Sunday, August 23, 2009

Doing the Right Thing

In my nine years on council, when a controversial issue comes to council, often people will crowd into council chambers to make impassioned pleas about why we should vote one way or another. This is, of course, their right. But all too often, the arguments put forth are based on emotion, not fact. And all too often, some members of council have let the presence of the public, and that emotion, influence their vote.

My first experience of this was when residents of a neighbourhood found out that a home in their area housed young men recently released from the penitentiary - and had, without incident, for more than two years. But emotion ruled the vote that day nine years ago, and I was the only councillor to vote against the immediate change to zoning that closed that home. The closure of that home didn't stop former inmates from being released into the community; it merely removed a supportive environment for them to be released to. And it was a decision based on emotion, not logic.

More recently, about four years ago, proponents of a new soccer centre crowded council chambers with young soccer players, insisting that the city invest millions that we didn't have so that these young people would have a place to play. In that case, some members of council got caught up in the euphoria of the crowd, and city residents will be paying for that euphoria for the next several years, and no doubt beyond that, since we still don't know what the operating costs for the soccer centre will be.

So it's no wonder that some residents of the west hill thought that if they came to council meetings to say that they didn't want a piece of privately owned property rezoned to allow for about twenty per cent of it to have duplexes built on it, claiming that this would remove green space from their neighbourhood, then council would bow to the emotion in the room, and vote down the zoning change. The position of the the proponents, that this development will provide affordable housing to working people, taking a small portion of privately owned land, not green space, had no impact on the arguments of the residents. They first came in June, when the decision was postponed to the meeting this past Tuesday.

On Tuesday evening, although there was a motion proposed to delay the decision once again, that motion was defeated. The next motion, to change the zoning, passed. Those who had come to the meeting hoping to influence the decision were understandably disappointed, claiming a lack of consultation by council, but there have been two council meetings, plus a meeting put on by the proponent for residents that was attended by some members of council. As well, several emails were sent by residents, putting forth their arguments, and I, and I'm sure other members of council, had many phone conversations with residents on this matter. Consultation means that we listen and discuss, not that we necessarily agree.

I trust that those disappointed residents will realize and respect that, as a council, we need to act in a way that is the best for the whole city. As I mentioned in a previous blog on this topic, this council has committed to "promote diversity and equal opportunity in housing". This decision, and another decision made Tuesday evening, to allow for secondary suites throughout the city, will provide more affordable housing, and provide more options for lower income residents, too often limited to substandard housing.

I would still like to see a landlord registry, with strict standards set for all rental housing. I think that would be the next logical step, that might alleviate some of the real fears of residents, that these new duplexes will bring down the value of their homes. I live in a diverse neighbourhood, with a range of incomes and housing opportunities. The new duplex built less than a block away a couple of years ago is definitely an improvement over the vacant lot that was there before, and the new owner of a corner property that used to be a party house is doing a great job of cleaning out the yard. Another home a couple of blocks away that was placarded as being unfit to live in a year ago has been cleaned up and is now home to a family that takes great pride in their home and yard - we have shared renovation stories.

These are the kind of opportunities that we owe to everyone in the city. I thought that council took a great step on Tuesday evening in removing some of the barriers to that kind of diversity, and I'm proud to have been part of that decision.

"Common experience shows how much rarer is moral courage than physical bravery. A thousand men will march to the mouth of a cannon where one man will dare espouse an unpopular cause." - Clarence Darrow

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