June 2020

** Attend virtual Canada Day celebrations here **

What did City Council do?

Support Our Local Economic Recovery (SOLER) Initiative

In conjunction with approval from the Province to permit temporary patio increases without requiring AGCO approval, the City of Waterloo acted quickly to create a program to allow our local restauranteurs to creatively utilize space for patio expansions.  This was highlighted to me as an area of interest to residents during my ‘Open Streets/Physical Distancing’ town hall last month and I was very happy to support it.  Although this was approved on June 11th, we’ve already seen many businesses take advantage of this initiative.  The City has created an easy to use permit to request approval for any business to take over the following four types of spaces: Off street private parking areas, Other on site open spaces, Municipal lands (could include parking lots, public spaces, underutilized land or road allowances) and Municipal land for additional signage.  All of these permits are free, with a recommendation for the business to donate to a local charity if they are able to.  The intention of this program is to get our local economy moving again.  It is intended to be nimble and responsive, recognizing that there may be unintended consequences to deal with and we will do so as they arise.  As I said, we’ve seen great uptake on this already and I look forward to even more creative uses as the summer progresses.

COVID Corporate Financial Update #3

I referenced our first two COVID financial updates in previous newsletters.  We received an update in June, highlighting our net losses.  Confirmed losses for March to May are approximately $1,050,000.  Projected losses for June through July are approximately $950,000.  I would reference previous newsletters for a more thorough discussion as to what is driving the losses.  The additional cash flow crunch is becoming more clear as we currently have more than $24,000,000 in accounts receivable compared to $14,000,000 this time last year, based primarily on deferring property taxes.  We will be going back to our normal collection process for accounts receivable starting on July 1st, however for folks that need a further property tax deferral, you can apply here (https://forms.waterloo.ca/Property-Tax-Deferral-Program) until July 31st.  We have had a number of residents apply already; this is an acknowledgement that although in COVID we are all enduring the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.  I highly encourage folks that need the additional financial support to complete the form.

2020 – 2022 Parks and Transportation Infrastructure Replacement/Rehabilitation Plan

During our 3-year budget approval, which took place in February, Council approved a tax increase to help us address our impending infrastructure deficit.  The increases approved are the first step in Council addressing our asset management journey in an appreciable way.  Council received a report in June highlighting what that funding is going to help address.

Within the parks department, the funding will be used to address two goals.  First, it will help us accelerate playground replacements.  The City of Waterloo currently owns 85 playgrounds, this additional funding will help us increase the number of playground replaced from 4.8 to 6 total playgrounds over the three year time frame.  Secondly, this funding will help with much needed retaining wall replacement and parking lot resurfacing at Hillside Park.

Within the transportation department, the funding will address three goals.  First, it will advance 9 road/active transportation infrastructure projects by an average of two years.  Secondly it will advance 5 reconstruction projects from our capital budget ‘over target’ list, into the 10 year capital budget.  Lastly, it will afford us the ability to increase the amount of road resurfacing, which has the dual impact of improving the infrastructure today and provide preventative maintenance to help reduce the financial burden in the future.

Bylaw Changes for Active Transportation Initiatives (Outcome of last month’s Open Streets/Physical Distancing Motion)

Council approved a number of bylaw changes related to last month’s request to ask staff to find quick wins to making our Active Transportation network more accessible in the time of COVID.  As a refresher that motion intended to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists, address safety concerns in areas where vehicles are interacting with pedestrians and cyclists and to deal with other safety related concerns therein.  I will start with a list of new initiatives that are happening in Ward 2:

  • ‘Buffered’ cycling lanes on Laurelwood (Erbsville to Wideman)
  • Cycling lanes on Wideman (Erbsville to Wilmot Line)
  • Cycling lanes on Keats Way (Erbsville to Lucerne)
  • 40km/hr speed limits on Laurelwood (Beaver Creek to Wideman); Brandenburg (Erbsville to Erbsville) and Gatestone (Columbia to Fischer-Hallman)
  • Additional signage along the GeoTime trail

Other areas of the City are getting more flexible traffic calming signage, Pedestrian Crossovers, Sidewalk Infill, Crossrides for cyclists and even a full road closure for Willis Way.  I am very pleased with the speed with which this was initiated and I look forward to the outcomes of some of the ‘pilot’ areas as we look to fully implement things in the future when approving the Transportation Master Plan.  A lot of the conversation was regarding speed limit changes.  Personally, I am advocating for a consideration for 30km/hr neighbourhood speed limits.  To me, this would be aligned with Vision Zero principles. The data suggests that a pedestrian or cyclist getting hit by a driver has a 9 in 10 chance of survival at 30km/hr, compared to 7 in 10 at 40km/hr and 3 in 20 at 50km/hr. Speed limits alone will not make our streets safer, but it is a start. Data suggests that for every 10km/hr reduction in speed limits the average driver decreases their speed by 2km/hr without any other changes.  Lastly, I also advocated for Sundew Drive to be included in the 40km/hr ‘pilot’ (Twin Leaf to Mayapple) and I am optimistic that it will be included in our next updated (hopefully in July).

