Transcript from a podcast with Former City Mayor Dianne Watts speaking about public safety, the police transition and service to residents in Surrey.
Surrey Councillors Jack Hundial and Brenda Locke discuss local issues with former Surrey Mayor Diane Watts.
00:40 Road Levy Tax – road maintenance & safety
05:00 Infrastructure demands in a fast growing city
07:50 Surrey Volunteers
12:20 Back to managing population growth
17:00 Policing complexity – diversity of the city need to be reflected in policing model
18:40 Firefighter requirements
24:00 Public Safety issues and crime reduction
33:00 Involving Surrey’s town centres in the budgeting process
35:00 Flawed engagement around the Policing transition
Brenda Locke: Hi Dianne, thanks for joining us today. Dianne Watts was the mayor of Surrey from 2005 to 2014. Today we want to talk about things that are close to home or the domestic side of what we do on council.
One of the things I wanted to ask you about was taxes. We are getting a lot of complaints about the condition of the roads in Surrey but also the public safety side of it on how do we deal with intersections or crossings. We haven’t had the opportunity because the budget has changed a lot and the road levy tax was dropped. Can you give us some background why it was implemented in the first place?
Jack: I would like to ask you some questions about policing and fire and share some of my experience about being part of this detachment during that time.
Former Mayor Dianne Watts: Absolutely. When I was elected in 2005 there was no levy in place but the budget for the road maintenance was severally reduced so the roads were not in good condition at that point.
The cost of letting the roads going into disrepair is three times the cost of maintaining them along the way so with the road budgets being gutted and the roads were in disrepair, we decided to put a 1% levy in place and have a program, multi-year program.
I think the first one was five years and then it became a ten-year program and it was steady maintenance all the way along because it is really important to make sure the roads are maintained because in the long run it is less expensive.
So, there is no tax increase for the residences when they have to pay three times the amount, so the road levy went in and it was maintained along the way
City Councillor Brenda: And that included bike lanes and sidewalks or was that for roads only?
Former Mayor Dianne Watts: No that was for everything and one of the things that was really important to do as the city evolved. There were areas that didn’t have sidewalks where residents were now walking on the sides of roads so back to your public safety issue, it was certainly an issue when you have high speeding traffic going by and pedestrians walking along side of the road.
There was infrastructure there, there was bike lanes, there was maintenance of the roads, and that how we handled that. It was making sure that it got done each and every year.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: So, it was a bit of catch up from the previous administration
Former Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts: Yes, for sure because we did an analysis of the roads and the condition of the roads and how much work will have to be done. We did that cost analysis and realized that there was no way we were going to raise taxes that high to pay for that. So that is why we put it in as 1% and it was a steady maintenance.
Brenda: One of the things we have noticed is that the city is growing by leaps and bounds and has been for a couple of decades and one of the pressures that I really see is the pressure of all of infrastructure as we see this city grow to be the amazing place that it can be.
Growth must have put another kind of wrinkle in it all because through all of this, we have to make sure there is other infrastructure, amenities etc. but roads are a big part of that.
It is the other amenities as well. Do we have the right number of libraries and pools and how do you determine what you need for a city that is growing and how do you even keep up with that growth?
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: Again, we did an analysis of population growth and knowing that 800 to 1000 people a month were moving into the city. So, we took the 1000 people a month moving into the city so 12,000 per year so what do 12,000 people need. That is a lot of people.
Growth is great but it is the infrastructure that needs to be put in place as well.
We have to make sure that we are dealing in managing growth because it is all about managing growth and making sure that infostructure is put in place but again you don’t want it done on the backs of residents through tax increases so you have to be very diverse in ensuring there is revenue streams from all different areas.
So, we looked at how we can do that, so Surrey Development Corp was one revenue steam coming into the city, we had leased property when we built the city hall, that was another revenue stream.
Everything went to building the city and doing a really good scan and analysis of who was in the city. So, we know that a third of the population was under 19, we know that young families are coming to the city so what does that mean.
It means state of the art sporting facilities. It means ensuring that there are opportunities in terms of jobs for young people.
To make sure that the other edge of the spectrum was our seniors. We needed appropriate park space for our seniors and equipment in parks dedicated specifically for seniors.
We also wanted to make sure that our other seniors in the Indo Canadian community, they like to sit outside on park benches, get together and socialise so, again building community, what did that look like.
So, we built a number of shelters through a number of parks because we knew it was part of community building. We wanted to make sure that we had every opportunity on that front.
So, it was really doing an analysis and looking at what we needed to build for the community.
Councillor Brenda Locke: I think what you are talking about is also reflective of the volunteerism that has been going on in Surrey.
