1) Deeper Roots Greater Heights (motto of the District of Maple Ridge)
Q. What does that mean to you and is it reflected in the important day-to-day decisions of District Hall?
Growing up in Vancouver, I had a strong attachment to my part of Vancouver, which was East Van. Even though it was a challenging area of Vancouver, I had a sense of pride for the uniqueness that made us “East Vaners” and it still resides with me to this day. When my husband, Dean, and I moved our three children to Maple Ridge in 1995, I was immediately aware of how residents of Maple Ridge made those same connections to their immediate neighbourhood: Whonnock, Webster’s Corner, Yennadon, Albion, Haney—for those old enough to refer to 224th as 8th street—Laity View, Chilcotin and on and on and I knew my kids with grow up and have the same attachment I made as a kid to my neighbourhood. For me, “Deeper Roots and Greater Heights” means intertwining neighbourhood connections and roots that ground our community as a whole and give us the collective strength and desire to move forward to reach our full potential.
The majority of employees within the municipality live here and have the same vested interest in our community as the rest of the citizens. I believe all decisions are important and the employees strive to reflect the intent of the motto in their day to day decisions that they enact on our behalf.
Development has played a large part in the lives of Maple Ridge residents, and many of the problems experienced in our neighborhoods are a direct result of rapid development.
2) Quality of life.
Q. Does development improve the quality of life for the residents of Maple Ridge? If so how or why not?
There are so many layers to this question. If I were to take my experience I would say yes. My family lived on a sailboat with no amenities and very little space. Development allowed me to purchase my family’s first home on land, which greatly improved my quality of life—actually felt guilty the first night having the dishwasher, dryer and washer all going at once, as I thought I had crossed to the dark side of consumerism. However, I would never change that decision, as the quality of life for my family moved to a different plain and we have never looked back. So to me, development allows for people to move to a beautiful community, set down roots and become productive members of that community. Without development, none of us would be enjoying the neighbourhoods we have connected with.
Further, the economics of development cannot be ignored. Many people are employed in the industry. And if you take into consideration the full scope of professional and trades jobs that are within this arena, there are a wide variety of employment opportunities, paying primarily above minimum wage, and catering to both male and female employment opportunities.
However, if you are looking to measure quality of life through the impact development has on the beauty of treed areas that are cleared for houses, animals displaced by neighbourhoods, congestion, pollution, increased crime and social issues that accompany a growing community the sentiment may be very different.
I believe there are pros and cons to how development is impacting the quality of life in Maple Ridge, but the real discussion is how such development is managed, as this defines whether the pros outweigh the cons. So simplistically, development is good for a community when it is managed and planned for properly.
3) Tax revenues are increasing each year with the addition of new housing but despite this our taxes are going up at a greater rate than inflation. The district financial statements and the districts 5 year plan do not breakout the additional costs of schools, fire, police protection, water and sewage, etc. nor do they show numbers for the infrastructure charges needed to support additional development.
Q. Does development make economic sense? Is it good fiscal policy to continue development without having a business plan with understandable cost attribution? Can you provide details that show that development is paying for itself and is not being subsidized by the taxpayer? Should the developer or the taxpayer pay for the cost of new development infrastructure?
Our district plan does come complete with the financials for each department and it is inclusive of the costs associated with fire, police, and infrastructure proposals within the business plans. Schools are not our responsibility but we do collect the school site acquisition funds and the necessary taxes on behalf of the ministry and province for such, which shows up in our financials under other fees and taxes for outside agencies etc.
Aging infrastructure costs are a national problem that has been left unaddressed far too long. It is thought that there might be provincial legislation introduced to mandate such funding within financial plans, because the concern is at the crisis level in many jurisdictions. But so far the financial reporting process has only been adjusted to include depreciation of all assets of the district so that we can see the true costs of replacement. This is what makes our budgets look very deceiving.
The previous council built into the annual tax discussion a 1% infrastructure fund to at least start addressing our aging infrastructure. This council has adopted the same practice and recognizes that it is underfunded, but further tax increases would be not accepted by the public at this time. So this is an area that will require sound management.
