Thursday, June 30, 2011

OMB approves Downsview development

A massive development for Downsview, anchored by a national urban park at Downsview Park, has been given the go-ahead by the Ontario Municipal Board. 
While there continue to be details to work out, the board ruled Wednesday, June 29 the overall development that will welcome 20,000 residents in 9,800 residential units and 22,000 workers can proceed.
The development, proposed in the city's Downsview secondary plan, represents good planning, is in the public interest, conforms to provincial intensification guidelines and satisfies concerns raised by the community, the OMB's James McKenzie ruled.
But Albert Krivickas, vice-president of the Downsview Lands Community Voice Association, was disappointed with the ruling.
He argued the community, which didn't have money to hire its own lawyer to properly mount a challenge, was going up against giants Downsview Park, Build Toronto and the City of Toronto.
"We're just like a mouse fighting elephants," he said after the decision was announced.
"It's a sad day, I think. We did our best, we worked hard. You don't have money, you don't have nothing."
Earlier in the day, Krivickas had pleaded with the OMB to listen to community concerns, including densities and traffic worries.
He pointed out residents were once promised by former prime minister Jean Chretien the Downsview site would be fully dedicated as greenspace.
"But in 1995, the park was told that they had to run on a self-financing model and the community found out that the lands at Wilson Avenue and Billy Bishop Road had been sold to developers of big box stores for approximately $19 million," he said.
"Now, Parc Downsview Park needs financing again and wants to sell of big chunks of land to developers. We think it's too much."
Downsview Park lawyer David Bronskill argued significant residential and employment development has been part of the city's plans for the community since 1999.
All that is being done now is updating and refining that vision, he said.
And attempts to do that have dragged on for more than three years, including four occasions when city councillors have delayed making a decision, Bronskill said.
Paul Lowes, a planning consultant for Downsview Park, said the development will be a vibrant, compact community of residential and employment lands eventually centred around three subway stations: Downsview, Wilson and the future Sheppard West.
"This will not undermine the great (existing) neighbourhood. It will add to it and make it a more desirable place to be," he said.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How does your neighbourhood rank? New site lets you compare

Toronto will soon launch a unique website that could change how residents decide where to live, how charities decide where to operate, and how politicians decide where to spend taxpayers’ money.
The Wellbeing Toronto website, launched on Wednesday, will provide easy access to a treasure trove of neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood data that is currently inaccessible or accessible only with difficulty. It will include an unprecedented gizmo that allows users to rank the city’s 140 official neighbourhoods by dozens of criteria related to crime, safety, the economy, health, education, housing, the environment, demographics and civic participation.
Users can compare, for example, the number of welfare recipients in Davenport and Mimico, the number of car crashes in Morningside and Victoria Village, the amount of tree cover in Parkdale and West Hill, the high school dropout rates in Mount Dennis and Agincourt, and the number of Italians in Downsview and Wexford.
They can also assign different levels of importance to several criteria at once — say, most important to the dropout rate, moderately important to the number of Italians, and least important to the number of crashes. The website will then spit out a custom neighbourhood rankings list.
“It will allow you to ask whatever question you need to ask,” Chris Brillinger, executive director of the city’s social development, finance and administration division, said last week. “It’s not about producing a single list: ‘Here’s the neighbourhood at the top, here’s the neighbourhood at the bottom.’ It’s about creating a capacity to understand what’s happening in Toronto in all different ways.”
Told of the website’s features, Toronto Real Estate Board president Bill Johnston uttered an appreciative “wow.” He said it would “definitely” help people shop for homes — though, he added, it could cause property values to drop in areas that are portrayed unflatteringly.
“It’s sort of the law of unintended consequences. By providing relevant, up-to-date, accurate information, it may have a negative effect on some neighbourhoods,” he said.
Roger Burrows, a sociology professor at England’s University of York who has written critically about such websites, said he has “very little problem with making available raw information for people to play with.” But he objected to the rankings feature, which he said he had never seen before.
Neighbourhoods, he said, should be thought about “in a nuanced and rounded way that isn’t necessarily amenable to having ranked orders attached to them.” And he said sites like Toronto’s could make it more difficult for high-crime, low-income neighbourhoods to cast off negative perceptions while also making it easier for wealthy and web-savvy residents to form homogenous clusters.
“No one would want to deprive people of this kind of informatization,” Burrows said, “but I think we do need to be a little bit alert to some of the broader implications. . . We’re re-mapping and re-describing our cities in ways we’re only just beginning to understand.”
Brillinger said the city decided the rankings tool should be included to foster discussion about neighbourhood needs. In keeping with its move toward an “open data” philosophy, it also concluded that the benefits of transparency outweighed any potential harms.
“Before we can achieve change, we need to know very clearly what it is we’re trying to change. And you can’t really do that without good data. That’s really been the guiding frame on this. The concern is a good one, but not having data, I think, perhaps may be a greater danger,” Brillinger said.
neighbourhood data website run out of Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University has helped researchers study issues that affect vulnerable people, such as predatory lending, and helped agencies assist them, said co-director Claudia Coulton. Nonprofits, such as those working to improve access to preschool, have used the data to “see which neighbourhoods need to be targeted, where the most urgent needs are, and see if they’re making progress,” Coulton said.
United Way Toronto envisions similar uses for Toronto’s website. “We’re quite excited,” said Pedro Barata, director of public affairs.
“It will be a critically important tool in terms of telling us which areas we need to focus on, and in tracking over time how we’re doing. . . As we customize the data sets to tell us more about each neighbourhood, we’re going to be able to tell the story of neighbourhoods and to understand what’s happening in neighbourhoods in new ways.”
The website, which was developed over two years, could also affect government spending. In 2005, the city identified 13 service-deprived “priority neighbourhoods” to target for investment. Some residents in other needy neighbourhoods have complained of being overlooked.
“Wellbeing Toronto,” said Brillinger, “will end up providing a tool, a framework, for beginning to look beyond the 13 — so that we are increasing our ability to measure and understand what is happening in all Toronto neighbourhoods, not just the 13, and ultimately to have better ways of identifying what investments are most needed in which neighbourhoods across the city.”
Coulton said she was not aware of any other neighbourhood data website operated by a city government.
“Sometimes governments are afraid to put out too much information,” she said. “Because the sense is maybe people would turn around and say, ‘Why aren’t you doing this? Why are these problems in my neighbourhood?’ You could unleash a lot of complaints. It’s a courageous thing for a government to do.”

