Battle trenches were dug deeper Monday night as council debated the controversial plan to connect 84th Avenue to King George Boulevard and 140th Street, at the south end of Bear Creek Park, while Friends of Bear Creek Park staged a protest against the project outside city hall.
Sebastian Sajda, president of Force of Nature and organizer of Friends of Bear Creek Park, says the city’s plan will “destroy” one of Surrey’s intact green spaces and threaten salmon spawning streams and animal habitat “directly in the path of the proposed road.”
The Safe Surrey Coalition majority decided on a five-to-four vote to authorize city staff to proceed with “detailed design” of the project and tendering for its construction once the design is complete.
Councillors Linda Annis, Brenda Locke, Jack Hundial and Steven Pettigrew did not want to receive the corporate report.
“I don’t have faith in the data I’ve received,” Hundial said. Annis echoed that. “I think the process around this was flawed,” she said. “We should have been doing more consulting with the people in Surrey as to whether or not they wanted this road to go through what I consider to be a very iconic park.”
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum demanded she apologize, mistaken that Annis had said “fraud,” and not “flawed.”
“Okay,” he said, after Councillor Allison Patton corrected him.
According to Scott Neuman, Surrey’s general manager of engineering, the City of Surrey issued a survey which received 3,142 responses with 95 per cent from Surrey residents.
He said 70 per cent chose road safety, traffic flow and connectivity as their “number one” priority versus 30 per cent “who identified environmental protection and walking/cycling/transit as their first priority.”
Sajda told the Now-Leader on Monday that the protesters “want to really raise awareness that the public engagement was very flawed. They didn’t ask the question whether or not people wanted the road.”
He said a city “package” includes a 500-person petition on behalf of those in support of the road, submitted as a part of the public consultation.
“Just this morning we submitted our petition, which is about 7,000 people. That’s quite a difference in terms of the support versus opposition.” The petition contained 6,845 signatures.
Pettigrew questioned why the city’s survey did not ask if they want the road or not. “That would give us a real clear indication of where people stand,” he said. Locke asked how many trees will be removed, and if they are in the park.
Neuman replied that the current proposed design has the entire road within the road allowance. “The road is not going through the reservation area of Bear Creek. “For the road, there will be 50 trees removed,” he said. “All trees are within the existing road allowance and/or under the powerlines.”
Pettigrew said the gulf between petitions’ numbers “weighs quite heavily on me. I will not be supporting this going through in any aspect.”
Councillor Mandeep Nagra asked when the deadline was to submit petitions. The city clerk replied it was noon Monday.
He said it was his understanding the deadline was May 19.
“I still get numbers of calls every day for people who wants to sign in support of this road going through. So this petition of 6,800 coming today, I think it’s not fair,” Nagra said Monday.
McCallum said that “when a deadline is given, to be fair to everybody, then we should not be receiving a petition afterward or it should not be accepted.”
Sajda voiced “strong objection” to this.
“As an informational petition under the Community Charter, we are permitted to comment on any matter before council (or not before council) as long as we submit prior to the deadline for commenting on an agenda item (noon),” he said. “I would encourage the mayor and all members of council to review the Community Charter as it governs many of the activities of the City of Surrey.”
Meantime, Locke said Monday the public engagement was flawed in that there was no advertisement done in local media. “The only advertisement in media that was used was Red FM,” she said. “I think that certainly reaches a component of the community but it doesn’t reach the broader community. And then everything else was pretty much, you know, social media and the city website. I think there should have been a much more expansive reach.”
“Just putting it on the city website doesn’t cut it,” she added Tuesday. “We should be putting it in the Now-Leader. That’s where people go to for their news. How else will they know? They go to community newspapers for that kind of information.”