Karla Charest

My Platform.

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It's time to change; it's time to transform.

Traditional thinking and practice for municipal leadership and management is no longer sufficient for the challenges Calgary faces today and into the future. 

Effects are still being felt from the 2014 downturn.  Calgary hasn’t experienced such changes since the early 1980s. 

We need to respond with profound change – a decisive and transforming period of change. We need to re-imagine the City of Calgary for the challenges we face into the future.  

It’s also time to recognize that the public services bequeathed to us by our great grandparents aren’t up to the challenges of the 21st Century.  New approaches are needed; Calgary needs new strategies, innovative thinking and new business models that will make it resilient in today’s stormy waters.

What an opportunity!

We have a voice and a chance as a city to play a leadership role in transforming the operations of local government to build a stronger and sustainable Calgary:

  • Push power and decision-making out into communities and to the hands of Calgarians;
  • Change the way the City of Calgary delivers services through new digital technologies; and
  • Transform the traditional model of public services that are ‘done to’ people, to a people-powered model where prevention and collaboration are at the forefront of all decisions.

My platform reflects the conversations I have had with both businesses and residents in Ward 8 and throughout the city.  Driven by my personal recommendations, my platform is also based on five core principles:

  • Encourage Calgarians to be more involved in the design and delivery of services, through active collaboration, and to work actively with the city to shape solutions;
  • Shift from high cost reactive spending approaches towards identifying and investing in preventing problems before they occur or deepen;
  • Recognize change is only possible if Calgarians want it and want to help build the solution;
  • Never assume Calgarians think like the City Council does; and
  • Harness Calgary’s amazing local energy and build on existing capacity and relationships.

This is your platform.

These are our neighbourhoods and this is your agenda. Direct me.

Let's transform to prosperity together. 

I am your choice.

I am the change Calgary city council needs.

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My platform planks.

Challenge me; I need to know where Calgarians stand on these very important issues.

#1 RESPECT, TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

The City of Calgary and Council need a wholesale overhaul in how they act and how they conduct business.  Over the past seven years, the City has become dictatorial in its relationship with Calgarians; advancing agendas without thoughtful consideration of the best interests of Calgarians.  City of Calgary and Council need to overhaul their high-and-mighty attitude and become transparent and accountable.  Time to bring Council out of their new $2.65 million “in camera” chamber and eliminate the secrecy behind city business.

#2:  EFFICIENT DELIVERY OF CORE SERVICES

The City has to stop or suspend spending inefficiently on unnecessary service delivery.  In today’s economic environment, the City of Calgary has no choice but to re-examine spending practices that are “nice to have” versus “need to have” and concentrate on delivery of CORE services rather than spending money on things the average Calgarian finds irresponsible and wasteful.  Money spent needs to be targeted and earmarked for maximum benefit of all Calgarians.

#3:  FAIRER PROPERTY TAXES

Over the past 10 years property taxes and user fees in Calgary have increased at almost three times the rate of inflation. To put that into perspective, over the past seven years, council has pushed through compounded residential tax rate increases of 55% and business property tax rate increases of 180%!  Infill development is driving up assessment value to offsetting properties, resulting in soaring residential tax bills.  Fair measures need to be brought in, such as equalizing tax increases and distinguishing between existing and new development.

#4:  HOUSING AFFORDABILITY

An ideal city has quality housing for everyone; a home everyone can afford in a great neighbourhood that they want to live in.  A healthy housing system is essential to community and economic growth.  Growth and change in our communities is crucial as those communities support the economy, allow resources and infrastructure to be used efficiently and create culturally diverse, vibrant and complete neighbourhoods.  Today’s City Council claims to be concerned about housing affordability. And yet, the current Calgary City Council continues to adopt restrictive land-use planning and development policies and burdensome permit procedures resulting in unintended negative consequences: housing un-affordability.

#5:  BUILD THE ENTREPRENEURIAL FRIENDLY PLAYBOOK

The oil downturn has hollowed out the downtown core. Oil may not return in any meaningful way given the current geo-political environment at both the provincial and federal levels of government and the influences of globalization.  What an opportunity!  Entrepreneurship has always been behind Calgary’s success.  Creating high-growth, high-impact entrepreneurial enterprises can be a safe harbor for cities during difficult economic periods like what Calgary is currently experiencing.  The City of Calgary must adopt innovative solutions to enable growth and development in an economically sustainable manner.  A new playbook needs to be written.

