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White Rock voters pack civic-election debates
An all-candidates meeting at the White Rock Community Centre Thursday had many of the usual ingredients: a little mud-slinging, a few loaded questions and an awkward moment or two.
Approximately 300 people who turned out to hear from the candidates – an even bigger crowd than the 250 that packed the contenders’ first meeting the night before – didn’t have to wait long for the first tense moment.
It came during introductions, when mayoral candidate Lynne Sinclair highlighted the compensation package given to challenger Wayne Baldwin from his 2006 retirement as city manager. After salary, benefit payouts and severance, the total was $523,678, Sinclair said, noting she raised the issue “only because Mr. Baldwin publicly named two of our staff.” In a statement to Peace Arch News in September, Baldwin criticized “exceedingly generous” compensation packages given to current city manager Peggy Clark and operations director Rob Thompson.
“I’m not someone who attacks salaries, but I didn’t make it the issue,” Sinclair said. “If the pot calls the kettle black, it’s fair game.”
Baldwin – after briefly chiding Sinclair in his own introduction, in which he described himself as “the extremely rich Wayne Baldwin” – defended himself minutes later, during a rebuttal on an unrelated question.
His voice breaking, Baldwin said the package came about after council opted not to renew his contract and declined his request “for more time,” which he said he made because his wife had cancer.
“It was not my choice. It was the choice of council,” he said.
Most of the BIA-hosted meeting – as well as the previous night’s meeting, hosted by Democracy Direct (formerly Friends of White Rock) – was decidedly less tense, at least during the debate periods themselves.
Following Wednesday’s meeting at the same venue, host Margaret Woods rebuffed a conciliatory gesture of a handshake from candidate and onetime council colleague Cliff Annable – the two having made national headlines for a June 2003 behind-closed-doors incident that ended with a charge of assault against Woods that was later stayed.
The first half of Thursday’s meeting focused on three mayoral candidates.
(A fourth, Angelo Megla, did not attend either meeting, telling PAN by email Friday that he would be dropping out of the race. His name will still be on the ballot.)
Each answered questions on topics ranging from what they would do differently at city hall, to re-amalgamation with Surrey, to how they would promote the city to investors.
On the latter, Larry Anschell focused on rejuvenating Marine Drive and boosting tourism year-round. He rebutted an assertion by Sinclair that weather is a more challenging element than the seasons when drawing visitors to the waterfront – “the true deterrent is the fact that in 2010 we gave out 15,500 (parking) tickets.”
Regarding how they would deal with mounting pressure to amalgamate, Sinclair said more faith in the city is needed, Baldwin criticized the current council’s decision to contract RCMP dispatch services to Surrey and Anschell said smart ideas are needed to turn the tide that, left as is, will eventually leave White Rock with no other choice.
Sinclair defended the dispatch contract as an idea that came from the police themselves, and noted the move saved the city $400,000.
One attendee took Anschell to task over the fact he doesn’t live in White Rock.
“Aside from your own financial gain, what have you personally contributed to White Rock during your time as a non-resident business owner?” moderator David Webb read from submitted questions.
Anschell responded that taxes he pays as a business owner help pay the salaries of the current council. As well, clients of his recording studio frequent local businesses.
While he goes home to Ocean Park, much of his day is spent in White Rock, he added – “I do not see it as much of an issue.”
Sinclair noted she doesn’t think non-residents should run for mayor.
Asked how they would encourage businesses to move to White Rock, Sinclair and Anschell said boosting tourism and the arts would go a long way. Baldwin said increasing density will create customers, and “the businesses will follow.”
Questions to councillor candidates were fielded in the second hour.
Through Webb, a former councillor, voters asked the 13 hopefuls about issues ranging from what to do with city-owned property, to how to include apartments in the green-waste program.
One attendee – citing a recent PAN article in which incumbent Helen Fathers at first denied, then admitted to, making anonymous online comments – asked Fathers “why should we, as voters, trust you after that?”
