Civic election: 1-on-1 with Penticton mayoral candidate Jason Reynen

1-on-1: Jason Reynen

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.


Jason Reynen: Penticton mayoral candidate

Jason Reynen owns Beach City Cross Fit in Penticton and is one of the founding members of community crime watchdog group Clean Streets Penticton.

Castanet: Why are you running for mayor?

Jason Reynen: Actually, that question was proposed to me after the first seniors speaking event, one lady came up to me and goes, 'You know, Jay, you're such a shoo-in for a councillor. Why mayor?'

I took a long time and a hard think about that. And really, it's a seat at a table and there's seven of us if you include the mayor's seat, and I just believe that in a mayoral seat, you have to show leadership. You have to show good integrity, the willingness to listen to everyone as well.

In my eyes, what's made me really good in business is I don't try to reinvent the wheel. I look to other people, I look to others. I look to other people who have been very successful, in my business or any other business. And then I sit down with them and I have those deep conversations. I try to find those solutions that way.

So I feel like in this position, that's what we need. We need more of that in a mayoral position. We need people who are willing to sit down and be humble and realize they're coming from a place of not having to know all the answers. And then we can garner a better answer from that.

C: Over the past four years, you were not serving on council. Can you point to some decisions that council made that you agreed with, and some you disagreed with?

JR: I've got more negatives than positives. When they got rid of the property [298 South Beach Drive], that was a big move in the wrong direction in my eyes. That's one of the, I would say, cornerstone areas that we should look to develop and by selling it off now we don't have as much control over the area.

Unfortunately we keep amending our OCP, we keep changing the plan. And that's where we're at now. We're just with a bike lane that no one's happy with, there's just so many things that have kind of been pushed through in the last two years after kind of post-COVID. Just trying to push initiatives and push things in the city in the wrong direction in my eyes.

I think we need to focus on the bigger plan. The bigger plan here obviously to me is crime and safety. What I've seen in the past decade is a massive decline of safety and a feeling of helplessness amongst our seniors, helplessness amongst our homeowners. Obviously, that's where Clean Streets had started. It was a grassroots initiative to try to help people that didn't feel like they're being supported by RCMP or bylaw.

The last four years show a decline in the trust in the processes that are being put forth. It just needs an overhaul. I think about it on so many levels provincial-wise as well. We need a major overhaul with our judicial system. It doesn't really stop here. But unfortunately, I feel like council has just not done a very good job overall.

C: Lack of support for mental health issues and addiction is a major problem in Penticton right now. How does the city best address these social issues, given that the municipality only has so much power without other levels of government?

It's a tough call, right? The city is basically cornered by only a few things that we can do. What we need to do, unfortunately, is repair the relationship between us and BC Housing. We need to have the tough talks with Interior Health, then figure out how we're going to get a better plan for these people so that they feel comfortable enough to go to recovery.

It's a two part process. I know that the majority of the people that are on the street homeless don't want to be there, that's plain and simple. There are other communities to look at as examples, you look at Alberta, Medicine Hat, they have done a brilliant job with a housing first initiative. I think that's one of the moves we have to do first, is provide housing.

But within that we need to have a strong infrastructure. I don't think that there's a clear enough communication between all of our nonprofits, with a game plan as to how we are going to tackle this problem. We don't have enough staff. Again, that leads back to housing.

All of these issues are very compounded, and in all honesty, until we can get the prolific drug offenders off the street, the majority of the people on the street will still find a way to use on the street. So we need to dry up the drugs on the street. Get those people to want to go to the housing and get themselves help and then actually have a strong enough platform for them to work themselves out of that situation. Get the mental health that they need, get the social services they need. Get housing, so they feel like they're permanent, they can sit in one position.

These people were left vulnerable. On the street. They're in fight or flight. So what do they want to do? They just need to get their next fix to get themselves to the next point, and that's where the petty crime starts. So all the problems we have in Penticton right now, are compounding each other. The fact that we're not getting the drugs off the street, the revolving door that the province has created for those prolific offenders who are continuing and flooding the streets with illicit drugs, that needs to stop.

C: That's something that a lot of people talk about, prolific offenders and the "revolving door." So, what is the city or the mayor's role in solving that?

JR: That's the provincial stuff. And what I want to do is lobby. So, lobbying with other communities and putting pressure on our provincial government to change that law. Repeat offenders is number one, that's something I would do as mayor.

The first thing is to get housing. We need to get low income housing in this city. We need to get it for people who work in these areas.

C: Speaking of housing, there is a major crunch in Penticton. A lack of rental stock, as well as people being priced out of purchasing their first properties. Given we have a limited geographical footprint in Penticton, how does the city grow and address the lack of housing?

JR: We need to follow the [Official Community Plan] and part of our OCP is to take some of the derelict properties that are in the downtown area, and then convert them into low income housing. That I believe is an opportunity as a whole. We have a lot of areas in town within the central area that need to be developed or redeveloped.

When we talk about seniors or general people who are going to be moving here, youth or workers, we want them closer to the downtown core and closer to the amenities. To spend money, number one, but also for the accessibility as well. So yes, development off the OCP I recommend massively.

Downtown needs to be developed before we start to spread out to developments like Spiller Road. I'm not a fan. I don't know why we continue to spread out there. It goes against what we're trying to do. If you're in a position where you can't afford to be driving out there, it's not the position to be putting those houses. Our OCP was looked at by professionals and built by professionals who deal with this on a regular basis.