#6:  DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

The City’s current framework of local governance – centralized and compartmentalized bureaucracies - is frustrating and disappointing to Calgarians.  Business as usual is no longer an option; a sustainable future for local government depends on changing the way we do things. The time has come to harness the application of big data, data analytics, machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT) and algorithm-supported decision-making.  What an opportunity to transform Calgary to prosperity!

#7:  RESPECT FOR MATURE NEIGHBOURHOODS CHARACTER

Between 2006 and today, Calgary has welcomed an estimated 240,000 new people.  By 2039, an additional 361,000 are estimated to be greeted.  The City plans to accommodate 67% of new residents in brand new communities.  The remaining 33%, or nearly 120,000, will be accommodated in mature neighbourhoods. Infill and densification has been an important issue in our city’s public discourse during the past 4 years.  This is likely to continue through to October 16th and beyond. It’s an important conversation about Calgary’s future and it is one that needs to hear the voices of Calgarians to ensure quality communities.

#8:  SOLUTIONS TO WAGE SPENDING

The largest barrier to long-term tax relief is the fact that over 50% of the City’s yearly expenses are ‘salaries, wages and benefits for city staff.  In 2016, the total collected in net property taxes did not even cover the wage and benefits bill for the 15,000+ employees representing approximately 500 different “lines of business” within the City.  A solution is required if true financial resilience is to be achieved.

Position Statements.

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To learn more about my position on a variety of topics, click the position statements below.

Building a 10-GIG Fibre-Optic Highway to Prosperity

 

'You have no choice. Not with me.' - Densification Series Part 1

 

Soaring Housing Costs - Densification Series Part 2

 

DETAILED PLATFORM DISCUSSION

PLANK #1:  RESPECT, TRANSPARACEY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

The City of Calgary and Council need a wholesale overhaul in how they act and how they conduct business.  They need to overhaul their cavalier attitude. Over the past seven years, the City has become dictatorial in its relationship with Calgarians; advancing their own personal agendas without thoughtful consideration of the best interests of Calgarians. 

Actions such as land use planning which specifies where Calgarians have to live, in what type of housing Calgarians have to live in and with whom Calgarians have to neighbour with.  Actions that have little to no respect for Calgarians currently living in the communities and neighbourhoods they have chosen and actions that have no respect for Calgarian’s personal choices.

Does the City Council provide transparency of any Inconvenient item on the weekly meeting agenda?  No, City Council simply retreats into the newly built $2.65 million state-of-the-art In Camera Chamber to meet and deliberate in private. The current Council spends the greatest amount of any City Council in Canada conducting public business behind closed doors and in secret.  The growing culture of secrecy and lack of transparency within Council has several negatives:

  • encourages the potential of wrongdoing,

  • creates waste that translates into the potential of increased taxes,

  • helps push Council’s and personal agendas forward even if a majority of the public opposes those agendas and,

  • eliminates Council accountability by hiding the discussions and decisions that are being made behind closed doors.

To complete the picture, Public consultation effectiveness has deteriorated over the years.  And this is problematic.  The City of Calgary is yours; not City Council’s.  The outcomes of public consultations or hearings that are conducted in a vacuum or with a select audience can often provide skewed results, depending on what ‘side’ of the issue the majority in attendance is on, with public hearings becoming venues that are not representative of true public opinion and having the potential of setting a direction that is not in the best interest of all Calgarians.

RESPECT, TRANSPARACEY AND ACCOUNTABILITY POLICY VISIONS:

  • Support stricter rules governing closed municipal meetings to ensure the only time any information can be kept from the public is if there is a clear and justifiable security or privacy concern.

  • Enhance transparency and implement a competitive RFP bid process.

  • Ensure all salary increases for all city staff, including police and fire fighters, are presented and debated in Council.

  • Advocate for real-time streaming, in addition to regular Council meetings, of all Committee meetings.

  • Promote the addition of providing a recording of each Council and Committee meetings to accompany the published Agenda and Minutes on Calgary.ca.

  • Encourage greater public access to the City with twice-yearly public forums in conjunction with Community Associations within Ward 8.

