Politicians involved in White Rock’s decision to close its iconic pier to the public say they would sooner be safe than sorry, where the health of city residents and visitors is concerned.
Mayor Darryl Walker, and Coun. Christopher Trevelyan, who made the original motion – endorsed unanimously by council at a special meeting on March 23 – say the measure was a responsible action in light of the best advice of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, health minister Adrian Dix, and the provincial state-of-emergency declared on March 18.
Walker told Peace Arch News Thursday that, in the rapidly-evolving global pandemic and with daily reports on the spread of infection, “a lot of decisions are having to be made on what we think might be the results, going forward.”
Comments on PAN’s Facebook page following a story on the decision indicate overwhelmingly positive public reaction to closure of the pier.
‘Chris Bonin Vancouver’ wrote: “Some will say they did it because of pier pressure but come on, it just makes good sense.”
Both ‘Eva Moore’ and ‘Jackie Zimmer Todoruk’ stated “(it) should have been done two weeks ago,” while many other comments either said it was too long coming or offered thanks for the move.
Walker said council had been studying the situation of people congregating on the waterfront for some 10 days prior to the decision he made on March 22 – in consultation with chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill – to close the parking lots and parkade to discourage high vehicle and pedestrian traffic there.
“We were looking at it step-by-step – what could we do,” he said, adding that, in spite of city signage describing social distancing measures, sunny weather was bringing large numbers of people to the beach who were not observing the guidelines.
“They were walking right past the signs and going on with whatever they were doing as if nothing was any different,” he said.
“So we said, ‘Let’s have a look at closing the parking lots’. That did take a lot of people away from the waterfront, but there were still large numbers getting together at both ends of the pier, taking selfies at the entranceway or down the other end.”
Walker added there are plenty of examples from around the globe – including in Italy – of what taking insufficient action to limit the spread of the virus can look like, two or three weeks down the road.
“I’d much rather be accused of going too far than not going far enough,” he said.
“We can afford to close the pier at this point. What if we waited another few weeks and there were really serious results – how much would we have been negligent in not doing our job?
“We may or may not like it – but we’ll do our job.”
Trevelyan noted that most attractions that would encourage people to congregate in large quantities in Metro Vancouver – including the Capilano Suspension Bridge – have also been shut down.
“For us to say we’re going to keep the pier open when everyone else is sacrificing for the greater good doesn’t seem right,” he said, noting that the provincially-established limit of 50 for gatherings is a maximum – not a recommendation.
“What we hear from the health authorities is that the best thing you can do right now is stay home and take the load off the health-care system,” he said. “We have to be serious about this, particularly since we now have a confirmed COVID-19 case in White Rock (at the Evergreen Heights seniors’ care home).
“White Rock has a very large population of senior citizens – if there is any place that should be taking this seriously, it’s White Rock. This is one of the few things we have control over,” he said.
“If there’s any chance of improving the situation, it’s in taking action now, not waiting until it gets out of hand.”
Walker and Trevelyan agreed that they, and other members of council, have received minimal push-back on the decision to close the pier and parking lots.
Walker added he has “a stack of 50 or 60 emails, with more coming in every day, suggesting that we close this and close that – there’s seems to be more of a fear of not doing something.”
Both Walker and Trevelyan noted that council was divided on a motion to monitor the promenade with an eye to closing it down, too.
Trevelyan said he thinks council was right to be cautious about such a move.
“There’s always a risk that you’re going to push people onto the pavement on the north side of Marine Drive, which would be even worse,” Trevelyan said.
“People have to have some place to go,” Walker said, adding that council will continue to monitor and review how people are using the promenade.
“There are plenty of places to walk in the city, including the promenade, and the health authorities are still advising there’s nothing wrong if you want to get out and get a little bit of exercise,” he said.
“But observe the rules about social distancing. Don’t just take the one piece of information you want to hear – listen to the entire message.”