Gridlock a grind on Toronto's economy: report

Toronto’s Board of Trade says gridlock is now the greatest threat to economic prosperity in the region and wants provincial parties to address the issue in the upcoming election campaign.
“Clearly, we’re losing the battle against gridlock,” said Toronto Board of Trade president and CEO Carol Wilding. “And it’s time for our provincial parties to step up.”
A board of tradereport says infrastructure underfunding is creating a gridlock problem that is costing the region $6 billion annually, and rising.
Toronto has a 25-year regional infrastructure transportation plan called The Big Move, but the board of trade said only $10 million in funding has been committed to a project with an estimated cost of $50 million.
Meanwhile, traffic on Toronto highways is among the worst in North America.
“The longer we wait to fund, finance and build our needed infrastructure, the bigger the challenge will become,” reads the board of trade report. “And the more we change projects partway through completion, the less certain and more expensive these plans become.”
Wilding said Toronto-area politicians need to have a frank conversation with voters about the costs of solving the region’s traffic woes. She wants the debate to move beyond a simplistic discussion about road tolls.
“Respect for taxpayers also means being straight with taxpayers,” she said. "It’s a discussion our members, and the broader public, are ready for, but it requires political leadership to advance."
York Region Chair Bill Fisch said there’s no magic solution to the region's traffic problems.
“There’s no one tool that does the job because it doesn’t collect enough," he told CBC News. "You’d probably need six to 12 tools.”
The NDP has said it will give more funding to the Toronto Transit Commission and freeze fares. The Progressive Conservatives are ruling out road tolls, saying they want to provide tax relief, not add costs.