The OCP defines our areas of development. It has clearly defines zones for density and we follow the plan. New neighbourhoods fall into the plans goals and objectives, so to move away from such development would mean we would have to go back to the public to change the OCP. It is best to build onto existing infrastructure, but the population predictions and goals that were agreed to in the OCP and the Regional Growth Strategy allows for new development. The developers do pay for all infrastructure costs through the fees and Development Cost Charges. Unfortunately each development project gives only a portion of the funds needed to achieve the overall goal of parks and sidewalks etc, so it takes many projects to amass the overall amount needed. We are legislatively restricted on how much we can charge for infrastructure, so it is not possible to have the amenities that we often want frontloaded, unless of course we use our residential tax base and we simply do not collect enough taxes to provide for the amenities up front. However, I was instrumental in driving the conversation of reviewing practices around an amenities policy and staff is looking at practices in other jurisdictions whereby amenities are negotiated into the development agreement outside of the usual DCC and fee structure. This is coming forward at our business planning session, so I am not sure yet as to what our options are in that regard.
I would challenge the practice of comparing municipal costs to the rate of inflation, as indicators for the rate of inflation is the Consumer Price Index, which is not a comparable basket of goods to that of what municipalities spend their monies on. Even removing the gasoline and food costs, which the Independent Business Coalition does to rate municipality spending, is not reasonable, as we buy firetrucks, fire services, police services, road building and recreational services to name a few, all of which are not comparable to household debt. Debates on this are widespread and I believe a council would be hard pressed to stay within the rate of inflation and continue to meet the needs of our growing community. Here is an article that was in the National Post last December, which at least allows for some acknowledgement of our abilities to manage the finances—which is not to say we can’t improve, as that is what I strive to do on a regular basis. http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/12/14/national-post-editorial-board-local-politics-matters/
4) Little thought seems to go into determining how new development will impact existing neighbourhoods. Example: The Alouette Valley has seen a huge increase in dump trucks on its’ streets seeking places to get rid of fill from development properties in Silver Ridge. Properties are being “fill farmed” on the North Alouette River, which increases the risk of flooding in this area.
Q. Is the development planning process being handled well? And is fill-farming an appropriate practice on farmland?
I would have say that much thought goes into how new development will impact existing neighbourhoods, but having said this, I think our response to reviewing practice and adjusting to mitigate the impacts definitely could be more responsive. Considering we need other levels of government funds to complete our long term transportation goals, we should have been more responsive to the impacts of our increased traffic volumes using local strategies. I believe that the impacted neighbourhoods have rightly asked us to address our delay in coming to these conclusions in a more timely matter and both staff and council agree. Even though we cannot achieve the optimum plan that is reliant on other levels of government’s funding, we can make local changes in how we manage the traffic. Government should lead, but when it gets a clear message it is following the people, it better at least try to get out in front!! So thank you for your work in this regard.
On the issue of fill farming, it is a very disappointing practice and I am completely in favour of all efforts to stop it. Our council recently turned down a request in Whonnock and we support all of the work that the Agriculture Land Commission is doing to address this provincially. We raised this issue with the minister when we met with him at UBCM and we will continue to advocate to change the legislation regarding this detrimental practice.
5) On the District of Maple Ridge website it is stated that the district supports and promotes Smart Growth, Sustainable Communities and Affordable Housing but at the same time council keeps approving conventional clear-cut one acre developments miles from any shopping or other amenities such as the one on Grant Hill (which is currently shut down due to sediment runoff).
Q. What does Smart Growth mean to you as a candidate for council and can you give us any examples of other towns/cities that to you are good examples of Smart Growth principles and why.?.
My understanding of Smart Growth is hubs of complete communities interconnected within the boundaries of the community with core density areas that make up the downtown component, or economic hubs that transportation can be maximized around. I believe the commitment is there, but the residential piece is the only part that has serious uptake at this point. However, the need to have roofs prior to amenities is a reality of the economics of development and investment. I was involved with the Social Indicators for the OCP and all conversations were based on complete communities being one that is inclusive of services that are within a reasonable walking distance to the surrounding homes. We are seeing commercial applications come forward along 240th now that we are reaching the build out for that area and I believe the Albion Flats will also address the amenities that are being requested for that area. Slowly we will get there.
