Nearly two hundred residents poured into the Harrison Memorial Hall on Tuesday night to try to learn a little more about the candidates in the municipal election.
The Harrison Agassiz Chamber of Commerce hosted the first of two local all candidate meetings, and almost all candidates turned out to participate.
Several veteran politicians shared mic time with the newcomers, each having ample time to talk about their backgrounds, their commitment to the community, and their dreams for the future.
The mayoral candidates had the first chance to speak, and former mayor John Allen started things off with a promotional sales pitch. He said he can’t give away the window stickers he’s had made up, due to election laws. They tout the message: “I love Happy Harrison Hot Springs.” But he can sell them, and is doing so for $3 a piece.
Current councillor Zoltan Kiss is making a run at the mayor’s chair, and was next to speak, reading a prepared biography. Current mayor Leo Facio also read from his biography, outlining a detailed list of things accomplished by the Village over the last three years.
The introductions offered a chance for the public to get to know some of the newcomers, which include Samantha Piper, Terry Mitchell, Ray Hooper, John Hansen and Ed Wood. Leslie Ghezesan, who ran in the 2011 election, did not participate in the event.
While the majority of the night was spent talking about personal goals and visions, one perennial question provided some insight into each councillor’s vision of Harrison — pay parking.
Jackson was the first to speak, who reiterated his long-standing position in favour of pay parking on the beach. If the Village had adopted the plan they looked at earlier in this term, he said they would have earned $150,000 in revenue, money that would cover the costs of keeping the beach clean.
Reyerse said that while she’s been against pay parking to this point, the Village clearly needs a parking strategy. She spent some time at the UBCMs this year speaking with similarly sized communities about their experiences with pay parking, and has come away with some ideas for the future.
“This is a multilayer problem that’s divided the community and needs to be looked at in its totality,” she stated.
Like Jackson, Facio stated he is strongly for pay parking.
“We need new revenue and people are used to paying for parking,” he said.
Buckley echoed sentiments from Reyerse, that a whole strategy needs to be considered.
“I would not be adverse to having a proper study done,” he said, taking into account the actual costs of implementing pay parking.
Kiss noted that the last time the community was polled on the matter, 55% said no to it. He said pay parking would put another “wrench into the wheel” for businesses struggling to get customers there. However, he also mentioned that pay parking for boats wasn’t working.
“We have pay parking for boats and they park in front of my place,” he said.
Hooper, who regularly attends council meetings and participates in question period, spoke in favour of pay parking. He drew on his extensive background as a highway engineer, noting that Village needs a “more fluid design model” and that proper consultation would have to take place. The cost of cleaning the beach is currently covered off by municipal taxes, he added.
John Hansen is also “100% in favour” of pay parking.
“I’m sick and tired of seeing people come in , used the beach and leave without spending a dime,” he said.
Mitchell noted that something needs to be done, and Piper said she would support it as long as it’s reasonable fee.
Allen pointed to “a misapplication of the bylaw” that has resulted in hotel staff and guests plugging up parking stalls. He was also in favour of a parking study.
Wood spoke last, but offered some insight from his time working with the City of White Rock. He said it’s not necessarily a success there, and should be avoided in Harrison.
“Pay parking will scare people away,” he stated. “The city of White Rock made more on conflict resolution than it did on parking meters.”
Ideas for future
Sustainability and growth were also hot topics on Tuesday, stemming from questions gleaned from the public prior to the meeting. Time did not allow for questions from the floor.
Candidates were asked to discuss their vision of Harrison for the long term.
Allen said a focus on day trippers has turned Harrison into the “barbecue beach capital of the Fraser Valley,” and Kiss said “We should do things for ourselves and the tourists will come.”
Facio said the Village needs to continue what it has been doing, by extending the event season into the shoulder seasons with extra events.
“Businesses are doing extremely well so let’s get the facts right from the start,” he noted.
Jackson said the current council has already “set the stage for the future.”
The issue of no public access to the Hot Springs was brought up, but only briefly, by Hooper. He called it “embarrassing” that the Village’s name includes a hot springs reference, yet tourists arrive to find they can’t access them.
Hansen spoke about his personal vision for Harrison, which would include “fully developed water fronts, an artisan mall, and more hotels.”
He said the lagoon would make a beautiful marina if opened up to boats, and suggested the feasibility of a shuttle service in the winter from Hemlock to Harrison. A nightlife, and the ability to have assisted living housing would make the Village more of a community, he added.
Wood spoke about his love for the surrounding natural beauty, and his belief that preserving that beauty will keep Harrison sustainable well into the future, supplemented by more parks and playgrounds, and bike lanes.
“I don’t always believe in growth,” he said.
The District of Kent All Candidates Meeting will be held on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m., at the Agricultural Hall on Pioneer Ave.