Reason also prevailed on the issue of cameras in Old East Village.
This recommendation from the Community and Neighbourhoods Committee was introduced by Steven Orser. He had made the original request to council and had driven the debate at the committee. The committee chair, Harold Usher, together with Councillor Matt Brown, had opposed the recommendation that this initiative should have guaranteed funding in the budget and not be subject to the normal budget processes.
In particular, Orser didn’t want the Services Review Committee (SRC) to be in the position of evaluating it along with other items on the council wish list. This was clear in the motion he placed before council, namely that "the Civic Administration BE DIRECTED to identify a Source of Financing for the installation of a wireless surveillance system" at four intersections along Dundas Street between Rectory and Adelaide Streets and, "subject to the availability of a source of funding," install them.
For Orser, it was a matter of simply putting it in the budget without the scrutiny of the SRC, Just do it. The Old East Business Improvement Association (BIA) and the newly-formed East London Merchants Organization (ELMO) wanted it. What is $40,000 in a billion dollar budget? In any case, could the costs of monitoring the cameras be handled by current staff?
Dave O’Brien, head of security at city hall, pointed out that there was the cost of the actual equipment, estimated at $100,000 and the maintenance of the equipment at $40,000 yearly; there was no provision for monitoring the cameras. That would be done along with the monitoring of the 16 other cameras in the downtown area. In response to Orser’s question about the effectiveness of cameras in preventing crime, O’Brien acknowledged that cameras hadn’t necessarily affected the crime rate but was useful in aiding police investigations.
Within minutes of this assertion, there was a message on Twitter from someone who noted that she had been assaulted in the vicinity of the cameras but, on reporting the incident to the police, was informed by them that the cameras were useless. Referring to the supporters of cameras, she tweeted, “Wait until THEY'RE disappointed when the cameras don't help stop or identify perpetrators of crime.”
One such supporter is Councillor Bill Armstrong. He was happy to lend his voice to the clamour for cameras; he only hoped that he would get support in the future when he came forward with a request for more of them further east on Dundas in his ward.
Nor was Orser dissuaded by learning what had already been stated in previous reports to council, that cameras do not prevent crime. Helping police with their investigations could free police for other activity such as foot patrols, he asserted. It wouldn’t lower the police budget, but how that budget was used. He didn’t add that police were already asking for a $4.1M increase in a time of council endorsed tax freezes.
“Give some positive hope to the community,” he urged. “Find the money tonight.”
Nancy Branscombe chairs the SRC. It was her motion four years ago that led to the formation of SRC when council was struggling with ways to get a better handle on budgeting and not simply cutting and adding budget items at random. She has been the chair of that committee ever since and it has done a mountain of pre-budget work, reviewing the services, understanding what contribution they make to the quality of life in London, what works and what doesn’t, how to do things more efficiently. In fact, the City of London has been selected as one of five finalists for the prestigious IPAC/Deloitte Public Sector Leadership Awards for its service based approach. The final presentations are being held today.
So it’s no wonder that Branscombe did not take kindly to the suggestion that council return to the old ways, everybody pick a favourite project and lobby to have it added to the budget, never mind the overall picture or measurable benefits the project brings. She wanted it referred to Services Review so that it could be properly vetted as part of a long wish list. She wanted to ensure that any budget decisions would be based on an integrated approach to dealing with public safety, one that involved Community and Social Services. Matt Brown quickly seconded the motion.
A referral takes precedence over the main motion, so now the debate shifted focus. Orser was more than a little annoyed.
“And will the committee have a quorum for once?” he wanted to know. “This is ridiculous!”
Back when I sat on the SRC there were frequent problems with getting a quorum because some members were clearly boycotting it, not turning up and yet unwilling to resign. Those members, with the exception of Paul VanMeerbergen and Bud Polhill, are no longer on council and VanMeerbergen is no longer on the committee. Getting a quorum isn’t as difficult as it used to be.
Paul Hubert serves on both the Old East BIA and the SRC. He was impressed with the BIA and the dedication of its membership to the community. He also noted the progress being made in that area and the investment there. He estimated that it was in the neighbourhood of $115 million. It was really being revitalized. That kind of investment and revitalization requires careful protection. The proliferation of cameras could quickly eat up a half million dollars or more. He wanted to make sure that it was the right approach, that it was properly integrated with other initiatives going on. “Let’s make sure we do this right,” he urged. He wanted it referred.
Joni Baechler found herself in a quandary. She didn’t want to support a referral but she didn’t want to be misunderstood as being in support of more cameras on the street. “I have never supported cameras,” she began. “This whole homeland security stuff has the hair standing up on the back of my neck.” She recalled a visit by Jane Jacobs at Western before cameras had been installed downtown. When asked about cameras, Jacobs had called them a band aid; what you need are people in the downtown.
That initial project cost $250,000, Baechler pointed out, and maintaining them $130,000 per year. Now Armstrong was lobbying for them; who else would be lining up? If anything, she would rather have more police officers patrolling than big brother watching.
Orser jumped on her words. “I never thought I’d hear Joni want to increase the police budget,” he taunted. Baechler has always asked critical questions about the police budget but she has never voted against it.
By now, the acting mayor Bud Polhill should have intervened. Just because Orser had introduced the motion didn’t mean he could argue with everyone who spoke; all he should have been allowed to do was to provide clarification or a direct response to questions. But chairing is not Polhill’s strong suit.
Orser was frustrated. A delay was not what he wanted. He demanded that the members of the SRC set a meeting date "right now" to deal with this issue. When it was pointed out that there were a lot of items already on the next SRC agenda, he gave up.
“Defeat the referral,” he implored. “Send it to the budget process.” He was not comforted by having it pointed out that the budget process involved going through SRC first.
Sandy White wondered if there was any way to bypass the SRC. Branscombe, on a point of information, explained what Services Review is. She noted that getting a quorum was a thing of the past, although I have observed that some members tend to be a bit on the tardy side.
The explanation seemed to be lost on Orser. He wondered if council could order Services Review not to cut it (the cameras) from the budget. He was reminded that SRC is a committee made up of councillors; all they can do is make a recommendation. Each councillor has a vote when those recommendations come to council.
“It’s like no one here has ever been in the Old East,” he despaired.
Several councilors took offence, as well they might. Members of staff and council attend meetings of the BIA there, go to the Aeolian Hall and the Palace Theatre, shop in the hardware store, buy vacuum cleaners at McHardy’s, eat in the excellent ethnic restaurants. Staff and council have worked hard to attract and maintain investment in that area—seniors’ housing, highrises, condos, the theatres, the Potters’ Guild.
Yes, there are problems there, as there are in many areas of London; problems of poverty and all the ills that accompany it. They won’t be solved by four cameras or even four more police officers. That takes a far more holistic approach.
It was time to vote. The motion to refer the request for cameras passed 8-6 with Joe Swan, Branscombe, Baechler, Matt Brown, VanMeerbergen, Hubert, Usher and Bryant in support and Polhill, Armstrong, Orser, Dale Henderson, Denise Brown and White opposed.
We’re likely to hear more about this when it goes to Services Review and from there to the budget.