2014-11-05: Tri-Cities mayoral race: SkyTrain-related growth a hot election topic

Tri-Cities mayoral race: SkyTrain-related growth a hot election topic
Candidates square off over planning, urbanization and tax reduction
By Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun
November 5, 2014

With Evergreen Line SkyTrain construction snaking across a big swath of the Tri-Cities, issues related to growth and urbanization are cropping up as key election points within the municipal election races in Port Moody, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam.

The mayoral seats in all three communities are being contested, with varying degrees of competition, with Port Moody’s race becoming particularly heated over the city’s official community plan and Coqutilam’s over issues of spending and tax rates.

Mayor Mike Clay was elected to his first term in 2011 after serving two terms as a councillor. He is seeking re-election on what he considers his council’s record in delivering a more open and transparent local government, with a goal of completing the planning work needed to integrate two of the Evergreen Line’s seven stations into the community.

Clay said the Evergreen Line, scheduled to open within two years — the middle of the next council term — will be “driving the agenda” for local government to manage the transit-oriented urban design of mixed-use development expected around the city’s historic core at Moody Centre Station.

“With that change, and that growth, there is going to be a need for new park space, some new soccer fields,” Clay added. “It spurs everything else in the community.”

However, Clay is being challenged by former Port Moody administrator Gaetan Royer — who was city manager up until 2011 and spent two years as the parks manager at Metro Vancouver — on the very issue of Port Moody’s community plan.

Royer contends the provisions for new parks and recreational facilities, which he characterized as being “at capacity” now, should already be in the community plan. He also calls the plan lacking for not defining limits on housing density or building heights in former industrial sites on the Port Moody waterfront defined as “special study areas.”

Royer is campaigning on the city government’s successes in building new community amenities while he was city manager, but with SkyTrain about to arrive, Port Moody has almost reached its limit for population growth.

Royer said that while Metro Vancouver is expecting to absorb a million new people in its population by 2030, it also needs 600,000 new jobs, which he believes is where Port Moody should focus its attention for development around Moody Centre.

He added that Port Moody residents he’s talked to are wary of increasing the city’s population by the 15,000 residents that the community plan anticipates, but are comfortable with trying to develop business.

Royer believes Moody Centre should be rezoned, then marketed, as the type of office and commercial space that would be attractive to high-tech and green-technology employers that want to be near the new transportation infrastructure.

“Port Moody has contributed to (absorbing new population) by building a lot of housing in the last 15 years, faster than anybody else,” Royer said. “I’m saying our contribution moving forward is to knock off a large number of those 600,000 jobs.”

Clay countered that the area around Moody Centre has languished since 2000 as landowners put off investment waiting for the off-again, on-again prospects of rapid transit to solidify.

Now that it has, Clay maintains that the city needs more housing to draw some of the employers Royer is talking about in what Clay envisions as a mix of commercial, residential, light industrial and office space.

And with SkyTrain arriving, Clay added, it is too late to tell the rest of the region that the city is full.

“We’ve been designated as a transit corridor with a $1.4 billion SkyTrain line coming through our city,” Clay said. “You don’t do that and say, ‘Yeah, you know what? We’re not part of the region anymore.’ We need to accept that responsibility.”Mayor Richard Stewart is seeking re election for a third term in Coquitlam, and is also looking forward to the prospects of integrating four new Evergreen Line stations into the community and “getting it right” in terms of public safety and amenities.

Stewart said one challenge for the next council will be to maintain or replace a supply of about 1,000 units of older rental apartment units that are at risk from redevelopment pressures around the Evergreen Line’s Burquitlam Station.

He added that council has pushed for a wide range of measures to preserve rental apartments, including a one-for-one replacement during redevelopment and contributions to an affordable-housing fund by all developers in the city.

“The pressure is immediate to (redevelop),” Stewart said.

However, Stewart faces a challenge from councillor and former longtime mayor Lou Sekora over the city’s property taxes and leadership style.

Stewart said during his tenure, Coquitlam’s council has worked to eliminate debt and build the capital reserves in its budget to keep up with road repairs and building maintenance that had been neglected in previous terms.

“Short-changing your budget in one year or five years is easy to do,” Stewart said, “(but) irresponsible to do.

Sekora, however, is campaigning on the promise of immediate tax cuts.

“During (Stewart’s) tenure, they’ve gone sky high,” Sekora said. “Business taxes are almost the highest in Canada, they’re higher than Vancouver now.”

Sekora said he would accomplish tax cuts by “cutting the fat out of the budget” for things such as consultant reports, meal breaks at council meetings, which he said drag on far too long, and overtime bills for the staff that attend the long meetings.

The 82-year-old is also promising to spend more money on recreational facilities, such as Place Maillardville, and to hold open-office sessions once a week at city hall where city residents could raise any issues.

Sekora also attacked Stewart over his leadership, claiming that the incumbent mayor isn’t a decisive top official offering appropriate guidance to council or staff.

“You have a mayor who shows no leadership, the bureaucrats take over,” he said.

Stewart countered that he prides himself on being a consensus-building leader who has worked to get councillors, Coquitlam’s regional neighbours and provincial and federal governments to cooperate on initiatives such as the Evergreen Line.

Stewart also faces a third contender, Mark Mahovlich, a former carpenter, movie-car driver and elite-level hockey referee who is running for mayor to push for the seismic upgrading of Coquitlam schools and lower taxes, particularly business taxes.In Port Coquitlam, Mayor Greg Moore is campaigning on his council’s record of having delivered a tax cut — slim, at 0.21 of a percentage point, but still a reduction.

Capitalizing on the Evergreen Line in neighbouring Coquitlam, Moore promises in his platform to push for effective transit links, including rapid-bus service, to make sure the new infrastructure is “one bus away” for PoCo residents.

Moore also vows to continue examining the city budget with an eye to further property tax cuts, and to work with the province to find better ways to fund city operations.

“(Our) property taxes are maxed out and we need to look to new ways to fund municipalities,” he said in his campaign statements, and “there are many examples from around the world.”

Moore faces a contender in local entrepreneur Eric Hirvonen. In his campaign statement to the Tri-Cities Now, Hirvonen said the regional decision to reduce trash collection to every other week, with the separation of green waste from regular garbage, was a key motivating factor for him to run.

“One of the important services to all people in a civilized society is community sanitation,” Hirvonen wrote in a statement on his campaign website, “and I think it alarming and regrettable that any council would have allowed such a key feature of services to become diminished.”

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