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White Rock councillors question unruly vegetation

Parks, boulevards, road-ends and hanging baskets come under scrutiny by elected officials
Alex Browne photo A hanging basket is in place on a light standard on Johnston Road on Monday.

Explanations of city staff shortages and fast-growing vegetation are not enough to mitigate current untidy esthetics of White Rock’s parks and streets, according to one city councillor.

At a special council meeting held last Wednesday afternoon to conclude business unfinished when the previous Monday evening’s meeting was abruptly adjourned, Coun. Lynne Sinclair made it clear she was not happy with White Rock’s present level of grooming and maintenance.

“I have to say that I find it extremely disappointing that, in the year that we turned 60 and Canada turns 150… I have never seen the city look worse in terms of boulevards, road-ends, parks and main business streets,” she said. “I don’t understand it in spite of the rationale (we’ve heard) here.”

Sinclair was responding to a corporate report updating parks progress from engineering and municipal operations manager Greg St. Louis, in which he had noted that illness and departure of staff members had left only three parks staff working during the spring, while staffing has now reached nine full-time and temporary staff, with more seasonal staff (including students) still in the process of being hired.

“We’re dealing with flowers and growing vegetation that grows really fast, especially in our climate here – there are a lot of factors we need to look at,” St. Louis told council in his report.

He said winter and spring storms had led to an additional need for removal of trees and vegetation.

He added that, under current parks-maintenance imperatives, there are really no ‘level one’ – “pristine,” highly manicured – parks or public spaces in the city.

Sinclair responded, noting her home is on a road-end and that she had first made calls about her concerns “probably seven weeks ago, because I could see what was happening.”

“While I appreciate that cutting doesn’t need to happen weekly, it hasn’t happened at all on the road-end where I live,” she said. “There’s a park right above me, and some people came one day – some city staff – and did a very fine job on the street front of the park, but the inside is just terrible, and it’s a park with memorial benches.

“I just wonder if there’s a level of knowledge about what does need doing now. In the past we had contractors do it and it was done routinely, in spite of the weather, in spite of the staff.”

Sinclair said the report indicates an increasing emphasis on “credentialed” parks staff, which she presumed means “more expensive” employees receiving benefits and pensions.

St. Louis responded that while the city had employed contractors generally in the past, “they weren’t meeting our standards health and safety-wise” – although he acknowledged the city still employs maintenence contractors at the pier and for other specific jobs.

“We do have a balance between contractors and city staff,” he said. “(But) we need people who know how to prune trees…we really need to get people in who have the skills and abilities.”

Sinclair also wanted to know when the city’s decorative hanging baskets were ordered and why they appeared so late, noting that other cities and town centres – such as Cloverdale and Mission – had displayed them much earlier this year.

“White Rock has always prided itself on its hanging baskets…they’ve always been beautiful,” she said. “It should be a routine thing. When you add a position of parks manager and you add more money to the parks budget, we shouldn’t be having this conversation.”

St. Louis answered that hanging baskets had been ordered in January through the usual supplier, but that they had been three weeks late in arriving due to an unusually wet rainy season.

“I wasn’t aware that other municipalities were further ahead than we were,” he said.

Coun. David Chesney said he had also written and requested information on why Johnston Road was looking so dilapidated.

“I’ve seen firsthand the sad state of our main drag and, of course, encounter people who want to know what’s going on.”

Following a discussion of maintenance of laneways near Marine Drive raised by Coun. Helen Fathers, Mayor Wayne Baldwin suggested to staff that policies of what should be maintained by the city and what should be maintained by residents should come back to council.

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