Sunday, November 29, 2009

What the Hell is wrong with Windsor? 3

It's no secret what's been going on at Indian Ave. just a block away from the University of Windsor in the west end of the city. It's right beneath the Ambassador Bridge. The rumours as I understand them go like this:

The Ambassador Bridge Company wants to increase traffic on an 80-year-old bridge because it's the busiest and most profitable international crossing on the continent. But there's no room on the Canadian side of the border to increase the capacity of the bridge. So, to solve that problem, the ABC has been acquiring property all along the Indian Ave area, with plans of eventually, in the future of the business, increasing capacity by doubling the bridge. Makes good business sense.

However, the city of Windsor and the provincial and federal Canadian governments have been resistant of an American-owned enterprise making such significant real-estate decisions that have significant financial impacts at the municipal, provincial, federal and international levels. That makes good governing sense as well - so the two parties are at an impasse.

In the mean time, there's no restriction for the ABC to be purchasing/acquiring property anywhere they'd like to acquire it - and in so doing they've turned the Indian Ave. area of the west end a simple ghost town.

So where does this take Windsor?

Windsor group fights for demolition of unsightly homes near Ambassador Bridge
Residents tire of Indian Rd. eyesores

WINDSOR, Ont. — A group of homeowners on Windsor's west side have hired a lawyer and will approach city council tonight to push for demolition of dozens of unsightly homes on Indian Road owned by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

The billionaire Grosse Pointe transportation businessman has left the homes on the tree-lined street untended.

He is looking to construct a twin span that requires at least the east side of Indian Road to be cleared, but further expansion of the bridge plaza requires considerable property beyond that.

A group calling itself Boarded Up Houses Demolition Action Group led by former city administrator Hilary Payne -- who owns and leases homes in the area -- will ask council to tear down the homes.

"We want to tell council of the appalling conditions by refusing to allow demolition of these properties," Payne said. "It goes on and on.

"It's unacceptable. It's an incredible thing for people around there.

"It's not the bridge stopping this, it's city council."

Well, this is exactly what I imagine the ABC would want - to get those houses torn down - all the easier to transform that area into what they want - rezoned commercial / industrial property. It's difficult right now while it's covered in (condemned) homes.

BUT this is, in the long run, bad for the city, the province and the country. The domestic profits and net revenues to be generated in the long-run of the Windsor/Detroit international crossing have to be considered and acted upon now. There's no way Canada can let an independent foreign transportation businessman take all of those revenues - they HAVE to protect some of that income for themselves. There's FAR TOO MUCH at risk to let the bridge take it.

And tearing all of that down is a step in the wrong direction - the "group of homeowners on Windsor's west side" either are deciding to sell their properties for big profit to the industrialist in the near future, or are too dumb to realize that they'll be forced to sell their homes to the industrialist after their property value submarines deeper than the Titanic. Either their financial opportunists - or fools.

Council has resisted grant-ing demolition permits for the homes until Moroun provides clear information on his plans for the properties on Indian Road and beyond.

Moroun's blighted properties -- familiar by boarded up doors and windows -- have already expanded beyond Indian to include homes on Rosedale Avenue and Mill Street.

A large four-storey apartment building in the 700 block of Mill and adjacent to the Forster secondary school playing field is the latest to show signs of being shuttered and abandoned by Moroun.

An entire block of homes he owns on Edison Street has also been left abandoned.

Moroun used the same strategy of buying up homes and properties one by one through the 1980s and 1990s in Detroit to expand his bridge plaza there.

What this means is: Maroun's plans for the bridge are being kept secret. There must be significant international, Canadian, provincial and municipal roadblocks for Maroun to face if it out-and-out declares an intent to span the bridge. So they're keeping their plans undeclared, although there are tremendous indicators that he is planning on twinning the bridge for the future of the company.

The Canadian government has plans to build a major international crossing (one which the Ambassador Bridge Company doesn't earn money on) of their own further west through an area where there are no residences and few businesses (I think there's a gravel quarry out there?) and a golf course and some forest (forest reservists won't be able to picket loud enough to stop this, I'm positive).

Maybe they can plant a new forest where the Indian Ave. houses have been demolished? I think that'd be great!

So, I don't think it's a good idea to tear those buildings down for the sake of the future of Canada (and I think I've demonstrated the significance of this matter and the stakes involved) but the Demolition Group wants it their way or else...

West Windsor residents blast Windsor council over derelict houses [Nov. 24]

Windsor’s former top bureaucrat was escorted out of council chambers by security Monday night after hurling insults at politicians over the “appalling” state of a growing number of boarded-up houses owned by the Ambassador Bridge in the west side.

