Linda Hepner sits in a sofa chair in the living room of her comfortable South Surrey home and tells The Leader in an exclusive interview what many have suspected for some time.
She will announce publicly today that she’s Surrey First’s choice as a mayor heading into this November’s civic election.
She says she has the full support of her team to lead them into the next election.
The only other contender for the job within the ranks of Surrey First was Coun. Bruce Hayne, who stepped aside and said he was backing Hepner.
Dressed in a black pantsuit, she cups her mug of coffee, and wears an easy smile.
She says she’s ready for the battle for the mayor’s chair.
(Coun. Barinder Rasode has told The Leader she will be running for mayor as well).
Describing herself as an “experienced senior,” the Fredericton-born woman arrived in Surrey in 1985, when she promptly started work with the city.
Beginning as executive assistant to city manager Mike Jones, Hepner rose through the ranks and became manager of economic development, film and special events.
In 2005, she took a leave of absence to run for city council and won a seat, which she’s kept.
She says as mayor, she would bring “experience, steadfastness, team building and courage” to the table.
“It takes a lot of courage to follow in the footsteps of Dianne Watts,” Hepner says of the popular mayor who recently said she wouldn’t run for the centre chair this fall.
Hepner says that under Watts’ leadership, the city has taken some “enormous strides.“
But there’s more that can be done, Hepner says.
She wants to focus on economic development and continue working to establish one job per Surrey resident.
She wants to turn the King George Boulevard, between 80 and 64 Avenues, into a “Creative Corridor,” inviting all types of performing arts, design businesses and fine arts shops.
“That’s my vision, and that’s what I would be pushing to do.“
She also believes Campbell Heights, a large business district near 192 Street and 24 Avenue, is undersold.
She wants to see more agri-food industry there as well as aerospace firms.
Hepner was economic development manager for the city when Campbell Heights came to fruition. She describes it as the best land to build on this side of Burlington, Ontario.
More can, and will, be done on that vast property, she vows.
Crime reduction is also a key challenge that Hepner wants to address.
But she says it’s “myopic and simplistic” to just throw more police at the problem.
Innovative solutions include getting more civilians to do the desk work, so gun-carrying police can be out on the road where they belong.
“Get the police officers doing the real police work,” Hepner says.
She also wants to do more about the root causes of crime.
Some of the things she’s considering is regulating all drug and alcohol recovery homes so they all meet an acceptable standard.
More also needs to be done for at-risk youth, she says.
She also wants to “reinvigorate” the Block Watch program, which is falling away in communities such as Newton.
Newton itself needs some attention she says, and under her watch, the community will get it.
She wants to relocate the Newton ice arena, and create a centre for excellence on ice elsewhere in the community.
Where else, she asks, do you see an ice rink in the centre of the community?
In its place, she wants to work with the private sector to get a mixture of commercial and residential at the Newton site.
She thinks a hotel and trade and convention centre should be located at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.
And Hepner also wants to increase the pressure on TransLink to bring this city more effective public transit.
Like Watts, Hepner wants to see at-grade rail in the city as soon as possible.
Hepner also noted TransLink has been operating under flawed data when they determine population density (usually used to justify levels of service).
TransLink has been determining Surrey’s density by factoring in the entire land mass, including the 33 per cent that’s Agricultural Land Reserve. As it’s set aside for important food harvest, Hepner says it shouldn’t be used in the formula.
When the ALR is excluded, Surrey has the same population density as Burnaby, Hepner says.
She informed the transportation authority of that two years ago, and says things are changing because of it.
Hepner says there are also fun things the city could be doing.
With an effort to get more people to the waterfront on the Fraser River, Hepner wants to see a ferris wheel on the beach by the Pattullo Bridge.
“Why can’t I have a ferris wheel there?” Hepner asks. “Why can’t I have something that brings kids to the waterfront?”
She would also like to see fireworks, or anything that will attracts families to Brownsville Bar.
“I’d like to do something that activates the waterfront.“
She also wants to make use of Surrey Lake, a body of water created more than a decade ago at 75 Avenue and 152 Street.
“Either bring in some sand, make it a beach, let somebody utilize it, or don’t call it Surrey Lake,” Hepner says. “Because it certainly isn’t.“
She says it’s “begging for attention,” and it either gets it, or the name should come off.
Overall, she says she’s extremely pleased with the economic environment that’s been created over the last decade in this city.
“The enormity of what we have achieved and the fact I believe a whole lot of that success is attached to the governance structure that we’ve created,” Hepner says.
“I’m tremendously proud of that. I don’t think that’s happened anywhere else in the country.“
Knowing Rasode has begun garnering support, Hepner says the civic campaign has already started.
The election will be held on Saturday, Nov. 15.