Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, September 01, 2006

An Appeal-ing Situation

Here is my answer to what the City has done on my Municipal Freedom of Information application. Below is the document that I filed with the Privacy Commissioner. I will discuss more about what is going on and why I am doing what I am doing next week after the holiday weekend.....Enjoy!

Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario
1400-2 Bloor Street East
Toronto, Ontario
M4W 1A8

RE: City of Windsor FOI 33-2006---Freedom of Information

I hereby appeal the interim decision of the Head in this matter.

Because of the bad faith shown by the City, I respectfully request that the City be required to provide all of the records that it has identified to date for my review forthwith at its cost and expense in the following manner and be required to undertake a proper search for any other records:

 The Commission must actively supervise the City in the search of records since the City is acting in bad faith and needs Commission oversight to ensure that it complies with the Act
 The files containing the records be pulled forthwith and placed in a convenient location where I may review them
 Only those records that I require will be photocopied
 It is not necessary for any staff to be involved other than those who pull the files or do the photocopying
 All the documents of the Mayor and the Windsor Tunnel Commission be produced
 All costs, fee and charges to be charged to me are to be waived

I also hereby request that the fee be waived in whole or part or that the amount of the fee be reduced significantly.

The request for information was filed by me. I write a daily BLOG about politics in the City of Windsor. I was formerly the General Counsel of STOPDRTP which was the largest citizens group involved in the border file and am the founder of OJIBWAY NOW!, another citizens group involved in the border file.

The questions in my request relate generally to the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, an asset that is owned by the City of Windsor and the City of Detroit. The Tunnel is one of the key border crossings in North America between Canada and the United States. The subject of border crossings has been a vital matter in Windsor for the last 4 years and was and will be a key election issue in the municipal elections. The other questions relate to a property that is to be expropriated for the Tunnel Plaza Improvement project and for full disclosure of costs incurred by the City in the border file.

The City of Windsor and the City of Detroit are engaged in discussions concerning the joint operation of the Tunnel. This was highlighted by a Joint Councils meeting earlier this year and with on-going discussions. None of the discussions have been made public and the fact that there are the ongoing discussions have only been disclosed in my Blog and not in the local media at all. There have also been discussions that have taken place at the Senior Government Level involving the Tunnel, all of which have not been fully disclosed. Some of the information relating to the Tunnel regarding finances and security have also only been disclosed in my Blog or disclosed there first.

The person who is negotiating the Tunnel deal on behalf of Windsor is the Mayor, a lawyer.

We have learned many disturbing issues relating to the Tunnel recently, facts that the City has not disclosed fully and when disclosed in a piece-meal fashion:
1) The City and the Federal and Provincial Governments are to spend $10 million each to improve the Tunnel Plaza. The reality, given the City plans revealed at information sessions which were not well-publicized to citizens, is that not one single vehicle will move through the Tunnel more quickly. All that will be accomplished from a traffic perspective is to create a giant parking lot on lands that will have to be expropriated.

2) The Tunnel ventilation building has had to be repaired and the costs have increased from $13 million to over $20 million and the final costs are not yet known

3) The air that it takes from the tunnel itself is not cleaned or “scrubbed” but is sent, “dirty,” into the air of the Community, a fact that has not been well-publicized in the Community

4) Its vehicular volumes have gone down drastically since 1999 from 9.6 million vehicles to about 6 million

5) Its revenues have dropped from around $18 million in 1999 to about $12 million in 2005

6) Its strategy of keeping prices low to increase customers failed and the toll was raised recently

7) It has been identified as a “unique” security risk as a border crossing and does not meet US Customs requirements.

8) The City of Windsor budget chairman and member of the Windsor Tunnel Commission, Councillor Brister, in May 2005 said in an article in the Windsor Star that “he cannot provide any details but there are major issues pending involving the Windsor-Detroit tunnel… that will consume "a significant amount of taxpayer resources." No further information has been provided.

9) The actions related to the Tunnel may have resulted in its value being sharply decreased to the detriment of taxpayers.

In my submission, the Letters sent to me by the Head are totally non-responsive to my request and are designed to prevent me from obtaining the information requested. In my submission, the actions of the City are designed to frustrate the purposes of the Act to that information should be available to the public and that necessary exemptions from the right of access should be limited and specific.

In my submission, the Head has acted improperly and in violation of the Act in the following manner:
1) In my submission, the interim decision is a “non-decision” designed to waste more time and to discourage me from proceeding further. I have already had to wait for almost 60 days, from the date of request on June 28, 2006, to get this far. On its face, the so-called interim decision is clearly designed to prevent relevant information being produced by providing no information about the records or which records of the total of 57,729 are to be claimed to be exempt.

