military stockpiles by the Geneva Convention and other international treaties.
Videos of police brutality, violence, and disproportionate responses continue to be posted to social media. (In the United States, T. Greg Doucette’s massive Twitter thread of police lawlessness continues to grow daily.)
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT:
This past weekend Peel Police officer(s) fatally shot a man during a mental health call. An iman posted video of the shooting to Twitter, the video shows heavily armed police storming the man’s apartment, having used a ladder to gain access to the balcony. The community is rightfully enraged at the police tactics.
Different is the suburban flyer distribution newspaper writing a strongly-worded editorial “It’s long past time to make major changes to how policing is done”
[Forget any other media, the flyer newspapers are the top influencer in Hamilton and area]
What hasn’t changed is the Hamilton Police Service Board.
The Board is now engaging in a public relations exercise against decreasing the police budget. The Board asked Chief of Police Eric Girt to prepare a report outlying what the Chief would cut if the police budget is reduced by 20%.
Ward 6 Councillor Tom Jackson said if lower city Councillors want less police in their wards, his community be happy to see increased police presence.
A change we may see in the coming weeks: Mayor Fred Eisenberger promised over a year ago that he would step aside from the Board around the midway point of this Council term, to help improve diversity on the Board.
Canada’s largest mental health care provider, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, issued a statement Tuesday calling for mental health crises to have a medical, not police, response.
The Overton window has shifted, it is still shifting.
Ultimately, the decision on what policing looks like in the future has to involve Queen’s Park. Local police boards can make some changes. However, it is provincial government where legislation is written.
Thus, this is where the next phrase of campaigning will increasingly focus.
What is the City of Hamilton Fiscal Deficit?
City Hall is saying the City’s deficit is likely to be between $61-million to $120-million depending on what happens with COVID and the economy. It appears that it will be closer to $60-million for this year.
Municipal governments across Canada are asking for financial support from provincial and federal governments. Thus far, the federal government has announced $14 billion to be split among all provinces, with provinces then distributing the money among their themselves, their agencies, and maybe some money will make it to municipalities. (Premier Doug Ford says Ontario needs $23-billion from the federal government on its own.)
Hamilton City Hall is issuing multiple calls for immediate financial aid to the feds and province.
For decades, we’ve been warned about the flaws of municipalities only having one taxation tool – the property tax. It is not the proper means of raising revenue to fund health and social social services.
(A throwback to a December 2016 episode of my former CFMU radio show when Dr. Harry Kitchen of Trent University, one of Canada’s leading experts on municipal government finance and taxation, discussed the serious shortcomings of using property taxes to fund municipal services)
There are various scenarios being discussed in political circles, many of them include partial special funding from higher levels of government, but not full funding:
- The issuing of municipal bonds, to be repaid over five to twenty years
- Allowing municipalities to run one-time deficits to be repaid over five year by property taxpayers
- Allowing municipalities to “lend” themselves money out of obligatory reserves
Commercial rent payments could be a challenge for the City come June 30th, I wrote a “Coleman’s Note” regarding this entitled Is Hamilton Prepared for Commercial Tax Defaults on June 30?
A Proxy LRT debate at Council Wednesday?
We have no idea when Hamilton’s B-Line LRT project will be back at Council. City Hall is presently focusing upon on a 2026 Commonwealth Games as the COVID stimulus pitch.
Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney has the Hamilton Transportation Task Force Report on her desk, and she’ll decide what parameters will be applied to the $1-billion dollars the province is committing to Hamilton.
Due to COVID, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce’s regular visits to Queen’s Park are not happening, thus there isn’t the ability for them to champion the project the same way they usually do, in the continuing absence of leadership from City Hall.
A staff report on the next steps to make Upper James Street more pedestrian friendly, includes a $550,000 budget line for detailed studies and planning for A-Line transit corridor. This caused a 30 minute debate as Councillors opposed to the B-Line LRT project questioned if spending on planning for transit on Upper James is premature.
Some of them want to see the $550,000 paid for out of that $1-billion commitment to transit in Hamilton.
