Penticton's downtown has improved since controversial bylaw implemented, say merchants - InfoNews

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Penticton's downtown has improved since controversial bylaw implemented, say merchants

A handful of residents and tourists stop to enjoy some afternoon entertainment in Nanaimo Square in Penticton today, July 4, 2019. Downtown merchants say things are getting more comfortable a month after introduction of a new "no sitting bylaw" on the city's main streets.
July 05, 2019 - 6:30 AM

PENTICTON - A month after the introduction of a controversial bylaw amendment restricting sitting or laying on Penticton's downtown sidewalks, local merchants say things are looking up.

This afternoon, July 4, Main Street was bustling with residents and tourists enjoying a warm Okanagan afternoon. Main Street appeared completely free of transients, no one was sitting in the street except those using pedestrian benches.

Several factors besides the bylaw may be playing into the change in anti-social behaviour in the downtown core, but it appears city initiatives are doing what downtown business people had hoped and many are expressing a degree of relief, as they enter the busiest season of the year.

Adam Power runs Local Security out of Nanaimo Square. He says things are greatly improved in that part of downtown.

“Specifically at Nanaimo Square over the course of the last two months, it has transitioned. It’s not a place to congregate anymore, so we don’t have a lot of the criminal activity that was an issue there when we were coming into the summer, the open drug use, sales," Power says.

"It would seem that’s been all but eliminated in that area,” he says.

Power says it's not so much about getting the bad activities out as getting good activities in, so someone who wants to use the space appropriately can do so.

"That’s a big positive. Activism is important, too. Other tools like the no sitting bylaw are effective, but you have to stay on top of it. It’s a lot of work,” Power says.

Urge 3 Tattoos owner Jeff Slauenwhite says things have “most definitely improved.”

“There's the no sitting bylaw, then the city engineers showed up and locked all the electrical outlets being used to charge mobile devices on, that helped too,” Slauenwhite says of city efforts to move street people along.

Slauenwhite feels demolition of the Greyhound bus depot also factored into the reduction in undesirable activities downtown.

“The drug users couldn’t call their dealer anymore. It made a big difference in what was going on downtown,” he says.

“We don’t have a homeless problem, we have a drug problem,” he says.

Slauenwhite says the no sitting bylaw has definitely helped, but property crime remains an issue downtown. He sympathized with police, saying their hands are tied by the courts, who aren’t backing them up.

Jeanne Bevin of Dragons Den on Front Street says she didn’t think there was much of a problem downtown.

“I thought the bylaw was hasty. I’m not really comfortable with it,” she says, adding the problem with transients hanging out on the street is gone.

“Almost everyone who was sitting around on the street has left to go to Oliver or Osoyoos to pick cherries,” she says.

Bevin says her problem with the no sitting bylaw is it relies too much on common sense.

"If it’s illegal to sit on the sidewalk, then it’s illegal to sit on the sidewalk to watch a parade, but they are never going to bust the family sitting watching a parade, and they shouldn’t — but how do you (know) who to bust, by their clothes? Whether they’ve showered? I think it's a bit discriminatory and I feel uncomfortable with it,” she says, but adds “people could clean up after themselves a bit more.”

Lindsay Hall of Softy’s Shoes says he’s personally seen how the downtown has improved.

“These groups of urchins tend to stay away from downtown during the daytime,” he says, adding he’s consulted with neighbouring businesses who also feel the situation is improving.

“We can’t tolerate that type of activity, especially during peak tourist season. We have so many underlying problems in this community, this bylaw is the least of our problems,” Hall says, adding he feels the city should be seeking residents' opinions on city matters along with property tax notices.

“That way, they will hear from people with a true stake in the community,” he says.

City bylaw supervisor Tina Siebert says it might be a bit too soon to tell if the bylaw is doing what it’s supposed to.

“We have certainly seen a sharp decrease in public complaints about issues in the downtown core since the sidewalk bylaw was passed,” Siebert said in an email.

She said the city has received very few calls for service from the public and a lot of public support for the bylaw amendment from downtown residents and businesses overall.

“This is likely a culmination of efforts with the bylaw, extending bylaw hours of service, increased patrols, increased supports, CAST table interventions, volunteer groups assisting with sharps disposal, outreach services offered, etc.,” she said.

“The positive use of public space has been great to see, and we look forward to continuing on with the positive momentum downtown in partnership with the Downtown Penticton Association and business community,” Siebert said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © Infotel News Ltd, 2019
Infotel News Ltd

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