Watt’s the deal with the $97 million dollar, new city hall?

It was not without feeling a certain sense of irony that I discovered the theme of the public art project being planned for the new city hall that is still just a large hole of mud in Whalley, is democracy.

Inspired by the theme of “Democracy” the artwork will anticipate Surrey’s diverse community, and the various use of this facility …The project budget is $500,000, inclusive of all costs including artist fees, design, materials, insurance, all engineering expenses, fabrication, delivery, installation, travel and taxes.

Ironic, because as far as I can see, there has been nothing democratic at all  about this project, since it was first nurtured from conception as part of Dianne Watts grand vision to create”the other” new urban, downtown core – other than Vancouver, that is.

That vision includes a completely new city hall in Whalley, and current mayor Dianne Watts and council, even created a new bylaw that would allow them to borrow $ 97 million dollars to finance the project, with no public consultation at all to determine if taxpayers were on board with this.

Remind you of anyone? Indeed! But let’s go back to the very contentious beginnings of this vision, where expropriation was the method the city used to get the property they wanted to make this vision a reality.

Watts city team was accused of lowballing property owners with offers far below market appraisal, but the city was largely unsympathetic, considering what might be market value elsewhere, is not  likely to be the market value in Whalley. North Surrey still suffers to this day from a variety of social and criminal issues despite the Central City Mall and SFU campus – both of which require a  visible plethora of security guards to keep the peace, contradicting the glossy PR being promoted by the city and developers.

Undeterred by the very real obstacles to rebrand Whalley, and Surrey as a whole, Watts forged ahead and on July 26th, 2010, Bylaw #17231 passed three readings –  and the taxpayers of Surrey were ever closer to assuming $97 million dollars of debt to make Watts and her majority Surrey First council’s new city hall a reality.This was approved by the Deputy inspector of municipalities on August 24th, 2010, and Dianne Watts signed approval for this loan on September 13th 2010.

Imagine that.

$97 million PLUS,  on taxpayers backs because one mayor deems it “desirable to construct a new city hall” – words taken directly from the bylaw itself – which clearly denotes even in the wording thereof, that it is not a need for a new city hall, but a desire – pure and simple.

But wait, did I mention that Watts and council spent $15 million( or so we are told, this link states over $1 billion in value)  about 5 and 1/2 years ago to renovate and expand the existing city hall? Or that the reason why the current city hall  is located where it is – off Highway 10 and King George Highway – is because that is a geographically central location to ALL Surrey residents and businesses?

If the project were to continue, residents of East Surrey, Cloverdale, Newton, South Surrey, Crescent Beach, Fleetwood, etc., will be forced to make the long drive in congested traffic to Whalley. Just add that gas cost, of which she voted to increase for you, onto the cost of the new, $ 97 million dollar city hall. Lets even forget that a large percentage of industry and residents requiring use of city hall services reside in Newton/Cloverdale and elsewhere.

Many have wondered why, in this recessionary period in which all industries seem to be taking hits and governments everywhere are cutting back, current mayor Dianne Watts and the Surrey First council,are still moving ahead aggressively with this city hall vision, financed entirely by debt.

Debt which when you calculate $ 97 million over the term of the loan, which is 30 years, at an interest rate for government, and add in contingencies for rising costs for when the building cost actually begins… you are looking at approximately $ 200 million, give or take a few million. All on the backs of Surrey residents, who are dealing with the realities of tough economic times, cutbacks, lay-offs, overcrowded schools, rising grocery costs, rising housing costs… and of course,rising fuel costs, courtesy in part to Watts who voted to raise both property tax and the tax on gas… well, you have one big slap in the face to the 99 % of Surrey who are average, working people trying to stay ahead of the bills.

In particular when the city is willing to spend a half of a million dollars on one art project to make the atrium look pretty.

