Occupation: Cambridge City Councillor, Ward 8
Do you reside in the ward / city you are running in?
I have resided in Ward 8 for 27 years of my 29 years in Cambridge. My past living accommodation in Ward 8 was sold and as a result I was forced to move. I had to find a place that was affordable and secure. The closest accommodation I could find is my current rental residence on Alison Avenue which is just over 1 kilometer from the ward boundary.
Why are you running in this election?
I love this city and I love the people. I want to invest in people’s lives and help them thrive.
I’m pleased to say a lot has been accomplished during my time on Council however there is still a lot more to be done. I have started a number of new initiatives and would like to see them through. The work is not done yet.
Our longest serving member of council is running for regional council this election. This means that after this election Ward 8 would be in a great position to have the longest serving member of council. It’s been a while since this has happened. There will be at least three new members of council. We need a balance of experienced council members such as myself mixed with the new. I can help share my experiences guiding the newly elected council members while remaining humble and hearing their knowledge and perspectives.
We’re also in the process of coming up with a future community plan that will determine the shape of Cambridge for decades to come. We need to get this right or the unique character of our city will be at stake. My urban planning background can assist in helping make the best decisions to ensure growth will enhance Cambridge’s unique character and not ruin it.
What qualifies you to represent your ward?
I grew up in the ward, lived there for 27 years, and know the ward inside out.
I have served on Cambridge City Council representing the ward for 12 years.
Have served on numerous committees such as Arts & Culture Committee, Cultural Awards Committee, Downtown Cambridge BIA Board, Franklin Boulevard Regional Steering Committee, General Committee (Chair), Heritage Committee, Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal Committee, Striking Committee (Chair), Townline Road Steering Committee, Trails Advisory Committee, and Youth Committee.
I have extensive operational knowledge of how local governments work. When constituents approach me with concerns, I know instantly what level of government is responsible for that item and can advocate on their behalf to that level of government.
I have a great relationship with the provincial government and can continue to advocate for GO Train service to the GTA.
I have had and will continue to have ‘town hall’ neighbourhood meetings to hear resident concerns directly.
I have an excellent understanding of the issues in the ward. Many things have been accomplished however there is still more to be done. I am a strong and experienced representative who has and will continue to achieve strong results. I also have an understanding of the complexities of going through the processes at city hall and know how to navigate the system to get the results.
Why should people vote for you?
I recognize the issues and can get things done. If the item does not fall under the jurisdiction of Cambridge city council, I will advocate on your behalf to the other levels of government.
During my time on council, I readily responded to concerns from organizations and residents regarding a wide variety of issues.
My accomplishments to date (and it’s a team effort) include and are not limited to: many playground replacements, stop light at Townline Road and Saginaw Parkway, lighting on Townline Road, Witmer Park improvements (basketball courts, gazebo, and multi-purpose sports area (with wall that can be used for neighbourhood movie nights), Franklin Boulevard Sportsplex expansion, treed buffer on perimeter of Saginaw Golf Course development (I still opposed the development because would rather greenspace), breaking up Saginaw Parkway townhouse facades along by leaving mature forest in-between, more stone on Saginaw Parkway townhouse facades than previously planned, sale of Diwali fireworks in stores, language translators at community public meetings, trees down the middle of Cowan and Franklin boulevards, some neighbourhood traffic calming, pedestrian island seniors crosswalk on Conestoga Boulevard, Conestoga Boulevard bike lanes, and more.
I have demonstrated my strong beliefs in diversity and inclusivity in our community by participating in numerous functions, festivals and parades put on by members of our ethnic communities.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of the ward?
Affordability – residents are finding it hard to make ends meet with rising inflation, housing costs, and taxes. I will do what I can to help get more housing built to meet demand and will work with upper levels of government to encourage more affordable housing units
Community Safety – I will advocate to the Region to have more police officers on foot in the neighbourhoods to increase safety. We need more traffic calming to make our streets safer. I want to see a pedestrian crosswalk light for Conestoga Boulevard and Townline Road pedestrian crosswalks. I will also continue to discuss lighting on Can Amera Parkway with the Region.
Need for more recreational amenities – I’m proud of what we were able to achieve such as the upcoming Franklin Sportsplex expansion, new Witmer Park amenities, and playground replacements. There is still more work to be done such as fast tracking the Fiddlesticks Community Centre expansion and more park amenities. The Lena Crescent neighbourhood off of Conestoga Boulevard still has no playground and I’d like to get it done there.