2) Information is being deliberately hidden by lumping it into masses of documents

3) I asked for clarification and to attempt to narrow the original request number of records in each of the seven parts of my request since all that they gave to me are total numbers. The answers given were non-responsive notwithstanding that 2 specific requests were made. This demonstrates the bad faith of the City in the clearest of manners

4) I also asked which Departments were contacted. It was clear that one of the addressees, the Windsor Tunnel Commission, was never contacted at all. The Commission is obviously a key party and an addressee of the request but was never contacted. This demonstrates the bad faith of the City in the clearest of manners

5) In the words of the decision P-4 quoted by the Head, “the "enormity" of the fee “...ensures that the files remain inaccessible." I “simply cannot afford to spend (the amount of the fees) when [I do ] not have any indication as to what the documents will contain. Clearly a fee of over $100,000 would cause me a financial hardship.

6) The fee suggested is outrageous in the circumstances and is designed to prevent relevant records being disclosed

7) The request for a 10 month extension of time and the justification for doing so is ridiculous and is designed to prevent relevant records being disclosed in a timely manner.

8) Clearly the City’s filing system is deficient and I should not be required to pay out outrageous sums of money because of that fact

9) It is not credible that the number of records, 57,729, is the true number for questions that are relatively narrow in scope. It appears as if the Head asked for every Tunnel document to be disclosed rather than relevant ones. This same issue arose between me and the City in Order #ORDER MO-1839 where I alleged that hundreds of unresponsive documents were provided. [Note in that case, but unlike in this case, a description of all of the records retrieved and their source was provided so that an informed decision could be made]

10) The City has not conducted a reasonable search for records responsive to the request since it is absolutely inconceivable that the Mayor would only have 30 records that are responsive to my questions when he is the main negotiator and Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission. The number of relevant documents is highly suspect as well.

In my submission, it would be fair and equitable for the fee to be waived or reduced significantly for the following reasons:

1) The results would be of value to the Community since the Tunnel is, in the words of the Mayor “a strategic asset” that could be worth a considerable amount of money if it is being managed and operated properly. It appears, from the small amount of information disclosed publicly to date as if the Tunnel may have not been managed properly given the huge drop in traffic and revenues, the massive cost over-runs and the security problems. Clearly there is a need to shed light on what is happening and obviously the response by the City shows that it is not prepared to do so. I would expect to disclose relevant information to the public thereby saving other citizens costs of application under the Act.

2) The fee amount is outrageous and excessive---spending 1060 hours to retrieve records does not appear to be reasonable on its face considering that the records requested are limited in scope. It appears that I am also being double-charged for searching and preparation time. NO proper breakdown has been provided whatsoever to justify those costs. As has been stated in a decision under the Act “In my view, a requester must be provided with sufficient information to make an informed decision regarding payment of fees, and it is the responsibility of the head to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the fees estimate is based on a reasonable understanding of the costs involved in providing access. Anything less, in my view, would compromise and undermine the underlying principles of the Act.” Respecting copying, we would only want copies of relevant documents.

3) Clearly, this is a matter of public concern involving both public health and safety. One of the issues respecting the border crossing is the effect of truck fumes and pollutants on the population. That the Tunnel spews unscrubbed air into the downtown of Windsor is shocking since it appears that no provision was made to clean the air in the Tunnel ventilation building improvements. Moreover, the City has just passed a new Environmental Master Plan. Information is needed forthwith regarding the “unique” security risk of the Tunnel and what steps, if any, have been taken to correct the problem.

4) Dissemination of the records will benefit public health or safety since citizens will be more aware of what discussions the City has had and what the impact would be of any such discussions. Citizen involvement has been sadly lacking to date on the border file---only ONE public meeting where citizens could appear as delegations with the rest of the City actions being taken in secret, in camera sessions by the Mayor and Council. The more information available to citizens, the better the decision-making will be. The dissemination would contribute meaningfully to the development of understanding of important public health and safety issues. I would expect to disclose relevant information to the public.

5) The waiver or reduction of the fee would not shift an unreasonable burden of the cost of access from me to the City since I would be the one going through the documents in detail and would pick out the relevant ones. There would not be a significant interference with the operations of the institution. It would appear that at most, that several hours of work per department would be required to pull the relevant files.

I would adopt the following language as part of this submission [emphasis added]:
Appeals M-9400584 and M-9400585
Board of Education for the City of York
“... [T]he Board should be aware that government organizations across the province are now regularly receiving access requests regarding the expense accounts of senior officials. This is part of a trend where members of the public are seeking to hold institutions of all types more accountable for the expenditure of tax dollars. That being the case, I would strongly encourage the Board to reassess the manner in which it maintains its expenditure related records so that these documents can be retrieved more easily and at a minimal cost to requesters.

