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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A league of our own

Complaints about the closing time for festivals are becoming as predictable as smog alerts in summer. This year, even though Cheryl Miller is no longer on council, is no exception. Her protégé, the mayor, and Councillor Bud Polhill, have taken up the chant.

This year, however, there is a new twist to the allegations about party animals and party poopers. According to the London Free Press, the 2009 by-law which limits the decibel level of amplified sound and establishes 11 p.m. as the closing time was the muscled through council by stooges of the Urban League. At least, that’s what Polhill alleges.

The Urban League? What is this subversive organization, you may well ask.

Basically, the Urban League is a non-profit umbrella association of community groups including community associations, ratepayers groups, conservancy groups, etc.  Established in 1969 at a meeting in Byron, it counts as its members Reforest London, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (London Branch), the McIlwraith Field Naturalists, Friends of the Coves, Thames Regional and Ecological Association, and community associations from across the city- Masonville, Old South, Broughdale, Kipp’s Lane, Argyle and many more.

And what do representative from these groups do, when they meet?

Scary stuff.

  • They analyze the proposed city budget and make suggestions to council about where there could be greater efficiencies, or where there are opportunities for investment in the community.
  • They serve on advisory committees of council, donating their time and energy by researching issues before council and providing information to council; they encourage environmental responsibility; they support and celebrate community arts and culture.
  • Each year they confer the Green Umbrella Award for environmental stewardship and the Green Brick Award for sustainable development. Winners of these awards include Robert Bateman, David Suzuki, Al Gore, the Cherryhill Apartment Complex, the Sisters of St. Joseph.
  • They are partners in significant city and community initiatives: tree planting, bicycle festivals, Sifton Bog preservation, swimming pool refurbishments, park revitalization projects, composter programs.
The first woman mayor of London, Jane Bigelow, was a founding member. Other councillors who have been active in the Urban League over the years include John Judson, Sandy Levin, Joni Baechler, Ed Corrigan, Walter Lonc, and Joni Baechler. At their last Annual General Meeting, where the mayor was the keynote speaker, they expanded opportunities for individuals to belong to the league so that people like myself, who live in areas where there are no active community associations, can learn and contribute to community well-being.

The League  has posted its principles on its website and they are certainly cause for concern. Take a look at this: 
  1. We believe that liveable neighbourhoods are the building blocks of a vibrant city. 
  2. We advocate for greater and more meaningful citizen participation in the public affairs of the city.  To make this possible, the City of London must conduct its business in an open, transparent and accountable way.
  3. We espouse no particular political philosophy and are committed to collaborative decision making in the conduct of our affairs.
  4. We support the City in the design and implementation of public policy and services that are funded fairly and provide citizens with a high quality of life.
  5. We value the role that art and culture play in making our city an interesting place in which to live. We are committed in our support for well-designed initiatives that foster ecological awareness, sustainable development and the principles of good stewardship of our shared resources.
  6. We support orderly and well-managed growth that is sustainable and that allows the City to continue to provide high quality services.
  7. We believe that the built, cultural and natural heritage of the city is a key public good, that adaptive re-use of our built heritage is an important strategy in its conservation, and that the City must take a strong leadership role in conserving our heritage assets.

Nothing here about turning the city into Dullsville. Perhaps it’s code.

And who are the stooges who were doing the bidding of the Urban League on the previous council?

According to minutes of the council meeting of May 4, 2009, the noise-by law was passed without a recorded vote, suggesting that it was not a controversial issue at council.

The following May council received a recommendation from the Environment and Transportation Committee to hire a professional sound engineer to find ways to mitigate the impact of the noise on the surrounding community so that the volume could be cranked up; that suggestion lost on an 11-7 vote, those supporting it being Mayor DeCicco-Best, Deputy Mayor Gosnell, Controllers Polhill and Hume and Councillors Miller, Van Meerbergen and Caranci. Councillor Roger Caranci then introduced a motion that no action be taken on extending the festival hours. It was seconded by Councillor Stephen Orser and supported with a show of hands. Again, no recorded vote.

So, who are these Urban League controlled old fogeys who want to kill downtown by not extending festival hours?

And who wants extended hours?

Certainly, not the vendors. A year ago, when this issue was raised, I did a little informal survey of some of the vendors at the Home County Festival. Of the 35 I interviewed, all but 3 were proprietors of the business, and almost half had also been at Sunfest. Of the 35, 21 wished to retain the 11 p.m. closing, 7 wished it could be even earlier, and 4 thought 12 would be a good time. 3 others thought it should be as late as possible or didn’t care. Later hours were more likely to be preferred by food vendors, especially hourly paid employees. But many vendors spoke of the problems of getting enough rest between shutdown and re-opening, particularly those who face a two-hour drive to get home. A few also mentioned that later in the evening crowds tend to get a bit more boisterous as a result of access to alcohol and concerns about safety of volunteers and workers were mentioned.

Not the local downtown merchants, either. While they appreciate the tourist business brought to London by the festivals, for many those same festivals pull business out of their bars and restaurants.  An 11 ‘clock closing allows those who still want to party to do so at the many venues in the downtown and surrounding areas. That way, everybody benefits and the downtown is still a going concern.

And definitely not the residents who, while enjoying the sounds of the festivities, have to listen to them all day and all evening for three days straight many weekends. Sometimes, they like to get a little rest. We want them to live downtown; the core needs them to survive. A little consideration for them, especially in summer when it’s hot and many windows are open shouldn’t be too much to ask.

According to the London Free Press, Polhill thinks that having festivals go later will “inject more life and fun into the downtown, making the city more attractive place to live.” Ah, but Polhill lives in the east end, far from the downtown. But he probably has close connections to the Argyle Community Association which is part of the Urban League. Hmmm.

As for party animal Mayor Joe Fontana, he hates both the 11 o’clock curfew and the 90 decibel limit. But then, he doesn’t live downtown. Not even in the city, I’m told.

And even if he belongs to his community association, that would be in Arva. It wouldn’t qualify for membership in the Urban League of London.


Anonymous said...

Bud's right. That Urban League is just a bunch of pinkos and commies!

Anon one

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. They never like anything they see. Any change whether good or bad is resisted.

Good for Bud for speaking up.
Downtown festivals are great. they make noise. If you live downtown, put up with it!

Barry Wells said...

If the Urban League of London "never like anything they see," the organization would be hard-pressed to nominate recipients for its annual Green Brick and Green Umbrella Awards.

Unlike some on city council and in the community, the Urban League has laudable standards in the quality-of-life department.

Its positive contribution to London over the decades has been outstanding.

anonymous said...

Thank you Gina for another well researched, thoughtful and educating item. As a Londoner, I am embarrassed and ashamed with some of our members of council.

Don McLeod said...

Longer hours at what cost versus benefit? What is the cost of policing events than run past 11PM compared to the benefits gained? What about the Police budget? How do we measure the economic & social benefit of an extra hour or more of entertainment? The festival event promoters do an excellent job within the current parameters in providing top entertainment and value to attendees. There is a saying in the entertainment and that is to leave the audience wanting more. Gina's survey indicates that we are meeting the needs of vendors, the audiences and London’s venues for post 11pm entertainment. Hard to please all the people all of the time – looks like we are close to doing that!

Anonymous said...

actually, the hours and noise level were worked out by city staff like Wayne Morningstar and the adjacent neighbourhoods like Blackfriars (Harris Park) and approved by council each and every year despite Miller and Polhill whose wards are no where near the noise. Now, a half deaf drummer who lives outside of London wants a noisy party. Since this drummer is now the Mayor, he feels he can impose his values on other people. Get stuffed.