The final land-use meeting to conclude this Surrey council’s fractious four-year term was, to no great surprise, saturated in controversy Monday as council dealt with the 4,800-page package before it.
Following the meeting, held just 12 days before the civic election, the Surrey First slate led by mayoral candidate Gordon Hogg promised, if elected, to hold a public inquiry into “Doug McCallum’s four-year approach to approving development applications in the city.”
“Last night’s stampede to approve more than 50 land use applications showed that Doug McCallum does not care what the public thinks when it comes to developing Surrey,” Hogg charged in a press release. “At the same time, there was a complete disregard for any sort of fair or ethical process around approving development applications. Last night was the last straw and it’s time to shine a light on the last four years.”
Linda Annis, the lone Surrey First councillor this term, said council “normally” sees 10 to 15 applications during such a meeting.
“We normally have 10 to 15 applications on any given council night, but last night had nothing to do with good planning or community consultation,” she said. “Last night Doug McCallum went too far with his friends first approach, and the voters of Surrey have had enough. A lot of people made a lot of money last night with those approvals and a public inquiry will shine a very bright light on what was a very dark night for our city.”
Annis boycotted the meeting, saying she couldn’t sit in her council seat “and watch this sham.
“I would be lending legitimacy to what is an absolute slap in the face to the people of Surrey,” she reasoned.
Coun. Brenda Locke, mayoral candidate for Surrey Connect, did attend the meeting. “It’s scandalous to create a 4800-page agenda 12 days before Election Day,” she said. “It’s scandalous to zone a property involving a candidate’s family. And it’s scandalous to provide cover for developers who want to hide.”
“It was unreal, the package yesterday.”
...that meeting has a 79 page agenda (https://t.co/0K2kRoMv4Z) and an agenda package so big it had to be split into two PDFs that total 3,555 pages. How is a councillor - let alone a citizen - supposed to get through that over a weekend? War and Peace is 1,225 pages long. pic.twitter.com/abq8szd09u— Sebastian Sajda | Surrey Council Candidate (@sebastiansajda) October 3, 2022
Among items she expressed concern about was the final approval granted to re-designate from urban to multiple residential a project proposed by Satish Kumar – reportedly the father-in-law of Raman Jassar who is running for council with McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition – to permit the development of 173 townhouse units and four single family lots. The Now-Leader has reached out to Jassar for comment.
Locke said at the meeting the project has “never been supported by the neighbourhood” and wanted it put over to the next council, after it’s elected, for reconsideration. “I believe Mr. Mayor that one of the people running on your team is related to the person who is the principal of this development and so there is always the potential or the perception at the very least of conflict.”
To that, McCallum replied, “I don’t think anybody sitting in this council right here has any conflicts and so I think it’s appropriate that we carry on with it.” Locke challenged the mayor, and the Safe Surrey majority sustained his position on the matter.
McCallum told the Now-Leader on Tuesday it’s “strictly” city staff that puts the agendas together. “It’s staff that does it. This one (Monday’s meeting) was a large one but that was because we had to cancel one because of the passing of the Queen and so what staff did is take all the items in that week anyways and moved it forward to this week, which made this week very large, but that’s the reason why it was large.”
Asked if he’s concerned about the optics regarding the final approval of that 173 townhouse project, McCallum replied, “No, no I’m not.” He said in order to be in a conflict of interest, one has to have the authority to make decisions at council which Jassar does not have because she is not been elected.
“We of course hope that she will get elected but at least at this stage, when we did it, she wasn’t involved at all so I don’t see that as a conflict. A conflict of interest is based on people that have the authority to say yes and no on a project and she doesn’t have that. She just at this stage is only an ordinary citizen.”
Locke said the mayor ultimately approves the agenda. “When I asked staff about that, they said they were trying to pare it back.”
Coun. Laurie Guerra, of the SSC, suggested Annis should “dock” money on her paycheque for her absence at Monday’s meeting and called her boycott “a disgrace.”
“We have to do something about affordable housing in our city,” she said. “We welcome developers coming and bringing their projects forward. You know the mayor doesn’t go out and say ‘please bring this project forward today,’ to 50 projects. These are well in the works with our staff.
“I had no idea who was the person bringing the developments forward, there was so many of them last night,” Guerra said. “If there was a relation to somebody that’s running with us, they’re certainly not in council at the time and if there was a relationship there I’m sure they would have recused themself had they been sitting in the council chambers, which they are not.”
Coun. Doug Elford, also with SSC, said he’s “disappointed” with Annis. “You don’t boycott meetings because the workload’s to heavy, you’re in the wrong business, right, I mean if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
“We’ve been criticized in the past for not having enough housing units in the city, and then when we do push hard – as the mayor said…this is the speed we want to be moving at, in order to catch up, and make things more affordable,” Elford said. “You can’t for losing. For me, I’m all about moving ahead and not looking back.”