The practice of allowing subdivision into one acre lots is allowable in the OCP. I have accepted this practice as I believe it allows for a lifestyle option being afforded more people. I think we need to provide a variety of housing choices and this practice falls in line with the population targets within the OCP and the region. Unless it is taken out of the OCP, I will support it. I think our planning department is known for its advanced environmental practices and controls. The sediment issue raised in the preamble was immediately dealt with and I know that these related issues are taken very seriously by staff and council. If there is a consistent lament it is we are overzealous with our practices in this regard, which I am fine with. This is not to say we can’t improve, as we will never be perfect, but the environment is too important to not continually strive to improve practice around.
6) The creation of the Official Community Plan is a product of the astounding resource and wholehearted dedication and skill in our community base. Key recommendations from the OCP are:
– increasing the focus commercial/residential densification in the core
– significantly reducing residential sprawl
Q. Do you believe that the OCP has been truly integrated into the policies, budgets, business plans or development negotiations at the senior staff level?
Absolutely. As stated above, even though some may not agree with allowing subdivision of one acre lots outside of the urban boundary, it is allowable in the OCP. Staff apply the rules and follow zoning and policies as needed. The issue that comes into being, is the fact that policies are often in conflict with each other. For instance, we have a policy of increasing density along major transportation corridors and one for retaining the form and character of the existing neighbourhood. Yet, to achieve density along traffic corridors sometimes means we have to move away from the form and character of the neighbourhood. Looking at the principles of Smart Growth, which policy would you apply? Each impacts the others ability to achieve the intent of each policy. It is easy to pass judgment on the decisions of staff and council, but it is not as easy as one would think when having to actually take all the collective issues and policies and make the final determination. I believe staff and council try to find the balance.
7) The OCP, ALR boundaries, Metro Vancouver Plan, and Maps of Environmentally Sensitive areas in Maple Ridge provide a framework for development which is meant to curtail urban sprawl, preserve our agricultural lands and our green spaces, and protect the environment.
Q. If you are elected to council will your development decisions be guided by compliance with the Maple Ridge OCP, ALR boundaries, the Metro Vancouver Plan, and Maps of Environmentally Sensitive Areas?
Yes, the first three are legal documents with clearly defined rules of engagement. The ESS maps are important tools that guide how we manage our environmental protection practices. The entire region depends on reference documents to make decisions and these are accepted practices.
8)The OCP is a “living document” and minor changes should from time to time take place. But the incumbent council has tried to make major changes to the OCP. Example: the Pelton farm exclusion application.
Q. Would you support such changes without a referendum? Do you support the exclusion of the Pelton farm from the ALR?
Yes the OCP is a living document and the ALR is acknowledged as a defined protected land use that is also being reviewed on a regular basis. Areas of it have been challenged as to the rationale for being included under such a designation throughout the province. The Agriculture Land Commission has made it clear that too much farm land has been removed historically—much of it having happened in Maple Ridge, as I know I live in a sub-division that was originally Laity Farm property—and greater protective decisions have to be made to preserve the future of farming. However, they are willing to hear applications and make determinations on such. Pelton’s application clearly had potential for our overall economic plan and some of the components of their plan would have provided infrastructures that are needed to support small lot farming, which our agriculture plan has determined is the future of farming in Maple Ridge. I did not feel it was reasonable to turn down Pelton’s request to go before a board of their peers to have the actual agriculture viability conversation that the ALC is entrusted with.
In regards to a referendum, I believe that referendums have the potential to stagnate the decision making processes that are readily available and functioning already. I would not be in favour of a Pelton type application being a referendum question, as there are enough avenues for the public to be engaged on topics such as this and we saw this play out completely throughout this decision making process. Whether you were on the pro or con side of the issue, the feedback to council was strong on both sides.
9) The Agricultural Advisory Committee’s mandate includes the protection of agricultural land and resources.
Q. Would you support forwarding all applications for development that would impact agricultural land, farming and resources to the AAC so that the AAC can aid council in their decision-making process?
