A Council that works for developers and not for the people

This is third and final post in a series about the state of parkland in Guelph. First post: What’s going on with Guelph’s parks? Second post: How much parkland do we really have?

Council had the chance to open up a new source of funding for parkland, but delayed, leaving millions of dollars on the table.

The source? The parkland dedication bylaw, which allows Guelph to collect land (or cash in lieu of land) from developers of new housing projects. City staff have recognized that the city is “not collecting enough parkland to meet Guelph’s provision targets” — but we delayed updating the bylaw.

We found out through a Freedom of Information request that the bylaw, which was set to come before Council in June, was mysteriously delayed. E-mails obtained through that request show an unexplained delay that happened some time between May 3rd, the official end of the commenting period, and May 18th.

On May 18th, city staff were advising developers (and only developers) that the bylaw had been delayed and wouldn’t come before Council until the new year. (As of October 9, the city’s website still hasn’t been updated to reflect the delay, and gives a timeline of summer 2018 to come forward to Council!) Then, city staff set up private meetings with only developers, outside of public view.

Council had the chance to start funding parks properly and failed. You’re already paying for the parks when you buy a new home, but that money is staying in developers’ pockets to pad their bottom line..

Add it all up, and what do we have? Not enough parks. A severely underfunded parks reserve. And a city and council that works for developers and not for the people.

How much parkland do we really have?

This is second in a series about the state of Guelph’s parks. Here, I discuss the data analysis of Guelph’s parkland — comparing the values in the City’s report to the actual sizes of the land parcels. If you already knew we were short by 136 hectares, skip to the next post, which explains how we got to where we are today, and what I’ll do to fix it.

Green space is important to the vast majority of people in Guelph. As we’ve seen in the previous post, to emphasize the importance of differing types of green space, the city has a Recreation, Parks and Culture Strategic Master Plan which defines two types: parkland, for sports fields and playgrounds, and conservation land, for woodlots, wetlands, and hiking trails.

So how much parkland do we really have? On October 3rd, the City of Guelph released its master list of parkland, including the areas of each park, to each candidate in the municipal election. I’ve uploaded the full list here. The city claims to own 442.36 hectares of parkland, and lease an additional 39.25 hectares from the Wellington Catholic District School board (WCDSB). This is well above the target of 3.3 hectares per 1000 people — which works out to 435.6 hectares needed for a city with a population of 132,000.

But when you look closely, the numbers just don’t add up. With some help from GIS software experts (working in an engineering school has its benefits) I was able to compare the amount of claimed parkland to the actual size of the parkland parcels. Thanks to the Guelph Open Data portal, we were able to obtain the actual size and shape of every land parcel within Guelph, and a separate list of those which are designated parkland. We also obtained (from the GRCA data catalogue) maps of every watercourse and wetland in the Grand River watershed.

It quickly became clear that the city is counting large areas of conservation land as parkland, amounting to over one hundred hectares in mis-counted parkland.  In particular, following discrepancies were noticed:

  • Guelph Lake Sports Fields is counted as 57 hectares, but only 13 hectares is parkland. The rest is wetland.
  • Kortright Hills Park is counted as 13 hectares, but only 0.36 hectares is parkland; the rest is conservation land.
  • A similar overcount occurred with Hanlon Creek Park: the city claims 23 hectares, but 18 hectares is conservation land.
  • Eastview Community Park is counted as 25 hectares, but only 7 hectares of the park is actually built.
  • Riverside Park, Eramosa River Park, and York Road Park contain large areas of wetland and significant woodlots.
  • Areas of leased parkland: the numbers given by the city are the entire parcel size, effectively counting the interior of elementary and high school buildings as parkland.
  • Large significant natural areas are counted in Margaret Greene Park, Marksam Park and Silvercreek Park, and many smaller parks.

In total, the city only owns 300 hectares of actual parkland, and leases an additional 30. This amounts to just 2.49 hectares per 1000 people, well short of the target.

