The downtown core of the city of Surrey has been growing dramatically since the construction of the Central City Tower, the refit of the mall, Surrey’s new Main Library, the state of the art City Hall, and now the 3 Civic Plaza. The district has exploded with development that shows no indication of slowing down anytime soon.
Bruce Ralston: Even from the time I was with the council decades ago now, I’ve always been committed to building a genuine metropolitan city centre in Surrey and it seems to be finally taking off. It’s good news. The mix is strongly residential, so I hope for more high-rise office space to truly diversify the downtown core. With the growth of that comes other spinoffs including the expansion of SFU Surrey, which I’ve strongly advocated for. The government made some commitments that they haven’t quite followed through on, in terms of more student spaces at SFU. Still the student influence creates more demand for student housing, as well as for services like restaurants and all kinds of retail opportunities.
I think the lower mainland has a two-pronged metropolitan centre with the downtown core in Vancouver and in the developing downtown core in Surrey, for this side of the Fraser River and the valley. Increasingly I find that people don’t feel the need, or don’t want to go to downtown Vancouver. They want those services here in Surrey.
There’s much more on the social side that needs to be built in the downtown core, such as more performance spaces, but with the new city library, the city hall, some of the downtown residential, and the changes at City Centre Mall, the core has really done well. Westminster Savings and Credit Union has said they’re moving their headquarters to the city centre, and there’s the new tower at 3 Civic Plaza, where KPU will put its business studies. There’s more expansion of SFU and its Public Health department in conjunction with the Technology Improvement Association. The expansion of the hospital is good and the city has a plan (Innovation Boulevard) to build and attract medical research and ancillary services that are part of the health constellation. These are all good things. The city centre is changing and that’s what I’ve worked for, as have many others over the last several decades.
Ray Hudson: Have the demographics of the riding been changing at all?
Bruce Ralston: On the statistics side, average household incomes are a little bit below average in Whalley. The average tends to go up as you head south. The high rise towers have a new demographic of people and are shifting what Whalley looks like.
Ray Hudson: What’s the topic of discussion on the street or when someone comes into your office?
Bruce Ralston: Some of the development has created issues with some housing advocates concerned about the homeless and affordable housing in the area. Traditionally, the north part of Surrey has seen rents of the lower end of market rents, and some of the pressures are driving rents up, so that’s one issue. As a result of that there are some complaints about landlords who don’t provide clean or safe housing. I hear regularly about the unregulated, so-called, recovery houses which are not providing any recovery or therapy, but are a vehicle for the landlord to take welfare rent cheques from people, while they over-house and under-service them.
One chronic concern that is occurring in other parts of Surrey, and that concerns me, because I’m a Surrey MLA, is the over-crowding of schools and inadequate funding of the Surrey public school system. In Cloverdale, Guildford and south Surrey, we recently met with the Parent Advisory Committee and the Superintendent of Surrey Schools, about the underfunding on the capital side to Surrey, the fastest growing, and the largest public school system in the province.
Another issue is Worksafe BC, and the changes that the government has made to it. People are getting increasingly desperate about their ability to be compensated by Worksafe, so those are tough cases to deal with. More recently the change impacted the disabled and their bus pass arrangements. A promised increase in disability rates was offset by changes that anyone wanting a bus pass would have to pay $52 a month to get one. Much of the increase in payments, to most people’s great disappointment and anger, evaporated once the additional cost of the bus pass was tacked-on.
Ray Hudson: One of the main issues of concern to your colleagues Sue Hammell and Harry Bains, has been the public shoot-outs.
Bruce Ralston: The recent spate of shootings has really raised anxiety in Surrey. I raised it in the legislature in the fall calling for an emergency debate of the legislature on crime and safety in Surrey. We’ve also sought and tried to get a briefing from the Chief of Police, Bill Fordy. He has refused to meet with us. He’s met with the minister, and the city council of Surrey, and although he has met with us in the past, he now claims he doesn’t have authority to meet with us and brief us. We are to rely on public briefings. I must say I’m surprised.
Ray Hudson: Innovation Boulevard is in your neighbourhood, and seems to be catching everyone’s attention and excitement with this on-going initiative in the city.
Bruce Ralston: I’ve met with SFU and the Technology Improvement Association and a few people involved directly in some of the companies. I think it’s an aspirational idea and needs to be filled out, but I think it’s an important first step, but there’s much more that can be done to build a really vibrant, effective cluster.
Ray Hudson: Any Final comments?
Bruce Ralston: I’ve been interested lately, in the decision of the federal government to welcome refugees to BC. A lot of those people will come to Surrey, because of the communities that are already here and because the cost of housing in Vancouver and Burnaby is prohibitive. I’ve been pretty impressed with the way people have stepped up to help with that.
There’s a strong community spirit in Whalley, whether it’s the fire service, the Whalley little league, the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, lots of organizations that hold the City Centre and Whalley first, and do great work. I also meet regularly with the Whalley Service Providers, which includes the local police and local service providers, so I’m always pleased to be working with all of them to build a stronger safer, more prosperous community.