Roseman: Butcher sold 21,000 coupons, can’t meet demand

Marlon Pather, owner of The Butchers store in Toronto, sold a record 21,000 discount vouchers through several daily deal websites this spring.
He couldn't handle the traffic, leading him to limit redemptions. Last week, he stopped honouring coupons in order to fix up the 900 square foot shop.
“We will extend the expiry dates on vouchers for the length of time our store is closed,” says The Butchers' website. (They're normally good for a year.)
Pather admits he issued too many coupons, ignoring contract clauses that required a three-month pause between deals.
His failure to fulfill the demand he created has hurt both his own reputation and the credibility of group buying as a whole.  Some customers feel they're being held hostage by deal sites such as Webpiggy and Buytopia, which won't give money back after 30 days unless a store closes permanently.
“We can't give refunds to everyone. It would simply close our business down,” says James Vettese, Webpiggy's marketing director.
Carol Niravong failed to get a refund from Buytopia for her three vouchers. She thinks buyers deserve their money back if the conditions change.
“I didn't have a problem until The Butchers started limiting hours and threatening voucher buyers,” she says.
Most businesses have coupon redemption rates of 15 to 20 per cent in the first few weeks, says Maria Balant, head of customer service at Buytopia.
“This deal ran during the Easter/Passover period and had a redemption rate up to 30 or 35 per cent.
“So, we extended our refund period to 60 days. And if there are problems beyond that period, we're giving a credit to buy something else at our site.”
An exception is Dealfind, which sold 10,000 store coupons at its website. It's giving a refund to anyone who asks.
“We told Marlon Pather he couldn't run deals on any other sites for 90 days. He chose specifically to ignore it,” says co-owner Gary Lipovetsky.
Pather has a new public relations spokesman and a Twitter account, @butchersorganic, to report on his renovations. (No tweets yet.) While keen to give his side of the story, he sounds na├»ve — though he's 36 and has been in business for 10 years.
Did he ignore the contracts he signed and run too many deals at once?
“You're 100 per cent right. I'm a very soft guy. My partner, Serena Para, is tough but she was on holidays,” he tells me. “The deals were so good that all the websites were pushing me. I said OK, let's do it.”
Federal meat inspectors told him to renovate since his cooler was too small, he said. He plans to start in mid-July and reopen a few weeks later.
He also plans to open a fish store across from The Butchers on Yonge St., but not until September. (A Webpiggy deal is good for fish as well as meat.)
“Boy, did I learn,” he says about his group buying experiment. “You've got to be very careful the way you plan it.” Offering $400 worth of meat for $100 was a mistake, since people came in to spend all the money at once.
“I tried to put on limits and they backfired on me. My regular customers stopped coming and the new customers weren't coming back. They were moving on to the next best deal. Goodbye, Butchers.”
Only 55 per cent of U.S. companies that did a daily deal promotion reported making money, according to a study released this month — while 27 per cent lost money and 18 per cent broke even.
Bottom line: Don't pay for goods or services if you don't trust the business to deliver them. You may not get your money back later if you complain.

Also read:
This online deal has caused chaos
Is is easy to get online deal refunds?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Johnny gets his guns

TORONTO - He will soon get his guns back, but it will be a long hard road before he forgets what happened to him.
Aging biker Johnny Sombrero was all smiles as he exited 1000 Finch Ave. W. court Friday after all 18 charges of unsafe firearms storage against him were tossed. Surrounded by family and friends in the Black Diamond Riders he founded 60 years ago, Sombrero breathed a sigh of relief.
“My reaction to the verdict is: I told you so,” the 77-year-old whose real name is Harry Barnes said outside of court. “You’re damn right I’m pissed off. They’ve had my property for 17 months and this the 21st time I’ve been in court.”
On Jan. 21, 2010, Toronto Police raided Sombrero’s North York apartment and he alleges they roughed him up.
He says they held him at gunpoint for five hours before confiscating his collection and charged him for leaving the bolts inside his machine guns, even though the weapons were stored in lockers.
Sombrero said his finger was bent back by one of the cops and he suffered injuries to his ribs during the takedown. More than 100 weapons were seized, including automatic and semi-automatic weapons, leather, knives, bullets and scopes.
On Friday, Justice Carol Brewer dismissed the case.
“I find the cabinets in which the defendant’s prohibited firearms were stored fall within the definition of a safe,” the judge said in her decision. “Both of the lockers in which the prohibited firearms were stored were made of steel. Each cabinet was securely locked. The Crown has not proven beyond a reasonable double that there was non-compliance with the regulation.”
A gun expert for the defence testified Sombrero met or exceeded the requirement of safe storage laws.
“The ironic thing is a lot of the safes were bought at government auctions,” Sombrero’s lawyer David Costa said. “Parliamentarians owe a service to gun collectors to properly set out what it means to store weapons, what constitutes a safe, what constitutes a vault or specialized room.”
Sombrero has been a gun collector for half a century. The weapons will be returned early next week. Sombrero is pondering filing formal complaints against police about his arrest.
“This wouldn’t have happened in the U.S.,” he said. “But here, they charge you over and over again.”

