Calgary’s inaugural Green Line committee meeting went ahead Friday and the committee’s chair put the vision on track immediately.
By the end of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, it seemed that purpose had already been derailed.
Coun. Shane Keating, chair of the committee, and one of the prime drivers behind the Green Line LRT project opened the meeting with a speech of sorts, urging councillors to stay focused on task at hand. This early business took 6 minutes and 48 seconds.
“For the next two-and-a-half months, the strategy is to slow the multiple directions, distractional pulls without understanding of solutions, there’s a need to stop the (inaudible) and focus,” he said, noting that there’s two primary items to nail down.
Keating said they need to nail down financing from all orders of government. Whether there’s flexibility in federal payments and how they’ll manage the change in cash flows from the province.
The other is to save money while resolving technical issues, including in the downtown portion of the line.
“We have to uphold the rider experience, which we often seem to forget,” Keating said.
“That, my friends, is the plan. Let’s not delve into rabbit hole after rabbit hole. We have two and a half months to finalize a plan, and I do mean finalize a plan.”
Keating said he didn’t believe they’d have unanimity among all the councillors on the committee, but he did expect there would be a firm direction forward when they made a recommendation to council.
“It is the responsibility of this community to bring confidence and credibility back to the green line project,” he said.
The Green Line presentation
City of Calgary Transportation GM Michael Thompson took over the meeting from there, updating council on the Green Line project. His presentation was 12 minutes.
There’s wasn’t a great deal new in Thompson’s update, only challenged by the change in the province’s financial capacity. He did say they would be reviewing some of their work and slowing down or pausing some areas to work on core areas.
First blip in Green Line committee meeting
Next up, at the 20-minute mark, Coun. Keating attempts to get a letter from advocacy group LRT on the Green into the public record. He prefaced it by saying that special committees don’t have the requirement for the public to be heard, but he wanted to submit this one.
Coun. Jeff Davison raised a point of procedure.
“It’s probably incumbent on us that if we’re going to submit this here into the public record today that we allow any further submissions to go into the public record,” Davison said.
This led to a two-minute exchange on whether this letter should be accepted for the public record. It was approved, with Coun. Woolley opposed.
Green Line questions anyone?
From the 24:06 mark, there were a variety of questions raised from the committee members.
Public consultation, particularly with businesses in the downtown core, who could possibly be affected by an at-grade option, was a concern to Coun. Druh Farrell.
Farrell asked if they’d considered the property value effect of the different solutions, considering downtown values have been gutted in recent years. GM Thompson indicated they’d done economic work in this area, but not specifically talked with business owners.
“I’m not suggesting a multi-year program. I’m suggesting some quality public engagement, which we seem to be doing less and less of,” Farrell said.
More questions on the project milestones, timeline, areas of work being paused or stopped, and alignment to capture the most ridership.
More talk on public submissions
After 26:20 of Q and A, Coun. Farkas wanted to revisit the issue of public submissions at the 50:26 mark.
“I believe that no longer hearing from the public would be a significant departure from past practice and not the kind of tone that we want to set,” Farkas said, making a motion to the effect.
While councillors appreciated the intent, they said it wasn’t the time for it.
Debate on this lasted until the 1:03:54 when Coun. Farkas’s motion to allow the public to was defeated.
But then it continued. Coun. Sutherland made a motion to listen to the public at the appropriate time. This began at the 1:04:00 mark.
This began a cascade of procedural chatter that ended at the 1:11:14 mark.
Committee’s scope of questions – North route
Coun. Gondek began her questions, asking the chair if Green Line reports will only be directed at Stage 1 (south portion) and then future stages of the project.
Gondek asked about opposition to bringing up anything outside the scope of Stage 1. Keating said he was open to it, but…
“I hesitate, depending on how far that rabbit hole we go. But there is nothing wrong with bringing something forward,” he said. This exchange lasted 1:20.
Coun. Gondek then spoke from 1:12:46 until 1:15:50, with a point of privilege squeezed in from Coun. Farkas over distracting side conversations, before asking a question of GM Thompson.
She asked about costing for a north solution. GM Thompson said they’re working on that internally, so a current, accurate cost could be determined.