I share this view, but would take it one step further. I believe it's time for all government organizations to make expenditure-related information routinely available to the public. Such information should include the expenses incurred by senior officials for which they will be reimbursed by the organization. In my view, this "routinely available" approach has equal application to all general records held by government.

For some government organizations a move in this direction will mean rethinking the way in which they maintain expenditure and expense-related information and other general records. I see this as a positive step and one which has advantages for both government organizations and the public...

In addition, in my view, the idea that a member of the public could be asked to pay up to $25,000 to find out how a public institution spends tax dollars is at direct odds with the fundamental purpose of all freedom of information laws - accountability to the public. Such circumstances represent a clarion call for fresh approaches.

At a time when the financial resources available to public organizations continue to decline, the need for creativity in the administration of programs is even more pressing. Freedom of information is no exception - there are straightforward, inexpensive solutions.

For example, I'm aware of a mayor of a sizeable Ontario city who has a copy of each of his expense statements placed in a file available to anyone who asks for this information. This is a low-tech, inexpensive way to respond to inquiries from the public for this type of information. But its simplicity hides a fundamental truth. This mayor clearly recognizes that this type of information should be readily available to the public as an integral part of the day-to-day business of the city.

For me, it is the attitude demonstrated by this mayor toward the public's right of access to information that is the key to achieving a vibrant, cost-efficient freedom of information system in Ontario. This mayor has thought about the public's right of access to information, as well as the type of information in which the public is likely to be interested.

I would also refer your attention to the decision of ORDER MO-1839. It is the same strategy used by the City all over again.

Yours very truly,

Bambi 2: What If They Do Not Defer

I see that the fight over Bambi is coming to Council again. You remember, the City wanted to sell Superior Park for a French High School. [Blog August 08, 2006 Who Is Killing Bambi]

This time, however, Administration is seeking a 90 day deferral so that the neighbourhood can be consulted, including a public meeting. Of course, the first time this matter was in front of Council a quick decision was required by Administration---there was even a deadline by which the deal had to be done or else. Now Administration wants to have a "proper and thorough consultation" when before they did not want any. Amazing what a few residents and a BLOG can do.

I was shocked by the turnabout and got to wondering what if this is just a setup. Here the poor Community is being lulled into a false sense of security thinking that the matter will be deferred. As was said by Administration: "It is always Council's decision on whether or not to defer, taking into consideration the administrative report. Normally Council does approve the deferral especially when it is being requested for the purpose of further public input."

What if this is not a "normally" situation---whammo, the community is not heard, the park is sold and a high school is built without one public hearing whatsoever and with no consultation as is required.

The Community is counting on their Ward 1 Councillor, Councillor Brister, to protect them. And why not? After all, according to Gord Henderson, isn't Councillor Brister the hero of the day who would fight to ensure that the park is not sold.

Well Gord's column troubled me a lot. The whole reason the issue got to Council in the first place is because a Resolution was passed in secret in an in camera session. Guess who moved that motion instead of killing it---Gord's hero, Councillor Brister.

So the Councillor has to scramble hard. Gord wants the park saved, the residents want the park saved and it's an election year. The Councillor's advice to residents "I would still suggest that you prepare for the 5th as a precaution" to me is very suspicious. It's as if he is giving them a warning without telling them that. He better get it deferred.

If the park is sold before the election, he could be in big trouble politically. But wait, there may be an answer. The Councillor should thank Gord and the ex-Mayor for it. Why Councillor Brister tried to save the park didn't he as we read in Gord's column? "I warned the residents to prepare. It's not my fault," Councillor Brister will fume in another Henderson column. "The other Councillors did it. They wanted to sell-out the residents, not I. What could I do? I am just one Councillor out of ten. I have no authority, I have no clout."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

And Another Day

I was contacted by the Privacy Commissioner's Office so they have received the Appeal. That should be an interesting process but long and time-consuming as well if my past experience is a guide.

Is It Au Revoir to Gridlock Sam

Is it finally the end of the road for Sam Schwartz in Windsor? If so, what will the Mayor and Council say when confronted by citizens who elected them to find a border solution? Sam was their only hope!

You remember Sam Schwartz don't you, the author of the famous Schwartz Report on the border. You have not heard a lot about him for some time.

He was the world famous traffic guru; the man who helped coin the word "Gridlock." He was the traffic engineer who could deliver a pitch with the best of them and who dared us to THINK BIG as only a New Yorker could.

