Dear neighbours and friends,
Over the past two years, I've had the pleasure of being our community's representative at Toronto City Council.
I've met with thousands of residents to address their priorities and get results -whether they've been local traffic safety concerns, a noisy development project, a late garbage pickup or to support a special occasion for a neighbourhood, school or family. I've also enjoyed countless conversations with residents like you on how we can work together to improve our city.
Thank you to my fellow residents of Ward 22-St. Paul's for your ongoing support and confidence in the work I'm doing on our community's behalf.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah or Solstice, I wish you all a very warm and happy time with your family this holiday season.
Please see my midterm report to you below. For a full review of the work we've accomplished for Ward 22 and Toronto, please visit my website at www.joshmatlow.ca
Our New Davisville Farmers' Market
I'm delighted by the success of Ward 22's first community farmers' market at June Rowlands (Davisville) Park. In its first year, the market ran between 3 and 7 PM from June to October, transforming the park into a temporary town square where you were sure to see your friends and neighbours while buying fresh produce, fish, meats, chocolate, and so much more.
AppleTree Markets, a local Ward 22 non-profit organization, runs the market with an emphasis on local produce and promoting green living in an urban neighbourhood. I look forward to seeing many of you there again next spring!
Republic of Rathnelly Street Signs
To recognize this distinctive neighbourhood at the bottom of Avenue Road Hill, I've allocated funds with Council support towards "Republic of Rathnelly" street signs designed by the community. You can read more about the new signs as see what they look like here. They're already up in the neighbourhood and look amazing.
MacPherson Avenue "Ecopark"
Since taking office, I have been working with community members on an exciting proposal to transform the hydro corridor on Macpherson Avenue (between Spadina and Davenport) from a derelict eyesore into a usable public space. I was happy to support a local resident's application for a City of Toronto grant to build a demonstration "Ecopark" with solar panels, community gardens, native plants and an electric car.
This is an opportunity for the City to demonstrate its commitment to renewable energy, environmental stewardship and innovative public spaces. The new green space will also provide an educational experience for local schoolchildren from the Waldorf School, Huron Public School and Cottingham Public School.
New Accessible Playground at Oriole Park
After many years of construction and delays I worked with Parks staff to ensure that Oriole Park's new playground was ready for the summer of 2011. Toronto's first accessible playground features Braille panels, accessible swings, a water play area, a climbing merry-go-round and bounce pad, play structures and sensory musical functions.
Early this spring I had the pleasure of welcoming a brand new park to Ward 22 for our residents to enjoy. Complete with a brand new playground, the Dunfield Parkette will offer a place for children to play in a growing part of our community.
June Rowlands (Davisville) Park Splash Pad
We now have a stunning new facility for children in our community. Children really appreciated this recreation space during this particularly hot summer. I've often been tempted to cool off there myself :)
Clarke Pulford Field at Northern SS
On October 6, 2012, Northern Secondary School's newly improved Clarke Pulford Field was officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the entire community. The field had long been in need of revitalization as the playing surface was patchy, full of holes and was unusable at times.
As our new City Councillor, I was honoured to be able to complete this fundraising initiative through City Council last September where I worked with my colleagues to ensure that the remaining $630,000 needed for the field was approved by Council for the school and local community. Along with this being a great benefit for students, local residents will, for the first time, have access to this playspace during allocated hours outside instruction time.
The new field consists of:
· 400-metre, four-lane running track
· full football and soccer field built to professional standards
· The grass will has been replaced by high-quality artificial turf while bike racks and fencing have also been installed
· The playing area will be used by physical education classes, Northern's many successful athletic teams, and it will provide recreational opportunities for the local community
Margie Winkler Memorial Bench at Hodgson
Last year I had the privilege of working with my Council colleagues, Trustee Laskin and the Davisville Village neighbourhood to allocate $500, fully funded by Section 37 community benefits, for a new bench at Hodgson Senior Public School. The bench will be available for public use as part of a sitting and garden area adjacent to the sidewalk.