  • Move from top-down ‘consultations’ to iterative and collaborative engagements with residents and Community Associations.

  • Augment on-site public consultations and hearings by providing online official channels for Ward 8 feedback that are transparent, legally compliant, civil, fair, insightful, and cost-effective – in order to ensure that an opportunity is provided for all voices to be heard equally.

  • Deploy team Ward 8 staff member to Community Association meetings in order to garner the key issues. 

  • Publish quarterly Ward 8 office expenditure reports.

 

PLANK #2:  FAIRER PROPERTY TAXES

For the past 10 years property taxes and user fees in Calgary have increased at almost three times the rate of inflation.  Is it fair that the City of Calgary has mandated property tax and user fee increases every year of approximately 5% while the rate of inflation has only averaged 1.7%?   To put that into perspective, over the past seven years, council has pushed through compounded residential tax rate increases of 55% and business property tax rate increases of 180%!  Where is the balance?  Or does City Council care?

Realizing that it was an election year, the 2017 property tax increase of 1.5% was covered with and kept purposely low by using the “Rainy-Day Fund”.  However, city administration has said that the 2017 freeze could mean for a larger increase in 2018; rumored that the 2017 1.5% increase will be on top of the already approved 2018 rate, currently set at a 2% increase, for a potential minimum 3.5% tax increase in 2018.

In addition to tax increases, the City continues to absorb what is returned to the City, by the Province of Alberta, as ‘tax room’.  Since 2014 the City has absorbed $117M of “tax room”.  Another $10M is said to become available in 2018.  This represents overpayment of taxes by Calgarians, to the Province of Alberta, which the City Council has chosen to keep with no explanation offered to taxpayers. And once Council appropriates this money, it is then taken from the taxpayer every subsequent year thereafter.

Unrestrained spending at city hall is to blame for the constant property tax hikes.  Real operating spending increased by 66 per cent within Calgary City Hall over a 10-year period, while population growth only increased by 28 per cent.  That’s an unexplainable 135% greater increase in taxes than the corresponding increase in population!  How has the City justified this?

In addition, the City of Calgary sets residential property tax rate based on assessed value (aka ‘tax value’) meaning that property tax rates are not determined by the economic forces of supply and demand but rather by City of Calgary’s projected fiscal requirements. The City of Calgary estimates the money that they must collect from homeowners to pay for projected expenditures that are not covered by other revene streams (like fees, licenses and the like) and then increases property assessments to meet their projected expenditures.  The City of Calgary, along with shifting assessments, resultant of higher property assessments for homes offsetting new infill developments, has disrupted the affordability of government for homeowners.  While higher property taxes play havoc with businesses and their budgets, the City of Calgary disregards these burdens (and resulting hardships) being carried by taxpayers by only caring to meet their selfish needs.

The standard City response to an ask by Calgarians for lower taxes or zero tax increases is the City’s standard bully cry:  Services will be lost.  Libraries will close.  Police officers will be cut. This is patently not true.  Taxes can be significantly lowered by implementing proven efficiency strategies.

I propose key solutions to alleviate the tax burden on Calgarians, both residential and business.

FAIRER PROPERTY TAX POLICY VISIONS:

  • Advocate for long-term property tax cuts.

  • Propose review of current tax policy to ensure best practices are implemented, including but not limited to (1)introduction of sub-classes within the residential property tax category in order to introduce variable rates of tax to more fairly and equitably spread the tax burden across the different sub-classes; (2) set assessment values on existing homes affected by off-setting infill development, at current or earlier values – until the home is vacated, upon sale or death; (3) move from yearly property assessments to a three or four year cycle; (4) introduce phased-in reassessment increases; (5) etc..

  • Set residential and non-residential maximum property tax increase to rate of inflation.

  • Introduce and implement a policy that reduces the non-resident tax gap over time to a commercial/residential ratio of 1.25.

  • Work with the Province of Alberta for a provincially funded independent assessment agency; with a mandate to ensure distribute fair and equitable taxation.

  • Amend assessment policy to exempt from property taxes any alterations and additions that are made to existing residential properties to accommodate seniors or persons with disabilities. The exemption should also apply to the prescribed portion of newly built homes that are designated to accommodate seniors or people with disabilities.