When the project was first announced by Watts, she said it was estimated at a net cost of  $50 million, knowing full well the bylaw approving a $97 million dollar loan was about to pass third reading at council. Every council member knew this. And yet the total cost of the loan was never mentioned.

Surprisingly, when I looked at the most recent financial statements for the city of Surrey, this loan was not even included in the audited report because it was deemed a ” Subsequent event” to the report.

All of this, with no public consultation of any kind.  That is only part of why Ross Buchanan, an independent candidate challenging the mayors position in Surrey this year, is calling not only for an immediate halt to the project, but for a full public reveal and review of this entire debacle.

“ Surrey residents are becoming increasingly angered by what is seen as a lack of transparency and democracy at city hall, and this project has been pushed through regardless of concerns.” Buchanan states: “The current city hall is central to all Surrey neighourhoods and recently underwent $15 million in renovations.  The impact of moving city hall to Whalley will mean long, congested drives for the remainder of Surrey residents who are already complaining about the questionable location in North Surrey.”

“There is room to expand if needed and in tough economic times, a $97 million project like this, financed completely as debt to taxpayers, is incredibly irresponsible. The total cost of the city hall alone will likely be over $200 million with interest compounded over the 30 year life of the debt.”

Ross Buchanan states that when the project was first announced it was estimated at $50 million(net), then climbed to $64 million(net), and latest estimates have reached $94 million – all figures he considers a whitewash considering Watts and council signed the bylaw for the full $97 million debt in 2010. Buchanan is determined to see construction and planning stopped immediately, and a full reveal and review of the project in conjunction with broad public consultation, before continuing.

“ It is hard not to make the comparison to the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre boodoggle, because the parallels between the two projects are astonishing.”


25 thoughts on “Watt’s the deal with the $97 million dollar, new city hall?

  1. Just when I thought I had heard it all, you post this. How can she justify this crazy spending? Is she still thinking about that P3 stadium she said we absolutely needed too,or am I going to have to drive on my crappy cracked up road for another 10 years? Crap, we dont even have sidewalks in our neighbourhood, you have to walk on the road!


  2. There should be a law that cities cant borrow that much money without some kinda vote on that, or referendum or something. I don’t support this and she said there is not enough money to get more bylaw officers, but its ok to borrow a hundred million smackeroos to build another wing tom or whatever his name is building? Theres nothing wrong with the old city hall, theres lots of space there.


  3. And this at a time when all the “not rich” people struggle more and more to make ends meet….

    Just listen to her sales pitch: http://www.surrey.ca/election/9984.aspx

    Quote: “Healthy Cities need Safe Streets”. That really left a sour taste in my mouth, when we have been living in Diesel Land here in South Surrey Corridor, WE, The 32nd Ave Alliance group have been given the run around for over a year. Our neighborhood and I am sure many many other ones in Surrey are everything but Healthy and Safe.
    Her other quote: “Crime is at an all time Low”… please tell that to the grieving parents/families of the latest victims of Crime…

    Inviting Bush and Clinton here must be another hidden agenda of the Mayor, just what exactly are WE THE PEOPLE getting out of this, besides footing the bill?


  4. Watts is trying to bolster her profolio anyway she can. This includes mega-projects, and outright skullduggery on her part. She will get Surrey all shiney, but broke. Then she will move on when “Crusty the photo-op” gets turfed from the big chair over in Victoria. Like Crusty, we cannot trust this woman! VOTE Ross Buchanan for mayor! An honest, thoughtful, on task guy, with saving Surrey on his agenda.


    1. What I found most interesting is how what Watts wants, she usually gets with little scrutiny.

      For example, people all over Surrey are very interested in the ward system again, because so many of our councillors live in South Surrey, far removed from the realities of the rest of Surrey.

      But Watts says no, we dont need that, it didnt work, and “ Watts said the city doesn’t need a larger government that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for ” http://www.thenownewspaper.com/news/Should+Surrey+return+ward+system/5613535/story.html#ixzz1c7Xj9TLc

      Indeed, but the city does need a bigger, fancier city hall that taxpayers are footing the bill for… ?

