By Jennifer Saltman, The Province
The past two years have been busy for the mayor of Canada’s fastest-growing city, who is now halfway through her first term. Reporter Jennifer Saltman sat down with Linda Hepner at her office for a one-on-one this week to discuss the major issues facing the city:
ON HER GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT (Reader question)
“I think I would say that the momentum that we’ve been able to achieve relative to the transformation of this city and to keep that reputation and build that reputation of being a city of innovation and a smart city, at the same time tackling all of the other issues.”
ON HER CHALLENGES (Reader question)
“I don’t have any regrets, but I can certainly attest to challenges. Certainly early on in my mandate we had all of those issues around gang activity, or low-level drug activity is probably a better way to describe it, and that was challenging to me because I had great faith in what my police chief was doing and telling me, as well as the provincial partners at the table, but having the kind of patience that that took to ensure the populace was comfortable with where we were — and they were impatient and I was impatient. It was a very difficult time for me because I had to be the public face of that and I wanted to make sure my residents understood how convinced I was that we were on the right track.”
“That’s always front and centre, public safety.”
Hepner said a director of public safety was hired to make sure the city is “making the best and most efficient use of resources,” all 100 RCMP officers promised during her campaign have been deployed, public forums have taken place and the Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table has been developed.
“I think we’ve made some significant progress, not the least of which is the Public Safety Strategy we’ve just rolled out.”
Hepner said the strategy and other initiatives introduced over the past two years will help keep Surrey safe going forward.
“We have opened the shelter last year. Regarding replacing the Gateway shelter, we have approved a new low-barrier shelter next to the (Surrey) hospital. We recently approved another shelter in Guildford that’s under tenant improvements right now getting ready for this year.”
ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING
“I think we’re in the 300 arena of housing units that have been supplied (450 were promised by 2017). We’re looking at opportunities where we can advance rental housing. We offer opportunities for increased density if there is an affordable-housing component attached to it. And through (Surrey City Development Corp.) we are looking at where in the city we could perhaps partner with someone to create affordable-housing units.”
ON A SAFE INJECTION SITE IN SURREY
“I’ve been steadfast in my comments that a stand-alone safe-injection site is not something that we would support. It would have to be in concert with a clinical environment.”
ON ‘THE STRIP’ IN WHALLEY
“I would say that is our most significant challenge right now, is how to deal with the social elements and the disruption to the businesses and the agencies that are in that area, the residents in that area. That’s a tough one, particularly when I can’t control the housing piece of it, and I can’t control the mental health piece of it and I can’t control the addiction piece of it. I need partners at the table.”
Hepner said the city is “working on something” in the area that will be announced within a week or so.
“The best I can say is we intend on being closer to the ground with services.”
ON NEWTON’S REVITALIZATION (Reader question)
“We’re advancing steps on the revitalization strategy. The transportation hub in front of the arena in Newton is set to move relative to the light-rail project and it is in the process of design. (Once the hub is moved) it will allow us then to better identify the core of the Newton Town Centre and build around that and establish the kind of density we need there.”
During her campaign, Hepner said she planned to break ground for the first phase of the Surrey LRT line in 2015.
“The referendum took care of that. The referendum certainly delayed us by at least a year. If everything now goes according to Hoyle (plan), we would be in procurement readiness 2017 and breaking ground and constructing 2018. So, that has taken longer than in a perfect world it would, but it is critical.”
ON SCHOOL CROWDING
“Absolutely we have to catch up, because we can’t continue to grow and expect that the only avenue for education is for a kid to be in portables. We’ve seen some progress with our recent advocacy role, but we’re still behind.
“We’ve done phasing in with some of our projects to time it with commitments from the province on schools, and we’ve done some planning around the advocacy of where we know the high growth areas are, which is Grandview and Clayton, for the most part.
“But, to stop the housing industry when, fundamentally, the other side of that coin is to provide housing, isn’t a place I want to go.”
ON RUNNING IN 2018
“It’s tough to get everything you would like to see happen done in a single term. If I am blessed with the support of the residents, it’s exactly what I intend on doing. I like serving and I like the work, and I find that I feel more centred around it after that first little bit of a learning curve. I feel comfortable in the role and it is my intention to continue.”