It was Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark, who ran for Mayor in 2014 and is positioning to be able to run for Mayor in 2022, who led off the debate. His arguments were similar to the past about the A-Line, with the addition of how the City of Hamilton’s fiscal state is very concerning during COVID and they need to save money wherever possible.
The debate gave us a flavour of where Council is at on the LRT file. Clark’s motion to defer any action on transit along Upper James failed on a 6-8 vote. It did not exactly break along LRT lines.
Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins and Ward 6 Councillor Tom Jackson voted against Clark’s motion, and for the work. This reflects their pro-development stance, a delay to transit planning on Upper James will delay developers looking to build mid-rise buildings.
Nonetheless, the picture is becoming more clear, LRT’s path to nine votes in favour needs either Ward 13’s Arlene Vanderbeek or Ward 7’s Esther Pauls to be in favour, likely both.
Mayor Eisenberger Being Tested for COVID
“Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger will be tested tomorrow for COVID-19 after experiencing symptoms associated with the disease”, reads a City Hall press release issued at 5pm Thursday. “The Mayor will be self-isolating at home until he receives his results.”
HSR Cutting Service Next Monday, Asks People to Wear Face Masks, Allows More People Per Bus.
- Physical separation decreased on buses, every other seat open, and people can stand.
- Non-medical masks now mandatory on HSR buses (for those who can wear them)
- HSR further cutting morning and evening frequency on many routes next week
- Fare collection resumes July 1st
- The Ten-Year Transit Plan is deferred another year, making it a 12-Year Plan now.
- There will be no fare increase in September.
The HSR is reducing schedule bus service next week.
This despite HSR buses bypassing passengers and the provincial Stage 2 COVID reopening.
To increase capacity, the HSR is requesting riders to wear a non-medical face covering as physical distancing is not possible. Buses are now operating at 2/3rds capacity, including allowing some people to stand when seats are full.
On boards buses, the operators driving compartment is now separated off with plastic.
By-Passes and Schedule Reductions
Presently, there are instances of HSR buses by-passing people waiting for buses. With reduced physical distancing on public transit, the number of bus bypasses is decreasing this week.
The HSR substantially reduced service in March when the provincial State of Emergency was declared – both in response to a decrease in ridership and also to ensure the HSR had enough operators to maintain advertised service in the event of a COVID outbreak among its staff.
As of last week, the 2-Barton route was reporting a peak 50% of pre-COVID ridership, which translates into full seated loads at normal pre-COVID service.
Cutting Scheduled Service, Constraining Costs
Transit operations are a service area municipalities are experiencing significant drops in revenue.
City Hall is trying to constrain transit spending by further decreasing scheduled serviced starting June 29.
Wednesday, at Council, Hamilton General Manager of Public Works Dan McKinnon announced a goal to eliminate seating restrictions on HSR buses shortly after July 1st. And that by already by allowing people to sit every other seat on buses – combined with allowing standing loads – the HSR is increasing service capacity.
Service capacity is not service frequency – the measure we commonly use to measure bus service. Transit users don’t ask how many seats there are per hour, they ask how often buses arrive.
On schedules, Public Works says they’re reducing 1-King evening service to every 15 minutes, in fact the cut is to every 20 minute frequency.
Ending 7/8 Service at 10pm
As part of HSR service cuts planned prior to COVID, HSR is ending service on the 7/8 buses at 10pm, and there are significant reductions in service in West Hamilton with service in Westdale Village / Sterling Avenue going from six buses per hour to only two.. At Council Wednesday, Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson stated she has field calls from women who are frontline workers concerned about their safety due to decreases in West Hamilton service.
New Operator Hiring Paused by COVID
A longer term challenge facing the HSR is new operator training.
Due to closures of Ministry of Transportation licensing facilities, potential new operators cannot get their B-class licenses to begin driver training. Even when the MTO reopens, driver training involves the trainee and trainer being in close physical proximity. When the trainee “platforms” (operates a bus in passenger service for the first few weeks), the trainer is close to both the driver and boarding passengers.
