Five big decisions for Edmonton city councillors in 2016
Uber, Rossdale and finding a new city manager are just some of the things city council will have to look into in 2016.
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Edmonton city councillors will have a lot on their collective plate in 2016. Here’s a look at some of the big decisions they will have to make this year.
First on council’s agenda and biggest for the taxi industry is finalizing the city’s new rideshare bylaw. Uber has been a contentious issue since it first launched in December 2014 and council gave two readings to a bylaw this past Novermber, but asked for more work before giving it the final sign off.
Coun. Dave Loken said he wants to better understand the impact to the existing taxi industry before he green lights a new bylaw.
“I was very frustrated with the lack of information, the lack of research so I hope they have that for us,” he said.
Coun. Michael Oshry said his fellow councillors have been striving for a perfect solution, but he doesn’t believe they will find one right off the bat.
“We have to make the best decision that we can, knowing we can always tweak it later,” he said.
He said the debate has consumed a lot of council’s time and it’s time to move ahead.
“There is an appetite to get this one done.”
With construction on the southern portion of the Valley LRT line set to get underway council will have to decide where the system will go next at some point this year.
The federal Liberals promised large investments in public transit that could help the city continue building LRT. The Valley Line’s western extension from downtown out to West Edmonton Mall and Lewis Estate is generally considered next on the city’s priority list, but the city could also extend the Metro Line into northwest Edmonton.
Coun. Dave Loken said he hopes the city can do both projects.
“I would like to see the northwest line come up to speed and perhaps we could begin work on both of them at the same time,” he said.
Loken said he believes the Metro line extension makes a lot of sense, because it would service NAIT and the new Blatchford development as well many neighbourhoods with good transit use.
He said the line should also be fairly straightforward to build.
“It’s basically just a straight line.”
Along with deciding what the city does next, council has to decide on who will oversee the work.
Former city manager Simon Farbrother was let go in September and the city has started the work of replacing him with a head-hunting firm that has already placed advertisements.
Oshry said Edmonton has changed since the last time it hired a city manager and he believes a lot of people will be interested in running a big city.
“I’m confident that with the people who are likely to be applying for the role we are going to be getting a good candidate,” he said.
He said the role has to be different than it was the last time, but council is coming together on what they want.
“I think council is in a good spot that the majority have the same type of person in mind.”
The long-simmering debate about what to do with the city’s lands in Rossdale will likely come to a head in 2016 as well.
The land around the power plant and the Walterdale bridge has been the canvas for a number of ideas that have included a mixed-use neighbourhood and a canal.
The city has also mulled whether Telus Field should come down and how to best respect the Aboriginal culture of the area.
Loken said with a downtown transformation underway and the Blatchford development starting Rossdale is next.
“The next big visionary project is what we do with Rossdale,” he said. “I hope by the end of the year we will have an idea of what we will be doing down there.”
Oshry said there a lot of moving parts to the project, but council has to commit to a plan.
“At some point you have to take a little bit of a risk and make a decision,” he said.
Edmonton won’t be immune to the economic challenges hitting Alberta and while council has already passed it’s budget for the year ahead it may have to make some difficult choices.
Oshry said city governments are sheltered somewhat from economic downturns, but it will impact Edmonton in ways and he believes there could be a rough patch ahead.
“I think there is still a bit of a need to really appreciate the effects the downturn is going to have on the city.”