Okay, I understand why there are parking rules that prevent people from parking on a side street before 10 a.m. After all, you don’t want all those working folks parking in front of your house during the week. But what about the weekends when all those working folks are, in theory, at home? I can’t tell you how annoying it can be to take your children to an early morning class, and discover after you’ve come out that the friendly parking hornets have slapped you with a $30 fine for parking on the street before 10 a.m. Something’s gotta change…..
As Toronto scrambles to reduce the amount of garbage being produced, you can only shake your head to learn that people living in the city’s 5,100 multi-family dwellings (apartments, townhomes, condos, etc.) are only recycling 13% of their garbage. Can you imagine how many trucks they could take off the road going to landfill sites in Michigan if the recycling rates in those buildings was increased to 50%. As much as you can encourage people to recycle, garbage is becoming such an important, expensive and big issue, it may not be long before we see mandatory recycling and people fined for not doing enough.
So I wanted to go on the monthly billing plan to pay my municipal taxes. But after completing the forms and mailing in a void check, I'm still on the six times a year system. No problem to switch it, right? Wrong. For the past two days, the one phone number provided to call customer service has had a busy signal: there's no way to leave a message or information about how to do it online. Nice, very nice…..
Whether or not you agree with the idea of a busy airport on Toronto’s waterfront, it seems Robert Deluce is intent on pressing ahead with the launch of Porter Airlines – a move that’s also got Air Canada excited again about the Island Airport. Unless there is a bold political move to stop the airport from expanding, perhaps the best move would be to let Deluce buy new airplanes so he can start operating. This may sound weird given I’m opposed to the idea of waterfront revitalization including an aiport but perhaps we should let business fundamentals stop something that citizens are unable to do. If you look back, airlines out of the island have not done well economically for a variety of reasons – some of them having to do with the lack of a permanent link. Deluce thinks he can be successful by having a low cost structure – and with help of the evil Toronto Port Authority, which plans to start ferry service from Cherry Beach. I say: spend $500-million on new airplanes and go for it. I have a funny feeling, however, that even with the TPA’s new ferry service, Porter Airlines will struggle financially. Then, don’t be surprised to see Deluce lobby aggressively for a bridge to airport as a way to “save” his investment.
The news that Toronto’s property taxes are apparently “only” going up 3% this year is misleading because that’s the across the board rate. It doesn’t take into account many people will see significantly higher increases because they happen to live in hot neighbourhoods where housing prices are rocketing. Since taxes are based on the property assessment system, you get penalized for being forward thinking and moving into a neighbourhood before it becomes trendy. The city’s response is “well, at least your property value is going up” but that’s little consolation when your property tax bill climbs 20%.
Christopher Hume has an interesting story in today’s Toronto Star about the city’s efforts to “rearrange the furniture”. It looks at the city’s renewed focus on improving the the street-scape when it comes to things such as newspaper boxes, transit stops and garbage bins. The number of newspaper boxes is a great example of urban furniture gone out of control when you realize some corners can have a dozen different boxes. In Chicago, they created a multi-box format that provides space for 10 newspapers. It’s a much better looking entity, and something that can easily be introduced. The city would also do itself a favour if it killed the idea of the mega-bins, which are currently being “tested”. Sure, the city will get some cash from Eucan but the mega-bins are downright ugly and not very functional. For one, they don’t hold much trash, which is not a good thing in a city with a growing litter problem.
There is an interesting contract in the weekend papers in terms of Toronto’s future. The Toronto Star‘s GTA secton on Saturday has several stories about how the city is doomed financially because it simply doesn’t have the revenue and taxation sources to pay for all the services it provides. To be honest, it’s disheartening because it paints a picture of a city in financial crisis with only one way to go: down. Unless something dramatic happens – and I’m not sure it’s just a New Deal with Queen’s Park – all the things we like about Toronto will disappear: clean streets, social services, well-run community centres, low user-fees, accessible services for people with lower incomes, etc. Royson James offers up the more troubling scenario with the possibility that Toronto may have to declare bankruptcy one day – much like what New York City did. Meanwhile, the Globe’s John Barber tells us in Saturday’s paper to “don’t worry, be happy” – suggesting our concerns about traffic congestion, a lack of parking spots, etc. shouldn’t really concern us. Maybe, he’s the eternal optimistic, while the Star is riding the attention-grabbing doom and gloom pony. In any event, I’m feeling terribly uneasy about Toronto’s future. We just don’t seem to have the leadership to create a vision for the future or the financial formula to ensure the city keeps working efficiently. At some point, something’s got to give.
With an election nine months away, there are signs David Miller is starting to feel the heat. After promising sweeping reform and vowing to get Toronto’s house in order, the city is faced with a huge deficit and a mayor who appears afraid to talk tough with salary-seeking unions or consider the possibility of users fees as an alternative to higher property taxes.How else to explain the public dressing down that Miller delivered to Glen Grunwald when the Toronto Board of Trade CEO provided feedback last week at a public forum about the 2006 budget. Rather than thank Grunwald for his insight, Miller went on the attack. He later explained he wanted to “clarify” some of the proposals made by Grunwald. My sense is Miller’s re-election campaign is nowhere near a slam dunk because there’s a feeling he’s ineffective and the city is no better now than it was with Mel Lastman at the helm.
Royson James had a good column last week (Feb. 15) about the city’s budget deficit – currently about $450-million to $500-million for 2006. He makes a good point in questioning why the city continues to hope that Queen’s Park will come to its rescue while ignoring the fact it makes no sense to continually dive into the pocket of residents through property taxes, user fees, water costs, etc. Unfortunately, there are mixed messages coming from city hall: they attempt to give themselves raises and bend every time their unionized employees threaten to withdraw services. I’m not sure why the city doesn’t face fiscal reality and simply say there’s no money in the coffers for higher salaries – just like most companies have been telling their employees for the past few years. Instead, Toronto continues to operate as if everything will be fine as long as Queen’s Park bails us out.
There was a story in Saturday’s Globe & Mail about how Dupont St. is slowly being gentrified between Davenport and Spadina. It cites the opening of a new LCBO, a chocolate shop and a French bakery as signs that Dupont will shuck its role as a travel routeto become a quasi-retail strip. As much as I’d like to see it happen, Dupont is what it is – a busy route for people trying to get across mid-town. Still, there’s lot of potential. The land where the 24-hour IGA on Dupont & Shaw has huge potential for residential/retail redevelopment. It would also be nice to see a Firkin-like pub open on the Dupont where you could have a beer and taken the kids for dinner.