Politics in the park
Today’s walk kept us close to home as we trekked the Boardwalk from the Balmy Beach Club to the infamous restaurant complex by Ashbridges Bay. The theme was private ownership in public spaces.
Key things I learned.
A privately-owned family business now called Tuggs, Inc. was granted a monopoly on all concession sales along the Beach Boardwalk between Ashbriges Bay and Glen Manor. The deal was approved in secret and also broke city rules about sole-sourcing. The local councillor was defeated but Tuggs still rules all commerce on the main part of the beachfront for decades to come.
Personally, I try not to make Tuggs richer, avoiding the restaurant. Today I learned that they got me anyway, because I have had ice cream at the food trucks and coffee at a mid-beach food stand. Oh, oh. Both Tuggs. Now I know.
To his credit, a recently hired Tuggs PR guy came on the Walk, facing a potentially hostile crowd. He wants to ignore the bad deal that his employers are enjoying and consult community groups more about what Tuggs does with its control of business on the Beach. Lipstick on a pig?
Pantry Park is another hot potato, but the lease isn’t signed yet. In exchange for reliquishing an option to build a school in Woodbine Park, the City has told the school board that it can take over Pantry Park during school hours for use as a schoolyard. The existing schoolyard may now be sold, to raise cash for a debt-laden school board.
Both issues emerged from those disastrous years when the Harris government stopped funding support of municipal services and programs in order to cut taxes. Equally frightened of tax increases, city councillors simply sold their responsibilities to businesses. So doing, they gave up much of their power to represent the public interest.
Voters who consider only promises of “no property tax increases” are partly to blame, but so are non-voters who don’t even bother to go to the polls.
An acquaintance recently told me of his visit to a small African country, now having trouble maintaining a democratic government. It was true, he said, that a tribal group representing 15% of the population had governed very badly. The problem is that 85% of the population had let them do so.