Thus, even if the HSR wasn’t trying to constrain costs, it is not possible to expand service. The HSR will need to rely upon overtime and semi-retired operators this fall if the HSR returns to pre-COVID levels. It cannot operate more service than it did.
Pride Hamilton files Human Rights Suit Against Police
Pride Hamilton filed a complaint against the Hamilton Police Service to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on June 12, the organization announced in a press statement Wednesday.
“It’s our view that Hamilton Police Services discriminated against our organization on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression through its failure to properly plan for, protect, and respond to threats to the 2019 Pride celebrations in Hamilton”, they wrote in their statement.
The group asks “for damages of $600,000 to be allocated to support initiatives, programs, and/or organizations in Hamilton’s Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities” adding they settled on this amount as it matches the cost of the 125-page Independent Review into the Events Surrounding Hamilton Pride 2019 released on June 8.
I summarized the report’s findings regarding the numerous failings of Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt before and after the violent attack on Hamilton Pride on June 15, 2019.
Pride Hamilton retained Ross & McBride LLP to represent them. The team of lawyers is led by Wade Poziomka.
We should expect to learn more about their filing in the coming days as media obtain copies from the Human Rights Tribunal offices.
[Disclosure: Poziomka successfully represented me after City Hall banned The Public Record from extracting public information from public election documents in 2018. Poziomka did so pro-bono.]
Bike Share Assets Transferred to Hamilton Bike Share
Early Monday morning the City of Hamilton finished the formal transfer of the City-owned bike share assets (bikes, vehicles, repair shop, etc) from Uber to Hamilton Bike Share Inc. A significant step in the process as HBS can now begin maintenance work and prepare the fleet for resumption of service.
Last week, we learned that HBS is using Moneris as their payment processor, and were close to having the financial systems in place for relaunch. (Uber processed refunds for all Sobi members)
No date for relaunch is yet available.
Committee of Adjustment Hold First Video Conference Meeting
Hamilton’s Committee of Adjustment, where “minor” variances from zoning rules and regulations are granted, resumed hearing on Thursday using an online video conference meeting format.
After about 30 minutes to get comfortable with the WebEx video conferencing format, the meeting flowed very efficiently and similar to in-person meetings.
What makes CoA most interesting is how the gradual zoning amendments which change neighbourhoods over time are dealt with there.
The size of houses is increasing throughout Southern Ontario, two examples of how this is happening via minor variances at Committee of Adjustment. Also an example in which CoA constrains the rate of change in existing neighbourhoods to prevent development which significantly differs or unreasonably impacts neighbourhoods..
In Flamborough, two properties were approved for houses covering 26% of the total lot, whereas zoning permits 15%. These approvals have been granted to other properties in older parts of Waterdown. Concerns expressed by neighbours related to drainage of properties.
In the West Hamilton neighbourhood of Kirkendall, the area’s mid 20th century bungalows are being transformed into single-family detached homes of between two and three storey heights.
A home on Chatham Street was approved to build upper-level extensions over the existing bungalow. The neighbouring properties have previously changed to single-family detached homes.
On the south side of Locke Street, at 315B Aberdeen, an application to construct a two-storey detached home draw a large number of delegations of concern. 24 people registered. Many of the issues of urban intensification were discussed, a driveway onto an arterial roadway, the ownership of unassumed public alleyways, and safety in dense areas.
While CoA only deals with a narrow scope of Planning Act rules – the issue of alleyway ownership is not in front of CoA – people do bring forth their overall concerns, and the CoA listens. Thus, while all that was in front of CoA is to build the front yard much closer to the neighbourhood property (3.6m whereas the bylaw requires 12.0m), the CoA fully considered the full project and its impacts.
The proposed home is actually in the center of the block surrounded by backyard, only accessible by the alleyway, and is a rarity in Hamilton – a separate lot alleyway house.
The proposal to have a large home in this spot has more impact on neighbouring properties than would be the usual case on a street-fronting property.
