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Saskatoon

Susan Delecourt talks about Stephen Harper

but is largely describing how Saskatoon City Council operates in Saskatoon.  It’s really depressing.

Do Cities Really Want to Change?

Maybe Saskatoon doesn’t change because it is afraid of it.

The civic world is obviously more complex than this simple joke. But given the persistent failure to change the trajectory of so many places despite the enormous time and energy — not to mention vast sums of taxpayer money — spent on it, it’s worth pondering the possibilities.

Problems are problems, but they are also sometimes solutions to certain sets of questions. One of these is how to mobilize, allocate, and deploy community resources and power. Fighting decline has become the central organizing principle in many places.

As a friend of mine from the IT industry once put it regarding what he termed “rackets”: “A racket is when folks have something they complain about and commiserate about but don’t fix. Upon delving into the roots of a racket one finds that the folks don’t really want it fixed — the subject of the racket is a unifying force that if corrected will remove the common complaint and thus the unifying force. The cultural changes that would ensue from the change in practices that ‘no one wants’ are not acceptable to [the complainers]. In corporate organizational behavior, it is important to break the rackets. It is also difficult. But, I imagine, far easier in a company with some semblance of common objectives than it would be in an each-man-for-himself city.”

In short, economic struggle can be a cultural unifier in a community that people tacitly want to hold onto in order to preserve civic cohesion.

Jane Jacobs took it even further. As she noted in The Economy of Cities, “Economic development, whenever and wherever it occurs, is profoundly subversive of the status quo.” And it isn’t hard to figure out that even in cities and states with serious problems, many people inside the system are benefiting from the status quo.

They have political power, an inside track on government contracts, a nice gig at a civic organization or nonprofit, and so on. All of these people, who are disproportionately in the power broker class of most places, potentially stand to lose if economic decline is reversed. That’s not to say they are evil, but they all have an interest to protect.

Consider one simple thought experiment: If a struggling community starts booming, that would eliminate a big part of the rationale for subsidized real estate development, which constitutes the principal form of economic development in all too many places, and which benefits a clear interest group. It might also attract highly motivated, aggressive people from out of town, folks who are highly likely to agitate for better than the current inbred ways of doing business. This would inherently dilute the positions of the current powers that be.

Look but don’t touch

I know most of us are more concerned with the roads but have any of you noticed the condition of many of our light standards in the city.  Some are almost completely rusted through.  I have poked at more than one and had my finger go right through.  Others are really swaying in the recent wind. 

According to city reports, City Council has not only ignored city roads but also our electrical grid.  I know, I know, marking priorities is hard.

There were roads, bridges, and snow to neglect and now we have light poles that are not structurally safe and are rusting out. It’s actually remarkable that council could let so many things at the same time.

Oh wait, amidst all of our infrastructure falling, we have a clear goal.  In case you have ever wondered what drives the Mayor and council’s desire to keep taxes low when our city needs revenue, it is Calgary.

This is from 2011.

Saskatoon’s mayor is eyeing a property tax increase of one per cent per year less than Cowtown’s over the next decade.
In 10 to 15 years, Saskatoon’s tax rate could equal that of Alberta’s biggest city, where ratepayers have the lowest property taxes among major cities in the country, he said.

Calgary has fun with this.

To help set its mill rate, Calgary relies on a so-called municipal inflation rate, a combination of costs for salaries, service contracts, fuel and materials. Saskatoon’s administration is coming up with a formula to calculate its own municipal inflation rate and Atchison has said in the past it makes sense to try to tie property tax hikes closely to that amount rather than the consumer inflation rate.

Property tax increases since Atchison became mayor have averaged 3.7 per cent annually. During the same period, Calgary’s property tax has gone up by an average of 4.2 per cent with the municipal portion jumping an average of 6.5 per cent.

Atchison’s wish already has a fiscally prudent Calgary alderman, Andre Chabot, chuckling.

He notes this spring council chose to boost the education portion of the property tax by a onetime whopping 10.4 per cent to take advantage of the province’s move to cut its portion of the property tax.

