In Surrey, more of the same is not the answer

So the mystery has ended.

The Surrey First coalition of independents got together last week and independently all came to the identical independent conclusion: Linda Hepner will be their candidate for mayor in the upcoming civic election.

Hepner is not exactly a surprise candidate for Surrey First. A good and faithful lieutenant to outgoing Mayor Dianne Watts, Hepner has the experience and political smarts to keep the Surrey First bandwagon rolling along safely between the ditches.

Or so it would seem. That image cracked a little when she outlined her goals should she and her slate of Surrey First independents prevail in November’s vote. Two of her pet projects no doubt raised some eyebrows while a third sounded like an alarm clock going off in a library.

It seems Hepner believes we need a ferris whel in Bridgeview and a new beach at Surrey Lake Park. When you look at all the issues facing British Columbia’s fastest growing city, carnival rides and a fake beach on the shore of a fake lake are unlikely to crack the top 50 on a list of things that need to be addressed.

Hepner might as well have completed the WTF head-shaker hat trick and offered to build the proposed monorail system that was brought before council last year as well.

Those two flights of fancy pale compared to her third pronouncement: more of the same.

Hepner apparently subscribes to the “If-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” school of political theory. Hepner and her Surrey First crew have ruled the city for three years with a monopoly of seats in the council chambers. With no opposition to point out the cliff at the end of the path in which they travel, Surrey First councillors blithely believe they can do no wrong.

Sorry Linda, but it is, um, broke – and in more ways than one definition of the word.

Amusement park rides and truckloads of sand are mere diversions to the problems that ail this city. That list is topped by the big three of civic headaches: crime, transit and runaway development.

Surrey First likes to tout statistics that show crime is going down in Surrey but the optics belie the numbers. Surrey set a new record for homicides last year and while most of those murders involved victims with the unfortunate tag line of “known to police,” the Julie Paskall slaying in December made all of the pretty numbers and dirtbags-killing-dirtbags labels irrelevant. If a hockey mom dropping by an arena to pick

up her son isn’t safe, who is?

Surrey is indeed the fastest growing city in the province, with roughly 1,200 new residents moving into the area each month. That may be a status to be proud of, but it comes at a price. All of those people need housing and with that comes a need for sanitation, roads, garbage collection, schools and recreation facilities.

They also need a means of getting to and from their places of employment and that means extra pressure on the bridges, thoroughfares and transit.

Surrey residents are woefully served when it comes to public transit and the best that Surrey First has done to address the problem is clap excitedly when TransLink announced bigger, longer buses to operate within the city. The Surrey First councillors have openly flirted with light rail transit within the city limits, but that option remains on the drawing board without the money or political impetus to make it a reality.

More of the same is not the answer for what ails the city. Surrey First’s love affair with unchecked development has left the city infrastructure straining at the seams. Condo developments pop up like mushrooms across the city and the infrastructure can barely keep up. Many of these projects feature “mortgage helpers,” a fancy term for secondary suites, which in turn add more pressure on the sewers, schools, transit and city services.

In places like Clayton Heights, it’s hard to drive down the streets with all the parked cars lining the curbs and to date, there are no substantial recreational amenities in the area.

On top of that, former Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is weighing in with whoever will listen, saying the city finances are a mess with all of the money spent to build the new Surrey City Hall in Whalley. McCallum has an axe to grind with Surrey First and he has hinted at making a comeback in November with another run for the mayor’s chair.

As a savvy municipal politician, Hepner should recognize that “more of the same” is not the medicine the city needs to address the myriad of problems it faces. Hopefully she and the Surrey First team will independently come up with a more constructive platform before November rolls around.

Michael Booth can be reached via email at mbooth@thenownewspaper.com

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