Category Archives: Development

South Surrey stands to lose what it loves during urbanization

The last performance of Sunnyside Elementary School’s award-winning jazz and concert band program is next Thursday, June 22, 6pm at the school. There’s no more room at the school for drums, pianos, marimbas, and musical instruments you can’t put in your pocket. South Surrey is running out of room all over.


A corner lot by Sunnyside Elementary was finally bulldozed. In a day or two it was transformed from the left picture to the right picture. The lot will become three new big houses with tiny yards. The tree there, a big maple, I think, was well-loved for 50 years, at a guess. It had a tire swing and lovely climbing branches. I’m sure children sat there on summer days, but the inevitable forces of economics were unable to save it for future children.



It’s ironic that at the same time this lot was being bulldozed, the Sunnyside Elementary school’s music program was undergoing the same transformation. img_2147.jpg

For over 20 years, students passionate about music could find a mentor at Sunnyside Elementary. Next year, unless we get even more parent advocacy, this practice room will become a classroom, and their music teacher will be teaching at 7-9 other schools, normalized by the pressures of urbanization.


It’s hard to take pictures of a band program facing the bulldozers. How do I take a picture of something that’s not there? How do I document the absence of a school at the Kiwanis music festival for the first time in over a decade? How do I show what will be lost without demeaning the efforts of future band programs? The Surrey school district will ensure that Sunnyside grade 7 students can take band if they want, two days a week (100 minutes, if I remember right). That’s a far cry from the grade 5 through grade 8 students you usually find in the music room before school, during lunch and recess, during the first hour of classes, and after school.

Once the houses are built on that corner lot, more people will move in and they’ll be happy they could find a place to live. They won’t know about the tree swing, or the climbing branches that used to be there. But hopefully their children will have the choice to attend an award-winning band, practicing music with other students and a passionate teacher!

If you happen to be someone who appreciates music and the efforts of students and teachers who have supported Sunnyside’s program in the past, please write the administration (emails below)! We need to preserve this unique music program from demolishment, not just this year, but for decades to come.,,,,,,,,,,,


Surrey planning documents online are often incomplete

I’m finally going back to putting information from over 3500 planning reports into an excel worksheet. I’d done this for tree numbers before, but I didn’t include site coverage, owner and developer names, arborist names, zoning changes or addresses.

I’ve spent the last two days combing through a subset of 27 reports from 2014, filling in as much data as I could. The most frustrating thing is figuring out the site coverage — how much of the lot is covered in buildings and pavement. Many developers fill in the blanks on the city-requested information, but others blatantly leave crucial information blank.

Site coverage is an important number; keeping coverage under 60%, a common maximum allowed by the city, allows drainage and keeps road runoff from polluting rivers, in addition to moderating temperatures during heat waves, and leaving room for trees to grow.

For the 10 developers who didn’t provide total site coverage estimates, I simply looked at their landscape design and used photoshop to count how many pixels were buildings or pavement, and how many were landscape.

The developers that didn’t report total site coverage had a reason: they reported an average of 33%, which was usually only the building area. When I added in pavement, I come up with an average of 72% total site coverage.

For example, this townhouse development in Cloverdale reported 40% coverage. From looking at their landscape plan, it’s obvious that it’s more than that. When I count pixels in photoshop, buildings and pavement take up 92% of the site. Their planning report says the limit is 45%. I guess they decided that zoning requirements are really flexible…when the zoning laws say maximum of 45%, it could mean just buildings if you want it to.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 6.30.55 PM
Landscape plan from report 7913-0162-00

Six of these were townhouse developments; the rest were commercial. It makes sense that they wouldn’t want to draw attention to how much impermeable surfaces they were laying down.

But why would the city allow this sort of thing through so often? I don’t understand it.

—– a few hours later—–

What about this one? Report number 7913-0169-00 at 18699 24 Ave. An industrial building reporting 48.6% site coverage, in a zoning area with a maximum allowable site coverage of 60%. I double-checked, since it sounded too good to be true. Of course it wasn’t true. From this picture, I estimate 80% site coverage, even taking into account the apparently planted roof on the northeast of the building. Approved in July 2014.

7913-0169-00 coverage

Lack of resources for children near new South Surrey elementary school

The snazzy-looking Sunnyside Elementary school building was built at a cost of $14.9 million, to hold up to 450 students.

