Category Archives: Surrey BC

Students struggling to learn in roasting-hot portables

I just dropped off a fan and spray bottle for my daughter in her classroom at Sunnyside Elementary. The seven portable units have heat in winter, but no water, no washrooms, and no A/C in spring/summer. Parents and teachers often supply basic shelving and storage space for educational materials. There will probably be two more portables at Sunnyside next year. My children still love going to school, which is a testament to the hard work and dedication by the many teachers and staff at Sunnyside.

I sent a thermometer to school today so I could have a number for how hot it gets in there. The sun beats down on the metal roofs and the fans brought by teachers and students hardly move air around at all. There’s no shade to cool the units, so when the sun hits, they heat up quickly. For students who struggle with hydration, it’s dangerous for them to be in school for the afternoon.

At least one teacher is trying to find $400 for a portable cooling unit for the classroom. They’ll probably end up bringing the cooling unit from their house to use at school during the week.

This new school building opened in 2014, built for 400 students, now with over 600 students, with more projected to come next year. The gravel field is the main play space, and it would be great if it were replaced with grass. Bandaids are a hot commodity.

From google maps, edited to include the 7 portables.

I like the teachers and staff here, and my children have done well at Sunnyside. The band program found shared space with French classes in one of the portables, which at least allowed the award-winning jazz and concert bands to continue. The band program includes many students from other schools in the area, so it’s crucial for them to have space to practice in, and this one portable is the only space available. There is a very active PAC at Sunnyside, and many parents work hard to help the school run smoothly, with great learning activities for the children. Despite the less-than-ideal physical environment, in the end, it’s the people that make a school, and Sunnyside has a wonderful team of educators, staff, and parents all working together to support the students.

Now if we can just get some air conditioning.


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.

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.

New developments need to address needs of residents

Residents routinely show up at public hearings to try to guide development in South Surrey. Somehow their observations need to be acted upon, not merely acknowledged. New developments should be adjusted so the city of Surrey can provide the resources its residents require (police, hospitalsschoolsgreen space, and transit).

I often wonder how South Surrey’s forests compare to Vancouver’s Stanley Park or Pacific Spirit Park.

Vancouver forests
Vancouver forests

The big splotches of green in Vancouver are large urban forests, protected from development (for now). Most of Vancouver has very low canopy cover (under 18%).

Surrey forests
South Surrey forests, at exactly the same scale as Vancouver. The two labeled areas of dark green are the only large protected forests.

South Surrey is very green compared to Vancouver, because it’s rural. It was rural. It’s now being clearcut and turned from green to grey. Surrey has higher tree canopy cover than Vancouver, but most of that is because of South Surrey. New developments reduce canopy cover to an average of under 8%.

If the economics of housing continue to force new developments to clearcut mature forests and exclude green space, the only way to protect residents’ health and the green environment we treasure is to drastically increase the size of protected forests. Sunnyside Acres is only 0.53 km2; Stanley Park is eight times larger, at over 4 km2. If the city doesn’t have money to buy land for forests, then new developments need to be held accountable for the rampant loss of green space.

South Surrey residents ramp up efforts to guide development

Many passionate residents of Surrey, BC showed up at the Public Hearing last night (27 July 2015) to voice their concerns about several developments. Some of the developments in question are listed on the Grandview Heights Stewardship Association’s webpage. I’d like to share with you a reaction to the hearing, written by GHSA Board Member Alisa Wilson.

“What a marvellous and determined group of people. If before this venture, anyone had any doubt about what it takes to get any real citizen participation in how we’re ‘governed’ at this point in history, I suspect they know now. While I believe that to some extent, as a society ‘we get the gov’t we deserve’, I think this group of neighbours has taken a giant first step toward addressing that democratic deficit.”

“And I think some media are finally, if gingerly, engaging in giving voice to the vast number of topics, including municipal planning, that are floundering for lack of intelligent long term decision-making. In municipal planning, it’s clear that there is hardly a city, town or rural area that isn’t feeling bull-dozed by those apparently running the show, and disappointed in their elected representatives. The same stories crop up everywhere.”

“It might be interesting to look at the slow but steady erosion of municipal law that allows most of what citizens work so hard for to have so little sticking power as to be practically meaningless. Bylaws seldom made, and apparently changed at whim.  Notification of development application status so limited as to preclude any real opposition. That poor landowner on 24th was close to tears – perhaps there went a lifetime of labour and love of his land in 5 minutes of so-called ‘hearing’. First-second, third-Passed – gone…….”

“And I fear, with those kind of decisions goes so much of the agricultural land that should feed us affordably, as California no longer can. A note: farmers know that all that land disappearing under Campbell Heights business parks was the only remaining large area of Surrey land high and dry enough to give us early crops – the rest is under water until late spring. With 1 million new residents on the way?  Our ‘bad’.”

“The possible ‘ our good’:  Discover on these websites the economic and liveability values of climate moderating mature shade trees versus building and paving surfaces….it’s huge!”