This is the sixth in a series profiling White Rock’s new council members, elected Oct. 15.
Now entering his third White Rock council term, Bill Lawrence is no neophyte when it comes to city politics.
First elected in October of 2012 in a byelection to replace long-time councillor Mary Wade Anderson – who had died in office the previous June – Lawrence served for the rest of that term and was re-elected in October of 2014, serving a total of six years and two months.
When first elected, Lawrence was best known to the public as owner/proprietor of the Sandpiper Pub on Marine Drive and the Sandpiper Liquor Store on Johnston Road.
Lawrence sold his interest in the pub in 2016 but retains ties to the liquor store, with which he is listed as a consultant, and is also works as a business development specialist with Moskowitz Capital.
Part of a development-oriented council that approved numerous projects, but also reaped benefits for the City of White Rock in terms of associated Community Amenity Contributions, Lawrence was one of four White Rock Coalition incumbents swept out of office in 2018 by an electorate concerned about building heights and the pace of development.
At that time he was philosophical about the vote, theorizing to Peace Arch News that some voters felt changes to the city were “too much, too fast.”
But he staged a comeback in 2022, along with former fellow councillor, Megan Knight, who unseated Darryl Walker as mayor.
“I was surprised and honoured to have the ability to get back on council,” Lawrence said.
“I felt my previous two terms were very, very productive in terms of improvements to the city that continue to benefit White Rock residents and visitors – things like Memorial Park, the waterfront parkade and the Generations Playground and the All-Abilities Playground, although the last two were achieved in collaboration with other organizations and donors.”
The city taking over the water utility from Epcor was another thing that needed to be accomplished, he said, as it was sending profits out of province.
“It also removed the profit motive from decision-making and made us makers of our own destiny,” he said.
By the same token, he said, he is glad to have colleagues on the new council who also have a business background, particularly when it comes to budgetary decisions in a time of inflation and balancing – as every family must – the “need-to-haves” against the “nice-to-haves.”
‘With this particular council, we have a number of individuals who are entrepreneurs, who own their businesses,” he said.
“The ability to stretch that dollar is in their DNA – and running a city is like running a business; the parallels are definitely in place.”
Lawrence said that while there will inevitably be divergences of opinion, there is a “comfort zone between the majority of council members in moving things forward.”
“It’s a ‘let’s get it done’ type of council,” he said. “That’s the name of the game – moving the city forward and fixing a number of things that need fixing. In the previous council term there were some opportunities that were missed, and we don’t want to miss them this time.
This term is going to be “pivotal” for White Rock, Lawrence said, but economic conditions in Canada will inevitably have an impact on the decisions council will be making.
“In the current economic situation, things are getting tight, but I believe we have the right people on council and on staff to take care of that. “
One of the areas that he believes the previous council did have significant success was in building a better relationship with the Semiahmoo First Nation.
“I want to continue working on that,” Lawrence said.
Another priority that all members of council share is improving processes at city hall, he said, particularly as regards long delays in approving building permits and business permits.
He said he believes that there is the will among council and staff to make significant changes.
“A lot of it will come with more bodies at the hall. Some of that is about attracting talent to White Rock, but a lot of it comes down to dollars and cents.”
But one of the biggest priorities is housing and making it “available for all socio-economic groups, not just for purchasers but for renters,” he said.
“We have to look at existing spaces and existing properties that have come to the end of their life – we have a number of opportunities in buildings that are 60 to 70 years old and need renewing,” he said.
But Lawrence said the challenge now is not simply building up housing stock, but also creating places that can “build the social bonds between neighbours.”