On the agenda: Homelessness emergency, Explore Edmonton, public spaces bylaw

· The Pulse

City council continues to meet virtually this week. Council will discuss actions following its declaration of a homelessness emergency, as well as the public spaces bylaw and further financial assistance for Explore Edmonton.

There is a special city council meeting scheduled for Feb. 12. There is a city auditor recruitment committee meeting scheduled for 9:30am on Feb. 13 and a special audit committee meeting scheduled for 1:30pm on Feb. 13. There is a non-regular city council meeting scheduled for Feb. 14, and a city manager and city auditor performance evaluation committee meeting on Feb. 16.

Here are key items on the agenda:

  • A list of potential city actions to alleviate the housing and homelessness challenge includes mandating affordable housing in new developments. Council requested the list at its emergency meeting in January, when it declared a housing and homelessness emergency. Other proposals are to streamline processes, like eliminating public engagement not legally required for affordable housing and emergency shelters, and to allow the city to sole-source providers. Tiny and modular homes, and using underutilized land like surplus school sites for affordable housing, are other ideas. The list is set to be discussed at a special city council meeting on Feb. 12. Council is also scheduled to receive a verbal report on the integrated encampment response.
  • Council is set to examine the public spaces bylaw at a non-regular city council meeting on Feb. 14. The bylaw would replace the current parkland, code of conduct, and public places bylaws. Under the proposed new bylaw, people who panhandle at intersections could be fined $250. Visible drug use would be banned in all public spaces and subject to a fine of at least $500. Bradley Lafortune of Public Interest Alberta said this could lead to more deaths. "If people are not able to use drugs where they feel safe, they're going to use drugs in back alleys, where it's not visible and more people essentially are going to die," Lafortune said. A city survey conducted in 2023 found 89% of respondents were concerned about visible drug use. The proposed bylaw would also increase the fine for cycling on the sidewalk from $100 to $250, and introduce a fine for cycling on grass in parks.
  • Explore Edmonton is requesting nearly $1 million to cover taxes, utilities, and insurance, on top of a $2 million increase to its annual budget to account for inflation, at a special city council meeting on Feb. 12. The corporation's base budget is $11.7 million. It requested a $10 million increase during the fall 2023 supplemental operating budget adjustment, with representatives saying its mandate has grown significantly since the budget was set. If council approves the request, the money would come from the financial stabilization reserve, which is expected to be $35 million below its minimum balance in 2024. This is the second time in two weeks Explore Edmonton has asked for financial assistance. On Feb. 7, councillors at an executive committee meeting recommended the city forgive more than $1 million in Explore Edmonton's unpaid taxes from 2021 and 2022. Councillors will debate forgiving the unpaid taxes at a future council meeting.
A sign that reads "Exploring Edmonton? We'll get you started."

A file photo of an Explore Edmonton sign. The organization is scheduled to request nearly $1 million in additional money at a city council meeting on Feb. 12. (Mack Male/Flickr)

Here are some other agenda items:

  • City council is set to begin readings on a bylaw that would establish a permanent Clean Energy Improvement Program. The program to finance clean energy retrofits and installations has been popular in Edmonton, with funding often running out ahead of schedule. If council approves the bylaw, applicants could receive loans of up to $50,000 for residential projects and $1 million for commercial projects, repaid through property taxes. The program is estimated to cost the city about $20 million over the next four years.
  • Council is scheduled to debate whether it should forgive $73,900, plus associated penalties, in unpaid taxes from Al-Mustafa Academy and Humanitarian Society. Executive committee recommended forgiving the taxes during a previous meeting.
  • A proposed bylaw would increase the maximum amount of taxes that business improvement associations can charge in certain core areas. The maximum would increase from $10,000 to $15,000 in the downtown area, from $7,000 to $7,500 in the Kingsway area, and from $4,000 to $4,100 in the North Edge area. The city said the changes are required to generate sufficient revenues to fund business improvement areas. The bylaw is set to be debated on Feb. 12.
  • Councillors will receive private reports during a special audit committee meeting on Feb. 13, a city auditor recruitment committee on Feb. 13, and a city manager and city auditor performance evaluation committee meeting on Feb. 16.

Meetings stream live on YouTube on the Chamber channel and River Valley Room channel.