  • Vote to return any operational ‘surplus’ to taxpayers to aid in long term property tax cuts.

  • Vote to return ‘tax room’ to taxpayers to aid in long term property tax cuts.

 

PLANK #3:  REDUCE CITY STAFF WAGE SPENDING  

The largest barrier to long-term tax relief is the fact that over 50% of the City’s yearly expenses are ‘salaries, wages and benefits’ for city staff.  In 2016, the total collected in net property taxes did not even cover the wage bill for the 15,000 employees spread out across 1,594 different position descriptions representing approximately 500 different “lines of business” within the City.  Currently, the City budgets a rough average of $100,000 per full-time equivalent for salary and benefits. That’s right, $1.5 Billion every year for “salaries, wages and benefits”; in today’s economy and environment, this is unsustainable. And with the numbers of city staff positions continuing to grow yearly, this makes this a greater problem year over year.

City staff have enjoyed an average of 3.1% YOY increase in wages; this at a time when most Calgarians saw their salaries disappear or hugely reduced.  And in 2017, city staff received a 4% increase.  And this doesn’t include a 2.5% 2017 increase for 2,000 sworn police officers and more than 1,300 firefighters.

REDUCE CITY STAFF WAGE SPENDING POLICY VISIONS:

  • Negotiate city staff salary rollbacks, to at least 2014 levels, across the board in the next four-year contract.

  • Perform overtime audit in each City department in effort to identify factors that create overtime and develop an alternative action plan to effectively cover noncritical posts without using overtime.

  • Adopt Government of Alberta’s “Sunshine” policy and publish names and salaries of earners who exceed the provincial compensation threshold, including benefits.

  • Compare public and private job titles and scope with a view to bring public salaries in line with private sector.

  • Develop and pilot an employee tracking system that will monitor how much time employees spend on particular tasks and activities, in order to assess optimal resource levels and identify resource-heavy tasks and activities.

  • Implement Compensation Committee’s 2017 recommendations regarding Councillors’ compensation package.

  • Renegotiate vendor contracts entered into 2014 and earlier.

  • Assess feasibility of municipal cooperative purchasing for benefits such as health insurance to curb costs.

  • Establish wage cost benchmarks and ratios to contain City wage costs.

 

PLANK #4:  EFFICIENT DELIVERY OF CORE SERVICES

The City of Calgary needs to coordinate and deliver the services expected by citizens and businesses such as public water and power access, roadways and public transportation, public safety and emergency services, sanitation services, and road maintenance. In addition, the City of Calgary needs to maintain the massive amount of infrastructure that underpins all these public services, including public buildings, vehicle fleets, bridges, roadways, dams and more.

This is an enormous task that is complicated every year by the addition of new infrastructure on top of aging and established infrastructure.

2018’s revenue shortfall is predicted to be in the range of $100 million, even after finding $325 million in savings in recent years. And the economic conditions in Calgary are not helping this matter.  In 2016, for instance, Calgary Transit revenues fell by $17 million and utility proceeds declined $41 million — both the result of the economic downturn. 

Key decisions need to be made about core service delivery.   With the City of Calgary involved in approximately 500 different lines of “business”, what ‘businesses’ the City should be in and what ought to be abandoned or sourced out, need to be identified.  And while municipal services are delivered by both public and private employees, sometimes public employees are best positioned to provide better services and sometimes private contractors have the edge. Simply put, neither public nor private delivery is always the best option. But, in an environment where both the public sector and the private sector have an opportunity to submit bids to the city administration, the city can garner the true cost and most efficient way of delivering the service and can pass that savings on to the taxpayers.

The City has to stop or suspend spending inefficiently on unnecessary service delivery such as spending on golf courses, fact-finding junkets, and mandatory public art.  In today’s economic environment the City of Calgary has no choice but to re-examine spending practices that are “nice to have” versus “need to have” and concentrate on delivery of essential services rather than spending money on things the average Calgarian cannot afford. 

EFFICIENT DELIVERY OF CORE SERVICES POLICY VISIONS:

  • Ascertain whether city government is within its jurisdiction.

  • Evaluate Alternative Service Delivery models such as the proven municipal tool of ‘managed competition’ where rather than simply outsourcing, municipal agencies have an opportunity to bid against private contractors.

