Agenda, June 8
Green Choice Program:
It was a busy day at Regional Council with a very sizeable agenda. One of the most significant items was Council’s decision to enroll HRM in the new Green Choice program. The Green Choice program is a provincial renewable energy initiative that is being driven by the federal government. The feds have committed to purchasing 100% of the electricity used in their facilities from renewable sources. Nova Scotia is an important part of that commitment because of the military’s significant energy requirements in Halifax at the Dockyard and Shearwater. The federal initiative aligns with provincial goals to reduce emissions and green the electric grid and, as a result, the Province recently amended the Electricity Act to create Green Choice.
Under Green Choice, large energy consumers (>10,000 megawatts), like the federal government, have the ability to purchase clean electricity from new renewable energy projects. The feds have been the trigger for this program, but it’s open to all large energy consumers, including HRM. The way it’ll work is interested parties will band together to create a large renewable energy buy, which will then spur the construction of new renewable energy projects. This isn’t a token gesture. Green Choice will result in the construction of new renewable energy that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
Green Choice is more than just a climate change commitment. It’s likely a financial winner as well. Green Choice participants will very likely pay a higher upfront cost for their electricity, but the cost will be fixed, meaning that participants will be protected from rising electric rates. That higher upfront cost will be offset by long term savings. Rough initial estimates based on how electric rates have risen in the past and on what the Green Choice premium might be indicate that HRM would pay more for electricity in the first four years of a ten year term, but that would be offset by savings in the last six years. HRM estimates savings over 10 years of around $1.4 million, but that figure is very much an educated guess at this point.
Green Choice is really important for HRM as it will be impossible for the municipality to achieve the goal of net zero municipal operations by 2030 set in our climate change plan (HalifACT) if we don’t green our electric usage. Green Choice provides HRM with the opportunity to cut the emissions generated by HRM’s operations by a whopping 88%! It doesn’t negate the need for other actions around building efficiency, and electrifying HRM’s vehicle fleet, but it’s an opportunity to address a major component of HRM’s carbon footprint.
With Council’s unanimous endorsement, staff will enroll in the program. Once the results of the request for proposals for new renewable energy is known, staff will return to Council with an agreement with the actual financial terms. Council will then decide whether to proceed or not. I’m very optimistic about this program. Kudos to the federal and provincial governments for setting this in motion.
Peace and Friendship Park:
Council completed one of the Cornwallis Taskforce recommendations: HRM has officially renamed Cornwallis Park, Peace and Friendship Park. The new name is meant to recognize the importance of the Peace and Friendship Treaties that the British entered into with the Mi’kmaq. We’re all Treaty people. The dedication of Peace and Friendship Park took place Monday on National Indigenous People’s Day. Cornwallis Street still needs to be renamed, but HRM wants to consult further on what the new name will be.
In addition to renaming Cornwallis Park, Council approved changes to the Asset Naming Administrative Order and the Civic Addressing Policy to provide Council with more latitude in future when it comes to renaming, and to allow apostrophes in names. Councilor Smith also asked for a supplemental report on a process for considering renaming request. This is important because beyond Cornwallis, there are streets that people have suggested should be renamed, including several in Councillor Smith’s district that are all named after European explorers. It would be difficult to do an intensive Cornwallis style process for every street. Some sort of simpler approach is needed for considering these issues. Staff will return to Council in the future with some options.
The difficult topic of roadside memorials was back before Council. The crux of the debate is how long they should be allowed to remain in place. The last time this was before Council in 2019, staff recommended a one year time limit along with some other rules around the permitted size, and the provision of contact info. Council had some concerns and asked staff to go back and look at other options, particularly around the time limit. Staff returned on Tuesday with a revised report, which included changes to remove the requirement for contact info and an exception to the size limits for Ghost Bikes. On the contentious issue of how long memorials should be allowed to remain in place, the revised approach recommended a year and a half instead of one.
In preparing the revised report, HRM carried out a very well received public survey. HRM received over 5,700 responses, but public feedback on time limits for memorials was mixed. Many respondents favoured allowing memorials to remain in place for long periods. 1,700 indicated there should be no time limit at all, and about 1,400 others suggested generous time limits of 5 to 10 years. The other half favoured shorter time periods that were two years or less or not permitting memorials at all. The public was very much split on the question.
I understand that having a fixed time limit makes things easier for staff who have the difficult job of dealing with complaints about memorials and, ultimately, deciding if a memorial needs to be removed or not. It would be far easier for them to have a set time rather than having to make more subjective decisions. While that is an easier approach for HRM to manage, I don’t think it’s actually the right thing to do.
