/Towers, ashtrays and ethics — six months at Edmonton city hall

Towers, ashtrays and ethics — six months at Edmonton city hall

With Edmonton city council moving into a five-week summer recess following a busy first half of 2019, we take a look back at some of the pivotal decisions on projects and bylaws. 

End of the line for Thales but not for LRT woes

The biggest issue in cost, controversy and scope? The city’s LRT projects. 

Years of mishaps and mystery around the Metro Line came to a partial resolution this spring when the city fired Thales, the company behind the signalling system. 

The city sent Thales a notice of termination in April, nearly four years after the line opened and two years later than originally scheduled. 

Thales had struggled with software and safety issues since the line launched in 2015, culminating in a pair of instances two years ago when northbound and southbound trains ended up on the same track. 

A report released around the same time showed the city knew of 44 signalling mishaps and six major malfunctions since the line opened.   

Thales is seeking legal action against the city for terminating its contract. 

The consortium in charge of the public-private partnership of the Valley Line Southeast LRT has also had its share of criticism for closing several main streets to traffic. 

TransEd closed 102nd Avenue for three years while crews work on the line that will run from Mill Woods to downtown.

In April, the consortium also closed 95th Avenue in Strathearn for the rest of the year to “speed up construction.” 

The city confirmed that construction is behind schedule and the line won’t be opening in December 2020 as planned.

A question of ethics

Another change at city hall was enshrined in May with a new policy, putting a halt to the longstanding accepted practice of councillors’ employing their relatives.

Several councillors have done so, including Ward 2 Coun. Bev Esslinger, whose son worked as an assistant in her office, and former Ward 9 Coun. Brian Anderson, whose daughter was a staff member in his office.

Edmonton city council approves several items on July 16 before its five-week summer recess. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

Coun. Tony Caterina, representing Ward 7, still employs his son Rocco Caterina and has for several years. 

Caterina told CBC News in an earlier interview, he welcomed the new policy as a reflection of the changing times and more transparency expected of councillors.

The city’s new policy comes with a grandfather clause, which allows current staff to stay until the next election. 

Ward 3 Coun. Jon Dziadyk came under scrutiny for using part of his ward budget to pay for an MBA at the University of Alberta. 

A few hours after a CBC News report was published, Dziadyk was pummeled on social media and the first-term councillor retracted his plan and promised to pay back $11,000 he had used from his ward budget to that point. 

Where to smoke or toke

Council this week did an about-face and directed city staff to replace hundreds of ashtrays that were relocated or removed last October in key entertainment districts.

Council had amended the city’s smoking bylaw and insisted tobacco and cannabis smokers must be 10 metres from a door, open window, patio or bus stop, up from the previous five metre requirement. 

Downtown Coun. Scott McKeen and Coun. Ben Henderson, representing the Old Strathcona area, voted against the amendment, saying the new rule would be unrealistic. 

A CBC News follow-up determined smokers in most areas along Whyte Avenue and Jasper Avenue would have to cross a street or walk several blocks to light up. 

Months later, business groups in the affected areas reported a significant increase in cigarette butt litter. 

The city’s changing skyline 

Several towers — some controversial because of their height and location — got the go-ahead from council this spring.

In early July, council approved a mixed-use commercial and residential development on Jasper Avenue and 108th Street, including a 35-storey condo tower with 350 units and a 42-storey apartment tower with 700 apartments.

That neighbourhood will have to say goodbye to Spanish-style circa 1935 El Mirador apartment complex on 108th Street and a resident donair shop. 

Council also approved four towers at Jasper Avenue and 115th Street and 102nd Avenue and 106th Street, soaring between 42 and 52 storeys. 

The land around the current Bonnie Doon Mall will be rezoned to allow a developer to build several towers ranging in height from 12 to 38 storeys in the envisioned village of 4,000 residences, commercial and retail space, a garden district in the coming years.

@natashariebe

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