Last week, a vote by Penticton city council supported the first, second and third readings of proposed amendments to the city’s Good Neighbour bylaw.
If approved during the upcoming June 4 council meeting, these amendments will provide our bylaw officers with new tools to address some of the unacceptable behaviours we are seeing downtown.
The goal of this effort is to create a safe and welcoming environment for residents and visitors. Council is committed to finding a solution to some of the challenges we are seeing and this amendment is a step in that direction. Not surprisingly, it has generated much discussion in the community and I want to use this month’s Mayor’s Minute to clarify some of the misconceptions about the intent of these amendments.
Contrary to what we may read and hear, Penticton bylaw officers do not indiscriminately issue fines. A fine is given when efforts to communicate bylaws through signs, conversation, reminders or warnings are unsuccessful. Of the thousands of interactions between the public and bylaw officers each year, only a small fraction of them result in fines. If spoken to, reminded or warned, most people do co-operate once engaged. But for a small number of people, co-operation with bylaw officers and compliance with our bylaws is not guaranteed. In some of these cases where there is evidence of intoxication, mental health or drug use, responding bylaw officers may, at their discretion, forgo issuing fines in favour of contacting other resources to access support or care.
Since our last council meeting, concerned residents have said the proposed amendments will impact those without a home. That’s possible. If someone who is homeless is obstructing passage along one of three designated sections of downtown high-traffic sidewalks, May through September, they will likely be approached by bylaw officers and be asked to move. The rules apply to everyone, and everyone should have the ability to walk on a public sidewalk without obstructions.
Penticton city council has some tough decisions to make concerning the environment of our downtown. Whether it’s the people I speak with weekly, the supportive email I receive, or the voices expressed in online discussions and polls, there is wide support for the council to take action. Downtown residents and businesses are tired of the bad behaviour and brazen crime they are witnessing and they’re demanding more solutions. Solutions already in place include new housing for the less fortunate, supports for those in need, multi-agency collaboration with the Community Active Support Table (CAST), greater resources to make our community safe, including the hiring of two community safety bylaw officers, reminders to say something if you see something and, yes, aligning our bylaws with a changing streetscape.
For each of these solutions, plus others, the City of Penticton has had and will continue to have, a critical funding, partnership and organizing role. Some of these solutions may be popular, others may trigger debate, but collectively they each play a part in moving us towards our collective goal of gaining the upper hand on the challenging circumstances facing our community.
John Vassilaki is the Mayor of the City of Penticton.