[Pictured is Dave Montgomery, President of the Local 1001 Representatives - he KNOWS how these things work. He should know better than to be so disappointed that their demands were not met immediately. I have a feeling that the rowdy ruckus that The Star has described might not have been as rowdy or ruckesed as we are led to believe - esp. with a veteran like Montgomery on the job.]

“Shame on you guys, shame on you all,” Hilary Payne shouted after he and a delegation of residents were refused the opportunity to address council.

The Boarded Up Houses Demolition Action Group had protested and picketed outside city hall prior to council’s meeting, but they were not on the night’s regular agenda and failed to get a necessary two-thirds vote of support to be added at the last minute.

Coun. Caroline Postma put forward a motion to have the matter heard in two weeks, but frustrated residents didn’t want to wait.

So, they're going to be heard, just not immediately - I know these guys have a sense of procedure (hell, half of 'em, I'm sure, are teamsters for a local union). They KNOW that you follow protocol with legislation, with propositions and with meetings - that's how unions work, how you file grievances, how you report to your union stewards, how you bargain for new contracts etc, etc. They KNOW this stuff - so why are they being so finicky about this?

They weren't on the agenda, and they weren't added to the agenda (2/3 of council don't care, though you'd think Postma and Jones would have voted in favour, as it is a matter for their wards to consider).

Then Postma even moved to add the matter to the next agenda. They're having their chance to be heard - but they just aren't getting it now. It's a good thing we don't live in a world of compulsive immediate gratification ... oh wait.

More on the subject?
My old literary stomping grounds has a timely video that showcases what we're talking about here.

On "somewhat" related notes - two more stories from November 23

Trips from U.S. through Windsor drop 15 %

Yes, traffic is down, but it's still this busiest international crossing around.

Car trips from the U.S. through Windsor border points dropped 15 per cent in September versus August, bucking the national trend of a modest 2.1 per cent increase.

Statistics Canada released a report last week for September 2009 travel between Canada and other countries, and it showed there were 105,333 car trips from the U.S. entering through the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge.

In August there were 123,863 trips from the U.S. through Windsor, a decrease of 14.9 per cent.

Nationally, the number of vehicle trips from the U.S. into Canada increased 2.1 per cent, with 1.67 million trips in September compared to 1.64 million in August.

So there's statistic evidence of how bad things are going down in Rose City.

Nothing inappropriate in calls to CUPE's Fox, Jones insists

Now, along the lines of the West End, the Ward 2 Councillor Ron Jones (whom I've mentioned before on this blog) is being investigated for leaking information from City Council in camera meetings (where they were discussing contract negotiations on behalf of the city during that infamous outside workers' strike) to the head of CUPE, Jean Fox.

WINDSOR, Ont. -- City councillor Ron Jones has hired a lawyer to defend his interests against allegations of wrongdoing that may emerge from an investigation into hundreds of cell phone calls to CUPE union president Jean Fox during the 101-day strike by municipal workers.

Jones insisted repeatedly Saturday there has been nothing “inappropriate” in his relationship with Fox — either before, during or after the strike.

He has retained lawyer Craig Allen from prominent Windsor law firm Sutts Strosberg. The city will pay the first $500 of Jones’s legal bill and he will have to pay the rest, he said.

“There is innuendo that I did something inappropriate,” Jones said. “Once again, I know I have done nothing inappropriate.

“It’s a shame I have to get a lawyer to prove myself innocent. I am innocent. Am I having an affair? No.”

The number of calls to Fox on his city-issued BlackBerry during the strike were far less than the 500 suggested by council sources, who leaked that information to reporters after the city’s integrity commissioner Earl Basse allegedly discovered the calls between the two while conducting a parallel investigation, he said.

“To suggest there were 500 calls during the strike is inaccurate, far less than half that,” Jones said.

Ah, so ... it's "a shame" to think anything inappropriate was going on between Jones and Fox during the 100-day CUPE strike because they didn't speak 5 times a day, but rather 2.5 times per day, over 100 days, while the city and CUPE were in a severe CBA negotiation.

His calls and friendship with Fox date back years and many of the calls occurred around his prostate cancer surgery in February, while others focused on supporting Fox while she obtained a restraining order in court against an anti-CUPE protester, Jones said.

“If guilty of anything, maybe some stupidity for using city equipment, but I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.

“I want to emphasize I did nothing inappropriate. She was there during the time of my cancer surgery, as were a couple of other friends.

“There were friends I confided with during that time.

“I don’t know how else to spin this, but to tell the truth.”