By comparison, Saskatoon’s property tax rose by a relatively small four per cent in 2011.

“For the mayor of Saskatoon to make a claim like that, it certainly is a politically astute kind of selling feature for his proposed tax increases,” Chabot said, “because he can always make the argument that it was at least one per cent lower than Calgary’s increase.

So how many miles of roadways does “politically astute” pay for?

Of course there is a reason why Calgary’s mill rate is lower.  They collect more business tax.

Jack Vicq, professor emeritus of accounting at the University of Saskatchewan Edwards School of Business, said there are differences between how Saskatoon and Calgary are funded that need to be accounted for. The amount in business tax collected in Calgary keeps its property tax rate lower, he said.

More from Vicq

“Let’s make sure the framework we’re in is the same,” Vicq said. “I would go at it from the perspective of really, what is it we should be doing in the city of Saskatoon and how are we going to do that? And maybe that takes a property tax that is higher than Calgary. You can get into trouble by just looking at Calgary and saying, ‘I want to be there.’

“You might lose sight of what you should be doing as a city or what residents expect as a city.”

As an aside, as the video below shows, I am not sure that our mayor even understands basic tax policy.

Back to what we are talking about.

First of all, the reason we have a lower rate is that we don’t fund the city the same way.  We have inferior snow removal and road repair policies to Calgary.  We also do things like underfund transit and force them to purchase worn out busses from places like Edmonton.  Parts of our bus fleet are so old that people come from all over North America to ride them.  The reason we keep using them, they are cheap to run (but you knew that already).

We don’t repair things like light poles is no big shock but now we have the cost of replacing them that is going to be a big shock to the bottom line.  Either that or we will just watch them fall over.

If you are ever in budget review meetings, you hear city managers say, “If you cut this amount, I can’t afford to do maintenance on parks” or “We won’t have enough for fuel”.  Those things are cut anyway.  You know because why do city vehicles need fuel budgeted for properly.  In many ways I think you can say that Calgary is getting far more bang for their tax dollars than we do.

Instead of funding the city the way it needs, we have actually developed our own spin that blames “freeze thaw” for bad roads (we don’t have a freeze thaw cycle, it just freezes) or that rain wrecks our roads (because we are too cheap to use rock base and instead only use sand).  My favourite is listening to council talk about how brave and hard working our city workers are doing instead of talking about how underfunding is creating this mess.  My favourite was when Pat Lorje suggested that city council was under siege last winter because of the lack of snow removal which was something she voted against.

The whole things reminds me of Winston Churchill underfunding the defences of Singapore in 1937 while First Lord of the Admiralty and then calling the British general performance there abysmal when Japan invaded in 1942 and they had no defences to work with.

We have roads that are brutal because the Mayor and council stopped funding the roads years ago.  We have light posts that aren’t safe because the city doesn’t have the cash (because of our desire to beat Calgary) and our city is dirty and grimy into July because it is cheaper to clean the streets slowly rather than quickly.  We get upset that we don’t have enough swim lessons but underfund leisure services as the city has grown.

Jack Vicq is right.  Instead of playing political games, we need a council (who can override the mayor) and fund the city properly.  Instead we get a Twitter feed that is constantly tweeting power outages because they take large dividends out of Saskatoon Light & Power, a #BetterRoadsYXE hashtag, new pylons and lots of emails from the city telling me how much they are doing (that’s another topic).

While the 2011 article mentions the mayor, it is also the fault of city council.  Darren Hill, Pat Lorje, Charlie Clark & Tiffany Paulsen have all been there at least two terms and are working on their third terms.  Mairin Loewen, Ann Iwanchuk, Randy Donauer have all been re-elected once.  They are all there when the council pulls a mill rate out of Calgary and agree to it.  When you are as integral part of the problem, can you be part of the solution?

Sadly repairing the grid or maintaining the Traffic Bridge doesn’t get people elected.  New bridges and low taxes do.  This problem isn’t going to go away and if we don’t do something about it in 2016, the mess will be just huge when we do.

