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Rob Ford calls spending at Waterfront Toronto 'a cancer'

Mayor Rob Ford opposed a staff proposal for a strategic review of the second phase of Toronto’s waterfront revitalization, criticizing the group in charge, Waterfront Toronto, for already squandering “billions.”

“This is a cancer we must cut out,” the mayor said at the executive committee meeting on Wednesday. “The gravy train is alive and well at Waterfront Toronto and it’s going to come to an end.”

Ford attended the Wednesday committee meeting for the first time since taking a leave of absence to seek rehab. Click here for the full agenda.

The waterfront revitalization, which is managed by Waterfront Toronto, has received $1.5 billion from all three levels of government, but is at the halfway mark of its 20-year mandate and needs more money.

A number of projects still need to be realized — including light-rail transit for East Bayfront, flood protection and infrastructure work in the Port Lands which are anticipated to cost an additional $1.65 billion.

On Wednesday, Ford brought up the pink umbrellas that cost nearly $12,000 each and the two rocks at Sugar Beach, which cost over $1 million, as examples of waste by the organization.

He also criticized Waterfront Toronto’s lack of transparency, and his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, chimed in that “no one is holding them accountable.”

But Coun. Michael Thompson chastised the mayor for making the allegation and told him that if billions are being squandered then “you need to prove it.”

“The evidence here doesn’t support what you claim,” Thompson said.

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, who supported a strategic review, said it “doesn’t matter which side you’re on. This is good debate.”

Some people don’t think umbrellas and rocks are all that important, he said, “but it’s emblematic of a larger problem that they just don’t get the value of a dollar.”

He added that a majority wants to see the waterfront development completed. But the question is what the right entity is.

In the end, the executive committee supported the review and also supported Minnan-Wong’s motion that Waterfront Toronto adopt a policy similar to the provincial Freedom of Information request, have an open meeting investigator and adopt a policy similar to the city’s regarding whistleblowers. .

Reviewing city’s ice storm response

The City of Toronto plans to submit claims of $77.2 million from the provincial government’s Ice Storm Assistance program, for cleanup costs related to the December ice storm. But the claim doesn’t include Toronto Hydro costs of $13.9 million, revenue losses and tree replacement.

The city manager also recommends:

  • Updating the city’s emergency plan and allowing the city manager to “enhance” emergency staffing with a minimum of “five-deep staffing levels” for the Emergency Operation Centre and at emergency reception centres.
  • Developing public education and awareness programs on emergency preparedness measures for residents and businesses.
  • Establishing an Emergency Human Services working group and exploring the formation of an emergency response agreement to increase access to services for vulnerable residents during emergency situations.
  • Supporting Toronto Hydro’s five-year plan to bury hydro lines totalling $70-75 million as part of its 2015-2019 rate application with Ontario Energy Board.

The executive committee approved a report, with amendments, by the independent review panel that looked at Toronto Hydro’s performance during the December ice storm, which left as many as 416,000 Toronto households without power. The panel issued 25 recommendations for how to handle similar events in the future.

They included strengthening the building code for high-rises so that they must provide backup power for longer periods of time, which would mean upgrading generators so they provide electricity for fridges, heating and phones.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Fast-tracking water and sewer system repairs after the ice storm

The city wants to fast-track repairs to water and sewer systems that took a beating during the long, hard winter.

The executive committee will consider the plan to move some cash around in order to start repairs sooner by shifting funds from the 2015 budget plan.

The proposal calls for $7.02-million worth of work to be done in 2014 by spending $3.6-million in cash earmarked for 2015 spending and withdrawing $3.4-million from a reserve fund, so no new funding is needed.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Pan Am Games capital projects

Deputy city manager John Livey wants to increase the total budget for the BMX Track in Etobicoke from $1.5 million to $4.4 million.

Council would have to amend the already-approved 2014 capital budget for the Pan Am Games to fulfill that request.

In a staff report, Livey recommends redirecting around $1.3 million in city debt funding from the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, which is forecast to be under-budget by almost $10 million, to help pay for at least 44 per cent of the track’s budget shortfall.

Last week, Coun. Michael Thompson, who chairs the city’s economic development committee, told 680News he is not concerned or surprised by the increased figure.

“What we’re learning is that these estimates and so on are not [an] exact science,” Thompson said.

“When we get the costs, those numbers should not be assumed to be final because we understand that they change.”

The BMX Track is undergoing construction at Centennial Park.

