I’m going to try and give residents an insight into some of what is going on at City hall throughout the year. I may try out a few formats, but the intent is to let you know what I’m working on, what the City is working on and in general, other things going on in the City. My hope is that this may spark some conversations and encourage further discussion on issues that are important to residents. Please feel free to contact me to discuss anything in further detail.
What did City Council do?
In January, City Council unanimously agreed to opt-in to allow retail cannabis stores in Waterloo. This has now been agreed to in all municipalities throughout the Region. In general, the strongest arguments for me came from Chief Larkin from Waterloo Regional Police Services, who spoke passionately in favour of opting-in primarily to help quell the black market and ensure safe supply throughout the City. I do share some resident concerns as to the planning powers of the City with respect to locations as well as the general approach that the Province is going with (more of a market approach, vs regulated retail), but attempting to ensure safe supply of product is paramount for me and I believe opt-in was the appropriate decision.
Council also proposed sending commentary to the Provincial government regarding our lack of support for Bill 66, in particular Schedule 10 of the report. The primary concerns are surrounding adequately protecting our drinking water and a lack of public consultation related to new development. We heard from local environmental leaders on the potential impact of this bill and I am very encouraged and proud of the environmental leadership we have in the Region on these types of issues. Ultimately, we approved the details of the report and subsequently the Province has backed off on some of the more environmentally questionable elements of the bill. This is a great win for all municipalities who spoke out on this issue.
New Development – West Side Employment Lands
We also had informal public meetings on proposed developments taking place Uptown (on King St where the Your Neighbourhood Credit Union sits and on Erb St where the old LCBO used to be). In Ward 2, there was an informal public meeting on the West Side Employment Lands (behind the Costco). This is a major development in the community, with many benefits as well as resident concerns. I was very pleased to see a number of members of the community attend the meeting and I welcome any additional comments. In general, the main driver for these lands is a major success story within the City. When Blackberry downsized, we had over 1 Million square feet of vacant employment space, in only 5 years that is all gone, leading to a shortage. This area has been identified as City owned employment lands for a long period of time and the time is now to develop them. I think this poses a great opportunity for a better work, live, play outcome for residents in Clair Hills and Vista Hills and will hopefully lead to better infrastructure overall once completed. I was adamant at this meeting that the Platinum Drive extension between Erb St and Columbia (at Ladyslipper) take top priority when developing the lands and I am encouraged that staff agree. This should help ease concerns surrounding traffic on St. Moritz near Edna Staebler and also provide a vitally needed secondary access point out of the Vista Hills subdivision.
Strategic Plan – Council Led Campaign Reflections
Council also provided public campaign reflections to help initiate discussions around our forthcoming Strategic Plan. It was great to hear so many priorities from Council members. A summary from my colleagues indicates the following as priorities around the horseshoe:
Smart Growth vis-à-vis intensification, Affordability for all, Improved trail access, Amenities for youth in particular surrounding passive recreation, arts & culture funding, infrastructure funding, improved communication and more.
My focus (much of which were also discussed by my colleagues) was on the following:
Traffic safety and speeds through the neighbourhood, Proactive bylaw enforcement particularly for repeat offenders, Affordable Housing, Active Transportation, Environmental concerns and Diversity. I spoke about using the unfortunate discussion around the Muslim Prayer Centre as an opportunity for us to code a message of inclusion, sense of belonging and embracing diversity into our corporate culture. I look forward to working with City staff and our Strategic Plan team to do just that.
The bulk of the rest of council’s focus this month was around the 2019 budget. We reviewed business plans for all of our department heads/commissioners from the CAO, Integrated Planning & Public Works, Corporate Services, Community Services and the Waterloo Public Library. Many questions were asked around various projects within each departments Operating budget, with a deeper dive at the Capital budget upcoming in February. We also approved rate increases for Utilities with a 6.1% increase for Water, 3.4% increase for Sewer and 6.0% increase for Storm Water. These increases are roughly in the middle of municipalities in the area. The budget process has been eye opening for me and it is important that we recognize the significant infrastructure deficit that we have at the City. Balancing affordability, with providing a strong backbone in the form of quality infrastructure, with service level demands from a growing community will definitely be a challenge. What has been reinforced to me is that we have an amazing group of staff and leadership at the City of Waterloo who truly want to do the best for our amazing City. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any specific questions about the budget.
Outside of the Council Chambers
I am pleased to have been selected as the Council liaison for our Economic Development, Sign Variance and Sustainability Committees. We had our first meetings in each this month and I am very excited to be working with such amazing experts and volunteers on each of these topics. The community support we receive on these committees is outstanding and next time these opportunities arise, please consider putting your name forward to volunteer in helping to shape our community.
I had the great opportunity to attend a number of internal and external events this month as well. Training on bylaw, media and promoting an effective council were all very well received and important. I had productive meetings with the Wilfrid Laurier Students Union and as an alumnus, I look forward to collaborating on initiatives with them. I also hosted the Blood Donor Clinic earlier this month and thank you to everyone for making the drive a great success, the clinic exceeded its target for the day! I also had the opportunity to be a mentor for the Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce Mix & Mingle event. It was a great event to meet young professionals in the community and to provide advice and share success stories. Thank you also to everyone who attended the unveiling of the new Waterloo Memorial Recreation Centre expansion plans. This is an exciting project happening in 2019 and this opportunity to receive community feedback was great. I had a lot of conversations with residents and I look forward to seeing what staff comes back with in the Council Chambers in the coming weeks.
Communication – Traffic Safety Concerns
Lastly, I wanted to share that I am doing my best to be accessible to the concerns of residents. If you have a question, do not hesitate to reach out to me. I have met with a number of residents this month to address some concerns and work towards solutions. I have also done my best to respond to all e-mail, Facebook, twitter and phone requests that I’ve received. I love talking to people and working to solve problems, I may not always have the answer or we may not always agree, but I’m always open to talk. Along those lines and as I noted in my campaign reflections, traffic safety was a recurring concern amongst residents throughout the campaign. I want everyone to know that I have received these concerns and I have prepared a map, showcasing each of the 18 areas of the Ward that were identified as requiring solutions. This map has been passed along to our traffic department and will be reviewed with myself and the team in the coming weeks. I will keep everyone posted on the results!
I hope everyone stays warm and has a great month of February!