You may have missed it among the recent Hamilton area news, and you are forgiven if you had, since it involves a city council decision that actually benefited suburban residents.
But last week members of the government issues committee approved a motion in a 10-2 vote that was introduced by Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark and Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge to remove the hated parking meters in their respective communities. Politicians are expected to vote on the recommendation at their March 8 council meeting.
The decision is a dramatic about face after councillors were basically salivating in 2010 in agreement with city parking staff that it was time to establish paid parking in all of the city’s business improvement areas. It was a case at the time of come hell of high water all business areas needed to have paid parking. It was the right thing to do, despite what local BIAs said or thought about it. It was also an attempt by city staff to squeeze every nickel out of suburban downtowns.
And for some politicians, installing paid parking in areas that didn’t have it meant satisfying their own sense of fair play. If commercial areas such as Concession Street, Ottawa Street, Dundas, and the downtown area had paid parking, then why shouldn’t Waterdown, Ancaster, Locke Street, and Stoney Creek.
This was a classic Hamilton initiative of trying to fix a problem where none existed, because of political opportunity, and commercial jealously.
As city parking staff revealed the staggeringly inept revenue numbers after the meters had been installed since July 2010, councillors had no other choice but to scrap the meters. City staff revealed they had expected to raise over $170,000 annually in parking revenues from Waterdown and Stoney Creek. In reality, residents showed how much they liked meters in their downtowns. In Waterdown, $17,700 in revenue was recouped, while in Stoney Creek, just over $35,600 was collected.
But more significantly for Stoney Creek, the local BIA watched in horror as some businesses left the downtown, while others contemplated moving if the meters remained. The vacancy rated skyrocketed from 4 per cent to 12 per cent. The anger among residents in the suburban areas was palpable at how insensitive and out-of-touch they believed the city addressed suburban issues. Advocates for the removal of the meters pointed out how unique both Stoney Creek and Waterdown’s BIAs are from the rest of the city. Yet again, Hamilton concocted a cookie-cutter approach to an issue rather than carefully design proper strategies for each area. This policy reversal is the second time council has united together to respond to former suburban communities’ concerns. The area-rating compromise solution reached in 2011, while not perfect, revealed that councillors from different parts of the city, with specific, and parochial concerns can work in unison towards a common goal.
This new cooperative philosophy among councillors could prove essential as politicians begin debating the merits of rejigging the city’s ward boundaries, which is sure to re-open the emotional amalgamation issues again. And Mayor Bob Bratina has in his sights an idea, not yet clear, of reviewing how amalgamation has impacted residents, and if there is anything that can be done about it.
The realization that councillors and staff blew it, and that Hamilton actually does have some feelings for the suburban residents could go a long way towards establishing that long-waited hope that somehow the former six municipalities can work together to build a better city for all.
Council will also in the future begin debating the merits of rejigging the city’s ward boundaries, which is sure to re-open the emotional amalgamation issues again. And Mayor Bob Bratina has in his sights an idea, not yet clear, of reviewing how amalgamation has impacted residents, and if there is anything that can be done about it.