Voice could not have said it better: D. Brown’s letter in the Record

D. Brown’s letter in Saturday’s Record has raised many of the same issues Voice has been raising for the past several years.

While we do not know who D. Brown is, nor is he/she known to Voice, we could not have articulated these issues better and we fully agree with Brown.

For example, D. Brown points to the fact that “The city is piling on residential units at an astonishing rate, yet is not balancing that with infrastructure to support them.”

Of course, one of the consequences of expanding the city’s population without increasing public infrastructure, as Brown states, is the meagre allotment of swim times and skate times “suitable for school children” on weekdays, which Brown says “compares very poorly to other municipalities’ leisure centres, such as Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Delta and Vancouver, which are available, in part or whole, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.”

The 37-year-old Canada Games Pool, is the most used facility in the city. Fourteen thousand children a year take lessons there.” (from D. Brown’s letter in the Record)

D. Brown also comments on the Pier Park and states: “The city has seen fit to commit to $53-plus million for a riverfront, perimeter road/rail-hugging park that is looking more and more like a taxpayer-supplied amenity for the Larco towers that will be built between Sixth and Eighth streets.”

This mirrors the central point that Voice has been trying to make over the past several years; i.e., that during the last eight years the city has slowly but steadily been turned into a bedroom community.

There has been a clear and dramatic increase in density in the city accompanied by the steady erosion of jobs. This has resulted in a shift in the city’s tax base, and what used to be a consistent tax-producing commercial-industrial base has been converted for the most part into multi-family housing which requires a significant increase in costly public services and amenities.

And as D. Brown points out, these public services and amenities, including those vital to children and families, have not kept up with the increasing densification of New Westminster.

Ironically, it was the announcement of a New Westminster Children’s Charter, and its juxtaposition with the strain being placed on New Westminster’s only public indoor pool, that occasioned D. Brown’s letter.

While we reserve judgement on the new Children’s Charter until we see whether it translates words in concrete action, as Brown points out in his/her letter, if things don’t change in this city “the playroom at McDonald’s could be the major recreational facility in New West” and our children will be adults by the time urgently needed school replacement projects are completed.

The Toxic Blob That Ate Due Diligence

News this past week that the Pier Park is home to a much greater amount of toxic contamination than was previously thought comes as little surprise to many observers. After all, the site has a long history of industrial use from an age when environmental considerations, regulations and awareness were not what they are today.

Sadly, the due diligence that could have identified a costly issue like this one early on was lacking at the outset of the project.

We want to be very clear here in stating that Voice and its members are not at all opposed to opening up New Westminster’s long-derelict waterfront to productive new uses such as parks, walkways, housing and commercial enterprises. Reclaiming the city’s derelict waterfront and making it accessible and useful once again have been a goal of the community for several decades and all of these would be welcome improvements.

In fact, in a September 25, 2008 Voice press release, we stated our full support for “the creation of a properly planned foreshore park on New Westminster’s waterfront” while at the same time expressing our concern that negotiations for the sale of the Westminster pier property were nearing the completion stage without any public consultation or planning.

In our assessment, it looked very much like the purchase deal had been put together quickly to meet the deadline of the 2008 election and that the mayor was “trying to conjure up an election goody to dangle before the voters without any regard for logical planning, just like he did with the Plaza 88 development prior to the [previous] election.”

Due diligence was clearly warranted considering the history of the property but was just as clearly lacking, and we offered several recommendations in our September 2008 press release outlining what we felt the appropriate course of action should be in relation to the Westminster pier property purchase:

1. That the City of New Westminster should acquire an option to buy the Westminster Pier parcel of land with the stated intention that it plans to use the property for a foreshore park and a pocket cruise ship destination.

2. That after an option to buy has been acquired, the city should engage in a transparent and comprehensive public consultation process regarding the proposed use of the property.

3. That all owners and occupants of properties in the vicinity of the proposed foreshore park should be notified in writing of the proposed consultation process.

4. That all necessary amendments to the Official Community Plan (OCP) and all necessary zoning issues be dealt with completely prior to the city exercising its option to buy the Westminster Pier property.

5. That the intentions of TransLink with respect to the construction of a new Pattullo Bridge be determined prior to the completion of a purchase of the property.

There was clearly no good reason why the pier property needed to be purchased in a rush in the Fall of 2008 other than to serve as a pre-election announcement for the Mayor. The property certainly wasn’t going anywhere, especially when you consider the “brownfield” status of the property and the high cost of remediating the impacts of past industrial activity on sites like this.

There was more than enough time for the proper due diligence to have been carried out, but sadly it was not and that omission is now coming home to roost.

Where this will all end up, and what the full financial impact will ultimately be for the already overburdened taxpayers of New Westminster, remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Due diligence is essential to good governance and there is always time for it in any well-planned, transparent public process. It is truly unfortunate, therefore, that due diligence was not observed in the purchase of the pier property and, even worse, that due diligence was trumped by political opportunism.