Why I Don’t Support the LRT Through St. Albert

LRT photo: LRT LRT.jpgThere are a variety of reasons why I don’t support funding the LRT alignment study unlike my council colleagues: Nolan Crouse, Cathy Heron and Wes Brodhead. My reasons for opposing spending money on the LRT all come back to basic common sense premises that can be summarized into three arguments.

Flawed Procedure
The motion put on the table was to spend $500,000.00 on a Site Allocation Study to determine the most viable route for LRT across St. Albert. However, no feasibility study to determine whether an LRT was even a feasible project for a city of our size has ever been completed. Since it is an elementary business practice to first determine whether a capital project is feasible before you decide to expend public money on such a project, I was not prepared to vote in favor of this expenditure on that ground alone.

Edmonton has not constructed any LRT line to St. Albert and for this obvious reason spending money on engineering studies for a proposed route through St. Albert is at best very premature. The motion calls for roughly $500,000.00 to be spent on planning a proposed route from the theoretical LRT terminus south of the Superstore and proceeding north to the Wal-Mart along St. Albert Trail. Why would we not wait until the LRT line is already at our doorsteps before spending money to plan a route through St. Albert?

This question really bothers me, especially since there is currently no federal or provincial funding for this potential Edmonton – St. Albert connection. In fact, the provincial and federal governments have told the City of Edmonton that there isn’t enough money available to complete the southeast LRT line that Edmonton is currently working on. Why would we expect to have the North LRT line built and ready to be extended through St. Albert any time soon when the Edmonton Southeast line has run out of funds?

There is no money promised or allocated from either the provincial or federal government for a St. Albert LRT line, nor is there any indication that the City of Edmonton is ready, willing or able to construct an LRT line to St. Albert’s borders. Why spend $500K for an LRT study when the most likely conclusion is that the LRT will not be coming to St. Albert for a very long time…if ever?

Economies of Scale
St. Albert is a community of roughly 60,000 people and the proposed LRT route from the Superstore to the Wal-Mart is approximately 8 kilometers for a total cost of 1.2 billion dollars (based on the current cost/km that Edmonton is paying for their LRT expansion). In terms of cost per household or per person this translates into roughly $50,000 per house using an estimate of 24,000 dwellings in St. Albert. Yes, that’s right, $50,000 per household or nearly $20,000 per person in St. Albert. This would become the most costly LRT per capita in North America to date and most likely for the entire globe. This would also be larger than a decade’s worth of the current budget for the City of St. Albert! Clearly the cost and scope of this project is far too large for a small city like St. Albert. The cost of constructing an LRT through St. Albert is simply too expensive for the size of the City of St. Albert and based on current growth rates our city will still be too small for at least another 100+ years.

I would only reconsider the possibility of voting to proceed with anything to do with an LRT line through St. Albert if the following condition precedents were met:

(1) a feasibility study was completed and it was established that this huge capital project is feasible for a city the size of St. Albert;
(2) there was some guarantee that Edmonton was going to build an LRT to St. Albert along with a proposed timeline for completion; and
(3) the provincial and/or federal governments have committed to providing substantial funds to assist in covering the cost of building the St. Albert LRT line.

To date these condition precedents have not been met.

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Land Use Planning why it is important and who gets a say?

City council has three scopes of authority that can impact your life: Bylaws, budgets and land use planning. Bylaws determine what you can and cannot do, budgets determine how much money the city needs from you and land use planning determines what your home and neighborhood will look like.
Aerial photograph, 2 Jun. 1975
Land use planning has been a passion of mine for some time now. In my opinion, it is what differentiates St. Albert from most other communities. Most communities make use of the Clarence Perry Neighborhood unit, however I believe St. Albert has perfected its application. Curvilinear roads, boulevards with trees, proper setbacks, and abundant parks/green spaces are just a few examples of how St. Albert has become the city we know and love. When you were looking for your home you were probably looking at a home you could afford in a neighborhood you liked, perhaps one with schools or parks nearby or one with good road access. How we plan our land use affects how much our city costs to govern and maintain, thus in a sense land use planning predetermines budgets and bylaws. This is why good land use planning a key success factor for St. Albert. Land use planning, and the decisions that have been made in the past, is often a large part of the reason you decided to move here and it is the reason you are willing to stay here and pay nearly double the property taxes of a comparable home next door in Edmonton.