  • Review service delivery execution effectiveness between its 15,000 city workers and suppliers, consultants and contractors associated with carrying out the annual 2,500 bids received for services.

  • Advance to reduce operation budgets YOY by 1-2% in every city department by introducing efficiencies while maintaining the provision of quality services.

  • Assess feasibility of inter-municipal collaboration with a look to improve effectiveness, enhance efficiency or create new capabilities.

  • Review whether the operating dollars allocated to a multitude of non-profit organizations are being properly and efficiently spent.

  • Review of regulations that govern the oversight of the City’s non-profit partners to ensure practices do not exceed Provincial or Federal requirements.

  • Employ innovative technological solutions in order to freeze or significantly reduce departmental travel costs.

  • Review ENMAX dividend payment policy to City of Calgary to assess equitable level amongst utilitypeers; typically use a dividend payout ratio between 40% to 60%. 

  • Rollback $1.7million increase to Councillors’ annual office budgets that has been passed.

 

PLANK #5:  BUILD THE ENTREPRENURIAL FRIENDLY PLAYBOOK

The oil shock has hollowed out the downtown core. Oil may not return in any meaningful way given the current geo-political environment at both the provincial and federal levels of government.

What an opportunity!

Entrepreneurship has always been behind Calgary’s success.  Creating high-growth, high-impact entrepreneurial enterprises can be a safe harbor for cities during difficult economic periods like what Calgary is currently going through.

The City of Calgary must demonstrate an active interest in enabling growth and development in an economically sustainable manner. It needs to build and foster a pro-growth, lighter touch, regulatory environment.

Sadly, this is currently not happening. 

Businesses in Calgary are growing increasingly concerned about municipal tax and regulation burden, where the equity lies in municipalities increasing tax bills beyond the benefits they receive, and that taxes are rising without the City considering the tax effect on their economic competitiveness.

Over the past three years, Calgary businesses, particularly those in and around downtown, have been struggling to deal with soaring property assessments and the ensuing tax hikes that come with them.  In 2017, business owners have seen similar increases, now made much worse by shifting tax burdens from downtown towers to the suburbs. The shifting tax burden cost businesses $3 million in 2017; next year an additional $24 million will be required over and above that $3 million burden!

Calgary currently has over 13 million sq. ft. of vacant empty downtown commercial and another 2 million will come online before the end of the year.  The situation is not getting better any time soon!  Yet there lies an incredible opportunity!

We need to transform Calgary into an high-growth, high-impact entrepreneurial hot spot; take concrete actions to ensure businesses stay in operation and make sure that those businesses feel engaged in the community. 

Time to transition into the emerging knowledge economy. And that means it’s time for bold action!

BUILD THE ENTREPRENURIAL FRIENDLY PLAYBOOK POLICY VISIONS:

  • Establish Calgary owned ISP (integrated with City owned Enmax) with installation of a 21st Century 10-Gigabit-per-second fibre optic city-wide network to connect every resident, business and civic institution, including non-profit, in the City.

  • Create entrepreneurial arm of City of Calgary to support incubator, accelerator, mentorship and apprenticeship programs that aim to expand entrepreneurship’s reach.

  • Advocate for start-up communities’ needs at the provincial and federal level, particularly when it comes to pushing for incentives and regulatory policies that enhance the local entrepreneurial landscape.

  • Enhance microbusinesses’ access to expertise and insights in innovation, executive and technical talent, market intelligence, policy and regulatory affairs, business development, and marketing and brand-building.

  • Host 2018 Stampede initiative to attract and scale more start-up companies in downtown Calgary; with the attendance garnered by the Stampede we have a real opportunity to turn the Stampede into something more than a “Country Fair”

  • Appoint Startup in Residence (STIR) program to connect City of Calgary departments and agencies with start-ups to develop technology products that address Calgary civic challenges.

  • Create a StartupYYC Council Committee, chaired by new YYC Entrepreneurship Manager, in partnership with the business community, to act as a start-up catalyst and support ecosystem.

  • Host 2018 inaugural Annual Entrepreneurship & Technology Conference.

  • Create position to closely track the activities and needs of local business owners. 

  • Launch corporate citizen partnership program to try out new ideas.

