Mayor Jackson's Delta Chamber of Commerce – 2018 State of the City Address
Mar 15, 2018
Please see Mayor Lois E. Jackson's State of the City Address, delivered on March 14, 2018 at the Delta Chamber of Commerce's Annual General Meeting.
When my family moved from Sudbury to Delta in 1968, we made the trek across Canada by train, following the long and winding rail line across the prairies and through the Rockies.
We tracked our journey using a paper map instead of Google and we played “spot the eagle” with the kids instead of entertaining them with movies and electronic devices.
At the time, I didn’t know what the future held for me in British Columbia, but I knew that I wanted to raise my family in a safe, friendly community where people were kind and looked out for one another.
We eventually landed in North Delta – in a neighbourhood with wooden sidewalks – and I have been proud to call this community my home ever since.
Where it All Started
The Delta we see today is very different than the Delta I remember when I first arrived. If I look back – waaaay back – like 45 years ago back, I can remember a municipality that was in the midst of tremendous change.The population of Delta had tripled after the George Massey Tunnel opening in 1959, making it one of the fastest growing municipalities in Canada. At that time, more than 50% of Delta’s population was under the age of 18.
As a mom of three, I could see first-hand how this growth placed pressure on schools, parks and recreation facilities. I knew North Delta and Delta needed a youth advocate and if I wanted North Delta to be the community I had envisioned on my journey out here, I knew then I had to do something.
So, I rolled up my sleeves and I ran for Delta Council. And I got elected. On January 8, 1973, I was sworn in as the first woman elected to Delta Council, breaking an almost century old tradition of an all-male local government. Dugald Morrison was our Mayor at the time.
During my first few years on Council, it seemed as though we were continually inundated with new development proposals to meet the increased demand for housing. Most of you probably can’t envision Delta without the residential communities we see today, but 45 years ago there were still large tracts of undeveloped land throughout Ladner, Tsawwassen and North Delta. In fact, some areas of Delta were only accessible by gravel road! River Road was a dead end and North Delta was only accessible by the Trunk Road.
Back then, Council was making decisions that would forever change the residential face of Delta. We approved the Ladner Urban Renewal Plan for the Ladner downtown core, deliberated the future of the Spetifore lands in Tsawwassen, and considered a development application in North Delta on a gravel pit site that would eventually become known as Sunshine Hills. Approving large developments was a major shift for Council and the municipality which had, up until the early-60s, held a relatively flat growth rate. With every decision, I always considered how it might impact the small-town feel and sense of community that Delta residents had come to know and love.
Some would say that Delta had become a bedroom community and at the rate that housing took off during the ‘70s, I am not surprised to hear this.
But Delta was more than just a place to raise a family and rest your head. It was also quickly becoming an industrial hub following the opening of Annacis Island Industrial Park in 1955. The Delta Chamber of Commerce of the day saw the economic benefits of industrial development and lobbied Delta Council for more industrial opportunities at Tilbury Island, Boundary Bay Airport, and along River Road East with the hopes that it would “alleviate many of the growing problems facing our municipality, including transportation, employment and taxes”.
However, competing with these residential and industrial demands was the Province’s new Agricultural Land Commission which had drawn an Agricultural Land Reserve boundary around 33,000 acres of Delta in 1973 … 22,000 acres of which were actively being farmed. At the time, I am not sure that Delta residents saw the true value of this protective boundary, but it would ultimately limit urban sprawl and preserve some of the most fertile soil in the province.
With so much development activity occurring during my first few years on Council, Delta was in critical need of infrastructure to support it.
So we built the North Delta and South Delta Recreation Centres, the Sungod Recreation Centre, and the Winskill Recreation Centre – these were the types of projects our youth so desperately needed. Delta also jointly purchased land near Patterson Park with the Greater Vancouver Regional Hospital District for a community hospital – the Delta Hospital we are so fortunate to still have today. We saw the opening of a GVRD wastewater treatment plant on Annacis Island, and the construction of a robust diking system in Boundary Bay to keep the farm fields from extensive winter flooding. There were many people who resisted these changes – some out of fear and others who just didn’t want to their community to grow. Mayor Clarence Taylor who served during the mid-1960s urged these Delta residents to “stop living in the past” and implored the community to move into the future with the recognition that Delta was becoming a city. Who knew that it would take another 50 years before Delta would actually achieve this designation!
I took this look back to my first few years as Alderwoman because I think it paints a pretty clear picture of just how fast Delta changed during the 1970s. Through it all, I am proud that we have been able to grow and advance as a community while still holding onto our urban-rural identity.
By the time I was elected Mayor in 1999, Delta’s population had reached 98,000. And although Delta Council has approved a number of large residential developments over the last 18 years, including Marina Gardens in Ladner, Southlands in Tsawwassen, and Sunstone in North Delta, Delta’s population growth has effectively levelled off. Council’s focus has shifted from approving residential developments at a rapid pace, to supporting its existing residents and businesses. This shift has meant:
- Investing in a Neighbourhood Road Improvement Program to renew our local roads and sidewalks. And spending $10 million in 2018 to continue this investment.
