The Pulse: Nov. 28, 2023

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  • 6°C: Sunny. Becoming a mix of sun and cloud in the afternoon. High 6. (forecast)
  • Lavender: The High Level Bridge will be lit lavender for Hockey Fights Cancer Night. (details)
  • 7pm: The Edmonton Oilers (7-12-1) play the Vegas Golden Knights (14-5-3) at Rogers Place. (details)

A sign with information about Warehouse Park in a gravel parking lot in downtown Edmonton. A high-rise building is under construction in the background.

Project aims to entice families, spur development

By Stephanie Swensrude

A proposed downtown catalyst project that has been discussed for more than a decade became more real this month, when the city released its preliminary design, including interesting features, for Warehouse Park.

The city describes the project as turning the area just west of downtown, which is currently home to several surface parking lots, into paradise. It budgeted $28 million to acquire several parcels of land north of Jasper Avenue, between 106 and 107 Street, to build the park.

Now, after 18 months of engagement and design work, the city has released its decision to proceed with an organic design option rather than a more formal alternative. This means the future park will feature meandering paths and randomly placed trees, rather than straight paths with uniform trees.

The city has partly designed the 1.81-hectare park to attract families to the neighbourhood, Suzanne Young, the city's director of open spaces planning, told Taproot.

"There is a playground planned for the site, and it'll be located next to the pavilion, which will have washrooms — for young humans, that's always important," Young said. "We'll have child-friendly activities close to that."

The amenity will also feature a basketball court, which, once the snow flies, could be turned into a snowbank rink. "The park itself will have walkways through it, so children can play safely away from traffic, perhaps learn how to ride their bikes on those little pathways," Young added.

The new park design has limited contact with Jasper Avenue. Some residents expressed their desire for the park to extend around the existing Boston Pizza restaurant and adjacent surface parking lot, on Jasper Avenue and 106 Street, to better connect with one of Edmonton's main streets.

The parking lot, located at 10644 Jasper Avenue, is operated by Vibe Parking and offers monthly parking passes for $225 or daily use for less than $15.

Coun. Anne Stevenson, whose Ward O-day'min contains the site for Warehouse Park, said some urban design principles would say an active green space off of a "main street" like Jasper is an important consideration. Still, she said, the choice to leave the corner with a parking lot is not a dealbreaker.

"I think that what helps make parks successful is being surrounded by activity and development," Stevenson said. "So I think what also helps make streets like Jasper Avenue successful is to have that built form — those buildings that are fronting onto the street."

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Headlines: Nov. 28, 2023

By Mariam Ibrahim

  • Postmedia reported that former staffers of Coun. Jennifer Rice have accused her of creating a hostile work environment, with allegations of bullying, yelling, and unrealistic demands leading to an unusually high turnover in her office. City data showed that 19 people have worked for Rice since her election in 2021, which was nearly three times more staff than any other councillor. Postmedia spoke with five former staffers who detailed experiences of verbal abuse, excessive overtime, and impacts on their mental health. Postmedia also detailed parts of an audio recording it obtained of a "tense private meeting" between Rice and two assistants. In a statement, Rice did not address the allegations, but said she has had "wonderful staff who have made many positive contributions." At city hall on Nov. 27, Rice avoided reporters' questions about the allegations. "Right now, my focus is on the budget. That is most important to Edmontonians," she said.
  • Postmedia opinion columnist Keith Gerein wrote that the turnover in Coun. Jennifer Rice's office has been a "poorly guarded secret" at city hall and explains why she has "often struggled to appear on top of council business." If the allegations of bullying, micromanagement, and a focus on style over substance hold true, Gerein argued that Rice must either undergo significant management training and improve her work relationships, or consider resigning her role as councillor for Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi. "The fact that the revolving door in her office has been spinning for two years is a strong indication of dysfunction, and of a leader who is either unwilling or unable to change despite repeated evidence that her approach is counter-productive," Gerein wrote.
  • City council voted on Nov. 27 in favour of a 6.6% property tax rate for 2024, down from the 7.09% administration originally proposed in the budget adjustment. The rate is still higher than the 4.96% council approved when it set the four-year budget last fall. Councillors voted in favour of a list of amendments proposed by Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, which included several cuts that will together save about $8 million annually, along with increased transit funding and more funding to respond to homeless encampments. Council also agreed to put an $8-million EPCOR dividend into a savings fund. Council is expected to finalize the budget process this week.
  • The Alberta Council of Women's Shelters has released a report showing a 10-year-high in calls for help to domestic violence shelters and a lack of shelter space in the province. Between April 2022 and March 2023, 53 domestic abuse shelters answered more than 59,000 calls for help, and were unable to accommodate nearly 30,000 admission requests. Shelters helped about 8,400 people, with nearly half of them children. Executive Director Jan Reimer highlighted the urgent need for community leaders, elected officials, and businesses to work together to address the issue. Reimer noted shelters have not seen budget increases since 2015, despite rising costs and population.
  • Edmonton celebrated local talent in urban design at the Edmonton Urban Design Awards gala on Nov. 24. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi presented awards in eight categories, including civic design, heritage projects, and sustainable urbanism. Among the winners were GEC Architecture for the Edmonton City Hall Plaza and Fountain, and DIALOG for Kinistinâw Park. The Roxy Theatre, designed by Group2 Architecture Interior Design, was honoured with the People's Choice Award, which is chosen by Edmontonians from all submissions.
  • Federal Minister of Citizens' Services Terry Beech spoke with groups in Edmonton on Nov. 27 to promote the Canadian government's Fall 2023 Economic Statement and highlight its clean energy initiatives. Beech said in a release that the government's focus on clean energy offers environmental and economic opportunities, including new investment tax credits for sectors like carbon capture and clean technology, and expanded eligibility for investment tax credits for systems using waste biomass for electricity or heat.
  • The Alberta government invoked the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act for the first time by proposing a resolution in the legislature on Nov. 27 to reject the federal government's clean energy regulations, which aim for a net-zero electricity grid by 2035. Premier Danielle Smith said the goal is unattainable for Alberta and would result in blackouts and high energy costs. If passed, the resolution would direct provincial entities to disregard the federal regulations, and considers establishing a Crown corporation to ensure the province's electricity supply. Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley criticized the move as an "illegal stunt" that threatens investment, rule of law, treaty rights, and climate change efforts.
  • Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid has been named one of the NHL's three stars of the week after leading the league with nine assists and 12 points in four games. McDavid, who is the league's reigning Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Art Ross Trophy, and Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner, has accumulated 25 points in 18 games this season.
Vehicles travel along Anthony Henday Drive under a bleak sky.

