by Ray Hudson
It’s been just over a year since Linda Hepner took the corner office at City Hall, a year that’s been challenging as she and her council settled in and began moving her agenda forward. There was the frustration with the continued shootings around Surrey and the defeat of the TransLink referendum, however Hepner says there is significant progress on both fronts as well as wins in other areas.
Mayor Hepner: A significant step was getting more than three-quarters of the new police officers deployed in Surrey already. And as a Christmas present we arrested the six people we think are responsible for the shootings. I’m so proud of the work the guys have done because they’ve had a focus on this right from the beginning and it was very hard as a leader to let them do their work and not to be drawn in all of the time. It was really the biggest test for me because I knew what was going on behind the scenes with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, our police and the collaboration with the other police departments across the region. I’m very proud of the work the police have done and can only hope that we’ve closed the door on that chapter. Now it’s up to the Justice system and I hope the perpetrators get the book thrown at them because it’s been a horrible year as the Queen would say. I’m concerned about what the system will do after that one person with the Surrey Six got just a year. I was horrified at that sentence. That is not a deterrent!
Those shootings have really pushed us to keep public safety front and centre as an aspect of everything I have to think about. We have increased the school police units, the Wrap Around program for redirecting at risk youth from joining gangs, and we increased Block Watch groups in this past year by over two hundred. We now have a total of seven hundred across the city, the most ever. Those Block Watch teams create a greater knowledge of both one’s own community and one’s neighbours, so all of that helps.
Mainly though, I think this has been a result of the work done by the Surrey RCMP through community meetings and the Coffee with a Cop program, and their continued focus on safety in the community.
Ray Hudson: We had a major issue with neighbourhood environments such as the one around the Newton Wave Pool and the Arena where Julie Pascal was murdered. What has been done to improve these neighbourhood problem areas?
Mayor Hepner: The program is called Community Policing Through Environmental Design programs (pronounced CePTED) and I’ll speak that first because we’ve done some pretty aggressive work on CPTED programs for public buildings that have asked for our assistance. We’re now putting in place, CPTED principles for those buildings that have not asked for the assistance, but that we believe are troublesome buildings. We are insisting that they have CPTED principles attached to their premises. Around Newton specifically, we worked aggressively to bring in some creative cultural programming, and some work around the ‘grove’ behind the Wave Pool. We put more scrutiny around that area in a positive way.
Our new design of the Newton Wave Pool fitness area puts windows in the building so people could look out toward the street, replacing the blank wall that was a hazard from the aspect of public viewing of the area. As we’re going about new construction we’re making that area more inviting. When we’re done, we’ll have many more eyes on the street in that area.
The other major public safety accomplishment this past year was the recent appointment of Terry Waterhouse as Director of Public Safety Strategies. He will include not just the obvious police and fire departments, but all departments concerned with our safety from bylaws to engineering, and the external agencies to optimize all public safety resources available to the City of Surrey to develop the strategies and synergies between them all. I was thrilled with his appointment. I think he’s got an enormous amount of experience and look forward to developing our public safety strategy.
Ray Hudson: What is the status of the promise you made on development of the LRT. I know there have been some setbacks so what is your timetable on that now?
Mayor Hepner: I have not abandoned my timetable other than to say that the plebiscite impacted it by a number of months, and now we’ve got a game-changer in a new federal government. We also are yet to define where our regional funding will come from but I think most of the Mayor’s Council is in alignment with exploring mobility (road) pricing to whatever degree is possible. But I think we are closer now than we have ever been to getting the senior government funding announcement. I know that the province has already said that they are prepared to fund so I think with those two levels of funding, come federal budget time in the early spring, I’m hopeful we’ll hear more about how the federal funding program will work. In the meantime I’ll be working with my fellow mayors on how we’ll advance the mobility pricing piece in time to match a construction timetable for those major projects that may be three, four, five years down the road.
Here’s my Christmas list for the LRT, because it does not move out of the priority stream of our projects, it is fundamental to the growth of our city. I hope we can do financing by 2016, procurement 2017 and start construction 2018. It’s aggressive but it’s still my timeline, and the way we’ve had our discussion with the senior management of the city.
Mayor Hepner: We finally concluded the deal on the Biofuel Processing Facility and it’s under construction. When it’s done, we expect, by the end of 2016 it will provide enough fuel for our city vehicles and the garbage pick up fleet. More than that, it’s going to be a showplace, being one of the first closed-loop systems in all of North America. We are already getting requests to come and visit and talk about it from as far away as Texas. We know we’ll be a place of learning for others once it’s up and running which will be another first for us in innovation. We’ve done a lot of work and we’ve learned a lot about P3’s and if the new federal government keeps it as a capital construction requirement, we’ll be well aligned to take advantage of it for transportation.
Ray Hudson: With so much housing being built across the city, how are you dealing with the loss of canopy as the trees are removed for new homes.
Mayor Hepner: There are two or three things at play here. When you’re building houses that are affordable for young people, and you know that Surrey’s population is made up of more young people that anywhere else in the Province, it doesn’t happen on big lots. The way to preserve land is to create density, which scares people, so you try and do densification around small lot homes. It’s difficult to save a tree around a small lot. You save two or three trees on a single-family lot and you’re planting more because our bylaws say you have to, but it will take a decade to show up.
I can see the canopy historically, because my history with the city allows me to do this. When I saw the trees come down in Amble Green (in south Surrey) in the early to mid-eighties, everybody was up in arms about what this was going to look like. Now I see people when they come to the public hearings, and referring to Amble Green as a model neighbourhood, I have to remind myself that that’s what new neighbourhoods will look like twenty years from now.
I made a promise in the State of the City address, that we were going to double the number of trees that we plant in the public realm. This year we planted 5,000 trees which will create a canopy for a beautiful city and when we look at our full-on protected green spaces, as well as those we are keeping for our biodiversity strategies, we have tremendous green spaces, probably more than most urban communities in the country. So I’m not as concerned where we intended housing to go I expect trees will have to come down. Where we don’t intend housing to go, I fully expect we can preserve and create within those new housing envelopes an urban realm that will replace a canopy.
Next week we’ll finish the year end story with Mayor Hepner, but leave you with this “win” appropriate to the season.
A highlight for me was just two weeks ago when students from KP Woodward, an inner-city school came into my office and decorated my Christmas tree for me. It was a great time and they were so keen to be in there, were full of questions such as, how one gets to be mayor. That was pretty special to me because I can see on their faces the word “possible” which means that anything is possible. I like that feeling.