Sunnyside Elementary School
Front view of Sunnyside in June 2014 before massive area development

Only two years later it is seriously overcrowded, with over 600 students expected this September. In order to make space for those students, 6-10 portables are being sandwiched in on the small grounds (with one small playground, by the way). The highly-lauded music program there is constantly under threat, salvaged only by the diligent efforts of passionate parents, an astounding music teacher, and students who practice every free moment. Other schools in the area face similar challenges.

Rumour has it that the music program may be moved out to a portable this year. Next month we’ll see whether or not that’s true. The portables contrast starkly with the modern architectural design of the original building.

They have no air conditioning or heat. One of my twitter followers said that was absurd, so I confirmed it with a student who was in the that class. She said the only electricity they had was lights and a broken phone. They wore jackets in winter to keep warm, and boiled when it was hot. It was really crowded, too.

Developers don’t get any money for the portables, I guess, because public buildings are astonishingly fancy.

Inside of the new Surrey City Hall, cost over $90 million

Developers insist there aren’t enough houses, and they’re right. People are thrilled that they can buy a townhouse here for under $800,000.


What they’re not thrilled about is how little the city of Surrey has prepared for the children they bring with them. The Sunnyside Parents Facebook Group has a couple posts from parents worried about finding before and after-school care for their children. The latest one said all the childcare spaces near the school are full. I hope she finds something before September!


Several parents I’ve talked to have read the news (thank you, local newspapers like Peace Arch News and Surrey Now), and they decided to enroll their children in Catholic schools or other private schools instead of Sunnyside. But for the parents who didn’t research the issues around Surrey’s massive urbanization efforts, several unpleasant surprises may await as they get ready for the upcoming school year.

On the positive side, I can say for certain that parents already at the school, and the ever-helpful staff and teachers, will do all they can to help new families feel welcome, and to get the help and information they need.

Meanwhile, please keep writing letters to the provincial and city governments about the problems faced by families moving into these newly-densified areas.

Surrey Crime Rates Q2, 2016

Since my most popular posts are my crime rates, here are the most recent crime rates for Surrey. The population numbers are WAY out of date, since the RCMP only has data from 2013 on their website.  But since that’s all I have to go on, well, that’s what we’ll use.

Looks like South Surrey went up in breaking and entering, not surprising since I’ve heard from several friends here about their houses being broken into. Whalley’s still the worst by far for everything, and remember, this is per capita, so it’s not just total numbers, it’s relative numbers, so Whalley is indeed the worst, by far. Newton did pretty well! Except for total criminal code, and I’m not sure what those were.

Disclaimer: I may have made mistakes. If you notice some, please comment and I’ll fix them.

39603_District-maps 2016 Violent Crimes
Total Violent Crimes
39603_District-maps 2016 Property Crimes
Total Property Crimes
39603_District-maps 2016 Total Breaking Entering
Total Breaking and Entering
39603_District-maps 2016 Total CC
Total CC (=Criminal Code)

Surrey BC saves very few forests. Why?

What does it take to have a forest saved from development in Surrey, BC? Here are some of the reasons Grandview Heights must be paved; but there are several groups who are working hard to try guide development so future residents can have beautiful, sustainable, and healthy neighbourhoods.

Individuals and groups of people take turns standing up and being shot down. I’ve been hit by compassion fatigue, myself, seeing how huge the city’s development machine is. It’s hard to keep blogging when every letter or blog post is ignored or shot down. Even Surrey’s own environmental committee members have resigned in protest.

Luckily, when one group or person loses hope, someone else stands up to take their place. Far in the future, historical records will show that many residents did not want to ruin their air quality, water quality, animals habitat and green space. Here’s a small sampling of the hundreds of people who are trying to guide the city’s massive passion for unbridled development:

Sybil Rowe (read about her experience here)

Grandview Heights Stewardship Association

Surrey Students Now

Friends of Hazelmere Campbell Valley

Green Timbers Heritage Society

It takes thousands of people to force governments to make difficult decisions. I was recently in the first State Park of California, Big Basin Redwoods. It took an enormous “coalition of journalists, politicians, artists, businessmen, and scholars” organizing thousands of people statewide to protect those trees from logging.

Does Surrey have enough people to protect the urban forests? Maybe not. Though thousands of residents alternate attending meetings, writing letters, gathering signatures, and meeting with councilmen and city planners, will it ever be enough? It may simply be that there aren’t enough residents with enough wealth or influence to save Surrey’s forests. With the loss of over 28 sq km of wildlife habitat, Grandview Heights, once replete with lush, green forests, will soon be another Clayton Heights but on a larger scale. Relentless, overcrowded, cemented urbanization.