The bench is in memoriam of Margery Winkler, a much-loved former Hodgson parent and Professor of Landscape Architecture at Ryerson University. Margery's life was tragically cut short after a courageous battle with cancer in 2009. Margery was committed to the creation of sustainable open spaces and used her expertise to help local schools transform their grounds.
We will remember her.
Public Space at the Yonge & Eglinton TTC Bus Barns
I'm working hard with the TTC and City Planning staff to beautify the site of the old bus barns. It has been left by the TTC as derelict eyesore for far too long.
With the support of TTC CEO Andy Byford, we are moving forward with an improvement plan for the perimeter of the site while its used for a staging ground for the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. The new public space will feature a seating area, greenery and informative panels on the new Eglinton line that will run underground through midtown.
I'm also advocating that there be significant public realm retained for a new public space on this site as part of any new redevelopment.
Local Traffic Issues
Ward 22 is in the geographic centre of the city, and we have several major arterial roads that cross through the ward both east and westbound and north and southbound. As a result our collector and residential side streets often get the overflow of non-local traffic looking to bypass arterial roads which are beyond capacity at rush hour.
While improving mass transit as a long term goal will have the biggest impact in reducing gridlock, I have met with residents in neighbourhoods across ward 22 to see if there is any reasonable steps that we can take to reduce the impacts that gridlock has on our local communities. I will not however take any single step that simply moves traffic from one residential street to another. This is an ongoing challenge for many neighbourhoods, and I look forward to continuing this dialogue with local residents.
One of the more divisive debates that neighbourhoods enter into often surrounds the question of finding a local parking regulation that best serves the local and surrounding community. The demand for residential parking continues to grow in ward 22, as we see further intensification while our transportation infrastructure lags.
I have responded to several requests from residents to re-examine the parking regulations on their streets. Where there is agreement from the majority of households on the street, such as on portions of Colin Avenue, Pleasant Boulevard and on Belsize Drive, we have worked with the community to amend the parking regulations on these streets.
While controlling the volume of traffic on residential streets can be challenging, the most effective method of slowing traffic is the implementation of speed humps.
We have had several requests for speed humps come forward over the past two years. In order for speed humps to be installed, a petition must be presented to city staff indicating general support for them on the street, and a formal poll is also conducted on that street by City Staff. Over the past two years we have approved speed humps for Lola Road, Belle Ayre Boulevard, Clarendon Avenue and Coulson Ave. There is also an open poll on LeMay Road which closes on December 12th.
Working to Reduce the Impact of Development Sites
I have been working with residents and city staff to help address the impact major construction sites have had on our residential communities. While I believe it is in the best interest of the community to help see that once construction commences, it is completed as quickly as possible to allow life to get back to normal as soon as possible for local residents, it is also crucial that the builders respect the neighbourhood where these sites are located.
It is reasonable or acceptable for construction to occur outside the hours prescribed in the noise bylaw or to allow heavy trucks to use residential side streets, where sites are accessible from a major arterial road. Also, while some disruptions can be expected, we have successfully help resolve an issue between residents, the builder and Toronto Hydro with regards to the relocation of some hydro poles on Berwick Avenue.
We have had some instances where trucks have been accessing, staging and idling on residential streets. I am working with city staff on a case by case issue to resolve these concerns.
We have also been working with bylaw enforcement to address complaints regarding work going on outside the allowed construction hours within the noise bylaw.
Committee of Adjustment Issues
Every two weeks, the committee of adjustment considers applications for proposals to build or renovate homes that require variances to the local zoning bylaw. The Committee of Adjustment is a citizen panel that provides a forum for applicants to present their proposals, and more importantly provide an opportunity for residents to address any concerns they have before the committee makes its decision to grant or refuse the variance requests. This process can be overwhelming for residents who in many cases were never aware that such a committee exists, let alone being able to determine the difference between a minor or major variance.