The Kirkendall Neighbourhood Association delivered a good delegation outlining their concerns. Looking at the full application file, there were definite flags for the CoA, thus the neighbourhood delegation providing the needed reasons for CoA to defer the file.
As you can see in the image a few paragraphs above, the proposed house is quite large, even more so in the context of being in an alleyway. In the image directly below, you can see the proposal has four bedrooms, four washrooms which is uncommon for a traditional single-family home.
CoA deferred a decision for two weeks, to visit the site of the application to determine for themselves the merits of the variance request.
Mayor’s COVID Economic Recovery Task Force to Submit Quick-Wins in September
Thursday morning, the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force met, and decided to break into informal working groups. They’ll submit “quick-win” suggestions on what the City can do to support businesses, but not until September
COVID Patio Denials
Hamilton’s COVID patio bylaw does not allow restaurants whose property line abuts any residential property line to have a COVID patio, with the exception of those which had previously approved patios. Those restaurants and establishments may have larger patios than they previously were approved for.
Ward 2 City Councillor Jason Farr moved the provision at City Council.
Farr is strongly opposed to The Corktown Pub, and has been vetoing a patio for the neighbourhood pub.
The Corktown meets all the requirements of by-law and zoning for a patio, and gained all the necessary staff approvals. City Councillors are able to veto patios, and Farr is vetoing.
Farr refused to explain his veto, and now says it is because some neighbours oppose due to concerns about the tavern’s operations.
Due to COVID, restaurants are restricted to outdoor seating and take-out..
Petty politics leads to poor policy, and Farr’s inclusion of the abutment provision has resulted, thus far, in seven restaurants have been denied patios.
Three have come forth to speak to CHCH News, and all three of them are now closed — their businesses cannot survive without patios. They could go bankrupt.
In response, City staff say that if ward councillors wish to grant “special occasion permits”, staff will use this to bypass the abutment ban. This should help those six restaurants, who will have to pay fees and incur delays before they can open. For some, this added City Hall red tape could push them into bankruptcy.
All because one Councillor is writing city-wide policy focused on one property.
The Corktown’s location, at Ferguson and Young alongside the GO Station, is prime property for a mid-rise condo redevelopment.
Tuesday evening, a group of neighbours and individuals involved in Hamilton’s Irish arts community gathered in the parking lot to protest the situation, in the hopes of Farr changing his mind before the business is bankrupted.
FINALLY: Hamilton Creates Position to Assist RCF Residents
COVID has shown us the horrors of how we’ve failed people who live in congregate housing settings. The Rosslyn, a house of horrors, among the retirement homes.
Thus far, Hamilton’s Residential Care Facilities have not been the sites of major COVID outbreaks. The conditions in some of them are unacceptable, and have been for years.
Last December, in response to calls from advocates, families, and residents of RCFs, Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark started the process towards creating an advocate’s office for RCF residents.
Hamilton’s leaders were shocked by the unnecessary death in May of 28-Year-Old Attila Csanyi who died on the roof of Jackson Square.
Csanyi was told to leave his RCF on March 11.
This week, Clark successfully passed the creation of a “liaison” office as a stop-gap until Council can more fully determine what role an advocate’s office will have, and if Council will pass it.
Teviah Moro of TheSpec provides great coverage of this issue, I strongly encourage you to read the story he wrote about Csanyi.
CATCH: Urbanizing More Farmland
The Doug Ford Ontario Progressive Conservative government gave greenfield developers the ability to try and force urban boundary expansions. In Hamilton, developers are now applying to force the City to expand the urban boundary to suit their development purposes on Twenty Road West.
Read more on the new Citizens at City Hall website
Queen Street Construction Images and Explainer
The City of Hamilton uses ESRI StoryMaps to show the changes being made to Queen Street South as the roadway is converted to two-way traffic south of Main Street West. Construction is underway.
City Staff Meeting with Private 2026 Commonwealth Games Bid
Ward 15 Councillor Judi Partridge states she is working with Ward 7 Councillor Esther Pauls, Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead and City of Hamilton General Manager of Finance and Corporate Services Mike Zegarac on bringing the Games bid forward to Council on July 6 as a potential priority to spend possible federal and provincial COVID stimulus funds upon.
