Friday, June 13, 2008

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED LAST THURSDAY!

Many of those who attended last Thursday's skating trail meeting have stated that the Etobicoke Guardian's report did not capture the essence of what actually occurred. One example is that the article omitted to clearly mention that the majority of the audience were opposed to the skating trail, casually mentioning halfway through the report that "some residents don't want the naturalized park disturbed"! "Some", indeed! Also, there was no mention in the report of the repeated and denied calls for a show of hands on the issue. (See ..ETOBICOKE GUARDIAN'S REPORT ON THE SKATING TRAIL M...
Posted below is a letter sent to Mayor Miller by a local resident who was at that meeting. Aside from being a fine example of the time and care many people have spent to send in their comments on the meeting, it is probably a much more accurate account of what happened last Thursday.

Dear Mayor Miller

I live in south Etobicoke, and last Wednesday I read a notice in the Etobicoke Guardian announcing a public meeting the following evening (June 5) concerning a proposed ice skating trail at Colonel Samuel Smith Park. I decided to attend. Last year, a projected skate boarding area in the park was met with such strong objections from the community that the idea was dropped so I was somewhat taken aback, and very interested in finding out more about the new plans.

When I arrived I found the meeting extremely well attended and there were several calls for more chairs as things were getting started. The skating trail issue is obviously something that resonates within our community. I was quite shocked when I noticed two police officers in body armour standing at the back of the room beside Mark Grimes, our Councillor. It was intimidating to say the least, and made me, along with many others, feel very uncomfortable. I have never encountered armoured police officers at any other community meeting, and can see no justification for their presence.

A company called LURA was hired to facilitate the meeting and sheets bearing the company logo were handed out at the door including the following information:

"AGENDA - Preliminary Concept Ice Trail - Community Consultation for Colonel Samuel Smith Park." "PURPOSE - To introduce an alternate preliminary concept for an ice trail for Colonel Samuel Smith Park;

To seek community feedback on the pros, cons, and changes to the preliminary concept; and To address questions about the ice trail from the community."

Mr. Steven O'Bright, Project Coordinator, Policy and Development, Parks Forestry and Recreation Division led the meeting. He began by discussing the proposed skating trail in glowing terms and invited questions and comments from the floor. It became abundantly clear almost immediately that practically every member of the community who was in attendance opposed the skating trail. Speakers were very polite and asked a series of reasonable questions - everyone of which was cavalierly deflected by Mr. O'Bright. He was particularly vague about questions of cost. He could not or would not give us the exact dollar amount needed to build the trail and he would not even suggest a "ballpark" figure for upkeep. He could not give specific answers as to supervision of the trail, possible public liability problems or insurance costs. He could not explain how the City can consider spending nearly two million dollars plus yet to be calculated operating expenses for a skating trail in a neighbourhood that already has more outdoor skating rinks than any other area of the city, particularly at a time when there is not enough money to keep existing rinks open, and user fees are being introduced and there is no money to pay for supervision of children's wading pools in summer, etc. etc.

Nor could Mr. O'Bright explain why our community, which for years has been begging for a much needed community centre for our young people, is being entirely ignored by an almost frantic drive to put some kind of skating facility in an out of the way park area where if someone has an accident there's a dam good chance no one will be around to help - but, just maybe, someone might be hanging around with no good at all in mind! Could it be because of the potential money to be made by the owner of the food and beverage concession proposed to open near the skating trail?

When concerns were raised about environmental problems arising from the skating trail, which would require a large concrete pad and Zamboni access in addition to tree removal and ground level changes, once again Mr. O'Bright simply brushed them aside offering no explanation but insisting that the effects would be minimal.

All in all however, next to Councillor Grimes, Mr. O'Bright's behaviour was exemplary. Near the end of the meeting, a gentleman asked Mr. Grimes to meet with him and the local environmental group he represents to discuss their concerns. At first Mr. Grimes, still flanked by the armoured police officers I mentioned earlier, just kept silent. There were more and more requests from those present for an answer. Finally Mr. Grimes mumbled: "No, not with your group." Some people didn't hear clearly and began to ask him to speak into the mike - which eventually he grudgingly did, stating that the community group was "too political". The group in question is the "Friends of Sam Smith Park".