  • Partner with civic leaders from the public and private sectors to collaborate and put together a blueprint of steps the city needed to take in order to grow the start-up community.

  • Creation of “Collision District” - startups, nonprofits, public and private education and local government entities in one place.

 

PLANK #6:  DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

The City’s current framework of local governance – centralized and compartmentalized bureaucracies - is frustrating and disappointing Calgarians.  I have spoken with many Ward 8 residents whom expressed displeasure about uncaring city bureaucrats and an unresponsive Council.

Business as usual is no longer an option; a sustainable future for local government depends on changing the way we do things. 

The time has come to harness the application of big data, data analytics, machine learning, the Internet of Things and algorithm-supported decision-making.  These disruptive technologies are transforming government operations and service delivery dramatically - in cities around the world – and not compromising the delivery of services but making their operations agile, data-driven, leaner, simpler, cleaner, faster and most importantly, cheaper. 

As an example, its estimated that the average cost of digital transactions are 15 cents in comparison to telephone and face-to-face costs of $2.83 and $8.62 respectively.

By adopting digital capabilities and strategies, the City can transform itself from a government-centric top-down model (governments telling citizens what they need) into a citizen-driven bottom-up model, where Calgarians are determining what services they want and how they want them provided.

Harnessing advancing technologies will make the City of Calgary more responsive, engaging, transparent, cost-effective and the quality of service delivery will be dramatically increased. The City will be transformed into something that truly values dedication and intelligence of its employees and one that capitalizes on the imagination and civic spirit of Calgarians.  While at the same time maintaining privacy and security.

The future vision will see YYC’s key services – including planning and infrastructure, transport, waste and recycling – become data-driven and highly responsive to the populations they serve. Ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) sensors will enable the City to target resources more efficiently – all based on need rather than reaction to a complaint.  Strategically placed sensors, in addition to Calgarians’ devices, will send information on the environment of the city, feeding into real-time maps on pollution, weather or traffic. All residential and business transactions such as paying taxes or applying for licenses will take place online.  These efficiencies will result in significant cost reductions and will result in the improvement of delivery of services.  All with a corresponding reduction in cost which should translate into tax savings!

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION POLICY VISIONS

  • Develop an inter-municipal 2025 digital transformation strategy that is clear, coherent and central to Council’s leadershi

  • Install Kiosks at each Community Association, post-secondary institutions and social agencies for carrying out basic transactions and talk people through how to scan identity documents and connect to video chat if people need it.

  • Define open standards for data for the whole public sector.

  • Collaborate with all levels of government to unlock relevant datasets.

  • Create the Office of Data Analytics (ODA) – modelled on the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics pioneered in New York City – which would be tasked with helping city leaders and public bodies bring together and analyse data to support regional economic growth and local public-sector reform.

  • Launch MyYYC, a mobile-friendly personal account, which shows all city services in a single view where Calgarians will be able to access their personal data and personal dashboard streams.

  • Review and publish detailed guidance on the ethical dimensions of data sharing and algorithm-supported decision-making.

  • Form a Digital Transformation Committee with a clear mandate to map out and drive the City’s digital transformation priorities.

  • Hire Chief Data or Analytics Officer.

  • Create a Technology Review Board to oversee investments in technology.

  • Jointly fund inter-municipal responsive, independent, not-for-profit consultancy, to help public agencies and Community Associations to achieve their digital ambitions.

  • Develop citizen engagement and collaboration plans to lay out the process of acquiring and engaging Calgarians.

  • Launch YYC Digital Academies, designed to train and upskill staff and get City Hall and associated agencies digital-ready.

  • Launch Monthly Emerging Trends track of seminars and workshops that will explore how new developments in hardware, software, and design thinking will impact the City for the next five to ten years.

  • Sponsor volunteer-run IT Help at Home’ service to Calgarians to ensure digital inclusivity.

 

PLANK #7:  RESPECT FOR MATURE NEIGHBOURHOODS CHARACTER

Between 2006 and today, Calgary has welcomed an estimated 240,000 new people.  By 2039, an additional 361,000 are estimated to be greeted. 

The City plans to accommodate 67% of new residents in brand new communities.  The remaining 33%, or nearly 200,000, will be accommodated in mature neighbourhoods.

