In the past 10 years, Surrey council has become more and more remote from the huge number of people it governs.
The last time there was a competitive election was in 2005, when Dianne Watts challenged incumbent mayor Doug McCallum and his dominant Surrey Electors Team (SET), which she had been part of.
Watts went on to win and eventually corralled almost all the incumbent councillors – SET and otherwise – into the Surrey First slate. In the past two elections, Surrey First has won every seat on council. With this kind of dominance comes arrogance.
The most recent example of the Surrey First style of arrogance is the complete snubbing of the residents of the Hawthorne Park area, who are trying to keep their park intact. Council, despite a 5,000-name petition, voted unanimously on July 24th to remove a portion from park reserve so that 105th Avenue can be built between Whalley Boulevard and 150th Street.
The net effect will be to cut the park in two and diminish a rare oasis of forested land between the urban centres of Whalley and Guildford.
This is happening shortly after council approved cutting of hundreds of trees along 100th Avenue and clearing of part of the northwest quadrant of Green Timbers. Most of these projects are related to the plan to build an LRT line between Newton and Guildford. In order to do so, 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard must be widened and other services need to be relocated.
Council actually does not have the last word on Hawthorne Park. The public does. Under a rarely used ‘alternative approval process,’ if 10 per cent of the voting population sign the proper forms by Sept. 22nd, council will either have to put its decision to a Surrey-wide vote, or back down.
The city says that at least 30,372 signed forms are needed to obtain the 10 per cent. This is a monumental task in a city this large, particularly in the summer months.
The organizers of the petition to save Hawthorne Park are not daunted. They are shooting for at least 35,000 responses.
Details of how to fill out the “elector response forms” to oppose the decision were included in the corporate report to council last week. It can be found at www.surrey.ca/bylawsandcouncillibrary/CR_2017-R161.pdf.
In a similar move two years ago, council removed a portion of Bonnie Schrenk Park in Fleetwood from protection – once again, during the summer months.
That removal was hugely ironic, given that the park was named after a late councillor who was best-known for listening to the public and bringing up uncomfortable matters at the council table. If she were here today, it’s safe to say she would not support the removal of a portion of Hawthorne Park.
If the city is inundated with elector-response forms and has to either withdraw its decision or put the matter to referendum, it would be a mark that citizens are finally starting to take the city back from a council slate that moves in lockstep.
Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Now-Leader. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org