Often these variance requests are minor in nature, and have very little impact on the character of the neighbourhood. In other cases, the proposed variances are dramatic, and we hear from many residents who are concerned about the impact such proposals will have on their neighbourhood.
I have worked with both concerned residents and applicants from every corner of the ward to help try to guide a resolution that allows applicants to make improvements to their property, while respecting the local neighbourhood.
Standing Up for our Community – the closure of the Mint Nightclub
Very early in the term, I met with several residents in the Mount Pleasant and Eglinton community with regards to the ongoing disruption the Mint Nightclub was having on the area. Working with City Staff, we determined that the operators of the bar did not have the proper license to operate as a nightclub. Not only that, the zoning bylaw also restricts a nightclub from operating at that property.
In January 2011, the City of Toronto laid a charge against the owners of the bar for operating without the proper license. It took several months, and two separate adjournments, but the operators eventually plead guilty to the initial charge in March 2012, and by that point were facing more charges for both operating without a proper license and for violations of the noise bylaw. In addition, there liquor license was also temporarily suspended for violations the conditions of their liquor license.
We had also appealed to the owners of the property to deal with this tenant, and once their conviction was finalized, they agreed to terminate the operators lease.
While we did get a positive result at the end of the day, I do believe that Nightclub licensing provision needs improvement to help better support the residential communities that the provision is designed to protect. I am taking these experiences forward with the appropriate staff at both the bureaucratic and political levels to help bring about the changes required.
Moving Forward on Transit
Over the past two years, City Council and Metrolinx, the provincial transit planning body, have made important decisions about the future of public transit in Toronto.
For Ward 22 residents, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which will run underground between Black Creek Drive and Laird Drive, will be of great assistance to those of us who are frustrated with the current state of congestion on Eglinton Avenue today. The Crosstown line is already under construction, with four 500-ton tunnel boring machines to arrive before the end of 2012, will eventually run from Jane Street to Kennedy Road (a distance of 25 km) and is scheduled to be completed in 2020. I am currently advocating that this line be extended to Toronto Pearson International Airport.
To help us achieve our transit goals, I brought forwards a motion to City Council to ensure Toronto is part of a regional approach to both plan and realistically fund transit improvement and expansion. My motion, "Moving Forward: Improving Public Transit and Relieving Traffic Congestion through a Regional Funding Strategy," which was unanimously passed by City Council, instructs the City Manager to work with Metrolinx to explore a variety of regional funding mechanisms with officials from across the Greater Golden Horseshoe to achieve these aims. Any funding initiative should be done on a regional basis to mitigate unintended consequences including job loss and consumer avoidance across City borders. Ultimately, we want the City of Toronto to have a leading seat at the table with its partners as Metrolinx's process moves closer to fruition.
It's unfortunate that Mayor Ford failed to present a fiscally-responsible, realistic plan for subways to City Council. Transit planning must be based on sound ridership projections and sourced funding mechanisms—not empty slogans. With reliable funding and responsible planning, I will continue to advocate for expanding our rapid transit system, including a connection with the airport, relief subway lines to help ease the burden on the already overcrowded Yonge subway line, priorities from across the City of Toronto, and support for a state of good repair for our existing infrastructure.
Casa Loma and a Museum for the City of Toronto
I believe Toronto have a museum to protect, share and celebrate its story. Currently, there are thousands of artifacts hidden from public view, stored at a warehouse.
City Council took an important and critical step toward establishing a Toronto City Museum at Casa Loma by supporting motions I put forward along with Councillor Mihevc.
While moving on ways to better operate and preserve Casa Loma, a historic Toronto icon, Council endorsed our idea to ask for expressions of interest from Torontonians to create a space to share our city's history.
For over 40 years, successive Councils and prominent residents have debated various venues for a City Museum; unfortunately none of the sites have ultimately been deemed appropriate. Casa Loma presents an exciting opportunity to house Toronto's artifacts in a building that merits their importance.
I'll report back to you as this initiative progresses.
