The municipal election campaign got off to a fast start with a debate involving the six mayoralty candidates for Langley City and Langley Township on Tuesday.
The debate took place at the monthly meeting of Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, held at Langley Golf Centre. Two of the candidates only filed papers near the nomination deadline last Friday.
Running in Langley City are acting mayor Ted Schaffer, seeking election as mayor, Randy Caine and Ray Lewis.
In Langley Township, Mayor Jack Froese is being challenged by Rick Green, whom he defeated in 2011, and Serena Oh.
Questions covering a large number of issues were put to the candidates, including Willoughby development; the Brookswood-Fernridge community plan; transit and TransLink funding; an ongoing lawsuit with Metro Vancouver over the University District and other aspects of Metro’s rural plan; development in Langley City and whether the casino in the City is a positive thing, in regards to crime.
Probably the most predictable question was on reunification of the two Langleys — one that comes up each election cycle, particularly at the chamber meeting, which involves candidates from both municipalities.
Caine said he would like “honest adult dialogue on this.”
He said Langley City is “land poor” and faces wholesale changes. He lambasted Langley City council for rejecting a petition, signed by 3,176 City residents, to study the costs and benefits of amalgamation, put forward by the Langley Reunification Association in 2012.
Schaffer said he opposes reunification, but added that Langley City and Langley Township councillors go to bat for each other at provincial and national municipal gatherings.
Lewis said he basically supports amalgamation, although “it is not an easy issue.”
Froese said “I’d welcome them back any time,” but added that “they (the City) do quite well without us and we do quite well without them.”
Green favours amalgamation, but added “the City wouldn’t approve it, so why bother having the discussion?”
On Willoughby development, candidates were asked if they favoured postponing development in the area until schools and other infrastructure are built.
“Development is out of control in Willoughby,” Green said, saying “we are adding people but can’t keep pace with transit, roads and schools.
“I am not suggesting a moratorium, but a certain amount of control by the Township has to be brought back. The density of these communities is due to neighbourhood and community plans. Council changes the OCP in one public hearing. We need to have a fairer process, and we will get better development out of it.”
Oh called for more transit in the area, and also for more secondary suites in Willoughby.
Froese said Langley Township will grow by 100,000 people in the next 30 years.
“Should development continue without schools?” he asked. “We won’t get schools without students.
“There have been 1,760 new seats built for students in Willoughby in the last three years.
“When you control development, the price of housing goes up. The market will dictate if there are enough houses being built. The government should not control the market.
“Transit is definitely an issue there, and parks and roads are being funded through development. We have to plan responsibly.”
On crime and homelessness in Langley City, Lewis stated that is the main reason he is running.
“The ‘place to be’ is becoming a city in crisis,” he said. “With the rise in homelessness and mental illness, we can’t keep going the way we have.”
Asked if the casino contributed to crime issues in the City, Lewis replied that “if it was closed,we would see the same crime we are seeing.” He said Cascades Casino is a “great employer” which provides much-needed funds to the City.
Schaffer said people with mental illness and other issues are protected by the constitution and can’t be locked away or moved out of the city. He said the City has hired additional security in the form of retired police officers for the downtown area, and has installed security cameras.
“We have one officer for every 502 people — the best police to citizen ratio in B.C. People who doom and gloom about the downtown core are wrong.”
Schaffer said the casino has 460 employees and contributes $5.5 million annually to the City in gambling revenue, as well as $1 million in property taxes.”
Caine said people in the streets have no connection to the casino — “they don’t have any money.”
“These are people of our community,” he said.
“They are struggling. There is a lack of support in the Valley for harm reduction policies.
“There was a time when the community used to support people who were having difficulties, and wouldn’t kick them out. The City has passed bylaws which prevent people from helping out, as private citizens.”
Caine said he supports the casino, but would like to see the City put more effort into helping seniors with gambling addictions.
Asked what the next step in coming up with a Brookswood-Fernridge community plan should be, following the defeat of a proposed Griffith Neighbourhood Plan in the spring, Froese said there will eventually have to be an amended community plan for the area.