The Pan Am Games will be held July 10-26, 2015, while the Parapan American Games will take place Aug. 7-15, 2015.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Re-naming Union Station

A city staff report is recommending that Union Station not be renamed Sir. John A. Macdonald Station after Canada’s first prime minister.

Instead, it recommends renaming the plaza in front of the Union Station revitalization area after him.

The staff report suggests placing a Sir. John A. Macdonald plaque on Union Station’s parapet wall to commemorate the new plaza. However, funding for the plaque would have to come from external parties.

The report said the “station’s name and edifice are iconic” and considered to be the “core components of the city’s history and heritage.” It also said renaming the station is not in sync with the city’s Honourific and Street Naming Policy.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Lighting up Prince Edward Viaduct

The deputy city manager recommends increasing the cost of lighting the Prince Edward Viaduct’s five piers and subway undercarriage, from $1.8 million to $2.8 million.

However, according to a staff report, the final cost is expected to be around $4.7 million. A final cost proposal has not yet been submitted.

If the recommendation is approved by the executive committee and city council, the project will be split in two phases.

In July 2013, council endorsed up to $20 million for the Pan Am Games Host City Showcase Program, which includes the Prince Edward Viaduct illumination, the street banner campaign and other community projects.

Click here to read the agenda item.

TTC fare affordability

City staff members are urging the Social Development, Finance and Administration to work together with officials from the TTC, public health, planning and other city department to develop a framework to make transit affordable for low-income riders.

It’s recommended that a staff report on this matter be completed by the end of 2015 and then sent to federal and provincial ministers of transport, social development, health, and other departments, as well as to the provincial transit authority, Metrolinx.

Council will review the transit affordability framework in late 2015.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Refinancing TCH city loans

The chief financial officer is recommending council approval a $52.4 million city loan to Toronto Community Housing to refinance mortgages on 55 TCH properties. The loan would allow TCH to apply $33 million to capital repair backlogs.

Click here to read the agenda item.

TCH mortgage refinancing

Some TCH properties are also up for mortgage renewal. The city manager is recommending that council approve a refinancing agreement between TCH and lender Infrastructure Ontario for $49.7 million, including $19 million for 15 properties and $30.7 million in funding for state-of-good repairs.

The city manager is also recommending council extend the mortgage term for eight of those properties until 2045 as well as increase their mortgage funding subsidy.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Council staff travel

The executive committee will receive a report by staff outlining the 2013 travel expenses of councillors’ staff. The expenses for three of Ford’s staff – press secretary Amin Massoudi, chief of staff Earl Provost and special assistant Judith Williams – totalled $8,155, last year. They accompanied him on a business trip to Austin, Tex., which was initially paid by Invest Toronto and later reimbursed by Ford.

Click here to review other councillors’ staff travel expenses.

VQA wines at farmers’ markets

The committee endorsed a report about a provincial pilot project that began this season allowing VQA wines to be sampled and sold at Ontario farmers’ markets, including 26 of 39 farmers’ markets in Toronto. The pilot runs until the end of 2015 and a report on the impact of the program will be issued at the end of it.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Building parks along the west-end hydro corridor

The city already leases eight parcels of land along the west-end hydro corridor – which runs about five kilometres along Dupont Street from Earlscourt Park at Lansdowne and St. Clair into the Annex – but this plan calls for the entire stretch to be leased as one long park.

The land, owned by the Ontario Realty Corp. for use by Hydro One, could be transformed into a swath of bike paths, allotment gardens and splash pads.

Talk of the transformation has been going on for years. In 2012, a local architecture firm, Workshop Architecure, held an international design competition that attracted 77 proposals for revitalizing the space.

Click here to see the proposals.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Working group to improve construction procurement

Public Works and Infrastructure chair Denzil Minnan-Wong is spearheading a movement to improve the city’s construction procurement practices.

After hosting a closed-door roundtable with various construction industry groups in June, Minnan-Wong wants to establish an official working group to fix what he sees as problems with the system.

The group would work with council, city staff and industry to save time and money and improve transparency, Minnan-Wong said in his proposal. Improvements could cut-down on sole-sourced contracts by opening up the process to more companies by using more online bidding, for example, and do more rigorous planning before shovels are in the ground.

Click here to read the agenda item.

Toronto Hydro dividends

The utility is expected to pay the city dividends of $60.6 million this year, based on 50 per cent of its $121.2 million net income. That’s higher than the anticipated amount of $55 million the city is expecting and higher than last year’s amount of $43 million.

Click here for the agenda item. Click here for the 2013 financial results.