There will be increased development charge funds coming into the city from developments in Ward 8 and we need an experienced councillor to fight for the dollars to stay in the ward.
Opioid addiction and encampments – less of an issue here than in other parts of the city however it exists and all levels of government need to work together to address it
I will continue to oppose a roundabout at Saginaw Parkway and Franklin Boulevard and will instead push for an improved intersection with wide boulevard refuge islands so pedestrians can safely cross sections of Franklin Boulevard at a time.
It is easy to take the stunning city views from Northview Heights Lookout Park for granted however we will need an experienced councillor to fight to preserve these views in the future. There will be more high rise developments on Hespeler Road and Council needs to ensure the buildings are placed in such a way that they will not block the beautiful views from the lookout.
Decades from now I want future generations to enjoy the beautiful sunset views we enjoy today over Dumfries Park and beyond. I don’t want to see the sunset blocked by a bunch of high rises and with proper urban planning this can be avoided. While the region set out the density targets on Hespeler Road, the city can have an impact as to how the buildings are placed. As growth occurs, we need to preserve the views and vistas that matter to our community.
What do you see as the main issues facing Cambridge residents on a broader scale?
Many issues are affecting our residents today. A major one is affordability. Inflation, gas and food prices are affecting all households. The property tax increases also hurt the ability to pay and we need to continually advocate for better budgeting solutions. The city does have a sponsorship plan and hopefully this can bring in some extra revenue as well as promote local businesses.
Neighbourhood safety is a major concern. The homeless issue, addiction problems, and mental health are all significantly impacting our communities, streets, and core areas. The encampments are an example of the housing failure. The death of over 150 people from overdoses breaks my heart and is a result of the failed drug strategy – all levels of government need to work together towards better treatment services.
Provincial legislation & reliance on property taxes do place significant limitations on responding to the needs of our community.
I’d like to see the new council consider ways to trim any proposed increases over the rate of inflation and call in an independent review if necessary.
We need an overall comprehensive review of the present homeless, addiction and mental health numbers. The costs of providing services such as transitional housing and better programs for addicts should be provided to council so we have a better understanding on how to tackle this crisis and to request help from the upper levels of government.
I’d like to invite our regional councillors, MPPs and MPs to a council meeting so we can discuss these issues in an open forum and provide direction for them to take back to their respective levels of government.
Over 90 per cent of taxes collected are paid to the upper levels of government which have less responsibility than the municipal level of government. This funding model formula is outdated and needs to be revised to reflect the new reality of government responsibility since the municipalities are bearing the brunt of the problem.
What is the most important thing you want to see changed in Cambridge?
Voter turnout and better civic engagement is a big one. The municipal level of government is closest to the people and has the greatest impact on our day to day lives. We need more people to get involved so that council’s decisions better reflect the community as a whole.
We also need more transparency on council. It was wrong of Cambridge city council to waive procedural bylaw to revisit an item without providing notification to the public. While council has the right to revisit past decisions, a notice of motion should have been put forward so that the public would have been consulted and have an opportunity to provide comments on the reconsideration. I stated this at the meeting and hope it will not happen again.
Another example of lack of transparency is when council was debating the location of the consumption site they went into the meeting with two locations public and ended up choosing an entirely different location without any public input. Again, they have the right to debate different locations however proper notification should have been given to the public instead of residents finding out after the meeting. I spoke up against this too. I will continue to advocate for more transparent government.
Cambridge also needs to become more of a destination for people to visit. There is so much potential with the river running through it. I envision riverfront restaurants, shops, and cafes along with recreational activities on the river.
What services need to be improved in Cambridge?
The City of Cambridge needs improved recreational facilities. In the past term of council we have made progress with the Cambridge Franklin Boulevard Sports Park expansion, Preston Arena expansion, and a new soccer field complex on Fountain Street. However we’re still behind on our recreational facilities and need to make more headway in this area. This coming term needs to see visible progress on the Sportsplex Facility. We also need more outdoor facilities for cricket, tennis, and volleyball.
There is always room for better customer service. I give our staff a lot of credit and we always need to review opportunities to enhance service furthermore. The website needs to be made more user friendly. Residents would like quicker responses from departments. When development applications are reviewed, residents would like to receive staff comments earlier on in the process.
Many residents would like to see snow clearing done in a timelier manner. There can be an opportunity in the next term of council to review this.
