Pork chop and good governance

In case you ever contemplate the very important municipal duties handled by an elected councillor, consider this:
On a recent Sunday afternoon, yours truly is standing in a Ward 9 backyard being nuzzled by a 100-pound miniature pig officially known as Jackie but lovingly dubbed “pork chop” by its owner.
I was visiting the pig in advance of a council meeting where staff had recommended an exemption to our animal bylaw that would permit Jackie to continue living in Kitchener.
On compassionate grounds, councillors were told by our lawyers and a family doctor that Jackie should be considered a service animal because the pet helps the owner cope with abuse of drugs and alcohol which, in turn, create anxiety and depression.
After meeting Jackie, I was able to confirm humane-society findings that the currently-dieting pig, which stands about 2 feet tall, is well cared for — perhaps spoiled — at a house it shares, on a friendly basis, with a 2-year-old boy and a dog owned by a fellow tenant that stands a little higher than the hog.
Our bylaw officials reported there have been no actual complaints about the pig and the humane society only learned about it from a neighbour when Jackie ventured out of its enclosed backyard to the front of the property where it was seen by a curious and startled neighbour.
The owner told me he prefers a pig because he’s not crazy about cats or dogs and believes Jackie will live for about 30 years.
Without debate, councillors approved the exemption for the pig who, in case you’re wondering, is house trained and has learned to ring a bell when it needs to go out to the backyard.

Posted in Neighbourhoods, Ward News | 1 Comment

Fix city hall despite multi-million cost

The staggering $7-10 million price tag is undoubtedly difficult to swallow but the long-term value is worth the cost.
That’s my conclusion after considering recommended options to maintain and upgrade our city hall considered this week by council.
A final decision on how and when necessary upgrades take place will be made in late 2017 or early 2018 when I predict the issue could become an election issue.
At that time, some of the required cash might come from higher levels of government, Kitchener’s parking income or corporate sponsors.
And, even though it might not be politically palatable, if those cash sources come up short, I am ready to support a move to have taxpayers foot the bill for part of what I consider a worthwhile investment in the city’s future.
And I say that as a former council critic who, back when dinosaurs roamed downtown King Street, strongly opposed the demolition of our beautiful old city hall in the early 1970s. I also criticized the subsequent leasing of city hall space in a Frederick Street office tower and, in 1993, construction of the new city hall which won architectural awards.
In subsequent years I changed my mind about that building after watching everything from kids learning to skate on the city hall rink to massive Blues Festival crowds enjoying Carl Zehr Square. Because it has become the community heart of our city, money that should have been budgeted well before now must be found in the next two years.
Required work includes cracked pavement, leaks in the parking garage, upgrades to the skating rink/pool as well as stage improvements and efforts to provide more shade. Additional upgrades would also be done on the Duke Street side of city hall adjacent to what will then be the Light Rail Transit route.

Posted in city hall repairs, Vibrant Downtown | 1 Comment

Pokemon players should hold hands instead of handhelds


Watching hundreds of glassy-eyed Pokemon Go fanatics swarming around Victoria Park, I marvelled at how — eyes glued t0 mobiles — some didn’t end up in the lake along with the giant carp.

Gobsmacked at the popularity of the activity, I asked an expert to explain Pokemon only to learn it is a “free, location-based, augmented-reality, multiplayer online mobile game.”

Which did little to increase Pokemon understanding for this aging, technical dimwit.

I then wondered if one of our many local techies could piggy-back Pokemon and create a local-government app that would attract a similar volume of interest to mundane council and municipal issues.

In order to do so, we would either require a Poke-stop or Poke-lure at city hall or have councillors and top staff become Pokemon monsters and — ready to be “captured”— scuttle around city hall dressed up as snakes, dinosaurs, trees or dragons.

Yours truly would wear a Pokemon rat costume.

Our city clerk could also consider planting Pokemon critters at election polls as a way to attract gamers and improve our appalling voter turnouts.

For those who catch most critters, we could come up with a huge prize like a city pen, an Oktoberfest polka with our lederhosen-clad mayor or a pass to attend a council meeting that would go well beyond midnight considering issues like backyard chickens, dangerous (bad) dogs or ways to protect Ward 9 residents from an escapee python who was actually snoozing under a  refrigerator.

Kitchener could also further enhance its community and neighbourhood campaigns by encouraging Poke-people to abandon their handhelds in favour of holding real hands.

