The preliminary numbers are in, and local residents who want an "alternative approval process" to oppose the city's proposed loan authorization bylaw appear to have failed.
Blair Fryer, the city's communications director, told The Record on Wednesday morning that the preliminary count of petitions received before Tuesday's deadline was 2,098, far short of the 4,528 or 10 per cent of the estimated number of electors in the city needed for the city to go to a referendum to get support from taxpayers to borrow the funds.
Jan Gibson, acting corporate officer in New Westminster's city clerk's office, and fellow city staffers spent Wednesday morning counting the raw number of submitted forms and came to the 2,098 total just before 10:30 a.m.
The city staffers will now start going through the petitions to check if the forms are properly signed and whether the person signing the petition is an eligible voter in the city.
Staff will still go through with the verification of petitions received - even though it's far short of the 4,528 needed - because it's part of the reporting process they will present to council prior to their next meeting Aug. 27.
Citizen advocate James Crosty led the charge in collecting petitions, and he wasn't surprised by the results.
"To get more than 2,000 people in the middle of summer expressing concern about this, that's something," said Crosty. "People aren't happy, and city council has to look at this as people expressing their thoughts about the process."
Crosty said his supporters collected approximately 1,500 of the 2,098 petitions.
"We got 500 forms dropped off on the last day, and we got 300 signed at the 12th Street Festival on the weekend," said Crosty. "And you had 600 people in the city who dropped off their petitions at city hall. People responded."
Crosty said that as hard as his people worked to garner petitions, the deck was stacked against them from the start.
"For sure, the city made it as difficult as they could for this to succeed," he said. "From July 9, we've had just under a month, in the summer when people are away. Second, we were limited to picking up 25 petitions per (person per) day. ... We did our best given the circumstances. I think it's a respectable showing given the obstacles we faced."
Mayor Wayne Wright said the alternative approval process was informative and a learning experience.
"Maybe we didn't do our best in communicating our vision, but we will do better in the future," said Wright. "What we've learned is there are more than 2,000 people we need to get to, people we need to communicate with better, and that's what we'll try to do in the future."
Wright said the city's goal, moving forward, is to be more pro-active with the public.
"I can see us making presentations to the public, answering any and all questions that arise," said Wright. "We have a strong plan, we're going forward, and I think we learned that we have to make sure that people know as much about the plan as possible."
Wright had just emerged from a Wednesday morning meeting with staff who were working on the civic centre project when he received news about the petition numbers.
"We have a weekly meeting with (the architects) and today, we did some of the stonework and cladding," said Wright. "We discussed individual parts of the building that we're working on, and I can say we're right in line on budget ... What we are doing is we're working diligently on this project and we have to continue to communicate the progress we're making on this project."
Wright and Crosty's comments come less than 24 hours after the somewhat more hectic final hours of Tuesday afternoon.
As the petition's 4:30 p.m. deadline approached, both Crosty's office at 239 Sixth St. and city hall saw a larger number of people coming in to drop off their petitions.
Crosty, along with partner Paul Thompson, Thompson's mother Alice and a group of supporters, collected last-minute petitions from people happy not to have missed the deadline.
Barbara Paton came in with her dog Kiwi to sign her name and offered her thoughts.
"I'm vehemently opposed to the city borrowing $59 million for this project," she said. "I don't trust that they will stay within their budget, and I'm scared that my property taxes will increase."
School trustee Lisa Graham also was in Crosty's office dropping off petitions.
"This situation is so very concerning on a personal level," said Graham. "I have roots here, I have children here, and my taxes are already high enough.
"I think it is wrong to approve that kind of massive expenditure of our tax dollars without first getting approval from the community."
Crosty and his supporters walked the two blocks from their Sixth Street office down to city hall just after 4 p.m.
Office assistant Jennifer Janzen was the friendly face that accepted many of the petitions, and she was busy stamping each of the 15 bundles that Crosty dropped off.
Local resident Lukas Hardjowasito was dropping off two petitions, one for himself and one for his wife.
"I just want to get my say on this," said Hardjowasito. "I don't necessarily mind the tower being built, but I want a discussion. I want a voice in the process."
The penultimate person to get his forms in before the 4:30 p.m. deadline was longtime former school trustee Brent Atkinson.
"I've never missed a deadline," joked Atkinson. "When I was running (for trustee), I always got my forms in five minutes before deadline. ... Today's no different."
Atkinson said he was dropping off his petitions because he believes the city has erred in not getting public approval for the loan.
"The process is faulty," he said. "Any time the city wants to borrow this kind of money, they should go to a referendum."
But Atkinson was also realistic on whether the petition would succeed.
"It's too difficult a process," he said. "It seems like more of a protest vote, but I do think it sends a strong message to the mayor and the city that the citizens are not comfortable with how this has all come down."
The borrowing of the money became an issue when the Uptown Property Group decided against building an office tower on top of the future civic centre on Columbia Street, and the city decided to proceed with construction of the office development on its own.
The city is proposing to borrow up to $59 million that would be put toward the $94 million project.
The $94-million total budget includes $41.5 million for the civic centre, $12.5 million for the parking structure (to be used by the office tower and the civic facility), and $40 million for the office development.
The city will use $43 million in casino money known as "development assistance compensation" for the project.