The two have always separated friendship and business, he said, and the majority of calls were less than a minute or two.

“I never talked to her about strategies or city business or anything privately about the strike — nor did she ever broach that subject. People can believe that or not. At some point all the facts will be known.”

Now here is where journalism gets tricky - very tricky. As a human being you must be significantly affected by the friendship between two people who dedicate their lives to serving their constituents during a period where one of them has undergone surgery to remove cancer. The human-being in you wants to actually support the man considering he's served as councillor for many years, as well.

But the journalist should ask the "hard" questions - not because the questions are hard to answer, but because they are hard to ask. There's an inhumanity to journalism, in a way. You have to operate outside of your emotions and empathy for others to get all sides of the story.

There are incredible books written these days about how the media responded during the Post-9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Everyone was so sympathetic and shocked regarding the events that they were willing to service the U.S. government in getting their message of hope, message of support and message of vengeance to the public.

The consequences were heavy - in those instances - as nations were invaded and civil rights were overlooked. Challenging questions on domestic security, sharing information between the FBI and CIA, and international relations were not asked - people were just too shocked. Again, there's something inhuman about journalism - you can't let yourself get caught up in the emotion of whatever you're covering, no matter what it is.

So - do you back off on Jones because he's had prostate cancer surgery? Probably. It's the only human thing to do.

... the follow-up to allegations such as this?

Coun. Jones may turn to voters in cellphone controversy [Nov. 24]

Embattled Coun. Ron Jones, besieged by questions about the propriety of making hundreds of cellphone calls to CUPE Local 543 president Jean Fox during the bitter civic strike, said he may ask voters to determine at the ballot box whether his actions were improper.

“I was discussing retirement after this term with my family. With these here things, my goodness, I may just have to run again — let the citizens decide,” he said after Monday night's council meeting. Council’s current four-year term ends next November.

Sort of tongue-in-cheek of him to suggest that this controversy might have refueled his interest in politics. Has his term been without criticism so much that he was tiring of the job? Hardly. A thoughtful, playful answer from Jones.

Editorial: Unreasonable .05 law hurts bars and restaurants [Nov. 24]
The Windsor Star released an editorial on the new maximum blood alcohol allowance: frankly they've missed the mark and likely only published this to stir the pot on debate for the legislation. Time is up - the legislation is passed, this debate is overdue. Where was the Windsor Star a year or two ago while this was being developed and pushed through? Well - timing aside, here are their thoughts:

The hospitality sector in Windsor and Essex County has been hit hard over the last year; a victim of the global recession and a drop in the number of U.S. visitors. [true, undoubtedly]

Bars and restaurants have been fighting to stay afloat, and the last straw for many owners came in June, when the provincial Liberals introduced legislation slapping drivers with a fine and licence suspension for blowing .05 on a breath test. The legal blood alcohol limit, as we all know, is .08. [but they were negatively impacted when smoking was banned (which Windsor was last to follow) and moreso when the tourism industry dropped out the ass of the country.]

Things could get even worse if federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson follows through on his pledge to give police the right to conduct random roadside breathalyser tests, even if there's no indication a driver has been drinking. [they have these - they're called Ride Programs]


Chris Ryan, who owned the successful Patrick O. Ryan's on Pitt Street, understands full well how hard it is for those in the industry to make a living. Now, as the new CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex and Pelee Island, Ryan is charged with finding ways to generate interest and bring visitors back to this area. [It's ALWAYS been hard to make money in the restaurant/bar industry - it's also the most susceptible to any change in any social norms - the restaurant/bar industry is the canary in the coal mine for any economy - and holy cow! Windsor's is in the shitter - it's NOT because of any legislation, it's because of the economy]

It will be a difficult task, and Ontario's unreasonable liquor laws will only make it harder to entice people to cross the border for their entertainment. [yeah, like foreigners make the best decisions while drinking on vacation, right? You'd better make changes for them.]

There's no reason to think otherwise, because the new rules have already had a detrimental effect on the law-abiding residents of Windsor and Essex County.

"You hear customers talking about it," says Nicole Sekela [whoop! my old boss!], who co-owns the Rock Bottom bar and restaurant on Sandwich Street [whoop! my old job!]. "People are afraid to even have a drink on their way home from work."

Exactly. These aren't your chronic drunk drivers, who don't know when to stop. These are responsible social drinkers, who are used to having one or two drinks with friends or cocktails with dinner.