The committee just had this conversation in our business planning and priority setting for 2012. The feelings were mixed, as they recognize they are not a land use committee, but everyone felt that there was merit in exploring how this would work. Diana Hall, staff liaison to the committee, is going to bring back a full report of what this actually would look like, as there are many decisions being made in this regard at the district level. The committee will then make an informed decision from there. If I am still there, I will be part of that discussion and look forward to the conclusions.
10) In successful communities in the lower mainland the direction of development is determined by the people who live in those communities. North Vancouver and West Vancouver (both with limited land base) have successfully pursued goals in development with close consultation of their communities. This is made possible by strong and lines of genuine communication. Municipal staff policy in these communities ensures that public input is integrated, supported in setting and achieving goals for stronger more vibrant communities. Recently, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has been praised for her style
of leadership and resulting successes for the Surrey community that presented many challenges. Her successes as a leader have been attributed to her;
- high regard for community input and
- will and determination to consistently and efficiently implement community input in real and meaningful ways.
Q. How successful has the District of Maple Ridge been in this regard? Senior Staff Level, Council /Mayor Level?
This was an area that immediately brought forward when this council was first formed. We all agreed that we were on the right track for genuine community engagement, but that much could be done in the area of improved two way communications. We asked for measureable goals in this area, a clear communication plan and reviews of our customer service models and standards. All of these are on track. Fred Armstrong has raised the bar for our communication plan, IT has made incredible advancements in how our information on the website is displayed and interactive and our commitment to the models of engagement like that presented by Jim Dier from Seattle is further advancing the social planning model of citizen engagement in neighbourhood development. Basically, it is on track but we have much to do to entrench public engagement into the psyche of our work and the system as a whole. I don’t see anyone not understanding that this is an imperative within today’s public service sector and both staff and council are advancing this work.
11) Other cities and districts regard the utilization and integration of community resources; that being time, energy and expertise, as being a modern, innovative and creative approach to solutions. Conversely, Maple Ridge communities have approached staff with concerns, possible solutions, and a willingness to community and collaborate. All too often they receive inadequate responses. Many times there seems to be a large gulf rift between senior staff and the community they serve.
Q. What do you feel is at the basis of this persistent problem? Is the rapid pace of development creating conflicting priories and placing too much strain on district staff? How high a priority is it to improve this situation and why? What solutions would you suggest to improve staff community relations?
I am sorry, but I see both sides of the equation and there is also lots of engagement and positive work being done. There will always be issues and there will always be a small % of people that may not be a fit for the organization, but the majority of people working at the hall are onside with making our community the best place it can be to live, work and play and work to that end.
We are continually looking at how we can meet the growing demands from citizens, embrace opportunities presented by citizens and give citizens the platform to contribute, such as the Port Haney initiative. We are continually looking at the day to day to see if our service levels are meeting the criteria of continuous improvement. We just received a report on the body of work that will launch a customer service set of standards in the building and planning department, so that such improvements can be measured and realized. This will be moved throughout all aspects of the districts work and much is being done overall in these areas.
Council listens to the public and brings their concerns, observations and suggestions to the table. However, everything takes time and money and we achieve our goals by working through plans and budgets so our movement is strategic. I believe I work very hard to achieve the best outcome to address the concerns inferred by the question and I have been lucky to have a first term with people who were always willing to work to the same end. We would not be doing our job if we didn’t.
Neighborhood specific topics:
Alouette Valley Association
Recreation Roadway Proposal – The Alouette Valley could become a great resource for Maple Ridge if it were turned into a designated recreational area similar to what has been accomplished in many other municipalities. The area could attract tourists, green business, create employment and increase tax revenues. If you are not already familiar with this initiative please visit. www.avalley.ca
Q, Would you support such an initiative?
Yes, it is a great idea.
River Road Association
Older neighborhoods in Maple Ridge have seen exponential rises in traffic volume, especially if they are used as short cuts from East to West. The lifestyles of these neighborhoods have been badly impacted by speeding cars and discourteous drivers. Many neighborhoods have requested traffic calming measures but so far few measures have been implemented. Examples: River Road, Shady Lane 132 Ave. and 224 St., 128th Avenue.
