John Vassilaki was sworn in as Penticton’s 20th mayor on Nov. 6, 2018. Steve Kidd/Western News

The year changes, but the problems remain

City of Penticton continuing focus on attracting jobs, homelessness and safety in 2019

After just a few weeks in office, Mayor John Vassilaki says he’s enjoying his new job.

Related: John Vassilaki takes Penticton mayor’s chair

“I have always wanted to do it,” said Vassilaki, who was sworn in as Penticton mayor on Nov. 6.

“I only wish I’d started in politics a lot earlier than I did. I started my late 50s. I would have preferred to be my early 40s when I got started, but business opportunities arose before politics and that’s the route I took.”

Being in the mayor’s chair for such a short time makes it hard for Vassilaki to look back on the city’s accomplishments over the past year, but he has a vision from the past he wants to bring to the future.

“I like to see Penticton as vibrant as it used to be back from the late 50s to the late 80s,” said Vassilaki. “Penticton was booming, we were doing much much better than Kelowna.”

While the fruit industry is less of a driver for Penticton than it once was, Vassilaki said it is good the wine, craft beer and spirits industries continue to grow, as does construction in Penticton.

Related: Penticton no longer the ‘Peach city’

“Construction wasn’t that big back then as it is today. You can see everywhere all the new construction that’s taken place and that’s good for Penticton because they’re really good paying jobs,” said Vassilaki. “I’d love to be able to do something — with city council, I can’t do it alone — to bring those days where the city was vibrant and Main Street was filled with cars and sidewalks with people.”

Doing that means bringing jobs into the city, Vassilaki explains, jobs that will attract young families to move here.

“They’re the ones that spend money within the community. Single people don’t spend as much as families do,” said Vassilaki.

“That’s what I’d like to see come into Penticton in the very near future and that’s what the city council is striving for.”

Developing the economy will be a goal for the city in 2019, and developing housing for new residents is part of that, as it is to work on the city’s homelessness problem.

Related: Volunteers step up to warm the hearts and fill tummies in Penticton

“Unfortunately, that the city doesn’t build affordable housing. But what we do is we make it a lot easier for private enterprise to come in and build those houses,” said Vassilaki.

“We work a lot with nonprofit organizations that do those kinds of things for families, especially.”

Penticton put $350,000 into dealing with street problems in the downtown core in 2018, and Vassilaki said he is committed to continuing the work to help people get off the streets.

“My vision is to improve homelessness, for one thing. We’re working along with BC Housing to fix that,” said Vassilaki. “And the crime, the perception, if you want to call it that, of crime in downtown.”

Vassilaki said he would also like to see an increase in policing, though not necessarily the RCMP.

“I want to put more bylaw boots on the ground,” said Vassilaki.

“We’re not afraid to put money into it. But we have to determine where that money should go to, the best use for those funds to go to for helping out.

“I want that fear to go away and if I (and) city council can accomplish that in 2019, we’ve won a big battle.”

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