Posted in Vibrant Downtown, Victoria Park, Voter Turnout, Ward News | 3 Comments

Proposed new Victoria Park sidewalks

Additional Victoria Park sidewalks will make things safer and easier for strolling pedestrians in coming months.
The new sidewalks, which have been a city priority for some time, will increase walkability and accessibility when they are constructed along portions of Jubilee Drive, David Street and Water Street South.
As plans developed for the asphalt or concrete sidewalks, efforts have been made to preserve the heritage nature of the downtown park and, because walkways will take a meandering route, they will not have a detrimental impact on existing trees and plantings.
The infill sidewalks will improve the existing, potentially dangerous situation where pedestrians approaching the park on Water Street South in winter months have to walk into the street approaching Jubilee because there are no sidewalks. And. on both David and the lake-side of Jubilee the updated sidewalks will fill in gaps in present walkways.
Once the sidewalks are built, is done, I hope to see some form of recognizable pedestrian crossing across Jubilee in front of the Boathouse that would link with the existing pathway around the Commons area of the park.

Posted in Boathouse, Sidewalks, Victoria Park, Ward News | 2 Comments

Kitchener councillors political art of public appearance

If you care about creation of a downtown arts-culture facility in one of Kitchener’s few city-owned heritage buildings, I would suggest you speak up at Monday’s June 6, council meeting.

The session starts at 7 p.m. and you can register to speak by contacting the clerk’s department at 519.741.2200 ext.7591.

I support maintaining city ownership of the heritage Legion building at 48 Ontario Street and using it as an arts centre. However, I’m concerned that council’s second-guessing and political waffling could help undermine or scuttle a project that would bring increased vitality to the downtown.

In past months, councillors heard appeals for affordable space from our arts community before directing staff to come up with options for future use of the empty Legion building. But, at last Monday’s planning committee meeting, the requested staff report and public survey requested by council generated efforts to muddy and lessen the impact of the following recommended options:

– Sell the heritage building to a developer and reserve the money for an arts centre at another location.
– Retain city ownership and lease the building as an arts-culture centre.
– Sell the Legion on condition a developer assemble surrounding properties and then lease back the building to use as a heritage arts-culture hub.

First dilution of the staff report came from Coun. Kelly Galloway-Sealock who successfully moved an amendment that insisted the first staff option be treated as a separate item by those surveyed. Respondents would also be asked, if the building is sold, whether cash proceeds should go toward an art centre in an alternate facility.

Couns. Sarah Marsh, Bil Ioannidis and John Gazzola joined me in opposing that amendment while Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, Paul Singh, Dave Schnider and Yvonne Fernandes and Galloway-Seacock supported the move.

Councillors then voted in favour of the altered staff report with the exception of Coun. Scott Davey who opposed all options and Coun. Zyg Janecki who was away.

Despite that vote, I’m concerned that, hidden behind the appearance of interest in preserving the Legion and creating an arts hub, there are some councillors who care little about downtown heritage and others who would sell the building to a developer as part of a land assembly near the LRT route on Duke Street.

Posted in Arts & Culture, Heritage, Light Rail Transit, Mayfair Hotel, Transparency, Vibrant Downtown | 1 Comment

Council transparency: Appearance or substance?

When it comes to efforts by Kitchener council to improve accountability and transparency, appearance of change is not enough.
Such efforts must have clear, meaningful results and a motion from Coun. Scott Davey last night achieved no such thing.
The motion about cash donations to municipal candidates piggybacks on a typically fuzzy Liberal exercise being considered by the province that will also create the appearance of transparency. Davey’s motion passed but it does nothing to change the unfair financial status quo in municipal elections.
Crowing about the preservation of democracy and equality, the motion bans union and corporate donations in municipal elections. It permits individual donations only but does nothing to define “corporate” and little to stop any union or business boss from having scores of members or employees making multiple donations that could then be repaid.
Because council made no attempt to invite any local unions or businesses to debate the issue and, other than the weekly Kitchener Post, our absent and decimated local media ignored the subject, I tried without success to defer the matter for a few weeks to allow those affected a chance to learn about and comment on the issue.
On a more positive note, another successful motion last night from Coun. Dave Schnider involved councillors’ home-office and technology expenses that cost taxpayers at least $25,000 a year.
Schneider’s small but important change to the policy means, every year, councillors will now have to itemize each expense for items that range from office furniture and cameras to laptops and iPads.
Speaking as someone who, with slight success, has repeatedly tried to cut those home-office expenses for the past six years, I’m hoping Schnider’s efforts will discourage excessive, repetitive purchases by a few councillors.
Instead of vacuous political optics, his motion could have meaningful results.