In Ward 4, the situation is worse. The city owns less than 36 hectares and leases another 5, for a total of 41 hectares, or (given a population of 20175) we have 2.04 per 1000 people. If we add just a few hundred more people (and with the apartments on Paisley it’s likely we already have) we will be below the minimum requirement.

The full report and all the data can be found here.

Up next: How did we get here, and how can we fix it?

What’s going on with Guelph’s parks?

Guelph has a serious shortfall in usable parks. We are at least 130 hectares short of our city’s target — that’s the size of ten Stone Road Malls (including the parking lot!) This is the first in a series of three posts about the state of Guelph parks. If you’re not clear on the difference between parkland and conservation land, read on; otherwise, skip to the next post, where I talk about my data analysis — which conclusively shows we have a lot less parkland than we thought. In the third and final post, I talk about how we got to where we are today— and how I’m going to fix it.

As I campaign, I’m hearing from a lot of people: parkland is important. It’s possibly the most important thread in the Guelph fabric. The people of Guelph almost unanimously value green spaces of all kinds, for both people and pets — public parks for sports and active recreation, and conservation land to get back to nature.

In 2009, Council passed a new Recreation, Parks, and Culture Strategic Master Plan with the intent of ensuring we build enough of all types of parkland as the city grows, and realized at the time that we needed an effective working definition of parkland to determine how much the city actually has.

The plan (on page 64) separates parkland from conservation land: parkland is for active, programmed recreation, like sports fields and playgrounds, while conservation land is for natural areas. The distinction is further clarified within the City’s Official Plan, section 7.3, which explains that parks are not part of the city’s Natural Heritage System, as defined in the Official Plan Amendment 42, Schedule 10. Parks are then further separated into neighbourhood (small), community (medium) and regional (large) parks; this distinction is also seen in the city’s Zoning Bylaw, which separates conservation land (P.1 zone) from the various types of parkland (P.2, P.3, and P.4 zones).

Conservation land, on the other hand, consists of unprogrammed green spaces that preserve the City’s natural heritage system — particularly, wetlands, significant woodlots, and river valley lands. No development (including park development) is permitted in wetlands, and an Official Plan Amendment is required to build within significant woodlots.

It’s clear from the documentation — the Strategic Master Plan, the Official Plan, and the Zoning Bylaw — that there is a clear and distinct separation between parkland and conservation land. It’s also clear that we need to build and maintain both types of green space if we truly do value the benefits that green spaces bring to our community.

Up next: How much parkland do we really have?

Election slates

Whether you call it a party or a slate, it’s the same thing: a group of candidates campaigning together to advance a single platform.

I’ve refused to be a part of any slate this election, for one simple reason: I won’t allow anyone to dilute the voice of the residents of Ward 4.

Any candidate who runs as part of a slate, or campaigns with a mayoral candidate, has two allegiances: first to the party, and second to the constituents. We already know — we’ve seen it provincially, and we’ve seen it federally — the party always comes first.

I will not campaign with any other candidates. Not for councillor, not for mayor, not even for school board.

We do not need parties in municipal politics.

I will always work with other councillors and other neighbourhoods to advance the goals we share — goals like smarter developments, sustainable growth, better infrastructure, and safe water sources. These vital goals are supported by people across the city. But when it comes to the details — deciding how we achieve our goals — you can be sure I’ll be fighting as hard as I can to do it right for Ward 4.

My platform is unique in Guelph: crafted from lengthy discussions with people in Ward 4. It’s the only platform that explicitly demands we consider the long-term consequences of the decisions we make. What we build today will stand for a hundred years… so let’s do it right, and let’s do it for us.


A quick update on polling station locations

I had a phone call with Stephen O’Brien, Guelph’s city clerk, today, and we discussed in depth the issue of the voting location accessibility. The call was informative, though disappointing — in short, the clerk’s office is uncomfortable with moving a polling station after its location has been announced publicly.

It does make sense: the information has already been sent to the printers to print voter cards, the locations have been posted online, and opening an extra polling station isn’t possible as there isn’t enough equipment or staff.

Unfortunately it doesn’t fix the problem and I’m not happy with the result: we still don’t have a solution in place to accommodate pedestrian voters in the northeast neighbourhoods of Ward 4.

