Surrey’s Hepner signs agreement with Israeli city

SURREY AND ISRAEL — Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner signed a “partners in innovation” agreement with the Israeli city of Beer-Sheva during a 10-day trip overseas recently but she’s not yet revealing what precisely this will mean for Surrey.

“There are some significant opportunities and partnerships that I am going to be rolling out over the next few months that I’m just not prepared to talk about today because there will be some reciprocal visits back here to Canada based on some of the meetings we had,” Hepner told the Now on Thursday.

“So it’s a little premature. I’m really excited about it, but I want to wait and make sure I roll out the strategy in a way that everybody really understands how important it was.”

Beer-Sheva is a city of similar size to Surrey that’s home to Ben Gurion University of the Negev and a complex called “CyberSpark” which fosters international alliances between some of the biggest and most important information technology businesses in the world.

Last year, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu called CyberSpark one of the most important places in the world in the field of cyber security.

In 2013, then-mayor of Surrey Dianne Watts led a trade mission to Israel that saw the city partner with Israel Brain Technologies to strengthen Surrey’s "Innovation Boulevard."

The Innovation Boulevard is a high-tech health sector occupying one square mile of Surrey’s city centre between Simon Fraser University and Surrey Memorial Hospital. It represents a network of health institutions and a community of talented academics, clinicians and researchers here. 

"Surrey is looking to tap into Israel’s pioneering cutting-edge medical, entrepreneurial and scientific innovation," Watts said at the time.

The city spent roughly $27,000 to send Watts and two city members on the week-long trip to Israel back in 2013, done in conjunction with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Hepner said this time, the centre footed her bill, not Surrey taxpayers. But Surrey’s economic development budget covered the costs for Donna Jones, Surrey’s economic development manager. Back in 2013, the price tag for Jones’ flights and insurance was $4,672.

$4,672 on flights and insurance for Donna Jones (Surrey’s economic development manager) – See more at: http://www.thenownewspaper.com/news/watts-deems-27k-trip-vital-ctf-says-otherwise-1.888700#sthash.V5WiksoL.dpuf

While no longer the leading the city, Watts was with Hepner on the trip in her capacity as CEO of Health Tech Innovation Foundation for Innovation Boulevard.

Hepner’s trip earlier this month sought to reconfirm the relationship that Watts established in 2013. “It was an amazing trip,” Hepner said. “We first of all wanted to make sure that those partnerships and the agreements that we already connected with in Israel, that with the new mayor, that momentum and that understanding of my attachment to Innovation Boulevard was as strong as it has been previously.”

Hepner said she got a better understanding of Ben Gurion University of the Negev and its partnership with Simon Fraser University, and how that partnership was going to play out with various health and health technology programs “as well as expanding Information Boulevard for the IT sector.

“Who is better and brighter in the world on information technology and computers than Israel?” Hepner asked rhetorically. “We had some amazing visits with the biggest brains on the planet. I was overwhelmed with the advancements that we saw.”

But while Hepner was away, Surrey had seven brazen public shootings in five days.

“I talked to the OIC from Israel, yes,” Hepner said, referring to Surrey RCMP’s Chief Supt. Bill Fordy.

“Well, anytime you have anything like that it’s disconcerting. It’s low-level crime. As I understand it, well-known to police but very uncooperative.”

Asked if she thinks there’s anything she can do as mayor above and beyond what the RCMP is already doing about the shootings, Hepner replied, “No, and I think you saw a really important initiative just yesterday. I’m very proud of what the RCMP have done in that respect. I think they’ve made some significant headway as recently as yesterday.”

Hepner was referring to the Surrey RCMP parading down King George Boulevard early Wednesday morning, with lights on and sirens blaring, en route to raid a Newton trailer park for drugs. Twelve people were arrested on drug-related charges and later released. “It’ll be a couple of months before we get charge approval,” Sgt. Dale Carr said Thursday.

Asked what she has to say to people who say Newton is not getting the attention it should be getting from city hall, when it comes to fighting crime, Hepner replied, “You know what, they know that is not so — Newton is getting lots of attention.

“We know what we’ve already put in place relative to police officers, but you’re not going to solve the crime problem that Newton had relative to those shootings with more police officers on the street,” she said. “It’s a question of making sure that people are disengaged from finding the life of being in a gang acceptable, and I think the whole focus has got to be on creating those programs and putting in place for the young people, that that is not a glamorous lifestyle. If you’re going to be turning to the gang lifestyle, your life is going to end in a pretty unfortunate way.”

tzytaruk@thenownewspaper.com