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Mayor's Question — Downtown Nelson

Nelson's Mayor candidates John Dooley (left) and incumbent Deb Kozak respond to challenge of how to deal with the downtown core.

Nelsonites head to the polls Saturday, October 20 to elect a new council and mayor for the next four years.

There are three candidates vying for the Mayor’s Chair are incumbent Deb Kozak and challengers John Dooley and Bern Brown.

Leading up to election day, The Nelson Daily will try to help voters determine who’s best to chart the course for the Heritage City through the next four years with our Mayor’s Question of the Week.

Today’s question focuses on the candidates would deal with any issues in the downtown core of Nelson.

Unfortunately, challenger Bernie Brown did not respond to calls or emails to respond to this question from The Nelson Daily.

Question:

The city's handling of the street culture in the downtown has been widely criticized as missing the mark, alienating downtown businesses and further exacerbating a general unsafe feeling on Baker Street. Can the city legislate and does anything about the street culture issue and, if so, what should be done? 

John Dooley

Numerous people have contacted me regarding the situation in downtown Nelson: This is a priority for me and my approach is outlined in my platform (www.electdooley.com). I have heard:

  • from businesses that are impacted by having people sit and sleep in their doorways.
  • from senior citizens and visitors that feel intimidated when they go downtown
  • from buskers who no longer play music on Baker Street
  • from individuals who can’t believe security guards have been hired to protect our streets.

The current Mayor and Council committed to creating a panhandling bylaw, which was rescinded and replaced with a Traffic (Pedestrian) bylaw. The lack of decisiveness around legislation has been a contributing factor to the deteriorating situation on our streets.  

I am committed to:

  • ensuring that our police and bylaw officers have the tools to work on our streets, supported by  legislation and expectations.
  • re-connecting with  people who feel disenfranchised and invite their full participation with those already engaged.  
  • reviewing the Traffic (Pedestrian) bylaw and other strategies to assess their effectiveness .

As your Mayor, I will tackle this situation in a compassionate but decisive and practical manner.  We will create a set of expectations that are based on respect for all citizens, including those that call our downtown home, with zero tolerance for inappropriate and illegal behavior.  I also want to address civic pride….starting with Christmas lights, clean streets, and a safe environment for all.  It boils down to creating a culture of respect and community pride.

Deb Kozak

Nelson is not alone in the challenges of homelessness, poverty, mental health and addictions visible on our streets.  These issues are increasingly experienced by communities across B.C. and Canada and speak to problems within larger economic and social systems that City Councils have little mandate or power to address.  Nevertheless, as the level of government closest to community, responses by City Hall are needed. 

Several communities have tried hard-line approaches, adopting bylaws that outlaw panhandling (a constitutionally-legal activity) and increasing the aggressiveness of police responses.  Not only have these approaches proven ineffective in the long term, they increase municipal policing costs and add to provincial court backlogs.  Nelson City Council has noted these outcomes and adopted a different approach.

Behaviours such as public drinking, selling drugs and harassment are already illegal; therefore, Council worked with police to re-instate a full-time beat officer to monitor and respond accordingly. Council also implemented no-smoking and pedestrian behaviour legislation, giving police authority to address non-criminal behaviours such as public swearing and blocking passage to sidewalks.  The City is also part of Nelson’s Street Culture Collaborative that brings diverse community sectors together in search of solutions.  The Collaborative’s Street Outreach Team assists marginalized people to access available services and move off the street. 

Police have reported a decline in unwanted street behaviours. These improvements will likely continue as existing plans for a drop-in centre that offers people an alternative to hanging-out on the street are realised.   

Council also continues to advocate to the provincial government for more assistance in dealing with this complex, humanitarian issue.