COLUMN: New idea leaves bad taste

An honest, no-holds-barred conversation about food kiosks on White Rock’s waterfront was a good way to hear from business people who are among the most significant contributors to White Rock’s economy.

How can one make that statement?

White Rock has a very limited commercial tax base, and no industrial tax base. It gets little money in lieu of taxes from senior governments, who have little presence in the city. Other than businesses along Johnston and North Bluff roads and a couple of side streets, most businesses are located along Marine Drive.

So the businesses there are major contributors of property and business taxes to the city.

But they do much more.

They are one of the major attractions, and bring people into the city. There is no question that the beach, promenade and pier are the top attractions, but many people come to enjoy those while visiting local restaurants and other businesses.

As one of the most popular restaurants, The Boathouse, says on its sign, it offers “free sunsets.”

As major attractions, they are a key reason that parking is at a premium during the good weather period, which runs roughly from late April until mid-October.

Almost all of that parking revenue goes to the city, and it is an essential part of the city’s annual budget. It would be in big trouble without that revenue.

In addition, businesses there employ a lot of local people, particularly young people. Young people traditionally are looking for as much work as they can in the summer months, in between university courses. While many jobs are minimum wage, a number offer the opportunity to make good tips and are sought after.

White Rock Business Improvement Association executive director Lyn Hellyar said she knows of no waterfront restaurants who support bringing in mobile food vendors.

The established restaurateurs rely heavily on their summer business to keep them going year-round.

Business is often slow in the winter months, and pay parking doesn’t help matters any. Many people simply don’t think about going to White Rock in the winter, due to either the weather or the cost of parking.

City staff had recommend that up to four food kiosks be allowed in the westernmost parking lot on Marine Drive, near Bayview Park.

While that location is far away from most restaurants, four kiosks will have at least some effect on business.

Food kiosks are a great idea in cities where there is a lot of year-round traffic, such as downtown areas of big cities such as Vancouver or Portland, where kiosks are particularly prominent. They add immeasurably to the overall vibe of the city.

A small city like White Rock, where the beach area is the main attraction, is quite different. While kiosks would add some variety, there is already good variety at the restaurants located there now.

It is true that it can be hard to get into some of them at the busiest times, but most take reservations, and there are plenty of alternatives.

Portland consultant Lizzy Caston, an urban planner, waived her fee to make a presentation at the meeting, and commended the city for having an open, healthy and democratic process to discuss the idea.

Food kiosks would be popular – but ultimately, the city needs to think carefully about any moves that penalize the businesses that are its bread and butter.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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