EDITORIAL: Vision still to be judged

Even before Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts went public last weekend with her decision not to seek a fourth term, much had been made of her popularity with voters.

According to major-media pundits, for three terms Surrey residents have been nothing but entranced with the mayor and her vision of the city as an urban centre, rather than a suburban bedroom community.

But her announcement, coinciding as it did with the official opening of the city’s new ‘$97-million’ city hall, only reinforces an impression, locally, that the end of an era has been reached.

The paint hadn’t dried on this jewel of Surrey’s new city centre when some began sniping at the potential cost to taxpayers – as high as $150 million – particularly in light of other pressing needs, such as an improved RCMP presence and repairs to badly potholed roads.

And while some were thrilled with Watts’ apparent about-face last year on the now-dead South Surrey casino project, others wondered why she let it go so far without criticism, and still more were wondering whether her deciding vote was misplaced.

Cracks have already appeared, of course, in the unified front of Watts’ ‘non-party,’ Surrey First, with this month’s departure of Coun. Barinder Rasode to sit as an independent. Some of Rasode’s departing complaints have to do with transparency – that too much of the business of Surrey has been run out of the mayor’s office, rather than debated openly in council chambers.

There have been others who have expressed disenchantment during Watts’ reign with what they have seen as a pro-development agenda, saying that the rampant building-out of areas have mocked Surrey’s theoretic commitment to green space.

This isn’t to say Watts hadn’t had an incredibly successful run as mayor. She has, both as judged by many residents and business people, as well as by the above-mentioned pundits, who have given her that elusive elongated honeymoon period.

But whoever follows in Watts’ footsteps should be forewarned:

As planned phases of development begin to come to fruition, there is every indication the current approach to urbanization will be increasingly tested, as ordinary residents observe more rural land being swallowed by cookie-cutter subdivisions

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