Organizations against Surrey’s 84th Avenue expansion fundraise to cover legal fees

Legal costs are expected to rise as the City of Surrey pushes road construction

Protesters gathered on 84th Avenue in Surrey. (Nicole Gonzalez Filos)

Protesters gathered on 140th Street and 84th Avenue in Surrey. (Nicole Gonzalez Filos)

The City of Surrey has brought forth a road expansion of 84th Avenue, from King George Boulevard to 140th Street, passing outside Bear Creek’s reservation area. An environmental organization has taken the city to court, and community members are collecting donations for the legal fees.

Between 2000 and 2009, the city wanted a road that could improve road safety and enhance connectivity between Newton and Fleetwood, but it was put on hold until earlier this year. According to the City of Surrey committee meeting minutes, 84th Avenue was selected because it is economical and integrates well with existing rapid transit services along King George Boulevard, upcoming rapid bus along Scott Road, and future SkyTrain along Fraser Highway.  

The city launched a project survey, available from April 26 to May 12, to gather the thoughts of community members. The survey found that 496 respondents stated they were opposed to the project, and 242 respondents stated that they supported it.

Sebastian Sajda is the president of Force of Nature, the organization taking the City of Surrey to court, and organizer of Friends of Bear Creek Park, which consists of community members against the proposed road. He says the survey didn’t ask if community members wanted a road.

“What we saw early on with the public consultation, there was a ‘What kind of a road do you want?’ and not a ‘Do you want a road?’ question,” he says.

Community members formed Friends of Bear Creek Park in the spring to show their disapproval for the road, but it wasn’t until the end of July when Force of Nature took the city to the BC Supreme Court over the 84th Avenue extension, which gave the city an interim injunction preventing the majority of the work from continuing near the park.

“The city ultimately appealed the decision that said, ‘Stop the work’ … then we had to respond to that with the lawyers. So all of that ended up costing more money,” says Donna Hanson, member of Friends of Bear Creek Park.

“It also costs the City of Surrey money, but they don’t care because it’s coming from the taxpayers. So, we as taxpayers are paying for that. As well, we’re doing all this fundraising to save our park,” says Hanson.

To raise funds for their legal fees, the organization has been canvassing door-to-door, collecting online donations through their website, a GoFundMe page, and a bottle drive. West Coast Environmental Law has also provided Force of Nature with about $13,000 through its Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, says Sajda.

“It’s sort of the classic description of the small guy trying to beat the big guy,” says Sajda.

“We’re definitely the small guy here, literally turning in cans to fund a lawyer to fight the City of Surrey, the second-largest city in Western Canada. It is quite an imbalance of power.” 

Their most recent effort to gather funds was through an online silent auction where a volunteer from Friends of Bear Creek Park donated 800 pairs of women’s jeans. The lot was sold to the highest bidder, who then gave the jeans back to the community by donating them to the Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Shop in Surrey.

Force of Nature took the City of Surrey to the BC Supreme court on Oct. 14 and 15, for the full petition hearing, which will determine whether the 84th Avenue extension will go forward or not.

All the legal fees have accumulated to $56,000, which Sajda says is already over budget.

“We estimated this to be about $50,000. So we definitely met that and beat that amount, and we’re still fundraising to try and meet the future amount that we’re going to have to pay. So it could be $60,000, $70,000, or $80,000. Depends on what happens,” says Sajda.

“It’s possible that if we win, the city might appeal to the Supreme Court.”