Partridge stated Council supported a 2030 bid, and that they’ve been meeting with the private bidders to change this to a 2026 bid.
“There is no cost to taxpayers, there is no cost to Council, and we’ll have a more in-depth presentation on July 6th”. [YouTube Video Link]
Both Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko, and Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark expressed their concerns about the City asking for potential provincial and federal to be spent on the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
Clark noted the City has many existing priorities which are unfunded. The Commonwealth Games is not a priority.
Red Hill Parkway Speed Limit to Remain 80km/h
Following the post-2018 election reveal that Hamilton City Hall knew the asphalt on the Red Hill Parkway was faulty and lied to Hamiltonians for five years – a coverup which helped to re-elect the incumbent City Councillors -, the City had to lower the speed limit on the Red Hill to 80km/h and immediately repave the highway.
The repaving is complete. The speed limit will remain 80km/h with increased enforcement remaining in place. City staff reports here.
ScienceNews: COVID-19 case clusters offer lessons and warnings for reopening
As things reopen, and we try to resume our lives while protecting against COVID infections and outbreaks, I find the above poster created by the Prime Minister’s Office in Japan the most useful guide as to what we need to do.
One of the great challenges of COVID is just how little we know about the virus, and how many of our are witnessing a scientific debate in real-time for the first time. Different research results in different findings. This seems confusing to us, and we gravitate towards the findings we find most agreeable. Scientific debates always occur like this, and it will take time for scientific conscious, even at the fast pace of current research.
Super-spreader events are giving us insight into what conditions can easily spread the virus. ScienceNews offers us a summary of known events. Read more with interactive feature.
Fear, neglect, and close quarters: Inside Ontario’s migrant-worker health crisis
TVO takes a look at the terrible conditions facing migrant farm workers and the neglect of farmer owners who rely upon the farmers to do all the labour of farming.
Nearly 700 migrant farmer workers in Ontario have tested positive for COVID-19. Two have died. And without better regulations, the virus will keep spreading.
Read more on TVO.
Stoney Creek Business Owner Shares Lived Experience of Racism
Guests assumed Rod Foster wasn’t owner of Stoney Creek business. He says combatting racism starts with education
Spacing: Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery Requires Strong Public Transit
Professor Tricia Wood, York University, explains the research and facts showing that using public transit is proven safe in other countries, such as South Korea, which have higher ridership loads than Ontario public transit agencies are allowing. She explains that fundamentals of why large cities need strong public transit remain during and following COVID. We need more transit, writes Wood.
“Without public transit, the city will come to a halt and struggle to recover economically.”
“We admit, sometimes wearing a mask in public isn’t the most fashionable or comfortable choice. But some people wear Leafs jerseys, so yeah. Just saying.”
Ottawa Public Health tweet
encouraging Ottawa residents to wear face masks
Hamilton Library Wants Your COVID Memories
HPL’s Local History & Archives section wants your COVID-19 artifacts and stories as they create an archive for future generations to understand how Hamiltonians experienced the pandemic.
The HPL states they are particular interested in “creative writing, fiction or non-fiction submissions — from journals, to reflections, to poems or prose”
More information and submission page here.
Our video conference bingo cards all include “cameo appearance by pets”.
On Wednesday, Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko‘s family cat made a brief appearance during the Council meeting.
Danko later tweeted a high quality picture of Tinkerbell writing, “Virtual Council #9: Dr. Evil between Two Ferns Edition.“
Thank you for reading to the end. I’ve redesigned the newsletter to be more informative, and information dense. There are sections for public meetings, public notices, and shout outs in future newsletter. The newsletter is focused upon City Hall and municipal politics, please send along any events in these categories.
The format is a work in progress, I’m especially interested in articles you read about past practices in other cities.
You are one of around 1000 people who read this newsletter, thank you for your time. Especially as this is a longer than usual edition.
Keep safe, keep engaged, keep informed.