I’m currently trying to explore alternatives to make the current polling station more accessible. The best option now, I think, is a dedicated shuttle: connecting  I sent an e-mail (attached below) to Guelph Transit suggesting we run shuttles on this route during election day, with five or six stops spaced throughout (click to enlarge):

We might not be able to get the perfect result every time but if we make this compromise work, we can at least improve accessibility for these neighbourhoods. (It’s a little microcosm of city council — finding workable solutions to problems even if it’s not your ideal outcome.)

Let me know what you think!


The importance of accessible voting

Today, I wrote an e-mail to the city staff responsible for administering the upcoming election, bringing this map of polling stations to their attention (click the map to enlarge):

Can you see any problems with it? I see a big problem: in order to vote, half of the ward either needs to cross the CN tracks or the Hanlon. There are no polling stations in the north part at all! This isn’t a huge problem for people with cars, but it makes voting almost inaccessible to the large part of our neighbourhood east and north of Westwood Road… an area with lower-income, co-operative, and higher-density housing in which car ownership is certainly not a given!

Ward 4 really struggles with pedestrian accessibility and alternative transportation options. We’re bisected by the CN Rail tracks and split from the rest of Guelph by the Hanlon. With the current plan, a large part of the neighbourhood has to give at least an hour of their day to vote — or, more likely, will choose not to vote at all.

This problem is exacerbated by the lack of advance polls in the west end — the nearest one is at City Hall — so that’s not even an option for a lot of people. Finally, to add to the confusion, there are two polling locations literally adjacent to each other: St. Francis of Assisi CS and Taylor Evans PS… and in this election, you’re allowed to vote anywhere in your ward, making this an unnecessary duplication.

The two halves of Ward 4 need equivalent accessibility to city services, which this layout fails to provide.

I sent an e-mail (attached to this post) expressing my concerns to the city staffers in question. My goal is to have city staff restore the previous election polling locations — either Westwood PS or St. Peter CS — which are accessible locations that are much more centrally-located in the north part of Ward 4.

This is the kind of accessible, community-oriented advocacy that you can expect from me on council. Hopefully we can nip this problem in the bud, before it actually becomes an issue on voting day. In the meantime, if you support this change, please reach out to city staff as well! You can write a quick e-mail to guelphvotes@guelph.ca, or tweet @CityofGuelph.

Let them (and me!) know what you think.


The beginning of the campaign

I’m Matt Saunders, and I’m pleased to announce my candidacy for Guelph City Council. I’m running because we need to elect a council that understands the unique challenges facing a modern, expanding city — challenges and complexities that didn’t exist even four or eight years ago.

We need strong, concrete plans to address these challenges. We need to recognize that the policies of the past are what led to the problems of the present — and not repeat those mistakes. We need to say no to suburban sprawl, say no to the quarry, say no to the same tired policies that have caused our quality of life to keep dropping year after year.

To accomplish this, I am proposing:

  • a significant re-envisioning of Guelph’s transit system, connecting people with the places they want to go, and not just downtown
  • to embrace high-speed rail as a way to bring new economic opportunities, particularly in the tech sector by integrating us in the Innovation Corridor
  • to leverage modern “smart city” technology to reduce costs and inefficiencies in city services
  • to protect what makes Guelph great — our pristine natural areas and pure water — by annexing and rehabilitating the Dolime Quarry lands, and
  • to streamline city services by encouraging transit-connected higher-density housing areas instead of suburban sprawl, increasing efficiency for the city and improving affordability for the rest of us.

My website has some details on these plans already. Keep an eye on this blog, though — this is where, over the coming months, I’ll be posting long-form “deep dives” into these plans, going into details about the implementation, costs and benefits, and talking about examples of what we can learn from other cities around the world.

By the end of the campaign, I hope you’ll agree: I am the only candidate with detailed, actionable plans for Guelph; the only candidate with plans to guide us through a period of growth and ensure we come out even better on the other side. I hope it will convince you to vote for me on October 22nd.

See you in the neighbourhood!