Part of the camp in the Carmi area where a couple of the approximate 28 families that couldn’t find an affordable home. Mark Brett/Western News

Issues that mattered to South Okanagan residents in 2017

The Penticton Western News is taking a look back at the trending issues of 2017

The Western News is taking a look back at the trending issues of 2017 for our community, based on what people are viewing on our website.

With the number one story, Mother Nature’s wrath, already unveiled on the front page of the Dec. 27 issue here is a mix of the remaining stories and topics that topped the most views.

Marijuana — Not so smooth and easy

Penticton started 2018 with two “legal” cannabis dispensaries and one “illegal,” Herbal Green, owned by Jukka Laurio, who the city was destined to battle with throughout the year. In Dec. 2016, city council voted to give six-month temporary use permits to two dispensaries, but when those permits ran out, the councillors decided the experiment with medical marijuana dispensaries was over.

Related: Council extinguishes medical marijuana dispensaries

They weren’t finished with Laurio though, who had continued to operate his shop, racking up $30,000 of city fines. By summer, the city was taking legal action against Laurio, which developed into a final attempt in November to get Laurio to fall in line and sign an agreement to convert to a “wellness centre” as the other two shops had done.

Related: City hopes to clear smoke with one last dispensary

Highlighting the problems for dealing with cannabis use while the country waits for promised legalization was a November incident, where a man walked through an accident scene while smoking a joint. He was quickly arrested by RCMP attending the collision.

PIB — Time for healing

The Penticton Indian Band was in the news throughout Penticton as they celebrated successes and dealt with challenges in their political system.

In the spring, the PIB brought the problem of illegal dumping to light, saying the environment and First Nations land were being damaged through rampant dumping on band lands. In April 2017 alone, the PIB Natural Resource Department collected more than six tons of garbage off PIB land.

“One of these issues is that as soon as we remove, literally tons of garbage, many-many truckloads, they reappear the next week,” said department manager James Pepper. The band soon found they weren’t alone in the problem as other groups came forward with the same problem off Carmi Road and other remote sites throughout the Okanagan.

Related: First Nation land trashed by dumpers

By the end of the summer, discontent on the PIB council became apparent when two councillors resigned, joining three who resigned earlier in the spring. These last two resignations followed some turmoil in the band after a non-confidence motion for the band and council was introduced and held up a meeting until the motion was addressed. Emotions reportedly grew high in that meeting, originally planned to nominate candidates to fill the spots left open by the spring resignations.

Related: Chief responds to council resignations

The nominations were eventually made in mid-October at another emotionally-charged meeting as band members clashed over the process. Band members returned to the polls in November, electing five new council members.

Related: Emotional PIB meeting ends with 10 disputed nominees

The year wasn’t without some triumphs for the PIB. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, a former elected chief of the band, was named to Vancouver Magazine’s list of 50 most powerful people. Along with his wife Joan, Phillip was also awarded the 2017 Eugene Rogers Environmental Award by the Wilderness Committee.

The PIB also took steps to recognize all those who suffered at residential schools, erecting a monument depicting two parents greeting their children. The monument is located next to the Okanagan Nation salmon hatchery; the spot where the children were taken away from their families by train and cattle trucks.

Related: Emotional day as monument unveiled in Penticton

Affordable housing — setting a new direction

Putting roofs over the heads of the disadvantaged in the community is one of those themes running through the year. The work will continue through next year and beyond, but progress was made in 2017, according to figures released at the last city council meeting of the year.

The group 100 Homes Penticton surveyed 200 people on the streets of Penticton in November of 2016, creating a housing registry of every homeless person in the community. Of the 200, 128 people fit the definition of homeless.

“The problem was a lot bigger than anybody realized or expected,” said Blake Laven, planning manager for the City of Penticton. “This year, there were only 92 persons interviewed … and only 76 of those were experiencing homelessness.”

In July, B.C. Housing announced they were following up on their 2015 conversion of the Bel Air motel into social housing units with a larger project in the defunct Super 8 Motel, bringing in elements of both shelter and transitional housing.

Related: Council supports Compass Court

The lack of affordable housing in Penticton was highlighted in September when the Western News ran a series of stories on families forced to into living in the forest above the city.

According to one man interviewed, about 28 families were living in a 250-square-kilometre forested area east of Penticton, some dug deep into forestry roads with hopes of keeping their location safe and hidden.

More hope for those struggling with housing was announced in December, with the announcement of 52 units of low-income, modular housing, funded by the Province of B.C. At the same time, the City of Penticton decided to offer aid to non-profits wanting to develop housing projects, in hopes of being first in line as more provincial and federal funding programs are announced in 2018.

Related: 2018 may be the year of affordable housing

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Jukka Laurio looks over some of the remaining stock of buds in the members lounge of his Herbal Green marijuana dispensary on Westminster Avenue on his final day of sales Wednesday. Earlier this month RCMP ordered local dispensaries to cease operations. Mark Brett/Western News

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