His Report became Windsor's Holy Grail. Whatever our problem was, Schwartz was the answer. His Report was the salvation that the Mayor and Council needed to demonstrate that they knew what to do on the border. "Schwartz, Schwartz, Schwartz" was their rallying cry. It became simple for them. Just mention the Report and that would keep everyone quiet it was hoped.

Without going through the gory details, the Report was undercut by our Mayor on Detroit TV two days after it was issued when Eddie conceded that the Bi-national was the decision-maker. From receiving a standing ovation to the report being ripped apart shortly thereafter, it became clear that the Report was more a political document than an engineering one. When the Report became a "starting point" for the City after months of Eddie trying to sell it unsuccesfully and then Cansult tore out the guts of it, we knew that it was over.

Sam had a couple of last hurrahs. Frankly one was an embarrassing one as far as I was concerned at the Joint Councils meeting in Detroit and then at the Council meeting in Tecumseh. But the fire was gone. He just went through the paces it seemed.

My understanding is that Sam Schwartz of Canada, Ltd. required a Certificate of Authorization to engage in the business of offering and providing professional engineering services to the public. As I have posted before, Marko Paranosic left Sam's office and joined Stantec in Kitchener. I have been advised that:
  • "When the only engineer of a CofA chooses to leave his/her current employment, or if a member is “Lapsed/Resigned/Retired or even Deceased”; as per the Professional Engineering Act and Regulations the CofA has to be suspended, and the CofA holder is given certain amount of time to pursue finding a suitable replacement for the departing P. Eng., which is the case of Sam Schwartz of Canada ltd. as of the yesterday [August 30]."
What does it all mean to us? Will Sam find a replacement or will he let his Certificate lapse? Who is Windsor's expert now? Whose name does the Mayor use to impress others and whom does Eddie drag along to meetings? Why would Marko leave and Sam not replace him if there was still work to do? Will Sam get another chance to make some money or is the office closed except for face-saving purposes?

Clearly we are hearing less and less of Schwartz and more of "quality of life" and tunnels. Since they failed miserably with Schwartz, Eddie and Council need to pretend that they are accomplishing something when in reality they have achieved little. The failure is overwhelmingly disastrous for us since they had all of the key players eating out of their hands when they were first elected. The Senior Levels and the Americans waited on us, wanting to know what we wanted and we were let down by our leaders. In a few simple words, the Mayor and Council blew it and blew it badly.

They disappointed the people that elected them and did it in the most outrageous manner possible. The people elected on a platform of open and transparent government hid everything from us on the border issue and they still are.

We are worse off now than we were three years ago. Windsor has no position; we just posture. We react to what others do as before and are no longer proactive. We have given up. We are worn out. We wonder why no one listens to us. We have no friends and have become isolated. We have no one around whom we can rally since we no longer have the trust. There are no innovative ideas from Council, no solutions. It is just hanging on and hoping it can all be kept quiet until after the election.

To be quite direct about it, I think that Eddie knew he lost early on or perhaps never cared since he is focusing on the Tunnel so much. I think Schwartz was meant to divert people's attention away from the Tunnel and Eddie's Plan. Frankly, I think Eddie secretly hoped that the Senior Levels would get fed up and impose a solution on Windsor. Then it would NOT be his fault and no one could be angry at him or blame him for THEIR decision. He could still be our hero tilting at windmills.

What has it all come down to--the Made in Windsor border solution will be made by Transport Canada and the Bridge Company, probably sooner rather than later. And you know what, I think most Windsorites would welcome it now.

So au revoir Sam if you decide to go. You gave us one brief shining moment that evening at the Cleary. You made us feel good and gave us hope until reality set back in much too quickly.

Has Youth Deserted Eddie

It's a good thing that there may be no mayoral race this year or Eddie could have been in real trouble.

There is no doubt, after watching Kwame get re-elected by capturing the youth vote in Detroit, that the E-machine decided to go after that vote in Windsor. Ergo the Youth Committee.

Another Devonshire Mall Town Hall meeting was held recently and the results were not good from the perspective of youth. But from the Mayor's perspective, they may have been perfect!

We learned that:
  • "Turnout sparse at youth forum
    The mayor was listening, but not a lot of kids were talking.

    Only about 40 teens turned out for Eddie Francis's second youth town hall meeting at the Devonshire Mall on Thursday night...

    Organized by the mayor's youth advisory committee, the gathering had been billed as a sequel to the youth town hall meeting Francis held in October 2005, which drew an estimated 150 teens."

