White Rock residents and business owners who packed Thursday’s all-candidates meeting got answers to just three questions over the two hours.
But first, in a lengthy preamble by moderator Gary Hollick, they heard why many of their submitted concerns wouldn’t be addressed.
“No disrespect – a lot of your questions are very valid… but they don’t actually apply to these people,” Hollick told the standing-room-only crowd, citing health care, education and the much-discussed railway as among topics that fall under provincial or federal jurisdiction and therefore wouldn’t be covered.
While the municipal hopefuls “become your advocates, become your voice… I had to take some of the questions away because they’re really not that relevant, though they are extremely important to this community,” he said.
Both mayoral candidates and all 17 who are vying for councillor seats in the seaside city turned out to the meeting, which was held at the White Rock Community Centre and co-hosted by the White Rock BIA and the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Following 40 minutes of candidate introductions – during which several raised railway-relocation and safety issues, and some health care – and prior to 20 minutes of closing statements, Hollick put questions around development, infrastructure and the Official Community Plan, which he compiled from resident submissions, on the table.
The evening went sideways part way in, when some residents voiced disapproval of the way Hollick was interpreting submitted questions.
As well, later in the evening, mayoral challenger David Bradshaw wanted a second opportunity to address infrastructure and taxes, grabbing the microphone from BIA executive director Douglas Smith as it was being passed to Sheila Hunter-Tubic.
Initially, however, the questions and answers began somewhat more traditionally.
Asked what the future holds for White Rock in terms of development, mayoral incumbent Wayne Baldwin cited a number of approved but unfinished projects – including Miramar Village, the Saltaire and Avra – and said he doesn’t see much new development happening “in the next couple of years.”
“Every development should match what is contained in the OCP,” he added.
Bradshaw – who has been at odds with city officials for more than a year over a development going up in front of his Victoria Avenue home – disagreed that such activity in White Rock is limited.
“Depends on where you live,” Bradshaw said. “There’s a hell of a lot of construction happening in East Beach.”
Rather than paint a picture of the city’s future, Bradshaw told attendees he is “here to implement what you people want.”
“I hate highrises,” he said, to applause, noting he left three other Metro Vancouver cities to escape highrises. “I think they destroy communities, they destroy community spirit.”
Several councillor candidates also spoke to the issue.
Incumbent Bill Lawrence said development is “definitely not a dirty word,” but whatever comes needs to be smart and not take away from White Rock’s charm.
David Chesney – who later repeatedly noted he came “this close” to winning a seat in the last two elections – advised attendees to “be very careful of some of the things being said here tonight.”
He said input collected during an earlier council’s design charette on the town centre – where he believes development should be restricted to – has essentially been ignored.
Doug Hart, reading from prepared notes, also supported keeping development uptown, with the OCP as the benchmark.
Pattie Petrala and Lynne Sinclair both expressed disappointment that energies put into an affordable-housing strategy have been stagnant.
Petrala favours preserving rental stock, and an integrated-housing policy that includes floors or units reserved for people with special needs; Sinclair said that while change is inevitable, “it’s a matter of, is the change going to be positive for White Rock?”
Incumbent Helen Fathers said 99 per cent of people she speaks with on the street are not happy with development in White Rock, and the next council has “to make sure we’re not retrofitting the ideas of the council of the day.”
For Cary van Zanten, the key is to build for the future, “but we’re going to do it properly.”
Woods, a former city councillor, criticized the public process as dismissive of residents. While many have stood in city hall to speak against various projects, “all of a sudden it goes through because they’ve got four (council) votes,” she said.
The proceedings were interrupted just over an hour in, when attendees took issue with Hollick’s presentation of a question around taxes and infrastructure, which also began with a preamble.
“You’re skewing the debate,” said Andrew Schulz, cutting off Hollick, who is past-president of the chamber and current publisher of the Surrey Now newspaper.
A woman who chimed in – telling Hollick he was “not a teacher” and “these are closed questions” – was admonished by the moderator.
“Excuse me, ma’am, you’re not part of this program,” Hollick said.
When the dust settled, Bradshaw said he would not be against a referendum on whether White Rock should join Surrey; and, that White Rock should consider a new tax on absentee owners – a suggestion incumbent Grant Meyer later supported.
Baldwin, however, said he’d had staff investigate the move, and it can’t be done.
“It would be nice, but it’s not going to happen,” he said.
Baldwin said that while White Rock has one-quarter of the average commercial/industrial tax base in Vancouver, the city’s infrastructure is in “very, very good shape,” and spending is below average.
Citizens, however, will pay the price for the recent demolition of the former Coast Capital Savings building at the corner of Thrift Avenue and George Street, he said. Without a building on the lot, the city loses $80,000 in property taxes, “which means all of you will be paying more.”
Hunter-Tubic said taxes “and that sort of thing” are not her area of expertise, and she would “get heads together” to examine the issue. She envisions “’60s-style” mini office buildings uptown and tourist areas like those in Granville Island.
Darcy Sangster said more pressing than infrastructure is addressing parking on Marine Drive, to help waterfront merchants survive the slow season.
Incumbent Al Campbell described the city’s debt-free state as “pretty impressive,” noting its infrastructure is in good shape. He also said it takes being on council to get a real sense of where things are at. Without that perspective, “you don’t know the facts,” he said.
Regarding the future for the OCP, Baldwin said “not much” will change in the document’s upcoming review. Areas where the guidelines need refining are west of Martin Drive, and along North Bluff Road and Finlay Street.
Bradshaw said he was going to use his response time regarding the OCP question to speak about infrastructure – a response he directed to Campbell.
“I’m relieved, Al, that the infrastructure is in good shape,” Bradshaw said. “You’re the one that told me it wasn’t.”
Regarding the OCP, Bradshaw said “you have to follow the damn thing” – something that hasn’t been happening, he said.
“I want to clean everything up… and I want you people to tell me what you want.”
Councillor hopeful Mike Hornak said part of the problem with the OCP is not enough people know what it is, nor do they take the time to add their voice to the review process.
“Not enough people want to have a say in it. We want to make sure that we do what you say and what you want,” he said.
Dennis Lypka – who earlier this year filed a petition in court in an effort to quash a bylaw amendment that cleared the way for a 199-bed care facility adjacent to his Oxford Street home – also said the OCP needs to be adhered to.
“I think the biggest problem we’ve got with it… is not sticking with it,” he said.
The election takes place Nov. 15. Advance voting opportunities in White Rock are set for Nov. 5, 6 and 12, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the White Rock Community Centre.