“I’m a little concerned that we are not focused on stage two right now. I think saying that focusing on stage two is a distraction is probably part of the reason that stage two is in the situation it’s in,” Gondek said.
What Gondek was able to flesh out of this is that the city is examining options for a potential Bus Rapid Transit option for the north line in the interim.
Q and A continues until the 1:44:39 mark of the meeting.
Green Line committee terms of reference
Coun. Davison began this portion of the meeting. He was looking to establish a set of principles for the Green Line committee. He put forward eight principles as an appendix to the terms of reference that were to address three key areas. Davison suggested work on non-critical areas stopped, they should take a closer look at rider experience and ridership numbers and deliver the best rider experience in the current budget.
With that in mind, he asked for the following:
- Business plan for recommended option
- Best use of funds by delivering value to Calgarians with lower life cycle costs
- Best possible rider experience and ridership numbers
- Costing plan to complete staging options
- Provide cash flow certainty for staging options
- Consider options to split the line and not cross 7 Avenue
- Focus on bringing lifecycle costs down
- Continue review on BRT routes
Coun. Woolley jumped in at the 1:48:14 mark and challenged Davison on calling these principles. Debate on this and bringing in another city person to explain the difference between a business plan and a business case went to the 1:58:37 mark, when Woolley summed it up like this:
“I don’t know that adding very specific direction, on you know, sneaking that into a principles in the terms of reference when this is actually straight up procedure after…” said Woolley.
Point of privilege from Coun. Davison.
“I’m not sneaking anything councillor. Your opinion is fine. I am not trying to sneak anything,” Davison responded.
Terms of reference… continued
The back and forth continued, and others jumped into the debate on whether these were appropriate principles.
It goes until 2:06:42 (17:30) when Coun. Gondek jumps in. She begins to speak, asking to respond to a few things that councillors have brought up.
After again hearing interruptions from fellow councillors, Gondek fires back.
“OK, would you like the mic? Thank you,” she said.
“You know what? Sure, I’ve got nothing to say. My colleagues seem to want to speak on my behalf. Please feel free…”
Point of privilege from Coun. Woolley.
“You don’t have to be so livid all the time Coun. Gondek,” he said.
Chair Keating intervenes.
“We are adults. We can tone down a bit and we can move forward. But we do have to respect the fact that the individual standing has the mic and we, regardless of what you think, it’s not your time, and we do that way too much as a group,” he said.
(Maybe we buried the lede here.)
Coun. Gondek reminds Coun. Woolley that she has one operating ear and when she can only hear side comments from one side, it’s distracting.
“And as far as not being so livid all the time and watching my tone. Wow, I wonder if my male colleagues have ever been called up to that kind of nonsense,” Gondek said.
“I am not impressed. not impressed at all. I can be livid because I wasn’t part of the decision that I believe was made incorrectly back in the day.”
Then talk of an apology, or not getting an apology goes on.
The amendment – to terms of reference
The previous debate slows by 2:11:29. At which point the committee gets back to the term of reference and whether these are principles and if they will override prior terms of reference and project principles.
At 2:13:47, Coun. Sutherland suggests a friendly amendment suggesting that they be called recommendations rather than principles.
Most participants repeat their prior concerns and debate on whether these should be principles (not the principles themselves) until 2:22:44, when there’s talk of an amendment to the amendment.
It’s not until 2:27:07 where there’s a motion to refer the principles (or recommendations) to administration. Forty-two minutes were spent, not on discussing the principles, but whether they should be considered principles at all.
Next meeting date – Moving the Green Line project forward
This starts at 2:28:49. Discussion ends peacefully at 2:31:15.
Next up, at 2:32:00, a motion to adjourn. Immediate.
Out of a possible 152 minutes of Friday’s inaugural Green Line meeting, roughly 71:46 was taken up in non-Green Line related content. Most of the nearly 72 minutes was taken up in procedural matters, personal squabbles or pontification.
Marginal lines could be drawn to some of the debate having pertinence to the Green Line conversation. Little of it moved anything forward.
“I don’t know how this committee is going to accomplish anything, frankly, based on the last two and a half hours,” Coun. Farrell said during the meeting.