Taking Action on Airplane Noise Pollution
Earlier in 2012, NAV Canada changed the flight patterns of aircraft approaching and leaving Toronto Pearson International Airport. Many residents have contacted me and reported disturbances from increased air traffic noise including during overnight hours. Some have described the noise as living under an "air super-highway" and find the volume and frequency of flights intolerable!
I brought a motion to City Council to have City of Toronto official meet with representatives from NAV Canada, the federal Ministry of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities and other relevant bodies to find a less intrusive flight path that respects the needs of Toronto residents to live without excessive noise pollution.
Toronto Seniors Strategy- Creating an Age-Friendly City
1 in 5 residents in Toronto will be over the age of 65 by 2035 and roughly one in every four seniors in Toronto lives alone. On April 12, 2011, City Council unanimously passed my motion for the City to develop a comprehensive, proactive and strategic plan to ensure that Toronto will soon be ready to serve the needs of our city’s seniors. There have been efforts made in the past to be proactive on this matter, including the Seniors Task Force, Senior’s Forum and the age-friendly cities initiative. However, there is still much work to be done. This October 31st, 2012, was the deadline for submissions of the Seniors Strategy Consultation Workbook. City staff are now working to analyze the information and suggestions they received in the Workbooks, and a report with recommendations will be brought forward to the Seniors Strategy Subcommittee, then the Community Development and Recreation Subcommittee before going before City Council in 2013.
Fighting Gridlock: Cracking Down on Curb Lane Hogs
With the support of City Council, I have more than doubled the fines for drivers who stop or park illegally on arterial roads during rush hour. It is now a $150 penalty for "stopping, standing, or parking a vehicle during all or any portion of the general rush hour period(s) of 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and or 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday to Friday except Public Holidays where official signs to prohibit parking, standing or stopping are displayed."
Far too often, entire lanes of major roads are blocked due to an individual pulling over to grab a coffee in the morning or a delivery vehicle choosing the afternoon rush period to drop off their goods. Drivers along arterials often use bicycle lanes as a parking lane, forcing cyclists to dangerously merge into traffic. During rush hour this creates very unsafe conditions for cyclists. Although this has never been permitted, it was clear that the old fines and levels of enforcement were not sufficient to deter such activities.
Relieving Traffic Congestion with Synchronized Traffic Signals
I have written to the City's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee requesting them to instruct Transportation Services to report back on the possible implementation of synchronized traffic signals in the City of Toronto. You can see the full letter here. Traffic signal synchronization can provide significant direct and indirect benefits, including decreased travel time, reduction of traffic on residential streets, and reduced vehicle emissions.
You Have a Ten Minute's Grace on the Meter!
A report from our City's Ombudsman criticized parking tickets for being easy to pay but hard to fight, and I know many residents of Ward 22 that from experience. To improve this situation, with Council support I directed the City to advertise loudly and clearly that you already get a 10-minute grace period when your parking meter expires.
I’ve heard from business owners that often people don’t want to come to some of our main streets because they’re fearful that if they’re in line a little too long at a shop, it’s going to cost them $30. It’s not worth the risk to some people. So I want to make sure everyone knows it isn't very difficult to apply to have your parking ticket cancelled if you're in that 10-minute grace period.
You can currently dispute your ticket through this City web page by filling out the Dispute Application Form. Although it doesn't say so yet, if you have a valid Pay & Display Receipt you can take advantage of the 10-minute grace period.
Reducing the Costs of Paid Off-Duty Police Officers
Back in July, I set a process in motion to reduce the number of paid-duty police officers the City needs to hire at construction and work sites. In 2011, these paid-duty officers cost the city almost $3 million. By applying a little common sense to where these officers are actually useful, I was able to have the guidelines changed which will save the city $1.8 million every year, about 60% of the former expense.
Improving our Tree Canopy
Our goal of improving Toronto's tree canopy was recently under threat from a proposal to stretch out the budget for planting thousands of new trees and extending the lives of the trees we already have. I led City Council to reaffirm its commitment to continue with the number of trees planted annually, not to slow down. Toronto's extensive tree canopy provides protection from the elements, cools our city in the summer, and is an important part of our high quality of life.