Fathers responded that she initially didn’t understand the topic when first interviewed.
“I spoke to them at 7 a.m. I made a mistake in what I said,” Fathers said. “It’s a small part of my three years as councillor.”
Council-hopeful Barry Belec said he supports returning city property such as road ends to the use of all residents; Graham Wood said he is in favour of keeping services, such as fire, police and the library, independent of Surrey. Incumbent Grant Meyer confirmed he continues efforts on a waterfront trail system that extends from White Rock to Crescent Beach; Brad Forster – husband of former mayor Judy Forster – said the status quo is “a good place to start” when it comes to pay parking, but noted a four-month discount season is too short.
Candidate Larry Robinson, when asked about his vision for cutting costs, said he wants to prepare a 20-year development plan; Steven Hughes said he supports the creation of an independent arts centre, as well as responsible town-centre development that “strictly” follows the guidelines of the Official Community Plan.
Dave Chesney said personal agendas need to be put aside and that a key addition he would bring to council is “that ability to draw people together”; former councillor Louise Hutchinson said she would encourage “good flow” between the community and city hall – key to being a sustainable city.
Asked to describe what Annable meant by a pledge to “get back to basics,” he responded that people are forgetting what it means to be good neighbours, and that White Rock needs to “get back to what we as a community know and have had for many years.”
Incumbent Mary-Wade Anderson injected humour into the evening, when asked how she would upgrade her skills to stay current with technology.
“Slowly. Very slowly,” the senior, said, detailing her forays into computer purchases and lauding the patience afforded her by the city’s information technology staff.
“If that’s avoiding the answer, I hope I did it well,” she said.
The previous evening, some residual heat from council’s Policy 611 – which allows for public applications to remove or trim trees on city land to preserve views – was felt, particularly during questions from the floor by residents Doug McGinn and Doug Ellerbeck, who were on opposing sides of the city’s contentious removal of trees on Royal Avenue.
Incumbents generally agreed in characterizing the Royal Avenue controversy as a long-standing dispute between neighbours that had led to a staff report, which recommended removal of the trees as contributing to slope instability.
“After that everything seemed to go sideways,” incumbent Al Campbell said, adding he felt slow city process had exacerbated the situation.
Baldwin suggested residents should be able to apply to remove or trim trees to preserve views that existed when they bought their homes, but not to improve property values.
Anschell went one further, saying he favoured the city compiling a digital inventory of existing views to provide a benchmark for settling such issues.
Incumbents refused to be drawn by questions on consultants’ costs, which already top $1 million for 2011.
Councillor candidate Bruce McWilliam weighed in on the topic the next night, saying he favours making accounts payable and receivable public on a monthly basis.
Asked to voice their visions for White Rock Wednesday, Sinclair, Baldwin and Anschell said Marine Drive is in need of an overhaul to improve its appeal to visitors, but that increased height and density of development within town centre limits (such as Bosa’s Miramar Village and the Essence development) is a fact of life that must be dealt with.
“You have to make lemonade out of the lemons you’re given,” Sinclair said. “The towers we’re in today exist – we have to move forward and make it work for us.”
Sinclair said her biggest objection to the Bosa development was that it did not address needs of seniors and young families.
“We got a community centre, but what about affordable housing?” she said.
Baldwin, city manager at the time the Bosa development was approved, said that while he supports development and business investment to lessen the discrepancy between the residential and business tax base, he also called for “no more 21-storey buildings.”
In response to a question, Baldwin said his role in the Bosa development was strictly as an instrument of council.
“Council directed me to put together a deal and that was pretty well it,” he said. “Examine the voting record and you won’t find my vote on it too often.”
Baldwin said that while “White Rock is on the verge of something great,” he noted he hears many say that re-amalgamation with Surrey is only a matter of time.
“I don’t buy that for a minute,” he said, adding he advocates a continuation of the no-borrowing, pay-as-you-go fiscal approach instituted during his time on staff.
