Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts used her ninth – and final – State of the City Address to recap a decade in the centre chair and underline what has been important for her over her three terms in office as mayor.
Watts addressed hundreds of people at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, in what was her swan song to civic politics.
Watts told The Leader in an exclusive interview April 24 that she was not running for mayor this fall.
“In 2005, I gave myself a finite amount of time – no more than three terms – to create a vision, set the vision and execute that vision,” Watts told the crowd on Wednesday.
At the outset, she said she realized there were huge challenges facing her in this administration.
Watts took the helm of a diverse city where 1,000 people were moving every month, where residents spoke more than 95 different languages, and where one-third of the population was under 19 years old.
Watts said when she was elected mayor, she was at the centre of a city with minimal social infrastructure, one hospital, underfunded schools, roads and other infrastructure and a lack of public transit.
“And a split, adversarial council,” Watts said. “But who’s not up for a challenge?”
She knew she wasn’t going to affect change on her own.
“I needed a team that could see and feel and understand that they too were part of that vision,” Watts said. “That’s not to say we agreed on everything, because we didn’t.“
However, the team was galvanized by a deep sense of mutual respect.
That was backed, she said, by a tremendously talented city staff who made sure visions could be realized.
Most importantly, she said, there was a community that shared a passion for that vision.
Establishing healthy public policy was a priority, she said.
That included five key areas: stability within the organization, a strong investment climate, integrated social support, quality of life for families and green-friendly infrastructure
Stability was enhanced with the creation of policies such as the Whistleblower Policy, Respectful Workplace Policy, Lobbyist Registry and a streamlining process.
“Stability within an organization is key – not only for the residents, but for private-sector investors, as well,” Watts said.
Meanwhile, technology is helping policing, she said.
By year’s end, there will be 250 closed circuit TV cameras throughout the city.
Along with that, a mobile app and online reporting will offer another way of reporting crimes. There will also be predictive analysis, which will help determine where crimes are most likely to occur.
“This is all about efficient, effective and responsive government,” Watts said.
Creating a social infrastructure has also been important over the last nine years, she said.
“Those that are imprisoned in their minds, afflicted with mental health disorders, need to be supported to find a ray of hope that will give them something to hang on to,” Watts told the crowd.
To that end, several policies have been launched, including the Crime Reduction Strategy, Poverty Reduction Strategy, Housing and Homelessness Master Plan, Plan for the Social Wellbeing of Surrey Residents, along with a host of other initiatives.
The direction has resulted in funding for six outreach workers, a Homelessness and Housing Foundation, the Phoenix Centre for addiction treatment, and many other facilities for those in need.
“Through creating and fostering partnerships, advocating for what Surrey needs, we have strengthened our social infrastructure considerably,” Watts said.
As far as quality of life for Surrey residents, Surrey has introduced Child and Youth Friendly City Strategy, Cultural and Public Art Strategy, Walking and Cycling Plan and Age Friendly Strategy.
Those have resulted in 300 kilometres of trails and pathways, 55 public art pieces, and myriad family-oriented events, including the 2010 Olympic Celebration, Fusion Festival and Party for the Planet, to name a few.
“As a city, we wanted to ensure that families with small children… have every opportunity to connect to the community,” Watts said. “These elements build community and bring people together.“
A move to environmentally focused infrastructure has resulted in alternative energy, preservation of green spaces – including 7,900 acres of parkland – protected spaces and wildlife areas.
Surrey has also secured 4,500 acres of land to be preserved and plans to purchase 1,200 more.
“Our Green Surrey Initiative, officially launching today, underscores our commitment to conservation, investment and engagement in the environment,” Watt said.
She announced Wednesday that an additional 1,000 acres would be secured and preserved for the public in perpetuity.
On the job creation and commerce front, Surrey has implemented an Economic Development Strategy, Economic Investment Plan, and Build Surrey Program, has reduced red tape and tabled a transportation plan.
Watts noted that Surrey has been named the best place to invest in B.C. for the last four years in a row, as well as the best place to find a job in the Lower Mainland.
“I can honestly say that I have held this city and its people in the highest regard,” Watts said. “When we are going in the same direction as a collective force supporting one another, we are unstoppable.
“I have always believed great people deserve a great city,” she said.