- It’s meant assuring residents and businesses that “no call is too small” for the Delta Police.
- It’s meant forging ahead with an Emergency Medical Responder program for Delta Fire, despite Provincial pushback.
- It’s meant investing in our irrigation system to improve agricultural productivity for our soil based farmers.
- It’s meant expanding recreational space in our facilities to foster a healthy community. And adding a Delta Arts Centre in 2018 to continue this expansion.
- It’s meant installing 5 synthetic turf fields across Delta to provide more playable hours for our residents.
- It’s meant raising our voice to demand better public transit service so your employees and our residents can get to and from work in a reasonable time period.
- It’s meant lobbying for better Handi Dart service for seniors, and adding a Delta-owned Senior Shuttle Bus in North and South Delta when our voice wasn’t heard.
- It’s meant knocking on every door in Ottawa to get funding for Fraser River dredging and when we didn’t receive funding, finding a way to initiate it ourselves.
- And it’s meant adjusting the way we do business when our business community tells us it needs more support at our front counter.
As one-offs, these actions may not appear significant, but when you combine them all together, they really have defined what makes Delta an incredible place to live, work and play.
When I delivered the State of the Municipality Address to the Delta Chamber of Commerce in 2014, I had just been acclaimed to a sixth term as Mayor.
I spoke about challenging Delta staff to “Focus on the Next Four” both financially and corporately. From a financial perspective, I wanted Delta to stay the course so we could achieve our long-term goal of being debt free by the end of 2018 – I know you have heard me talk a lot about this over the years but the reality is that Delta was $58 million in debt when I first became Mayor. And, in the meantime, with some fiscal prudency, Delta has managed to fund upwards of $60 million annually in new capital projects over this four-year term without having to borrow funds. But without borrowing, Delta Council has had to make some tough decisions to balance property tax increases with the demand for increased service levels from the community.
This year Delta is proposing a 1.95% increase in the tax draw – this is slightly below inflation. The increase allocates 0.75% to maintain city services, 0.4% for the Civic Building Program and 0.8% for the Neighbourhood Road Improvement Program.
The goal here is to continue to make new capital investments while keeping the tax increase at a reasonable level for residents and businesses – I think when you look across the region at proposed tax increases, you will see that we will achieve this.
At City Hall we see the importance of a strong local economy and the benefits of a strong tax base. We see value in supporting our local businesses and encouraging new development opportunities here in Delta. We have listened to the collective ideas, thoughts and concerns from Chamber members and it is important to me that you know that they have been heard. I established the Invest in Delta Mayor’s Standing Committee to continue this conversation – and there has been significant information sharing between the business community and the City ever since. Over the last four years, Delta has really worked hard to foster an Open for Business policy – in fact, our efforts won us the Small Business Roundtable “Open for Business Award” in 2016. Part of this policy includes finding financial incentives to encourage development in areas of Delta that need it the most. Delta’s revitalization tax exemption program is a good example of this – we currently have five tax exemption bylaws across the city and to date, Delta has approved tax exemptions on 10 development projects. We see great value in using financial incentives to encourage sustainable, planned development that meets our long-term vision for the community.
You know, Ladies and Gentlemen, when Tsawwassen First Nation gave the green light for Ivanhoe Cambridge to begin construction of Tsawwassen Mills in 2014, it raised significant concern amongst the small business community in Delta. And when a South Delta Business Sustainability Strategy was proposed to help manage the impact, Delta Council fully supported the initiative. The strategy has helped to bring the City of Delta and the local business community together. In less than three years, Council has led significant efforts to improve road and streetscape infrastructure, coordinate and add public events in South Delta, and encourage people to shop locally. I am sure many of you have seen the “Buy Local, in Delta” farm signs that were installed before Christmas. This campaign came together quickly and it didn’t take more than a few phone calls to our local farmers before we had permission to install these signs in their fields. It is great to see the local farming community lending their support – we are definitely stronger when we work together! It’s this kind of support that creates a community we can all be proud of. Residents want to do their part to hold onto Delta’s small-town identity and I think this “Buy Local in Delta” campaign allowed them to do just that.
From a corporate perceptive, we have done quite a bit over these last four years. We have tackled a number of major road infrastructure projects including Delta Street, Arthur Drive, 112th Street, and recently completed the restoration of Delta’s Historic Municipal Hall for public use. And, wouldn’t you know it all of these projects were undergoing revitalization/refurbishment in the ‘70s as well!