We have an amazing volunteer core and we have seen some of that shrink. There has been a review and remodeling of the city committees and that has been, from my perspective, very disappointing.
I always remember the volunteer of the year award and the whole great party that the city used to throw with hundreds of people attending. The last one I was at; I think there was maybe 100 people if that. Many of us were sad.
Jack: It was half full. Last year we didn’t even do a ‘Volunteer of the Year’ in the City of Surrey, probably for the first time in 15 years or so.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: I really come at that from a very different perspective. I think you have a better city and better communities when people are engaged.
So, everything that we did, every piece of public policy, every initiative, our budget process, public safety, we had townhalls making sure that the general public was engaged.
If you couldn’t make it to a town hall, we put in City Speaks, so they had the opportunity to go online and ensure that their voices were being heard.
Volunteerism has been so amazing within the City of Surrey. I often go back to our 2010 Olympics and the Olympic committee was so astonished in terms of how volunteers that came out of the city of Surrey. It was absolutely phenomenal.
That has been a source of pride and when you have people that are engaged in the city and you have them engaged in their community and they have a voice.
That is the biggest thing, making sure that they have a voice.
We have thousands and thousands of people that volunteered their time whether through city committee’s and different initiatives or just in every aspect. So, when I look at all of the volunteers, this is a piece of the foundation.
The most important thing anyone can give is to give of their time. So, when somebody does that and dedicates it to the city, we are so fortunate to be the recipient of that time. For me, it was very important to acknowledge our volunteers at every turn and if there was one that stood out in the community and had been there for many years, that was the ’Volunteer of the Year’ award.
People really appreciated just being thanked. The thousands of hours that people put into this city is phenomenal and an acknowledgment and a dinner is the least we could do.
Through city committees we had a lot of engagement. The winners at the end of the day are us, the City of Surrey. It builds a strong community and that is what you want.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: I was just talking to one of the Persons of the Year yesterday, Deb Jacks. She was reflecting on what an enormous honor that was for her. And recently we just lost one of our stalwarts, Peter *****Marsdon? Really sad but what a great contributor to the city.
Getting back to the growth piece, in our term in office, we add a city the size of Vernon to Surrey, so we need to talk about the service side of it. Police, Fire
City Councillor Jack Hundial: I served here previously when MacCallum was mayor before. It was a challenge because the city was growing at such a rapid pace. Even now during our term in office, we are going to add 50,000 new residents in four years at 1000 a month. Yet we aren’t building any more roadways or rec centres, so everything becomes more congested and compacted for everyone including our schools.
I remember back then you would want to keep on par with other municipalities that had RCMP that were building up appropriately and they kept the ratios of whatever it was at the time. I think is was 1 to 600 or 700 depending on what year it was.
We weren’t able to get enough funding dollars at the time and it was really frustrating and now we see it happening again. In our term here, we are not adding any new police or fire and that is really disappointing.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: It is a challenge. I certainly remember when I came in 2005, that was an issue. When you have a fast-growing city, 1000 people a month, 12,000 a year… let’s talk about police and then we can go to fire. So, police, you need to make sure, and the mark for us in Surrey was about 1 to 750. When you are adding 12,000 people a year, you should be adding 15/16 police officers per year to ensure that ratio.
There would be four added one year, sometime six so each year we are falling further and further behind.
When I became mayor in 2005, again we looked at the analysis and said ok, what do we need to do here. We needed to add 100 police officers, so in my time, we ended up adding a fair amount of police officers just to be at par.
Without getting into the debate around municipal police or RCMP, it doesn’t matter. You have a police force that needs to be properly resourced and it doesn’t matter what badge they hold; you have to make sure that you have police officers policing the streets.
When you are continually falling behind, that is going to be reflective of how many police officers will be out there on the road. It is just simple math.
If you look at our fire department, similarly the same thing. You have other areas that are really being built up and really taking off and you need to make sure that you are adding fire fighters in those areas as well.
Again, you are being the 8 ball on your front-line services which is really not the place you want to get behind.
Councillor Jack Hundial: You are absolutely right, you should never cheap out on your public safety.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: Absolutely
City Councillor Jack Hundial: But even when I look at the police transition plan, it calls for even less officers than we have today.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: Yes, I saw that. That is really shocking. That is really shocking.
When you look at the city of Surrey, there are number of things that make Surrey very complex. Again, you have to do some critical thinking around what is it that you are trying to do.
The land base is significant. You can fit Burnaby, Richmond and Vancouver into the City of Surrey land base. So, to get from one end of city to the other end of the city is significant so your deployment really has to reflect that.
Where the population is, how do you move people around. It is very complex.
