Wasting Money On Rocks–It’s The Government Way

    Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

     The municipal government spent 500K on a rock a decade or so ago. Apparently rocks are necessary in outdoor decorating for Toronto public places themed by public servants. It’s not their money, so naturally, they waste it.

By Natalie Alcoba National Post

TORONTO PRICE TAG: Large rocks, $500,000
Councillor decries cost of beach upgrades

Government-funded agency Waterfront Toronto is defending its decision to spend $529,800 on two rocks and $11,565 apiece on 36 umbrellas for the park at Sugar Beach. New details about the $14.1-million park emerged Wednesday. The agency charged with revitalizing Toronto’s waterfront is defending its decision to spend $529,800 on two large granite rocks trucked in from the Laurentians and painted with candy-coloured stripes that adorn its signature urban beach.

Waterfront Toronto also confirmed it spent $11,565 on each of the 36 pink umbrellas that dot Canada’s Sugar Beach, a sandy outpost next to a sugar factory that opened four years ago. It was lauded then as a sign of more bright things to come on a once-industrial lakefront.


    Their whimsy, my money.

On Wednesday, new details emerged about specific aspects of the $14.1-million park courtesy of city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who obtained the information from the agency as it prepares to make its case for more government funding.


    Run out of money did they?

He also learned that it spent $470,000 to clad a pavilion at neighbouring Sherbourne Common in zinc shingles — some of which now have to be replaced at the city’s expense because they were damaged by pucks fired from an adjacent ice rink (which doubles as a splash pad in summer). It was intended for skating, not hockey.

This being Canada, hockey was played.

Mr. Minnan-Wong, who says he is often met “with a brick wall” when seeking information from Waterfront Toronto, held up the umbrellas and rocks as examples of frivolous spending that angers taxpayers.

“You can have nice things but you don’t have to spend $12,000 on an umbrella,” said Mr. Minnan-Wong on a stroll Wednesday through Sugar Beach. “A councillor who would vote for that would be strung up by their ankles.”

“They spend money secretly, and they have meetings secretly without telling taxpayers where their money is going and the result is this type of waste, when money could be spent on far more needed and valuable projects,” said Mr. Minnan-Wong.


    Politicians are always saying, when they talk about waste, that the money could be spent more wisely. Here’s an idea: Leave it with taxpayers.

But a spokesman for Waterfront Toronto said it “didn’t just pay half-a-million dollars for two rocks,” and that there is an important “practical” and “esthetic” function to the formations. Andrew Hilton also rejected some of Mr. Minnan-Wong’s complaints about accountability, saying it is an open and transparent organization with public board meetings.


     As long as there are esthetic reasons and the public was aware–those painted rocks are looking better.

“Our mandate is to build great parks and public spaces to revitalize the waterfront, to help make the city a better place to live,” said Mr. Hilton. “These parks do that, by taking what was once dead space and turning it into active, animated spaces that are going to make the area more attractive to developers and people — and that’s exactly what’s happening.” He predicted that in 10 years, “we’re not going to be having debates about why the umbrellas cost that much, but why can’t we build more parks like Sugar Beach.”


     I must have missed the time when building parks became an essential service.  I’m sure the time will come when the taxpayers insist on building more parks and wasting more money.

But for Waterfront Toronto to continue its mission, it says it needs more money. The $1.5-billion startup fund will run dry by 2017, and the organization is asking for permission from the three levels of government to borrow money. Over the past decade, Waterfront Toronto says it has created $2.6-billion in development value along the water’s edge and has been a catalyst for private sector development worth $9.6-billion.

Both Sugar Beach and Sherbourne Common have won numerous awards. Sugar Beach was funded by the federal and city governments and Mr. Hilton said they signed off on costs.

“We respect the vision of the winning design. If it would have said, ‘Let’s put giant chunks of gold there,’ that would have been a little different,” he said.

The information obtained by Mr. Minnan-Wong indicated the agency spent $529,800 on one large rock, but Mr. Hilton said that was the cost to purchase, install and transport the two rocks.

It was separated from the bedrock of a quarry in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, nestled in the Laurentian Mountains, and sliced into 1.5-metre chunks with a diamond wire saw, said Marc Hallé, project manager with Montreal-based Claude Cormier + Associés, the landscape, architecture and design firm behind Sugar Beach. It was then transported on a few dozen trucks to Toronto, he said. The red and white stripes hide the seams where the rock was reassembled.

The rock formations were inspired by the one that dominates a square in Yorkville, and which reportedly cost $283,000 in the early 1990s. The larger Sugar Beach rock, located outside the headquarters for media company Corus Entertainment, is designed to function as an amphitheatre and stand up to crowds better than grass. A second rock in the beach is meant to conjure up being at a Muskoka lake.

“We feel it’s one of the qualities that makes the space different and they’re popular,” said Mr. Hallé. “Toronto is so flat, so it helps to give the park some depth.”

Mr. Hallé’s firm was also behind Toronto’s HTO beach, which has yellow umbrellas that cost $3,500 each in 2005.

The Sugar Beach umbrellas have LED lights that create a “soft moon glow” at night. “The jury that chose us for the [Sugar Beach] competition insisted that we go with a better umbrella. They said the umbrellas at HTO are not very nice and we want this park to be more iconic,” said Mr. Hallé.


  Public money as inspiring private development. Sure, that’ll happen.

Government Job or Respect–Which’ll It Be?
Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson, Ph.D.
Author, “Days of Songs and Mirrors: A Jacobite in the ‘45.
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies


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