City Council Highlights
Here are the top issues that were discussed and debated in Council Chambers for January.
Intelligent Transportation System
City Council approved the goals and key directions for an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) for our City. An ITS will help us make the best use of existing roads, traffic signals, interchanges, and freeways with the use of technology.
An ITS will help to improve traffic flows and safety across the city in real-time and it can even help out with issues such as delays caused by trains, Transit reliability, and emergency vehicle response time.
Saskatoon’s ITS will have sensors to measure the speed and length of trains near the city to estimate when they’ll arrive and how long the delay should last. This would be shown on electronic signs near impacted intersections so that drivers could know to take a different route or what sort of delay they can expect. For Transit, traffic signals can give buses a priority. This means that buses that are behind schedule can catch up, creating more reliable service. For emergency vehicles, key intersections along emergency response routes will be equipped to detect approaching emergency vehicles. This way the traffic signals can respond to let the emergency vehicle through, saving precious time in responses.
For more information on what an ITS means for Saskatoon and for a more thorough description of the projects, check out my blog post.
Development on College and Clarence
City Council unanimously approved a rezoning on the corner of Clarence and College to allow for a new development on the vacant lot. The development is for a 12-storey building with 171 units.
I voted in favour of this because the proposed project is at a perfect location to help the City grow up rather than out. It takes an empty lot at the intersection of two busy streets, not in the center of a neighbourhood, and creates housing in the center of the city. Denser development makes sense for this particular space. The site will be along the routes of two Bus Rapid Transit Lines and is within walking distance to Downtown, the university, City Hospital, Royal University Hospital, the new Children’s Hospital, and the Broadway District.
I understand that support for this project is not unanimous in the community, and I see it as my role when adjudicating these proposals to sort through the competing demands and interests and find what will serve our community now and in the future.
New Pre-School in Montgomery Place
City Council also decided to approve an application by the Saskatoon Tribal Council to establish a pre-school in the Montgomery Place neighbourhood with retrofits and minor additions to a house on 11tth Street.
The Tribal Council is looking to have 16 kids at a time at this pre-school, with students being bused to the site to minimize impacts on traffic and parking. The City administration’s study found that using this site as a pre-school would be in line with the Montgomery Place Local Area Plan, and that the parking on site could actually accommodate a daycare for 60 kids and the backyard space could accommodate enough play space for 170 kids.
For more information on why this issue was before City Council, what ‘discretionary use’ means when it comes to zoning, and further details on the Aboriginal Head Start Program, you can refer to the information package that was sent to all residents of Montgomery Place.
Curbside Organics Collection
At the City Council meeting there was a motion put forward by a City Councillor to put the city-wide universal curbside organics collection program on hold until further notice, and instead to look at expanding the voluntary program. This motion failed, and the city-wide solution will be going forward. There was also a motion to look at how this city-wide program could be implemented in a way that wouldn’t have such a significant increase to the tax rate, and this motion passed.
I voted to keep the city-wide plan in place because the issue that we’re faced with is a city-wide problem. Saskatoon has one of the worst waste diversion rates in the country, and we don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel to address the problem of sending organic material to the landfill. We need to make sure that the solution is tailored to the needs and realities of our community, but we can look to other municipalities with better waste diversion numbers to see what works, and a major component of this is a city-wide organics program.
I also voted in favour of asking the City’s administration for some information on how we might be able to phase in this program and avoid a 4.7% property tax increase just to pay for this. This is a common approach taken by our City so we are not hit by a huge bill all at once—similar to financing for large projects such as bridges or even how our road maintenance program is funded.
For months, this has been a balance of managing short-terms costs in a way that doesn’t have major negative financial and environmental repercussions in the long-term. Paying for everything on the property tax was not the way that I wanted to proceed, and this research requested by Council will help to find a path forward. I want to be clear that we are still moving forward with curbside organics collection, but there are still some pieces to the puzzle yet to be figured out in exactly how we will get there.
Although most of the public discussion has been around single-family houses, the City is also working on strategies for waste diversion for apartments, condos, businesses, and institutions as well. The latest update on this can be found in an online report from the City’s administration.
Proposed Amendments to the Local Government Elections Act
The provincial government is proposing that the 2020 municipal and school board elections occur only two weeks after the 2020 provincial election. Saskatoon, along with other municipalities in Saskatchewan, does not have the authority to set its own election date or to change any of the main rules governing elections, as this is all set by the Province of Saskatchewan.
City Council decided to send a letter to the premier and other relevant MLAs about the implications of having such close election dates, such as logistical considerations for advance polling and it being more difficult to hire election workers. Additionally, there will be two different sets of information out in the public at the same time about voting rules, procedures, locations, candidates, issues, and stances, and the confusion this causes could be eliminated with greater separation of dates. Additionally, there will be the American general election (including the presidential election) taking place between the two sets of elections in our province. Although this wouldn’t be a major source of confusion, it will take up significant space in the media, meaning that municipal issues could easily get overcrowded by the other elections, thus hurting our local democracy.
Perhaps the most troubling element is that this is the province’s plan not only for 2020, but for all elections moving forward (until there is a minority government that causes an earlier election). I do not see this move as sensible or sustainable, and the City Mayors’ Caucus of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association believed that a separation of seasons was the best option.