The province of B.C.’s phase-two response to the COVID-19 pandemic may be starting to kick in as of Tuesday (May 19) – but don’t expect the City of White Rock to jump on the relaxed-restriction bandwagon right away.
Mayor Darryl Walker told Peace Arch News Tuesday’s council meeting simply marks a continuation of discussions about how to manage potential relaxation of some rules and guidelines.
“There is no plan for any type of ‘opening’ in our community,” he said. “We’ve been talking with Chief (Harley) Chappell of Semiahmoo First Nation, and there’s a feeling between us that we need to keep things closed for a little while longer and watch and wait to see how things move forward.
“The fear is that once you start opening things up people will think that it’s all over; everything’s back to normal. This is not life as normal – it’s going to be as normal as we can make it.”
As far as what he termed “the big three” – opening up White Rock’s parking, pier and the promenade – Walker said that will also be subject to continuing study and discussion by council.
While council granted him discretion on the closure of individual pieces as the pandemic escalated in early March, he said, the decisions will be in council’s hands going forward.
“When it came to closing things down we were pretty much all in agreement, anyway. But we believe that opening things up has to be at the discretion of the entire council.”
Opening of some pay parking spaces on East Beach and West Beach, to this point, is being done principally to accommodate residents with yellow city decals and provide parking for waterfront businesses offering take-out food, he said.
While the city will be closely monitoring the need for more parking with the White Rock BIA and the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce and their members, it is not empowered to declare business open in the city, Walker said.
As departing chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill pointed out at the May 11 council meeting, “every business is responsible under WorkSafe regulations.”
“This is not us saying to a business you can open on (a certain date)” Bottrill commented. “But our business licences say that they must abide by federal and provincial regulations.”
And if the business is a restaurant, that includes complying with Fraser Health’s current rules, Walker noted to PAN.
“If you have a business and you want to open it up, you have to have your plan in place and approved,” he said. “Otherwise people are going to come to you and say, ‘Shut it down until you get it right.’ And it’s better to get it right the first time.”
He noted that while business-focused groups have come forward with suggestions for Surrey and White Rock-wide recovery plans, council asked staff to prepare terms of reference for a “White Rock-only working group.”
“We will absolutely be involved in other business recovery plans, but we do need one that works for White Rock,” he said.
Walker acknowledged he is personally hesitant about opening the city up too quickly, preferring to follow the counsel of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in continuing to ‘flatten the curve’ and combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As a daily visitor to the beach, he said he has seen flouting of physical distancing and trespassing rules there.
“I’ve seen (behaviour) that disturbs me,” he said.
“Young people are young people, and we’ve all been there,” he said. “(However), the rules are not just for their own protection, but for anyone in the family who might be susceptible to the virus. You might be responsible for somebody’s illness or even worse.”
Walker said he also understands the restlessness of residents – young or old – to return to usual activities.
“We’ll do it all again, but we need to go about it sensibly,” he said.
“I prefer to go slowly, one step at a time. That is what I’m preaching personally and this is the message we’re hearing from provincial authorities.
“I think we’re doing very well in B.C. – better than other places in Canada and around the world – and there’s a reason for that. We need to listen to the advice we’re getting.”