What it comes down to for me is I don’t see the value in HRM arbitrarily removing a memorial that isn’t generating complaints, and is being actively tended too. Why create problems where none exist? In District 5, I think of the cross that was erected in memory of Brian Rozee along Prince Albert Road in 2012. The small cross is tucked out of the way at the base of a telephone pole near where Rozee crashed into Lake Banook. The memorial doesn’t interfere with anyone walking along the path, it doesn’t generate complaints that I’m aware of, and it doesn’t distract drivers. Probably most people never notice it. It shows up in Google Streetview images and each time the Google car drove by, there was a different set of plastic flowers attached to Rozee’s memorial. It even disappeared for a time in 2018, but shows back up in Google in 2019. Grief is unique to each individual and, clearly, for someone who cared about Rozee, the memorial means something since they are actively taking care of it. So, why remove it simply because it has crossed a somewhat arbitrary time limit?
As it turned out, like the public, Council was split on this issue. Councillor Hendsbee proposed deferring the report so that staff could instead bring back an alternative that would have allowed memorials to remain in place indefinitely, provided that they’re being actively maintained and don’t impede other uses of the road right-of-way. I supported the proposed deferral, but the motion failed 8-9 with myself, Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Outhit, Kent, Purdy, Stoddard, and Russell voting in favour. Council did end up approving increasing the time limit to two years from one and half, but, I don’t think adding an extra six months will, ultimately, make much difference. Two years is still a set deadline and, when the time comes, not every family will be ready to let go of their memorial. None of the existing memorials are grandfathered so we’ll see if Council holds to the policy when memorials actually start getting removed in 2023 and HRM is confronted with grieving families.
Support for Switch:
Council approved a funding increase for Switch Open Streets in the amount of $13,000. This brings the total funding for Switch to the maximum available in the civic events program: $25,000.
The reason for the increase for Switch is actually due to the cost of municipal services that Switch has to pay for, specifically policing. The Motor Vehicle Act requires police to be stationed at intersections when a street is closed for a special event. This typically results in extra duty overtime and events are responsible for covering the cost. In other places, Switch type events can use cheaper alternatives to uniformed officers, like traffic control personnel (the people who manage construction sites), and even trained volunteers, but that’s not permitted in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia’s Motor Vehicle Act specifically requires police for special events.
The Switch concept comes out of Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia where the city closes 120 km of streets every Sunday from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm. The high cost of street closures here though means Switch has never been able to grow beyond 2-3 days a year in different parts of Halifax and Dartmouth. Switch in HRM is more street fair than Bogota style transportation revolution. Street fairs are awesome, but Switch was always envisioned to be a fair and more.
Unfortunately, the Province isn’t making resolving this problem easy. HRM formally requested a change in the legislation to allow people other than police to close streets, but the Province has said no. So the only choice HRM has left is to provide more money to offset expenses. It’s not a great use of scarce resources, but it seems to be the only option available.
There was some talk around Council about potentially making Switch a full-blown municipal program that would then be able to run much more frequently during the summer months. There seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for looking at that so a future motion is a definite possibility.
One of the big economic challenges with COVID is its impacts have been disproportionate. Some businesses have prospered, some haven’t really been impacted, and others have suffered devastating losses. Unfortunately, many bars and restaurants and Downtown retailers have been in the later category as shutdowns and more people working from home has taken its toll. The Business Improvement Districts approached Council seeking aid, specifically help in reducing parking as a barrier (or perceived barrier) for luring customers Downtown. Staff met with the BIDs and what was brought back to Council as a recommendation is a plan to offer some short-term incentives. Specifically, staff recommended:
- help fund a marketing campaign
- cover the Hot-Spot transaction fee for three months
- equip and cover the cost for up to 200 businesses to subscribe to Hot-Spot so that they can offer parking validation
- offer free parking from 4:00 – 6:00 pm on Thursday and Fridays for the summer
- emphasize warnings rather than fines
The total cost of the COVID parking program is estimated at $184,000. Council approved the motion.
Downtown will never ever be able to compete when it comes to parking with the likes of Dartmouth Crossing. Usage data indicates there is ample parking Downtown, but it’s somewhat harder to find, can sometimes involve a longer walk, and isn’t “free.” Luckily for Downtown, parking isn’t everything. What Downtown areas have to offer instead is a unique experience of shops and restaurants in a walkable format combined with civic uses. In that light, HRM’s funding of a summer events program (added as an extra item during budget deliberations) for Downtown Halifax and Downtown Dartmouth is probably a far more important investment in terms of providing support to businesses since that more clearly builds on Downtown’s strengths. Still, parking incentives is something that the BIDs asked for, and it’s something that HRM can do for a relatively minor cost. Council approved the motion.