Posted in Journalism, Perks and Expenses, Transparency | Leave a comment

Providing a home for art, culture and high tech’

It’s refreshing to see Kitchener councillors and staff recognize the benefits that result from efforts to nurture arts, culture and heritage values.
It’s about time, even if it could mean a substantial investment of tax dollars.
Councillors participated recently in the first act of this piece of municipal theatre by listening to our creative community and provincial officials from Arts Build Ontario about what is required in way of affordable studio-rehearsal facilities so artists can thrive and meet the high expectations of our high-tech’ industry.
Whether councillors appreciate the fact that the soul of any city is found in a partnership between heritage preservation and the arts or recognize the economic rewards resulting from a healthy cultural climate, I’m pleased to see attention given the issue.
In act two, councillors recently paid attention to a repeated message that, in order to attract and keep employees at high-tech’ companies, we have to invigorate and invest in local culture. My expectation would be that those companies do the same.
At council, we heard from those associated with downtown cultural institutions who seek a wider choice of low-cost rehearsal or exhibition space.
There have also been councillor tours organized to illustrate the potential use of two city-owned downtown buildings that could provide space for our arts community. And, predictably, there are the usual councillors who lack the vision and creativity to recognize the value involved in supporting the arts.
I’m convinced those voices will be a negative minority when it comes to eventual decisions and that the final act in this drama will include councillors approving a building that provides a welcoming home for our arts-culture community.

Posted in Arts & Culture, Heritage | 1 Comment

Honkers prepare to foul our downtown park

Victoria Park is bracing for the annual spring invasion of honking, hissing poop machines.

And so are pest-control staff as Canada geese start to nest and breed.

Between April and mid-June, pest-control workers hired by the city  will quietly monitor the pesky pond hoppers to pinpoint where they are nesting. Then, armed with a federal wildlife permit, they will implement various measures to control our local geese population.

Last year, while residents regularly complained about disgusting droppings, similar measures resulted in 220 eggs being destroyed in about 50 nests located around the park before the geese were rounded up in June and transported to summer camp in the Windsor area.

But don’t get me wrong. I think there are few things as beautiful as a V-formation of Canada geese flying south.

I just wish they would stay there.

Posted in Neighbourhoods, Victoria Park, Ward News | 2 Comments

Schneider’s village should include low-cost homes

Within easy reach of downtown and with Light Rail Transit as an immediate neighbour, it has the potential to be a new and complete Ward 9 community embraced by our rapidly-changing city.
By now, Maple Leaf Foods expects to have a buyer for the 11-hectare (27-acre) former Schneider’s site located between Courtland Avenue, Mill Street, Stirling Avenue and Ottawa Street.
I hope councillors, planners and developers will, in future months,  make certain the highest standards of urban design are used on a development where Schneider’s first established its historic meat-packing plant 91 years ago.
Maple Leaf officials have scrutinized about half a dozen bids for the huge property while planners consider a mixture of residential, light commercial and other potential uses on a site where, for decades, thousands of people have earned a living.
I have several hopes for a site that has such huge potential:
• That, instead of demolition, a few of the solidly-built existing buildings be converted for other uses;
• Schneider’s Creek, currently buried under the some of the site, be unearthed to form an attractive feature of any future community;
• That a small percentage of affordable housing forms part of the eventual development. Such a move — already being discussed and supported by local, low-cost housing providers — could perhaps take advantage of new provincial and municipal programs to provide incentives for developers willing to consider such housing.

I can’t think of a more appropriate legacy to the Schneider name on such an important and valuable site.

Posted in Ward News | 1 Comment

Finally a historic-building victory in anti-heritage Kitchener

When it comes to protection of Kitchener’s historic buildings, we all have a responsibility to be aggressive watchdogs of our declining stock of downtown heritage assets.
In Ward 9, that responsibility has been shared for more than five years by residents, planners, heritage advocates and yours truly in order to safeguard and save a building behind the Tannery at 195 Joseph Street.
The efforts of those community watchdogs recently paid off with a $10-million plan to  develop the former “hide house” at what was once the Lang Tannery.
When I first ran for office in 2010, city officials and councillors were in the process of ignoring community wishes by demolishing several other heritage buildings in order to create an eyesore parking lot surrounding 195 Joseph on the edge of the Victoria Park neighbourhood. Since then, the community has maintained a close watch over the single remaining brick-and-beam building.
Now, thanks partly to commendable efforts by the current owner, Allied REIT, the building —surrounded by high tech’ companies and close to the future LRT Hub at King and Victoria Streets — is scheduled to become a beautiful new home for about 200 employees at Deloitte Waterloo Region.
All we need now is some additional, well-designed development on that ugly Joseph Street parking lot and community eyes focused on other heritage buildings scattered around Kitchener, a city that, when it is faced with heritage stock, has a record of eating its old.
Two of my favourite empty buildings at risk of damaging neglect, are the former Legion headquarters on Ontario Street — a building that would make an interesting arts centre — and the beautiful old PUC building opposite city hall.
We need to keep a close watch on those and other downtown historic buildings in order to prevent them going the depressing demolition route of the old city hall, the Forsyth shirt factory and the Mayfair Hotel.

Posted in Arts & Culture, Heritage, Light Rail Transit, Mayfair Hotel, Neighbourhoods, Vibrant Downtown, Victoria Park, Ward News | 1 Comment