“Surrey council does not listen to citizens or community groups.”
That was the resounding message at a May 3 “Surrey Community Leaders” forum, say its organizers.
It was identified as the number one community issue in Surrey by 93 per cent of representatives who attended the forum, from 16 Surrey neighbourhood associations and eight environmental groups.
The representatives are people who “advocate on behalf of their communities by communicating their issues to Surrey’s mayor and council, and city staff,” a release notes.
Surrey Community Leaders (SCL) describes itself as “a non-partisan group, self-funding group of Surrey citizens,” led by Bob Campbell and Grant Rice.
While Rice has run for civic office in the past, Campbell said neither he nor Rice are running in any capacity this year’s election.
The “non-political” forum was closed to politicians and media, and Campbell said the aim was to determine issues that are top of mind ahead of the civic election this fall.
“The next mayor and council have a lot of work do in order to restore public trust in the city,” the group stated in its release summarizing the forum.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner questions the group calling itself non-partisan.
“They’re very much a partisan group,” she said. “Many of the agencies have come out and supported other groups that have run for council in the past. It’s very much a political slanted group of organized folks.”
She called the group’s move “electioneering.”
“It’s an easy election message isn’t it? It has no bearing in reality but has significant bearing in electioneering,” said Hepner. “I was disappointed when I see the efforts we have gone to to make sure the public is heard, not only in our Surrey Speaks, and the various ways we have made technology available to the public to deliver messages and comments on some of our new programs, or some of the things they see within our city that needs fixing or addressing. Then I hear that we’re not listening? That’s so far beyond the reality that it’s simply not true.”
A summary report from the Surrey Community Leaders forum, issued to media on May 11, suggested a ward system should be considered for local Surrey elections, and that Surrey’s advisory committees not be “controlled and manipulated, as they now are.”
The mayor took issue with the suggestion the city wasn’t being fair with its committees.
“We invite people from the community every single year to advance to us their resumes for serving,” she said. “We choose from amongst those resumes, those that best suit some of the terms of reference on those committees. Mike Bose, for exampled, served on the agricultural committee and ran against us. Grant Rice has been on a committee — I had him on my own parks and rec committee. And it isn’t as if Bob Campbell hasn’t served on city committees for many years.”
Other issues identified in the SCL summary report included the loss of green space, with 67 per cent of survey respondents agreeing parkland acquisition is not keeping up with population growth.
“The South Campbell LAP area was suggested as an ideal location for a significant Nature Reserve by several speakers and write-in commenters,” noted an SCL media release.
SCL says 77 per cent of respondents felt that using farmland for mega houses is an important issue, along with problems of illegal dumping in the ALR.
According to SCL, 68 per cent of forum attendees agreed “the undemocratic Alternative Approval Process recently used to remove parkland designation in Hawthorne Park should not be allowed.”
Other issues that made the top ten, among respondents, included a lack of bylaw (70 per cent) and building code (67 per cent) enforcement and drug-related crime (62 per cent).
Other issues, such as homelessness, lack of affordable housing, and crime received at least 55 per cent agreement from survey respondents.
“Several references to the benefits of a local municipal police force were mentioned including Delta’s ‘no call too small’ model of policing,” an SCL release notes. “RCMP turnover at the district level was viewed as an issue that impacted community policing.”
Campbell said it’s hoped “candidates considering running for office will look at this and say there’s a big issue with policing, or bylaw enforcement, or tree retention – and that will become a bit of a discussion point at least.”
Formed in 2014, SCL says it aims to “provide opportunities to discuss issues affecting people who live, work, play and learn in Surrey.”