VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The mayor of Vancouver is asking the Park Board to turn over authority of Oppenheimer Park to the city, as safety concerns and frequent police visits to the tent city continue.
Kennedy Stewart says that with the park under the jurisdiction of the board, there’s very little the city can do to help clean it up.
“Although we’ve had some success this summer helping people find housing, Oppenheimer is becoming more dangerous. This is the largest encampment we’ve ever had in Oppenheimer, and the most active – we’ve had 500 police calls, we’ve had 20 tent fires,” he says.
Residents have been camping in the park for over a year, but locals have become more and more frustrated with safety concerns and impacts to local businesses. And while shelters have stepped up and the mayor says there’s housing available for everyone calling the park home, several tents still remain weeks after occupants were ordered to clear out.
Stewart says the Park Board needs to make a plan to return the park to normal operations or give over jurisdiction to the city, and while he doesn’t have the specifics of a city plan in place, adds his access to other levels of government could help.
But Park Board Commissioner John Coupar says the mayor needs to respect governance boundaries. He doubts Stewart is solely motivated by concerns about the camp, which occupies the largest gathering space in the Downtown Eastside.
“Our staff and team have been working very hard to keep people safe in the park and what I didn’t hear from the mayor was what his actual plan was,” Coupar says. “You know, he vaguely started talking about dealing with the province and the federal government, but he can do that now.”
Stewart says while there has been progress recently, that progress has stalled. The park is a perennial issue, and one that needs to be dealt with.
“If they don’t feel they’re properly resourced to do this, don’t have the capacity, then they should temporarily transfer the authority to council,” he says.
“The combination of the lack of housing and the opioid crisis is really what’s caused this larger challenge to us in the park this year. I’m indicating that we need to move forward with returning the park to normalcy and helping these people get the help they need. Right now that’s in the Park Board’s hands and I haven’t really seen a plan of how they plan to fulfill their mandate.”
Stuart Mackinnon, another commissioner, says the board will consider the mayor’s suggestion.
“The Park Board will be taking Mayor Stewart’s request to return Oppenheimer Park to its normal operations under consideration,” Mackinnon says in a statement to NEWS 1130. “As outlined by the Vancouver Charter, the Park Board maintains exclusive jurisdiction over the park and the Board is committed to ensuring the safety of all park users and the wider community.
Vancouver is the only city in British Columbia with an elected park board, so any move to take over Oppenheimer Park would have to be approved by both the board itself and by city council.