But every good politician can find an excuse why something did not turn out as expected:
  • "Francis said he wasn't disappointed by the small crowd, adding he was surprised the event attracted the audience that it did, considering the day of the week and the summer season."
DUH!!!! If the Mayor expected that the crowd would be small, then why was the meeting held at this time of the year and not when it would be convenient for youth to attend? Was it really an opportunity to listen or just to get another checkmark on the Mayor's Report Card. The smaller the crowd, the less likely that too many tough questions would have to be fielded as well.

Whoever schedules meetings in the Mayor's Office ought to be fired. First postponing the Mayor's Summit because it was right before a holiday weekend, then another Mayor's meeting a few days after the Labour Day holiday and now this fiasco of holding a meeting when people will not be there.

You'd almost think that these meetings are held just for publicity purposes and for the photo-op only to pretend that something was being done when there is no desire to do so.

There And Here Along The 401

Can we really take any more bad news? The possible loss of 1,000 Ford jobs won't help either. Do you see anyone caring or trying to do something to stimulate our economy?

LONDON, August 9, 2006 –

July home starts in the London Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) hit the highest monthly starts level in eighteen years, according to preliminary figures released by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) today. Two high-rise rental apartment developments totaling 394 units drove total July housing starts through the roof to 616 units, up 150 per cent from the same month a year earlier. Single-detached home construction softened to 190 home started, down seven per cent from 204 homes a year ago. Year-to-date single detached home starts, however, are eight per cent ahead of those started over the January to July period last year.

“London builders have accelerated the development of high-rise projects in anticipation of demand for apartments from empty-nesters and those seeking locations closer to city amenities,” said Penny Wu, CMHC’s London Market Analyst. “Apartment home starts are forecast to hit their highest level in more than a decade this year.”

WINDSOR, August 9, 2006 –

According to data released today by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), total housing starts in the Windsor Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) fell to 55 units, down from the 157 units started in July 2005. Total starts for the first seven months of this year were 16 per cent lower than last year.

“July’s level of housing starts fell well below the 10 year average in Windsor,” said Margot Stevenson, Market Analyst for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. “A high Canadian dollar which has negatively affected the exports and tourism sectors is contributing to less demand for new housing in Windsor,” added Stevenson.

Single starts in the Windsor area totaled 49 units last month, down 57 per cent from July 2005. Multiple starts which consisted of six semi-detached units, were 86 per cent lower than one year earlier.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Another Day Passes

I'll post my appeal papers on Friday (unless some other more exciting story takes its place). It will give you something to read over the long holiday weekend

$30 Million Tunnel Plaza Money Saved

Whew, taxpayers have just been saved $30 Million! I read in the Star today that "Despite concerns over security, the Windsor tunnel commission has pushed for vehicles heading toward Detroit to again begin lining up inside the underwater border crossing." Obviously the massive traffic jams in the downtown caused by the theft of the South Windsor Art Gallery work of art "Take The Tunnel" has caused the WTC and its Chair Mayor Eddie Francis to reconsider their approach.

I read an article where Neil Belitsky of the Detroit and Canada Tunnel Corporation said "“911 was in a sense a good wake-up call,” says Belitsky. “It really has caused all of us to have a balance between safety, security and facilitating traffic. ” The article also said that "Immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the tunnel corporation stopped vehicle queuing inside the tunnel. Today, a cap is placed on the number of vehicles allowed in the tunnel to ensure quick and efficient traffic flow." Obviously, the traffic jams downtown in the mornings mean that this plan no longer works.

You know that the new $30M Tunnel Plaza Improvement project was designed supposedly to get cars off of City streets ie it was for a giant parking lot that would be achieved by expropriating all kinds of property downtown. I was told at the last meeting held about the project that the new Tunnel Plaza area would hold about 165 vehicles.

So I did some math. I took the length of a 2007 Cadillac Escalade at 222 inches (I figured that was a big vehicle) and multiplied it by 165 and got an answer of 3052.5 feet. Considering that the Tunnel length is 5160 feet (which means it can hold about 279 vehicles), I figured that our Tunnel problem is now solved without spending $30 million of taxpayer money.

I also figured that the Tunnel volume in 1999 was 50% higher than it was today and the Tunnel functioned. Since the Tunnel Plaza improvement project was to allow 50% more vehicles to be processed, we were ok too. In other words, 50% more traffic using today's numbers would equal the volume that was handled in 1999. No need to build more when we know that the Tunnel can handle around 10 million vehicles, not the 6 or 7 million today.

