Happy Fall Everyone! Now that school is back in and we are all back from our summer activities, I thought I would offer this brief update on Council activities.
Please note that I will be hosting a virtual townhall on Wednesday October 11th from 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm. Details can be found on the Facebook event page or CLICK Here for the Zoom Link on Wednesday October 11th.
My intent is to focus on the Zoning Bylaw Renewal and related zoning topics and a little bit on City finances. And as always, we will be taking questions on any topic that comes up.
EPS Funding Formula
On August 23, Council approved a new police service funding formula. Going forward, the budget for the coming year will take the current year’s budget and add increases based on population growth for labour costs and inflation for other operating costs. The police budget is capped at 30% of the Civic Services budget.
I supported this funding formula, as I firmly believe it will result in an improved relationship between City Council and the Police Commission and Service.
Earlier this summer I conducted a survey which clearly indicated that safety and security, particularly in our core neighborhoods and on our LRT system, remain key concerns of Edmonton residents.
While a funding formula will always be imperfect, it is better than ad hoc changes that are frankly impossible for EPS to react to year over year. Over the past few years, EPS has stated that constant changes in police budgets have left them in a reactionary mode, not a strategic one. I think there is some truth in that - but I think they have leaned on that excuse a little too much. Police budgets cannot continue to grow unbounded. EPS will need to be more strategic in how they will spend tax dollars.
EPS has work to do. There have been more than a few instances where the actions of individual police officers have been found wanting. That shouldn’t mean that the entire force is condemned. It should mean that discipline processes are let to properly play out. And one need only look at the latest EPS recruiting classes to see the range and depth of knowledge, the range in ages and the diversity of race and gender to see that the Police Commission is doing its level best to ensure the Police Service continues to evolve.
The funding formula removes the distraction that constant conversation about money created and allows the conversation to shift to new approaches to “social policing.” More partnerships like HELP teams and the HSOC. More effort on co-dispatch, to get the right response to the call for service more quickly. Stable partnerships - and stable funding.
National Urban Park Initiative
On August 22nd, Council considered the following motion:
That Administration proceed to the planning phase of the National Urban Park Initiative, pending endorsement by Parks Canada, as outlined in the July 12, 2023, Urban Planning and Economy report UPE01668.
I voted against this motion.
A National Urban Park is not the same as a typical National Park. It is a relatively new concept, whereby the Federal government would contribute money to the creation and operation of a different kind of National Park - but the differences are not clear and questions have not yet been answered.
How much money is available? What would change about the governance of our River Valley? Would a fee be required to access the River Valley? Would development be permitted, or further restricted? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
What problem are we trying to solve? To my mind, the City has done a pretty good job of preserving the river valley.
On the other hand, a National Urban Park could be a positive addition to our City.
Fresh water is going to be a big topic of discussion in the coming decades - one need only look to the southern United States to see what happens when fresh water becomes scarce. Preserving the ecology of our water source is absolutely worth talking about.
Having a large National Park in Edmonton would enhance our tourism industry. More people might come here.
My hesitation on this project is its all or nothing approach. The proposal is for the ENTIRE river Valley and ALL ravines.
I would be willing to consider a portion of the River Valley as a first step. As one example, the stretch of the River Valley between Anthony Henday Drive and Devon does not yet have multi use trails and pedestrian bridges. There is a need to purchase land to complete the Ribbon of Green park space. And there is a lingering question about what land ought to belong to the Enoch Cree Nation. Federal involvement in this part of the river valley to address those questions would be appropriate and I would have supported a more measured and targeted approach as a first step.
The conversation will continue, hopefully with clear answers to these questions and a significant amount of funding support.
Downtown and Transit Safety
The area of highest concern for Edmonton residents - by far - is Downtown and Traffic Safety. City Council has approved a number of actions, an you can find a summary of those here:
In November, Council will consider a revised Public Spaces bylaw. This bylaw will modify and replace a number of existing bylaws that go back as much as 20 years. It was necessary to create revised language, strategies and policies within these bylaws.
In addition, a joint announcement by EPS and the Provincial Government on September 11 should permit a greater focus on safety concerns and specifically open air drug use and the ongoing increase in violence in our public spaces. The Provincial announcements in particular will result in more prosecutions for violent behaviour.
Overall my goal is that the most vulnerable residents of Edmonton find the support, counseling and assistance they need - including protect from the criminal and gang element - while that same criminal element is held to account.
I hope to see you virtually on Wednesday October 11th for the townhall to discuss these and other matters. See you then!!
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