We have a very young population. It is a double edge sword.
There are 105 languages spoken in the city of Surrey. The RCMP are doing a very good job around diversification n and the language spoken within the police force. When we did our strategic planning, as we did every year, we identified that.
We need to make sure that the diversity of this city is reflected in the policing model. That was part of the process that was undertaking over the past number of years.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: It isn’t about the police officers or the firefighters but about the resourcing in general around public safety.
Jack, you did a ride along with Surrey Fire a couple of months ago, what changes does the fire department need in terms of their physical plants or what they need. Dianne you have seen the skyline of Surrey change. What are the needs in terms in trucks or stations or whatever.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: I must tell you that I actually had, then candidate MacCallum do a ride along with me when I was an RCMP officer the last time he ran.
We talked about the importance and value of having adequate resourcing at that time. He saw it first-hand. He spoke to the residents at the calls we went to, and he saw it all firsthand.
In that campaign, he talked about bringing in 300 RCMP officer in 2014. It is quite the pivot now, not only are we not going to hire more police officers, we are going have less police officers during this time.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: That is probably why he didn’t want you involved in the process then.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: Yes, probably. (laughing).
Let’s talk about our fire department. We don’t give enough credit to what our fire department is doing. We are really lucky to have the fire service that do have here. I would put Surrey Fire service up against any fire service out there for the volume, the complexity of what they are doing and the land mass they have to cover as well.
What they use here in Surrey is a moved-up model. So as one fire truck gets used up, they move up other ones from outlining areas. The problem with that, of course, is that if we don’t adequately staff those then the people on the outskirts are left without fire service or a delayed response.
Surrey is also one of the few departments that still has a volunteer group of fire fighters. I get a chuckle every time I hear Mayor McCallum say that Surrey has outgrown the RCMP, well let’s apply that to fire service as well. The rate Surrey is growing, we have outgrown having volunteer fire fighters. I appreciate what they do but we need to be adequately resourcing this and that means building a new fire hall.
We have only one elevated platform truck that goes up 64 feet. We are building vertically in the city and that’s the other thing that we have to consider in policing as well.
If you look at Vancouver, they have a lot of vertical as well, not as much laying out as we do here but even for fire services, we should be looking at another fire hall in North Surrey, especially when we talk about the need for an elevated platform for transportation.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: There is a long history with Surrey Fire. I know when I first got onto Surrey Council and was working as a councillor, the relationship between the city and the fire department was very contentious. It was not a good relationship at all.
I headed up the fire services review. We looked at all the composite halls, all the volunteer halls, looked at the halls that were paid firefighters. We ended up redoing a lot of the modeling.
When I became Mayor in 2005, we really needed to repair that relationship. We did an environment scan on how we evolve the fire service. At that point in time, Len Garis came on as chief.
He was very forward thinking in so many areas. We worked together. Again, you come back to building community, working together and partnership. The city worked very closely with the fire department.
We ensured that we had a lot of the new programs going in. They did a lot of new initiatives. I was very proud to say that when I left office in 2014, we had an extraordinarily good relationship with Surrey Fire.
I look now and the some of the same things going on where there are no fire fighters added in this last budget. These are your first responders so when a resident call for help, they need somebody to be there.
It is really important that the first responders are staffed properly. Their response is very critical.
When I saw there were no firefighters added in the budget, it was very disheartening.
Especially when you look at the issue with fentanyl so there are a lot more calls going out. There is a pandemic going on. If someone needs help, your first responders are there. So to not have anybody during a pandemic, during a fentanyl crisis is shocking.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: You are so right. The opioid crisis in 2018 would have been much, much worse without Surrey Fire supporting people on the street. And now with COVID everybody is staying home, that has ramped up again and we are seeing fentanyl and the people dying again from drug overdoses and it is very sad.
Thankfully Surrey Fire does the great work that they do. What do you think about the public safety committee. That was a committee that was onboard when we started and immediately after we became elected, within months, the Mayor shut it down.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: Yes, once we started asking questions.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: Yes, you don’t want any of those questions happening..
He went to another committee which was the Transition committee. He only put his people from his coalition on it.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: And they never met.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: As they never met, it was pretty non-productive to say the least. I think the public safety committee got confused by him as things do, that it was just about the police. Public safety is more than just about the police.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: Oh, for sure. It was much more than just about the police. We had police and fire and ambulance and the general public. When you talk about public safety, it is multi-faceted as you know. You need engagement from all parts. We had our crime reduction strategy in place. So, we have our crime reduction people there as well.
It was about really being alive to what was going on in the community, so you really need those partners at the table that are on the ground. So, when there are issues like the fentanyl crisis, how do we respond to that.
