John Becker and council had a busy year.

John Becker and council had a busy year.

Year in review 2015: First year like ‘drinking from fire hose’

'Don't expect another zero tax increase in 2016 budget.'

How would Mayor John Becker describe 2015, and the first year for his new council in Pitt Meadows?

“Like drinking out of a fire hose, a lot of the time,” he answered, evoking one of his favourite visuals.

The anniversary of John Becker’s return to Pitt Meadows council after the municipal elections of November 2014 has just passed, and on the eve of a new year, he discussed his first year as mayor, and what 2016 will bring.

The lawyer ran with a team that included councillors Bruce Bell, Janis Elkerton, David Murray and Mike Stark, and they all got elected. They ran on a “Four Ts” platform, based on conversations with residents, that promising improved transportation, taxation, teamwork and transparency.



Zero taxes

His team reached an early goal – a zero tax increase, and it might have been the most important promise to keep, said Becker.

“People could look at that and calculate it – it’s very much a tangible.”

But he warns taxpayers not to expect another in the 2016 budget.

“This year we’re focussed certainly on getting the best value for our residents, but given the demands on us, we’re certainly not – and never did pretend that you could – maintaining a zero tax increase.”

Still, he said it did the organization good to look at “significant spends” and consider whether they are necessary, rather than “perpetuate the status quo” and add programs, services and personnel.

Economic development was the casualty, and the city’s 2014 expenditure of $235,000 was “reduced to zero,” signaling the end of the Pitt Meadows Economic Development Corporation.

This year, the city is adding an environmental protection officer, and will have to rebuild the parks and recreation department, after Maple Ridge announced it is leaving the longtime partnership with Pitt Meadows known as the joint leisure services agreement. That will make it difficult hit another zero budget.

“This year we have a very different environment,” said Becker.



Transit referendum

Becker had done nine years as a councillor, and worked closely with former mayor Don McLean on a number of initiatives, so the nature of his new position held few surprises.

“What I did not anticipate was the events, which followed shortly after the election, which have occupied a great deal of time for both myself, and council as well,” he said.

The regional plebiscite on TransLink funding models took a lot of time, and Becker felt the city had an obligation to get facts to the public, and let them vote. As a member of the mayor’s council, he felt obligated to back the plan.

“I felt it was then incumbent on me to proceed publicly supporting the yes campaign.”

It was controversial, and the public ultimately was unwilling to accept a half-percent increase in their provincial sales tax in order to fund $7.5 billion in transit and transportation improvements.

“And of course that labour of love continues until today, and will likely continue well through 2016,” said Becker.



Sheridan quarry

Another unforeseen issue was a proposed gravel quarry on Sheridan Hill, and council joined hundreds of concerned citizens in opposing the Meadows Quarry application to the Ministry of Mines.

“It was a big news event,” said Becker. “It was an issue that brought a lot of people together, in a way that an event like Pitt Meadows Day wouldn’t.”

Meadows Quarries of Maple Ridge has proposed a new quarry on the southern portion of Sheridan Hill that would take the top off the Pitt Meadows landmark.

The gravel operation would blast and remove 240,000 tonnes of rock per year over five years, reducing the elevation of the hill by 30 metres, from 45 to 75 m.

The plan sparked a petition of more than 3,000 names, and a citizen protest in Victoria.

The opposition to the quarry continues into 2016, and Pitt Meadows residents have been joined by the Katzie First Nation, who say Sheridan Hill is part of their genesis story.

Becker said Pitt Meadows city hall and the band office are closer for being united in their quarry opposition.

“It also accelerated the growth in the working relationship between our council and the Katzie First Nation band council, and that was a very good thing.”

They two recently renegotiated service agreements, and the process was smoother than ever.

“We had a new level of trust and respect,” said Becker.



Staff turnover

A loss of key staff, including CAO Kim Grout, hit council in early November.

Grout will be the new CEO of the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission, while manager of legislative services Kelley Kenney is leaving Pitt Meadows to take the same position with the Comox Valley Regional District. Manager of development services Anne Berry is moving to Vancouver Island for a promotion, and engineering services coordinator Ike de Boer and deputy clerk Linda Kelly are both retiring.

It created another unforeseen challenge for council, conceded Becker, noting that the loss of the CAO in particular leaves a big hole in the organization.

“Losing Kim was disruptive, because you lose that institutional memory,” said Becker, adding that losing so many good people all at once is impossible to plan for.

Council is proceeding to hire with a recruitment committee of council, deciding not to proceed with a “headhunter.”

In the meantime, director of financial services Mark Roberts will be the acting CAO, and Becker said the existing staff is “backfilling” as best they can.




Many of the most urgent issues for Pitt residents fall under a broad “transportation” umbrella, from speeding traffic to poor transit service.

Becker recently announced council has been working behind the scenes with senior government and CP Rail on a railway underpass at Harris Road – a $20-plus million project that would resolve many issues with north-south traffic flow through Pitt Meadows.

“We are not ignoring that issue – quite the contrary,” Becker assured. “Those conversations are ongoing.”