“We need to manage our resources – we will grow at our own rate.”
Anschell said the OCP needs to be redefined to specify height limits, so property owners can know what to expect and redevelopment is not stalled in anticipation of more towers south of Thrift.
Anschell said he doesn’t believe higher density is the answer to White Rock’s ills.
“We need to be more creative,” he said, comparing White Rock to the small community of Cannon Beach, Ore., which he noted uses its arts orientation to attract visitors and business.
“We need to be an arts destination, we need a strong arts presence to attract tourism,” Anschell said, adding he is pledging 10 per cent of his salary as mayor to establishing an artists co-operative.
Anschell said the perception of city hall is “one of dysfunction,” which he hopes to address through “transparency and accountability.”
He told the crowd his experience running a recording studio for 25 years has given him a “finely-tuned sense of diplomacy” which will be useful in facilitating council decision making, rather than advancing a personal agenda.
McWilliam cited his background as an urban planner and years of experience as a municipal staff member outside of White Rock as a benefit to best serving the best interests of the taxpayer.
“We want to know what the development is before we take it to public hearing,” McWilliam said.
“That’s what the law of B.C is – but we haven’t seen that here in White Rock.”
Hutchinson, who served on council from 1985 to 1996, said she has been moved to seek office again by talk that “White Rock can’t exist as a city any more.”
“The thing that disturbs me is that this is coming from people who know White Rock,” she said. “The only way to get to the bottom of things is by being in the middle of things.”
Campbell said he wants to “continue to listen to citizens and uphold the rules, regulations and bylaws” of the city, noting his prior background as a police officer.
Robinson said he has reached an age where he wants to leave a legacy to White Rock. He said the city is “beautiful but challenging,” calling for “specific site zoning.”
“I look at White Rock planning as a three-dimensional puzzle,” Robinson said.
Wood said local government should engage citizens in an active way, and help them understand planning currently underway.
“There are boards that make plans and there are boards that take action,” he said. “We need smart development and sustainable development.”
Meyer noted he was elected in the byelection two years ago, and said he is proud to have been part of positive progress since then.
“New development has to be held to the highest standard,” he said, adding that it must also be “environmentally sound.”
Chesney, who publishes the online ‘White Rock Sun,’ said the city faces three “big-ticket items”: changes to the OCP, sharing of fire services with Surrey and potential amalgamation with Surrey.
“These three are referendum items,” he said. He also urged “open and inclusive government,” noting “there are too many closed-door meetings.”
Annable emphasized his record as an independent businessman.
“I want to make White Rock the most desirable place to live in Canada,” he said.
Belec said there has been a “groundswell of lobbying in the city” and that government needs to recognize the “public’s right to air their issues.”
“We should not have development for development’s sake,” he said, adding he wants to “protect the single-family home, which I think is in danger.”
Fathers said she spent her first term on council listening and learning to inform herself on the issues.
“I believe I deserve another term on council,” she said. “I want to be part of a council that listens to the public and encourages public dialogue.”
Hughes also underlined the need for councillors to listen.
“At the heart of democracy is the voice of citizens, and the one thing being overlooked is the voice of the citizens,” he said.
“I support responsible town centre development, but the city and the citizens do not work for the developers.”
Forster said he is not an advocate of amalgamation with Surrey.
“I am foremost a supporter of an independent city,” he said, adding that this calls for “quality highrises in the town centre only” and high standards of fiscal responsibility.
“As stewards of the public purse, we should spend money as though it is coming from our own pockets,” he said.
Next meeting Nov. 9
A final opportunity for White Rock voters to hear from candidates is to take place Wednesday (Nov. 9) at the First United Church, 15385 Semiahmoo Ave.
Sponsored by the Peninsula Homeless to Housing Round Table, the 7-9 p.m. meeting will focus on affordable housing, food security and living wage.
The civic election takes place Nov. 19. Advance voting gets underway Tuesday.
- with files from Alex Browne