Almost everyone from the community who spoke during the proceedings strongly opposed the skating trail. The few in support (you could pretty well count them on the fingers of one hand) mainly stressed that it was a wonderful idea because it would attract visitors to the area.

It was at this point that I had an opportunity speak. I suggested something which happens regularly at meetings, particularly if a contentious issue is being discussed - a show of hands for or against the proposal on the floor. You wouldn't believe how fast the microphone was taken away form me. Despite a strong show of support and much repeating of my suggestion throughout the room, we were told it was "inappropriate". I would have thought that at a meeting claiming to "seek community feedback" on a local project, a show of hands would have been welcomed.

Thursday evening's meeting has left me upset, angry and very disappointed in the City of Toronto government. I was offended to find that the meeting was run by an outside organization paid out of my tax dollars, rather than chaired by my Councillor who, for some strange reason, seemed to feel he needed visible police protection. Supposedly the meeting was to be an exercise in democracy ­government paying attention to the will of the people - but, sadly, it was more about intimidation and manipulation.

What is your position on Councillor Grimes' behaviour and on the skating trail in Colonel Sam Smith Park? If a Councillor were unwilling to speak with his or her constituents about legitimate community concerns, what would you suggest they do? Please reply. Your answers are important not only to me and my community, but to everyone who lives in the City of Toronto.

Moira Jubinville Etobicoke, Ontario.


11 comments:

mary said...

I have attended many meetings and have found it to be very intimidating when you don't agree with some of the crowd. I totally could understand the police prescence given some of the past behavior of some. I don't think that bullying people with different opinions is necessary. I felt that your comment for a show of hands was actually trying to incite people!
So you know. I was with a group of 6 people that agree with the ice trail. 1 person of the group got up and expressed their support which we all agreed with. The other 5 did not get up and repeat the same thing. Your comment that the majority were against it is something you can not say with any authority. Generally, those who like something are glad it is happening and don't feel the need to rally.
If you really think this park is such a gem of the community how come you don't want the community to enjoy it. It seem like you are saying that I can use the park but only if I do what you want me to do. I want to use this park and have things to do that I enjoy too.
I think if is big enough to represent the diversity of this community.

Anonymous said...

Your comment reflects the culture of entitlement that is, unfortunately, so prevalent in society today. Yes, every citizen is entitled to his/her opinion and has the right to express it freely, but we must also look at the “bigger picture” and acknowledge the needs of the community members who sometimes are not given a voice to speak freely and openly. The skating trail will serve (at a cost of approx. 2 million dollars plus an undisclosed and undetermined amount for yearly maintenance) only the interest a small fraction of the community for 3 months a year. The community has been asking for years for a proper community centre that would serve the wider needs of the wider community. It makes me very disappointed and angry to see you, just like our councilor in his interviews with the press to repeatedly use the word “I” in your comment, which suggests that you do not really acknowledge the larger issues and concerns, including those of the park’s wildlife and its habitat. Guess what, the world does not revolve around you, Mary, nor does it revolve around our councilor Mark Grimes and his personal agenda. Our councilor is the one who told the press that he was the one responsible for bringing this project forward and he is the one who refuses to work with the community (which, by the way is his responsibility and duty as our councilor). The public did not ask for the police presence at this meeting, or for the hiring of the expensive consulting firm to run Grimes’ meeting while he stood at the back of the room with his arms folded and refused to take questions about a project that he is supposedly so passionate about.

Anonymous said...

I am also in the group of people who support the skating trail.

I've seen the plans and walked where the proposed trail is going to go. There is very little use of that area now and very few trees are affected. The city will re-plant 5 trees for every one tree displaced....what is wrong with that?