Freeing Toronto from the OMB
In February 2012, City Council agreed with a motion submitted by Councillor Wong-Tam and I that it is finally time to rid Toronto of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), a quasi-judicial, anti-democratic body that has final say over local planning decisions.
City Council has written to the Provincial government requesting that Toronto be freed from the burden of planning under the OMB. In the meantime, we are making progress on establishing our own local appeals body to deal with Committee of Adjustment decisions, removing many smaller appeals from the OMB's jurisdiction.
Thank you to all the residents that answered my call to make oral and written deputations – your voice made a difference! It is time to protect the fabric and character of our local neighbourhoods and allow our elected representatives to have the final say on the future of Toronto's neighbourhoods.
City-School Boards Working Group
I've asked City of Toronto staff to organize a working group with Toronto's local school boards. This will provide an opportunity for Councillors and Trustees to work seamlessly with school board staff and City staff from many divisions including Parks, Recreation, and Forestry, City Planning, and Childcare to look at creating community hubs and working together on matters of common interest to the City of Toronto, the TDSB and TCDSB and, most important, Toronto residents and their families.
At present, various City divisions work with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) and both French language boards on an ad hoc basis at a staff level. Despite genuine efforts, this framework has led to a lack of coordination on issues that concern our mutual constituents.
On issues including school pools to childcare to the status of neighbourhood school facilities, libraries and fields, along with many others, our residents want the City and the School Boards to break through our respective silos. In this period of scarce resources it is incumbent upon representatives and staff from both bodies to work together to maximize public assets.
Establishing Appropriate Room Temperatures
In the spring of 2012, I heard from many tenants in Ward 22 that the temperature in their apartments was too hot. That July, I passed a motion at City Council to establish appropriate room temperatures for tenants. The motion called for the City Manager to study the effectiveness of amending Municipal Code Chapter 497, Heating, by setting an earlier date to which landlords may stop heating rental units and to consult with landlords and tenants' organizations towards implementing a maximum allowable room temperature in rental housing units.
I also heard from parents that there were similar issues in classrooms. During the warmer months many students find themselves overheating in poorly ventilated classrooms. I have written a letter to Dr. Chris Spence, Director of Education for the TDSB, and Bruce Rodrigues, Director of Education for the TCDSB, regarding this important issue. Our children deserve a comfortable, healthy environment in which to learn. I look forward to our school boards taking appropriate action to support students and teachers.
Saving the Port Lands
I am very happy to have contributed to the unanimous council vote that was cast in favour of retaining Waterfront Toronto as the lead agency to continue developing a mixed use, green and people-friendly waterfront we can all be proud of.
The feedback by many Toronto residents, including hundreds from Ward 22, to an ill-conceived plan to put shopping malls, ferris wheels and monorails in the Port Lands, led to a compromise that retained Waterfront Toronto's thoughtful, progressive and award-winning vision while opening the door to faster timelines if they can be achieved in a responsible manner.
This issue has demonstrated the power of civic engagement and advocacy. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to work with many passionate residents of St. Paul's to protect our waterfront.
Solar Energy, Jobs, and Economic Development
Solar energy has the potential to benefit Toronto's environment and economy. As your School Trustee I worked to have solar panels installed on school roofs and am proud to be helping expand green power across the city.
With the support of Council, I moved a motion to endorse potential solar projects for consideration by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). The OPA has new rules establishing a points system to determine the priority for offering of contracts for rooftop solar projects. Points will be awarded to applications that are supported by the municipality in which the project is located. Projects with more points will be more likely to receive contracts from the OPA.
In particular, I worked with Bright Roof, a Ward 22 firm with projects in our community and across the city. The projects that BrightRoof and others are developing will deliver significant benefits to the City of Toronto, including more local jobs, clean energy, and new revenue streams for property owners.