      Very hypocritical to think people wouldnt be more interested in having better representation. Clearly by looking at this project, that is exactly what the people of Surrey need.


  5. Laila, thank you. Personally, it’s pretty clear as to who Dianne belongs too, and it’s not the “average” taxpayer in Surrey.
    Just to say I agree with some of the comments already, NOW is not the time to be building some extravagant city hall when so much else needs attention. Where it is now, they’ve spent lots renovating already. Makes one wonder. I know the land our city hall sits on and I have to wonder what developer already has their sights on it. Hhmm?

    Anyway, I have other comments, but later.


  6. Laila, then why the hell do prominent New Democrats Judy Villenueve (who has run several time for the NDP) and Barinder Rasode (touted as a future NDP provincial candidate) remain in Watts’ Surrey First civic party?

    And why the hell did New Democrats Laurie Larsen and Terry Allen bolt from SCC to Watts’ school board farm team earlier this year?

    That’s where your investigation should begin! Just follow the money!


  7. Todd-
    Because they want continuity of policy so the ponzi scheme can continue across party lines.
    The public is the only tool that can disrupt their costly game.
    The question is what benefit do politicians receive by allowing the game to continue?
    What is in it for them? Is it money? Is it power?
    What can the citizens do to protect public assets and prevent Canada from becoming a version of Greece?


  8. I dunno…. not to defend Dianne or anything, but I look at Vancouver City Hall having taken over space in all kinds of adjoining buildings – the old Vancity HQ at 10th and Cambie, the various old buildings adjoining the Skytrain station, the top floors of Crossroads at Cambie and Broadway, and several others… You’ll see the same discussion coming for Vancouver when the next IBI report comes out. (IBI gets commissioned every decade or so to do space planning studies for various governments and establishes the costs of occupying space wherever you can in leased facilities, versus bringing it all under one roof – it’s a neat whole-cost accounting study roughly akin to what the Provincial Auditor does to the provincial government from time to time.)

    It’s pretty expensive to run a bureaucracy in widely-separated locations. Travel time for meetings, IT support, employee oversight, even things as simple as employee health stations and lunchrooms which are required by law in every business wherever you go, all get duplicated across the region and make budgets grow and waste employees time.

    I sympathize with people who don’t like travelling into Whalley – I’m sure that goes for Watts herself who lives in Cloverdale – but most people only got to City Hall once or twice a year, rather than every day. There’s a lot of government already in Whalley, especially Metro government, and like it or not, government is one of the few things that manages to make Surrey worth living in. As for employees, I readlly don’t give a damn where they have to go to work – it’s part of the deal when you take a job – and I’m sure some of them won’t care about moving to Whalley either, especialy if it makes it more convenient to do the business of government more effectively and with less waste each day.

    Surrey’s not such a disgrace as a municipality as it once was – you Surreyites left it up to farmers and developers in the last fifty years, and it got you an unlivable embarrassment for a municipality through complete and utter lack of planning and foresight, and it’s only in the last twenty years that the GVRD, and finally more recent Surrey Councils have been turning things around and providing livable amenities and changing policy to favour residents instead of whoever happens to be standing on the Mayor’s desk this week shouting his pet project through council…

    Now, let’s look at the financing. What’s the normal way to finance projects like this? Privately, or through P-3s like Abbotsford, and they ALWAYS end up costing taxpayers far more in the long run. Yes, there will be budget creep, as the new city hall finds more ways to centralize functions under one roof, and you should FOR SURE be asking what will happen to the old City Hall property – valuable as it is, the developers will want to get their hands on it, so you should decide if they should be able to have it, and at what price? But complaining because they’re letting you in for a multi-million dollar debt on the same scale as the community centres, swimming pools, sports fields and ice facilities you’ve already built for yourselves just sounds like sour grapes because they didn’t ask you first. You should consider yourselves lucky that there’s the breadth of construction management experience at City Hall already that will allow them to plan and build their own facilities instead of contracting it out to a for-profit developer. Having been in hospitals for nearly 25 years I can report that in-house does not allways cost less, but it ALWAYS results in a better job.

