Year In Review

10 Surrey talent gets noticed in a big way

Surrey’s got talent. At least that seemed the message this year as Surreyites swept Vancouver-based music competitions.

First, it was local singer Alyssa Gutierrez who snagged first place in this summer’s PNE Star Showdown in August. The singer beat out nine other competitors in the contest, winning herself $5,000. The best part? The 16-year-old chanteuse sent a big chunk of the money to the Philippines where she has family.

The Holy Cross Regional Secondary student performed a cover of Alicia Keys’ "If I Ain’t Got You" when she placed first on Aug. 17, but the teen was still shocked she came out on top.

Gutierrez later starred in an original musical called Right Here, Write Now, which raised relief funds for people in the Philippines. The show was held at Surrey’s Bell

Performing Arts Centre on Nov. 29.

It was an even bigger sweep for Surrey-based sextet, Good for Grapes, who won the Peak Performance Project this year. The year-long initiative culminated at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom, and the indie-folk outfit earned themselves $102,700 to put towards their music career.

"We know better than anyone, because we did it last year, it’s not a popularity contest at all. It’s about who can dig into their career the most," frontman Daniel McBurnie told the Now before the band’s big win.

"We know that money gets drained. You can throw money at anything and ‘x’ amount of dollars, especially for something like recording, gets drained," he said. "That’s what we’re planning to do… we’ll make it work and we’re going to record a new record with it."

9 Cloverdale says goodbye to historic Clova theatre

For cinemas still playing 35mm prints south of the Fraser, 2014 was a year of change.

Residents of Cloverdale said goodbye to the iconic Clova this year as the 67-year-old theatre closed its curtains after Crossridge Church, which bought the building in March of this year, took over operations of the venue.

According to Craig Burghardt, who ran the Clova Cinema for 18 years, Crossridge didn’t have the cinema in its plans. The theatre’s final day was Aug. 3. A hefty investment to upgrade the cinema’s projectors to digital was an issue to keep the theatre in business, as well as dwindling sales.

At the same time, South Surrey’s Rialto Twin cinemas quietly closed in April citing the high cost of upgrading to digital.

Theatre owner Rahim Manji, who runs the Hollywood 3 Cinemas in Newton, bought the Rialto and reopened it on Oct. 31, screening Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar on 35mm before converting to digital after Nov. 24.

Manji also took over South Surrey’s Caprice and now oversees all three independent theatres in Surrey.

The independent theatre mogul said he didn’t want to see the theatre stamped out by development, nor have citizens go elsewhere for entertainment.

"We tried to take that leap of faith. I’m just really tired of seeing a lot of our independents shut down and become built into condos and things like that," Manji told the Now back in November.

He also said that he hoped the purchase would stimulate the local economy.

8 Friends of the Grove energize forested space after tragedy

Sometimes, beautiful things come from tragedy and Surrey saw that this year.

In the months that followed the tragic murder of Julie Paskall outside Newton Arena last December, a group of locals got together to reclaim a dark, forested space nicknamed "The Grove," located just steps away from the attack that took her life.

Before locals made efforts to energize the space into something positive, the forested area adjacent to Newton bus loop attracted crime of all sorts.

After Paskall’s murder, there were calls from residents to cut all the trees down. But something magical started to happen when Friends of the Grove moved in.

From eyeballs on trees, to a chessboard carved in a tree stump, the community brought the area to life.

Since the quirky initiative began last April, dozens of community events have been held there, including a caroling event, hanging of handmade Christmas ornaments, poetry gatherings, a lighthanging ceremony and more.

Check out a video, "On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, The Grove Gave to Me," on their Facebook page, Friends of The Grove -Surrey, BC.

7 Cost for extravagance debated but lawsuits over city hall certain

While the new Surrey City Hall officially opened in 2013, the grand opening was held in April. The building has since received both praise and criticism – and legal battles have ensued with contractors who worked on the project.

In early 2014, Bosa Construction Inc.

(BCI) sued the project’s general contractor PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc. and Surrey, alleging that PCL caused delays and increased costs on the project because of design changes and other issues. PCL countersued BCI, alleging that BCI failed to complete structural work in time, which delayed the whole project and forced PCL to pay other subcontractors overtime and additional costs.

More recently, Ron Fettback of Western Pacific Enterprises filed a notice of claim in B.C. Supreme Court against the City of Surrey, also naming PCL.

He says because Surrey changed design plans, the amount of work his company performed tripled.

Fettback also says his company did what he sees as wasteful preparation work on the

behind-schedule city hall to enable Mayor Dianne Watts’ charity gala to take place there in October 2013.

WPE invoices suggest work for the gala cost about $90,000, including almost $30,000 in overtime and double-overtime costs which "would not have been performed at all if there was no mayor’s gala."

Surrey’s development manager Aubrey Kelly said the city is committed to paying what it is contractually obligated to do, adding he doesn’t believe the bill for the mayor’s gala could be as high as $90,000.

While city officials say the new city hall comes with a price tag of $97 million, mortgages to finance the project – a 180,000-square food building complete with black marble, extravagant tiling and soaring glasswork – means the eventual bill could rise to $145 million.