Since land use planning is so important, it is imperative to determine who gets to have a say in this planning. Some people will state that land use planning should be left to the sole purview of public employees or experts in the field as they have the knowledge to make the best decisions. Other people will often state that developers should have the primary say in land use planning, after all it is their money that is being invested. Lastly, some people figure that the St. Albert residents should have the final say as it is these residents who have invested their money to live in St. Albert and who are going be directly impacted both financially and socially by the land use planning decisions that are made.

Personally, I have always felt that in St. Albert the public should have a say in land use planning. We have some superb historical examples of public involvement in planning, which was a real strength of our community in the past. In my opinion, this strength has been lessened as the public has had less direct involvement and a reduced say in the land use planning happening in their community. Today, our planning system could really be strengthened by including more public involvement. After all, if the public is paying the bills, should they not be entitled to have as much of a say as the developer or the civic employee?

One solution, and my preferred option, is to resurrect our Land Use Planning Commission.

Let me know what you think…

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Interview with Sam

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Taxation and Spending are an Issue

You may have seen the recent editorial arguments between Lynda Flannery of the St. Albert taxpayers Association, members of council, bloggers and editorialists in the local papers. Are there really people in St. Albert that do not think taxation and spending would be an election issue? Taxation and spending is always an issue in any election campaign and seeing how the levels of tax in St. Albert are quite high I would be surprised if this was not an issue.
Affordability and affordable housing has been an issue in St. Albert for quite some time and the level of taxation is directly related to this issue. For me this becomes personal as one of the reasons my mother decided to leave town was to avoid the high levels of property taxation and fees we incur in St. Albert. Moving to Saskatoon to live with my brother was the other part of the equation. Wise public spending is something that folks of all financial means deserve from city council.
Taxation is the number one thing I hear at the doorstep from the average St. Albertan and I don’t expect this to change. This was really hammered home to me a couple of days ago when I knocked on the door of the home where I grew up. It was for sale and recently taken off the market, living there now is a single mother of two girls. I asked her why she was moving and I was curtly told that it was because of the taxes and fees. She could no longer afford to keep up the home and was looking to move to Edmonton. I informed her that this was my childhood home and she gave me a tour. Her home was well kept but need some repairs. It really struck me as unfortunate that she had to move from our great city. I feel that we need to be attracting families like hers to our city and in order to accomplish this we must take the issue of taxation seriously. St. Albert has always benefited from being the number on choice for young families and maintains our strong history of volunteering from seniors. These are the two groups we need to attract and retain to keep our city vibrant and healthy.
My platform outlines three key policies to address this issue.
1. Keep property taxes to a maximum increase of 1.5% for the next 3 years
2. Implement zero based budgeting to seek efficiencies in government
3. Refocus our efforts back to core services, rather than looking for expensive new ideas
I am hopeful that over the long term if these policies are implemented and we bring back to city hall the idea that cost matters, we can continue to attract young families to our great city and enable seniors to enjoy their golden years.

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First Real entry

Now that we are closer to the campaign we have decided to switch over to a more in depth blog, that will enable me to post more articles of greater breadth. I look forward to sharing my ideas with you and getting some feedback as well.

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Cam MacKay Seeks city council seat in St.Albert

For all of you longtime readers until October 18th I have turned this blog over to my son who is seeking a city council seat in St.Albert this coming october 18th, 2010. I have watched him grow up and I have no doubt he will be a fine representative for St.Albert. He has always worked very hard at what he does and has not let success (or failure) go to his head.
Graduating with Paul Kane with honors, achieving a commerce degree from the U of A, serving our country in the military and running his own business are certainly good credentials to bring to city hall.
I watched him grow up and become the father he is today and I wish him all the best. I hope all that read this will give him due consideration this comming October 18th.

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