White Rock homeowner Kats Somani is frustrated with the city over the development of a bus stop in front of her Marine Drive home. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Frustrations boil after City of White Rock reclaims property for bus stop improvement

Police called after resident and city employee reportedly get into scuffle

A homeowner’s frustrations with the City of White Rock over its reclaiming of property to build a wheelchair-friendly bus stop reportedly boiled over into a physical altercation and a call to police June 15.

Kats Somani, who contacted Peace Arch News, said city employees or contractors “ambushed” them by installing a “massive” eight-metre by 1.3-metre-wide cement pad in front of their Marine Drive home. Somani also said she has been aware of the city’s intention of upgrading the bus stop since 2017. However, after she voiced opposition to the pad in 2017, the city paused the project.

She and her husband, Riz, confronted the workers and asked them to stop until they could have a conversation with someone on council.

“He was not taking no for an answer from us,” Somani said of the worker, who she described as “rude.”

Somani said the worker extended his arms as a way of preventing her husband from stopping the work. A home surveillance video of the incident, which was shared with PAN, shows the worker physically blocking Riz from obstructing the work.

EDITORIAL: No simple answer to encroachment woes

“And they said that my husband pushed him into some of their equipment or whatever it was. I think it was a scam. I think it was their way to call the cops on us … so they could start work,” Somani said.

City CAO Guillermo Ferrero told PAN the notice of construction was provided to the resident on June 1, advising construction could take place between June 1 and the end of the month.

The concrete pad was designed by TransLink, Ferrero added, and is required for the mini bus that uses that route.

The city confirmed that the work was being carried out by contractors, not City of White Rock employees. Ferrero said he does have concerns about any act of physical, or verbal violence against city workers or contractors.

“The City provides a safe environment for our workers and crews and any kind of physical or verbal abuse is not tolerated.”

White Rock RCMP confirmed they were called to the 13800-block of Marine Drive to investigate an altercation of a city-directed work project Monday morning.

In an email, Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls said the matter is still under investigation and any further process will be done in consultation with the complainant. Nobody has been arrested or charged.

“I would like to stress that contractors and City workers are given a task for the day absent any involvement at a political level. They are just doing their job and should not face the aggravation of someone’s opposition,” he wrote.

Kats said she took issue with the cement pad being installed in front of her house because there is already an existing bus lane and sidewalk. The opposite side of the street also features a bus stop, however, it doesn’t have a sidewalk or landing pad. She also noted that the bus stop rarely gets used and called the size of the pad workers installed “excessive.”

Kats said a better use of taxpayer money would be to build a bus stop on the opposite side of the street, instead of updating an already “adequate” stop.

City staff were asked about the confrontation and bus stop during a regular council meeting Monday evening. City director of engineering Jim Gordon said the cement pad is a way to increase wheelchair accessibility in the city.

The $3,500 bus stop upgrade, Gordon told council, is cost-shared with TransLink. He said approximately 70 per cent of the city’s bus stops are wheelchair-accessible, and projects such as the one on Marine Drive are the best, and easiest way to increase that number to 80 per cent.

“This case, on Marine Drive, people going westbound could use this new accessible pad. Unfortunately, if they’re going eastbound, they’re not going to get off across the street because there’s no pad, but there’s also no sidewalk,” Gordon said. “It would cost us more than our whole program to put the sidewalk in on the south.”

When questioned by Coun. David Chesney about the confrontation, staff provided few details about the event, and Coun. Scott Kristjanson cautioned against speaking about it in public.

“I don’t want to discuss that because there may be some legal action going on there, there may or may not be,” Kristjanson said.

RELATED: White Rock council divided on how to approach encroachments

Last November, council made a controversial decision to abstain from widespread enforcement on property owners who have built or planted encroachments on city property. However, the direction from council also indicated that if a property owner had encroached on city property where the city plans to build infrastructure, the property owner would be told to move the encroachments.

During discussion on that decision, Coun. Helen Fathers questioned how they could go about doing that without upsetting homeowners who have encroached on city-owned property for years.

“This is exactly what I talked about,” Fathers told PAN June 16. “It’s OK if we rebuild the city from the ground up, but when you have people that have encroached for a lot of years or they bought a house (with existing encroachments), we have this problem.”

Fathers echoed Kats’ point that the bus stop across the street needs work.

“Here’s my issue with the whole thing. I drove past and if you look on the (other) side of the road, there’s a grass verge and there’s a bus stop sign that’s half hanging off. I didn’t understand why we wouldn’t fix that first before we would fix this,” she said.

“Somebody in a wheelchair, if they’re getting off there, they can’t.”

When asked if the June 15 incident was the first case of the city reclaiming land since November, Fathers said there have been other cases and there are more to come.

During Monday’s council meeting, Kristjanson made a motion to restore the Kats’ property to its original condition. The motion did not receive a seconder and failed before going to a vote.

aaron.hinks@peacearchnews.comLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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