Complete Streets (it’s more than just about cycling)

It is so depressing to think about how much further along in their thinking that places like New York City are than Saskatoon in realizing that not all people own cars.  Just think about it, a street designed for cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.  It could one day happen in Saskatoon.

The mess that is the University of Saskatchewan

This sums up the spring so far at the University of Saskatchewan

Cheesman and Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) executive director Jim Turk said the university’s reputation is being damaged more with each passing week as it disputes the decision.

“This is very harmful to academic freedom. The decision should be respected,” Cheesman said.

The U of S was enveloped in controversy after the head of its School of Public Health, Robert Buckingham, was fired and escorted off campus for speaking out against various reforms. The events led to the ouster of provost Brett Fairbairn and president Ilene Busch-Vishniac.

Other staff and faculty also said Buckingham himself terminated those who spoke out.

Amid these controversies, the USFA expressed alarm that the U of S board of governors may have granted the president veto power over tenure during a closed 2012 meeting.

Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris expressed concern about the veto issue and said his ministry is investigating.

“Is it of concern? The answer is yes, it is. We’re doing our own internal review at the ministry and certainly this will be part of an ongoing dialogue with the board,” Norris told reporters last month.

The damage that has been done to the University of Saskatchewan is going to take years to fix.  For a school that has its College of Medicine on probation, it’s easy to see why there is a loss of confidence in the board of the University by almost everyone right now.

Bridge City

A couple of months ago I discovered that BridgeCity.ca was available to be registered and I scooped it up.  I had wanted a domain to document Saskatoon on for years and this seemed to be as good as place as ever.

Since then I have been uploading photos.  Most of them are of Saskatoon but a few are from outside of our city limits.  My inspiration for this has been the amazing photoblog Winnipeg Love Hate.  If you have never been there before, you really need to check it out.  Bryon Scott has done an amazing job of documenting his city and I hope to do the same for Saskatoon.  

River Landing

If you want to read more about Bridge City, you can find out the information here.  It’s RSS feed is here.  I have been managing to update the site four days out of seven.  Hopefully that will increase to five out of seven.

Mark with his DSLR

Bike Lanes in Saskatoon

Francois Biber joins David Kirton to talk about bike lanes on the Saskatoon Afternoon Show.

Listen

Excellent summary of the issues by both of them.

Just previous to this segment, Kirton expressed his frustration with city councillors, the mayor, and city administration being pro-car.  Listen below.

Listen

TransformUS Rebranding

This segment by Dave Kirton on CKOM’s Saskatoon Afternoon Show is hilarious.  Make sure you listen.

Listen

I love the shot at PotashCorp.  Poor Potash.  Poor Products.  Poor Results

Nice job by the Rawlco creative folks and Saskatoon Afternoon. It made me laugh and made some great points about the lack of leadership at the University of Saskatchewan.

Terry Alm Drive

In case you missed the amateur hour that was Saskatoon City Council, you missed the passionate debate over whether or not Mayor Donald Atchison should be able to name streets, parks, and bridges.   Here is what Ward 6 Councillor Charlie Clark had to say about it in his email newsletter.

City Council will receive a report with a few minor amendments suggested to the Naming Process.  Recent debates have raised the prospect of a more significant amendment to the process.  I would like the process to be changed so that the actual designation of names to parks and streets is not done solely by the Mayor.  Saskatoon is the only City in Canada that grants this power to the Mayor alone, and I believe it is time to change this. 

For me the issue is not out of concern with any specific names that have been applied in the City.  There are two main reasons. 

First having a single elected official hold naming power opens the process up to political influence, rewarding friends or campaign donors. This is not about Mayor Atchison specifically, but a question of good governance and creating policies that mitigate this potential. 

Secondly – there have been hundreds of names applied in recent years to streets and parks in the City, as we add on new neighbourhoods.  These names form the identity of our neighbourhoods and the City as a whole.  The responsibility for establishing this story for our community should not be the purview of one individual.  Ideally this is the kind of work that would have the input of people with historical knowledge and understanding of our community from several perspectives – to help ensure that as we make our mark on these communities with names that they capture a breadth of the history and identity of the City.  