The city insists the project is on budget, without financing considered. Surrey spokesman Oliver Lum says the city plans to repay the loan in 10 years, making the final cost $128 million.

6 After nine years at Surrey’s helm, Dianne Watts seeks federal seat

After nine years in the mayor’s chair, Dianne Watts announced in April she would not be seeking re-election. Watts has been praised for transforming

the city over the past decade, implementing the vision of a downtown core and elevating Surrey’s brand and reputation.

She credits her Surrey First team in helping to create the downtown core, including the new city hall, the City Centre Library, residential towers, Innovation Boulevard and Holland Park.

"As your mayor, I have been truly blessed. Helping to take our

city from a residential suburb to the second metropolitan core of the region with over 500,000 people is no small task," she said during her April announcement at city hall.

Throughout her tenure, Watts has proved to be a popular mayor. Recently, in an Insights West poll released in March, she was given a 73 per cent approval rating. In 2011, she received a 68 per cent approval

rating from a Forum Research poll. And while Watts appears to be done with civic politics, she’s leaping into the federal arena, seeking nomination for South Surrey-White

Rock with Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

While Watts said she spoke to federal Liberals and Conservatives, she felt more aligned with the Harper government’s policies around issues like economic investment and taxation. But she said it was world issues, such as kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria, beheaded journalists and conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine

that solidified her decision. Rumours began swirling Watts was eyeing the riding after MP Russ Hiebert announced he would not seek re-election.

Watts has said if victorious, she will strongly advocate for Surrey, particularly in regards to light rail transit, goods movement and safety on the rail corridor running through Surrey and White Rock.

5 Surrey, Delta and White Rock’s early present: A lump of coal

The residents of Surrey could be forgiven for being confused in August when Metro Vancouver’s port authority decided to approve one of the most unpopular developments in the city’s history.

Port Metro Vancouver gave the green light to Fraser Surrey Docks to build a $15-million coal transfer facility that will eventually see four million metric tonnes of thermal coal travel through the city annually.

The project includes an increase of 640 train trips through White Rock, Surrey and Delta in the first year alone, doubling when the port reaches full capacity.

The approval of the project stunned many people, particularly given the stiff opposition from the public and health experts. According to Port Metro Vancouver’s own public consultation results, only six out of more than 3,000 comments expressed favour for the proposal.

Meanwhile, Surrey and Delta refused to support the project until a third-party health-impact assessment and public hearings could be conducted. White Rock

flat-out refused to support it regardless of the studies.

The chief health officers for the Vancouver and Fraser Valley health authorities had previously raised concerns that an environmental impact assessment of the project completed by SNC Lavalin for the port did not include enough information about how it would impact human health.

Environmental groups did not take the news lying down. In September, lawyers for Ecojustice filed a 13-page application for judicial review on behalf of Surrey residents Christine Dujmovich and Paula Williams, along with the B.C.-based organizations Voters Taking Action on Climate Change and Communities and Coal.

In White Rock, not only were residents opposed to a trains with thermal coal travelling through their community, they expressed opposition to any trains at all. For the second year in a row, people called on all tiers of government to help relocate the railway tracks that has been operated by American rail company BNSF for more than a century.

4 Surrey Six murder convictions ‘first step towards getting justice’

After seven long years, some justice arrived in 2014 for the families of six men who were shot dead in gang violence inside a penthouse suite on the 15th floor of Whalley’s Balmoral Tower.

Christopher Mohan, 22, and Abbotsford gasfitter Ed Shellenberg, 55, were innocent victims who accidentally stumbled upon a drug hit in progress on Oct. 19, 2007.

Edward Sousakhone Narong, 22, Ryan Bartolomeo, 19, and brothers Michael Justin Lal, 26, and Corey Jason Michael Lal, 21, were also slain.

The victims’ families got a taste of justice in October when Justice Catherine Wedge convicted Red Scorpions gangsters Matthew Johnston and Cody Haevischer of six counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.

They were sentenced in December to mandatory life sentences, without eligibility to apply for parole until 25 years have been served in prison.

With seven years now gone, Eileen Mohan, grieving mother of Christopher

Mohan, still has other trials to attend. She told the Now recently that she’s steeling herself for two more criminal trials related to Christopher’s death: Jamie Bacon’s on May 4 next year and then Sophon Sek’s, which she expects to take place in 2016.

"It was the first step towards getting justice for Christopher," she said of this year’s trials.

"There’s two more steps. We have a trial coming in May, and right after that trial it would be Sophon Sek’s trial."

She also has a civil suit on the go, related to Christopher’s murder. Filed on the second anniversary of his death, it targets the killers, defendants, the estate of Cory Lal, the condominium strata council, owners of the apartment were the murders happened and the property management company.

"My dream is to get Christopher all settled down, get myself all civilly all cleared out," she told the Now.

"There are a lot of people who run. I am not a runner. I have never been a runner. My son was a very, very loyal person, and this is loyalty back to Christopher."