I did, however, ask for a supplemental report on providing some sort of free ferry service as part of the bundle of COVID transportation incentives. If HRM is going to provide funding for parking, to me it would also make sense to support the ferry as well since it’s a transportation mode that actually aligns with our larger planning goals. Some free hours, maybe around lunch, for example, for the best harbour cruise going seems like a good idea to me. Staff will return shortly with a report on what HRM might do there.
I presented two requests for staff reports on Parks motions. One for a lighting strategy and the other for a stewardship program.
The idea of a lighting strategy is something I have been discussing with Parks staff off and on for the last year. It’s coming out of reoccurring complaints about the lack of lighting on the Dartmouth Common, at Sullivan’s Pond, and on the Harbour Trail. HRM, however, has no dedicated program for lighting so lighting upgrades typically happen as one-offs alongside larger projects. That creates hope for Sullivan’s Pond since HRM is going to have to do a major rebuild of the cribwork along the shore sometime in the next few years, but it leaves established spaces that don’t have a big project in the pipeline out of luck. There is a need for both a larger capital program and a clear set of criteria to determine where and when HRM should invest in lighting.
There is also a bit of a legacy policy piece to tackle around nighttime park use too. Most of HRM’s Parks close at 10:00 pm, but we know that’s not how Parks are actually used, and it’s definitely not the case in other cities. Shutting things down at night is a profoundly British approach. Other cultures have very different relationships with their public spaces, and even places that traditionally shutdown parks at night have been changing things up. Paris recently moved to 24 hour parks and Los Angeles has had a successful Parks at Night program for the last decade.
HRM’s planning direction is to accommodate a significant portion of future population growth in the Regional Centre. If someone is going to give up having their own private backyard to live in a multiunit building, they need public green space to fill a similar role in their life. Locking the proverbial gates of our parks at night doesn’t support our planning objectives and it also, likely, doesn’t do what we think it will in terms of security. Public spaces are safest when they are well-used. Closing parks down at night does the exact opposite, it empties the space. My hope is the lighting strategy won’t just be a strategy that covers where we should install lighting and what a budget for a lighting program could look like, but also the bigger policy questions around nighttime usage of our civic spaces.
My second Parks motion was for HRM to introduce a formal stewardship program. Stewardship programs are something that other cities have already enacted. The idea is to engage residents and direct and encourage volunteering in Parks. In other cities, stewardship programs typically involve community clean-ups, dealing with invasive species, gardening, etc. In HRM, there are already some defacto stewards, such as the Oathill Lake Society here in Dartmouth Centre. The Oathill Lake Society has championed lots of projects, organizes a community clean-up, and has been busily digging out invasive species. When something’s wrong at Oathill, the Society is also the Park’s eyes and ears and is quick to alert HRM. The Society’s membership are very much the citizen stewards of Oathill Lake.
Not every community has or will have an Oathill Lake Society. It takes a lot of dedication to setup and run a non-profit and the task can be daunting, especially if you’re starting from scratch. A stewardship program would eliminate barriers around not having a formalized group, allowing more people to get involved in improving the park spaces that they love. Parks that do best are the ones that have an engaged and protective community watching out for them. That’s something that HRM should be actively encouraging.
Council approved both my lighting and stewardship motions. Staff are forecasting to return to Council with reports on both in 2022.
- Entered into a less than market value lease for the South End Community Day Care
- Increased the budget approved contracts for cleaning Park washrooms, and design consulting services at the Woodside Ferry Terminal,
- Authorized the CAO to execute a facility operating agreement with the Boys and Girls Club at the East Dartmouth Community Centre
- Second reading for the bylaw establishing an arms-length committee to review taxi license appeals
- Entered into a bonus zoning agreement for undergrounding power lines at 1452 Brenton Street
- Endorsed HRM’s Anti-Black Racism Framework
- Approved continuing the multi-service youth centre in Lower Sackville and directed staff to look at expanding the program to other areas as part of the 2022 budget
- Initiated a rezoning process for lands near Williams Lake in Halifax to better protect sensitive lands on the Lake’s western shore.
- Requested staff reports on creating back country trails on the Western Common Wilderness, and a crosswalk at Governor’s Lake Drive in St. Margaret’s Bay,
- Scheduled a public hearing to potentially enable an apartment project in Bedford
- Approved the Marketing Levy Special Events grants program 2022