There is a tremendous opportunity to develop a thoughtful process to ensure that these streets and parks capture the essence of who we are as a community and where we came from.  Right now the process relies on the public or property developers to bring forward names, a Committee made up of politicians and City staff determines whether a name can go on the “Names Master List” and then the Mayor picks the ones he wants to use. 

I think it makes sense to have a committee that has a mixture of elected people and the public on it to be part of the approval and application of names.  I also think that it would be worthwhile to engage our City Archivist and other historians to look at our Names Master List and identify which communities are being missed and a way to ensure that these get represented. 

Yes you read it right, Clark used the term, “tremendous opportunity” to describing a process that involved naming street names.  I don’t know what to say either except that its probable that Clark gets excited over governance things that I do not.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with this is irrelevant.  In my opinion it is a shame that we don’t have streets that honour Henry Dayday, Roy Romanow, Lorne Calvert, and even Grant Devine.  Heck I am all for an entire neighbourhood that uses names of former premiers. (austere houses are on Romanow Avenue while over mortgaged houses are on Devine Lane)

What does surprise me is that if council wanted to move on this, they should have done one thing really well.  They needed to have counted the votes for and against before the council meeting started and they never did that.  If they did do that and someone changed their mind (which it sounds like happened), that is politics but somewhere along the way, you need to know that stuff or you look like idiots.  So after some attacked and defended the mayor and in many ways made it personal, it was time to vote which was a five-five tie so the motion failed, the status quo continues and you look really small minded and petty.  Oh right, you have also just attacked the mayor (or one of the few perks the mayor has) and now you are left with nothing to show for it.  Well except with an even more divided city council.

Of all of the issues facing the city, fighting over who gets to name streets isn’t high on my list of things that need to be done.

Affordable apparently means shoddy

Francois Biber on the poor quality homes that are being delivered under the City of Saskatoon’s affordable home ownership program

Leonard LaRochelle took possession of his modular home on Borden Crescent through the city’s affordable housing program in 2011. Now, 2014 has been nothing but headaches and money lost to basement flooding.

“The water actually came all the way underneath the flooring,” LaRochelle said, walking through his basement – floor boards torn up, moldy insulation scattered everywhere and furniture and drywall all huddled in the middle of the room.

Three different leaks sprung in LaRochelle’s basement this spring, causing him to tear down the walls of his newly finished basement and pull up $1,200 worth of flooring.

He said he called the builder to see if they would look at the cracks in the concrete foundation, and they agreed. However, the results weren’t exactly what LaRochelle was expecting.

After a couple of visits from a maintenance worker, LaRochelle said they patched the holes on the inside of the home, but they didn’t do anything to seal the home from the outside.

“As water continues to build up inside, in the fall if we get a freeze that water is going to expand and spider and make so many more issues,” LaRochelle said, adding exposed wood on the outside of the home is starting to rot.

When the builder wouldn’t comply, he went to City Hall. There, LaRochelle said he asked building inspection managers to have his home inspected again.

“The response I got from the inspection manager was that the inspection had initially passed so they wouldn’t find anything different now, so they couldn’t change anything that’s been done and they refused to get another inspection,” LaRochelle said, adding his next step was to take the issue to his city councillor, Ann Iwanchuk.

“It’s concerning to hear residents having these issues, we want home ownership to be a positive experience for all,” Iwanchuk said. “When I was made aware of these concerns about a month ago, I’ve gone to the administration and asked to go back to the builder and they’re currently in the process of getting more information.”

Director of planning and development, Alan Wallace, said they’ve opened up an investigation into the matter and they’ll be reaching out to homeowners and the builder to see if anything can be done to resolve the issue.

“Until we get all the facts we won’t know what’s going on up there,” Wallace said, adding the city’s hands are somewhat tied, because the contract is complete.

Of course you haven’t seen anything until you have seen the leaks in this dramatic video below.