Infill and densification has been an important issue in our city’s public discourse during the past 4 years.  This is likely to continue through to October

16th and beyond. It’s an important conversation about Calgary’s future.

I have learned a lot by listening to citizens in Ward 8 over the past few months.

I have learned that by and large Ward 8 residents understand and support

the need for densification and to reduce the amount of land consumed by

suburban growth. The arguments that densification allows for a more

efficient use of existing services, roads, pipes etc. and eventually breathes life into schools and neighbourhood businesses by making space for more families

are widely supported by many ward 8 residents.

And, if done correctly, a densified host neighbourhood will survive and prosper and only become a better place to live.

Conversely, there is the possibility of damage inflicted on the host neighbourhood in a rush to rezone and densify, without a comprehensive understanding of the neighbourhood, a digestible densification phasing, and an inclusion plan to protect and value the people and amenities of the host neighbourhood that have evolved over time.

Care must be taken to value what will be lost — as much as what will be built.

Yet Councillors, developers and infill activists continue to disenfranchise residents, accusing them of NIMBYism, when they advocate for careful urban planning rather than being subjected to demolition and ugly new development without any choice in the matter.  These views are about preserving legitimate attributes:  beauty, safety and neighbourhood integrity.

If the City is so concerned about the character of Calgary, then don’t residents have the right to be concerned about the character of their neighborhood?

I have received feedback that, in contrast with a thoughtfully constructed master comprehensive re-development plan for an entire neighbourhood (like Garrison Woods), a good number of infill projects that have been erected and inserted in and around Calgary’s mature neighbourhoods can be UGLY.  Projects have moved away from unique and innovative to sameness and sterility - always emphasizing monolithic and insular building mass over architectural variety and community amenities – that, in many opinions, is soul-deadening.

In addition, the City often fails to enforce is own regulations.

The City needs to shift the narrative from applauding any and all density per se to the right kind of density - a built landscape that respects and improves upon its neighborhood instead of overpowering it.

Physical changes to our established neighbourhoods must be sensitive, gradual and generally “fit” the existing physical character.

Finally, residents have also communicated that the City’s consultation process around accommodating density in residential areas is in serious decline, has become even less responsive and is moving towards a more top-down model (of decision-making). 

Consultation sessions must be more than ‘this is what the City is implementing in your neighbourhood’.  They must be collaborative and they must develop densification solutions with all stakeholders

RESPECT FOR ESTABLISHED MATURE NEIGHBOURHOODS POLICY VISIONS:

  • Develop a ‘Right Kind’ policy which ensures that new development in a mature neighbourhood respects and reinforces the existing physical character of buildings, streetscapes and open space patterns in these areas to promote neighbourhood physical stability and slow down development of a greater and inappropriate scale.

  • Build data-based profiles of each neighbourhood to help residents identify good locations for this middle density, and see how it might benefit existing schools and businesses.

  • Introduce a ‘Boundary Point’ policy where between the neighbourhoods and the growth areas, development in the mixed-use area will have to demonstrate a transition in height, scale and intensity as necessary to ensure that the stability and general amenity of the adjacent residential area is not adversely affected.

  • Partner with Community Associations to develop comprehensive ‘Our Neighbourhood’ Plans to identify attributes to be considered against the existing neighbourhood patterns and includes physical, economic and social goals.

  • Introduce local impact assessment review requirement per development project to assess impact to neighbouring residents.

  • Review and rewrite densification regulations to bring them into a design-focused regulatory framework.

  • Encourage infill development, provided Community Associations are satisfied that:

    1. proposed development, including building form and density, is compatible with the character of the existing neighbourhood;

    2. new buildings are designed in a manner that is sensitive to the location, massing and height of adjacent buildings;

    3. suitable transition in lot sizes, densities, building forms and heights is provided from adjacent development;

    4. existing trees and vegetation will be retained and enhanced where possible and additional landscaping will be provided to integrate the proposed development with the existing   neighbourhood;

    5. proposed development will not create a traffic hazard or an unacceptable increase in traffic on local roads;

    6. significant views and vistas which help define a residential neighbourhood are preserved and

    7. a proposed development will maintain adequate light and privacy for the residents.

