Sidewalk sitting ban green-lit

Penticton city council has approved a controversial bylaw amendment that will make it illegal to sit or lie on some sidewalks downtown during the summer.

The new bylaw will apply to 100-700 blocks of Main Street, 200-400 Martin Street and 100-300 Ellis Street between May 1 and Sept. 30.

“We can’t stand still, we need to do something to improve the situation downtown,” said mayor John Vassilaki.

Director of development services Anthony Haddad said the city’s bylaw department has been dealing with an increase in complaints related to loitering and panhandling downtown, particularly in front of vacant storefronts.

He admitted the bylaw will not eliminate social issues from the community, but said the three selected corridors have been seeing significant investment recently.

“Not that the other areas are not important, but we see a lot of activity and demand for these three areas of the community,” he said.

Bylaw services manager Tina Siebert said the bylaw is limited to the summer months and in area to ensure it stands up to potential Charter challenges.

“We understand the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and we can definitely appreciate that we all have those,” Siebert said.

Coun. Jake Kimberley said it was difficult to vote in favour of the bylaw, “but we have to recognize the residents and interests here that pay taxes for those sidewalks and for those businesses that pay taxes to the city.”

With most homeless residents unable to pay the $100 fine associated with breaching the bylaw, Kimberley suggested it be tweaked to order community services for violators.

“Put them out with the people collecting garbage on the sidewalks and let them see what kind of mess is out there, picking up stuff that’s been left around by some of those individuals.”

He also implored city bylaw to look into the use of shopping carts on public sidewalks.  

Siebert pointed out that in the case of Paul Braun — who the city fought in court to remove from the 200 Main Street breezeway — Braun has not completed his court ordered community service.

Couns. Campbell Watt and Julius Bloomfield voted against the bylaw, voicing concerns about simply moving the problem around the city.

“If we are asking anybody not to be sitting on our streets, I sure wish we had somewhere for them to go,” Watt said.

“If you deter them from going downtown, where do they go?” asked Bloomfield. “They are not going to disappear, they are just going to go somewhere else within the city...There is either going to be needles in the streets or needles in the parks, that’s life.”

Earlier Tuesday, council heard a presentation on an initiative that will see downtown public spaces more actively utilized for things like food trucks, pop-up stores or patios.

The vote on the bylaw to ban sidewalk sitting passed 5 - 2, with Watt and Bloomfield opposed.

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