Thursday, October 01, 2009

Lansdowne Live: Go To Heckle

[After attending tonight's lengthy Open House and Q&A meeting on Lansdowne Park, I accumulated a lot of handouts and took a lot of notes. I'll try to post as much of the more useful information as I have time tonight, split into separate posts.]

Around 4:30 pm this afternoon, City Hall announced that tonight's consultation for the Lansdowne Live proposal would include a Question & Answer session, something that was sorely lacking at the first two sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

While the sign below announced the session would start at 7:30, I didn't hear anybody announce that it was starting to the hall, which is normal procedure for this type of thing. I walked in while someone read the long list of guidelines and expectations for the event, then repeated them in French. It was a bumper crowd in there.

While City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick's September 15 memo to Councillors about the consultation process said that "Residents are encouraged to voice their opinions, comments and questions, all of which will be recorded by City staff and incorporated into the final report on the consultations," it was not clear that anybody was taking notes, aside from me. I gave up two hours in after my wrist cramped and I filled my pad of paper.

The questions were long and preambled, and the responses from Kirkpatrick were also long, but that was good because it meant he was explaining these things, instead of just referencing an argument buried in a report in order to dismiss the concern. Since the public record won't be available until the report is prepared months from now, I thought I'd get as much of it out as I could from my notes:

Unfortunately, things took a quick turn for the worse when the second speaker, John Vincent (names are all phonetic), asked (half with words, half with numbers) why the private sector gets its return first. Kirkpatrick's choice of the term "closed financial system" drew heckles from the crowd, accusing him of using jargon. These heckles then drew heckles from others in the audience, telling everybody else to shut up and let him answer the question. I kept my pen to paper and rolled my eyes.

Third speaker, twelve-year-old Jason, asked "why do we need all these stores & cinemas," listing a variety of shops and services (including, of course, a candy store) available already in the Glebe and nearby.

Kirkpatrick gave what would be a standard response to many of the questions: it's what was in OSEG's (Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, the proponents of Lansdowne Live) proposal, and is part of the cost of rebuilding the stadium if it is to be paid by development charges.

Kirkpatrick continued. "Why is it necessary? It's not necessary--" (applause cuts him off).

He tried again. "It's not necessary if--" (applause again)

He abandoned that way of framing his statement, and went on to repeat that Council wanted a plan that was revenue-neutral, and which also had no residential development, and this was the amount of commercial development required to pay for the other development.

Fourth speaker Kevin O'Donnell said that since he's from Kitchissippi, that makes him a "NITBY" - "Not In Their Back Yard". He asked when will we get to the point of no return, i.e. where there will be penalties or obligations for pulling out, a reference to the recently-settled lawsuit by Siemens for the cancelled Light Rail project. Kirkpatrick said that a timetable of future steps would be presented in November, which would identify the next steps, including point-of-no-return decisions probably in early 2010. Kirkpatrick pointed out that there's lots of development needd on the plan, for example the transportation strategy outlined on the panels needs to be developed through a transportation study into a transportation plan.

At 8pm, Fifth speaker Ron Cooks of Mooney's Bay asked why a tendering process wasn't considered, and why the international design competition was canceled. This sparked an impassioned response by Kirkpatrick: "A lot of people in this room believe that I unilaterally canceled that competition..." and then went on to say that he suspended the design competition and immediately informed Council, and recommended that Council consider the OSEG proposal. Then the Senators proposal came in, and in April, Council decided to tell staff to negotiate with the OSEG proposal. "At any point in time, Council--any member of Council--could have said, through a motion of council, to direct staff to re-initiate the design competition... that didn't happen."

In response to this, eighth speaker G. Paterson asked, why should Council vote to re-instate a design competition when it didn't de-instate it? He likened Kirkpatrick's "Council was aware" argument to "the dog ate my homework."

At 8:30, twelfth speaker Dan Mullaly asked Kirkpatrick to reveal all communications and information related to the initial proposal to make it an open and transparent process. Mullaly said that the five councillors he spoke to don't know who in the City was the first to be approached by the developers. Kirkpatrick mentioned that there were issues with privacy legislation and that Council asked the Auditor General to look at the project. By this point, Capital Ward Councillor Clive Doucet was fuming. "When first contact was made? No one knows."

Responding to Kirkpatrick's comment a half hour earlier, Doucet pointed out that no councillor would have had the power to cancel the design competition (which, he pointed out, had been initiated with almost unanimous support), and that canceling it would have required 3/4 of councillors to vote to do so. Yet Kirkpatrick somehow made it happen. An "Abrogation of the democratic process," Doucet called it, to strong applause.