Councillor Ford guarantees Sheppard subway

TORONTO - The Sheppard subway line is going to get built, Councillor Doug Ford guaranteed Friday.

Ford made the guarantee to Councillor Janet Davis in a testy exchange following a brief public meeting of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd. — the arm’s length corporation set up by the TTC to draft a plan for Mayor Rob Ford’s transit vision.
“As sure as I’m standing here, we’re getting subways,” a fired-up Ford told Davis. “I can’t be any clearer, there is going to be a subway on Sheppard.”
In a report to the board Friday, TTIL president and CEO Gordon Chong outlined the company will set up a working group that will work out the business plan and feasibility study for the Sheppard subway extension over a 12 to 18 month period.
Chong, who repeated Friday he’s confident Ford’s $4.7 billion subway is possible, sits on the board with Councillors Ford and Norm Kelly.
According to documents released with the board’s agenda, the company has spent $97,287 on services so far including $24,026 to pay Chong three month’s salary and for an April trip to Ottawa. The rest of the money was spent to pay project manager Dr. Joanne Kennelly and legal bills.
Davis and Councillor Joe Mihevc were the only speakers in the public gallery at the meeting.
The two councillors each gave six-minutes speeches to the three-person board demanding more public accountability.
Davis said she was shocked to see the company had spent almost $100,000 of the $160,000 it started with.
“You’re now contemplating taking up to 18 months to complete not just the preliminary financial analysis but the feasibility study,” she said. “It’s a plan for a plan for a project that will take us into 2013 before we see anything that presents evidence one way or another about whether the Sheppard subway can be funded.”
“It feels like this is a big black hole of wasteful spending,” she said.
Chong stressed he will give a report to council after Labour Day on the “feasibility and justification for going forward.”

Blair says he's not going anywhere

TORONTO - No one should be anticipating an apology from Toronto’s police chief over the way the G20 Summit in Toronto a year ago.

Chief Bill Blair called the Service’s After-Action Review he released Thursday a “comprehensive” and “honest” look at policing during the G20.
“It’s not a conduct report,” Blair said, explaining there are investigations by other bodies aimed at such things.
The review “provides a lot of facts that were previously unavailable and he’s hoping citizens and police officers take the time to read in its entirety, he said.
“We’ve tried to include, almost minute by minute, what transpired there to help people understand the decisions that were made,” Blair said. “That context is really important to understanding what went well, what could have gone better, (and) why certain things were done.”
Nearly 21,000 police officers from forces across the country were brought in to patrol the city as world leaders met at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and thousands of protestors hit the streets.
The demonstrations were initially peaceful but by the Friday it was clear there were some in the crowd who were bent on causing trouble.
Employing now infamous black bloc tactics, they rampaged through the downtown core, smashing windows, hurling bottles of urine and other weapons at police and torching cruisers.
“It was a very dangerous, volatile situation,” Blair said.
Trying to “facilitate lawful protests in the middle of a riot” was a nearly impossible feat, the Chief said.
In order to restore order, police began arresting people, many of whom still claim they did nothing wrong.
In the end, more than 1,100 citizens were taken into custody. Most were later released without any charges.
More than 350 people have since filed complaints about the conduct of officers with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, one of the numerous bodies conducting reviews in the wake of the G20.
The Toronto Police report paints a disturbing picture of the tumultuous weekend, illustrating just how chaotic the situation became.
“What worked well was our responsibility to protect that summit site,” Blair said. “The summit itself was not interrupted and none of those people were put at risk.”
“(But) our tactical response could use improvement, we know that,” he added.
Blair has come under heavy fire since the G20 with many people calling for him to resign or be fired.
But the Chief said he’s not going anywhere.
“I know my job and I’m doing it,” he said. “We do a pretty good job, I think, of providing a safe environment and a respectful environment for the people of this city and I’m absolutely committed to continuing to do that.
“If there has been damage to that public trust, then we’ll work to restore it,” he added.
However, Blair said he doesn’t believe two days in June of last year, is enough to hurt the relationship Toronto cops have built with residents over many years.
Blair said doesn’t feel he is to blame for anything that went wrong.
“I wasn’t directly involved in operational decisions,” Blair said. “But I’m always the Chief of Police in Toronto.”   