Why then were we having these traffic problems? Oh stop being so cynical for heaven's sake. I know, I know---if we did not have backups on City streets, how could we convince the Senior Levels to fork over $20M to eliminate backups on City streets. If we had no backups, that would mean Windsor would have had to finance the Tunnel Plaza Improvements out of taxpayer pockets to feed Eddie's grand Plans. The Tunnel would have been less attractive to investors too which also would be a main concern of the Mayor.

The reality is that, when Reverse Customs is introduced at the border crossings, the City would need all of the land and space to handle the inspections on our side and we as Windsorites would have had to pay for it all. The new Plaza is designed for reverse customs!

Can we thank the Mayor for being so clever so as to one-up the Senior Levels and not cost us money? The answer is NO! He was too clever for our good. Had he negotiated the deal and said why he wanted it, the Senior Levels would have paid up to pretend that the three levels were now getting along. Don't you remember have lovey-dovey everyone was when the Phase 1 Agreement for the border crossing was signed 2 years ago. We are now at risk of losing the Senior Levels' money since Eddie's justification for the improvements is no longer there.

Why would Eddie not negotiate in the way that made sense you ask----simple. If he advocated for reverse customs at the time, the Bridge Co. would have had it in operation by now since they had advocated for reverse customs for years. They would have had reverse customs long before the Tunnel did meaning the Tunnel would be even worse off financially. Eddie had to buy time but in doing so he risked us losing $20 million. In passing, are the $300M BIF funds at risk?

One more bit of information for you to put things in a context. The Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association (BTOA) is an organization consisting of all international bridge and tunnel operators across the Ontario/Michigan/New York border. BTOA has a "seven-point action plan to address security and travel efficiency experience since September 11 at Canada/U.S. border crossings." It includes reverse customs inspection procedures which our Mayor as WTC Chair should have known about and for which he finally advocated recently.

Until their plan was implemented "To ensure the safety of all their customers, the BTOA members unanimously agree to strict traffic management protocols. ..all members will continue to restrict bridge/tunnel volumes to levels that can immediately flow across facilities. The goal is to avoid having vehicles sitting on bridges or in tunnels."

What that exactly means is obviously open to interpretation. Because of the mess downtown, WTC has been forced to rethink its interpretation. I wonder if the City-retained Gridlock Sam whose City, New York, runs tunnels would take the same position as did the WTC in restricting traffic? I wonder if the WTC interpretation there would have meant traffic gridlock in NYC. If it was not the NYC view, and they are at ground zero for risks, then one has to wonder about Windsor's position and the reasons for it.

It's fine. You may add cynical to my list of personal, descriptive adjectives.

What Do Buses And An Arena In Windsor Have In Common

It should be an easy answer if you have been reading the newspaper recently.

Windsorites have lost something when Councillor Zuk decided not to run for office again. Oh, I don't mean a voice on Council. Who cares about that since Council is so ineffectual. No, I mean we may never see her do her little dance downtown and now it appears that her funky Bus Terminal is in big trouble.

In Saturday's Star, we read that "Skyrocketing construction costs have been showing up in bids such as the city's new downtown transit terminal, which came in recently at $1 million more than expected... The terminal building would be in the range of $3 million. But the lowest bid that came in -- from Gulf Construction -- was $4,181,174." In other words a Megaproject that is about 40% overbudget, so far! Pretty typical for many governmental projects it seems

Go back and read the story again and this time replace the bus terminal with an East end arena. You know, the $55 million palace that the City wants to build and operate alone that really costs $75-80 million when you add in land and architect's fees. I have heard that the East end arena is almost a done deal (IF it gets done at all) so the Toldo and Rosati families should give up gracefully now and save their money. Why be embarrassed when Administration shoots their project down.

But we all know that the project will not come in at the cost expected. If it is 40% higher, then we are looking at an arena project that will be over $100 M by the time it is done. Do you really think that the new Council will go for that when the two families would have built a Raceway arena for a maximum City contribution of $15M! See, it won't be Eddie's fault but that of Council if we do not get an arena. And I wonder if the Casino would be upset at not having a competitor too.

Can you imagine the amount that a new "public" bridge would be over budget by the time it was completed? And if a tunnel was involved too as the Mayor wants, I just hate to think about it. Just for your information, here is the standard form of excuses that can be used for every Megaproject when the high cost comes in. I have taken the comments from the bus terminal article:

  1. inflated cost of building materials drives up the price of projects
  2. contractors are being kept busy with work elsewhere
  3. major projects have have drained the number of construction workers and skilled tradesmen available to do municipal projects
  4. raw material is at a premium eg price of copper has quadrupled
  5. the project could not be completed -- using the high-end materials the city wanted -- for the amount the city had in mind so many contractors did not bid.
  6. the budget estimate set in 2000 was too low for 2006 costs.

