Newton businesses see brighter future for the area

Bigger police force a welcome asset in transformation of the large Surrey district, says BIA boss

Philip Aguirre is the first executive director of the Newton BIA and hopes to shift all the talk away from the area’s high crime rate | Rob Kruyt

In 2014, crime rose 20% in Surrey compared with 2013.

Of the 22 most common Criminal Code offences, the city logged an increase in 19 last year. Attempted murder was up 233%, motor vehicle theft was up 54%, fraud rose 58% and possession of stolen property was up 47%. In District 3 (Newton), crime was up 22%, above the city’s average. The highest jump from 2013 was the 100% rise in attempted murder, followed by fraud (80% increase) and motor vehicle theft (64% increase).

As the city’s most populous district, Newton has been the focus of much unwanted attention because of its crime problem, and Surrey as a whole has received a fair amount of negative coverage as well. When Mayor Linda Hepner replaced Dianne Watts in last fall’s municipal election, she pledged more police “boots on the ground” to help clean up the city’s crime problem. Oliver Lum, communications manager for the City of Surrey’s mayor’s office, said about 30 new Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers will arrive in the city “over the coming weeks,” and that Surrey “has also formally requested and funded the hiring of an additional 100 officers, whom we expect to arrive over the next 12 months, bringing the total to over 800 RCMP officers in Surrey.”

The head of the Surrey RCMP will decide where to allocate those officers, and if you ask Philip Aguirre, executive director of the Newton Business Improvement Association (BIA), the answer should be quite clear.

“If you took the population of Newton, it’s actually the sixth-largest city in B.C.,” Aguirre said. “And you can imagine being that large, we’re going to have a lot of issues. And Surrey being the second-largest city in the province. … Newton is the heart of that.”

Aguirre is the first executive director of the Newton BIA, which opened its offices in September 2014, and also owns and runs the Old Surrey Restaurant, a family-owned eatery that opened back in 1975. He said the reason for the association’s inception was simple:

“I talk about it all the time as one voice, and Newton hasn’t had a voice or a champion or a leader for a very long time,” he said. “And the businesses realized that, and some of the key stakeholders got together and decided we needed to have a voice for Newton. Someone that was dedicated and there to speak up for Newton.”

Aguirre said the pending arrival of the new officers is a promising start for a community looking to shed its criminal stigma.

“You’re probably asking yourself, ‘How are we going to achieve that in Newton?’ Or, ‘How are we going to deal with the elephant in the room?’ Newton wants the majority of [police] allocation to be in Newton. Surrey is broken up into several districts and Newton, being the largest and most populated district, deserves most of that portion of the new RCMP officers.”

Taking the focus away from crime is one of the priorities of the Newton BIA, added Aguirre. He wants to work on raising the profile of various community events throughout the year, which help promote local businesses outside of regular sales.

“We’re a very tight community; most of the residents have lived here for a very long time and they’re very passionate and they are optimistic for the future from the people that I’ve talked to,” Aguirre said. “They love Newton; they love the foundation of what Newton is. We don’t talk on a daily basis about five shootings in the last two days; we talk about the events that are coming up and the people and the businesses that are here.”

Aside from welcoming the allocation of more RCMP officers to the area, Aguirre has his fingers crossed that the transit plebiscite, which mailed out ballots to voters starting last week, comes back with a yes vote. Aguirre said light rail ending in Newton, part of the proposed Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation upgrades, would not only increase business, but also help alleviate crime through increased attention to the area. 

“Businesses aren’t stupid; they’ve been waiting for rapid transit to come to Newton ever since the SkyTrain station was built to King George station. That’s been the promise now for 20 years, when that SkyTrain station went in, in 1994, and since then there’s been the promise that there would be a dedicated line to Newton – either light rail or SkyTrain.

“And as you can imagine, business developers and landowners have been waiting for that decision to come down, so they can reinvest in the area, because they are not going to drop a hundred million dollars without the potential of a return. So that’s why it’s so crucial for Newton for this plebiscite to go through so we can get that process started.”