It was standing room only Tuesday night at the West Vancouver Seniors' Activity Centre as a packed house of about 200 people turned out to hear 17 council candidates discuss issues such as housing, transit, taxes, spending, and government red tape.
Hosted by the Ambleside and Dundarave Residents Association, the first part of the two-hour format posed questions chosen by the association to two or three different candidates at a time.
Housing a top priority for some
Elaine McHarg said expanding housing choices and improving transit is a priority for her.
Ken Schultze, who at 25 is the youngest candidate running for council, said “as someone who hasn’t been able to move out of my parents’ basement” providing housing options for younger people is important. That will involve more than just building market housing, said Schultze.
Amir Alavi said his “number one priority” is housing.
Rima Martinez said West Vancouver needs to prioritize housing tied to people’s income.
Other candidates said preserving West Van’s current quality of life is key.
Former councillor Christine Cassidy said she would vote for “those who live in the community, not for those who are yet to come,” and preserving “quality of life” is key.
Incumbent councillor Peter Lambur said West Vancouver needs a strong OCP “which is our Bible and our backstop.” Key to that is finishing work on local area plans, he said.
Some candidates were posed more detailed questions about density, including whether 1,200 new units of housing can be built in Ambleside, as envisioned by the OCP, while still retaining quality of life for current residents.
Scott Snider said he wasn’t sure that was feasible in a small area. “The village feel we have in Ambleside has to be maintained,” he said.
Linda Watt said she believes view corridors should be protected. “Perhaps it is a NIMBY thing to say, and I’ll own that,” she said. “I do believe that’s part of the fabric of our community.”
Incumbent councillor Nora Gambioli said issues like view corridors have to be considered against the need for greater density and more housing.
“If we want to create more housing then view corridors, which are not a legal right, cannot be protected in every case,” she said.
Some councillors were asked their views on a proposal to expand Inglewood Care Centre near Taylor Way.
Incumbent councillor Sharon Thompson said the project has merit, but added she’s concerned about the inclusion of workforce housing in the plan.
Snider said he thinks the plan is too large.
“I’m wondering if we do need that kind of housing," said candidate Eileen Buchanan. "We may need to look at other alternatives.”
Transportation also key
Transportation was another key issue for candidates.
Tyler Blair said politicians need to push the province to pay for an upgrade of the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing to handle traffic to the North Shore.
David McCosh said another big issue is the current lack of north-south transit options in West Vancouver.
Alavi said transportation woes are tied to lack of housing. “Seventy-five per cent of people that work here, they’re coming from other communities. That means traffic,” he said, adding more housing options would help solve the problem.
Taxes and red tape a concern
Taxation and municipal spending were a focus for some candidates.
“I believe our spending is outrageous,” said candidate Claus Jensen. He said West Vancouver should be reducing taxes and utility payments by 15 per cent and cutting municipal staff by 10 to 20 per cent.
“I care about taxes going up up up every year with very little to show for it,” echoed Snider, adding he’s concerned about red tape around permits in the district.
Gambioli defended the municipality’s spending, saying West Vancouver’s operating budget increased by “far less than inflation” this year, despite challenges posed by COVID. She said about half of West Vancouver property tax bills are made up amounts collected for other levels of government, like transit levies and provincial school taxes.
Candidates Alexis Chicoine and Schultze both spoke about climate change.
Chicoine said land use decisions impact how people live and travel and the kind of carbon footprint they leave.
Schultze said climate change is a huge issue for younger people. Investing in electric car charging and electric bike infrastructure and wider sidewalks would be a good first step, he said.
They also spoke about the need for fresh voices at the council table that will consider the needs of future generations.
Others stressed the need for council to listen to current residents.
The residents and businesses of West Van are “the ultimate stakeholders,” said Keen Lau.
Incumbent councillor Bill Soprovich cautioned would-be councillors they will only be one voice around the table.
“There are six councillors and a mayor. It’s a tough job out there,” he said. Councillors need to “keep an open mind” and “do your homework,” he said.
Gambioli said voters should check the voting record and actions of those running for council rather than relying on their rhetoric.
She added she doesn’t want to see West Van get drawn back into “stagnation and the status quo.”
Candidates name who they support for mayor
In the second half of the evening, candidates took part in a rapid-fire “lightning round” of questions involving yes or no questions where they each held up either a green card for yes or a red card for no. Questions ranged from “Do you personally pay property tax in West Vancouver?” to “Would you support the R2 rapid bus going from Park Royal to Dundarave?”
Candidates were also asked to name the candidate they are supporting for mayor. Watt, Thompson, Snider, Martinez, Lau, Lambur, Blair and Jensen said they were backing Mark Sager. Schultze, McCosh, McHarg, Gambioli, Chicoine, and Alavi said they were backing Mary-Ann Booth. Buchanan didn’t answer, Soprovich said he’d never endorsed a mayoral candidate, and Cassidy said it was a councillor’s job to work with whomever is elected.
An all-candidates forum for mayoral candidates hosted by the same residents’ group will be held at the seniors activity centre Thursday night at 7 p.m.