With the Victoria Day long weekend (May 16-18) looming, White Rock council wants to get the message out that the city is still closed to visitors until the province formally enters the relaxed restrictions of phase two of pandemic response – a move expected May 19.
In extended debates Monday night, council wrestled with the idea of authorizing extra overtime for an increased RCMP presence on the waterfront for the long weekend, ultimately deciding to endorse Coun. Scott Kristjanson’s motion to ask for two extra officers on duty between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on all three days – with a cap of $10,000 on budgeting for it.
The motion passed in a split vote, with Couns. Erika Johanson, Christopher Trevelyan and Helen Fathers against it.
Council unanimously endorsed a motion from Trevelyan that additional communication from the city should emphasize that it’s not business as usual for the long weekend.
“Communication is big piece of this,” he said. “We have a May long weekend coming up, and that is still in phase one. We really want to communicate to the public that White Rock is closed this weekend.”
Factors colouring discussion included public defiance of parking and pedestrian restrictions and trespassing on the closed promenade this past weekend – termed “challenging” by chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill, and criticized by both Kristjanson and Coun. David Chesney.
Chesney told council he had spent some 20 hours on the waterfront over the weekend without seeing a single RCMP officer, adding that police presence had been “woefully lacking.” Most of the problems, he added in later discussion, are coming not from residents, but from visitors to the community.
Chesney also noted concerns that the public are accessing the waterfront by walking along the BNSF tracks, in which he was joined by Coun. Anthony Manning, who pointed out that all of city staff’s hard work toward to achieving an absence of train whistles could be undone by a single incident of a train striking a pedestrian.
“I think this long weekend is the test of this council, and we’re going to be held accountable by the public if we don’t properly maintain order,” Kristjanson said.
“There’s going to be another (busy) weekend like this,” he added. ” We should be prepared. We’re going to wear it if we’re not.”
Bottrill said his preference is to have RCMP officers back-up the work of city bylaw and parking patrol officers, noting some aggressive response from visitors. The city issued some 100 tickets Mother’s Day weekend for various infractions, he said, adding that the city is reaching out to casual staff in both bylaw and parking enforcement duties to schedule additional shifts for the coming weekend and throughout the summer.
Also a factor in discussions is that the city has not yet set a schedule for re-opening the pier, the promenade and waterfront parking lots, with Bottrill – who is about to pass the reins to incoming CAO Guillermo Ferrero – noting that a full corporate report is due to be presented to council on May 25, and suggesting that council might at that time consider scheduling steps toward re-opening, beginning June 1.
“We don’t have a time frame for that,” Bottrill told council members, urging them avoid a costly situation in which fencing is removed and the waterfront is opened, only to have to be closed again.
“Be cautious, be measured in terms of that,” he urged council. “Have the same principles on which you closed be the principles on which you open.”
Council also unanimously approved a motion from Kristjanson that the city request provincial authorities, which have purview over the beach and foreshore, to step up inspections to maintain that provincial regulations on unleashed dogs and social distancing protocols are enforced.
“The beach was really crowded, it was really unsafe as far as COVID-19 is concerned. I don’t expect our bylaw officers to do it, I don’t expect our RCMP officers to do it – it’s a provincial jurisdiction.”