Despite one councillor’s description of the move as “absolute insanity,” White Rock council voted this week to re-open the West Beach Parkade, closed since March as an anti-pandemic measure.
A motion to endorse the recommendation of the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force was passed at Monday’s (July 27) meeting, with Mayor Darryl Walker and Coun. David Chesney voting against it.
The task force, chaired by Coun. Erika Johanson, had recommended at its July 14 meeting that “staff look at ways to re-open the West Beach Parkade in a safe and responsible manner, as quickly as possible.”
Johanson said the task force had noted both pros and cons in reaching its decision but ultimately felt it was “prudent” to re-open the parkade while insisting on implementing social distancing measures.
“Some felt that we should open (it) partially, and there was concern that it would cause more problems on the promenade by allowing more people (but) the overall impression was that this will help businesses quite a bit and ease traffic,” she told council.
Chesney continued to voice his opposition to the re-opening, terming it “absolute insanity” in a time of worldwide pandemic, and in context of White Rock’s established history as a summertime destination.
He also pointed to the profusion of people crowding Semiahmoo First Nation land during the past weekend that resulted from SFN opening its parking lot and sports field.
“This constant ‘we need to do this for the business’ is driving me crazy, to be very honest,” he said.
“The business owners are doing very fine.
“If you’re down there at any point in time, they can’t put more people into their restaurants due to the COVID restrictions.
“To put another 800 to 900 people in the mix in the area of Memorial Park, the pier and the promenade, I think, is just absolutely asking for problems,” he said.
He noted that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has noted B.C. is experiencing a slight “uptick” in the number of confirmed COVID cases “and Fraser Health is leading the way, in particular, White Rock.”
“Do we want to top out the charts again, because we want to help the businesses?” he asked.
Coun. Anthony Manning said he, too, had concerns about drawing more people to the beach by re-opening the parkade, but added that, on balance, he favoured the move.
“There is one business down there that isn’t being supported very well down there right now, and that’s the City of White Rock,” he said. “We do need to generate some revenue from the parkade, and we should be capitalizing on it sooner than later.”
Manning noted that B.C. now has the ability to track, through Fraser Health, where outbreaks are happening, and asked engineering and municipal operations manager Jim Gordon how long it would take to close and sanitize the parkade, and at what cost, should an outbreak be traced there.
Gordon said the parkade could be closed by the evening of any particular day, and would take a day to sanitize at an estimated cost of $1,000 to $2,000.
City staff – including Gordon – have already told council it would only take two or three days for them to develop a plan for re-opening some 175 parking spaces in the facility, taking intro account such pandemic-related issues as social distancing, posting warning signs and ensuring adequate disinfection of the parkade’s elevator.
Coun. Scott Kristjanson said people sitting in cars trying to find parking spots is “another way to spread the disease,” while Johanson said the White Rock BIA is reporting that restaurants are not operating to capacity even under COVID-19 restrictions.
The decision to re-open the parkade couldn’t come too soon, South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Ritu Khanna told Peace Arch News more than a week ago, adding she is hearing from many businesses on the strip that customers are frustrated by the lack of parking spaces.
“Every day counts right now; every weekend counts for the businesses down there,” she said, noting that the city is inevitably a destination for visitors from all over the Lower Mainland.
“We have been asking the city for three weeks to open the parkade – we don’t want people to have challenges of parking when they come to White Rock – that’s the reason for having the parkade in the first place. Businesses can do the social distancing, but this is going to deter people from coming back.”
Khanna pointed out that, in addition to restaurants, the Marine Drive strip is also home to retail and service businesses.
“I respect the city is being prudent and taking measures because of the perceived risks of COVID-19 – but, at the same time this is taking away business and revenue opportunities on the waterfront.”
And that revenue, she suggested, could offset increased operating costs due to measures such as extra sanitation of the facility.
“The city could mitigate (the risks of opening the parkade) by increased signage; maybe open every other stall – but at least get it open,” Khanna said.
Khanna’s comments were echoed by White Rock BIA executive director Alex Nixon.
“We’re hearing from a lot of businesses on the waterfront that their customers are having a challenging time finding parking,” he said.
Nixon said he certainly appreciates the concerns of council in mulling the re-opening of the parkade, adding that the challenge is how to balance a desire to restart the economy with the need to ensure public safety.
“No one wants to see COVID get a foothold in our community,” he said.