Somerset Ward Councllor Diane Holmes suggested that the suspension may have been done in response to a request from the mayor, but we don't know, hence Mr. Mullaly's request to reveal the correspondence.

Since all the other councillors were speaking, Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans spoke up: "I voted to move to the next step of the process," she said, "but with specific direction." The motion she sponsored for the City to talk with OSEG, which passed 17-4, was because of the conditional franchise. The motion specifically called for no housing, no large-scale commercial, and other requirements. "It was my expectation that that direction from Council would be respected. And I can tell you tonight that if I had known it would not have been respected, I would have never put it forward."

Orleans Councillor Bob Monette was not pleased by this, and he was next to speak: "Kent Kirkpatrick did a great thing to give you people an opportunity to speak tonight, and the disrespect that you are showing them is unacceptable..." bringing on a loud hail of boos.

He chastised that crowd would "...attack the credibility of Kent Kirkpatrick, of City Management, of Council, of the City, and I am walking away from this meeting," ironically performing one of Clive Doucet's common tricks. The boos turned to cheers as he left.

Councillor Doucet then called on everybody to have respect and silence for Kent Kirkpatrick's responses.

Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, who also sat through the entire night, added that she came to this meeting to hear from the public, and asked people to keep the questions (and answers) short to allow as many people as possible to be heard.

Skipping ahead, the 21st speaker asked his question at 8:55 pm, five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to end (spoiler alert: it went overtime). This speaker said he was a supporter of Lansdowne Live, but there were red flags, particularly in the financials. "I love the deal, but the numbers don't work. We're at the bottom of the waterfall." What's the benefit, he asked.

Kirkpatrick agreed that "What's the benefit?" is the central question. What's the value to the City of Ottawa, to need an open-air sports facility, what's the entertainment value. "If the answer is none, then that really gets to the heart of whether this should be a priority for the City or not."

The thirty-fourth speaker speaking just shy of 9:30, asked a question, mainly to the Councillors in attendance, about moving forward. "How do we get this back on the rails." In other words, the public process was interrupted to let Lansdowne Live through, how can we get that public process back? There were no other proposals because there was no framework for the City to ask for one. (One of the attendees of the open house told me that he had been working on a team for an alternate proposal when the design competition was canceled).

Of course, you ask a question about how to get back on the rails, and the discussion gets derailed. Councillors had the floor for the next few minutes:

Diane Holmes said that the first step would be to get a majority of councillors to vote against it at Committee and Council.

Diane Deans identified the Councillors present, as well as Clive Doucet (who shortly returned to the room) and Bob Monette, who had left. Councillor Deans said that she was the only one who was on Council the last time it was proposed to redevelop Lansdowne park, and the feedback from that public process informed the limits placed in the motion she had moved (the one that passed 17-4 to move forward). There isn't only one point of view, and "you're all doing your part tonight," she said. "I'd rather make no decision than a bad decision."

Councillor Doucet pointed out the procedural lack of precedent for the City's situation. Within a year of making a decision Council needs a 3/4 vote to reconsider it, and once the procedural motion to reconsider passes (if it does), the decision itself is reconsidered, and 50% plus one will decide the actual issue. But does Council need a motion to reconsider when it never decided to cancel the design competition in the first place?

Councillor Wilkinson pointed out that there are some councillors who will be for Lansdowne Live no matter what happens at the consultations, and some who will be against it no matter what. Wilkinson says she's in the middle, and therefore Q&A sessions like this are important, as it's a very complex and important decision. "We need a more-right-than-wrong decision."

This was when I ran out of paper, so I left. I hear that a few more speakers came up to the microphone, and the last question was given to Catherine Gardner.

- RG>


Unknown said...

I'm glad somebody stayed for the Q&A, I had to get out of there after an hour. Meetings like that are a good reminder of why I stay out of anything involving politics...

I tried, and to be honest, it looks like a decent proposal, though I question why anyone thinks a football stadium in the middle of downtown is a good idea. Can you think of any other major stadiums not out in the burbs?

JuliaR said...

Dog, I have enough of this sort of thing (from you people) at my condo AGM. I have thought about getting (somewhat) involved in local politics but this nonsense deters me every time.

Did you read the thing in the paper (last week, I forgot to write the date on it when I clipped it) that Alex Cullen is talking about getting the city to hire or designate "workers to implement a cycling plan"? You should run your resume over to him.

Here it is: