Castanet News had a conversation with each mayoral candidate running in the South Okanagan.
Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity. An interactive database of Okanagan candidates, including previous questionnaire stories, is available here and is being updated daily.
Election day is Oct. 15.
Julius Bloomfield: Penticton mayoral candidate
Julius Bloomfield has spent the last four years as a Penticton city councillor. He is a realtor and has been known to complete an Ironman or two.
Castanet: Why are you running for mayor?
Julius Bloomfield: I'm running because there's some things that the city does that I that I would like to see done a little differently.
I think that we could have better collaboration with the provincial government on social issues. I feel as though I'm somebody that sort of likes to work with, you know, with other levels of government rather than fight with them. And I think that Penticton is a nice city. It's a good city, that it could be a great little city. I just think that making it a livable city and making it a resilient city is you know, we'll make it a great city.
C: You are coming off your first term as councillor. What are examples of initiatives or projects you supported during that time that you are particularly proud of?
JB: I think the hiring of a social development manager was one of my motions that I think was probably one of the most beneficial that we've seen. Bringing back the Sustainability Committee. I think that has worked very well for the city.
Pushing forward on [electric vehicle] charging stations. And various environmental issues have been big on my agenda. Initiating the Community Safety Review. And the review of vacation rental housing more recently. That's what I'm trying to deal with has been a benefit to the city.
I brought a motion to counsel after the report that we had on vacation rentals and asked the staff to come back with ways of putting a cap on vacation rentals or how we're gonna limit the growth of vacation rentals.
There's a market for them. The market tells us that there's a demand for vacation rentals, people use them, people like them, they prefer them to hotels and motels and that's a good chunk of the population. So I'm not saying do away with them altogether, but let's put a reasonable limit on them.
C: Is there a particular decision made by council this past term you believe should have gone differently? Why?
JB: I would have liked to see a denser development on the Kampe property on Green Ave. This large property should have been put to better use in our housing crisis. The rejection of the plan for multi level buildings to the now proposed back-to-back townhomes has severely reduced the number of units that could have been built. I know we need townhomes as well as apartments but this style of townhome has always been controversial as it does not allow for back yards or any storage facilities.
C: Social issues like a need for mental health support, and how to tackle addiction are top of mind for many in Penticton today. How does the city best address those types of issues, given that the municipality only has so much power?
JB: Traditionally, municipal governments have stayed away from getting too involved in mental health issues, because that is healthcare and people say that's not our mandate, that's up to the provincial government. But, if the provincial government is not doing what it needs to do, if it's slow to respond, and major governments are slow to respond, we need a quicker response.
We need to get out there and start working on these social issues right now. That's why I've been advocating for the Car 40 program, where a mental health worker goes out with RCMP officers when they go on wellness checks. Mental health workers also go out with the fire department on overdose calls. Then we'd have the appropriate people looking after the people that are in need.
RCMP officers and firefighters, they're not really trained to deal with people with mental health issues. That's a different skill set. And so, I think if you if you've got somebody that needs a mental health specialist, we should have a mental health specialist. If the province is slow to provide that, then I think as a municipal government, we could step in and certainly start that process and get that going. Even just as a pilot project, and maybe the provincial government would adopt it at a later date.
C: Another concern for many in Penticton is crime, often specifically property theft, damage and a general feeling that lawlessness is on the rise. Is the answer spending money on more officers, both RCMP and bylaw? Or something else?
JB: The majority of Penticton's crime problem is smaller crimes, petty crimes and small theft, some vehicle thefts and so on. But the sad fact is that there's a bunch of prolific offenders out there that are causing mayhem and so I think that dealing with those prolific offenders, many of which are addicts, but also people needing mental health assistance.
I think [the goal is] they get taken in by the system, and go into the complex care homes that the province is promising for us. That's going to be the answer. But this Car 40 program will make sure that these these folks, when they do go into an overdose situation or a situation that results in 911 calls, that's the start. That's how we can play the part of getting that first step for those folks to get into the system and get the help they need and get the help they deserve.
Right now, you know, with this constant revolving door of services — getting arrested, going into care, getting set free again, going through the court system, getting out — that's not doing anybody any good. It's certainly not doing them any good. It's just setting them up for failure.
We need to set them up for success. And that means they're getting the proper care, the proper treatment now that's provided by the province. But the municipal government can be part of the first step in getting those folks off the street and into the care that they need.
C: Housing, either for rent or for purchase, is difficult or impossible to get due to cost or lack of inventory for many people in Penticton right now. What should the city be doing to increase housing stock, and make housing realistically accessible?
JB: First of all, let's talk about affordable housing. This means different things to different people. So generally it falls into two categories, rental and ownership.
So, rental housing, that's a fairly simple fix, to start with. The city owns a lot of land and utilizing some of that land in a joint venture with the government or private partnerships where an apartment building is built for affordable rentals on city-owned land, if you take the land cost component out of it, and if you take the profit component out of it, you can get it rented to 25 per cent below market value.
If there's a partnership where the city provides the land, a developer or government or whoever builds an apartment building and gets paid for it, then it gets handed over to a nonprofit society that would manage that building. And again, taking the profit out of it taking the land cost out of it, then the only cost that has to be recovered is the cost of construction. That would help provide affordable rental housing.
Other forms of affordable housing that the city could look at using its land for is cooperative housing, which is a little more complicated and is part of a larger discussion.
As far as the owning property, we can't control what people are willing to pay for real estate. As much as we think we can, we can't, the buying public determines what they're willing to pay.
But we can help people get into the market. This is the big stumbling block for a lot of young couples, and it's how do you get into the into the housing market.
We could have a city grant system for helping young people, first time buyers, to get into the market for if they live in Penticton, they work in Penticton, they want to buy something, they qualify for a mortgage, but they don't have the downpayment. There is the potential for the city to do a grant system to help with the downpayment on buying a property, but there has to be certain criteria attached to that, income criteria, you know, the property has to qualify, the buyer has to qualify, and making sure that the people that get the help are the ones that are in need of help. But it's worked in other cities, and it's viable, it can be done.
C: We have a limited geographical footprint in Penticton. How do we grow?
JB: Great question. This is part of a discussion for revision of the [Official Community Plan] or the next OCP.
I'm in favour of increasing the density within the existing footprint of the city. Now, the question is, where does that density go and do we spread that increased density through all neighbourhoods? Or do we concentrate that density increase into certain areas.
If we increase it into certain areas then we have to look at the height restrictions in those areas, but if we increase the density throughout the city and if we allow duplexes, four-plexes, etc, in areas of traditional single family homes, then we can maintain the current levels of height restrictions that we have. But I don't think we should have any more urban sprawl right now.
C: What do you think the city's role should be in attracting new businesses and fostering existing businesses?
JB: The city has had a mixed success rate with attracting new businesses in the past and that's partially because we've been trying to attract the wrong type of business. Everybody's talked about manufacturing businesses to Penticton but the trouble is, if you're a manufacturing business, you look at, if I manufacture all of my products here, how do I get them to market?
I mean, the reality is that we don't have a rail system here. There's a road network that is not the best for getting products to large markets. So, coupled that with labor supply and housing costs and so on, it's not the traditional forms of attracting manufacturing businesses. I don't see that as being a viable future.
I think, from an economic development point of view, creating Penticton as being just a cool place to live, that's the answer. Because with a growing population of workers that are able to work from home, then you can live anywhere. Well, if you can live anywhere, where do you want to live? I mean, Penticton scores pretty highly on that. So I think concentrating on turning Penticton into a really cool city to live in and to move to that is going to be the economic development that we should concentrate on.
C: If you had $1 million to spend on anything for Penticton, what would you spend it on?
JB: Well, a million dollars doesn't buy what it used to. But I would use a good chunk of that money I think on doing some community block parties.
I think we've gone through a pandemic, we've all sort of retreated into our homes. We're not used to getting out and about and mixing it up with anybody anymore. If we get some block parties going where the neighbours can get out, they get to meet and greet each other. They can talk about issues for their neighbourhoods, they can talk about what they want to see in the neighbourhood. City staff can be there with with them, bylaw can be there with them, listen to the people, you know, meet them over a hot dog and a beverage and just chat about what's going on in their neighbourhood and talk about best practices for safety and security.
And just get out and meet and greet. Get the kids out there interacting with bylaw, interacting with the RCMP. I think that that will help rebuild the community spirit that waned a little bit. So I would I would spend that money on block parties.
Picture yourself four years from now, at the end of your first term as mayor. What would you like to have achieved for the community? What would you have given to them?
I'd like to I'd like to have had a major part dealing with the opioid crisis in Penticton. I'd like to have had a major part in dealing with the housing affordability crisis. I would like to see the northwest gateway sector thriving and moving forward and just start a more vibrant city and a more vibrant downtown and I'd be happy with that.