“In 1987, the current plan was adopted. In 2004, we put development on hold until the plan is updated. Staff were asked to update it, and workshops and open houses were held.
“Suggestions were made, and the plan went to council and to a public hearing, and it was eventually turned down by council (Froese and Councillor Grant Ward cast the only votes in favour of the new plan).
“The new council will have to eventually update it. The 1987 plan is outdated and does need to address issues such as the aquifer and tree protection.”
Green said “The community plan process is flawed, because it does not include the community. That’s what happened in Brookswood.
“If the community is not buying into something, it shouldn’t be imposed top-down. It should be from the bottom up.”
Langley City mayoral candidates were asked about development prospects in the City, given that a proposed luxury condominium, Charleston Place, is “on hold” and development has, in the eyes of some, slowed down.
Schaffer said “Charleston will be coming back to council next week. It is now being proposed as a five-storey wood frame building. Soil conditions did not allow for a high-rise, due to prohibitive costs.
“The City is in very good shape, and I’m happy with the direction we are going.”
Lewis said that development in the City is not on hold, but there are problems.
“My focus will be in solving some of the deep problems the City has. People don’t want to invest here, if the whole system is rotting.
“The City isn’t on hold,” Caine said. “We need more sustainable development, because we are land-poor, at 20 by 22 blocks in size. To achieve a solid tax base in then City, we would need to have about 120,000 people, and I have concerns about what that would mean. It could mean that seniors on fixed incomes could not afford higher rents. We also have an aging infrastructure.”
Township candidates were asked about the court dispute over the rural plan with Metro Vancouver, and whether that means the Township should leave Metro Vancouver.
Green said “it would be very expensive to leave Metro Vancouver” which provides critical services like water and sewer to the Township.
“It would be ridiculous even to consider,” he said.
“I feel Metro Vancouver works very well. We don’t always get everything we want.”
Froese said services from Metro Vancouver are very important, and “going down that road” of leaving would be very expensive, and ultimately would have to be decided in a referendum by voters.
“I don’t believe we are in a dispute (with Metro),” he said. “Metro Vancouver took the Township to court and we won. We’ve not been in a dispute with them. They are in a dispute with us.”
TransLink and transportation issues were a hot topic, with plenty of opinions shared.
Caine said that TransLink can be likened to a “Ponzi scheme,” in that those who were in earlier don’t have to pay to help improve services for those who came in later.
“Improvements have been left on our own shoulders. It’s an absolute scam. I’d like to see us opt out of it.”
He said developers should contribute more to transit funding.
Lewis said “it’s going to take years” for improvement to transit in Langley.
“Most people in our area feel short-changed.”
Schaffer said the Mayors Council are working on coming up with a referendum question to go tho voters in the spring, asking for approval to tap new funding sources. He said the most likely option would be a boost to the provincial sales tax in the Metro Vancouver region.
In terms of improvements, Schaffer said South Fraser mayors have agreed on a 10-year plan that would see rapid transit come down Fraser Highway in year eight.
Green said TransLink got short-changed by senior governments when it was forced to come up with more money for the Evergreen Line, and has been starved ever since.
“The Mayors Council is toothless,” he said. “The government has reneged in its promises to give mayors some authority.”
He said he would not support any tax increases in a TransLink referendum, because the Township is not being served well by it. He pointed out that Gloucester Industrial Estates businesses contribute $1 to $2 million in property taxes to TransLink, yet there is no bus service to that area, where there are thousands of jobs.
“We all need a villain, don’t we,” said Froese.
He pointed out that TransLink has brought the Golden Ears Bridge, road improvements and the Carvolth Exchange to Langley.
“Can we do better? Yes, we can. One of the goals is to get cars off the road.”
Froese also pointed out that TransLink cuts routes with the least ridership, and that impacts Langley because the limited transit options here now keep people from using the bus.
He said TransLink needs to find “more diverse options for funding than property taxes.”
Froese said he does not like the idea of a referendum, but the province has mandated it.
Oh said there needs to be more buses in Langley, particularly in Willoughby.