Tempers flared Wednesday evening as more than 200 residents packed White Rock Community Centre to discuss the contentious issue of garbage collection.
The city-hosted meeting, moderated by White Rock Coun. Bill Lawrence, was intended to provide information for residents of multifamily units about the privatization of solid-waste collection, but quickly turned into a forum for angry attendees to vent frustrations at the city regarding the change.
Speaking to the lively crowd, Mayor Wayne Baldwin immediately acknowledged the city’s shortcomings communicating the changes to service, set to take place July 1.
“We did not do a great job of communicating this,” Baldwin said, garnering applause from the crowd. “It could have been a lot better, and we would like to rectify this situation.”
Baldwin outlined some of the reasons behind the termination of solid-waste pick up for multifamily residences – including current high costs, the need to move to user-fee and align with the “best practices” of other municipalities and addressing the issue of organics collection.
He then turned the floor over to the city’s director of municipal operations, Greg St. Louis, who presented a PowerPoint presentation detailing the background of the city’s solid-waste plan and the next steps in implementing it.
When the meeting was opened up for public questions and comments, residents expressed their discontent with the city and its plan.
Criticism ranged from the timing of the decision, made in-camera just weeks after the municipal election, to the feeling of “abandonment” on the part of strata residents.
Warren Manuel, who lives in a 10-unit condo building, pointed out inequality between how the city is treating multifamily dwellers and single-family residences.
“I don’t mind paying more taxes if I’m getting the kind of service that I want,” Manuel said. “But I don’t like the idea of single family getting a pass and all the condo people getting their garbage cut off. That is not right. And I am not voting for any of you guys again.”
Adding a voice from the business community was restaurateur John Carroll, owner of Charlie Don’t Surf on Marine Drive.
Carroll told the crowd his annual White Rock tax bill for his business is $45,000, compared to $12,000 for a similar business he owns in Cloverdale. Estimating his annual garbage collection bill will be $26,000 under White Rock’s new private system – and noting his customers have brought in close to $9 million in parking revenue for the city – Carroll said he deserved more respect than what the city has shown.
“I see myself as a partner here,” he said. “You just arbitrarily came out and told us. You didn’t consult us, you didn’t ask us. That’s what we want – a little respect.”
Only one speaker – a White Rock property manager – did not express dissatisfaction with the city, however he was there to seek help educating his tenants on proper waste-disposal methods.
Regarding the lack of public consultation, Baldwin noted there would be an opportunity for council to revisit the issue in a public manner, however that conversation likely wouldn’t take place at a special April 7 council meeting requested last month by Couns. Helen Fathers and David Chesney, who were both present at Wednesday’s meeting.
“That meeting, I can tell you right now, won’t last for more than a minute and a half, so don’t bother attending,” Baldwin said, later explaining two other councillors would be on vacation and unable to attend. “There will be a meeting on April 10, that will be a longer meeting with a full discussion of the process. And there might be a change, I don’t know. I can’t speak for what council is going to do.”
Fathers told Peace Arch News the next day that she is happy to have all council members in attendance at the meeting, but that “time is of the essence” in addressing what she described as a “mess.”
“I know that everyone is upset and we need to find some solutions really quick,” she said. “We have done a terrible job of communicating this. We need to have a lot more respect, and I don’t think that was conveyed last night.”
Another area of concern brought up was the increased garbage-truck traffic in the city – something St. Louis acknowledged in his presentation as a “challenge” the city will face under the new system.
“What do you think it’s going to look like in White Rock when we have so many different companies picking up garbage?” resident Linda Coulter asked. “Every day there will be different people’s garbage cans out on the street. Being able to walk in our walkable city is going to be much more difficult. Is that your image for what you want our city to look like?”
Towards the end of the two-hour meeting, resident Susan Watkins appealed for the mayor, council and city staff to seize the opportunity to focus on a workable solution.
“Everybody in this room could be spending a lot more time and energy with the leadership of White Rock figuring out what to do with our garbage,” Watkins said.
“We need your leadership.”