Overheated and underplanned overdevelopment

When development is allowed to continue solely because of immediate economic benefit, I can tell you what happens, because we see it every day. Without restrictions, checks and balances, and rules to guide economic growth, infrastructure can’t keep up.

I’ve been reading a lot about overcrowded schools in Surrey and Langley. My school will have six new kindergarten classes next year but it’s already past capacity, two years after it was built. Next month we’ll probably hear about the healthcare system again, and after that it’ll be another spate of shootings in Newton. Traffic is getting worse and worse, too.

East Clayton
2001 to 2015 in East Clayton (from Google Earth historical imagery)
time series of clayton
More Clayton images: 1998, 2005, 2012

As they sandwich houses into Clayton way beyond the capacity of schools, while hospitals are still overcrowded and congestion is awful (lack of public transit), they look to the future and set their sites on the next obvious target, Grandview Heights in South Surrey.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 8.00.04 AM.png

Grandview Heights has historically been one of the most treed, greenest areas of Surrey. Many residents, including GrowingUpGrandview and members of the Grandview Heights Stewardship Association have been astonished at the inability of Surrey to leave forests intact and increase density around forests instead of clearcutting everything.

Morgan Heights
Morgan Heights densification in progress

We’ve seen that when immediate economic benefit takes top precedence, public services rapidly become inadequate to support residents. Surrey school trustees pleaded with City Council to mitigate development and allow funds to grow enough to meet residents’ needs. The mayor’s reply means that the “robust economy” is more important than helping people be educated, healthy, and safe.

All this is really a reflection of what’s happening to the ecology itself. Animals, birds, and butterflies (and other beneficial insects) are forced out of their homes as urban hubs and corridors are replaced by high-density housing. Water quality plummets as road runoff increases exponentially without mitigation measures in place. Pollution levels rise as cars pack overcrowded roads, and air quality suffers. What happens to the earth reflects what is happening to the people who live on it.

The city says it can’t afford to put mitigation measures in place. Higher density means more money, which it desperately needs, at the expense of leaving forests and parks for human and plant/animal residents. By the time they’re done with Grandview Heights, it will be completely unrecognizable.

Can’t we build high density developments and surround them with parks and forests within walking distance? Every half-kilometer should have a significant public park, so people can exercise and kids can play. Healthy residents means less burden on the health system, so the city saves money. Long-term benefits of city planning for the people means a city is liveable, economically strong, and desirable.

And with more parks, there will be more room for native plants, animals, birds, and insects, while the enormous amounts of rainfall we see here in this temperate rainforest will be filtered better, to keep salmon-bearing streams clean and productive.

But that’s not a priority in the Vancouver-area. Take a look at this graph I just found from 2004:

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 9.49.09 AM

Dirtying the Air in Surrey BC

As I’ve watched thousands of townhouses bloom in my area of South Surrey (Grandview Heights), I wonder how our air pollution is doing.

View from Blackie Spit last week

How much of that brown haze am I breathing? 1000 people are moving into Surrey every month, and Surrey BC is cutting an average of 8,500 trees per year. Mature trees are one of the major air cleaners for cities. Mississauga has some excellent canopy data, and I combined data from that with data from Surrey’s tree canopy report to figure out what’s happening to our air.

With a population increase of 1000/mo, I estimate 300 new cars/month. The EPA says the average pollution from one passenger car is 4.7 tonnes/yr. That’s 16,920 more tonnes of air pollution from cars every year in Surrey, BC.

Surrey went from 10,441 ha of tree canopy in 2001 to 8,542 ha in 2013, which means the trees went from cleaning 846 tonnes of air pollution to 692 tonnes of air pollution each year. That’s 154 tonnes less air pollution cleaned every year.

The health impacts of air pollution are huge. Surrey BC may think they’re getting money in their pockets by letting developers build houses with ridiculously small amounts of tree canopy (2.6% tree canopy in new residential developments compared to 24% in 2009), but the long-term cost isn’t worth it.

Motor vehicle-related air pollution is believed to be responsible for between 900 and 4,500 cases of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and bronchitis each year in Australia, and between 900 and 2,000 early deaths.27

Surrey BC government is systematically removing the lungs and air filters from our city. What a sad thing to do.