The re-opening of White Rock’s waterfront begins this week, after a council decision Monday to open access to the promenade on Friday (March 29). They will also re-open 50 per cent of parking spaces (both street and lots) along Marine Drive.
But the pier will remain closed – along with the remainder of Marine Drive parking and the West Beach parkade – until confirmation from the provincial health officer and the health minister that B.C. has entered the next phase of its COVID-19 Restart Plan.
Responding to input from businesses, council also decided to increase pay parking limits on the waterfront to a three-hour maximum.
The decisions came following a report to council by planning and development services director Carl Isaak, who confirmed that the West Beach parkade will be remaining closed, partly because of social distancing issues related to using the stairways and elevators.
In allowing access to the promenade, council ultimately endorsed a motion from Coun. David Chesney to remove fencing around Memorial Park and open gateway gaps in the fencing where existing stairways are, but keep current temporary fencing in place, in case it will be required again.
“I have grave concerns about taking all that fencing down right now and taking it away,” Chesney said, noting the promenade was closed because people “showed little evidence of social distancing.”
Chesney said he feels the greatest challenge will come during warm weather in June and July when White Rock will once again be a destination for large crowds from across the Lower Mainland.
“My fear is that we may have to slam that promenade closed again and I’d hate to see us have to incur the cost of putting all that fencing back up again,” he said.
“It seems to me leaving the fence up might paint a picture of ‘we’re not through this yet, folks’ – and common sense has to prevail or we may have to go back to where we came from,” Mayor Darryl Walker added, in favour of the motion.
“As our leaders say, the reopening in BC’s Restart Plan is like a dimmer switch instead of an on-off switch. White Rock is treating our reopening the same way,” Walker stated in a release issued late Tuesday afternoon.
“We need to ensure the safety of visitors and residents so we can continue to bend the curve of the spread of COVID-19 and keep our businesses open in the long term.”
In the release, Walker urged visitors to the city to not only enjoy the promenade responsibly, but to support local businesses as well.
“When you come to White Rock … please buy some items, enjoy some food, visit a salon, and help our businesses with a great restart.
“While you do, please keep a safe, physical distance from each other, follow the rules for stopping the spread of the virus, and be kind and patient with one another.”
Meanwhile, the province has continued to urge restraint among British Columbians, encouraging them to stay and find recreation in their home communities.
Coun. Christopher Trevelyan questioned a lack of an end-point in Chesney’s motion, while in response to questions, engineering and operations director Jim Gordon said the fencing would continue to cost the city between $3,000 and $5,000 per month, but that he did not anticipate any ‘pinch points’ where crowds would become bunched while accessing the promenade through gaps in the fence.
The motion carried with Couns. Trevelyan, Erika Johanson and Helen Fathers opposed.
In moving a change to parking time limits at the waterfront – which were extended to two hours by council at last week’s meeting – Trevelyan said he had spoken with six different businesses, all of which had told him that two hours did not allow enough time for their customers.
“Businesses have told me they need three hours, at least, to park on the waterfront to support them in their high season,” he said.
“By the time someone parks, walks to the restaurant, enjoys that, even if it’s an hour or an hour and a half, they may want to spend a little bit of time on the promenade or on the beach or walking up to get a gelato – to do all that in two hours is pretty tight.”
The motion carried with Chesney and Fathers opposed, Fathers noting she wouldn’t support the motion since she hoped that parking would resume the former four-hour limit in two weeks’ time.
Council also approved a motion from Coun. Anthony Manning that staff report back on opening more resident-only parking in the East Beach area.
Isaak also reported to council that most city services are currently being provided to residents online or by phone, and said that departments are still working on preparing individual COVID-19 safety plans.
Once these are completed, Isaak said, “we can start to, potentially, look at opening our doors on an appointment-only basis, so that members of the public can come into city hall.”
While tennis and pickleball courts re-opened on May 16, city playgrounds are still closed, but some will likely re-open in conjunction with a return of kindergarten to Grade 12 students to schools on June 1, he said.