This is a young community. Our youth don't access the community centres we already have. They don't want ORGANIZED activites. They want and need places to get physically active and involved. Just look at the rates of childhood obesity...it paints a very telling picture.

I want the trail for my family to be more active in the park. I want my children to stay in this area for years to come and to enjoy this trail with their future children.

This trail will draw visitors to enjoy our park and help our local businesses thrive.

Yes, we have a "gem"...which is underutilized by our community and those around us.

It's time EVERYONE enjoys the park, especially our future generations!

Anonymous said...

Guess what? You opposed the skateboard park in Sam Smith Park and were able to get the building of it stopped. But we're there anyway. We have the same right to skateboard in the park that you and your group do walking in the park. A skating trail will give us ice skating in the winter and skateboarding in the summer. We dont' need another community centre run by LAMP. We dont' go there. We hang out with our friends and Sam Smith Park is one of the places we do that.
You don't own the park and neither do we. We all are entitled to use it the way we want.

Terry said...

We would have had a skateboard park in south Etobicoke last year if Grimes had done what he promised i.e. form a committee to identify a location other than Sam Smith. He refused. The money is still there for the project. Speak to him or the owners of Sumo.

Anonymous said...

You don't get it. We are skating at the Park right now. We are there! Other locations were looked at when this park was choosen. This is a great location. Thanks for your support for the skatepark but the NIMBYism
is evident. I know you guys move your birdwatching to the spit.

Terry said...

It is quite possible that you may not get it. What you fail to understand is that you could be skateboarding right now on a half million dollar facility at, say, Don Russel Park, if Grimes had set up the committee he promised right after the Sam Smith location was rejected. He is the one responsible and who you need to talk to. Everyone would support you. You know, in a community, if there is good will, it is possible through communication, common sense and commitment to find solutions that work for everyone.

Anonymous said...

As long as it's not in "your" park. Your group DEFINES Nimbyism.

SUMO Skateshop said...

I have to agree with Terry here and say that "Anonymous" possibly doesn't get it. His anger at the current situation is valid but misguided and misdirected. The way the city of Toronto and our councillor Mark Grimes have gone about this project has been wrong from day one. And it all really just boils down to lack of communication and lack of public consultation. It's as simple as that. We have repeatedly told Mark Grimes, his office staff and city staff that we were more than willing to consult with them and help set up a committee to get the skatepark back on line and to this day we have been rebuffed. We need to work as a solidified community not as independent groups with their own agenda. We have seen enough of that from our politicians. I was told at this last meeting that the skatepark is still supported by Grimes but would not even break ground untill late 2009/2010 again provided the communtity can come up with a location. So I think we need to be more constructive at this point than bickering over Nimbyism.

The absolute rub in all of this is that the Beaches and South Etobicoke were both given $500,000 in 2005 to go towards funding of a permanent concrete skatepark in each respective area. While both projects have been plagued with difficulties over the past 3 years, the Beaches will be having their official groundbreaking ceremonies to commence construction on a 21,500 sq. ft. skatepark on June 26th.

Anonymous said...

Last Friday a Grade 6 teacher from Rexdale brought her class by TTC to Sam Smith Park for the day. Half of the children had never seen Lake Ontario. They stood on the shore and stared at the horizon. They were thrilled to be able to throw stones into the lake. They were free to explore wooded paths and unmown grass. They saw birds and bees and wild flowers. Many of them said it was the best school trip they had ever had. It cost them each $2.00 and they brought their own lunches for a picnic. Special places like Sam Smith Park are few and far between in our urban area - places to pour concrete and erect lights and loudspeakers are much easier to find. It is so sad that newcomers to the Lakeshore have not yet come to realise the unique treasure at their doorsteps.

skateboarder said...

Many who live right in the neighbourhood haven't been to this park either. Maybe it is because there is nothing that they want to do there. Maybe we should look at what they would like to do too. The park is for everyone and no one group should dictate the activities that others must enjoy.