3 Surrey First sweeps election

It was an epic battle to replace outgoing mayor Dianne Watts in November’s civic election.

Barinder Rasode, councillor at the time, split from Surrey First in April, citing hostility from her teammates as her reason for doing so. After much speculation in the media, she announced she would be seeking the mayor’s chair.

Meanwhile, former mayor Doug McCallum came out of the woodwork to fight to regain his spot at the top. Then-councillor Linda Hepner, who received Watts’ endorsement as her replacement, rounded out the "big three" contenders for the job.

Hepner described the election race as "engaged," with more community interest than the previous two, but added, "this one has been more destructive than I have seen in the past."

Crime and public safety, above all, dominated the race. All three contenders came out with crime platforms,and took jabs at one another over their public safety records.

At the end of it all, the torch was passed from Watts to Hepner, who won with 50,782 votes, roughly half of the total tally. The first-time mayoral candidate earned close to double the number of votes of her nearest rival, McCallum. But Hepner didn’t win on her own – her full Surrey First team was also victorious.

New councillors were Dave Woods, Vera LeFranc and Mike Starchuk. This was the second election in a row that saw Surrey First take every seat on council.

Hepner promises to continue Watts’ legacy, have operational light rail in Surrey by 2018 and asked for 100 new police officers, which she promised on the campaign. Some have taken issue with planned tax hikes for 2015, which were revealed in mid-December and weren’t mentioned during the election.

Surrey tax bills are set to rise by $162 in 2015 as Surrey grapples with how to pay for the new officers.

Notably, the city is planning to introduce a $100 cultural and recreational parcel tax to pay for capital projects on the books in order to free up money for the new cops.

2 Stand-off between teachers and province was long, nasty

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government were at an ultimate stand-off this year, with 41,000 teachers striking from mid-June to three weeks into the start of the 2014/2015 school year.

With the BCTF not taking an original proposal to raise teachers’ pay by 7.5 per cent over 10 years at the beginning of the strike, B.C.’s Minister of Education Peter Fassbender responded by reducing his second proposal to just seven per cent.

The action kicked off the longest and nastiest fight between the BCTF and the government in history, with several back-and-forth measures, including a temporary lock-out and several "markins."

Some parents enrolled their children in private or independent schools, while enrollment for online courses spiked and the Surrey Board of Trade offered free classes for Surrey students.

The BCTF, Fassbender and B.C. Premier Christy Clark made headline news during

the strike, each calling for the other to agree to terms.

While the provincial government reportedly saved $80 million per week that the BCTF was on strike, it paid out $141 million in childcare subsidy cheques to parents of children under 13 after the strike came to an end. The B.C. government also paid $105 million to the BCTF as a result of negotiations stemming from the strike and court action.

"I think, for some members, they lost a lot of money in the strike so they would have liked to see more come back," Jennifer Wadge, president of the Surrey Teachers’ Association, told the Now after news broke that the teachers were receiving their onetime payouts.

"But it was a very difficult bargain, I think there is a feeling of ‘at least we got something.’" Teachers and students were back to school on Monday, Sept. 23 after agreeing to a six-year contract including a 7.25-percent wage increase.

1 A crime-focused 2014 in Surrey was marked by high number of homicides involving youth

Can there be any doubt that public safety was Surrey’s dominant issue in 2014? The civic election in November was hard-fought over policing levels and all-candidates’ debates were often dominated by who had – or didn’t have – the best plan to tackle street crime in this city.

Earlier in the year, a survey of Surrey residents had more than 50 per cent of respondents identifying crime as their city’s number-one issue.

Campaign platforms were drafted in response to residents’ fears for their safety, following some high-profile murders committed in preceding months.

Mercifully, Surrey did not break its 2013 all-time record of 25 homicides.

In 2014, at least at this time of writing, there were 17 homicides.

While police and politicians often say most homicides are the result of "targeted" gang violence not typically involving regular law-abiding citizens, this reassurance, if you could call it that, was sorely put to the test in 2014.

Surrey residents were horrified by the Dec. 29, 2013 murder of hockey mom Julie Paskall outside the Newton Arena. Paskall, 53, was waiting for her teenaged son to finish his hockey game when she was attacked. She died in hospital two days later, on New Year’s Eve. Her alleged killer is due back in court in January.

Candlelight vigils were held, as well as public forums, and Newton found itself in the media spotlight.

Then in September, with electioneering already well underway, Surrey teenager Serena Vermeersch was murdered allegedly by a high-risk sex offender who had been released into the community.

Unlike most years, 2014 was marred by an unusual number of homicides involving children.

Vermeersch was 17 years old, as was Jaylen Sandhu, who was stabbed multiple times in Fleetwood on Dec. 18 and later died in hospital.

Just five days before Sandhu was attacked, 15-year-old Dario Bartoli was attacked and killed in South Surrey’s Bakerview Park. There have been no arrests in either case.

Three days before Bartoli was attacked, the body of eight-year-old Teagan Batstone was found inside a car that had rolled part way into a ditch in South Surrey.

Her mother Lisa Batstone, 41, has been charged with second-degree murder.