Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke did not not preside over the May 10 opening of the 84 Avenue connection between King George Boulevard and 140 Street.
But former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, whom she defeated for office in last October’s election, was happy to stand in.
Vehicles were rumbling down the freshly opened and controversial 84 Avenue expansion between King George Boulevard and 140 Street as a small group of protesters with Friends of Bear Creek Park waved signs at motorists under the watchful eye of six Surrey Mounties and Surrey Police Service officers.
Off to the side, in the parking lot of Nova Church at 8383 140 St., McCallum, Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra with supporters staged a “celebration” for the “grand opening.”
“We did it, it’s here, now, today,” McCallum told the crowd. As he spoke, Surrey senior Annie Kaps heckled him.
“Cut down the trees and that’s where you get your oxygen from,” she yelled.
“I’ve lived in Surrey for 80 years,” she later said. “I never want my kids or my grandchildren to say to me why didn’t you do anything because I can say I tried.”
Surrey senior Annie Kaps heckles former mayor Doug McCallum as 84 Avenue at south end of Bear Creek Park is open to traffic Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/dVHuzZ4ktA— Tom Zytaruk (@tomzytaruk) May 10, 2023
McCallum said it was a difficult project and thanked the workers who built it.
“We also have a number of other projects that I think need to be done right away. We need to put 72 Avenue right through to the other side, that will sort of complete the east-west makeup of our road system so that the traffic doesn’t get all clogged in the centre and causes accidents.”
Elford said he’s been looking forward to the road opening as Surrey needs better east-west connectivity.
“This road here is going to enhance transit opportunities, it’s going to enhance pedestrian opportunities, cycling opportunities,” Elford said.
Former Surrey mayor, flanked by elected Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Mandeep Nagra and Doug Elford, on the 84 Avenue connection and other projects "that need to be done." pic.twitter.com/mAagosiYDU— Tom Zytaruk (@tomzytaruk) May 10, 2023
Before his speech, McCallum told the Now-Leader “different councils” had been working on this project for about 20 years “and to see it now completed I think is really, for the people of Surrey, a tremendous achievement.”
Asked if he’s angling to run again for office in the next civic election, “No, no, no,” he replied.
“I’ve been very relaxed in the last little while – I have five grandkids and they’ll all live in Surrey and I’ve spent time out at soccer games and all their games and I don’t have any stress as you can tell on me right now. I’m just enjoying life. But I have always wanted to help people and so I’m going to continue to help people, whatever I can do to help them, what doesn’t have to go through council or anything, I’m going to help them.”
“This road to me, because I’ve lived most of my life, is the people’s road, it’s for the people of Surrey so that they can drive more safely and can get around better and those are the type of projects I want to work on and so forth. This is a bit of a celebration for me.”
Asked if he’s saying a hard no to running again, McCallum replied, “I’m just going to enjoy life right now. I sort of don’t look back, I keep looking forward and I look at whatever way I can help the people of Surrey in the future and that’s how I want to spend the next year or so. Whatever that is will develop over the next few months, few years and so forth but even during that time I’m going to help people in different areas in Surrey.”
Protesters concerned about environmental damage carried signs reading McCallum Ecocide, Park Destroyed, and Shed a tear for Bear Creek Park.
“Brenda Locke said there will be no official opening and now McCallum is taking over with Nagra and Elford to open it,” protester Karen Kwon told the Now-Leader.
“He doesn’t think I guess he’s not mayor anymore. Maybe it’s delusional thinking, I don’t know. But for Nagra and Elford to support him and not their current mayor shows, that just shows where they stand when it comes to understanding rule.”
During her election campaign, Locke told the Now-Leader in July 2021 the 84 Avenue project is “completely wrong.”
“We don’t need that road there,” she said, adding that if she won the election and the road is not finished, “The road will not be finished.”
She said Tuesday “it’s pretty obvious” why the city didn’t stage an opening ceremony “because that was a pretty controversial road for many people. Especially people in that neighbourhood didn’t want that road. It’s not a celebration for a lot of people and similarly, we didn’t celebrate the road that went through Hawthorne Park, we didn’t do that. So why would we? There’s nothing to celebrate, it’s a road, it’s done.”
As for her election campaign vow, she said, by the time she became mayor the 84 Avenue project was 85 per cent done, “at the point of no return. To me it’s unfortunate, but the road is done. We’re doing everything we can to remediate the area around it.”
Sebastian Sajda, president of Force of Nature, and organizer of the Save Bear Creek Park campaign, ran unsuccessfully for a Surrey council seat last election with Surrey Connect.
“Certainly the road is in but there’s still a lot that can be done to make it safer,” he said, noting children will be playing at a nearby Montessori school.
“Certainly it could be made safer and we have concerns about the wildlife crossing.”
The group is pushing for the road to be declassified from an arterial road to a local road to have the speed limit reduced.
“We’ll see what happens,” Sajda said. “I certainly think that we should be here. We’ve been protesting this for like two years and we should have a presence.”
In 2007 the city council of that day had put the brakes on the project because of community opposition, but in February 2021 the SSC majority on council resurrected and fast-tracked the 84th Avenue connection at the southernmost end of the park. It was approved on a five-to-four vote to connect 140th Street with King George Boulevard.
Ultimately, the idea is to connect Scott Road to Fraser Highway via 84 Avenue which would require a stretch of 84 Avenue between 124 Street and 128 Streets to also be connected.
Nagra found himself in a “possible” conflict-of-interest controversy in 2021 after members of his family bought a bowling alley along that stretch of road, at 12033 84 Avenue. He said his family didn’t know the property was up for sale until months after he voted in support of the 84 Avenue expansion.
Surrey residents lodged complaints against Nagra under the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw were disappointed their grievances were dismissed in May 2022 with no explanation provided by the Surrey Ethics Commissioner Office.
Asked May 10 if he has any insight into when 84 Avenue will be extended to hook up Scott Road with the expansion of the avenue at the southern end of Bear Creek Park, Nagra replied, “I do not have that information right now.”
Asked if he will vote on that particular aspect of the 84 Avenue expansion when and if it eventually comes before city council, given his family’s ownership of the bowling alley, Nagra told the Now-Leader “Well, I’ll have to check with my lawyers and then I will decide what my position is going to be.”
The matter that was before the ethics commissioner, Nagra noted, has been resolved.
“All the charges were dropped.”