Q. What would you do to help these neighborhoods?
I believe the collective voice of the neighbourhoods impacted by increased east/west traffic patterns have done a great job at bringing their concerns forward. The topic has been moved to the business plan discussion in December for the new council and improvements in regards to traffic calming will be achieved through the plans. I believe the outcome will be a combination of short and long term mitigations that will provide the solutions the neighbourhoods are looking for.
Silver Valley Neighborhood Association
Much has been made about creating “complete communities”, yet many developments have gone in without the promised infrastructure. Silver Valley is a prime example. There is only one road in or out and none of the promised shops, schools, recreational facilities etc. have been built.
Q. Does it make sense to push development forward without the infrastructure in place to support it?
I pasted an answer I sent to a few Silver Valley residents that have asked for feedback outside of this questionnaire. Some of it does address comments made by other candidates, as the emails were inclusive of tax relief comments made by other candidates and I am stating my position on it, but overall the subject matter is the same as what is in your specific question.
The Silver Valley Plan, like all OCP plans are a culmination of the vision of the citizens for a particular area. The vision of Silver Valley at the time was to create a self-contained community with walking trail systems linking all of the Hamlets to a central commercial hub. This is an excellent goal, but is proving hard to achieve. I will list the challenges and the opportunities we are working on.
The challenge is the actual housing units that are being realized through the development of the tough topography. The overall area has never met its target number of houses due to this, which means transit has not come and the investors in the commercial strip are not interested as there is not enough of a population for a return on such an investment. Please keep in mind, council does the plan, re-zones the land, but we do not control Translink or investors. Having said this, we can use strategies such as incentives to bring investors, re-working regulations for the commercial site to allow for mult-use seasonal commercial use and community use on the off season or allowing for permit variances to bring in a smaller investor to provide a small commercial centre. Council has directed staff to look at all of these options.
As for Translink, as you are probably aware, it is having a hard enough time funding the supplemental plan that will bring the Evergreen line and the upgrades to stations that are needed and the extra bus routes over the bridge that will link Maple Ridge to the South side of the Fraser–which is a first. Getting increased service to Silver Valley is a priority for our council and the mayor brings it to the Mayor’s table on a regular basis–but the whole region is demanding increased services from the limited funds, so it is challenging. New candidates can’t do this any better than those who are there right now advocating for such. If anyone can get a bus to Silver valley it is Mayor Daykin, as he has a proven track record with them and a solid relationship.
Next, we responded to the sidewalk issue this past year, due to my relentless request for us to improve safety for pedestrians in this area. This council agreed with me that the present method of depending on the developer to put in sidewalks as development occurs has left dangerous gaps on the commuter corridors in and out of Silver Valley. In this regard we directed staff to address this area. The work has already started and will be further addressed in the next business cycle, which the new council will discuss in December. We are looking at strategies to front load these projects with casino funding, and then recover the monies through Development Cost Charges when the actual development comes through. We also directed staff to look into best practices in other municipalities in the area of amenities that are within the scope of legislative allowance. Surrey has done some advanced work in this area that has allowed for enhancements of their arts and leisure services. Our population and investment levels for Maple Ridge are starting to attract some of the larger investors, so we may have some ability to start new practices to achieve amenities outside of Development Cost Charges and the tax base. We are very limited in this regard, as the legislation is very specific as to how councils can raise funds and what we can use the Development Cost Charges for, but we are being aggressive in this regard.
Although I questioned why we ever went into Silver Valley in the first place, I recognize we are there and the neighbourhoods are beautiful, so we have to do our best to make it work. The traffic coming off of Silver Valley and the Golden Ears bridge on the other side of town has highlighted the need to move more dollars to the east/ west traffic corridors that are outside of the traditional Lougheed and Dewdney Trunk corridors. I am pleased to say that we were able to also move this to our business planning as a priority and we will be emphasizing traffic calming and management within the budget to address this. However, I have to stress that the amount that we have from our traditional tax base is only about 2 million per year and providing a single lit intersection costs $300,000. These improvements take time and a lot of money.