He noted that third-party stakeholders insist on confidentiality as a condition of conversation with the city.




The past council was sometimes criticized – even by members of the council – for being dysfunctional. Indeed, after Doug Bing left council to become MLA, a bylaw that would have spurred development of the North Lougheed Corridor was lost due to a 3-3 voting stalemate on council.

Becker and his team ran on a platform that promised teamwork, but Becker agreed that there is generally good cooperation by members of the team, but there is some friction with Couns. Bill Dingwall and Tracy Miyashita from time to time.

“That’s fair,” said Becker.

He has promoted procedures where every councillor has a chance to put an issue before the community and before council.

“One councillor who has a hobby horse can get that on the agenda, without even the need for a seconder,” said Becker. “Folks that have something they’re particularly committed to – we have room in our procedural bylaw for that.”

Their issue would need a seconder to get a motion on the table for discussion.

He expects there to be debates.

“You’re going to have differences of opinion on issues of substance, and you’re going to have differences of opinion on issues of style and presentation,” he said.

“I said to council that one of the things I would like to see in 2016, is for me to do a better job making sure that the environment is open and respectful and transparent, and that no matter where your lawn signs were last time that everyone feels comfortable expressing an opinion and pushing something forward.”



The year ahead

Council enters 2016 with a clear set of priorities for 2016, said Becker.

“We need to get a CAO in position. We need to get this parks and rec thing clearly on track. We need to work with Maple Ridge and figure out what’s going on with the airport.”

Budget discussions are under way, and council needs to fit in a new environmental officer position, and deliver on the cost items recommended by council’s own task force on open government.

And then there are two Onni projects – on a 245-unit townhouse subdivision, and the other a business park.

“They are the two biggest development projects, together, that we’ve ever seen in Pitt Meadows. It’s elicited unprecedented participatory democracy from this council, but we will have to more those along and council will have to make a decision,” said Becker.

“And my commitment to the residents who are vehemently opposed to the OCP plans is I cannot guarantee them a result they will be happy with. But hopefully I can guarantee them a process they will feel was fair and open and respectful of differences of opinion.”


Just Posted

Students at James Cameron school contributed their original stories and illustrations to class books which were then published. (Special to The News)
Students with dyslexia at Maple Ridge school become published authors

Each contributed a story and illustration to a class book

Golden Ears Mountains, captured in May 2021. (Black Press Media files)
2nd year of day passes required for entry into 5 provincial parks launches in B.C.

Pilot program seeks to protect the environment by addressing visitor surges amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. says the province continues to invest too little in BC Parks, compared with public demand. (Special to The News)
Outdoor rec group decries parks funding

Golden Ears Park packed by record numbers of visitors

Community residents, businesses, and youth are all encouraged to complete economic development surveys. (The News files)
City of Maple Ridge asks for community input on economic development

Three surveys available online will help shape strategy for years to come

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Schools in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows exposed to COVID-19

Davie Jones and Hammond elementary schools have confirmed cases

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Police closed off 16th Avenue between 232nd and 240th streets in Aldergrove Saturday night at the site of a reported motor vehicle accident. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Survivors of rollover crash thank Good Samaritans for coming to their aid

Collision flipped vehicle into a 10-foot ditch on 16th Avenue in Langley

Val Litwin is the latest candidate to declare his bid for the B.C. Liberal leadership. (Litwin campaign video)
Political newcomer joins contest for B.C. Liberal leadership

Val Litwin a former B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO

Lincoln Mckoen. (YouTube)
Anglican bishop of the central Interior resigns over sexual misconduct allegations

Lincoln Mckoen was elected as a bishop of the Territory of the People region last year

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc reserve. (Allen Douglas/Kamloops This Week)
Tk’emlups preparing for archaeological work at B.C. residential school site where remains found

The 215 graves are, to the band’s knowledge, undocumented deaths for which it is still collecting records

Fans watch the warm-up before Game 6 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in NHL playoff hockey action Saturday, May 29, 2021 in Montreal. Quebec’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions will allow 2,500 fans to attend the game for the first time in fourteen months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Two-thirds of Canadians say governments shouldn’t lift all COVID-19 restrictions

Poll reports Canadians who gained pandemic weight say they have gained 16 pounds on average

Paul Bernardo is shown in this courtroom sketch during Ontario court proceedings via video link in Napanee, Ont., on October 5, 2018. Teen killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo is set for a parole hearing today. The designated dangerous offender, has been eligible for full parole for more than three years. Bernardo’s horrific crimes in the 1980s and early 1990s include for kidnapping, torturing and killing Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy near St. Catharines, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Banning
Killer rapist Paul Bernardo faces parole hearing today; victim families opposed

Designated dangerous offender has been eligible for full parole for more than three years.

People look over the damage after a tornado touched down in Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal, Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of homes were damaged and one death has been confirmed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
One dead and extensive damage as tornado hits Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal

Damage reported in several parts of the city, and emergency teams dispatched to sectors hardest hit

Most Read