Port Alberni city council met with members of the public in December to discuss some of the difficulties that the city is facing with a recent increase in crime and commercial property concerns.
But now the city is faced with finding solutions for these problems.
The city’s next committee of the whole meeting won’t take place until Monday, March 19, and Mayor Mike Ruttan has asked that people will come forward with solutions the next time this topic is discussed.
Some Port Alberni business owners have already taken this step.
Chris Washington, the owner of Flandangles Kitchen & Gifts, admitted that she was still a bit frustrated after the Dec. 19 committee of the whole meeting, so she decided to write a letter.
The letter, which has some input from other Third Avenue business owners, recommends a number of actions that could take place immediately, over the next few years and after five years.
“I feel that our city council does not focus enough on small business owners,” said Washington.
Although she likes initiatives such as the Facade Improvement Program, she does not think council is doing enough to entice owners to start and maintain their businesses in the Alberni Valley.
“I think that we need to have a clear and concise program,” she said. “And I think we need to have an overall plan. It’s hard to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going.”
The city, she said, needs a long-term plan that will last longer than this council term. Different initiatives to combat crime have come up over the years, but none of them seem to last.
“They don’t seem to be doing anything long-term,” she said.
Ruttan mentioned during a Monday, Jan. 8 meeting of council that council has started a “three-pronged intiative” for immediate actions to be taken.
The first one is delivering a set of emergency numbers to all businesses throughout the city, so business owners know who they can call in the event that they have an emergency.
Washington admitted this suggestion was “a little insulting” for business owners.
“I already knew who to call,” she said. “We need to get rid of the criminal element, and we need to be proactive.”
ACAWS executive director Ellen Frood
opened the Jan. 22 meeting with a request for council. She wants some commitment to action on housing, which is a critical and important need in the community. Although her agency is a housing service provider, she needs help from the city.
“I need the city to come to me and say, ‘Here are the pieces of property that we have, and here’s our commitment to working with you and partnering with you,’” she said.
Reverend Brenda Nestegaard Paul, from Trinity Church, also spoke to the importance of feeling safe and secure in the community.
“A healthy community is one where all of its parts are considered and functioning well,” she said. “You know that a community is healthy when those that are the most vulnerable, those with no voice, are able to thrive and have hope.”
Council pulled forward a report on Monday that City CAO Tim Pley wrote in November. The report provides a number of strategies to address the “big city problems” in Port Alberni. Council agreed that implementation of Pley’s entire report would be unwise without considering budget implications, but directed staff to put together a report providing steps for partnering with service providers for the development of safe housing and community based supports programs.
“I think it’s a wise first step,” said Councillor Sharie Minions. “I think that this is the time for us to determine how we’re going to partner with service providers and how we’re going to get involved with providing safe housing in our community.”
Council also asked for a more detailed report about the implementation plan and cost for a security incentive and a bylaw services department. This report will be provided at the next budget meeting on Monday, Jan. 29.
The city also made a number of moves based on requests from business owners. Staff will investigate the costs of moving the community policing office to the empty building next to The Bread of Life, and, following a letter from Faydra Aresenault of Animal Ark, they will investigate the possibility of a bylaw pertaining to panhandling.
Washington said there was an “aggressive” panhandler on her block for a number of months, deterring customers from all businesses. The panhandler in question was told to stay away from the upper Third Avenue area for the next six months, but according to RCMP Inspector Brian Hunter, he was spotted there again last weekend and arrested.
In the meantime, Uptown business owners are banding together. They will be holding a meeting this Wednesday at 6 p.m., and will be speaking at the Wednesday, Jan. 31 Chamber of Commerce dinner meeting. Council agreed on Monday to support this initiative.
“We’re going to see what we can do,” said Washington.