White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin’s final state-of-the-city address this week was more than a summary of current progress – it was a reflection on 30 years of service to the city.
Baldwin – who was city manager for 23 years before serving two terms as mayor – delivered his remarks Wednesday at a luncheon hosted by the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce at Morgan Creek Golf Course.
His speech, which concluded with a standing ovation from business movers and shakers, city staff, politicians and representatives from community groups, took a largely upbeat approach in summarizing what he viewed as highlights of the current term, which he has announced will be his last.
At the same time, Baldwin made oblique reference to recent criticism from opponents of the current spate of development in the city, change he defended as part of a necessary modernization of White Rock – or, as he put it, transforming the city from a “1960s to a 2000s” community.
Height and density in the town centre was the answer to moving forward, he said, rather than continuing the two- and three-storey development pattern of the past.
“What we had in the town centre could not have gone on much longer – we’ve been consistently losing business and business opportunities to South Surrey,” he said.
“It’s true that noise, dust and traffic barricades are not what people want to see,” he acknowledged. “But the end result will be amazing.”
Change was a theme he returned to several times, including comparing current resistance to highrise development to the pushback received from residents at the time the city was mulling building the promenade in the 1980s, with people resisting the estimated cost ($100,000) and perceived environmental damage.
“By the time the first section was completed, people were saying ‘why did you stop?’” he recalled.
“Some people have some real difficulty in accepting and dealing with change,” Baldwin noted, in a speech in which he also quoted such diverse sources as Socrates (“the secret of change is to focus all your energy not in fighting the new but on building it”), Barack Obama (“we are the change that we seek”) and George Bernard Shaw (“progress is impossible without change… those who can’t change their minds can’t change anything”).
Many of the amenities and improvement the city is currently building, he said – among those cited were East Beach neighbourhood infrastructure upgrades, the rebuilding of Memorial Park, a four storey waterfront parkade, the building of an all-abilities playground at Centennial Park, aquisition of land for a new park at the former Esso gas station site at Johnston Road and Russell Avenue – are either being paid for out of city reserves or benefiting from development cost charges and some $20 million in community amenity contributions from development.
“The current council has done all the heavy lifting,” he said, suggesting that the present financial health of the city was a “gift” to the next council to be elected this October.
“My message to the next council is… use it wisely,” he said.
He contrasted the city’s “great financial shape” with the way it used to run when he was first hired as city manager – when only a handful of Marine Drive businesses stayed open year round, and any purchase of new city equipment was the subject of council debate.
Baldwin held up the city’s purchase of the water utility – which, he pointed out, had been in private hands for more than 100 years before it was purchased in 2015 at a price of $13.4 million – as a major accomplishment of his administration.
Improvements to the water system would have been impossible without city intervention, he said, as under existing agreements there was little motivation for private owners to do extensive upgrades.
At the time negotiations began in 2013 it was estimated that the last owner, Epcor, would soon be making $1 million a year from the city’s water, he added.
“Epcor was reluctant to let go of the cash cow,” he said, adding that while Epcor did improve the system to meet Fraser Health requirements following an emergency boil-water situation, it was evident that much more work was needed.
“No matter what, we had to buy the utility; no matter what, we had to upgrade the storage and distribution system.”
Joining Metro Vancouver’s water system, Baldwin said, would have represented a cost of $30 million and “a wait of four years.”
“It was a no-brainer,” he said.
The next civic election is set for Oct. 20.