Protecting Privately Owned Public Spaces
There are already many dozens of parks, plazas, open spaces, squares and walkways in Toronto that you don't know you're allowed to access and enjoy. In fact, in some cases developers seek to infill onto private land that was secured decades ago by the City of Toronto for public use. I brought a motion to City Council to produce a map of all these spaces and explore the installation of signage to let everyone know that these are public places.
Budget Town Halls
Last month, I hosted my third annual Budget Town Hall Meeting at North Toronto Memorial Community Centre. We had an informed, engaged discussion and I took our community's priorities to City Hall.
In 2012, I am very pleased that Council was able to come together and protect many important municipal supports for children, seniors, the less fortunate and the environment. These services were protected by the efforts of many councillors that I worked with day and night over several weeks to achieve a better outcome for Toronto.
We also achieved the most fiscally responsible budget in our city's history, being the first one since amalgamation that spent less money than the one before it.
I am pleased to have helped bring together colleagues from different political stripes and areas of the city to protect childcare, transit, recreational facilities and many other social supports while being respectful to taxpaying residents.
Development pressure is one of the most critical issues in our community. I came into office with a policy that I would not meet a developer without a representative from the local Residents' Association in the room. Moreover, I always ensure that there is a community meeting regarding every development application in Ward 22. While we debate height and density, I also focus on great public realm, design and architecture, needed infrastructure and services, traffic and parking, transit and what fits into the fabric and character of our neighbourhoods. To keep you informed, I've created an interactive map of every development application in our ward. To review it, please click here.
Toronto Community Housing Town Halls
This fall, I visited with residents of all Toronto Community Housing buildings in Ward 22 to hear what their concerns and ideas for their buildings and our city were. I recently presented their feedback to TCHC staff, including Eugene Jones Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer. I am committed to working closely with staff to ensure that tenants in TCHC buildings have safe, well-maintained environment to live in. The status quo is simply not good enough.
Tenants' Town Hall
It's become difficult to be a renter in Toronto. Ward 22 has the highest percentage of tenants in the city at 63% and I consistently hear from many that their budget is being squeezed tighter every month.
This year's high guideline rent increase, coupled with Above the Guideline Increases (AGI) for basic upkeep and repairs have pushed rents up through the roof. In addition, the low vacancy rate has made it near impossible to find lower-cost alternatives elsewhere.
I heard these concerns, and many others, at a tenants' town hall I hosted on March 22nd, 2012. Renters from across midtown had questions answered by experts I invited from the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board, Federation of Metro Toronto Tenants' Associations, Greater Toronto Apartments' Association, Advocacy Centre for Tenants and City staff from Municipal Licensing and Standards.
Renters were able to voice their concerns and provide constructive policy ideas to support a more balanced relationship with landlords. I will continue to work with local tenants and advocacy groups from across the City to make rental housing more affordable.
Oriole Park Participatory Budgeting
In early 2012, I was able to secure funding for improvements to Oriole Park and the adjacent portion of the Kay Gardner Beltline Trail.
In April of this year, I worked with users of Oriole Park on a participatory budgeting exercise to determine future spending priorities for their local green space. This innovative process involved proposals that were voted on by the local community. I chose to use participatory budgeting for this process to ensure more equitable public spending, a higher quality of life, and increased levels of public participation. It was a very successful evening that I will be bringing to other communities soon.
I have consistently heard that residents want their local park to be more than just a patch of grass. Parks have the potential to foster congregation and strengthen relationships through community activity and leisure spaces. Who better to shape those places than the community themselves?
The most favoured improvements for Oriole Park, as voted on by the community, were additional benches, a community garden, and more picnic tables.
My e-newsletter updates to you
As you may know by now, keeping you engaged and informed through public meetings is very important to me. I have been publishing an online e-newsletter regularly for the past two years with information about upcoming meetings, issues affecting our city, and events in our community.
For ongoing council and community information, along with a calendar of events, please visit www.joshmatlow.ca.