Two all-candidates meetings for six White Rock mayoral hopefuls last week showed a sharp philosophical divide between maintaining the status quo and calling for sweeping change in city governance.
On one side of the meetings – presented by the White Rock BIA and the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce – was White Rock Coalition’s Grant Meyer, an incumbent councillor now seeking the mayor’s chair left vacant by the retirement of Mayor Wayne Baldwin.
On the other side were Democracy Direct White Rock’s Darryl Walker and independents Judy Higginbotham, Mike Pearce, Garry Wolgemuth and Tom Bryant, who told the capacity crowds that development in the city – including highrise construction uptown – has come too far and too fast and has been at the cost of city businesses, particularly during the disruption of Memorial Park reconstruction on the waterfront and a protracted Johnston Road rebuild.
Meyer called for building on the achievements of the past council, which has been dominated by a White Rock Coalition majority. Among them, he counted the acquisition of White Rock’s water utility, the ongoing revitalization project for Johnston Road, upgrade of Memorial Park and construction of a new waterfront parkade.
But the other five candidates said all should have been handled better, including putting some on hold to upgrade necessary infrastructure. They all called for review of city policies with regard to communication and timely response to business-owners’ needs, and for bringing residents and business people further into the decision-making process through greater consultation, including open discussion at town hall meetings and a reinstatement of the question period at council meetings.
Most outspoken criticism of the past council came at an Oct. 12 meeting, which brought around 200 members of the public – plus councillor candidates who delivered summaries of their platforms – to the White Rock Community Centre.
“I do not like the idea of the coalition building highrises and pushing highrises the way they’re doing – I don’t like them going outside the OCP the same night they voted in the OCP,” said Higginbotham, who also called for city water to be connected to the Metro Vancouver system “as soon as possible.”
“If a neighbourhood is a neighbourhood, it doesn’t need a seven-storey highrise smack dab in the middle of it,” said Walker. “If the OCP says it’s five storeys, it’s five storeys, not eight, because we’re getting $8 million to spend on a pet project.”
Wolgemuth said the approval for the Elegant project on Oxford Street – including 23- and 24-storey buildings – was “six times the zoned height.” He also said community amenity contributions should have helped provide affordable housing.
Meyer received loud disapproval from some in the crowd when he stated “I’m not pro-development – I’m for good development.” He went on to say he would continue to support highrises within the OCP prescribed limits of the uptown area “along the 16 Avenue-North Bluff border, and along Johnston Road.”
At an Oct. 9 meeting – attended by some 100 BIA and chamber members and invited guests at the Centennial Arena meeting room – candidates’ views were brought forward through a combination of opening and closing remarks and answers to pre-submitted questions from members of both organizations, posed by veteran journalist and Peace Arch News columnist Frank Bucholtz.
Pearce, pointing to his experience as mayor of both Penticton and Quesnel over a period of 13 years, emphasized the need for consultation. He told the crowd it was time for the city to develop a theme for redevelopment on Marine Drive, although he slammed the past council for “hours of stupid debate about a restaurant on the pier” – “It’s a stupid idea,” he said. “Disneyland stuff.”
Wolgemuth said he believes a new review of the city’s OCP is justified.
“I don’t believe the OCP reflects what people want – there are too many highrises,” he said, noting the nature of the development approved doesn’t fit the character of the city and doesn’t help small businesses.
Bryant repeatedly exhorted listeners to examine his “60-day plan” for the city.
“You don’t need me to tell you how to run your business,” he said.