You won’t find videos like this in Calgary or Toronto (mostly because they have tougher building codes).  Hopefully that is ROCK 102 playing in the background.

Community Support Officers (funding) Down

It looks like the Community Support Officer program is about to be killed.

The price and focus of community support officers is putting the whole program in jeopardy.

“$450,000 (a year) is a lot of money,” Ward 9 Councillor Tiffany Paulsen said at the administration and finance committee Monday. “I don’t see how council can measure if this program is working.”

At the end of July funding for the Community Support Officers (CSO) program expires. The city’s administration presented a report recommending city council expand the program for another three years into the end of 2017 for $1.35 million.

However, questions about what the CSOs patrol, how much its work overlaps with police officers, and the funding plan have put the future of the program on the bubble.

After reviewing the reports Ward 8 councillor Eric Olauson said he didn’t see the value of this program.

“I have a tough time supporting this because I think police here have to change their focus. This was a good idea at the time but I think its run its course,” Olauson said.
Councillor Zach Jeffries echoed his colleagues concern noting that five CSOs have written only 15 bylaw infraction tickets over 18 months. He said if they wrote more tickets, council could better measure the success of the CSOs.

“The number of tickets is very small … people say they want to see more tickets written,” Jeffries said, adding it would give council a measurement to determine the program’s success.

“I would personally appreciate seeing something more measureable and in my mind it’s something to focus on.”

Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill said he supports the CSOs, and although he sees how the police officers and the CSOs overlap, he sees the police acting more as a protection measure for the CSOs.

“We’re always concerned about their safety so on occasion we will send a patrol car just to make sure there isn’t going to be any violence,” Weighill said. “We’re supportive of the program we think there’s a space for them to do the work they do.”

For the program’s initial 18 months, the city resolved that funding for the CSOs would come from parking meter revenues because the patrolling areas (Downtown, Broadway, Riversdale) were metered. However, Riversdale Business Improvement District (BID) executive director Randy Pshebylo said he wants that money to go back into streetscaping.
“The BID board has been very clear that they’d support a pilot program and that would then extend to an alternative source of funding and that the existing funding revert back to the streetscape reserve,” he said.

Well let’s get the obvious one out there.  Eric Olauson doesn’t see the value in any program that doesn’t involve his ward getting sound walls.  That is his M.O.  

Secondly a year ago the same councillors were praising the work of the CSOs and talking about how awesome they were.  What happened?

The Partnership’s CEO, Terry Scaddon retired and he was one of the biggest champions for the program.  Without him there, councillors are feeling far more free to criticize the program.

The program was designed from the start to pressure the province in giving money to help with social issues in Saskatoon.  We had the Safer Streets Commission and the hope was that the province would help fund some of the solutions to social programs that we have in the cities.  It wasn’t a real need, crime in downtown Saskatoon was quite low but there was a perception out there.  Unfortunately we overlooked the fact that the Wall government is very comfortable with the status quo on social issues and that the Treasury Board doesn’t include a single member from Saskatoon.  To make a long story short, we never got the funding and the program is going to die.

Finally, I can’t leave Coun. Jeffries comment alone.  Could it be that the reason that there was not a lot of tickets written is that there was not a lot of need in the first place?  Also, encouraging law enforcement to write tickets is a really bad political direction to be giving them.  The intention of the CSOs was to be helping people access needed services, not writing tickets.  Countless cities across North America have cracked down on panhandlers and the homeless and it doesn’t work.  Criminalizing behaviour that is driven by extreme poverty is the worst form of public policy.  Zach should know better than that, regardless of which ways the winds are blowing in his suburban ward.

The train wreck that is the Saskatoon Blades

This column by Kevin Mitchell is why I won’t care about the Saskatoon Blades next season.

New people coming in will have to accept the Priestners’ hands-on approach, which is a direct contrast to the laid-back stylings of previous owner Jack Brodsky.