Some residents have mentioned they want better bylaw enforcement. Residents can participate in a review and state their opinion on whether the city should look at a minimum amount level of enforcement service or if they feel the existing complaint basis standard is sufficient.
Is Cambridge growing too fast, just the right amount, or not fast enough?
Cambridge is growing at just the right amount – not too fast like some communities to the east of us – and not stagnant like further out communities.
In many communities, residential outpaces industrial land development. However, in Cambridge, we’re very fortunate to have a solid and robust economy with job creation to keep up with that residential growth.
The infrastructure is not keeping up though.
There is too much truck traffic going through the downtown and many arterial roads are congested. We need a bypass road around our city to divert this traffic. The first leg of the bypass from Water Street to Franklin Boulevard is complete, however we must continue to advocate for the remainder of its completion. We also need GO Train service to Toronto to take traffic off of Highway 401.
We need additional recreational amenities such as more sports facility to keep up with this growth as well.
There is also an increased backlog in social services with many people in need.
The hot economy has contributed to rising home prices and all levels of government need to work together to increase affordability.
Some developments are attractive and others are not. We could use more consistency with great urban design.
As we see more infill development, growth does need to be better managed to respect the character of our neighbourhoods and preserve the unique character of Cambridge.
What can be done at the local level about the rising cost of housing?
A number of factors outside of our local control affect the cost of housing. These include inflation, low mortgage rates, easy money, cost of construction materials, and cost of land.
At the local level we can work towards speeding up development applications to meet housing demand while pushing for more affordable housing units, secondary units, and multi-unit proposals. Rezoning more commercial land as mixed use would also shorten the approval process resulting in units becoming available quicker.
We can also promote the city to builders who specialize in what the community wants resulting in more housing projects. For example, I have received feedback from many residents who want more mid-rise apartment buildings (around the six storey range) that would be geared to first time home buyers and people downsizing. I promoted Cambridge to a number of companies (who have never built in Cambridge and had no plans to) that specialize in quality midrise apartment building construction on brownfield and grey field sites.
I was able to convince one builder to purchase land near ‘The Delta’ within our designated ‘re-urbanization area’ for a housing development. The builder has submitted a development application for a quality stone, brick and stucco accent six storey mid-rise apartment building of approximately 60 units that will be targeted to first time home builders and empty nesters. There will be a rooftop terrace and greenhouse for residents to grow their own vegetables. The builder is open to providing some below market price affordable housing units and I will continue to advocate for that as the plan is reviewed.
I will also advocate for an expansion of City of Cambridge affordable housing policy incentives and for the Region of Waterloo to match them.
What can be done locally about the homelessness issue?
Many residents end up on the street because they cannot find an affordable place to live. We need to reduce barriers to housing by making more affordable and transitional housing available. There are provincial and federal grants we can advocate for.
Partner with other levels of government to create opportunities to retrain people and have them develop new skills.
Support and promote our social service organizations who are there to support the less fortunate in their time of need.
Unfortunately, many people experiencing homelessness suffer from mental health and addiction issues. We need mental health treatment and drug detox facilities to combat increased addiction.
Get to know the individual and find out what their passion is. If there is something they are very passionate about then maybe with help they can make a career out of it providing for a great future.
Keep strengthening the economy so that jobs will multiply creating many more opportunities for people to become employed.
In future budgets, the ability of our taxpayers to pay must be taken into consideration at all times. When there is too much wasteful spending, we could be pushing people out of their homes and on to the street without realizing it.
How do we make Cambridge an even better city to live in?
Cambridge hasn’t reached its full potential and there is so much more we can do.
Many of the things that can be done have been mentioned above and I’d like to add some more.
Expand Community Improvement Plans to encourage renovations of older buildings along the Grand River into riverside cafes and restaurants with riverfront patios like in Paris Ontario
Encourage a tree planting program along major roads such as Can Amera Parkway, Franklin Boulevard, Jamieson Parkway, Myers Road, etc. that would result in a wall of trees hiding the back of the houses which would appear like a forest. I saw something like this in parts of Guelph and Oakville. My sister thought we were driving through a forest and I told her that it was just a dense row of evergreen trees with the backyard of the houses just on the other side of the tree line. It doesn’t have to take up much room and makes all of the difference in the world. It would create a more attractive city and help reduce emissions.
Some organizations in our community have expressed an interest in sponsoring tree plantings along major roads and this is something I would like to explore further.
To read more about Nicholas, visit www.facebook.com/nicholas.ermeta