Mayor Dianne Watts delivered her State of the City Address to a packed ballroom at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford this afternoon.
Watts began her seventh annual address by thanking her colleagues who sit on several city committees, and outlined several policy initiatives, both currently in place and in the works.
Then she got on with the theme of the speech, which was “Building a City from the Ground Up.”
Watts pointed out that Surrey has experienced tremendous growth over the years, with most recent census figures showing the city’s population has soared by 18.6 per cent in the past five years – more than three times the national average.
Representing its own challenges is the fact one-third of that population is under 19 years old.
She also pointed out that growth has resulted in the creation of 12,714 new businesses since 2006 – 2,334 in 2011.
Watts said that growth is a double-edged sword, as it requires substantial infrastructure needs.
For that reason, Surrey is attempting to “shape” growth by creating an affordable housing strategy which includes a number of choices in housing stock.
Surrey will be shifting to more high-density multi-family dwellings and smaller lots. Surrey will also be bringing in six-storey wood frame apartments, Watts said.
Watts noted Surrey has 46 per cent of the region’s available industrial land and that the one-third of the city is Agricultural Land Reserve, which produces $150 million in revenue annually.
Surrey also has the second-largest border crossing – with $15 billion in trade annually – along with other trade points, including Fraser Surrey Docks.
She quoted from the provincial Liberals’ B.C. Jobs Plan, which says, “Now is the time to expand the capacity of our infrastructure so we can manage higher volumes safely and efficiently.”
Watts renewed her call to have the 75-year-old Pattullo Bridge replaced and stressed her continued desire for light rail in Surrey.
“This is intentional,” Watts said. “Light rail isn’t a ‘request of the month’.”
Surrey hands over $160 million in taxes annually to TransLink, Watts said, and the city wants a viable bus service and road improvements in return.
“Just more buses? No thank you. Just rapid buses? No thank you. SkyTrain to Langley? No thank you.”
She also wants more equitable tolling, not just on bridges leading out of South of the Fraser. Watts wants other bridges and roads tolled – including the Sea-to-Sky Highway leading to Whistler.
She invited the crowd to provide feedback on the city’s website at www.surrey.ca/RapidTransitNow.
Watts also outlined a number of green initiatives the city has undertaken, including moving garbage collection to compressed natural gas-fuelled garbage trucks.
She noted Surrey will find out this week whether the city has won an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, which would bring Surrey $50 million worth of IBM expertise to help make better use of data.