The new proprietors made it clear right from the start that they won’t, for example, allow a coach on their team to play a dull, trapping style of hockey – they want their fans to be entertained. Colin Priestner told reporters after dad Mike bought the team that while he wasn’t qualified to make trades or scout talent, “I will be actively involved within the dressing room.”

He kept that promise, maintaining regular dialogue with players within the locker-room, and it didn’t sit well with assistant coach Curtis Leschyshyn, a longtime NHLer who left the team last week.

“Those were some of the things that, as a player, I never saw in my career, nor do I think is part of the game,” Leschyshyn told our Daniel Nugent-Bowman when speaking about those frequent locker-room forays. “The room is a very special place for the players. It always should be that way.”

Those dynamics have been laid bare, the working conditions made readily apparent, so here’s the deal as the job hunt commences: If you’re uncomfortable with members of the ownership team hanging out in the locker-room, if you’d chafe at the hands-on approach the Priestners prefer … then Saskatoon’s not for you. Stay far away.

If you don’t see it as a big deal, then send in your resume and join the competition.

Molleken talked quietly Tuesday about “passing the torch.” while Hogle said the search crew will seek “candidates that have a rich hockey history, a tradition of success in the playoffs, who are leaders of culture.”

The new owners, while far from universally popular, talk a bold game when it comes to the Blades’ future. Much of the old guard has been swept away. A fresh canvas waits for either a masterpiece or a dud.

This 16-51-2-3 team is keeping things interesting, if nothing else.

I can’t think of a single successful owner who is doing what Colin Priestner is doing here.  Lots have tried it his way (Dan Snyder, James Dolan, Al Davis, George Steinbrenner, Mark Cuban in his early years) and it has never worked out.  The owners job is to hire good people, set expectations, and let them do what they know how to do.  Priestner’s way undermine the very thing that he says that he is trying to do.

At the press conference he said that he is going to be advised by ex Flames GM Craig Button.  Really.  Was Gord Stellick too busy?  Button had a horrible run as Flames GM.  In addition to not being able to assemble talent on the ice, his management tree doesn’t have any notable limbs on it either.  He struggled to find talent on and off the ice and now we are bringing him in as a consultant.  

If Priestner isn’t careful, he is going to so damage a product that when the AHL comes calling (and it will), the Blades will be looking for a new home.

The Bridge to Our Future is Broken

The Bridge to our Future is Broken

Saskatoon Transit: Why Saskatoon Needs a Better Transit System

Hilary has a great post at OurYXE about why Saskatoon needs an improved transit system

  • Transit levels the playing field for low-income people – people on a fixed income or minimum wage, where the annual cost of operating a car takes a huge bite out of their bottom line. Giving households who spend most or all of their money on essentials a chance to increase their take-home pay increases spending, boosting the economy, and the chance to move upwards in society. Timely access to employment, services, and family increases quality of life; for people who are unable to drive, a good transit system is worth it for the sense of autonomy over mobility it provides as one is not ‘trapped’.
  • Transit reduces demand on roadways, for parking, and is a key part of helping cities achieve higher densities. Roads cost money to maintain; expansion of roads takes property off tax rolls. Large intersections restrict access to properties on the corners, lowering attractiveness and therefore property values, increasing demand for police services as they become blighted. Bridges, as we know very well, are not cheap; it makes economic sense to maximise the ones we currently have. Underground parking is very expensive, driving up the cost of construction and thus the cost per unit of residential units situated above it. Single-car occupancy will not support the densities Saskatoon seeks to achieve in the downtown core. Reduced demand on the roadways reduces response times for emergency vehicles and people who for various reasons are unable to use transit.
  • Transit is not a viable option for all citizens; however non-users still benefit from lessened demand for parking and reduced congestion. Families with kids who are old enough to take the bus or senior members who are unable to drive anymore, Drivers in households with seniors who do not drive and children who are old enough to take the bus are freed from onerous chauffeur duties; kids gain a sense of independence and autonomy, while older adults can age in place.

The entire post is worth a read.

20th Street

20th Street

Snow day on 20th Street

So yeah, we get snow here in Saskatoon some days.