We had to be responsive, we had to be very nimble in terms in what our response was going to be and who was going to respond because it is not always the police. It is very critical to ensure that if there are issue within the community, that they are addressed.
Through public safety, that is where we address it. So, we would hold meetings in the community, we had it open to the public if somebody wanted to sit in or if someone wanted to come in as a delegation and talk about what was going on in their community. Absolutely anybody could do that.
Again, people who live in the community know better what is going on in their community and their neighbourhood than we do as government. That engagement was absolutely critical in terms of getting on top of issues.
We would sit down and look at the strategic planning for the year, what things we needed to be addressing. We would have that process. That process was done with council, that process was done with the general public and with the police. It was around community policing in terms of what needed to be addressed.
Again, the public safety committee was how we could respond very quickly. If something was jumping up, if there was a rash of break and entries in one area and the residents were going, hey there have been 15 break and enters in this one area. The police were alive to it and they would respond, and bylaws would be involved or block watch, whatever the case may be.
In this one instance that I just referred to. It happened to be a person that had moved into the community and rented a basement suite and was going around breaking into all the houses. Once we identified that, we were on top of that and done. It all stopped.
There is value in terms of bringing people together and having those discussions and addressing them and getting on top of them. If you don’t have a public safety committee, what are you doing?
City Councillor Jack Hundial: One of the really good outcomes that was created here at Surrey detachment in partnership with Fraser Health was the Car 67 program. And that was cutting edge back in the day when it was created.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: That’s correct.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: It is the model now that people are coming from all over the world especially in the last year.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: That was part of the crime reduction strategy. As you well know as a former police officer. Police don’t have the tools to deal with mental health issues. That is not their job. You need an expert to deal with the issues around mental health.
Our crime reduction strategy was best practices from around the world. That was one piece.
There is another instance. If someone was expelled from school, they were just expelled to go home – great – go play more video games.
We have a very close relationship with the Surrey School district. We said, you need to go over to this team. The team had a social worker, a police officer and it was amazing assisting those kids and turning the behaviour around by virtue of just diverting. It was the community that was driving this.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: And now without the public safety committee, we have none of that communication going on. None of it. One thing that concern me, if we end up going towards a municipal police force, what is going to happen between now and that time. There is this big gap, huge holes that are being created now that when the next council comes in it will be clean up in aisle 9 again.
We are going backwards, repeating history on the clean-up of the mess that is going to be left behind.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: Dianne you were mentioning about public engagement and I wanted to talk about that.
Last year around this time, I did a notice of motion that said that council should go out to the town centre and talk to the residents about the budget consultation piece. This is something that I did with the province. It worked quite well with the province.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: We did them all the time as well.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: It should be easy to do in the city. The mayor and his team voted against that. They didn’t want to hear from resident. When you talk about buy in from the residents, it feels like, for residents that they are being shut out from their own city and that is disheartening.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: It is a departure from how things have been done. It is really important to be engaged in your city. You are asking the residents to pay money to the city for services. They need to have a say.
Not everyone can come into council and make a presentation so the value of whether gathering information through City Speaks online or going into the community and doing a presentation on the budget, asking for feedback, asking “what do you think.”
Every town centre is different, so you need to be going to every town centre and you really need to be having those discussion. There is so much value in that because people have a say in what’s going on in their community.
It has to be. You have to do that.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: Since we have been elected, we have not given any town halls where Mayor and council are engaging with the public. Some of our councillors have chosen to disengage from social media as well. This is really problematic.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: I know that in this time of COVID, I know you can’t go and have a town hall, but you could have virtual meetings, you could go through Zoom. There are so many things you do through social media now that you can engage the citizenry. If an excuse comes up, you have COVID so we can’t do that, well no, let’s do a virtual townhall. So, there many ways to get around that.
It is really important to engage the citizenry.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: I think that one of things that we did do in this term and I think this is one of the reasons that the residents are so absolutely disheartened was the consultation on the police transition.
If there was ever a folly of a consultation process, that was it. And the reporting out, after that consultation process was just sad.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: When the first consultation was in Cloverdale, we went there. People were walking out of there with more questions than they had going into it.
No one was asking for opinions and people were angry and upset. It translated into the responses the city got, it took a couple of FOIs’ to get to the truth from our own council because even we didn’t get the data until Christmas break and it was dumped online quietly in an obscure place right before Christmas.
Luckily we were able to see it. Even in the city’s own consultation report, it shows there is overwhelming support to keep the current policing model.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: I can speak to what I have heard, living in the city and resident coming to me.