I remember being absolutely pissed about this legislation when it came out, too. There are new rules that are made every year, and existing rules are made more strict every year. Frankly, in 100 years, freedom will be a relic from the "good ol' days when people were allowed to walk down the street in the night time."Honestly, each year the difference between how we live, and how we'd live under martial law gets a little bit closer. I don't want to see any more rules - I want people to be allowed to do things - and I fear that we won't be able to have things or do things in the future. People fear that the environment is being taken away so that the old pond we used to swim in when we were little is just going to be a roadhouse that serves great steaks? What about the freedom to simply go out and swim in public - the days are numbered, seriously. I can think of a dozen things that could happen while you're out swimming in public that could be restricted, criminalized and banned - and I'm sure you can, too. It's just a matter of time.

All of that aside - that was my initial reaction - but I can't possibly argue with a law that shows how very serious it is when someone is injured (or worse) in a DWI. There is too much at stake and too many loved ones out there to be affected on both sides of the wheel.

Drinking at the bar is fine, and trust me Windsor, you have enough that you can find a local pub in walking distance from where you live. You could live three kilometres straight up in the sky, and still be merely a block away from a bar. Just FIND ANOTHER WAY to get home after a drink. THAT'S ALL this legislation is saying.

And if bars and restaurants are closing everywhere because people are afraid of DUIs, that means one of two things (or both): 1) people are too lazy to walk a few blocks for a beer with friends or; 2) there was a dramatically high instance of Windsorites who drove after having a few drinks - and if this is the case, what are the odds that every once in a while, someone who only had a few, and one or two more than a few, headed out anyhow because they were just in the habit of it?

This law means only one thing: THINK before you get going and plan ahead. The Windsor Star should know better than this, and I HOPE that it's only a stunt to get people fired up and reading the paper some more. (it probably is).

Cigarettes taken during break-in [Nov. 24]

Two male thieves smashed into a Lakeshore business after hours and stole thousands of dollars in cigarettes, say OPP.

The crime occurred around 3 a.m. Saturday in the 1600 block of County Road 46.

Officers found the front window of the business had been smashed, drawers were ransacked and about $3,800 worth of cigarettes was missing.

A sign of the times. You're gonna see more and more of this, Windsor.

What a tough week! I want to only post about this subject once a week - but if I'm going to get monster posts like this because there are so many issues ... I may have to increase its exposure. But I don't want to become WindsorCityBlog (one of my links on the right) which seems to have enormous volumes of "What the Hell is wrong with Windsor?-type" material. So, once a week should be just fine. I always try and follow up with some highlights from comics.

Anyhow - more on the Ambassador Bridge and Moroun's company whom we've already discussed earlier.

Bridge sues state over blocked access ramps [Nov. 25]

The Ambassador Bridge filed a lawsuit Tuesday to force the state of Michigan to open key freeway access links to the bridge.

The Michigan Department of Transportation had piled large mounds of dirt the entire length of new I-75 and I-96 access ramps it constructed in Detroit as part of the new state-led US$230-million Gateway Project designed to improve freeway connections to the border crossing.

While the dirt has been removed, MDOT has continued to block the ramps with construction equipment, said bridge president Dan Stamper.

"If the ramps are done, then open them," Stamper said. "If there are disagreements let the courts decide, but don't use the travelling public as pawns."

This just goes to show how serious Moroun and the ABC are when it comes to putting traffic on their bridge. They want it, and they'll sue you to get it. But there's more to the story:

MDOT said Tuesday the ramps will open only when the bridge company lives up to its obligations under the Gateway Project agreements.

"We would love to open the ramps. All we need is for the Ambassador Bridge to follow their signed contract and build what they agreed to build," said MDOT spokesman Bill Shreck.

Opening the ramps would allow the bridge to avoid its responsibility to construct two bridges over 23rd Street, along with a dedicated truck road the bridge company agreed to build that takes trucks from the U.S. customs plaza directly to I-75 and I-96 and off local streets, he said.

"Prematurely opening the ramps would make it impossible for (the bridge company) to finish their agreed upon work," Shreck said.

During the project, the bridge company had also been accused of building on public and private land it does not own.

Oh, so this is a shoving match down by the sandbox? I see - I didn't think government could actually be this petty, but apparently they are. You'd think the MI state would just financially penalize the company until they "follow their signed contract and build what they agreed to build." Or financially penalize them for "building on public and private land it does not own." Isn't the Michigan government in a financial crisis? Why the hell aren't they fining the daylights ou of the bridge and recouping some of the operating costs they can't possibly withdraw from taxpayers? Move the piles of dirt, dumbasses, and send them a ticket - what's your deficit? Take that number and charge it to the ABC. Problem solved.

Are the Bridge's motives really so suspicious? Here's another video from The Lance on the subject:


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