BOOTH: The more things change in Surrey, the more they stay the same

So what’s happening in the news for Surrey and North Delta? I leafed through the Now newspaper and discovered plenty of activity in the area.

Among the highlights: Surrey council is considering a tax hike with an eye on increasing funding for schools. The city’s population is growing so fast that the schools can’t keep pace. As a result, Surrey is one of the poorest funded school districts in the province. Council members, including Coun. Marvin Hunt, are torn over whether to hold the lid on tax increases or raise the rates in an effort to help the school district catch up with growth.

Crime is an ongoing concern in Surrey – especially in Whalley and Newton. One woman in North Surrey is irate after her home was burglarized four times in a six-month period.

Elsewhere, Surrey RCMP were extremely busy in the past week as they responded to a wide variety of criminal activity, including a double shooting in Newton; a domestic assault and unlawful confinement incident in Whalley; a homemade pipe bomb and a pedestrian struck by a truck on 8th Avenue in South Surrey.

North Delta has its own crime to deal with as two men staged an armed robbery of a bank on Scott Road.

On a more positive note, commuters are thankful for a new park and ride lot that opened in the past week. The new facility features space for 961 cars and a "kiss and drop" area for those who just need access to transit without the need to park a vehicle.

And on a more commercial note, apartments in Guildford rent for $380 a month; you can buy Kinney shoes for $11.89 on sale, chicken breasts sell for $2.18 per pound; a loaf of bread is 78 cents; a new townhouse sells for under $210,000 and everybody is excited about Expo.

Needless to say, the newspaper I’m referencing did not come from the top of the stack in the recycle bin. It was published May 7, 1986 and was provided by Guildford resident Walt Kerr, who was amazed by how little the issues have changed in the last 28 years.

The newspaper design and production quality are crude by today’s standards, but the content is remarkably similar.

Here we are in 2014 and Surrey councillors still wrestle with the need to address rapid growth in the city versus an almost pathological desire to keep taxes lower than anywhere else in the Lower Mainland. It’s a nice record to have in a politician’s resume, but are artificially low taxes really a good thing when more than 1,000 people every month are moving into the city and adding to the strain on the existing infrastructure?

Crime is still an ongoing concern – especially in hot spots like Whalley (sorry, City Centre), Newton and Guildford. The main talking points have changed in that it takes a couple or 24 murders to get our attention today instead of armed robberies, auto theft and brawling, but crime is a constant and people want to know about it.

And that is hardly surprising. Surrey is the second-largest city in the province and while most of the people moving here are hard-working families, there are a few dirt bags making the migration too. If just five per cent of the people moving here are "known to police," that works out to 50 per month and 600 a year.

With the recidivism rates being what they are, crime will always be an issue here no matter what grandiose plan the collective NDP MLA brain trust tries to sell to voters.

Marvin Hunt still has a seat on Surrey city council. He’s come and gone and returned again in the past three decades and now he won’t go away. He won a seat in the legislature in the last provincial election, but has refused to relinquish his council position despite a promise to do so by the first week in January.

Commuting from Surrey to anywhere in the Lower Mainland remains an utter and complete pain in the posterior. So much so that Surrey residents would rather drive than take transit.

And who can blame them? A 20-minute drive from Newton to Morgan Crossing in South Surrey is acceptable. Make the same trip on transit and commuters take a leap into bussing hell complete with three transfers and a trip duration that varies between one to two hours. And that’s just within Surrey. Stretch the trip to Richmond or South Burnaby or South Vancouver and its no wonder people just say to heck with it and drive.

TransLink recently opened an expanded Park and Ride lot in South Surrey. In over two months of operation, I personally have never seen a car in the new lot aside from kids doing donuts in a beat-up Honda. Thanks for the skateboard park, TransLink.

The Surrey landscape may have changed in the last 28 years, but the issues remain the same. It’s probably safe to say that 30 years from now, Surrey residents will be reading about crime, rapid growth, Coun. Marvin Hunt and lousy transit service.

As the Talking Heads said – same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@thenownewspaper.com

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