The biggest thing is that there are so many unknowns. Questions unanswered. What are you trying to fix? What are the pro and cons of a municipal force? What are the pro and cons of keeping the RCMP? Do the analysis of the cost. All of these things are a process. At the end of the day, then you make your decision. Is it better to go to municipal police or is it better to stay with the RCMP.
There is a whole process that needs to be undertaken. Surely when I look at the cost, now I have headed up police services review probably three times in looking at going to a municipal force vs (keeping the) RCMP. I have done that critical analysis and every time.. it has been done before, Richmond just completed their last one, Red Deer just completed theirs. It has been done but the result comes, and I came to this result as well… If there are issues, work within the system, work within ensuring those issues are resolved because the cost and implication are horrendous.
If you have a lot of money and you aren’t worried about spending hundreds of millions of dollars then fine but when you in a position right now, where we have global pandemic, where we have people losing their businesses, unemployed, losing their homes, that are becoming homeless and everything is unstable. The last thing you do right now is spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a policing transition and a change to a police force that nobody knows why.
You look at that and it is astonishing from many of the resident’s perspective as to why is this occurring because what you should do is put that on hold and look at the budget implication on other things. You have laid off 2000 people, everything is shut down, residents and kids that can’t access local facility. So, you need to rework it and say we need to be spending money to deal with the issue around this pandemic and getting people back to work.
I think that is where you are getting such a backlash from the residents, for those very reasons.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: Well, you are right. We have 2000 staff that are currently laid off. On the library board, the budget is about 20 million per year so the budget for this year going ahead is 15. That is part of the reason we aren’t opening up the library. It’s a cost saving measure as well. Other communities are opening up libraries.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: That’s the thing. In paying for the police transition, you gut everything else, so you aren’t paying wages, you don’t have facilities open. You don’t have all of those other things. This is where you need to be transparent with people that live in this city.
You know, here’s what we are doing, and this is why nothing is open. This is why we are gutting all of the city. This is why we are bringing SCDC into the city, we are going to sell the land, or this is why we are shutting down the Homelessness Foundation, they have 11 million dollars and we want to gut that.
At the end of the day, what kind of city are you going to have. You are gutting everything, you are not maintaining the roads, you have no facilities open so …
City Councillor Jack Hundial: And this is only two years into it.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: And this is two years into it so it’s shocking for most of the residents I would say.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: One of the things you mentioned was process and to me that is very important. Government should always be following due process to get them where they want to go.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: Exactly
City Councillor Brenda Locke: And in terms when you talk about the transition. I would have assumed, as any thinking person would, that we would have had a corporate report when that decision was made on Nov 5, 2018.
That process has been a flawed process but at that vote, Jack, you made a statement before you voted that was to frame up the reason that we would go down that road and as we all know since then, we have also pulled our support for that vote.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: So what I stated before we made that vote that I would only support this is I could see a very clear and tangible benefit to the residents of Surrey and we knew what was going to be the difference and what the cost was going to be.
This was based on a council decision from the previous council. It was a notice of motion that was entered, I think by Councillor Gill who put forth the motion saying that one of the first orders of business for the new council would be to examine and get a proper feasibility study done for a police transition and that was never done.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: And that was supported unanimously as well. It is very disappointing that there was never a real solid process and instead it all got pulled into the mayor’s office and whatever arrangement he made with Kennedy Stewart in Vancouver. He came up with that really really sad report that we see today
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: When you don’t have due process, it is the residents that suffer.
The answers to the questions are going to be what they are going to be but if we don’t go through a proper analysis and a proper process then there is a lack of information and lack of clarity, everything is skewed and the general public are up in arms and you can see that happening right now and for those very reasons.
In anything that government tries to do, you have to follow due process, you have to be transparent in that and you have to really lay everything out. At the end of the day, if the residents want to go down that road, then that’s fine but at least you’ve got to lay out the truth.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: Residents deserve our best.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: They do.
If you are hiding the truth and you are trying to skew the outcome, it’s going to backfire every single time.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: And it is. We see that.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: Absolutely
City Councillor Brenda Locke: Thank you. It has been great chatting with you.
City Councillor Jack Hundial: I appreciate the historical context of when you had to pick up the piece last time McCullum was in office. Lots of lessons learned there and I always tell everyone on this podcast, there is hope and Surrey is big enough for everyone and everyone’s thoughts and ideas. There is light at the end of the tunnel here.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: We are a great city with so many amazing people that live here. They just want their voice heard and I keep coming back – we are here to serve the people of the city – not the other way around.
City Councillor Brenda Locke: And we are here to serve everyone, whether they voted for us or not or whether they voted at all. We are here for everyone.
Former City Mayor Dianne Watts: Absolutely
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