    If you people think you can get along without government, especially effective and efficient government, go ahead and try. But the results won’t be pretty.


    1. Zalm, you’ve missed the point entirely. There is no need for a new city hall. Surrey is not run in widely seperated locations. The vast majority of operations are at the central location with the works yard holding 60 employees in office there. None at all. This is not about NOT being asked first, it is about how indicative this is of the way city hall in Surrey is run in general. With secrecy, and a near dictatorial hand in some cases. Surrey is suffering from a bad case of urban sprawl with many communities having long outgrown infrastructure that should be given a higher priority than the vision the mayor and council have of turning Whalley into an urban downtown, which will never happen in my lifetime!! The only waste of time and effort being demostrated is by the mayor who thinks financing $97 million for a fancy city hall is a totally acceptable reason to commit the city to 30 years of debt.


  9. Zalmster,
    The plans for Surrey were laid out over 20 years, perahps even 30 years ago. How about those farmers? Your breakfast table is gonna miss them when they’re gone.
    I don’t speak on behalf of my fellow bloggers, but I’ll bet you the family farm that they would agree with me when I say we want a government beholden to us and not to your lobby pals and gals.
    On paper the P3’s likely looked pretty hot which is why we were peddled the idea in the first place.
    Let’s be perfectly clear here, business is in business to make money at all costs.
    That mantra is why we, the taxpayer drowning in government f***ing debt.
    So don’t sit at your keyboard and belittle us into thinking current governments are doing us a favour.
    And don’t even bother using the lazy arguement that high paid employees are the reason behind high costs.
    The only reason why Surrey will surpass Vancouver is because of land mass.
    Can’t make land anymore, eh? Surrey has lush land ready for towers.
    Where will your eggs be coming from?
    How about that bacon? A factory farm where hogs are born with 3 eyes? No ears?
    Legs growing out of odd areas?
    And that’s ok as long as a generational farm has room for 4 towers,community swimming pool, and a library full of bed bugs lining up for the recently released wall street book, how to screw the taxpayer and get away with it.
    Sod off and take your gal pals with ya.


  10. Laila says: “The only waste of time and effort being demostrated is by the mayor who thinks financing $97 million for a fancy city hall is a totally acceptable reason to commit the city to 30 years of debt.”


    Laila, again it was Watts and her council that supported the new municipal hall in Whalley. And that included 2 NDPer’s that are part of Watts farm team. What’s up with that??? Nobody ever seems to explain same. Even Bob Bose, the lone opposition councillor from SCC, supported the new municipal hall In Whalley. The SCC has never opposed the new municipal hall. So why do you now voice support for Rina Gill of the SCC? Her party supports the new municipal hall!

    Laila, what further perplexes me is your support of Ross Buchanan for mayor of Surrey. The same Ross Buchanan that resides in Rosemary Heights and his real meme is opposing truck traffic along 32nd Ave., east of Hwy 99, through Rosemary Heights. The same Ross Buchanan who is only known for the his position as co-chair of the 32nd Avenue Alliance through RICH Rosemary Height and Morgan Creek in South Surrey,

    Rosemary Heights represents the ELITE of the entire ~2.5 million Metro Vancouver region. Don’t believe me? The Vancouver Sun did a Statistics Canada map of Metro Vancouver INCOMES and the conclusion:

    “Rosemary Heights in Surrey is RICHEST PLACE in Metro Vancouver”


    Ross Buchanan is a self-described CONSERVATIVE who wants to CUT municipal taxes. That’s always a right-wingers position, which WILL also eventualy cut municipal sevices. Does Rob Ford in Toronto ring a bell?