  • Introduce Calgary’s Apartment Block Renewal Program to encourage renewal and retrofitting of older apartment buildings to help property owners and managers to reduce operating costs, improve building value and improve the quality of life for residents.

  • Partner with Municipal Affairs to develop tools to allow upfront development costs to be initially financed by developers.

  • Transform Calgary into the most engaged city in North America via implementation of ‘Active Engagements’ Program designed to improve the relationship between the City and its residents and stakeholders through a better community engagement process; including separate tracks for newcomers, youth and at-risk groups.

  • Introduce the Chief Planner Roundtable - a public forum hosted by the City’s Chief Planner - for Calgarians to discuss key city-building challenges, and to identify innovative "drivers for change".  Roundtables to be founded on a platform of collaborative engagement, where industry professionals, community leaders, and City staff discuss ideas about pressing issues in an open creative environment.

  • Measure effectiveness of the City’s densification scheme against set metrics and benchmarks.

 

PLANK #8:  HOUSING AFFORDABILITY

An ideal city has quality housing for everybody; a home everybody can afford in a great neighbourhood.  A healthy housing system is essential to community and economic growth.

Growth and change in our communities is crucial as they support the economy, allow resources and infrastructure to be used efficiently, and create culturally diverse, vibrant and complete neighbourhoods.

City Council claims to be concerned about housing affordability. And yet, Calgary City Council continues to adopt restrictive land-use planning and development policies resulting in unintended negative consequences: Housing unaffordability.

Restrictive land-use and densification policies in Calgary, on top of development fees and bureaucracy, have made it extremely difficult and costly to build single-family detached homes; homes Calgarians strive to acquire.

The City’s densification vision encompasses both the inner city (neighbourhoods developed prior to the 1950s) and the established areas (neighbourhoods built out between the 1950s and 1990s); where land is valued at $120 million per acre (versus $3 million in the suburbs)

Modern studies, including an OECD study, confirm how this approach to planning serves only to drive up land prices and in turn - housing prices.  This is alongside the rising costs of retail and commercial development which (in turn) causes rents to rise to reflect these higher costs. 

Calgary is by no means unique. Similar land-use policies are in effect in dozens of metropolitan areas in Europe, the United States and Asia, and in almost all of those cities, these land-use policies have resulted in very, very high housing prices.

Local government interference in the housing free market system has resulted in a total reliance on government as the solution to all housing problems. Yet the housing policies coming out of government serve nothing more that to create unbearable high housing prices, enormous economic discomfort for buyers and rising social pain.

Proponents of “urban containment” at City Hall continue to claim that housing affordability can be restored or maintained by building higher density and high-rise buildings in established mature communities within urban cores.

But the reality paints a different landscape.

Residents in established communities, that have gone through the process of relaxing the former land-use bylaws to permit subdividing a single house lot, are seeing their property taxes soar.  Infill development is driving up assessment values of the established older homes which are offsetting the higher density development.  Take Altadore, for example, whose recent re-development lead to a 260% surge in the value of pre-existing properties.  And property taxes reflect this new assessment.

For long time residents of these established communities, this threatens their affordability to remain in their homes.

If City Council was truly concerned about housing affordability, they would scale back on restrictive land-use policies and allow for Greenfield (or net new) land development.

Smart growth needs to be about the needs of Calgarians, not the needs of City Halls in their quest to collect more and more property taxes off the backs who will be able to less afford it.

Calgary is the land of land!  Let’s build on it.

HOUSING AFFORDABILITY POLICY VISIONS:

  • Adopt a ‘do no harm’ guiding principle in land use decisions.

  • Audit all current policies with the view to streamline and ensure inter-department cohesion.

  • Reduce regulations on a scale of 5 to 1.

  • Reduce current affordability Median Multiple of 4.6 to an affordability range between 2.0 to 3.0.

  • Amend current regulatory system to one that is focused on expediting development and building permits.

  • Goal to reduce the ‘dirt to door’ timeline from 15 years to 7 over the next four years.

  • Allow for concurrent ‘greenfield’ development projects.

  • Be open to innovative ideas and relax current policies or regulations as necessary.

  • Vote against imposing ‘inclusionary zoning’ burdens on developers.

  • Support senior ‘aging in place’ and housing affordability for post-secondary students through secondary suites.