Additionally, Council reviewed health and safety, 2019 investments and CAO procurement reports.  We also approved the funding for reconstructions of Lincoln Road and Lorindale Street (with accompanying water main upgrades), as well as the tender for improvements to Waterloo Park/Laurel Creek (includes dredging/earth works for Silver Lake, pathway alignment/pedestrian crossings as well as lighting).  Lastly, we approved a formal development application at 262-280 Albert Street along with the accompanying density bonus funds allocated to affordable housing, recreation facilities, walkways and more.  If anyone would like to learn more on any of the above topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a chat.

Outside of the Council Chambers

This month included a webinar on Economic Planning as well as a couple of webinars hosted by Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF).  The topic for the first webinar was Affordable Housing, while the second was on Anti-Racism and the Need for System Change.  I had a number of takeaways from the affordable housing conversation, including ensuring that affordable rental housing is part of the solution and tackling economic disparity as part of the solution.  Every dollar spent in housing has a $3-$10 upstream impact on other resources, but it is not just about housing stock we must also set people up for success.  Ensuring we have more public support for affordable and supportive housing programs and addressing the fact that affordable housing issues tend to over index to racialized communities, women and single parent families are important parts of the puzzle as well.  The Anti-Racism webinar was equally valuable in asking residents to look at the history of Waterloo.  We often share stories of our Mennonite heritage in the community, but the erasure of Indigenous and Black history in Waterloo is damaging.  Victoria Park was upheld as an example of a local Indigenous economic hub and ceremonial location that has minimal commemoration compared to the colonial historical commemoration (the name of the park alone).  I have a lot to learn and am committed to doing so, we also have a lot of work to do to break down some of the structural racism that exists within our institutions, including at the City.

I had the great pleasure of being a part of the Rainbow Story Festival along with all of my other Council colleagues, thanks to Waterloo Public Library.  It was such great fun reading an inclusive pride-centric story to children and I truly applaud WPL for finding creative ways to keep our community connected when we can’t physically be near each other.  I have also been engaging with residents on a number of topics in the past month including tree preservation, cycling on sidewalks and more.  Please reach out if you have any issues you would like to discuss with me.  One of the recurring topics was regarding Gypsy Moths (caterpillars).  Gypsy Moths are a recurring problem in cities throughout Ontario, about every seven to ten years.  In general, they do not kill trees unless they are already in poor condition.  Our approach to this issue is to identify trees that may be particularly problematic and to apply a banding and/or burlap around the trunk of the tree.  This is an environmentally friendly method to address the problem in preventing the caterpillars from climbing the trunk to the crown of the tree; we are also recommending that residents do the same if they are concerned about trees on their property.  For city trees, please report them via the forestry line 519-886-2310 x 30294 or using https://forms.waterloo.ca/Website/Report-an-issue?_ga=2.217378710.1402.  The caterpillar stage will be ending soon, as they begin cocooning.  Staff and I are on the same page in ensuring aggressive inspection going forward in the coming weeks to help us remove the egg masses from trees in order to mitigate the issue for next year.  90% of the City complaints have taken place in the Laurelwood, Vista Hills and Clair Hills areas, so it is a relatively localized issue.

Lastly, I want to talk about the Region of Waterloo Official Plan update.  Folks often wonder about future plans for the City and Region and how the City of the future is going to look.  The RoW Official Plan is the guiding document for all municipalities in the area that addresses a wide variety of topics from density to intensification to environmental rights, the economy, transportation and transit!  It is perhaps the most important Regional document that is forward looking.  The Province of Ontario has mandated the OP be updated looking at population growth out to 2051.  Although this is a Regional document, I am planning to host a town hall in the near future to chat about this document and how it impacts everything that happens in the City of Waterloo on a big picture level.  Please stay tuned for that and in the meantime check out the engagewr page for more (https://www.engagewr.ca/regional-official-plan).

Take care and stay safe!