A Safe Surrey Coalition city councillor maintains he is not in a conflict of interest after his family bought a bowling alley in West Newton along 84th Avenue – a road which is the subject of a controversial expansion at the south end of Bear Creek Park that’s expected to eventually join Scott Road with Fraser Highway – because the property was not put up for sale until months after he voted on the project.
Coun. Mandeep Nagra said he cast his vote supporting the 84th connection in February, before the property hit the market.
“At that time this property was not for sale and my family or my brother or we were not aware of any future possible purchase of any sort of property on 84th Avenue or close by. So we bought this property, my brother bought this property, five and a half months after I voted on this.”
The question of a “possible conflict of interest” was raised this week by Sebastian Sajda, the president of Force of Nature, organizer of the Friends of Bear Creek Park and a council candidate who will be running under the banner of SSC’s rival, Surrey Connect, in the next civic election.
“While councillor Elford was the one who put forward an amendment to move the 84th Avenue extension to the five-year time frame from the 10-year time frame, it was the usually quiet councillor Nagra who seconded that motion and then proceeded to ask staff if it was possible to further accelerate the 84th avenue project” Sajda noted. “Obviously, increased traffic along 84th is going to increase business and drive up the price of commercial real estate: a logical consequence of turning 84th Avenue into an east-west connector.”
According to the office of the Ombudsperson of British Columbia, the Community Charter “prohibits council members from participating in any discussion or voting on a matter in which the member has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in a matter or another interest in the matter that constitutes a conflict of interest.”
In February the SSC majority on council resurrected and fast-tracked the 84th Avenue connection at the southernmost end of the park. In 2007 the city had put the brakes on the project because of community opposition. The project, which is currently subject to an interlocutory court injunction, was approved on a five-to-four vote to connect 140th Street with King George Boulevard.
Coun. Doug Elford asked council at that meeting to change the priority of this project from a long-term category of six to 10 years to short term, or one to five years. This, he argued, would align with “other improvements planned” along 84th Avenue between Scott Road and King George. Nagra asked at that Feb. 22 meeting if that was the short time in which the project could be done, “or can we even do one to three year time on this project?”
The 84th Avenue project is expected to be done over the next five years with the aim of relieving “over-saturated” traffic on 88th and 72nd Avenues and ultimately, to connect Scott Road to Fraser Highway via 84th once this project is completed and a stretch of 84th between 124th and 128th Streets is also connected.
Nagra told the Now-Leader on Tuesday he didn’t recuse himself from the Feb. 22 vote because he had no idea at that time that his family would later in the fall have an opportunity to purchase Scottsdale Lanes Ltd., at 12033 84 Ave. “I didn’t know my family was going to buy it five and a half months after. It was completed on the end of September and the contract was written at the end of July.”
“I don’t think this property was even up for sale at that time,” Nagra said, adding he is “not at all, not at all” in a conflict of interest. He also voted on March 8 in support of awarding a design contract for the King George to 140th Street road connection. During a meeting of the city’s Agriculture, Environment and Investment Advisory Committee on April 14 Nagra remarked, “All I want to say is a great, great project, long overdue, let’s do it, let’s get it done, thank you,” and during a council meeting on May 31 he argued it was “not fair” for the city to receive a petition with 6,800 signatures against the proposal, arguing it hadn’t met the prescribed deadline.
Asked Tuesday if he will recuse himself – the term for when a politician excuses themself from voting on a certain matter so as to avoid a conflict of interest – from any future votes on the 84th Avenue project, Nagra replied, “Well, I have lawyers looking into it and I’m going to follow their advice but I still think 84th is a much, much needed connection and I still fully support it.”
Meantime, Nagra said his family intends to keep the bowling alley as it is. “It’s an old place, it was built in the ’80s. There are a lot of people who have been going to that place for the 25, 30 years and a lot of people are very emotionally attached to that place and we have no intentions to either close it or anything like that.”