So have you figured out the answer to the question I posed?

What they have in common is "TERMINAL." Buses have a terminal (or maybe not in Windsor) and the arena is terminal.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Appeal Has Been Filed

I will be posting the appeal notice in the next few days. I want it delivered first to Toronto to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner before I show it here.

It is all a waste of time and effort. There is information that should come freely from City Hall but instead we have to play games. It is discouraging but then again, what should one expect from an Administration that claims to be open and transparent when the reality is otherwise. C'est la vie!

If you want a good chuckle, read the story in the City's summer 2006 Newsletter about "Listening to the Community---Windsor City Council and I are committed to open, accessible government and public consultation." Tell me if what is described is just "one-way" communications because that is how it reads to me: we open up to them and they close up to us.

The Tunnel: Isn't It Ironic

I almost burst out laughing when I saw the Star story that the deal between the City of Detroit and the Bridge Co. is still "in the works." After all of this time and all of this effort, our Mayor may be partnered with the Bridge Co. after all.

If I were a Detroit Councillor, I may not be too happy right about now. In fact, I might even ask for the forgiveness of the Deputy Mayor, Anthony Adams, for daring to question him! He may be right in what he did after all.

The previous Detroit deal with the Bridge Co. that is still on the table might start looking better and better now after the last few months of Tunnel surprises. Has the value of the Tunnel been sharply decreased over the last few months so that whatever Detroit receives is much less now than before? If other possible investors may now be thinking twice about the Tunnel, does that mean that the Bridge Co. price will go down as well? What if the Bridge Co. walks away?

Now Detroit Council members will learn what we have seen over the last 3 years. Our Mayor is strong on talk but short on delivery.

It sounded pretty good at the Joint Councils meeting about the $6.6 million per year dividend that Windsor receives from Tunnel operations and how we ought to work together on a joint operation. However, we learned the other week that this dividend is just about gone now and that the WTC might have to borrow millions from the City. Isn't it amazing how quickly that dividend disappeared!

In passing, thank goodness that Councillor Halberstadt asked the questions at Council the other night or the public would not have known about this. I wonder if this is part of the Tunnel misery that Councillor Budget knew about over a year ago but refused to tell us. Quite a contrast in Councillor styles and informing the public that voters might want to remember on Election Day.

We have learned that traffic volumes have decreased sharply even with low Windsor toll pricing with border crossers using the bridge. Since 1999, the Tunnel's volumes have declined from 9.6 million vehicles to about 6 million in 2005. Revenues have decreased by a third, declining every year from about $18M to $12M since 1999. Cost overruns on the Tunnel Ventilation Building have increased the price from $13M to over $20M. Major changes will have to be made because of security concerns. And the Tunnel Plaza Improvement parking lot joke....$30M although the Senior Levels might pay 2/3 of it.

I hear now that there has been an audit of the Windsor Tunnel Commission. That report should be published immediately so that taxpayers and Detroit Council can know what the shape of the WTC is.

There is not much more to say. The Tunnel news is all bad for Windsor and now for Detroit.

I wonder what the deal will be this time around. A new "public" bridge would NOT improve the Tunnel future since it would provide additional competition. Wouldn't it be hilarious if the two City governments and Transport Canada are forced to beg the Bridge Co. to take over the operation of the Tunnel before it becomes a total mess.

Now that would be ironic, don't you think!

Monday, August 28, 2006

I Will Appeal

I am sure it is no surprise but I will be filing an appeal in this matter.

The fact that there is such silly games-playing makes me very suspicious as to what is there that I am not supposed to see!

I will post the appeal document after it has been filed.

Stolen Artwork Recovered; Border Back To Normal

Windsor Police Services confirmed that the stolen work of art from the South Windsor Art Gallery has been recovered and rehung on the wall of the E C Row underpass on Dougall Ave on Friday. The mural titled, "Take The Tunnel," had been on display for several months until it was stolen from the Art Gallery under mysterious circumstances.

Once the announcement was officially made, US Customs immediately reduced the level of security at border crossings across Canada and traffic is now flowing freely.

Because of a secret, joint Canadian-American protocol, the borders had been locked down in the event that the thieves tried to smuggle the work of art out of Canada. A representative from US Customs stated that they were "pleased to be able to assist their friends south of the border down Windsor way and hoped that tourists and truckers were not inconvenienced too much by traffic delays."