    So why are you now supporting the 1% ers? I saw you speaking on the Art Gallery steps before Occupy Vancouver representing us 99% ers. Now you turn your back on us and support a 1%er?

    Frankly Laila, I’m disappointed as there are actually a few PROGRESSIVE VOICES also running for mayor of Surrey!


  11. You really dont know Laila if you have read her for so long. She has said time and time again she does not hold wealth against anyone, it is their ethics and actions, not words that count. Her word is good for me


  12. Ps, the green candidate is not good for economics in Surrey, only green party mantras and she is an artist. Ok, so we have art with her, I saw her video, so what? Ross is progressive, talk to him Todd. Call him, he has his real # not his fake campaign one. I cant believe you.


  13. Laila,

    Perhaps I may have missed the point, but having been to Surrey City Hall once (twenty years ago) I can’t believe they’re running all that out of the one building I was in. Vancouver has at least three times the space, never mind works yards, for the same size city! Are you sure you’ve counted everyone?


    1. Zalm, From the bid for a consultant to help them organize the move of operations, the bid states 750 employees from city hall, and 60 from the public works office, which is currently less than a 5 minute drive from the city hall. It is already as about a consolidated as it gets and the current city hall is already part of a complex which includes the Surrey courthouse,Surrey pretrial and the RCMP office. Seems to be a good combination that works well already.

      Perhaps Vancouver likes to indulge in excess? And Zalm there is a ton of farm area here in Surrey that is being eaten up by developers. We dont need a bigger Surrey, we need a better one

      Todd, you really don’t know me well, do you?

      One- The saddest day for me was to see Barinder Rasode go to the Surrey First team, which claims to be non-partisan, but really is anything but because the NDP’ers are still outvoted on many issues. Bob Bose puts up a huge fight but one man against a slate of council that all play the same tune is a losing prospect.

      I can’t and don’t speak for Surrey Civic Coalition – which is a coalition, not so much a party- and I don’t base my support on a “team” or a “party” I base my support for candidates based on my personal experiences with them, their track record as I see it, and how that candidates ideals are in line with what I hold dear, and what I think this city needs. Yes, some on SCC have been vocal in the past about supporting City Hall, and that is coming back to them in this election. Rina has a long record of being hands on in the community, actually a really committed volunteer to many organizations that make a difference to people in Surrey, and that speaks to me. As Rina stated, this is also about why is it that the city thinks they can continually make decisions with no public consultation, and plenty of secrecy, and a wasteful expenditure. Read her statements again. Me supporting Rina is me supporting someone I think can do well for the people of this city and someone who I think will serve the democratic process well.

      Todd, I have always stated that I do not begrudge others money simply for the sake of doing so. I know many wealthy people that are in the 1 % who are wonderful, compassionate, ethical and very socially conscious people who give back, who share the same ideals as I. Do I think the world is incredibly unbalanced, yes. Have I not and continue to serve the 99%? Yes, and supporting Ross is the best way to serve the 99% here in Surrey who are currently being abandoned, stomped on and otherwise ignored by our current mayor and majority of her council.

      Yes, he does live in South Surrey, but guess what ? I’m not that far from him and live in a middle to high income neighbourhood myself. So? Am I now less worthy of your respect because I don’t live in Whalley, or Fleetwood? Some rationale.

      Did Ross stand up and say no to that truck traffic that is due, much in part to the mayor sticking a massive industrial park out at the end of a residential neighbourhood? Yes. Is everyone in Rosemary heights rich, or in the 1 %? No. Take a drive and see for yourself. Ross is a fiscal conservative,yes and before you start making completely inaccurate and insulting comparisons to a gluttonous buffoon like Rob Ford, I would ask you to give Ross a call yourself before you make your judgements. I support him because of all the candidates for mayor, he is the only I know can change the direction Surrey is headed. He is the only one with the experience to run a major city well, but with the passion and social concern that was what prompted him to run. He believes so strongly in the need to put democracy back into this city that makes decisions shrouded in secrecy and a lack of accountability,and so do I.