Civil rights advocates call for Blair's resignation

TORONTO - Civil rights advocates called for the resignation of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair on Friday, calling it a first step to restoring public trust after the G20 riots.
“Given the performance of (Blair) right now...with the conspiracy of silence...I think we’ve got no choice but to say that the chief of police should step down,” said Sid Ryan of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “By protecting his officers, he’s protecting his own role.”
Ryan was one of several calling for a full public inquiry into what they say was an abuse of power by police during last year’s G20 Summit.
The group, which also included activists Judy Rebick, who currently holds a chair at Ryerson University in Social Justice and Democracy and York University political science professor David McNally as well as representatives of Amnesty International and the Council of Canadians, also called Blair’s G-20 report — quietly released late Thursday afternoon — another example of protectionism within the Toronto Police Service.
Officers lacked sufficient crowd-control training and were caught off guard by the actions of the Black Bloc anarchist group, Blair said in his 70-page report.
“This is nonsense,” said Rebick, insisting that anarchists used similar tactics during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“All (Toronto) police would have had to do is watch (the news) to find that out,” Rebick said, adding that if police already knew about anarchists heading to Toronto for the G20, then they were simply “incompetent” in their handling of the situation.
McNally called the heavy-handed tactics of police a violation of the rights of people they are supposed to be protecting.
“There must be accountability for how policing is done.” said McNally, adding that officers’ handling of people in the area of the G-20 — the arbitrary arrests, beatings and kettling of, in many cases, peaceful demonstrators — caused a loss of public trust in it’s police officers.
Criminalizing peaceful demonstrators, said Rebick, “is an attack on (human rights).”
Members of the panel also called for the dropping of all remaining charges related to the G20.
Most of the 1,105 people that were arrested have since been released or found not guilty, the panel said, casting doubt on the charges still faced by 56 people, particularly since the TPS has not taken full responsibility for its actions during the summit.

City officials remain silent on Blair's G20 report

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford would not comment on Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s report admitting they were ill-prepared for the G20 Summit one year ago.
Ford’s staff said the mayor was unavailable but spokesman Adrienne Batra said the police appear to have learned a lot.
“If an event like this were to come to our city in the future they’ve acknowledged the areas they need to improve upon,” Batra said.
All three Toronto councillors who serve on the Toronto Police Services board also stayed silent.
Councillor Chin Lee did not return a request for comment.
Councillor Frances Nunziata’s office staff said she hadn’t read the report yet so she “doesn’t feel comfortable commenting on it.”
And Councillor Michael Thompson wouldn’t be available until Monday, a staff member said.
In his report released Thursday, Blair said police were “not properly trained or equipped” for the quick moving violence of the riots and were caught flat-footed by the Black Bloc tactics.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, whose ward was the scene of some G20 violence, applauded Blair for “owning up to the challenges” of policing in a difficult environment.
“This is the only police force that is standing up and saying we made mistakes,” Vaughan said.
But up the road at Queen’s Park NDP justice critic Peter Kormos said the chief’s report fails to address the real issues raised by G20 security, such as why police officers ignored vandals trashing the downtown core.
“Blair blew it again,” Kormos said. “We have more equivocation, more contradictions, no more transparency. We have astonishing and absurd claims by Blair that with six months the largest police force in Ontario didn’t have enough time to prepare. We have Blair pretending not to know about the role of the so-called anarchists or Black Blockers, never mind police intelligence available from the RCMP, from OPP as well as presumably from other police forces.”
A sophisticated police force should not have “turtled” when the black bloc protesters turned violent, nor should it have been surprised because similar tactics were used at several previous summits.
“Usually it’s criminals that flee the scene of a crime, not the police,” Kormos said.
A statement issued by the provincial Ministry of Community Safety says that they are reviewing Blair’s report.
In the past, Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley has said that it is the federal government’s responsibility to call a public inquiry because it was in charge of the G20.
Meanwhile, the head of the Toronto Police Association said people are reading more into the chief’s report than they should.
“I think it was a pretty candid report,” Mike McCormack said. “It’s my understanding it’s an operational review. It’s not a conduct investigation or anything like that which would be specific to persons.”
He said Chief Bill Blair is “clearly” accepting responsibility for the conduct of senior command officers during the G20.
—Files from Antonella Artuso and Rob Lamberti