We expect that Eddie Francis, Mayor of Windsor and Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission must be relieved now. Tunnel traffic had been reduced drastically after the mural was stolen since visitors were looking for directions to take them to the border crossing. Apparently, many of them got lost and wound up at the Ambassador Bridge where the two-way tolls are lower anyway. It seems that many of them confused the Bridge Co. advertising billboard on Dougall with the work of art and went to the Bridge instead.

A Police spokesperson to refused to divulge any details of the recovery other than to state that the investigation was ongoing. The spokesperson did confirm however that the WTC did provide a reward of the 2 paper tokens to use the Tunnel for border crossing to an anonymous informant who provided the vital clues that resulted in the recovery. Arrests of the criminals is expected soon if they have not already fled the country

An artist at a local educational institution said it is not at all unusual for famous pieces of art to be stolen for rich collectors who want the work of art to be hung in their own private gallery. He was shocked however at the apparent lack of security at the South Windsor gallery. "Here we have masterpieces created and the City cannot afford proper surveillance," he fumed. He said that his information was that the robbery took place in broad daylight with the thieves disguised as workers. "Not one person thought to call police. How shocking! The genius behind the plan obviously gambled that no one would say a thing."

Keep tuned to this BLOGsite for further details as the story unfolds

Did CRASH Crash

CRASH (City Residents Against Super Highway), and Choosetunneling sponsored a rally last week to protest "against the above ground DRIC Talbot/Huron Church corridor superhighway proposal." Of course it is merely a proposal so far but I assume the groups are rallying proactively so that this solution will not be chosen.

According to their press release, "Hundreds of flyers and thousands of e-mails have been delivered in co-ordination by the organizers within the past three weeks." If the numbers of people who came out are an indication, then one may question whether "There has been strong positive feedback and a high level of participation interest from neighbouring concerned residents."

If so, then the City Hall strategy of trying to shift voter attention away from the DRIC road to something elese, anything else, to preserve incumbent electability may also have failed miserably. The Schwartz Report did not work and now this brainstorm may not have captured the support of Windsorites as expected. Wards 1 and 2 Councillors may have a much more difficult time against their opponents when they try to explain exactly what they have accomplished over 3 years on the border file.

Here are some comments from an observer of the rally that was sent to me:

  • To those who didn't know what it was all about, the rally would remain a mystery.
  • Residents were at four different corners and I counted perhaps a total of about 70 people combined.
  • Most had signs with "Stop DRIC", and "CRASH" and some others handwritten and hard to read.
  • There was some horn honking but certainly not the response that I think the organizers wanted.
  • Curiously, at the corner by the outlet mall there were a small group of people proposing ChooseTunneling/DRTP
  • Leave the kids at home. Sure animals and kids make for good TV but not appropriate at a rally. Or if you do bring them, watch them!

The reality that we learned at STOPDRTP early on in our struggle was that "quality of life" arguments do not work. No one in power cares frankly. How can one make a reasoned environmental argument against expressways when Highway 401 has a gazillion lanes as it goes through Toronto and people live beside it as they do with the Interstate expressways in Detroit. Even Ottawa has Highway 417.

What is needed are "economic" arguments to justify one solution over another. That is why in the end DRTP could never make it because it made no sense from an economic perspective and a new bridge is also doubtful economically. No government is going to spend billions in Windsor and set a precedent by putting a new road underground. No Government can afford another Big Dig either. When trucks are going to have devices that reduce hazardous emissions to virtually zero and with new fuels coming out, the argument for spending billions on a tunnel are hard to make.

As for economic arguments, Choosetunneling has not yet provided a convincing argument that there is an economic advantage to building a tunnel. In fact, it seems to be a breakeven proposition using their numbers. They claim "2.5 BILLION DOLLARS of calculated negative impact damage on Windsor and its residents (over 50 years), if an above grade route is built instead of tunneling." A tunnel would probably cost that much or more by the time it is built!

Notwithstanding Council's scare-mongering campaign, the Mayor's Eddie-come-lately conversion to tunnels and the big turnout at the Tecumseh Council meeting, the groups have NOT been able to capture so far the hearts and minds of even their own community in my opinion.

I expect that the reason for that is easy to explain. The people along the corridor and the neighbouring subdivisions chose to buy a house there. They have lived with the trucks for years already. They just do not believe that their lives will be that much worse if the truck expressway is built and in fact their quality of life may well be improved.

All that most people wanted to know was whether their house was going to be expropriated. When they found out they were OK, they went back to their normal life. The border no longer was a concern to them.

As for Choosetunneling's head, one wonders if success similar to that of Councillor Brister's success, in being elected after getting all of the high-profile publicity as Chair of STOPDRTP, will rub off on him. Ironically he is campaigning for election in Ward 1 against Councillor Brister.