An all-candidates meeting for six White Rock mayoralty hopefuls Tuesday night showed a sharp philosophical divide between maintaining the status quo and calling for sweeping change in city governance.
On one side at the meeting – presented by the White Rock BIA and the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce, for members only, at the Centennial Arena meeting room – was White Rock Coalition’s Grant Meyer, an incumbent councillor now seeking the mayor’s chair left vacant by the retirement of Mayor Wayne Baldwin.
On the other side were Democracy Direct White Rock’s Darryl Walker and independents Judy Higginbotham, Mike Pearce, Garry Wolgemuth and Tom Bryant, who told the capacity crowd of around 100 that development in the city – including highrise development in the uptown area – has come too far and too fast and has been at the cost of city businesses, particularly during the disruption of a protracted Johnston Road rebuild.
Meyer called for building on the achievements of previous council – among which he counted the acquisition of White Rock’s water utility, the current revitalization project for Johnston Road, the ongoing upgrade of Memorial Park and the construction of the new waterfront parkade.
The other five candidates all called for review of city policies with regard to communication and timely response to business-owners’ needs, and for bringing residents and business people further into the decision-making process through greater consultation, including open discussion at town hall meetings and a reinstatement of the question period at council meetings.
Candidates’ views were brought forward through a combination of opening and closing remarks and answers to pre-submitted questions from members of both organizations, posed by veteran journalist and Peace Arch News columnist Frank Bucholtz.
Meyer said the town centre area is “finally starting to get leased again” and that he anticipated new development, such as the PARC retirement tower, will add to the vibrancy of local business.
But Meyer also said he was in favour of keeping further highrise development within uptown limits laid out by the current official community plan (OCP), and that he would be in favour of town-hall meetings.
He noted that the second phase of the Bosa development is proceeding 10 years after the original approval by city council.
“Just because towers are approved, they’re not all going to be built starting tomorrow,” he said.
Walker, who noted he is a former union executive used to administering multi-million dollar budgets, said that while he had lived quietly raising a family in White Rock since 1970, he had been moved to run for office by the amount of public dissatisfaction he had heard over the last four-year term.
“What got to me was the frustration of people I talked to, over the lack of consultation and their inability to find out what was going on in their community,” Walker said.
He said while he and other Democracy Direct members would respect projects that have already been approved by council, they would look at changing the direction of future development.
Higginbotham, who stressed that White Rock does not need to be creating barriers for attracting visitors who help support local business, argued for a reassessment of pay parking and its role in providing revenue for the city.
Reminding the audience of her “years” on Surrey council and regional committees, she said she had experience in putting together public-private partnerships that could find visitor-friendly ways of more closely connecting the beach and the uptown area.
“Our neighbours are Surrey and also the Semiahmoo First Nation, and if we learn to work with them and with each other we can have a wonderful future.”
Pearce, pointing to his experience as mayor of both Penticton and Quesnel over a period of 13 years, plus another eight years as a council member, emphasized the need for consultation in both individual decisions and developing policy.
“The OCP is great but we should stay within it,” he said.
Pearce said it was time for the city to develop a theme for redevelopment on Marine Drive – a suggestion that has come up at BIA meetings, he said – although he slammed the past council for “hours of stupid debate about a restaurant on the pier.”
“It’s a stupid idea,” he said. “Disneyland stuff.”
Wolgemuth said he believes a new review of the city’s OCP is justified, given public reaction to current development.
“I don’t believe the OCP reflects what people want – there are too many highrises,” he said, noting the nature of the development approved doesn’t fit the character of the city and doesn’t help small businesses.
He said that CACs (community amenity contributions) from new projects should be used for infrastructure improvement rather than “building projects on leased land” on the waterfront.
Wolgemuth also expressed skepticism about the benefits of the new waterfront parkade to business on Marine Drive.
“I don’t hear people saying I’m going to White Rock because they’ve got a new parkade there,” he said. “I don’t see the actions that have been taken that help these businesses out.”
Bryant repeatedly exhorted listeners to examine his “60-day plan” for the city – a commitment to initiating changes within his first days in office.
“You don’t need me to tell you how to run your business,” he said, noting his own experience as a successful business owner.
Bryant, and campaign manager David Hawkins – who provided opening remarks for the candidate – referred to restructuring city committees according to Community Charter mandates which, they said, would result in much greater citizen participation than in committees struck by the Baldwin administration.
A public mayoral all-candidates meeting will be held tonight (Friday) at 6 p.m. at the White Rock Community Centre, 15154 Russell Ave.