We make every effort to find efficiencies and to achieve matching funds from other levels of government. In our annual tax level we have incorporated 1% which goes directly to infrastructure replacement. If new candidates freeze taxes, how will we repair the existing infrastructure in the future? This amount is already too nominal to keep up with our aged sewer and water system, but we recognize the community will not tolerate a higher amount. I am very prudent when it comes to spending taxpayers money, but I am also mindful of the needs of our community as a collective. If these amenities could have been delivered any faster within our funding sources, they would have been, plus we have to plan for the future costs. We have a reserve fund that some candidates are calling a slush fund. In reality, we put money aside in years when our costs are down and we use it to stabilize taxes from other level of government or to deal with emergent issues. For instance, the region had to upgrade all of the water lines in the region to meet new federal health standards. We were able to reduce costs associated with these regional upgrades and the bill to our citizens by 3%. Some comments by new candidates indicate they have not even investigated this practice, which is a very prudent cost containment practice that I personally appreciated on my tax bill this past year. Our practices allow us to be ready for other decisions being made by other levels of government that impact our citizens. The federal government also mandated all jail cells to be improved, due to suicide potential, this was a bill of over $1,000,000 that due to our reserve funds in policing we were able to cover with no impact to our services that year. Police and Fire is our number one cost increase each year and it an area that everyone states we need more of. If we freeze taxes, how do we even maintain the level of service, especially since contract negotiations will certainly raise the costs.
Schools will continue to be a challenge for the whole province. The demographic shift to an older population and fewer births is still in motion. It was predicted that the declining enrollment would play out for at least two more years in our community and then we would return to the level held in about 2008, because of the bridge openings etc. The province will not build schools until the existing elementary schools are at least 95% full district wide and 110% at the secondary (I may be off on the % slightly). To get back to the 2008 levels, means that more people must come to the community, which means we have to develop based on the regional plan for population predictions and goals. So it is not reasonable to expect us to not continue on our Official Community Plan as we would not get the schools if we stopped building anyways. I know it looks like we are creating the problem, but in reality, the Province’s formula is the challenge, as they will only fund schools in areas that have increasing enrollment overall and we still have decreasing enrollments. People will say, then densify around the existing schools. We are looking to do that, but people are looking to live in their homes longer, so mom and dad still occupy the 3 bedroom home on west Maple Ridge long past the kids moving out. We are working to address all of this on a regular basis, but we can only work with what we have available. I mention all of this, as it is important to know that the school issue is not based on need of a specific area, but rather the capacity of the district as a whole. Our council has worked very hard to address the issue of at least securing the school sites for the future, which is not our jurisdiction.
I have to also mention that our economic plan and our incentives for investment in Maple Ridge as a whole is bringing investors to Maple Ridge. We put a Town Centre Improvement Program in place at the beginning of this year and it prompted 22 million dollars of investment in the downtown core. All of which the investors said was a direct result of this progressive program. I included it as an attachment as it shows all of the projects that are currently underway due to this incentive.
The developers who are looking to build Albion Flats development, once we deal with the land re-zoning portion, believe this is the council that can deliver that re-zoning. We also have a vision of the project that is unique to Maple Ridge and one that will not only provide Maple Ridge residents with a great shopping experience and a business centre, but also encourage others to come and visit our community. In our council package for this week there is a development application for the corner of 224th and Dewdney Trunk that will add to re-vitalization of the town core and support the vitality of the core, which is important once we move more services east. We must always remain conscious of Maple Ridge as whole, which is why I am pointing out the economics of the rest of Maple Ridge and what it means for you in Silver Valley. Good investment by your politicians will bring investment overall and an increased commercial tax base that benefit everyone, as it allows for increased funding of the amenities that you would like to see in your area. It is our job to make our community attractive to investors and that is by being solid in our plan and open to working with the investment community. Investors create jobs and we are determined to create jobs that provide livable wages. That is why we want the Albion Flats to be both retail and business office and recreational.
Shady Lane Neighborhood Association
Cut Through Traffic in Residential Neighborhoods
Q. How will you, in the your role as Councilor/Mayor, prioritize and address the longstanding and acute problems of excessive volume and speed of traffic, and reckless driving, in residential neighborhoods which are the heart of this historic community?
I continue to commit to what we have forwarded to business planning, which are improved policy applications that mitigate increased traffic patterns through this neighbourhood and the others that are facing the same issues. Council was unanimous in this regard.
For more information, please visit the Maple Ridge Neighborhood Association Website.