Some residents in Port Alberni are not pleased with how the city’s bylaw enforcement is dealing with garbage fines.
Jake Van Kooten was just one of 75 residents on his garbage collection route who received a $100 fine for “failure to secure a container” last month. Van Kooten says his collection route usually starts at 6 a.m. on Mondays, so he and his neighbours always places their bins at curbside the night before.
However, Port Alberni’s Bylaw No. 4885, the Solid Waste Collection and Disposal Bylaw, states that collection containers can only be set out on the day of collection (although it also states that special allowances can be made for people who are physically challenged or unable to follow the specifications of the bylaw).
Van Kooten was in council chambers on Tuesday, Sept. 3 because he feels that there is a “double standard” when it comes to bylaw enforcement. With many other bylaws, the homeowner is given a period of time to come into compliance before a fine is issued—in other words, a warning. Bylaw No. 4885, however, does not require a warning.
“For whatever reason, not everyone is able to put [their garbage] out that early in the morning,” he explained. “The perception is that bylaw officers are cherry-picking the bylaws. There are untold fruit trees with fruit left on the ground. There are many derelict buildings that are ignored. There are many nuisance properties with overgrown vegetation. All of these are given warnings and time to comply.”
Van Kooten is now asking for the tickets to be made null and void, since he and his neighbours never received a warning.
“Bylaw enforcement needs to be enforced equally,” he said. “And not to a select segment on a dark Sunday night.”
Van Kooten is not the only one with concerns about bylaw enforcement. Council also received three letters on Tuesday from city residents who had been fined without warning, and posts on social media have received hundreds of comments over the last two weeks.
The bylaw is meant to deter bears or other wildlife that might be attracted to garbage. In November of last year, a bear allegedly attacked a man in a residential area. Since then, bylaw officers have been working with conservation officers to work on a strategy so the city can live up to its “Bear Smart” designation.
“We’ve communicated extensively on this, including inserts into utility bills,” explained City CAO Tim Pley on Tuesday. “Having said that, a number of people were surprised and angry to receive tickets. Going forward, we’ll certainly learn from this and try and do a better job.”
This is not the first time Port Alberni’s bylaw services department has received negative feedback from the public. A graffiti removal program, launched in January, was met with anger from property owners who felt they were being punished unfairly for something they did not do. Flynn Scott, the manager of bylaw services at the time, pointed out that the bylaw department’s graffiti provision was not new—it just hasn’t been enforced in the past, due to a lack of resources.
Councillor Ron Corbeil made a reference to the graffiti removal program on Tuesday.
“It seems to me that there’s been two fairly major inititatives that really got off on the wrong foot,” he said. “Instead of getting buy-in from the community, [they] angered a lot of people. I would like to have a little bit more say on what the [bylaw services department’s] priorities are.”
Up until last year, Port Alberni’s bylaw services department only consisted of one officer. In 2018, council voted to add an additional bylaw officer, a manager and a part-time administrative clerk. Since then, the department has been undergoing a shift from a complaint-driven process to a proactive one, meaning officers investigate files regardless of whether someone calls and complains or not.
Pley said that it has been “very difficult” for the department to enforce bylaws, because officers are often met with residents “who have always done it this way.”
“This is a community with old habits, old practices, not used to bylaw enforcement as it’s implemented in other communities,” he said. “It’s a learning process for all of us, including our staff.”
Mayor Sharie Minions discussed the possibility of reviewing Bylaw No. 4885, as well as holding a meeting to discuss priorities once a new bylaw services manager has been hired.
“I think we could learn from how this was rolled out,” she said. “But it doesn’t make it okay to break the bylaws that are out there. I think we have to give our staff some credit that when we are implementing programs like this, it’s for a reason.”
Neil Anderson, another Port Alberni resident, spoke up at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. He said that although he approves of the city’s bylaw enforcement, he thinks a “transition period” is necessary for people who aren’t used to following the bylaws.
“We’ve been violating our bylaws for years,” he said. “Now all of a sudden we’ve done the right thing and increased the staffing levels. What we’ve allowed is as much the city’s fault as the general public. You don’t just take a hammer and slam it down.”