“It’s David and Goliath, not Solomon,” observed Councillor Joe Mihevc.
“The lobbying has been transparent,” said Mayor Miller. “You can’t hide Chris Korwin-Kusczynski! He’s right over there!”
In every deputation I gave on the new Sign Bylaw and Tax, I made sure to mention how wonderful it was to be speaking in favour of something for once, rather than against it. Public space advocates are used to having to schlep to City Hall to counter billboard lobbyists’ latest attempts to ingratiate their clients into the fabric of this city; so when City staff put forward a brilliantly positive new initiative to control that industry in a fair, thoughtful, and substantial way, it’s cause for celebration. Similarly, I am not used to writing things along the lines of: Uh… we won. City Council voted to uphold all of staff’s recommendations and then some.
Okay, so the tax wasn’t earmarked for arts but will rather be dealt with through the standard budget process. That’s fine. The Budget Committee knows where this money came from and why it’s there and will allocate it transparently and democratically. Every single member of that Committee (Carroll, Heaps, Perks, Mihevc, Augimeri, and Rae) has, at one time or another, stated that the money should go to arts.
Unexpected and thoroughly delightful, however, was a motion by Councillor Cliff Jenkins, refined by a friendly amendment from John Filion, that will make the variance process even tighter than staff had envisioned. A variance is a permission to deviate from the provisions of a bylaw, and applications for them are currently decided on by the relevant community council, which in turn tend to go in whichever direction suits the particular tastes of the ward councillor. Staff had recommended a new citizen-driven Sign Variance Committee, to be modelled on the Committees of Adjustment, that would adjudicate on these applications in an apolitical context. This was vastly preferable to the current, supremely political system, but some councillors were legitimately concerned that this committee might become overly generous in granting variances. The Jenkins-Filion motion takes care of this by allowing community councils to reconsider Sign Variance Committee decisions but only in those cases when the Committee has opted to grant a variance.
The City of Toronto has decided to bring the sign industry under control once and for all.
As the founder of the Toronto Public Space Committee set as his Facebook status:
Dave Meslin stepped onto an elevator full of outdoor advertising lobbyists and execs, moments after we beat them at City Hall. They knew who I was and we all stood there, silently and awkwardly, as the elevator took us to the lobby. They were thinking “you little shits.” I was thinking “You lost. There is hope for this city.”
Jonathan Goldsbie is a campaigner with the Toronto Public Space Committee.
photo by Kevin Steele