What we need to be doing too is looking to other communities that have been successful. Whistler is a perfect example. 20 years ago, they had the same problem with Airbnbs. They had struggled with people not being able to afford to live there and work there. So they came up with a committee, and they talked about where they were going to position these low-income units and how they're going to distribute it to working professionals. And then where they were going to put their vacation rentals as opposed to where they were going to put these people. We need to look to those communities to find the answers and how they were successful, because they're doing the exact same thing.

I believe the problem that we have here in Penticton is we keep trying to reinvent the wheel. It's how we ended up with a bike lane that looks like something from Star Trek, I don't even get it. There's barriers, there's ribbons, there's all sorts of things. Never seen a bike lane like that in my life. I am all for protection but at the same point, you know, I go to California and they did a raised rubber pathway and it's beautiful, just as safe, visually pleasing and didn't impede on people's driveways or businesses or parking. The problem is there's just not enough thought going into these before action or not enough public awareness.

C: Back to crime, specifically property crime and general feelings of lack of safety, what should the city be doing? Are more RCMP and bylaw officers the answer?

JR: You know, in all honesty, we know what the cost is when we bring more officers on. We know what the cost is with more bylaw. I believe that the community itself has, through Clean Streets, we've seen a huge difference in communication. So what I mean by that is openness to take the picture of the person violating and then having those photos and that information, and then giving that information to those sources as quickly as possible. So using the platforms that we have, and again, this goes with citizens on patrol, or block watch.

These are things that we need to start utilizing more and more and more. If we create enough people with enough awareness and we're reporting regularly, it's going to ease the amount of things that police officers or bylaw officers are having to run to on a regular basis.

That does not mean that we don't need them. Absolutely. We do need them. But the bylaw and the RCMP are getting spread thin, and they're spread thin even when we had seven more added to it. Because we have an overdose crisis we have so many other issues going on that if we had hired ten more it would be a problem.

We can't afford to keep dumping money, so what do we do? I believe in all honesty, we need to create better communication between all forms bylaw, RCMP, citizens on patrol.

If the citizens of Penticton feel that more bylaw will work or more RCMP will work I would debate the fact that if we continue to fund RCMP and bylaw that will run down the road further of just them being dispersed to too many different things.

I would look to communities like Nelson, for example, who have decided to defund their RCMP and defund their bylaw and then re-fund their municipal police force. It's also what Chilliwack has done. It's also in North Vancouver. With a municipal police force, we can have a little bit more direction in what they're trying to accomplish throughout our municipality and I think that that would give us some enough ability to kind of hammer down on some of the real issues we're having.

C: We don't currently have a municipal police force, of course.

JR: Correct, we do not currently have a municipal police force in Penticton. It does come with a cost and that cost is going to have to be offset from other things in town. If we're deciding to tax more on our Airbnbs, or limit the amount of Airbnbs, there's a lot of things we can do to to save money in our community and then spend it on something where we know that we can direct them a little bit better.

Communication with the RCMP that's a big one as well if they have unified drug for us, or is there a possibility that we can create one within the RCMP that has has only one directive that would be nice. You know, there's a lot of things we can do. But again, on a municipal level, it's difficult because it is a provincial problem that we're seeing.

C: What should the city's role be in attracting new businesses, and fostering existing businesses?

JR: They've got to lower their business tax rates. This is a no brainer. And again, back to the housing issue, it's really hard to get young professionals here, if they can't afford to live here. Especially in in an area where we're starting to see inflation right now, just massively across the board.

We have to find ways that we're going to be able to garner the attention of young professionals, and one of the ways is to find affordable living. So we need a big push in affordable living and affordable housing for young professionals. That's number one.

Number two, cost of business. So again, we had another little spike in cost for taxation on business owners. I mean, me personally, being a small business owner, I just can't keep affording more tax. It kills businesses. So if we can lower that overall tax burden, that's what I'm for. We'll find creative ways to to collect that money, but they need to stop punishing the business owners.

C: If you had $1 million to spend on anything in Penticton, for the municipality, how would you spend it?

JR: I think that crime right now in Penticton is the biggest problem. Without a doubt public safety is the biggest problem. So if I had a million dollars, I would try to get as many people as possible with that million dollars to go and show up on the doorstep of our provincial government, to lobby for change, to put these repeat offenders away for a longer period of time, so that we can actually have a chance to clean up our streets, get these people to help they need. I don't know if that's $1 for every person that showed up on their doorstep, $10 for every person who wanted to say their piece, but I know if we have enough people standing on the doorstep of our provincial government, that they'll listen and that they will make change.

Whether I do get elected or not, that is my goal. My goal is to change the provincial laws on on repeat offenders so that we can we can start to see the smaller changes in Penticton.

C: If you are elected, what does 2026 look like, the end of your first term? What have you achieved, what have voters gotten out of you being mayor?

JR: Penticton will be safe again. That's the bottom line. We will have fixed the housing problem and gotten the mental health situation under control. So, safety, housing and mental health under control. To me, that's what our city needs.

C: Anything else you wanted to add briefly?

JR: I think the biggest question I've gotten is, 'Well, if you're living in West Kelowna, why do you feel it's appropriate that you would run for mayor in Penticton?' And in all honesty, my family is a split marriage and I had no choice but to move away from the city I love. But I own and run both my businesses here and I started Clean Streets to fix a problem. And I intend to follow through with fixing that problem, whether I'm elected or not.

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