Legal battle against province could cost Penticton $200-300k

Should City fight Province?

UPDATE: 5:45 p.m.

Penticton city council has voted to authorize a public survey seeking feedback on its actions regarding the old Victory Church emergency homeless shelter, and asking whether the city should proceed with pricey legal proceedings against the province.

At a special meeting Wednesday, council unanimously passed the motion to start the survey, which will be open until April 10.

Legal action attempting to challenge the provincial government, which has overridden council's decision not to extend a temporary use permit at the Victory Church shelter beyond March 31, would cost taxpayers between $200,000 and $300,000.

Council members spoke in favour of hearing more from community members and businesses on this already contentious issue.

"On this question so far we have heard a great deal from the two sides of the debate,” Coun. Julius Bloomfield said.

“I think that it’s valuable to hear from the silent majority in the middle, the people who have a moderate interest in this … we need to make sure we’re on track with the average citizen in Penticton.”

Mayor John Vassilaki implored the public to "educate" themselves before completing the survey.

"It’s very, very important that we are clear with everybody what the issues are, and the folks that are going to be giving us your opinion, make sure you educate yourself on the issues,” Vassilaki said.

“If you’re not informed you’re not going to make a proper decision … I implore you, both sides, please educate yourselves, learn what the issues are and make a proper decision."

The survey is already live following the vote, and can be found here.

Those without internet access can also call in to participate, via a toll-free number: 1-800-296-2237.

Council also voted to send a letter to BC Housing and the Ministry of Health indicating their position to encourage negotiations with both agencies to "form a long term strategy to house the homeless in Penticton," and another letter to the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Southern Interior Local Government Association requesting letters of support for Penticton objecting to the province's use of paramountcy "to ensure that local governments' rules are respected."

ORIGINAL: 2:55 p.m.

If the City of Penticton wants to fight the provincial government in court over the old Victory Church emergency shelter, it's going to cost taxpayers between $200,000 and $300,000.

That's the finding of a last-minute staff report to council issued Wednesday afternoon ahead of a special council meeting called to discuss next steps regarding the shelter, among other matters.

The price tag includes the anticipated legal costs, as well as the cost of engaging the neighbourhood in the process and other public affairs matters.

The 42-bed shelter's municipal short-term lease expires at midnight March 31, but BC Housing will continue to operate it through the Penticton and District Society for Community Living in contravention with city council's decision to deny an extension of that lease.

Housing Minister David Eby has said the province will exert paramountcy powers, which gives them the authority to override municipal government decisions in cases of provincial projects.

Staff are now recommending that council give the green light for an immediate public opinion survey from residents and businesses, commencing March 31 and ending April 10, seeking information on how the community feels about council's decisions, provincial interference and options moving forward.

Staff are proposing two separate surveys with the same questions, one a random sample of the 5,700 active members of the shapeyourcitypenticton.ca database. They are anticipating a 20 per cent response rate and are planning to invite 1,800 members to complete the survey, and results will be weighted to reflect the demographics of Penticton's population.

The second survey will be open to the general public, hosted on the system of Discovery Research, a third-party research firm from Vernon. They are able to track IP addresses and locate participants to confirm that data collected is indeed from Pentictonites.

The survey would include nine questions and one final open-ended request for any thoughts the participant would like to share with council.

One of the proposed questions asks whether the participant supports moving forward with a legal challenge against the provincial government, with the goal of closing and/or relocating the shelter, which would cost between $200,000 and $300,000.

Other questions probe whether the participant supports council's recent actions in denying the temporary use permit extension, whether council should request Premier John Horgan get involved, whether the participant is experiencing homelessness, owns a business, or lives near the shelter, and what age group they belong to.

If approved at the special meeting Wednesday, the survey will be launched both online and through a call-in service for those without computer access, and run for 10 days.

Watch the meeting live here at 4 p.m. and participate during the public question period here. Castanet will have an update after the meeting.

More Penticton News