Rules for Uber, a plan for climate change, and a cooling-off period for politicians and staff are all on the agenda for Halifax regional council’s meeting this week.
The meeting, starting at 10am Tuesday, also includes an appeal hearing for a design review committee decision at 1pm and a public hearing on a Bedford Highway development at 6pm.
Council’s transportation standing committee voted in December to send proposed regulations for ride-hailing companies like Uber up to council, recommending in favour.
Under the new rules, ride-hailing companies would pay a $25,000 annual fee, plus a 20-cent fee per trip. Drivers would be licensed by their employers, and subject to criminal record, vulnerable sector, and child abuse registry checks. They’d also be required, like taxi drivers, to hold a Class 4 drivers’ licence — a step above the usual Class 5.
An Uber lobbyist told the transportation standing committee the per-trip fee was too high, calling it “cost-prohibitive” and said the licensing and vulnerable sector checks were “onerous.”
The committee tacked on an amendment asking for a staff report on the necessity of the vulnerable sector check, and also to look into the possibility of barring ride-hailing companies from leasing vehicles and providing purchase financing, responding to concerns from Coun. Waye Mason about the company’s activities in the U.S.
That report, coming to council on Tuesday with the larger recommendation, recommends keeping the vulnerable sector checks. Those checks look not just at local criminal records, but also national records and the pardoned sex-offender database. Without them, staff wrote, the public would be at risk.
As for the concerns around lending, staff wrote that restricting ride-hailing companies from leasing and financing is “outside HRM’s authority.”
The committee also added an amendment recommending council direct the mayor to write a letter to the province asking it to allow taxi and ride-hailing drivers to use regular Class 5 licences.
If council passes the recommendation on Tuesday, staff will write amendments to the bylaw governing taxis, which would come back to council for first and second reading.
Climate change action
One year after declaring a climate emergency, council will take a look at an update on the city’s progress in developing a plan, dubbed HalifACT 2050.
The plan — outlining how Halifax will reduce its carbon emissions by 100% by 2050, consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s call to keep warming to 1.5° C — is expected to be presented to council in March. The update came in an information report on the agenda at the last council meeting in December, and Coun. Richard Zurawski added it to this meeting’s agenda for debate.
The update report warns of the myriad effects of climate change generally, like more extreme weather and higher temperatures, and specifically for Halifax, like damage to coastal infrastructure and declining fish stocks.
The update includes a catalogue of actions to help Halifax hit its climate targets, categorized under themes: buildings; transportation; energy supply; waste; water and wastewater; green and blue infrastructure; food and agriculture; land use; and finance and economic development.
Municipal staff have yet to nail down costs to the plan, but wrote in the update report that “there could be a significant investment involved in achieving the plan outcomes,” potentially requiring fundamental change to the city’s priorities and funding models.
Coun. Shawn Cleary is looking for a staff report exploring a cooling-off period for municipal staff and councillors.
Cleary’s request for a report asks for a jurisdictional scan of other Canadian governments at all levels, “an analysis of potential benefits and challenges,” and a recommended length of time before a “public office holder” can accept a job dealing with the city or submit a development application.
Public office holders appear to refer to councillors and some senior municipal staff, worded “elected and senior officials” in Cleary’s motion.
“Cooling-off periods reduce real and perceived conflicts of interest that may arise from the possibility that public office holders would make decisions to benefit themselves after they have left office,” Cleary wrote in the reasoning for his motion.
“Such prohibitions eliminate the possibility of real conflicts of interest in decision-making and the perception that a decision-maker is acting for any purpose but the public good.”
There have been such perceptions recently. The city’s former chief administrative officer, Richard Butts, walked out of city hall and into a job with a major developer in 2015.
Reviewing police services
A review of policing in the municipality, ordered by council nearly two years ago, has come back with 29 recommendations, all but three of which are accepted for implementation.
B.C.-based consulting firm perivale + taylor handed in the report to the city in November, and Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella responded to each of the recommendations after consulting with Halifax-district RCMP Chief Superintendent Janis Gray.
The consultant’s report itself has not been publicly released, with only the recommendations included in the staff report to council on Tuesday. Even some of those lack detail. For instance, seven of the recommendations are listed as “Nine HRP sworn positions should be considered for civilianization” and recommended for implementation. It’s not clear which positions those refer to.
The response to several of the recommendations indicates police are already implementing them, including changing the reporting structure in cells at Halifax Regional Police headquarters and changing the reporting structure for exhibits.
The three recommendations not accepted are: that “Airport policing should be seamless with the police of jurisdiction,” instead of contracted out to one force;” that Halifax should develop new memorandums of understanding between the municipality and the RCMP through the province; and that “HRM-wide crime and public safety priorities, objectives, and goals” should be approved by council.
Appeal of design decision
The city’s design review committee made a rare move against a proposed development at a meeting in November, and as the case comes back on appeal, council has a complicated decision on its hands.
The proposal is for a five-storey residential building on Barrington Street between Kent and Tobin streets, including 26 residential units and about 1,500 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.
Municipal staff recommended that the design review committee approve the proposal, but the committee voted down the recommendation. The committee “felt the overall building design is not consistent with the Design Manual with respect to prominent civic frontage, namely, more distinct articulation and architectural features to reinforce visual prominence and the historical nature of the site.” In short, the committee didn’t think the proposal was attractive enough for the area.
The proposal would also mean the demolition of three buildings that aren’t registered heritage properties, but have historic value.
Here’s where it gets complicated, if council wants to overturn the design review committee decision: the properties in question are part of the proposed Old South Suburb Heritage Conservation District Plan. That plan comes before council at a public hearing on Tuesday evening.
The building proposed on Barrington is “not consistent with the proposed Old South Suburb bylaw amendments,” according to municipal staff. If council approves the development, municipal staff will have to amend the plan, notify the public and hold another public hearing.
Affordable Bedford Highway housing
A development proposed for the Bedford Highway, headed to a public hearing at council on Tuesday night, would include some below-market rent housing.
Pathos Properties Inc. wants to tear down a two-storey, 13-unit apartment building at 205 Bedford Hwy., across from Flamingo Drive, and build an eight-storey, 55-unit building. Eighteen of those 55 units would rent for 30% less than the average rent for a new build in Halifax — working out to $845 per month for one-bedroom units and $1,085 per month for two-bedroom units — for 15 years. Eleven of the units in the building would be barrier free, meaning accessible.
Municipal staff recommended against the proposal, citing the rail yard behind the property, its proximity to the Flamingo Drive intersection, and a pending report on transportation on Bedford Highway.
“The proposal to permit additional residential density at 205 Bedford Highway is not supported by good planning principles,” staff wrote in an October report to the Halifax and West community council.
The community council voted down the staff recommendation, and recommended council approve the proposal, subject to the 18 affordable rental units.
Uber is a taxi. Period. Drivers need to be fully vetted with necessary checks, have appropriate licensing and insurance.
Those three houses on Barrington Street have already been demolished.
Richard Butts’ case is such an egregious conflict of interest it is sickening. Time for a change. Well done Councilor.
The Cleary motion only refers to ‘businesses’ and omits, deliberately or by oversight, other entities such as non-profit organisations who receive funds from HRM through the district funds allocated by each councillor; and lobby organisations who have a member or members who sit on an HRM committee.
The issue Cleary raises should not be in the purview of council, it should be through an amendment to provincial legislation where members of the public can speak before Law Amendments for 10 minutes and answer questions from legislators – HRM has no interest in allowing citizens to speak to council.