Rejecting casino 'may be seen as council not acting in good faith'
In the wake of criticism of their votes – and controversy about perceived intervention in the process by gaming minister Rich Coleman – four Surrey councillors who gave thumbs up to the contentious South Surrey casino proposal have issued a joint statement.
Speaking independently to Peace Arch News earlier this week, each of the four had acknowledged a certain amount of negative feedback to their choices.
"Just about anything we do in life comes with risks and impacts. New and significant initiatives often bring even more risks and impacts," Couns. Tom Gill, Linda Hepner, Barinder Rasode and Barbara Steele said in a news release Friday.
"The responsibility of making decisions on public projects by elected public officials is a heavy task particularly when there is so much opposition and just as much support. It would be great if there was a computer model which will take all the input given to public officials, analyze it every which way and spit out the correct answer. But this is not available, at least for now."
Council ultimately rejected the Gateway Casinos project, which would have included a hotel, convention centre and theatre at 168 Street and 10 Avenue, in a 5-4 split vote Jan. 19.
In their joint statement, the four councillors say the project was pre-zoned for a casino when a first proposal for the site came forward. (According to the city clerk's office, the land was not pre-zoned for casino use, as the previous proposal sits at third reading.)
The four say that while BC Lottery Corporation's licence application was fully compliant with council's gaming policy, they could still have imposed development-related conditions, but that "declining the casino licence application may be viewed as council 'not acting reasonably or in good faith.'"
Were a casino to be approved on the adjacent Semiahmoo First Nation reserve, they argue, it would likely have none of the amenities or financial gains for Surrey that the Gateway proposal offered.
The Gateway project would have had no impact on existing residential neighbourhoods, they note, while bringing in services that would have eased future development in the area. It would have given an economic boost to Surrey, by creating a four-star destination hotel and convention centre without the attendant costs to the city experienced by Vancouver.
A $3-million annual share in gaming revenues and $2 million in annual taxes, as well as short-term and ongoing job creation are also cited by the councillors, who note BCLC continues to address potential negative impacts of crime and problem gambling at casino facilities, while Surrey RCMP's evaluation raised no public safety issues.
Also important, they say, is that Surrey residents, according to BCLC figures, already spend some $200 million on gambling, while Surrey only receives $40 million of that business.
Earlier in the week, the four councillors told PAN they have received some criticisms following the vote.
"I had a few emails from people who've said 'I'll never vote for you again,'" said Steele, in a comment echoed by each.
But each also noted the majority of calls and emails thanked them for the positive vote and bemoaned an opportunity lost for Surrey.
"I've had a lot of questions about how it could be sent back for reconsideration," Rasode said. "A lot of the public was not expecting it to be rejected."
"We have $160 million annually that is leaving Surrey and going elsewhere," Gill said. "It's really unfortunate that level of income is leaving Surrey."
"We had to choose a location for it," said Hepner, who said she wasn't swayed by arguments about the impact of the proposed location.
Hepner added she has family who live very close to the proposed site.
"I couldn't be closer to it in terms of location," she said.
"But we expect the people in Newton to put up with it next to a school and next to housing."
Gill acknowledged he received a call from Coleman during the public-hearing process – in reply to a request to BCLC for clarification of whether the application was the only opportunity for a casino in Surrey – in which the minister told him the Gateway proposal was Surrey's only chance for such a project.
Coun. Bruce Hayne – who voted against the casino – also received a call from Coleman during that time, unsolicited, in which the minister advised the consequences of a no vote.
No other council members say they received such a call from Coleman during that time.