note: this opinion is strictly my own and does not represent the views of any organization I have worked for in the past or presently.
There has been, in our Forested City, an ongoing series of developments that have ultimately led me to recognize that our council is sometime deaf to the concerns and the worries of the citizens of London. Some no longer to listen and respond in reasoned and thoughtful ways. Some no longer listen respectfully to others opinions. Some are no longer awake to the direction Londoners keep telling them they want to go.
We have a committee that is tasked with creating economic prosperity that fails in meeting or quorum or direction. We have committees who are indifferent to years of input by the very citizens whom they asked to become engaged and sought input from. We have members of council who scold the people to whom they are responsible too. We have a Council that seems to be deaf to Londoners.
From Sunningdale to Reservoir Hill to affordable housing to the fluoride debate to backyard chickens, these issues all have one thing in common. The citizens of London have chosen, or were asked to be involved in, citizen engagement and their input, whether I agree with it or not, is often unheeded.
Tuesday night I was at the Reservoir Hill public input meeting at City Hall and from the very opening of the meeting the signals were clear. The first signal? Well the committee room where the meeting was to be held has a maximum occupancy of 60 people. This 60 maximum was quickly achieved and we were told there were another 38 people waiting to get in. We were also told that the Council Chambers was not available due to construction. Councilor Bryant tabled a motion to postpone the meeting to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak. Not one of the other committee members would support Councillor Bryants motion. This spoke volumes.
The meeting was moved in the end to Council Chambers, they gallery was packed, and we began by hearing from City Staff. Staff had been directed by Council to come back with a plan for this site. I’m going to say this again. Staff had been directed by Council to come back with a plan for this site. Staff did not recommend this development, as one Councilor later claimed, they were directed. Then came the presentation by the Lawyer for the developer. His points concluded we finally got to the public participation. One and a half hours after the meeting was supposed to begin.
The people most directly effected by this issue, the residents that live in and around the proposed development, began to speak about the zoning issues, the OMB issues, environmental issues, the hydrological issues, the historical issues, and I was left deeply impressed by the depth of their knowledge and the authenticity of their commitment. Again and again these citizens spoke with eloquence and knowledge about why this approval, one that negates 10 years of previous decisions at the local and provincial level, was wrong for their community.
This is neatly summed up by Gina Barber in her blog post on the issue about this development: “This application has been doing the rounds for more than 10 years. It has been back and forth to the Ontario Municipal Board and the courts for interpretation. Although members of the community had fought to stop any development, most had realized that that was not an option.
But neither had the developer been given carte blanche. The original proposal had to be scaled down from two towers to one. Both staff and council had been firm on that, and they had been supported in subsequent OMB rulings. Instead, the proponent put forward a building that was 57% larger than one of the original buildings and kept coming back with the same proposal. It still had not effectively changed.”
And during the meeting Councillor Baechler pointed, “out that previous councils had been unanimous in opposing this development in any of its iterations. That included Swan, Orser, VanMeerbergen, Polhill and White even though now they supported it. Furthermore, staff had consistently opposed the development in its present form. That is why Swan had led the pack last fall to take the approval authority away from staff and hand it over to council. Until then, council had only been in a position to make comments for staff’s consideration. Now, in order to please and appease the developer and his agent, they had given the power unto themselves and directed staff to fall into line. They had bullied the staff in no fewer than five previous meetings “
So in the end the committee moved to “accept staffs recommendation” on the site and the residents were left out in the cold. They do not have the option, like the developer has had 4 times, to continually appeal to the OMB. They do not have a higher body to appeal this indifferent and heavy-handed approach too.
So what does this tell us? What does this say about the authenticity of this council’s effort for engagement? What does this say about the fair and open hearing of legitimate concerns by Londoners?
I cannot understand, in any context, the indifference some members of our City Council have shown to issues brought forward by citizens. I don’t understand how they could, in good conscious, ignore these pleas and berate the people who brought these issues forward. I know the people who represent us on Council are not evil. They don’t sit in some dark tower gleefully plotting ways in which they can destroy the confidence of Londoners. They are not soulless or indifferent to their fellow citizens. I know this. I know they care. But they may be misguided and I hope, hope with all my heart, that they find they’re way back onto the path of openness and respect for the legitimate issues brought forward by the people of London. Until that time comes though we must gather and speak and hope our Council will listen .