Delta also completed the North Delta Recreation Centre Expansion last year and is working to complete the EOC Fire Hall and Training Centre at Boundary Bay Airport in 2019. This new post-disaster facility is a welcome addition to an airport that has seen a remarkable transformation over the last few years with runway expansions and apron resurfacing. Hopefully someday soon we will see some scheduled service out there!
I have often referred to Delta as small-town living with big city problems. We keep trying to protect what we have here in Delta but are continually facing external pressures to grow, expand and become something bigger.
With port facilities, proximity to the US border and extensive road and rail networks, Canada looks to our small-town Delta as a “gateway to Asia-Pacific trade”. We have benefited from this in terms of jobs and economic prosperity; however we have also seen the traffic impacts. Fortunately, in recent years there has been significant government investment in the transportation network that services the port, including the $1.26 billion South Fraser Perimeter Road and the $360 million Roberts Bank Railway Corridor Improvement Project to reduce truck traffic. Despite these investments, the anticipated impacts of Roberts Bank Terminal 2, as well as local growth in Delta, will affect our community and the region as a whole. I have seen Deltaport grow into the largest container terminal in Canada, and watched Westshore Terminals become the busiest coal terminal on the west coast of North America.
When Deltaport opened, 3,000 container truck trips were made through Delta each day. The $280 million Deltaport Third Berth opened in 2013 and saw truck traffic increase to 4,500 truck trips per day and, if approved, the $10 billion proposed Terminal 2 port project could see this number double by the mid-2020s. How is Delta going to possibly manage this increase in traffic without an upgraded crossing over the Fraser River?
Putting the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project on hold while the Province reviews 14,000 pages of reports and allocates funds for the Patullo Bridge, a TransLink responsibility, is absolutely astonishing. The people in this community NEED an upgraded crossing – 100,000 vehicles cross through the tunnel every day – that is 15,000 more than the Patullo Bridge. We have been talking about this replacement for many years and I am surprised at how quickly it can be brushed under the rug. Even when my political career is finished, I will still continue to advocate for this project. The tunnel is how this community came to be. It opened the doors to growth on the south side of the Fraser River almost 60 years ago, and the residents and businesses who chose to call Delta home deserve more from the BC Government.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in City Hall on the second floor there are two rows of framed portraits representing the 19 Reeves and Mayors that came before me. After 45 years, you tend to just rush past them without giving them much thought.
But this will be my last year as the Mayor of Delta. So when I walked past them last week, I took a moment to stop and reflect on what these elected officials must have felt like during their last year as mayor.
How did William Ladner feel when he had to pass the torch to his successor in 1906? After all, he was the one who lobbied for the creation of a new rural municipality named Delta. How did Alex Paterson feel about stepping down after serving a collective 21 years as Reeve through both World War One and World War Two? And how did Dugald Morrison feel about passing on the reigns when Delta was on the verge of major growth in 1973?
Each reeve and mayor before me has left a legacy and when I reflect on what my legacy will be, I hope that Delta residents and business owners know that I have done my utmost to uphold Delta’s motto “Ours to Preserve By Hand in Heart”. I want people to remember me as someone who always looked out for their community – someone who would raise their voice even when others wouldn’t, and someone who would fight to keep this community connected even as urban sprawl occurred around them.
When you take on the role of mayor, you have this incredible vision of the change you wish to bring to the community but once you are in the seat, you realize it is often much harder than you thought.
My vision has always included a robust and prosperous farming community. I hope my successor sees the value of continuing to protect and preserve the agricultural roots that have been planted here and pushes back against land speculators.
My vision included protecting Delta’s environment for future generations. It’s why I fought so hard to protect 5,000+ acres of Burns Bog as an Ecological Conservancy Area and established the Climate Action and Environment Department at City Hall. I hope my successor builds upon Delta’s Climate Change Initiative by challenging staff and the community to find more ways to mitigate our environmental impact.
My vision included cleaning up the demolition landfill sites along River Road and I am extremely proud of Delta’s Saving Our Industrial Lands Initiative which has seen toxic brownfield sites turned into economically productive eco-industrial developments. I never envisioned that the Delta Shake and Shingle landfill site could be transformed into such productive industrial land. I hope my successor spurs others to consider developments in the area.
My vision also included the replacement of the George Massey Tunnel. Although this project sits at a standstill, I don’t think the battle is over. When you look back in time, as far back as William Ladner, you will see that this is a fight that has been passed on and on, reeve after reeve and mayor after mayor. So I look to my successor to continue to fight, as we all have, for an upgraded crossing over the Fraser River.
Ladies and Gentlemen, from wooden sidewalks and open ditches to bike lanes and curb and gutter, it’s incredible to consider what has been accomplished over the last 45 years. It’s even more incredible to imagine what we can achieve in the future. I am incredibly proud to call Delta my home. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Although I have made many decisions over the years, one of the best decisions I ever made was boarding that train for British Columbia. It has been an absolute pleasure to serve you as Alderwoman and Mayor.