UCP bans ring-road radar in Edmonton

By Ashley Lavallee-Koenig

The Alberta government is banning photo radar use on ring roads in Edmonton and Calgary, a decision that contradicts policy it previously rolled out for traffic safety.

The ban goes into effect on Dec. 1, and the province plans to spend the next year removing what it calls "fishing hole" photo-radar locations across Alberta, it said in a Nov. 23 press release.

"The constant reference to the 'fishing holes' makes it sound like these things are here just to try to generate revenue and to do nothing about improving traffic safety," co-host Troy Pavlek said on Episode 243 of Speaking Municipally. "It's strange, given the context of how we got here."

A freeze on new photo-radar sites and their use in speed transition zones was enacted by the then-NDP provincial government in 2019. The UCP government has repeatedly voted to continue this pause, recently adding the condition that cities need to publish data on existing sites so the province can ensure they are there as safety measures, not as cash cows.

Given that the affected locations have been in operation since the safety caveat was added, the City of Edmonton has clearly proven that they existed for safety, Pavlek said. "It strikes me as incredibly disingenuous for the province to ban — arbitrarily — particular roadways, saying that it doesn't contribute to safety, because by their own metrics, they do."

The decision affects Edmonton's 22 photo radar sites along the Anthony Henday ring road, as well as eight along the Stoney Trail in Calgary. The government has said these units can be redeployed to other locations, but only "where they have a safety impact — in school, playground, and construction zones," the news release reads.

Losing the revenue previously gained from these locations will affect both the provincial government and municipalities. "The news release seems to suggest that most of the money goes to the municipalities," said podcast co-host Mack Male — adding that this is not the case.

The provincial government receives 60% of the revenue, dedicating 20% of that portion towards the Victims of Crime fund. The city receives the remaining 40% of the total, which is invested directly into reserve funds for council's traffic safety priorities.

Edmonton is known for its plethora of photo radar locations, but not everyone understands why that's been the case.

"We've done the science," Pavlek said. "We had a University of Alberta study that said that this is necessary for safety in the City of Edmonton, and we've gotten an office of traffic safety that's gotten behind this. It's not an accident that Edmonton has gotten behind photo radar. It's intentionality."

Hear more about the photo radar freeze, and get insight into council's progress on the budget adjustment, issues with electric buses, and the police chief's comments on encampments in the Nov. 24 episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

Photo: The Anthony Henday ring road is 78 kilometres long with 22 photo radar sites, while Calgary's Stoney Trail is 98 kilometres long with eight sites. (formulanone/Flickr)

Two people stand in front of a storefront decorated with yellow balloons and streamers.

Coming up this week: Nov. 27-Dec. 1, 2023

By Debbi Serafinchon

Opportunities this week include a concert in a pedway, hearing stories about well-being on transit, creating a seasonal craft, watching tech startups pitch, and exploring galaxies with nerds.

Find even more things to do in Taproot's weekly roundups. And don't miss Taproot's holiday market roundup.

Photo: Knowsy Fest will bring conversation and connection during pop-up experiences at three transit centres. (Auricle)