Panhandling bylaw avoids adoption as status quo in city’s downtown set to continue
A rare 11th hour decision by city council has derailed the controversial proposed panhandling bylaw from becoming legislation.
A concern about the intent of the proposed bylaw — and a call for more time to measure the effectiveness of a potential street outreach worker — was enough to have the passing of a proposed panhandling bylaw thwarted Monday night.
After nearly one hour of debate, council narrowly voted against adoption of the bylaw, contradicting its earlier decisions to move forward with the legislation, and now will wait well over one year to revisit the issue.
And that should be enough time to gauge the effectiveness of the announced street outreach worker, to be hired by the Street Culture Collective, said Coun. Michael Dailly.
He said in his numerous meetings recently with people who work amidst the street culture of Nelson it was announced some funding had been secured to create an outreach worker position.
“I think it’s worthwhile to see how that approach works before we initiate and put a bylaw in place,” he said. “We need to see how that fits … and we need to defer the passing of the bylaw until a later period to see how the outreach worker impacts our panhandling situation.”
The Street Culture Collaborative still needs a little more funding to fully implement an outreach worker, said Mayor Deb Kozak, and the position would not start until September.
“So that leaves us with this summer open,” she said.
But the real problem in the downtown was not the panhandlers themselves, but many of the other street culture people who were not asking for money, but were still creating an uncomfortable situation in the downtown for others, said Coun. Val Warmington.
“And so we are putting in place a law that will essentially exclude and marginalize the most marginal amongst us,” she said. “I don’t think it is the right approach.”
Coun. Anna Purcell concurred. She felt the bylaw did not address the root cause of poverty and addiction in Nelson.
“Our streets would wind up looking exactly the same if we ended up passing this bylaw,” she said. “I don’t see this making the change that people think it will.”
City manager Kevin Cormack said the bylaw was recommended by the city’s own police chief as a very necessary tool in managing the safety of the streets.
“Really, all this is trying to do is try and find some balance in all of those competing interests, it is certainly not trying to ban panhandling or anything of that nature,” he said.
Cormack advised council to see how the bylaw would work over the summer and it could repeal, or rework, the bylaw after a period of time.
Similar to the Downtown Dog Bylaw, Mayor Kozak said the intent of the police was to report back after a short period to let council know how the panhandling bylaw was working.
With an extremely busy and active downtown core, there have been incidents that are escalating that the police don’t feel are appropriate to implement under the Safe Streets Act, said Mayor Kozak.
“These issues are not easy to deal with,” she said. “But I strongly believe the streets are for everybody. This is not about banning panhandling, but it’s about people sharing the street space in a respectful way. Sometimes there are people who don’t understand that and we have to deal with it in a different way.”
The panhandling regulatory bylaw was intended to create safer streets, wrote city director of corporate services, Frances Long, in her report to city council.
“This regulatory bylaw does not stop people from panhandling; it enables (people) panhandling to know the guidelines within the City of Nelson.”
However, the panhandling policy, the bylaw and the enforcement amendment — which dealt with fines — were all defeated.
The road to today
The Panhandling Bylaw was introduced in September and it ignited controversy.
Council approved first and second reading only, directing staff to further review and revise the bylaw accordingly. The bylaw was placed in front of council at the Oct. 5 regular meeting for third reading where the bylaw was referred back to staff for further community consultation.
The results of the community consultation were provided to council at the Oct. 26 committee of the whole meeting and were summarized in a report to council at the Nov. 2 regular meeting where third reading of the bylaw was postponed to a spring 2016 meeting providing opportunity for staff to gather further information.
At the May 2 regular council meeting the city’s new panhandling bylaw was brought forward after a six-month delay following a first and second reading in November 2015.
The bylaw received third reading in May with the additional information requested by council from city staff presented at the meeting.
However, it was requested that a policy would be in place to guide the enforcement of the new panhandling bylaw prior to adoption of the bylaw.
Moving to the dark side
The city passed adoption of amendments for its Optical Fibre Amendment Bylaw on Monday, as well as changes to fees and charges, in an attempt to bring dark fibre connectivity to a greater audience in an OPEN model.
“An OPEN model means that the customer has the ability to select services provided by any service provider operating in the city’s co-location facility,” wrote city deputy corporate officer Jo Caldecott in her report to council.
Council established an optical fibre service and its associated fees in October of 2013. The purpose of the fibre service was to lease dark fibre to a variety of fibre users. In addition, the service provides a fibre plant and data centre located at 310 Ward Street.
There were four primary drivers for the changes:
- Creation of a rate for public sector/institutional/educational customers to enable the bylaw to align with separate agreements held with anchor customers;
- Removal of the requirement to hold a business licence (commercial customers only) to provide the ability to sell to residents and non-profit entities;
- The ability to share the fibre service in multi-unit buildings; and
- Addition of the option to finance the connection charge for property owners.
Changes in the regulatory bylaw include: removed the language that a business licence is required; deleted the clause that does not permit subletting of the fibre; added a clause that permits sharing (subletting) in multi-unit buildings; and added a clause giving authority to staff to inspect/audit customer equipment.
As well, the changes added a clause to provide financing of connection charges to property owners with the addition of an appendix outlining the financing component of the service.