      As for why the NDP candidates bolted to Surrey First, why not ask them? I suspect that the setup Surrey First has for their campaign donations might be attractive to candidates who might not be able to afford such advertising on their own.If you are so touched by the golden one, your campaign and name recognition goes up substantially as compared to running alone. Surrey first does not report their contributions by candidate, and they appear to all go into the same hat, so to speak. Personally I find this deceptive to voters, who have no idea if the large corporate development donors are really supporting Watts more than a council member, or vice versa.

      I, quite frankly am insulted you think that I can be bought, or otherwise give up my ideals, my integrity or what I believe in, which is what you imply here. Ross is all about the 99%, and that is why I support him, the only truly independent candidate for mayor out there.


  14. Lynn,

    You’ve missed the point. Don’t ever mistake me for a developer – I’m not. But Surrey grew in an ad-hoc way for nearly 100 years before someone (I don’t know who) started to bring some semblance of planning to it. Before, developers would just stick up square miles of ticky-tacky boxes and the city would rush in behind and try to get some sewer and water and roadways to the developments before the people would move in. Planning? Schools? Transit? Parks? Services? Hah! Your twenty or thirty years of “planning” didn’t take into account any of that – it was only who would contribute the most to McCallum’s reelection fund.

    Now Surrey’s playing catch-up and all the big city’s problems are moving in. Surrey is going to need a lot of governing, and for sure it should all be in one place to reduce barriers. I’m a big fan of organized government, even when some who call for “government to be run like a business” try to do it on the cheap and end up costing taxpayers a fortune. Those who come after those “business” types always end up cleaning up messes and reorganizing and putting transparent processes in place to support the “seat-of-the-pants” governance that so often characterizes the reigns of those who just want to drown government in a bathtub.

    I’m certain Laila’s not one of those. But we can’t go back to all farms any more. Surrey’s been wrecked already. The only thing left to do is to make that development as organized and humane as possible and try to save farmland elsewhere – Langley, Abbotsford, wherever. And get the best bang for your buck. Put city functions all in one place except the works yards.


  15. @ Zalm,
    living in South Surrey does not mean we are all rich, we are far from it, the townhouse we live in was affordable, but never did we expect to go through this kind of an invasion of Health, Pollution, Safety, Noise etc. due to insane proposals from the current City Hall.

    Surrey Council created the Death by Diesel group and they decided to put the cart in front of the horse.
    Don’t let developers build all over the place without thinking and planning properly, putting in huge developments first than worry about the road later, not very smart and certainly not livable for many of us here in this corridor.

    and by the way, Watts does not live in Cloverdale, she pointed out how she felt the rattling and rolling of trucks from 32nd, but her setbacks are enormous, and she still feels the tremors? what on earth is she thinking when we are only 4 and 7 meters from the curb…
    I have asked her several times what her setbacks were, no answer. we know it is several hundred meters 🙂

    Rosemary Heights may have some wealthier people living here, but just like in Vancouver, Kerrisdale does not only have rich people or does it? these people wanted to retire here, they don’t want to be gassed to death.

    Ross does not have the money that Watts does, which makes him a whole lot more “like us” and is not in the big leagues like she keeps saying. She has created a “gang” and she will push anybody and anything out of her way that cramps her style.


  16. Laila,

    If that’s the bid proposal, then you’re right. I’m simply stunned that Surrey runs as economically as it does. Vancouver just before the downturn under Sam Sullivan had 200 planners in the Planning department alone! I know a bunch have now been cut (some were on contract only) but I think the City had pretty close to 5000 employees and contractors between the offices, planning, inspections, parks and works.

    Let’s see if Surrey can hold the line at 750….


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