There was a full house in the District of North Vancouver council chambers on Monday evening as the public came forward to speak up on the 2023 budget, and the projects that have been chosen by council to be delayed.
Thirty-six speakers had signed up to speak ahead of the meeting. Around two thirds of the mass voiced their dismay over council’s likely plan to defer the build of artificial turf soccer fields, with parents and school teachers joined by the local soccer community - including coaches at the North Vancouver Football Club, the chair of the North Shore Soccer Association and the president of the North Shore Girls Soccer Club.
Tammie Fenrich, director at the North Vancouver Football Club, had brought along her two sons.
“Years ago I sat in this room with my mom and my teammates, where you promised two turf fields at Inter River. Now all those years later, we don’t have any new fields, and it looks like we won’t be getting fields anytime soon,” said her eldest Cash Fenrich, a Grade 8 Handsworth Secondary student. Money to complete a turf field at the school also hasn't been included the current draft of the budget. “Not only have you not fulfilled the promise, you’ve lost the trust and upset many people in North Vancouver.”
Most speakers highlighted the safety risks posed gravel field surfaces.
“Between the dust and the heavy rain, these gravel fields are not ideal,” said parent Brandi Scales, who volunteers with Vancouver FC. “I can’t tell you the number of emails and phone calls I received from parents and coaches whose children have asthma or other environmental issues and allergies, often begging me to switch the practice fields.”
Fenrich’s son said he had witnessed “countless times” injuries on gravel fields: “kids trip, twist their ankles, fracture their arms, etc,” he said.
Dean Crawford, president of North Shore Girls Soccer Club, was one of a large number who touched on the “myriad” of benefits sporting clubs bring to local youth, with the lack of local facilities being the reason many aren’t able to access these benefits.
“You have committed, as a group, to advance citizens’ priorities in this budget cycle, and one of those priorities has been explicitly described as fostering community wellbeing,” he said. “[Soccer] encourages healthy lifestyles, but the benefits for girls extend to enhancing self confidence and boosting mental health. In an age where too many of our youth are spending too many hours on screens, we are providing an excellent healthy alternative activity for girls and young women."
Stuart Ince, president of North Vancouver Football Club and long-time campaigner for change for local sporting communities, said the council “stated a commitment to amateur sport” that hasn’t been reflected in their recent decision making, and the budget had been “poorly handled.”
Those who weren’t there to talk on the artificial turf instead spoke out on council’s decision to defer active transportation infrastructure, especially that of the Spirit Trail.
Members of the public, many who were donning their cycling helmets, drew attention to the woman cyclist who was killed in a collision earlier that day on the intersection of Lonsdale Avenue and 23rd Street, as an example of the danger of cycling without proper infrastructure.
“This has been in the planning stages for 15 years,” implored Deep Cove resident Diane Macqueen. “The plan aligns with the council’s priorities for improving mobility, and the official community plan, including the reduction of greenhouse gases. With mobility, we need to have transit, but also safe, accessible, and connected bike lanes and routes for pedestrians,” she said. “I don’t want to hear about any more cycling fatalities.”
Coun. Lisa Muri was the only member to follow up the public hearing with questions. She said she wanted to know why staff brought forward the deferral of the Spirit Trail. She also said she hoped for more information regarding the breakdown of the budget for Cates Park, Inter River and the Delbrook Community Recreation Centre.
Council deliberations will take place March 13 and 27, with decisions on the budget going forward due to be made by March 27.
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.